Biography of a Small Town Lady
Mary Amanda Williams was born October 18, 1847 on a farm in St. Vincent Township, the eastern part of present-day Municipality of Meaford. Her parents, John Williams and Selina Williams (nee Brewster) were amongst the first settlers of this portion of the Queen's Bush, settling on lot 14, concession 9 in 1838, just three years after Charles Rankin had finished surveying the land. John Williams was the first Clerk and Treasurer of St. Vincent. Selina Williams was a direct descendant of William Brewster (1566 - 1644), a religious and spiritual leader for the Pilgrims who sailed on the Mayflower. With a politically active father and a long-standing family tradition of faith and religion, the foundation was laid for Mary's lifelong involvement in community and religious affairs.
On October 18, 1869, her 22nd birthday, Mary was married to James Trout (1839 - 1906). James was the son of William Trout, millwright and one of St. Vincent's first elected councilors, and Catherine Trout (nee MacKinnon). William Trout operated a sawmill on the Bighead river, south-west of Meaford, which employed the famous environmentalist John Muir from 1864 - 1866. The remains of this mill, which was destroyed by fire in 1867, can still be seen while hiking the Trout Hollow Trail, which runs from Meaford, along the Bighead river to the Riverside Community Centre. At this time, James helped out on the family farm during the summer months and worked as a salesman during the winter.
Mary was a school teacher at the time of her marriage, but had to relinquish her position as she was to focus her attention on housekeeping and farm work. James had purchased the back half of his family's farm with money he made as a salesman, and the home was well established when Mary moved in. In 1870, Mary gave birth to her first child, William Ernest, adding child care to her list of duties around the farm. In 1875, with the arrival of their second child, Kathleen, the couple moved to a larger house in Meaford, where James entered into business with his brother-in-law, Charles Jay. Until 1893, James and Charles were in the business of money-lending, insurance, and real estate. As money-lenders they gave financial assistance to many citizens of Meaford and surrounding area, contributing to the further development of farms, businesses, and factories.
Mary was very active in her community, regularly attending prayer meetings, business meetings, picnics and "socials." It was common for her to be out in the community visiting, shopping, or helping James with business. Most days she would eat at least one meal at a neighbour's house or serve an extra plate for a visitor. Often the people with whom she socialized were politicians and business men. She also taught music lessons and Sunday School classes. James and their son, Will, spoke often at prayer meetings, sometimes taking a leading role.
On February 7, 1879, disaster struck when Kathleen, James and Mary's only daughter, died of diphtheria at the age of four. The devastation of this event was longstanding, as Mary noted the anniversary every year. On February 7, 1920, Mary writes "Kathleen gone 41 years today." This would certainly not be the last time Mary dealt with death and loss. James had dealt with many serious health problems throughout his life, sometimes needing to travel long distances to find doctors and treatments to help. Though the circumstances were unfortunate, these trips allowed the Trouts to travel more than most people. Through these trips Mary and James spent time in Nebraska, Arkansas, and Florida. Although their time together was rich, James developed arteriosclerosis, causing hemorrhaging in his legs, eventually leading to his passing on February 16, 1906.
Mary remained as active in the community after James' death, and even took over some of his business dealings, collecting rent from tenants and overseeing the construction and maintenance of some new buildings. Her retirement years were spent much the same, with more time spent gardening, quilting, and helping friends, neighbours, and family. Mrs. Trout was well liked in her community and she had a positive effect on the lives of all she encountered. Sadly, on December 28, 1922, at 75 years of age, Mary passed away due to complications with her heart and kidneys. There is no doubt she was dearly missed by all who knew her.
This project was made possible in part through the Canadian Culture Online Program of Canadian Heritage, Library and Archives Canada and the Canadian Council of Archives. We are also appreciative of local sponsorship from the Grey County Historical Society.
Archives of Ontario. Registrations of Deaths 1869-1934, MS935, Reel 125, 011416, 1906.
Archives of Ontario. Registrations of Deaths 1869-1934, MS935, Reel 288, 014084, 1922.
T. Arthur Davidson. A New History of the County of Grey: and the many communities within its boudaries and the city of Owen Sound, Grey County Historical Society, Owen Sound, Ontario, 1972.
Cherry Good. On the Trail of John Muir, Luath Press, Edinburgh, Scotland, 2000.
Stanley Knight Ed. Pictorial Meaford: a pictorial history of the town of Meaford 1818-1991, Stanley Knight Ltd., Meaford, Ontario, 1991.
E.L. Marsh, in cooperation with the Official Committee. A History of the County of Grey, 2nd Ed., Fleming Publishing Company, Ltd., Owen Sound, Ontario, 1999.
C.H. Pedlar. Selected Highlights from the History of Meaford and St. Vincent Township, C.H. Pedlar, 1991.
Peter M. Rinaldo. The Trouts from London: William Trout Branch, Dor Pete Press, Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., 1988.
St. Vincent Heritage Association. St. Vincent, A Beautiful Land: an illustrated township history, St. Vincent Heritage Association, Thornbury, Ontario, 2004.
Vina Rose Ufland Ed. History of the Schools of St. Vincent Township and Other Chronicles, 1847-1967, St. Vincent Council, St. Vincent, Ontario 1967.
< http://www.ontariotrails.on.ca/trails-a-z/trout-hollow-trail/ > (accessed May 19, 2009)
These reference materials are available for viewing at the Grey County Archives.
Mary Trout and James Trout images courtesy of the Meaford Museum.