Early in 2021 Barry Alloway discovered the Highlands Historical Society website, learned about the Plaque Program, and inquired about obtaining a plaque for the Highlands home at 11112 – 62nd Street that his grandparents moved into in 1956. Barry was put in touch with the current owner of the home who immediately became interested in the history of the home and Barry’s grandparents, and invited Barry and his brothers to see the house. Not surprisingly, family interest was piqued! Photos and stories were shared, historical research was done, and the following narrative of the Tocher home and family was written. Thank you Barry, and your brothers, for sharing your research, your photos, and your story with us!
In April of 1914 at the age of seven, my grandmother, Wilhelmina (“Minnie”) Joyce Hamilton, came to Canada by ship traveling with her mother, 3 other siblings, an aunt and a brother-in-law. After disembarking in Halifax, the family traveled by train to Edmonton. Grandma once told me that the family emigrated to Canada as one of her sisters was ill and a doctor recommended that she would do better in a drier climate. Grandma’s father, Robert Banks Hamilton, preceded the family to Canada. After arriving in Edmonton, the family lived with an uncle for six months in a house located in the Norwood neighbourhood, as the family adjusted.
In 1915 the Hamilton family of six took up residence in a tiny but very tidy house in what is now known as the Queen Mary Park neighbourhood north of 107 Avenue on 113 Street.
Like his father, Robert Hamilton was a tradesman trained as a plumber and electrician. In January 1915, Robert enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces.
He was sent overseas leaving behind a wife and five children, including a newborn boy born in Edmonton, and served in France, Belgium and possibly elsewhere in Europe. At the conclusion of his service he returned to Edmonton and employment as a machinist with the CNR, working on trains.
Two more children were added to the family bringing the total to seven. Grandma, being the eldest, no doubt was called upon to help look after the youngest children. Grandma attended school first at Norwood, then McDougall and Oliver schools until age 15. I recall her mentioning that she had a rather strict teacher by the name Kate Chegwin, for whom a school now bears her name. Later, Grandma attended a technical school for two years, learning dressmaking and, at about age 19, was employed as a seamstress at the Great West Garment Company in its factory located at the corner of 97th street and 103rd Avenue. I suspect that Grandma stopped working at GWG sometime in 1929 after marrying in 1928 and before the birth of my mom in 1930.
A new house was constructed for the Hamilton family next door to the original home.
In about 1928, the family took up residence there. That house, located at 10727-113 street, is still standing. My grandparents were married in the new home on November 10, 1928.
My grandfather (William or “Bill”) came to Canada with his mother and 10 (TEN) other siblings in May 1908. His father, John Tocher, and eldest brother Robert Douglas Tocher, came to Canada in 1908. Apparently John had traveled to Canada on a number of occasions before the 1908 voyage. John Tocher appears to have been a farmer or farm servant in Scotland. The family may well have moved from farm to farm in the years preceding their emigration from Scotland to Canada but I am speculating about that with only hints of information.
By 1911 the Tocher family settled in the Winnipeg area; my grandfather’s parents and eight other siblings lived in the same residence. The 1911 Winnipeg Henderson’s Directory shows John Tocher Sr and Robert Douglas Tocher in the employ of the CNR.
It appears that the family left Winnipeg and had at a few other places of residence in rural locations in Manitoba for the next ten years based on information in the 1916 and 1921 Census records and the enlistment record of four of my grandfather’s older brothers.
Four brothers enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces at the outbreak of WW1 in 1916. All four survived the war.
On January 17, 1922, John Tocher passed away in St. Boniface, Manitoba. It appears that most, if not all, family members then ‘scattered’ west to Alberta.
In 1924 and 1925 Grandpa’s residence was at 11319-108 Avenue in Edmonton, not far from my Grandma’s family home. He lived there with a sister and her family. His brother-in-law was employed by the CNR and Grandpa may have been able to secure labourer work there from the family connection. I have a photo of Grandpa with greasy fingers wearing coveralls and standing in front of a structure with “B & B Dept” painted on it. Until undertaking research for this article, I couldn’t figure out why or how that photo was taken. My guess is that photo was taken around 1925 when he was working for CNR in the “Building & Bridges Department”.
Grandma told me that she met Grandpa when he was living in the same neighbourhood. According to her, Grandpa’s sister had two girls about the same age as Grandma’s younger sister and that the three girls often played together. Apparently Grandpa liked to take photographs and one day my Grandma’s sister suggested that Grandpa take a picture of Grandma and he agreed to do so. Grandma said it was love at first sight.
Later Grandpa worked in Exshaw (a town then owned by the Canada Cement Company). The 1926 Census lists a 21-year-old William Tocher (Grandpa turned 18 in 1926), born in Scotland, living as a boarder in Exshaw. Among a collection of family photos are a number of taken in Exshaw including one of Grandpa standing in front of the “Portland Hotel” in Exshaw.
Around the time my grandparents were married in 1928 Grandpa had jobs driving vehicles; possibly with the Edmonton City Dairy, with an oil company and, after brief service with the Edmonton Fire Department, an operator of streetcars and buses in the employ of the City of Edmonton.
In 1930, the transit system was called the Edmonton Radial Railway and an operator of streetcars was called a “motorman”.
I know that by early 1930 Grandpa was working for the Edmonton Radial Railway as there is a photo of him in his uniform, holding a very young infant, my mother, in his arms, while he was wearing the uniform of an Edmonton Radial Railway Operator. Grandma is in the background.
In the summer of 1931, my grandparents had a second and last child, this time a son.
The family moved a few more times before taking up residence at 11609-89 St. from about 1933 to 1952. After about four years in a home on 69 St. and 113 Ave., the Tochers moved into a newly constructed home in the Highlands located at 11112-62 St. in 1956.
Then residing along 62 street were:
West side of 62 Street
11136-62 St – A.L. Magrath
11128-62 St – Mrs. P.W. Ault
11122-62 St – Dr. Lou Heard
6202-111 Ave – Dr. Wm H. Scott
East side of 62 Street
11135-62 St – Harry Salk and Leonard Hall
11129-62 St – Roy E. Towns
11123-62 St – Arth Degregoire
11119-62 St – Mrs. Loretta W. McLeod
6125-111 Ave – John Agnew.
The Highlands house had a basement suite and over the years it provided modest accommodation for family members and non-family members including at least one family of three that was new to Canada. They became lifelong friends of my grandparents.
In the backyard behind the garage, Grandpa built a greenhouse; Grandpa’s greenhouse and his garage were his happy places. Not only did Grandpa grow bedding plants and tomatoes from seed in his heated greenhouse which were shared with neighbours and family, it was a place where he could have the odd smoke no doubt thinking that Grandma would not catch him out there. In his unheated or minimally heated garage, Grandpa tinkered and accumulated stuff … a small hardware full of stuff. He was a self-taught handyman. The backyard also was a place to sit in the summer with family.
I recall that Grandpa enjoyed watching hockey on TV in the Gretzky era and enjoyed getting to the odd game when tickets became available. Grandpa had been a hunter of game birds at one time but I don’t think he had the luxury of time nor the money to become involved in any other leisure activities growing up. Out of necessity he became independent and self-sufficient at a fairly young age.
Grandma, for the most part, was the keeper of the house and of the finances. She baked (notably shortbread and currant squares), sewed, mended and kept grandpa in line and fed. When Grandpa was working in the greenhouse, she would signal him to come in by closing the kitchen drapes.
My grandparents were not avid travelers but they did travel to Scotland on one or more occasions to visit ‘the old country’ and relatives.
From about 1930 to 1972, Grandpa remained in the employ of the City of Edmonton operating streetcars, trolley and gas-powered buses. For a number of years, Grandpa drove a trolley on the J1 or 1 Route that traveled along 112 Avenue to downtown and Jasper Place. On his retirement in 1972, Grandpa wore Edmonton Transit System Badge Number 1.
In 1992 after more than 35 years in their Highlands home, it was time for my grandparents to leave for accommodation where they could receive care and attention provided by others.
Grandpa passed away two years later and Grandma passed away in 1997.