James Weir's Legacy
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Historical Inquiry and Communication -- Valuing Fairness


Expectations -- The student will:

  • formulate questions, interpret and analyze information gathered through research, articulate assumptions and then communicate results of their inquiry.

  • assess the value that parents place on fairness and equity when distributing their wealth to family

  • synthesize a position on the purpose and value of fairness and equity in society


First read the entries on this page (below), the linked pages listed at the top of this page, as well as any relevant information that appears at other linked pages at various locations in the text below. You should also go to Search This Site and perform searches using words such as "Fairness", "Equity" and any other terms that you think will help your work. Refer also to the Subject Index and "New this Month" pages. In completing the assignment below, be sure to address the three Expectations above. As usual you must clearly state all of your assumptions.

  1. Why was it important for James Weir to make a "Last Will and Testament"?
  2. Explain why he did not leave money or property in his will to some of his sons and daughters. What criteria do you think he should have used in making a decision to not leave legacies to a particular son, daughter or grandchild? 
  3. Summarize Martha's poem in your own words. What are the two main themes in her poem and why were these two themes so important to Martha? Describe how you think she was feeling when she wrote the poem about her father.
  4. Was it important for James Weir to instruct his executors to minimize the cost of his funeral and burial? Explain your position using some principles of mathematics.
  5. Explain why, in your opinion, the fatherless children of James George Weir were not included in James Weir's original will. (Note: You could consider one possible simple explanation, but justify how this could have happened.)
  6. Write the dialog between the tough Pathmaster James Weir and 3 of his labourers as they were "working on roads". Of course, include the notion of "fairness on the job" in the discussion.
  7. Write the dialog between James Weir, his wife and his three Executors in early February 1894 as James was preparing to revise his wishes. Consider other possible decisions that could have been made. Perhaps assign one of your characters to be the "designer of a fair will and last testament" -- what criteria will your "designer" want to use? Knowing what you know about James Weir's tough character, do you think any of his 3 sons would dare take this position? Be sure to describe their body language during the scene. Are the furnishings for your scene significant to the story you are trying to tell in this play? What furnishings will this hard-working Scottish farm family have?
  8. Write the script for the scene in Fred Smith's hotel on Sept. 26 1892. Write two versions of the script -- one in which James G. Weir is a non-drinking "Temperance Man" and one in which he is drinking. Then decide which version you want to produce. In justifying your decision, clearly explain the message that you are trying to get across to your audience. 
  9. Rewrite the historic plaque at the Weir house using approximately the same number of words. Justify your changes. Explain how historians can do their part to promote the importance and purpose of fairness and equity in society. Explain how you, as a student, can promote fairness as a very fundamental value in society.


James Weir was a hardworking wealthy farmer in the northeast part of Scarborough. It has been said that by the time he died, he had given to each of six of his sons a farm of their own (and a house in the city to another). The following is modestly adapted from Nancy Weir McCowan's draft "Brown's Corners". Her great-grandparents were the Scottish immigrants James Weir and Janet Muir. It is perhaps significant to know that the period 1893-1895 was one of economic depression in Ontario.


In Fairness and Love

James Weir Sr. (1814-1897) made out his Last Will and Testament on November 15, 1893. He later added a Codicil on Feb. 6, 1894, effectively making adjustments to his wishes. The Executors of his estate were his sons John Weir, Alexander Weir and Francis (Frank) Weir, farmers of Scarborough. None of these sons are mentioned as receiving anything in the will. His grown children, Thomas, Francis, John, Alex Weir and Martha Secor had each received property under some earlier arrangement but did not receive the Deeds until James' death. To obtain the Deeds, they each had to pay legacies and other fees. The legal expenses and the funeral debts were to be satisfied by the Executors and the residue of the property distributed according to law. The Codicil was witnessed by James Torrance (Alex. Torrance at bottom of the sheet) of the village of Markham, Hotel Keeper, and James J. Barker, Markham, Conveyancer. The Probate Fees for the Will amounted to $28.05.

James Weir directed his Estate to be divided as follows in the Will. This is a shortened version of the Will.

1.  Mary (Mrs. Henry Kennedy) - The sum of $2,000.00 to be paid to her one year after death.
2.  William, son in Township of Goderich, County of Huron, the sum of $500.00 less "the amount of promissory note without interest which I now hold against him".
3.  Granddaughter Lilly Eva Weir, daughter of son William Weir aforesaid, the sum of $500.00 to be paid to her one year after death. 
4.  Robert Weir, son, House and Lot in Toronto, 568 Jarvis St., subject to payment to Estate of $1,000.00. 
5.  Grandchildren (Janetta and James), children of his deceased daughter Margaret, late of Markham, the sum of $1,500.00 each when they reach twenty-one years of age.
6.  Thomas, son, all live stock including horses, cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry.
7.  Beloved wife - all household furniture she might select. Any she may decline to go to Thomas.
8.  All residue of Estate to wife for her own use and benefit.

The Codicil made a few changes.

1.  Mary Kennedy - daughter- the south half of Lot Number Seventeen in the Fourth Concession - One Hundred acres more or less - subject to payment of $5000.00 to be paid to Estate in ten yearly equal payments of $500.00 each (or until the death of her Mother). I understand that this imposed quite a hardship on Mary's family. Janet Weir, her mother, died ten years later, March 1, 1907.
2.  Martha Secor, daughter, the sum of $1,000.00 to be paid to her one year after death. (Martha was not mentioned in the Will itself but had received property earlier.)
3.  Grandchildren Mabel and Effie Weir, children of late son James George Weir, the sum of $2,500.00 each to be paid in ten yearly payments of $250.00. (This amount seems small, but the reasoning seems to be that after James George's accidental death, his widow was loaned $10,000.00 by James George's parents and some was still owing on that loan. There were some hard feelings about this.)

True to his Scottish blood, James Weir did not like the thought of a lot of money being spent on his funeral. James left orders that his burial (furniture) should not cost more than $40.00. The bill from the Chas. Beierl Furniture Company, Markham, (undertaking was a speciality) states that the Casket, Shell and Hearse would cost $44.50. There is a notation that the Shell was left out, bringing the cost down to $41.00. My brother, Blake Weir, told me that "the cost of the Hearse was less than usual because Dad (James M.T. Weir) drove a team of John J.'s horses hitched to the Hearse instead of using a team belonging to the Funeral Director." (John J. Weir was my Grandfather)

The cemetery monument was purchased from The McIntosh Granite and Marble Co., Toronto, Tel. 4249. The cost was $210.00 but was paid in cash and so $35.00 was saved.

On March 8, 1898, a letter was written to John Weir from Holmes & Gregory, Barristers, Canada Life Bldg. The letter points out that Mrs. Weir, widow of James G. Weir (James' 3rd son) was appointed guardian of Mabel and Effie Weir and that the Executors should make the first payment of $500.00 at once. The Executors had intended to pay through the Court. John Weir was ordered to pay her directly. My brother Blake had heard that: "for some reason, they still paid her through the Court."

In March, 1902, an Indenture (written agreement) was made between the Executors in which Alexander Weir states that he is going to retire from the trusts of the said Will of the said James Weir, and that John Weir and Francis Weir shall hereafter be the trustees of the said estate. Alexander Weir was to leave Ontario to farm in Saskatchewan. John and Francis had to promise that "they will faithfully perform the trusts of the said Will with reference to the property of the said estate now transferred to them, and will indemnify and save harmless the said Alexander Weir of and from all liability as Trustee or executor of the said Will to any person whomsoever."

Thus a wealthy farmer, father of eight surviving offspring and grandfather of many has seen fit to divide his Estate. Hopefully, most were satisfied. Some likely were not, but in trying to be fair to all, perhaps he alienated a few.

James Weir died Jan. 26, 1897. He was buried at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. A death notice reads as follows -

"Weir - On Tuesday, Jan 26th, at his late residence, Browns Corners, Jas. Weir in his 83rd. year. The funeral was held to St. Andrew's cemetery, Bendale, Thursday afternoon." (Notice the word "to". In those days the funeral was held in the deceased's home and the body conveyed to the cemetery.)

Another news clipping states:

"The funeral of Mr. James Weir on this 28th. inst. was one of the largest we have witnessed in this section. The surrounding community extend their sympathy to the bereaved family."

There is a story that had been handed down that the funeral cortege of horse-drawn buggies was close to a mile long.

The following is a poem written in his memory by his daughter Mrs. Martha Secor. Martha's husband, Maitland, was the grandson of Peter Secor, the first Reeve of Scarborough.

Of Mr. JAMES WEIR Sr. Scarboro

Tis whispered round that he is dead, and tears begin to fall;
The hope which cheered his friends is fled, 
And grief is over all.
The voice so sweet, no more will cheer
As with some joyful hymn;
The seal of death is on his brow,
The glancing eyes are dim.
We think of happy years gone by,
With more of joy than pain;
But death has turned our joy to grief, 
And all our hopes are vain.

Yes, he is gone. What does it mean?
A wife so sad and lone;
An empty chair beside the fire,
Where love and beauty shone,
A home without a father's smile; 
A family left behind.
Who always knew a father's love
And on his hope depend.
Two months ago when sickness came
To court life joys, to hear its pain;
But all the sweetness that it gave,
We followed, weeping, to the grave.

How well he knew his time had come,
High Heaven had fixed his doom;
But, oh! We cannot tell -
God only knows what time is best;
He doeth all things well.
'Tis sweet to see dear Christians die,
So hopeful and resigned;
Such happiness around them lie,
We're sad when left behind.
Oh! We may weep; love's tender ties
Force from our eyes a tear;
Where shall we find a sadder place
Than by our father's grave?
We'll lay his body in the dust.
To rise at that great day;
The grave is not a prison now,
Christ bore the door away;
When life's long, weary fight is fought,
And all our pains are o'er;
In yon bright home we hope to meet
Dear friends long gone before.

Obviously, James Weir was deeply loved and respected by his family. He was a staunch Conservative of the old school, a man of integrity, and had a host of friends. He and his wife were both devout Presbyterians of the Auld Scottish Kirk.

As with most people, especially in connection with business matters, there was another side to James Weir as illustrated by this excerpt from a letter to Daniel Tudhop from John Weir, Junior, (a nephew) dated June 19, 1868.

".....they had a great time working on roads last week with Jim Weir - he was pathmaster so they quarrled all the time -some of them left and would not work any more and some of them was going to wipe his mouth with the spaid [shovel] - so you see Jim is as well liked as ever. Willie McCowan [James Weir's nephew] is living with him this summer..."

James Weir was indeed a tough boss as indicated in the following story told by his grandson Clark Secor to the editors of a History of Markham.

While logging and wood cutting was still being done in Scarborough, many huge timbers were hauled from the stand of hardwood and virgin pine down a special trail called the 'Mast Road'. This 'road' followed the general line of the 10th Concession of Markham south to the mouth of the Rouge River. The timber and logs were teamed by oxen or horses drawing 'timber tugs', pairs of wheels supporting the logs at each end. The mast road led to the Little Rouge and there the logs were dumped into the river and floated in rafts to the lake - destination Kingston and Quebec where they might be used in ship building. One day, James Weir was transporting a long log down over the Ontario and Quebec (now C. P. R.) crossing where it became stuck. Soon a train approached and had to stop. The engineer dismounted and ordered Weir and his men to move the log, or he would have his crew saw it in two. With that, Weir pointed his gun at the engineer and ordered him to keep back. With renewed efforts they eventually got the timber tugs and their load in motion and off the tracks. This railway had been put through in 1884. 

James Weir would have been at least seventy years old at the time of this incident if indeed that were the railway they were crossing. He must have stayed in the lumbering business for many years.

In politics, James Weir was one of Scarborough's well-known supporters of the conservative party. As reported in one of the papers:

On June 27, 1877, a monster federal rally was held in Markham, sponsored by the East York Conservative organization with, the Toronto Mail claimed, fully five or six thousand people from all sections of the County of York being present... Sir John A Macdonald... and many other Gentlemen arrived by train about 10 o'clock... At the Fair Grounds, a platform and seating accommodation had been built and dinner prepared in the large hall... Among those present were... James Weir, Hugh Miller, James Wideman (Unionville), A. Gallanough (Thornhill), and John Bowman (Almira)... "Sir John A. Macdonald was received with thunders of applause. Owing to the fact that the train was to leave for Toronto at half-past five, the speeches had to be brought to a conclusion." All present left with the assurance that Sir John would return to power in the next election, which he did in September, 1878. His victory was not yet, however; the young Liberals of the village had managed to derail Macdonald's private car at the station, and there was some delay before the party could get underway for the return trip to Toronto. 

 The Scarboro Heights Record V14 #9


Left Without A Breadwinner

James George Weir, third surviving son of James Weir and Janet Muir, was killed in an accident on Sept. 26, 1892. The following are newspaper accounts of the tragedy.

James George Weir, Jan. 29, 1858 - Sept. 26,1892

Two farmers named John Lowrie and James Weir, coming from Brown' Corners, were preparing about 7 o'clock last evening to leave the hotel shed at Norway, where they had been on Business. Lowrie was busy talking to some men about something or other, while Weir, who was anxious to get home, backed out their two teams. One of the waggons in backing crashed up against the fence, smashing it down and frightening the horses in such a manner that both teams ran away, dragging Weir, who clung tenaciously to both teams, a distance of 60 or 70 yards, injuring the unfortunate man so that death resulted almost instantly. Dr. Shaw who was summoned, notified Coroner Britton, who had the remains removed to Woodriffe's Hotel. An Inquest will probably be held to-morrow.


James G. Weir Killed by Being Tramped on by his Runaway Horses - 
The Horse's Cork Sunk into his Temple - a Terribly Sudden End.

Uncertain as we admit life to be one does not realize it until the sad and awful truth is presented to us in its most sudden and heartrending form. This the death of James G. Weir presents. Happy, prosperous, and almost extremely fond of his family, the father forgets for a moment the danger he places his life in to save his horses and waggon.

Mr. Weir, of Brown's Corners, accompanied by Mr. John Lawrie, of Malvern, had disposed of their loads of grain on Monday in Toronto and early in the afternoon started for home. When the Norway Hill was reached the horses were given water at Fred Schmidt's and a short stay resulted.

Generally, a man who raises a good horse takes considerable pride in it and having a young, spirited team, Mr. Weir, in the course of conversation spoke of his! His companion, John Lawrie, was engaged talking of the relative merits of the animals to some friends when Weir went out, and backing his own team of young animals out, he afterwards backed Lawrie's out preparatory for leaving. No one had come out during this time and Weir's team started off. Leaving Lawrie's, Weir ran and grasped the wildest animal of his own team and was knocked down. In falling, the horse's hoof crushed into the right temple, killing him instantly, the wound being a terrible one. This happened in about one minute, according to the story of a boy, who appears to have been the only eyewitness of the whole affair. 

Mr. Lawrie, on coming out for his team saw both teams bolting up the hill and ran after them, catching his own, and it was not until the Half Way House on the Kingston road was reached that Weir's horses were stopped. Both were brought back, and it was not until Mr. Lawrie returned that he learned of the terribly sudden death of his friend. 

The rest can be realized. To him fell the lot of having the awful news carried to Weir's wife, father and mother, the former being in a delicate condition.

Upon hearing of the sad occurrence The Sun immediately proceeded to the residence of the deceased and interviewed his brother, Mr. R. Weir, druggist, of Jarvis street, Toronto, regarding the accident and it is unnecessary to give an inkling of the sorrowful scene at the home.

Mr. James G. Weir was the third son of Mr. James Weir, of Scarboro, an old and respected resident. He was in his 35th year and a prosperous and upright farmer, and leaves a wife and three young children.

The team was brought home about noon and neither horse was injured, and the only thing missing is the whip.

The funeral, which took place yesterday afternoon at St. Andrew's Church, was largely attended.



Horses Trample Out the Life From Their Owner

A Woman and Three Children Left Without a Breadwinner.

The Fatal Halt of James Weir on His Way Home --
While Getting Ready to Start the Horses Ran Away and He was Trampled Under Their Feet.

James Weir, a Scarboro Township farmer was instantly killed at Norway last night by a kick which he received from one of his horses as they were running away. He was a well-to-do young man of 35 living with his wife and three children on a valuable farm about a mile and a quarter from Malvern. 

Yesterday morning he came into the city with his hired man, each of them driving a load of grain. He spent the day at or around St. Lawrence market where he disposed of his produce and at 5 o'clock he started home with a neighbour named James Lowery, who had also been in with grain. The hired man had driven his team home earlier in the day.

When the two farmers reached Fred Smith's hotel at the foot of the Norway hill it was decided to give their horses a feed. They tied the animals up in the shed and went into the bar themselves. A number of acquaintances were there, and the two Scarboro men talked with them for over an hour.

Shortly after 7 o'clock Weir remarked that it was time to be going, and he went from the hotel to get out the horses. So far as can be ascertained that was the last time he was seen alive, for two minutes later he was a mangled corpse. Just what happened during that time conjecture must supply. It would seem that after backing his own team into the road Weir brought out his friend's, and, while engaged in that kindly task, his own horses, both of which were young and skittish, took fright and started up the road. He ran after them and picked up the lines, which were trailing along the ground, but before he had gone thirty yards he was thrown directly under their hoofs.

His startled shouts and the rapid beating of hoofs brought the crowd out of the hotel, but all that they could see was Lowery's horses trotting away by themselves, while the rumble from further up the road indicated that Weir's team had got away. 

Fred Smith, the hotel keeper ran after them and stumbled across Weir's corpse which was lying in the middle of the road. The corks of the horses' shoes had bruised his head out of all recognition. One indentation was on the forehead while from another above the right ear brains and blood oozed horribly. Dr. Shaw was called, but he of course could do nothing. The body was carried to the hotel. 

Weir was well-known and was popular with the neighbouring farmers.


On Sept. 26th., accidentally killed, James G. Weir, of Browns Corners, third son of Mr. James Weir, aged 35 years.


I think it is interesting to read all three of these newspaper accounts of the accident. Each one tells something a little differently. John Lawrie's name is spelled three different ways and in one his name is James. In only one is an eye-witness mentioned. In the first account he was dragged 60 to 70 yards, holding onto both teams and in another he grasped the wildest animal of his own team and was knocked down, the horse's hoof crushing his temple. The truth is that probably the whole incident happened so quickly that nobody really knew the details but the reporters tried to make a good story out of it. 

I went into St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church Cemetery recently and found the plot where James George Weir is buried. Also buried there are his wife, Isabella Fleming, B. July 3, 1865, D. May 13, 1924, their daughter Elizabeth Effie, B. May 28, 1887, D. Jan 27, 1962. The fourth name is that of a daughter, Mary Jamesanna, B. Dec. 2, 1892, D. Jan. 11, 1893. One of the newspaper articles above mentions Mrs. Weir being in "delicate condition" when her husband was killed. The child she was carrying at the time was born that December and died in the following January.

Managing Editor's Note: Clark Secor, nephew of James George Weir, stated that James George Weir did not drink, but John Lawrie did.

 The Scarboro Heights Record V14 #9


Historic Home
A Fitting Monument, But To Who?

The stone house on Tapscott Road where James Weir and Janet Muir raised their family of 13 was eventually purchased by Runnymede Development Corporation. The new owners wanted to build a modern factory on the site and in 1975 the fieldstone house was relocated to the west. "'It's a big job,' said David Smith, a partner in the company which is moving the house. 'The walls are two feet thick and solid stone. The whole building must weigh 400 tons.'" (Quotation from an article in the Mirror, Scarboro Edition, Wed., Nov. 26, 1975.) Mr. Joseph Tanenbaum, president of Runneymede Dev. Corp. Ltd., spent more than $50,000 to relocate the house and then had it restored to be used as a dwelling for the night watchman and maintenance personnel associated with the Titan Wheels plant.

In recognition of the efforts of Runneymede Development, the Scarboro Historical Society had a historic plaque erected on the front of the house. A committee was chosen from the Society to compose a suitable inscription and on August 27, 1983, the plaque was dedicated at a ceremony which was held in conjunction with a Weir Family Reunion commemorating One Hundred and Fifty Years in Canada. 

The following is the text of the Historical Plaque


James Weir (1814 - 1897) came to Scarborough in 1833 from Lesmahagow Parish, Scotland. A staunch Loyalist, he assisted in the dispersion of the rebels under William Lyon Mackenzie in 1837. He was an expert curler and, as one of the "Wully Draigles", competed in the celebrated Scarborough -Toronto bonspiels of the 1830's held on Toronto Bay. For several years he was a partner in a land clearing enterprise, and finally settled on this property in 1840. Here he raised a family of thirteen children, although three died in infancy. He was a successful farmer, livestock importer and ploughman. In time he became one of Scarborough's wealthiest landowners. In 186l he erected this fine fieldstone house of Kingston limestone. In 1975 the house was moved west about four hundred feet to this site, and restored by Runnymede Development Corporation Limited.
Erected by the Scarborough Historical Society, 1983

Did you notice anything missing? The first thing that my Aunt Janet (Weir) Stubbington said when she saw the plaque was "Where is the name of my Grandmother?" My great-grandmother, Janet Muir Weir must have been strong to have given birth to thirteen children. She is not even mentioned in three paragraphs on the plaque. Janet Muir bore James Weir's children and stood by him through fifty-three years of marriage. There were no conveniences at all as we know them and with that large a family the work around the house must have been unending. I don't wish to take away from James, but his wife, Janet, must not be forgotten. In his Will James spoke of her as his Beloved Wife and she is as much a part of Scarborough history as he is.

For a period of time during the 1970's, a poverty stricken family lived in this James Weir House and worked for Titan Wheels, adjacent to the house. Duties included security and cleaning of the factory. They all hated the work and left to live in a camper van for a number of months. One of the sons drew on his experiences when he went into stand-up comedy: his name - James Carrey. (This information is from the Elm Street magazine, Sept. 1999).

 The Scarboro Heights Record V14 #9