Historical Plaque Properties


Richard Gordon - Conductor - GTR
51 Milton Street
Stratford, ON

Richard Gordon was born April 14, 1856 in Brantford. Little is known of his parents other than his father, John, was born in Scotland and likely emigrated to Canada in the late 1840s or early 1850s where he met and married Richard’s mother, Margaret Perkins, who was born in Ontario.

Richard was a railway man all his working life. In his teens he went to work for the Grand Trunk Railway as a labourer. Young, smart, strong and agile, Richard was promoted to railway brakeman by the time he was twenty-two years of age.

The position of brakeman, at this time, was probably the most dangerous job on the railway or in any industry of its day. In the yard, the brakeman would stand atop a rail car and through hand signals directed the shunting and coupling of the cars to make-up the train. Once underway, the brakeman was required to respond to prescribed signals sent by the engineer through pulls on the train’s whistle. He would climb to the top of the moving rail cars and turn the brake wheel to slow or speed-up the train. Often the brakeman would have to jump from car to car to accomplish his task regardless of whether it was snowing, raining or in high winds. Needless to say the mortality rate and degree of serious, debilitating injury and loss of limbs was inordinately high in this occupation. Railways, at the time, took the position that safety on the job was the personal responsibility of the employee. The railways did not provide compensation for injury and in the event of death they would only pay for the burial costs. As a consequence, the death or incapacity of the breadwinner often left families of brakemen in dire straits.

On February 12, 1888, Richard married Mary Shanahan (aka Shannon) in Brantford. She was the twenty-three year old daughter of Michael Shanahan and Bridget Kennedy both of whom had been born in Ireland. Michael also worked for the Grand Trunk Railway as a machinist. Mary had lived at home and earned her keep as a dressmaker. The couple set up house on William Street in Brantford adjacent to her parents. On April 22, 1890, Mary gave birth to their only child Margaret Beatrice Gordon.

By 1895, Richard had been promoted to conductor and was transferred to Stratford. The couple rented the house at 51 Milton Street from its owner Jonathan Scarth who had built a number of income properties in the neighbourhood. Initially, five people lived in the house. One can only speculate that relatives may have come to help Mary settle-in while Richard was away on train trips. Or perhaps they took in boarders. Richard was a familiar figure as conductor on the Stratford-Buffalo, New York line for a number of years. They lived in the house on Milton Street until 1907 when they moved to a house at 71 Front Street.

On November 23, 1918, Richard and Mary suffered the devastating loss of their only child, Beatrice who was described as one of the most popular young ladies in Stratford with a bright sunny disposition and a smile and kind word for all. As with many in Stratford, during the fall of 1918, it is likely that Beatrice died of the Spanish Flu.

Richard retired from the railway in February 1926 because of age and perhaps because of the health of Mary. His beloved wife Mary died on March 27 of the same year. For a time Richard continued to live at 71 Front Street, but in his later years he lived at the Empire Hotel which was located on Downie Street.  Richard died on September 25, 1934.

Richard, Mary and Beatrice are buried in the St. Georges Section of Avondale Cemetery.