Historical Plaque Properties


Thomas Orr - Builder - First Occupant - Alexander F. MacLaren - Cheesemaker
30 Waterloo Street S.
Stratford, ON

Thomas Orr was born in County Tyrone, Ireland on December 26, 1833. He was the son of John Orr and Sarah Hamilton.

Thomas’ obituary records that he “started out for himself when only thirteen years of age. He crossed the Atlantic Ocean and landed in Philadelphia beginning contract work when he was about twenty”.

On June 12, 1855, he married 21-year old Frances (Fanny) Noble in Philadelphia. Whether he knew Fanny in Ireland or met her in Philadelphia remains a question.

Fanny was also born in County Tyrone on October 18, 1834, the daughter of Joseph Noble and Martha Nelson. The family left Ireland aboard the “Provincialist,” which sailed from the port of Londonderry and arrived in Philadelphia on June 3, 1846. The 1850 census records the Noble family living in the city’s Cedar Ward. Joseph’s occupation is listed as a weaver. Fanny’s parents remained in Philadelphia for the rest of their days and are buried in the city’s Lafayette Cemetery.

On August 5, 1856, Thomas and Fanny’s first child was born, a daughter Martha. About the same time, the Rev. Thomas McPherson who had been sent to Stratford to establish a Presbyterian Church in the town visited Philadelphia on a fund raising mission. He was a friend of Fanny’s cousin, Matthew Nelson, who had a farm in Downie Township and who had been trying to convince Thomas and Fanny to move to Stratford. The Rev. McPherson persuaded Thomas to visit Stratford. Obviously impressed with the potential opportunities of the town, Thomas moved his family to Stratford in 1857.

By 1861, Thomas and Fanny had settled into a two storey frame house in Stratford to accommodate their growing family, which in addition to Martha (1856-1890) would ultimately include: John (1858-1900); Thomas (1861-1867); Joseph (1863-1938); William (1865-1951); Sarah Elizabeth (1868-1932); Robert Thomas (1870-1957); and Henry Noble (b. 1874). As a Lieutenant with the 2nd Canadian Battalion, Henry and his men were hit by an enemy shell while laying wire on July 11, 1917 near the village of Houdain, France. Henry died of his wounds three days later and is buried in the Bruay Communal Cemetery in France.

In the 1861 census, Thomas recorded his occupation as a carpenter. However, during the next decade Thomas transitioned from carpenter to house builder. In 1863 he moved his family to a farm on Lot 8, Concession 5 in Downie Township. He also broadened his business interests. As an example, in 1866 he became an active investor with Hugh Dempsey in one of the first cheese factories in Perth County. Dempsey had married Fanny’s sister, Mary, following the death of his first wife. The factory opened May 13, 1867 and for many years turned a handsome profit for the proprietors according to Dempsey’s obituary. The following year Thomas was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Perth Mutual Fire Insurance Company.

Thomas listed his occupation as builder, in the 1871 census, and went on to construct some of the finer houses and buildings in Stratford. In the same year, he also established a planing mill and lumber yard in the vicinity of the present location of the band shell on Veterans Way by the Avon River. Three years later, much to the chagrin of some of his children, he relocated his family from the farm to a house that he had built at 50 Cobourg Street, the present day offices of Orr Insurance.
Thomas’ father is recorded in the family bible as dying on March 29, 1863 though no location of death is given. Thomas’ mother, Sarah, first appears in the 1876 Stratford city directory. Initially, Sarah lived at 323 Church Street and by 1881 had moved to a house on the newly developed Daly Terrace, which was later renamed Daly Avenue.   Thomas’ sister Isabella, familiarly known as Bella, who was a tailoress by trade boarded with her mother both on Church Street and Daly Terrace until Sarah’s death on May 8, 1889. Sarah is buried in Avondale Cemetery. Her husband John, though not buried in Avondale is memorialized on her tombstone. Bella subsequently went to live with Thomas’ son John for a time before relocating to Georgetown, Ontario where she continued to work as a tailoress and boarded with the Metcalfe family. She returned to Stratford and died on July 5, 1910 and is also buried in Avondale Cemetery.

Thomas Orr’s beloved wife Fanny died on September 3, 1911 and he died on June 23, 1914. They are both buried, along with other members of the family, in Avondale Cemetery.

In 1890, Thomas built the house at 30-32 Waterloo Street South on spec. He sold it to Alexander Ferguson MacLaren who had trained as a cheese maker and was in the process of establishing a cheese exporting business in Stratford. Known initially as MacLaren Brothers, the firm was later incorporated as A. F. MacLaren Imperial Cheese Company Ltd.  Alexander developed a new product known as MacLaren’s Imperial Cheese which was a soft processed cheese that was sold in porcelain containers and became phenomenally popular. By 1892,  MacLaren established a branch factory in Detroit and within the decade had established offices in Toronto, New York, London, Chicago, Detroit, Mexico, China, Japan and Africa. Alexander served as a Conservative Member of Parliament for Perth North from 1896 until his defeat in 1908. He subsequently relocated to Toronto. In 1920, Alexander sold his company to processed cheese makers J. L Kraft and Brothers of Chicago.