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Rennie’s Seeds Thomas Hawkins

Rennie’s Seeds Thomas Hawkins
Seeds -- Catalogs : Digital Archive : Wm. Rennie Co : Toronto Public Library
The CANADIAN DESIGN RESOURCE - Rennie's Seeds Advert
From Thomas Hawkins 1898 Carleton Place

RENNIEWILLIAM, agriculturist, seed merchant, farm superintendent, and author; b. 15 March 1835 in Scarborough Township, Upper Canada, son of Robert Rennie and Elizabeth Fife; m. 13 March 1862 Sarah Glendinning of Scarborough, and they had four sons; d. 24 July 1910 in Swansea (Toronto).

William Rennie was born in a log cabin and learned the rudiments of agriculture on the Scarborough farm of his parents, who had emigrated from Kirknewton, Edinburghshire, Scotland, in 1832. He left the homestead in 1860 to take up farming in Markham Township on 120 acres belonging to his father and, from 1867, to Rennie himself. By 1864 he was importing wheat-, barley-, and oat-seed from Scotland to improve his crops and to test his theory that a “change of seed grain” could allay the crop failures plaguing many farmers in Upper Canada.

This experience may have led to his decision, in 1870, to rent out his farm, move his family to Toronto, and found the William Rennie Company Limited, a purveyor of agricultural and horticultural seeds and supplies for the next 91 years. The business, centred at Adelaide and Jarvis streets, eventually had offices in Montreal, Winnipeg, and Vancouver, and, at Rennie’s death, was described by the Toronto Daily Star as the “largest of its kind in Canada.” Beginning in 1871, it also reached out to farmers and gardeners across Canada through increasingly colourful, annual mail-order catalogues.

When Rennie entered business, Toronto had fewer than a dozen seed houses, the most prominent being those of James Fleming, George Keith, George Leslie, and Joseph Adolph Simmers. In 1873 John S. and Richard Clarke Steele, with Sylvester E. Briggs, founded Steele Brothers and Company, which, as Steele-Briggs Seed Company, would buy the Rennie firm in 1961. The success of such enterprises lay in their dedication to supplying seed that was reliable under Canadian conditions such as low temperatures and short growing seasons. Although farmers and gardeners could continue to order seed from the United States and Europe and to purchase it locally from general merchants, they could place greater confidence in the seed offered by the better Canadian houses. Even before the establishment of federal experimental farms, the Rennie company was conducting its own trials, selecting and developing promising strains and varieties of grains, vegetables, and flowers, and introducing them through its catalogues.

As a site for a seed farm and trial grounds, Rennie took control about 1880 of his Markham property. By placing a foreman in charge, this “city man” was able to return it to such “a very high style of farming” that in 1883 he won the first silver medal for farms given by the Council of the Agriculture and Arts Association of Ontario. In the same year’s competition, which was limited to the central district of the province, his brother Simpson won the gold medal for his management of the Scarborough homestead.

Complementing William Rennie’s interests in seed-marketing and farming were his abilities as an entrepreneur. He was manufacturing a grass-seed sower as early as 1873; during the 1880s he was associated with the manufacture and sale of draining-machinery. His 1888 seed catalogue noted that he also imported from Scotland and bred Clydesdale horses and Shetland ponies.

In private life Rennie was said to have been a generous and public-spirited individual, a faithful Presbyterian, an avid curler, an active member of the Liberal party, and a man proud of his pioneer heritage. He helped organize Toronto’s first industrial exhibition in 1879, and served as a vice-president and later as an honorary director. In 1883 he was on the management committee of Toronto’s first annual fat-stock show, the forerunner of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. He joined the York Pioneers in 1879 and took part that year in their move of an early log cabin, that of Henry Scadding’s father, to the new exhibition grounds – an event he could still describe in detail during his presidency of the society in 1903–9.

When Rennie withdrew from his seed company in 1889, he was succeeded in the business by three of his four sons, Robert, John, and Thomas (the fourth, William, would become an independent missionary and would gain great respect in Hakodate, Japan). In preparation for retirement, he had the previous year sold his Markham farm and purchased a five-acre property west of Toronto. There, in 1889, he built a brick home, to which he and his wife moved. Located on the west bank of Grenadier Pond and ascending from it in a series of landscaped terraces, the property became a familiar sight from High Park, on the opposite shore.

Rennie immediately took a leading role in the development of this district, which in 1926 would be incorporated as the village of Swansea. In 1889, in one of 12 row-houses he had built on Kennedy Avenue, he brought together a group of Presbyterians for services and a Sunday school, before the erection of Morningside Church in 1891. In the same house, he provided space in 1890 for day classes, which preceded the construction of Swansea Public School. In 1892–93, near their parents’ home, the sons established for the Rennie company new trial grounds and a greenhouse.

One of the most strenuous periods of Rennie’s life began four years after his retirement from business. In October 1893, at the invitation of Ontario’s minister of agriculture, John Dryden, he took up the new position of farm superintendent at the Ontario Agricultural College and Experimental Farm in Guelph [see William Johnston*]. His duties included not only improving the farm and supervising farm-hands and students, he reported in 1897, but also frequenting “farmers’ institute meetings, lecturing in college, attending to visitors nearly every day during the month of June, drawing plans for beautifying country homes, besides attending to a large correspondence.” When he resigned in 1899, at the age of 64, he received high praise from college president James Mills* for having “revolutionized” the farm and devoted himself “late and early, with untiring energy.”

Although Rennie was not primarily a writer, his published contributions to agriculture in Ontario were noteworthy. They began with a letter on seed grain to the editor of the Canada Farmer in 1864; included, while he was at Guelph, at least a dozen articles for the Ontario Agricultural College ReviewFarming, and Farmers Advocate and Home Magazine; and ended with an article in Farm and Dairy in 1909. As well, he authored two books: Successful farminghow to farm for profit . . . (Toronto, 1900) and Rennies agriculture in Canada . . . (published posthumously in Toronto in 1916). Through his writing, he promoted the values of farm life and beautification, and stressed the use of improved methods of scientific farming: thorough draining, covered drains, shallow ploughing, short rotation of crops, more efficient fencing and ensilage, and careful cost-accounting.

From Guelph, this “deep original student of the soil” returned to Swansea, where he died in 1910, two months after a paralysing stroke. In 1934 John Rennie continued his father’s public spiritedness by donating land to Swansea for a playground and park. The site of the Rennie home and the company’s trial grounds were, however, eventually redeveloped.

Pleasance Crawford

Thomas Currie Hawkins
BIRTH 21 DEC 1872 • Ramsay, Lanark, Ontario, Canada
DEATH 12 DEC 1951 • Carlton Place, Lanark, Ontario, Canada
  • Birth21 Dec 1872 • Ramsay, Lanark, Ontario, Canada7 Sources1872(AGE)
  • Birth of Sister Caroline Loella Hawkins *(1875–1947)11 Oct 1875 • Ramsay, Lanark, Ontario, Canada18752
  • Birth of Sister Elizabeth Victoria Hawkins(1878–1958)26 Dec 1878 • Ramsay, Lanark, Ontario, Canada18786
  • Birth of Sister Martha Alexandria Hawkins(1878–1896)26 Dec 1878 • Ramsay, Lanark, Ontario, Canada18786
  • Birth of Brother Joseph Traverse Lewis Hawkins(1881–1944)9 Feb 1881 • Ramsay, Lanark, Ontario, Canada18818
  • Residence1881 • Ramsay, Lanark North, Ontario, Canada1 Source18819
  • Birth of Brother Henry Wellington Hawkins(1884–1956)9 Feb 1884 • Ramsay, Lanark, Ontario, Canada188411
  • Birth of Brother Albert Ernest Hawkins(1886–1968)3 Feb 1886 • Ramsay, Lanark, Ontario, Canada188613
  • Residence1891 • Ramsay, Lanark North, Ontario, CanadaMarital Status: Single; Relation to Head of House: Son1 Source189119
  • Birth of Sister Bertha May Hawkins(1892–1990)14 Feb 1892 • Ramsay, Lanark, Ontario, Canada189219
  • Death of Sister Martha Alexandria Hawkins(1878–1896)February 20, 1896 • Ontario, Canada189623
  • Residence1901 • Ramsay, Lanark (north/nord), Ontario, CanadaMarital Status: Single; Relation to Head of House: Head1 Source190129
  • Marriage23 Jun 1909 • Carlton Place, Lanark, Ontario, CanadaEmma Laura Doucett(1883–1941)1 Source190936
  • Death of Father William Henry Hawkins(1842–1911)January 21, 1911 • Ramsay Township, Lanark County, Ontario191138
  • Residence1916 • Birthe, Marquette, Manitoba, CanadaMarital Status: Married; Relation to Head of House: Self1 Source191644
  • Death of Mother Caroline Herron(1852–1932)March 25, 1932 • Carlton Place, Beckwith Twp., Lanark, Ontario193259
  • Death of Wife Emma Laura Doucett(1883–1941)30 Mar 1941 • Carleton Place, Lanark, Ontario, Canada194168
  • Death of Brother William Hawkins(1870–1943)5 Sep 1943 • Carleton Place, Lanark, Ontario, Canada194370
  • Death of Brother Joseph Traverse Lewis Hawkins(1881–1944)17 May 1944 • York, Toronto, Ontario, Canada194471
  • Death of Sister Caroline Loella Hawkins *(1875–1947)11 Apr 1947 • White Lake, Lanark, Ontario, Canada194774
  • Death12 Dec 1951 • Carlton Place, Lanark, Ontario,


Ancestry Sources

  • 1881 Census of Canada
  • 1891 Census of Canada
  • 1901 Census of Canada
  • 1916 Canada Census of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta
  • Canada, Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current
  • Ontario, Canada Births, 1869-1913
  • Ontario, Canada, Marriages, 1801-1928
  • Ontario, Canada, The Ottawa Journal (Birth, Marriage and Death Notices), 1885-1980


Thomas Currie Hawkins & Emma Laura Doucett - St James Anglican Cemetery (Carlton Place)

Memories of Judy Hawkins – Mary Cook News Archives

Picking at the Branches of the Hawkins Clan

Annie Bella Brunton & Adam Wesley Jones

My Flower Seeds — From the Pen of Noreen Tyers of Perth

The Watts Bros Seed Company Lanark Village

The Lanark Ginseng Company?

Remembering the Carleton Place CPR Gardens

Ring That Bell — The Carleton Place Community Alarm Clock


Early Morning Bell

In 1836 a fund to pay for the ringing of a morning bell at Carleton Place, as a sort of community alarm clock corresponding to later factory whistles and bells, was raised by donations from some forty persons. At a meeting called by Hugh Boulton, with James Rosamond as chairman, it was decided the bell should be rung daily at 5 a.m. in the months of May to August, and at 6 a.m. during the other eight months of each year.  A deduction was to be made from the bell ringer’s stipend for any time the bell was rung more than ten minutes late as timed by Robert Bell’s clock.  – Howard Morton Brown

Along with the contributions from the Morphys, the Lavalees, McRostie, the Bells, the Boultons and the rest of the regular hot shots in town Thomas and William Griffith also made a donation. Thomas and William are pictured in the front row of the picture below, the first two on the bottom left. The Griffiths were also related to some of the Hawkins family by marriage. Why did no one look happy in those days? Must have been the darn early morning bell ringing.

Bang a gong!



Picking at the Branches of the Hawkins Clan


Soldiers returning from the Napoleonic wars on the European mainland were flooding the labour market. There had been a war in North America between the Americans and the Canadians (1812-14). The English government offered free land to settlers (preferably with military experience) to defend Canada from the Americans. A lot of the original Hawkins family came over during that period and settled in Beckwith and Lanark.


It has been noted that the first Hawkins men may have been from the Church of England in Beckwith, but they were always 
“Irish loyal.” The family name of Hawkins was of English origin, but they chose to side with the Irish (some of their Irish wives insisted). It was made clear to me they were quite proud of the Irish blood, and their English name was just a name.


This is an account from Cathie Hawkins McOrmond about her family.

My Great Grandfather was born on the 9th line Hawkins homestead. He grew up married and had children there. One of his sons, my Grandfather went west and settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba and had children of his own one– of those children being my father Marvin. The stain glass windows above the choir pew at St. James Anglican Church in Carleton Place are in memory of my great great grandparents. My Mother and Father, Marvin and Doris, met and married in Winnipeg. My father was in WWII, and when he returned he was the only Canadian trained in Code Sypher and he was offered a position in Ottawa with External Affairs.

My parents moved to Ottawa, had six children, with me being the youngest. They lived and worked in Ottawa for many years, but once they decided to retire they purchased 45.5 acres of land in Beckwith running from the tracks up Lake Park Road. They built a house and retired, and my brother and I being the youngest are the only two that moved to Carleton Place with them.The land my Dad purchased on Lake Park Road after he retired. He cut cross country ski trails for many to use for years and named the trails after his children and grandchildren. Eventually my father sold 29.5 acres to a housing developer, hense the current name Hawkins Drive off of Lake Park Rd. Myself, along with my siblings eventually sold the house my parents lived in once my mother had passed.


There was a trail named after myself called Catherine  marked with a sign. This land was part of the 29 acres sold, and one day I was called and told a child found the sign and had taken it into school for show and tell. It had a year on it of 1975. Louise Gour  now lives in Cathie’s childhood home and sadly says the trails no longer exist. We don’t own our family history, we just preserve to carry on to tell others. It’s a link to the past and a bridge to the future.


Hawkins Clan Estate Saves The Wedding Day!


I wanted to write a happy wedding story today, and during my research on Google I found a local wedding tale that took place in 2012. Because a local business rose to the occasion it needs to be told again, because we need to be reminded of the great people in Carleton Place.

Michelle Chartrand and her fiancé Trevor Davis were to be married at the West Carleton Meeting Centre in May of 2012. But a fire in that very building destroyed their dreams that week along with many others.

“I freaked out, I had a good hour of packing and crying and we just went right into crisis mode,” admits the bride-to-be.

Her fiancé Trevor Davis said despite the fire, changing the date was not an option. Of course many of the other venues were already booked, but thanks to generous offers from local organizations and the help of the Majic 100 morning show, the wedding happened after all. Our very own Stonefields Heritage Farm, a local historic farm on the 9th line near Carleton Place took care of all the arrangements to make sure the couple could still have their happy day. After all, Stonefield’s believe is that life’s most beautiful moments are meant to be celebrated.


Photo from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum Annie Bella Brunton & Adam Wesley Jones

The farm is a very historic property in our area. It not only boasts an old stone farmhouse, country gardens, log cabins, and rustic barns, there are acres and acres of rolling farmland. One of the Ottawa Valley’s founding families, the Hawkins clan first settled in the area now known as Beckwith-Carleton Place in 1816. Their small one-room log farmhouse still stands on the Stonefields site today and has been lovingly renamed The Settler’s Cabin in honour of the family.

Over the years, the family built barns and sheds to house their animals, equipment and tools. In 1857, they erected the large stone farmhouse. The 120 acre farm changed hands only a few times over the years.Most recently, Phyllis and Brian Byrne lived on the farm for 35 years and raised their children in the old farmhouse. They expanded the stone home by adding a great room. They maintained the old buildings and designed the gorgeous country gardens. Theirs was a home full of love and laughter. They hosted huge family gatherings and card games in the pub with friends.

In 2010, Stephanie Brown and Steve Malenfant purchased the farm with plans to continue that tradition. Entrepreneurs at heart, they set to work to transform this picture perfect location into an exclusive and timeless venue for life’s celebrations. They renamed it Stonefields. Although the story’s still being written, so far, it’s been full of happy endings. Like the wedding that was almost lost in 2012.


Chartrand and Davis said,

“They really made us feel like ‘you know what guys’? We’re going to take care of everything, don’t worry about calling all of the other people, all of the services that need to be changed, we are going to take care of it so you don’t worry”.

And that is what we do in Carleton Place and Beckwith. We take care of each other in our county limits and outside. Remember that.

Related reading–

Annie Bella Brunton & Adam Wesley Jones