Matchett descendants attend plaque unveiling

 In Community

The official unveiling of Creemore’s 16 new historic plaques took place on Saturday morning, July 1, symbolically at the Matchett House plaque. If you are strolling along the sidewalk on Mill Street you will find this tribute hanging on the wall between Curiosity Book Store and Water First. It tells of the early years of the building, especially the years when it was a hotel run by Alexander Matchett.

“Gumption” and “when the going gets tough the tough get going” are words that come to mind when I think of Alexander Matchett. The story begins in 1855 with the birth of Alexander Matchett on a farm one mile west of Avening. Probably he spent a few years at school in Avening but by age 13 he was working at hauling logs. When he was working at threshing at age 14 he lost both his feet in an accident. This was 1869 when even doctors were few, not to mention specialists who would fit a boy with artificial feet. No one knows now how the boy managed to get around. It has been suggested that he may have devised some sort of prosthesis himself.

As a teen he learned to play the violin and supported himself doing this for several years. House parties, community events and literary society meetings all needed someone to provide music. At age 20, Alex took the opportunity to learn the jewellery business in Dundalk and this enabled him to open his own jewellery business in Creemore at the site of what became the Gospel Hall at the south end of Mill Street. This building is now used for small apartments. Successful at the jewellery enterprise he then took the big marriage step in 1880, his wife being Mary Ann Royal, usually called Mammy.

In 1889 Alex seized another opportunity and converted a brick building into an eight-room hotel. This today houses Curiosity House Books and Water First. Entering the hotel business in 1889 was a wise move. The Hisey Brothers’ shipping business was beginning to flourish and the requirements of a hostelry was needed. Creemore was an extremely busy village. Here are the words of George Royal, remembering his life as a boy around 1900:

“At noontime the Matchett and Leonard Hotels are jammed with hungry teamsters, filling the dining rooms, and many more lined up in the hallways, waiting their turn at a full-course meal, priced at 25 cents. The hotel barns and sheds are packed with teams of horses munching their hay and oats and the yards are so full of vehicles that it is difficult to get around, and we youngsters consider it quite an adventure to spend the noon hour amidst all the stir and commotion of a busy shipping day.”

Alexander Matchett’s hotel was first called the Fairview because when it opened the south end of Mill Street had a hotel called the Matchett House. This Matchett family was no relation. At its demise the Fairview became the Matchett House.

Alex and Mammy had three children: Lulu (b. 1882), Robert (b. 1884), and Mackenzie called Jerry (b. 1889). Robert and Jerry followed in their father’s footsteps and learned the jewellery business and had a store a couple of doors to the south.

Robert was the only one to marry. With his wife, Edna Scott, they had three daughters: Frances, Norma and Roberta. They lived in a handsome cement block house at the north end of Mill Street.

Alexander Matchett died in 1917 and is buried in Creemore Union Cemetery. Robert and Edna with their daughters moved to Orillia about 1931. With brother Jerry, Robert opened another jewellery store in that town.

From Alexander’s obituary comes this tribute: “Mr. Matchett was the soul of honour, and while he did not pose as a church man his deeds were Christ like. He fed the hungry, clothed the naked, befriended the friendless. No humble citizen in want appealed to his generous heart in vain, and many a financial loss did he sustain by his generous impulses. In him the needy have lost a friend indeed.”

At the unveiling of the Matchett plaque it was an honour to have with us four great grandchildren, Wendy Whitemore of Port Sydney, Roberta Sheehan of Wetaskiwin, Alberta, Scott Mackenzie and Victoria Ridley of Ottawa.

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