Skitch family of Port Hope

Family tradition has it that the first Skitch was actually a Spanish soldier/sailor from a wrecked ship of the Armada, washed ashore in Cornwall in 1588. It is an old story although Andy Roberts, a Skitch researcher, feels that it seems unlikely as names similar to Skitch have been found in North Devon earlier than that. The earliest record of the name currently known in Cornwall is in the Stoke Church parish accounts for 1599, which reads: 'Paid Skitch 3d for a Chayne to Tye the Book of Erasmus.' Apart from my Poughill/Stratton Skitches, there is a branch in southeast Devon from 1800.

Robert Skitch was married on 24 October 1821 in Poughill, Cornwall, England, to Honor Smeeth, following which they had four children: William (1822), Jane (1823), Ann (1825) and Robert (1827). Ann emigrated to New Zealand in 1842 where she met and married William Thompson the next year in New Plymouth. They had one son, William, before they moved to South Australia in 1845 and had a further seven sons - Edward, Robert Peter, Oscar, two Georges, Albert and James. Ann died in Australia in 1902.

Around 1850, the other three left Cornwall. Robert bought land in Cavan Township - lot 14 of concession 4, now Millbrook - in January 1857, where they remained for most of their lives. The 1904 assessment register has him owning the property, but a nonresident, his son Henry George living there. Hannah sold the property to Henry in February 1902 for $10. Robert died in 1910 and Hannah in 1912. Both they and a number of descendants are buried in Gardiner Cemetery outside Millbrook.

Jane and her husband, James Yeo, settled in Port Hope. I have done little research on them, but their progeny was such that at one point, it was said that everyone living on the west side of the Ganaraska River was related! James and Jane are buried in Welcome United Cemetery, having died in 1894 and 1915 respectively.

William married Ann Burney in 1841 in Poughill and had the following children before emigrating to Canada: William Robert (1842, Honor Jane (1844), William Henry (1846), John Thomas (1848) and Henry (1849). William arrived in Port Hope in 1850, with his wife and children coming later that year, and established a tailoring business which lasted for three generations. Further children included Alfred (1851), Edward (1853), Ann J. (1856), Thomas Albert (1857), John (1859) and William (1862). The tailoring business was quite successful, as evidenced by the following entry in the 1886 issue of 'Bradstreet's Reports of the Dominion of Canada':

William Skitch & Sons - Tailors, Port Hope: estimated wealth=$3000- 5000/ credit=fair

The report might not have been as favourable had the following incident, published in the 07 May 1880 'Port Hope Guide', ended differently!

ALMOST AN ACCIDENT - Mr. W. Skitch, while driving a horse and wagon over the Walton Street crossing of the Midland Railway on Sunday morning last, was almost run over by an engine. In fact, had it not been for the immediate action of the engineer in reversing the engine it is probable a very serious accident would have occurred.

Henry, himself a tailor, took over the family business upon William's death in 1894. This article, published in the 24 October 1924 'Port Hope Evening Guide' on the occasion of his 75th birthday, makes interesting reading in that it is a good description of daily life in Port Hope in the early days.

MR. SKITCH CELEBRATES - A Real Port Hope Old Boy - Today is the day Mr. Henry Skitch celebrates - for more than one reason. The personal one is that he was born in Bude, Cornwall, England, on October 24, 1849. His father, the late William Skitch came to Port Hope in 1850. Mrs. Skitch followed later in the same year with the children. Harry being the baby, we think he is justly entitled to be considered a Port Hope Old Boy.

Harry remembers a lot of changes in Port Hope. When he first came, they lived in one of a row of tenements on Brown Street on the ground now occupied by Dr. Clemensha's houses. At that time there were a number of small shops on Walton Street on the same lot. The basement of one of these buildings was used as the town lock-up. There was no Town Hall. Later the family moved to the house on the west side of Englishtown fire hall. Harry's first school was the Round House, on the lot which is now the commons or west end playground. The teacher was Mr. Spotten and the children all took a shilling (25 cents) to pay the teacher, for strapping them and incidentally to educate them. Pounds, shillings and pence were the currency then in use. He graduated from the Public School on Mill Street, the building now owned by Mr. Hagerman, at the foot of Ward Street.

In 1862 Harry began his commercial career as a parcel boy, working for J. and R. O'Neill, whose department store on the corner of Mill and Walton streets was then most flourishing, in fact was doing so well that later the proprietors determined to push out in the big city - but there came to disaster. The wages, was fair (for the times) $2.50 per month. Later in 1862 he started learning the tailoring trade with the same firm. In those days the Hydro did not operate, nor gas; lamps occasionally but mostly candles were used. Sewing machines had not appeared and all sewing was by hand. There were no railways, no autos, no bicycles, few rigs or horses; most people walked. The first money Harry earned at his trade was for making three pairs of pants, which took a week to manufacture. For this he received 25 cents a pair and he squandered the whole week's salary, 75 cents, for a little coal oil lamp, one of the first used in Port Hope.

In those days the clothes worn by most people, especially in the country, were made from full cloth, a material made by the people from wool and cotton, great to wear. The tailor and shoemaker went to the homes, measured up the family, camped right in the house until the job was done and then were on to the next. The cordwood came to town drawn by oxen and no coal was in use.

In 1857 the Grand Trunk was opened. The stone for building the abutments for the viaduct was quarried from the square just west of the Town Hall. Later the Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton railway (now the Midland) was opened. Port Hope was in the zenith of her prosperity in those days between 1850 and 1865; fully half of the houses here were built during that period. In 1860 Prince of Wales, the late King Edward VII visited Port Hope. Mr. Skitch was among the children singing patriotic songs of welcome.

In the spring of 1863, Mr. William Skitch began business for himself in the shop now occupied by Mr. John Ryan. The first grand review of the volunteer militia took place in Toronto on the present exhibition grounds. Capt. A.T.H. Williams (later Col.) commanded the Port Hope company and Mr. Henry Skitch was bugler.

The Quinlan Block was destroyed by fire in 1866 and the Skitchs lost all but the tailor's irons, having no insurance. The same year the Fenian raid took place and the Port Hope Company was called out and served six months in the defence of Canada, being stationed at Sandwich, opposite Detroit.

The Royal Hotel was the first brick building in Port Hope, erected 1823. The Town Council met in the town room in the building opposite the Royal. The St. Lawrence Hall, Catholic church and the First Presbyterian church were built in 1853.

Mr. Skitch is glad to be alive today. He would probably give enquirers a number of reasons, beyond the mere fact of this being the anniversary of his birth.

Henry died four days later, on 29 October 1924. One of his sons, Alfred Burney, continued with the business until his untimely death, reportedly from leukemia, three years later at the age of 46. That ended the family business, although several other relatives were involved in the same occupation in other parts of southern Ontario and the northern States.

There is no one with the Skitch name remaining in Port Hope now, although there are a few, like myself, descended from female ancestors.

Contributed by Peter Bolton:

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