It was 125 years ago today, on April 15, 1897, that my paternal great grandparents, Harold Rix “Harry” Warner (1874–1944) and Mary Jane Harber (1875–1942) said their wedding vows. It happened in Orillia, Ontario, on Lake Simcoe, about 130 kilometres north of Toronto.
He was 22. She was 21 and about four months pregnant with my grandfather. Their marriage would last for almost 45 years, until Mary’s death in 1942, a month short of their 45th anniversary. They would have three children — Harold “Harley” (my grandfather), Ruby, and Cecil — and five grandchildren.
The wedding was on a Thursday, presumably in the evening so that the menfolk wouldn’t have to take a day off work. Officiating was a Presbyterian minister (then retired), the Reverend John Gray D.D.
We don’t know if the ceremony was in church or at the home of the bride’s parents, but if it was at a church, it would have been St. Andrew’s Presbyterian on Peter Street. It’s a beautiful Victorian structure that had been built eight years earlier, in 1889.
Two witnesses signed the marriage record. The first was Fred Younkie, a friend of Harry’s and likely his Best Man. Fred was of German parentage (the family name was originally Jahnke). Over his brief life (he died at fifty of stomach cancer), he would work as a fireman, a bartender, a machinist, and who knows what else.
The second witness was Martha Harber (1871–1908), Mary’s older sister and presumably the Maid of Honour. Four years older than Mary, Martha was a dressmaker. She would never marry and, like the Best Man, would go on to die very young. She succumbed to tuberculosis on November 24, 1908, at the age of 37.
We don’t know who else attended the wedding. With Mary’s baby bump starting to show, it may have been a hastily organized, modestly attended affair.
Mary’s parents, John and Annie (Blair) Harber, lived in town and would certainly have been there. Mary’s five younger siblings — Isabella (20), George (15), Maud (13), Clarence (11), and Hazel (6)— were still living with their parents, and might have come too. Mary’s older brother, John (29), lived nearby too, but might have had other priorities. His wife, Maud, was nine months pregnant (she’d give birth to a girl ten days later) and they had an 18-month-old baby at home.
Attendance by Harry’s side of the family was probably much sparser. He was the youngest of ten children, seven of whom were still living. His parents, James and Margaret (Quinn) Warner, lived in Toronto, as did his four living sisters, Hannah (35), Daisy (31), Sadie (29), and Ella (24). His two brothers lived in the US: William (39) in Detroit and Tom (33) in New York City.
It’s likely that James and Margaret would have taken the train north from Toronto for the wedding, and that Daisy, Sadie, and Ella (all unmarried) would have accompanied them. Harry’s other sister Hannah. like her sister-in-law-to-be Mary, was four months pregnant. She also had four children at home, aged six through thirteen. Her presence seems doubtful.
Mary was a local girl, born in the village of Longford Mills, about 13 kilometres from Orillia, on May 22, 1875. The family moved to Orillia about 1883, when Mary was eight. Her father, John, was in the lumber business, starting as a sawmill hand and later going into business as a lumber merchant. We really don’t know anything else about Mary’s life before marrying Harry.
Unlike Mary, Harry was a city boy, born on July 6, 1874 in what is now the heart of downtown Toronto. By the time he was 19, he was working as a machinist in a Toronto lumber mill belonging to his brother-in-law, Charles Arter Larkin (husband of his sister Hannah). With that grounding in the lumber business, he moved north to Orillia sometime between 1894 and 1896, in response to the opportunities offered by the sawmills there. Orillia was in the middle of a huge, primordial forest and Toronto needed that lumber to fuel its rapid growth.
That’s where Harry met Mary and they fell in love. That’s all we know about that.
Harry’s Warner Roots
Harry was a grandson of William Warner (1808–1845) and Sarah Leitch (abt. 1805–1893), who came to Canada in the 1820s and are the founders of the branch of the Warner family that this website was created for. He was a fifth generation descendant (great great grandson) of William Warner (Abt. 1753–1801) and Elizabeth White (abt. 1755–1807), who were married in Howden, Yorkshire on October 20, 1776.
As far as I know, the two photographs above are the only ones that exist of Mary and Harry. The originals are in postcard format and in the possession of their grandson, my cousin Jack Penelton. He was kind enough to allow me to scan them a few years ago.
Here are the original, unrestored photos: