A Life Cut Short: Herbert Arnold Lawrence (1889-1909)

Herbert Arnold Lawrence

As a kid, I spent a lot of time at my Grandparent’s house as they lived just around the corner from where I grew up.  I can remember sitting around their kitchen table while they pointed at old black and white photographs and told me stories about their families and what it was like for them growing up.

My Grandfather told me that the men used to eat fat sandwiches when they were working out in the bush, as it was the only thing that wouldn’t freeze during those cold winter days!  Another story he shared was about a family member who had been tragically killed by a falling tree.  While I can remember him pointing at an old photograph, I was never really clear on who this person was or their relationship to my Grandfather.  Recently I learned that this person’s name was Herbert Arnold Lawrence.

Herbert Arnold Lawrence (Back row, middle)

A Life Cut Short

Herbert Lawrence was actually an uncle to my Grandfather, and had died a number of years before my Grandfather was born.  Maybe that had been why my Grandfather had been a little fuzzy on the details.  Herbert was also the youngest son of John Lawrence, a pioneer of Grey County who I profiled in an earlier blog post.  Herbert’s medical certificate of death can be seen below.

Herbert’s Obituary

I recently had a chance to visit the Grey Roots Museum & Archives in Owen Sound, Ontario and decided to see if I could find Herbert’s obituary to learn more about the circumstances around his death.  Since I knew Herbert’s name and the date and location of his death, I was able to quickly find his obituary.  The accident was reported on March 18, 1909 in a local newspaper called The Durham Review.

While I normally experience a bit of a thrill when I find an ancestor in old newspapers, the discovery of Herbert’s obituary (below), was somewhat of a sombre experience.

Obituary of Herbert Lawrence

Closing thoughts

Folks who lived in rural areas like Egremont Township would have cut down trees for barns or even as a supplemental source of income.  Cutting down trees in the winter months was a common practice as it didn’t interfere with farming activities during the growing season.  It would have also been easier to drag the logs through the snow.  This seems to fit with the timing of Herbert’s death, which was in March.  His obituary also references a logging sleigh, which could only have been used if there had been snow on the ground.

Logging was, and continues to be an inherently dangerous activity.  At the time of Herbert’s death, axes and saws would have been the primary means of cutting down large trees.  For additional context and pictures into what logging entailed in the early twentieth century, see The Canadian Encyclopedia’s online Timber Trade History resource.

Herbert Lawrence was the youngest of fourteen children, and was only nineteen years old at the time of his passing.  It’s hard to imagine the sense of loss the Lawrence family must have felt following Herbert’s death. It must have been particularly difficult for Arthur Lawrence, who had been with Herbert at the time of the accident.

The picture below shows Herbert’s parents and a number of his siblings taken sometime before 1920. Herbert’s older brother Arthur, can be seen in the back row, third from right.

John Lawrence Family (with dates)

Headstone of Herbert Arnold Lawrence

Herbert was laid to rest at Trinity Anglican Cemetery in the town of Durham, Ontario.  His headstone can be seen below.

Headstone of Herbert Lawrence

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