Introduction History & Immigration Culture People Multimedia Resources
  Text Size: S | M | L
People > Scots of Windsor's Past > Bartlet Family

People: Scots of Windsor's Past

Bartlet Family:

Family Background

The Bartlet Family
The Bartlet Family

This family from Parish Forgue, Aberdeenshire, had a tremendous impact on Windsor's development. James Bartlet, born some time in the 1730s, was a small farmer with strong attachment to the Episcopal Church of Scotland. He was known to be "a man of more than ordinary common sense" and was often called upon by neighbours to arbitrate their differences. 1 James married a woman named Margaret Sharp, who hailed from a well-known family, and had six children by her: James, the eldest, was a boatswain in the British Navy and was killed during the Seven Years War; George, who died in infancy; Susan, who married another small farmer in the parish; Alexander; Theodore, who went to the West Indies at the turn of the nineteenth century; and Margaret, who died young.

Alexander Bartlet was born in 1780. As a young man he had wanted to go abroad, but his landlord persuaded him to keep working on the farm and get married instead. In the meantime, Alexander became acquainted with a young Presbyterian woman named Mary Redford of the Parish Marnoch, and the two married in 1809 despite some familial objections on religious differences. The couple lived on the Estate of Bognie in the home farm and old mansion house, raised a family of four children there.

James Bartlet
James Bartlet

Barbara, born in 1810, was the only daughter and the only Bartlet child to spend the entirety of her life in Scotland. James came in 1813, followed by William in 1818 and Alexander in 1822. James later recalled the carefree days of his childhood with nostalgia, reminiscing about the path he and his sister took through Burn Park on their way to school: "We would collect [oysters] in a row alongside the bourn among the sand but just in the edge of the water, and before night, when we came back from school, they would d be gone a long way from the place we stuck them in. They had no feet and of course we could not understand how they got away. These days were the happiest days of my life." 2

These happy days began to wane two years after Alexander was born. Mary passed away in 1824 after fighting with consumption for a year, and three years after that Alexander died, leaving four children between the ages of seventeen and five orphaned. Barbara went to live with her grandparents; James stayed with his uncle and aunt in Midtown, where he had been living to attend the School of Inverkeithney; and William and Alexander went to live with their mother's brother, James Redford, in Kirkland.

William Bartlet
William Bartlet

James finished school at sixteen and spent the next five years working on his uncle's farm. Although his uncle was very kind and he enjoyed socializing with his cousins, he did not see a bright future for himself in Scotland. He proposed emigration to his brother William, and the two made up their minds to leave for Upper Canada on Whitsunday, 1835. James's sweetheart, a young girl named Helen Walker, promised to wait for him. Six years would pass before she saw her beloved again.

The Bartlet brothers worked as building contractors in Amherstburg. After their new lives were securely established, James returned to Scotland in 1841 to retrieve his youngest brother and his bride.

Alexander Bartlet (1822-1910)

Alexander Bartlet was nineteen years old when he sailed across the Atlantic with his brother and sister-in-law in 1841. He settled with his brothers in Amherstburg, where he met another Scottish immigrant five years his junior named Helen Noble. The pair married in 1851, and two years later they moved to Windsor, a young town whose future they and their children would dramatically help to shape.

Bartlet Home
Bartlet Home

Although William Bartlet built Windsor's first Town Hall in 1856, it was Alexander who would become known as the city's "Grand Old Man". He began a half century of public service in the Presbyterian Church, of which he was a founding member. On the first of September in 1857, a group of Presbyterian Windsorites - mostly Scottish immigrants or the children of immigrants - met in the Town Hall to establish St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. Alexander Bartlet was elected a clerk and an elder, along with David Johnston. He was among "the devoted few who nursed the congregation through its struggle for existence up to sturdy self-support and finally to ... affluence," even working as the parish's janitor "when the congregation was small in numbers and short of means." 3

Devoted to the study of Scripture, Alexander's scholarly piety gave him the authority to preside over the pulpit if no minister could be secured, which was a common enough occurrence in those days. Given his dedication to religious education, he was a natural choice for superintendent of the new church's Sunday school, a position he held for forty years. At times he was responsible for up to fifteen little children, and he managed to keep their full attention by telling stories about the old patriarchs.

The prominence Alexander earned in church affairs enabled his rise in the secular public sphere. His "sterling integrity and moral probity" garnered him such a solid reputation that he was elected City Clerk after just a year's experience in church administration. 4 The following year (1859), he was elected Secretary-Treasurer of Windsor's Board of Education, a position he maintained until 1893.

After serving on the Board of Education and holding the position of City Clerk for twenty years, the Ontario Government appointed Alexander Police Magistrate. He served the city in that capacity for thirty years, from 1878 until his retirement in 1908. During this tenure, he was never known to have made an enemy: his harsh exterior was said to have "concealed a heart that beat in profound pity for the fallen of every degree - his judicial failings, if any, always leaned to the side of mercy." 5 Acutely sensitive to the frailties of human kind, he possessed a highly developed sense of justice: "many a young lad who, having strayed from the narrow path, came before him with a straight story, was released with only words of counsel." 6 In his thirty years on the bench, never once was his decision reversed in an appeal, despite the "amazing promptness" with which he made his judgments, even those that might have seemed somewhat peculiar.

Alexander Bartlet
Alexander Bartlet

On one occasion, for example, a "hobo" was brought before him on a charge of "loafing." Alexander stared at the man "with a searching eye," and, without waiting to hear the evidence, asked the man if he would be able to pay the twenty-one dollar fine that would be levied against him if he was convicted. When the man replied that he could not, Alexander asked if he would be able to get the money to pay the fine if his sentence was suspended for two hours. The man said that he thought he might be able to, and was then sent into the corridor. Alexander left his chair at the same time the "hobo" exited the court room and met him in the hall. He handed him a ferry ticket to Detroit and told him to "scoot". Within fifteen minutes the city had been rid of a loafer, "and it had only cost the magistrate - not the city - five cents." 7

On another occasion, three young men appeared before him on charges of drunkenness. They were convicted and were asked their nationalities so that they could be properly entered in the record books. One was an American, the other a Canadian, and the third a Scotchman. Alexander fined the American and the Canadian five dollars apiece. To the third offender he said, "You, being a Scotchman, ought to have known better. I'll fine you ten dollars." 8

A third case lucidly illustrated his ability to grasp the details and reliability of evidence. A man took action against his neighbour, claiming that the neighbour's dog had attacked him. The plaintiff - a man of rather large stature - swore that the dog had leaped at him and pulled him to the ground as it attempted to lock its jaws around his throat. The magistrate asked the defendant the breed of the dog in question. It was a Scotch terrier.

"'Huh, a Scotch terrier,' said the magistrate, 'this case is dismissed'." 8

Throughout his life, Alexander Bartlet distinguished himself above other men by the way he lived - that is, according to his strict moral code. He had "simple faith in the creed that one should obey the laws of God and man," and was rarely, if ever, known to defy either. 10 One of Windsor's central figures in the late nineteenth century, his role as Police Magistrate left an indelible mark on the city's formation. At his 1908 retirement party, Mayor Ernst Wigle summarized his legacy with an emotional, heartfelt speech: "As long as human hearts shall beat, or human tongues shall plead for a pure Christian life, those hearts shall enshrine the memory, and those tongues shall prolong the name, of Alexander Bartlet." 11 He was eighty-eight years old when he passed away in his modest home on Ferry Street, and the oldest living member of the church he had helped to found.

A.R. Bartlet and his Bride
A.R. Bartlet and his Bride

One of Essex County's "history makers," Alexander Bartlet stood above his fellow citizens as a man most intimately connected with the political, religious, and social life of his community. But despite all of these outside connections, Alexander's family remained at the core of his life. He was intensely devoted to his wife, remaining a widower after she died in 1882, and was survived by their two sons and three daughters: Noble Alexander Bartlet; Alexander Robert Bartlet; Eva who married Malcolm McGregor; Mrs. J. W. Peddie; and Annie, who married Andrew Braid. To Noble, the eldest son, Alexander left his gold watch; his other son inherited his Encyclopedia Britannica.

When Alexander Bartlet died, the entire city mourned for him. The legacy he left behind consisted not of worldly goods, of which he amassed little, "but an imperishable example of honest, righteous, temperate and religious life that earned for him the title of 'Windsor's Grand Old Man'." 12

George Bartlet
George Bartlet

George Bartlet (1846-1912)

The first generation of Canadian-born Bartlets also left its mark on Windsor. George, the first of two sons born to James and Helen (Walker) Bartlet, was born in Amherstburg in 1846 and went to work as a clerk for the firm of Cameron & Thornburn in 1862. Over the course of the next fifteen years, he worked his way up to the position of senior staff advisor, and was made partner in 1877. When Donald Cameron retired and returned to Scotland in 1887, George joined into a partnership with Colin MacDonald. In 1903, Alexander Gow was admitted into the firm, which was then renamed Bartlet, MacDonald & Gow. Bartlet's department store remained a landmark in downtown Windsor for over seventy years.

"As a business man Mr. Bartlet was especially talented," Colin MacDonald recalled. "He made himself most agreeable, was always energetic and diligent ... [and he] made many friends through his amicable disposition, pleasing manner and intelligent mind." 13 Alexander Gow also remembered him as "a man with whom it was most pleasing to associate."

George Bartlet was also active in public life, serving on the Town Council, the Board of Trade, and St. Andrew's Board of Management. He read a great deal - especially Shakespeare and Dickens - and belonged to the local curling club. He lived the bulk of his life at 42 Victoria Avenue and passed away in 1912. He left a widow, Ermina, a son, Walter, and a daughter, Margaret, and four sisters. An editorial printed in the Windsor Daily Star on the day of his death acknowledged that he had "contributed considerably to the material betterment of Windsor. He aided in the growth of the city, rendered signal services on behalf of public bodies and in his daily walks with men, established a high standard in business and social spheres. All with whom he came in contact benefited from his optimism, cheerfulness and unfailing courtesy that made him stand a peer among gentlemen." 14

Elizabeth Bartlet (1843-1922)

Elizabeth Bartlet
Elizabeth Bartlet

One of four daughters born to James and Helen Bartlet, Elizabeth was born in Amherstburg and came to Windsor as a child with her family. She remained single her entire life, dedicating herself to career as a schoolteacher. She first started in the old first ward school, located on Chatham Street between Church Street and Bruce Avenue. This building was later torn down and replaced by the Park Street School, where Elizabeth continued to teach until her 1907 retirement. Her teaching career spanned more than forty years, and was distinguished by the kindness and tenderness she showed the children. This was illustrated by the fact that she "never used the strap [at] ... the time when the rod was widely used." 15 Her compassionate nature also extended beyond the walls of her classroom. Always ready to tackle the community's philanthropic work, she served on the Board of Directors for both the Home of the Friendless and Victoria Residence for many years.

A faithful, lifelong attendant of St. Andrew's Presbyterian, she had been with the congregation longer than any other member at the time of her passing at age seventy-nine. She was the last of her family of four sisters and two brothers. James, the first sibling to pass, had died in 1902; George passed away ten years later. Elizabeth's married sisters, Mrs. William Coulter and Mrs. R. F. Sutherland, both predeceased her by five years. Elizabeth herself died just six weeks after her last sister, Williamina, passed away in the home the two had been sharing for twenty years at 450 Victoria Avenue.

Lt.-Col. Noble Alexander Bartlet (1860-1912)

Lt.-Col. Noble Alexander Bartlet
Lt.-Col. Noble Alexander Bartlet

Noble Alexander Bartlet, born in 1860 to Alexander and Helen, spent his entire life in Windsor. He took up legal studies under John. F. Bell and became partner in 1886. A year later he established the law firm of Bartlet & Bartlet with his brother Alex, a University of Toronto graduate who had just been called to the Ontario Bar earlier that year. The firm is known today as Bartlet and Richards, LLP, and is one of the largest firms in Windsor, practicing everything from corporate to family law, including real estate, civil litigation, labour relations, and construction law, and is home to nine partners, four associates, and one annual articling student. Even though the last remaining Bartlet, James Noble Bartlet, passed away in September 2005, the Bartlet name still remains in the firm's title. Bartlet & Richards, LLP, has undergone many name changes throughout its hundred and twenty year history as various partners retired or were promoted, but the Bartlet name has always remained constant.

Alex Bartlet went on to become the Vice President of the Windsor Liberal Party and diligently campaigned for them during elections, and Noble also took an interest in municipal affairs. Liberal like his brother, he was twice elected to the City Council and chaired the finance committee, but his ambitions stopped short of the mayoralty, for which he declined to run despite the encouragement of his colleagues. His main outside interest was military service, not public service. He became commanding officer of the 21st Regiment Essex Fusiliers in 1902, and was so successful in the command that at the expiration of the normal five-year term he was offered a second tenure. In 1908, before the end of the second term, he retired with the tank of colonel and was appointed brigadier of the Western Ontario Militia District, the highest position in the district outside of those allotted for permanent officers.

Like his father, Noble Alexander was also active in St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. He sat on St. Andrew's Board of Management for several years during the 1890s and became its chair in 1898. After teaching in the Sunday school for years - a hobby in which he found the utmost delight - he succeeded his father as superintendent and held onto that position for ten years before failing health compelled him to relinquish it. He was also a church elder until the time of his death in 1912.

Noble married Adda Peddie and had two children, one son and one daughter, with her before she died in 1902. Frank Bartlet, born in 1889, served in World War I before moving out to California; Florence remained in the area and married Walter George Bartlet, her second cousin.) Three years after Adda's death Noble got remarried to Grace Kenning, daughter of Inland Revenue inspector J. H. Kenning, in a quaint ceremony that was the talk of the society pages. One hundred guests gathered at the bride's home on Victoria Avenue to witness the ceremony, which was presided over by Rev. J. C. Tolmie of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church. Noble's daughter Florence was the flower girl, and she led the wedding procession carrying pink roses.

Noble had three daughters with his second wife - Marion, Elizabeth, and Alice - before passing away in 1912 at the family home on 97 Victoria Avenue. Despite their short time together, Grace and Noble had cultivated a warm, loving family home; Noble, like his father, "found more delight there than anywhere else." 16 The gold watch he had inherited from his father was bequeathed to his brother, Alex Robert, who was to leave it to Frank upon his own death.

Edgar Noble Bartlet (1862-1927)

Edgar Noble Bartlet
Edgar Noble Bartlet

Edgar Noble, the son of William and Ermina Bartlet, was born in 1862, the same year as his first cousin Alexander R. Edgar married Margaret McGregor, daughter of William McGregor and Jessie Peden, in 1893. During the next decade, he became one of Ford Canada's original stockholders by investing some money into his brother-in-law Gordon's new automobile company.

The Bartlets relocated to San Francisco between 1904 and 1911 while Edgar worked as Pacific Coast supervisor for the Smith Premier Typewriter Company. Their time on the west coast, however, was marred by the great earthquake and fire of 1906; thankfully, they escaped the calamity with little more than shaken nerves. When they returned to Windsor, Edgar became involved in real estate and built the Bartlet Building on the corner of University and Pelissier. Standing at a height of six stories, the Bartlet Building was the tallest building in Windsor in the late nineteenth century, and the Border Cities Star insisted that its construction was "largely responsible for building up Ouellette Avenue." 17

Walter George Bartlet (1887-1958)

Walter G. Bartlet
Walter G. Bartlet

The eccentric Walter Bartlet was born in 1887 to George and Ermina Bartlet. He studied law at Osgoode Hall and graduated in 1911. The following year he returned to Windsor and joined his father-in-law's firm of Clarke, Bartlet & Bartlet. He was only able to practice law for two years, however, before the outbreak of World War I, during which he went overseas with the 241st Battalion, the Canadian Scottish Borderers. Upon his return from the war, he branched out into the other family business, Bartlet, MacDonald & Gow, of which he later became treasurer. Despite this other venture, he still managed to maintain his partnership with the family law firm and become a Queen's Counsel, and spend quality time with his wife, Florence Bartlet, daughter of Noble and Adda, and their three children, Helen, Ann, and James.

Although Walter's earlier hobbies included mundane activities such as tennis, golf, and piano-playing, he sought more thrills as he got older. In 1948, at the age of sixty-one, he began training with Leavens Bros for his pilot's license with Leavens Bros, which he obtained in six months. "The final test included a spin into a spot landing," reported Star writer John Morgan, "a tricky little item guaranteed to tax the reflexes of a youngster." 18 The next year, Walter bought a tiny private aircraft called the Aeronca Champion; from then on he became a fixture at the Windsor Airport, constantly departing to or returning from day trips to places such as North Bay, Sudbury, and other northern locations. "He was a remarkable man and likely to turn up at the most unlikely places at the most unexpected times," a fellow member of the Windsor Flying Club said of him. The man was referring to the time Canada's oldest licensed pilot landed his plane on a fairway at the Essex Golf Club (of which he was a honourary lifetime member) to show off for greenskeeper John Gray.

In order to accumulate over two thousand hours of flying over ten years, Walter was known to brave notoriously foul weather. "He was a remarkable pilot for his age," said Jim Pelkie, the Windsor Flying Club's chief instructor, "and an inspiration to younger pilors."

Walter passed away in his home at 2005 Willistead Crescent in November 1958 at the age of seventy-one after suffering from an illness for a week.

James Noble Bartlet (1925-2005)

Born in 1925 to Walter and Florence Bartlet, James Noble followed in his father's footsteps and went into the legal profession. He graduated with a Gold Medal from Osgoode Hall in 1950 and became a partner in his father's firm in 1955, dealing with management-side labour law and dabbling in commercial and corporate law. He was appointed Queen's Council in 1966, and was a leader in many organizations, including the Essex Law Association, which he served as president and the Children's Aid Society of Essex, of which he was also president. He also chaired the Windsor Housing Authority and the Salvation Army Grace Hospital's Board of Governors.

  1. James Gow. Windsor Public Library Archives, Genealogy Reference. "Founding Fathers." Pamphlet File 340. 17
  2. Gow. Founding Fathers, 18
  3. Amherstburg Echo, 30 December 1910
  4. Neal, Frederick, The Township of Sandwich, Past and Present. 138
  5. Duggan, W. F., "Bartlet Family Leaders Here For Century," Windsor Daily Star. 8 October 1932. 3.1
  6. Chauvin, Francis X, "Justice with mercy featured regime of early judge," Border Cities Star, 30 December 1910, p.2
  7. Chauvin, Border Cities Star, 30 December 1910
  8. Chauvin, Border Cities Star, 30 December 1910
  9. Chauvin, Border Cities Star, 30 December 1910
  10. Border Cities Star, 8 October 1932
  11. Chauvin, Border Cities Star, 30 December 1910
  12. Chauvin, Border Cities Star, 30 December 1910
  13. "George Bartlet is summoned by death," Evening Record, Thursday, 22 February 1912
  14. "George Bartlet Left Mark on City," Windsor Star, 18 April 1960
  15. Coutts, Grace M. "!00 Women of Windsor and Essex County, 1867-1967." Windsor Public Library, 1967. 1
  16. Quote by Rev. J. C. Tolmie, pastor, St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, speaking at Lt.-Col. Bartlet's funeral
  17. Border Cities Star, 8 October 1932
  18. Morgan, John. "Earned Wings at 61." Windsor Daily Star." 26 November 1958
The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and
do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.
Copyright © 2009 Windsor Mosaic Website. All rights reserved