Historical Plaque Properties


James Duguid Master - Mechanic, Grand Trunk Railway
96 John Street North
Stratford, ON

The house at 96 John St. N was built in 1910 by John B. Runciman, a prominent builder and real estate developer in Stratford.  Its first tenant was James Duguid and his young family.


James Duguid was born near Mount Forest, ON on July 19, 1870 (although there is some confusion because other sources say 1871 and 1875). He was the eldest son of millwright Peter Duguid and the former Isabella Wilson. When he was 20, James was working as a machinist in Toronto and by 1894 was boarding at 887 King St. W while working for the John Abell Engine and Machine Works Co.


On June 26, 1895 he married Jennie Dewsbury, the 23 year-old daughter of William and Mary Dewsbury from Sutton, ON. The following year their eldest daughter Myrell was born on July 31 and on November 21, 1904 their daughter Burnice was born.


At the turn of the century, the Grand Trunk Railway shops in Stratford were expanding and demand for licensed machinists was high. By 1905, James and his family, including widowed mother-in-law Mary, had moved to Stratford and were living on Home St. Their youngest daughter Pearl was born June 11, 1909 and the next year, the family moved into the new house on John St. James continued to work his way up at the GTR shops, to become a general foreman in 1910 and a master mechanic in 1911. He later served as president of the Central Railway and Engineering Club of Canada.


Shortly after the death of Jennie’s mother Mary in 1912, the family emigrated to the US and settled in St. Alban’s, VT in 1914. In 1924, the family moved to Burlington, VT where James was working as an engineer of tests for the Galena Sign and Oil Company. He later worked for the Standard Oil Co. and as a mechanical engineer for the City of New York.


Myrell married John Newlander in 1922, Burnice married Percy Habliston in 1929 and Pearl married Donald Sanders in 1935. Tragedy would have come to the family had it not been for their alert Boston bull terrier, Pal. Late on January 7, 1940, Jennie Duguid was awakened in their Burlington home at 216 South Willard St., when she discovered the bedclothes on fire from a short-circuited reading lamp. As she ran into the bathroom for water, she tripped, struck her head and fell unconscious. Pal sniffing the smoke from his master’s bedroom started frantically barking enough to wake up James from sleep in time to save Mrs. Duguid. She went to the hospital to recover from the smoke and shock. Pal was awarded a life-saving medal from the American Humane Society, the first for a Burlington canine. Daughter Pearl Sanders said, “We’ve had him for more than 3 years and we’ve always thought he was the smartest dog we ever saw.”


Even though she recovered from the fire, Jennie died on December 20 that same year. James retired and spent his remaining years in the historic Van Ness House hotel when he died on February 21, 1952 at the age of 81.  James and Jennie Duguid are buried in the beautiful Lakeview Cemetery overlooking Lake Champlain in Burlington, VT.