Historical Plaque Properties


Robert James Hall - Brakeman/GTR
37 Duke Street
Stratford, ON

37 Duke Street was one of a number of houses built by Norval F. Babb on property previously owned by his father-in-law, John Corrie. When Norval Babb married Etta Corrie in 1904, they were given a lot and built the house at 180 Mornington Street. Norval Babb was a successful jeweller specializing in diamonds, watches and clocks. Babb was also an optician and issued marriage licences. In the early 1900s, he built a number of houses on the east side of Duke Street. In 1914 those along the west side were constructed.


Robert James Hall and his wife, Sarah Jane, and two young daughters moved into 37 Duke Street in 1915. Robert James Hall was the eldest son of James Hall and Margaret Ann Rogers. His grandparents had emigrated from Scotland and settled in Oxford County where their son James was born in 1869. Margaret Rogers’ father, Thomas, a carpenter by trade, had emigrated from Ireland and settled in London, Ontario where he married Catherine McLean. Thomas later moved his family to Stratford where Margaret met and married James Hall.


Robert James was born on October 11, 1887. He was the first of nine children in the family. Besides having a large number of children, one of Margaret’s sisters or brothers sometimes lived with them. The family resided in a number of houses including one on Elizabeth Street, 131 Dufferin and 42 Inverness Street were James was living when he died in 1930.


Growing up in a railway town and having a father who worked for the Grand Trunk Railway, it was not surprising that Robert and a number of his brothers also became “railway men”. By the time he married at age 23, Robert James was a brakeman with the GTR.

The position of brakeman was probably the most dangerous job on the railway. He would climb to the top of the moving rail cars and turn the brake wheel to slow or speed-up the train. When pneumatic brakes were adopted, they had a major effect on railroad safety.  Reliable braking was assured, reducing the frequent accidents that plagued the industry. By 1905, many, but not all, cars were equipped with the new braking system.

Robert Hall married Sarah Jane Valad in Detroit. Most probably, Sarah had relatives there as her father, Peter Valad, had been born in Detroit of French Canadian parents. He moved to Bruce County where in January 1880 he married Sarah Racher of Teeswater. Sarah Jane, their fourth child, was born in 1889.

After their marriage, Robert and Sarah moved to 37 Inverness Street in Stratford. Their daughter, Elsie was born there in1910. Later they moved to 79 Mowat Street, where their daughter Amelia was born, before moving to Duke Street. The family lived on Duke Street for a number of years before moving to ----Street. Robert James Hall remained a brakeman until1925 when he was promoted to the job of conductor.