Who Was William Craig, Port Hope

Who was William Craig you might ask, I know I had to!  When wondering about a quaint ten foot tall ‘monument’ at the Port Hope Farmers’ Market next to the town hall and why it was there, I uncovered a long and illustrious history of the man.  William Craig was the wealthy owner of a well known tannery, a philanthropist, a town councillor for many years and a mayor two terms during Confederation.  As well, he was involved in all aspects of Port Hope’s early religious and education developments.

William Craig was born in Yorkshire, England on February 27th, 1819 and lived in Newcastle-on-Tyne until 1843 and where he learned his trade as a tanner and it was here he met and married Hannah Dixon before they emigrated to Canada in 1843 and located in Port Hope.  The Craig’s then moved to Buffalo, New York for five years after which they returned to Port Hope where they lived ever since.  On arrival here, he constructed the William Craig & Son Morocco Factory and Tannery on Cavan Street at the foot of Bedford Street in the Town of Port Hope, Ontario, producing “Morocco” leather, a fine, soft leather that was in great demand for many products from boots to gloves and book bindings. The William Craig and Son Tannery started production in 1852 and expected to produce thirty thousand skins of ‘Morocco’ leather and successfully operated for thirty nine years, until his death in May 1891 when his son carried on the business.

From the Evening Guide, January, 1928: “William Craig and Sons, Tanners, this very important industry was started in 1852 by the late Wm. Craig and in 1865, William Craig Jr. was admitted to the firm, under the name William Craig & Son, became the sole proprietor of fine leather, coloured sheep skin lining for shoe work, book bindings and calfskin, Russia calf etc.  They gave employment to forty hands year round.  This extensive premises enabled them to execute a much larger proportion of work than is usual, making it one of the most successful business of the kind in Canada.”

William and Hannah raised four sons and Two daughters: T. Dixon Craig became the MP for Durham; William assisted his father in running the tannery business; Joseph went on to become a resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota; a fourth son Rev. John Craig, was a missionary Akula, India; Mrs. D. Chisholm and Mrs. Doctor Clemesha.   William Craig served as an elected mayor of Port Hope for four years, first from 1866-1867 during Confederation and again from 1877-1878.  An active philanthropist and a member of the local Baptist Church congregation, William donated land at the corner of John and Augusta Streets valued at eight hundred dollars for construction of the first Baptist Church.

Mr. Craig was a public spirited man and during his life was a leader in charitable and philanthropic enterprises.  He was the originator of the Benevolent Society, which decides how charitable donations are made around the town and was the largest contributor and mainstay of the institution in Port Hope.

William Craig, in 1874 as president of the Young Men’ Christian Association donated land at 50 John Street for the building of the YMCA, best remembered today as the Orange Hall.  The YMCA offered programs and lectures to local men to promote morality and good citizenship.  In this building were located a lecture hall, meeting rooms and a library.  The main building was a two storey, flat roofed building front section with a single storey, gabled roofed section at the rear, used as an auditorium.  Designed by architect Cornelius John Soule in 1874, the building’s exterior is protected by an Ontario Heritage Trust Conservation easement and is designated by a Municipality of Port Hope Heritage Act.

The YMCA building was built by P.R. Randall at a cost of $12,000, the one storey auditorium was built to modest Gothic and Tudor style with a gable roof.  This building is situated amidst several other historical buildings on part of Lots number two and three on the west side of John Street.  This property is said to have gone through twenty-four transactions by 1851 with a reference to a brewery at one time.  The building was one of three of the most recognized faith community organizations in Canada, the tenth YMCA facility in Canada and the sixteenth in the world.

Increased expenses and a decreased membership forced the YMCA to sell the building in 1912 to the Governing Council of the Salvation Army.  After almost twenty-five years of ownership, the Salvation Army sold the building  to the Loyal Orange Association in 1936.  The Loyal Orange Institution, commonly called the Orange Order, is an international Protestant fraternal order that was based in Northern Ireland with lodges throughout the world.  At this location the Orange Lodge No. 309 operated until 1972 at which time the building was sold for commercial use.

In 1885, William Craig was president of the Williams Memorial Association whose goal was to erect a monument to honor the late Colonel A.T.H. Williams, the hero of Batoche and he led the ceremony when Prime Minister John A. MacDonald came to town in 1889 to unveil the new statue.  The Battle of Batoche was the decisive battle of the North-West Rebellion, which pitted the Canadian authorities  against a force of First Nations and Metis people.  The defeat of the Metis led to the surrender of Louis Riel and the collapse of the Provisional Government.  It was said that William Craig was a close friend of both Mr. Williams and MacDonald.  William Craig was a life-long Conservative and officiated as president of the Association in East Durham, the nomination for the Riding was offered to him many times but he always declined because of his failing health.

Before retirement as Mayor, Craig voluntarily offered the Farmer’s Market Commission, “if they could come up with a secure water source to flow through it, he would supply for free out of his own purse the expense for a stand and fountain.”  The offer was accepted and several springs were tapped and its water united with those already brought to the Square, making it a considerable stream of excellent and pure fresh water.  The erection of the fountain was by Joseph Hooper, a proprietor of a monument business on Walton Street, who did most of the free-stonework.  The fountain stands about ten feet high, crowned with a huge ball.  On each of the four sides is a lion’s head and out of their mouths a stream of water runs into a trough surrounding the stand for horses to drink from and cups were provided for water from the  the streams “so the thirsty can drink without money and without price.” An inscription once on the fountain read that it was constructed by Mayor Craig in 1878.

Craig was a President of the Midland Loan & Savings Company, a Chairman of the High School Board, (Note: there was a water fountain erected by Mr. Craig located in front of the former High School on Pine Street North according to a 1909 photograph), a member of the Port Hope Harbour Commission, the Consolidated Road Company and the Port Hope Gas Company.

A Plaque placed on the wall of the Sanctuary in the Baptist Church on John Street by the children of William Craig reads:

“In Loving Memory of our Father – WILLIAM CRAIG,  – Who died May 29th, 1891, Aged 72.  They Rest From Their Labors, And Their Works Do Follow Them.”

Regards,   Ranger

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