A Tragic Occurrence: Ralph Havelock Harrison (1894-1918)

Unhitching horses
Farmer unhitching horses

Ralph Havelock Harrison

Ralph Havelock Harrison was helping a visitor to unhitch his team when an accident involving one of the horses led to his sudden and untimely death.  He was performing an act that he had probably completed countless times before when the unthinkable happened.  What made this occurrence all the more tragic was that Ralph had a promising future.  He was a husband and father seemingly taken before his time.

The reason I chose to write about this incident was that Ralph was the grandson of a local pioneer named John Lawrence.  John had seen his share of tragedy in his life.  His son, Herbert Arnold Lawrence, who was only about five years older than Ralph, had been tragically killed by a falling tree in the spring of 1909.

Ralph’s obituary, which appeared in The Durham Review, can be seen below.

The Durham Review – Thursday, June 13, 1918

Ralph Harrison

Ralph Harrison

Closing thoughts

We don’t know who all witnessed the incident, however the story that appeared in the paper would certainly have been based on information provided by Ralph’s wife and Moses Glaser.  Ralph’s death record simply states that he was killed by a runaway horse.  It was an incident that poor Moses Glaser would probably never forget.

It is interesting to note the line at the end of Ralph’s obituary that says to see also N. Egremont budget.  Had Ralph’s widow petitioned the township of Egremont for financial support of some kind?  Any kind of social assistance would surely have been limited in those days.  I looked through the records of the Loyal Orange Lodge in Varney during the time of Ralph’s death, but could find no further mention of him there.

Bertha Jane Watson
Bertha Jane Watson

It’s also interesting that while the article mentions Ralph’s grandfather and parents by name it does not include the first name of his wife.  After checking Ancestry.ca I discovered that Ralph had married Bertha Jane Watson on March 1, 1916. Surely the years that followed must have been difficult for her, as she was left to raise their son Melville, alone.


Ralph’s obituary references death on a battlefield, which made me wonder if he had served in the military.  His age is about right to have served in the Great War.  It’s one of many possibilities for further research.

Ralph was laid to rest in Trinity Anglican Cemetery, where so many of the Lawrences of that time were buried.  The top of his headstone reads ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’.  Also listed on the headstone is Ralph’s son, Melville H. Harrison, who lived for many years following his father’s death.

Headstone of Ralph Havelock Harrison

Ralph Harrison
Trinity Anglican Cemetery, Durham, ON

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