Reminiscences of Mark Spenceley - Peterborough

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Veterans of Peterborough

Mr. Mark Spenceley Has Been a Resident of This City for Many Years - Here Are Some of His Interesting Reminiscences of the Early Days.

“It’s easy enough to be pleasant

When life flows along like a song

But the man worth while

Is the man with a smile

When everything goes dead wrong.”


Groggy Saturday night; a Salvation Army soldier Sunday night – such was the remarkable transformation that took place in the life of Mr. Martin H. Spenceley twenty-nine years ago next May. Chased away from the corner of George and Hunter Streets by the late Chief Johnson, he staggered off in the direction of his home on Smithtown Hill; but Sunday morning found him lying on the road side near Bradburn’s stable on London street. Strange to say his first thought on awakening was to go to the Salvation Army and thither he went, attending all their meetings that day. Near the close of the evening service Captain Philpott took charge and exhorted his hearers to flee from the wraths to come. Asked if there was anyone who desired the prayers of God’s people, Mr. Spenceley not only raised his hand, which appeared like a ton weight, but sought penitent form, and then and there denounced his former master, forsook liquor, tobacco and everything that stood between him and a better life, and from that day to this has been a zealous member of the Army. In their interests he has traveled through Western Ontario and as far east as Ottawa, proclaiming the wonderful change that has taken place in his life. He believes he has been instrumental in leading thousands of souls from darkness into light.

In fact it may be said that Mr. Spenceley is the father of the Salvation Army Band. About a year after joining he purchased a tenor horn, and proceeded to become a musician. He asked a friend who played in a band to teach him the mysterious art; but with a sad shake of the head the friend replied: “Well, Mark, if it had been a young fellow that asked me I would have agreed, but you, Mark, why you’re too old.” Nothing daunted; Mr. Spenceley went home, shut himself in his room and commenced to toot away. Having a good ear he soon picked out the notes and the first piece he ever played was that old favourite: -“Shout Aloud Salvation Boys, We’ll Sing Another Song,” which, by the way was the first tune ever played on George Street by the Army Band, consisting as it did of Mr. Spenceley with his tenor horn, and Capt. William Popel with a cornet. Unfortunately the tenor horn had a hole in it, but this the owner filled up with soap. Everything went well until they neared Brock Street, going north, when the enthusiasm of the pair became so great the soap blew out. Such squeaking and groaning! Captain Popel stopped and yelled: “What’s the mattah Mawk!”

“Soap’s blown out.”

Nevah mind Mawk, chawed or dischawd, go ahead!”

As the months went by other instruments were added, and, in some of the little houses since replaced by the Citadel, they met and received instructions from Peterborough’s veteran bandsman Mr. F.W.Miller. Such was the beginning of the Temple Band of which the citizens of Peterborough are so proud.

Mr. Spenceley was born Nov. 23rd, 1840 in Yorkshire, England, and crossed the Atlantic with his parents when eighteen months old, landing at Hurley’s wharf, Peterborough on the 12th of July. This landing was on the east side of the river, behind the present Grand Opera House, close to the flume that emptied into the Otonabee the waters of Lundy’s Creek.

His father Joseph Spenceley, took up his residence on Smithtown Hill, and for many years plied his trade as a stonemason. His first contract of importance was the masonry work of the present Montgomery House on Simcoe street, built originally for the late Richard Winch; a butcher. At one time his father leased the Stewart Quarries, - now the site of the Aubury Woollen Co., and secured large quantities of stone for his contracts. Well does Mr. Spenceley remember teaming stone from this quarry, when still a mere lad, to the Nichol’s homestead; (where Mr. W. H. Hamilton now resides) at the time two wings were added.

As was usual in those days the son followed in the footsteps of the father, and Mr. Spenceley became a stonemason as well as a bricklayer. His first real work in that line – a piece of construction of which he was very proud - was performed when he was about eleven years old. His father had the contract of the stonework in the Burnham Block, now the Kingan Hardware Co.’s store, and Mr. Spenceley helped to lay the brick of the inner walls of the foundation,

When fourteen years of age, he started to work in the shanties in the wintertime, his first location being in Hilliard’s Camp near Negie’s Creek. Later on he worked for Mossom Boyd, of Bobcaygeon, who was getting out square timber on Cameron Lake. Fourteen winters he thus spent in the lumber business and many hairbreadth escapes he had from almost instant death. Possessed of a remarkable memory for detail and a happy witty way of describing his experiences, one could sit by the hour and listen to funny, and sometime dangerous episodes through which he had come and in which he has always played an important part. Passing over those with tragic turns, we simply outline one which had a rather amusing climax.

On this occasion he was working in a small camp run by Mr. Boswell, who seemed a trifle more generous than his former bosses, for, during the Christmas holidays he journeyed north to the camp in company with an English “gentleman” from Lakefield, Conway by name, who had but one arm, to give the “boys” a good time. This they proposed to do by passing around a gallon of the best whiskey. Even the cook was not forgotten and in his excitement he neglected to replace a board over the hole in the middle of the cabin in which he kept the potatoes. Mr. Conway, by this time in the best of spirits, took upon himself the task of entertaining the company. During one of his reels he slipped into the potato hole, good arm down. Mr. Boswell rushed to his assistance and in reaching down low for his hand lost his balance and rolled in. One after another the men strove to extricate their guests, but one by one they too fell in till the miniature cellar was nothing but a mass of writhing arms and legs and potatoes. It was nearly an hour before the unfortunate Englishman was drawn clear of the hole and laid out on a bunk for repairs. Thus ended the jubilee.

On the early days of Peterborough Mr. Spenceley can throw some interesting sidelights. In the wintertime he used to sleigh ride down the steep hill on George Street which started opposite Redner’s store and ended at the corner of George and Hunter. In the building now occupied by J.E.A. Fitzgerald, Mr. Brown ran a brewery, to which his mother used to send him for yeast when her supply ran low. On one of his visits he and Mr. Brown’s cat had an unfortunate encounter which resulted in the boy being rather unceremoniously ejected. Afterwards he journeyed to Spalding’s brewery but those trips were performed at considerable risk, for below Charlotte street, then known as “Hell Street,” the “boys” had no dealings with those from the north end, and woe betide any unfortunate that was foolhardy enough to venture on the others territory unprotected. There could only be one result, and that was a severe thrashing for Mark. Thus ended his trips to Spalding’s Bay.

His schooling was of a very limited nature, and he was rather unfortunate in having a strong dislike for the straight –laced methods of his teachers and the stuffiness of the schoolrooms. Then too he seemed to be the chief “Mark” of his schoolmates who saw to it he was never out of trouble.

His first teacher was Mr. Weatherhead who taught in a little building on the east side of Mark Street near the corner of Hunter. Scenting trouble in Mark’s direction the teacher threw the “raws” at him but owing to bad aim they hit between him and his chum. Mark claimed innocence and refused to take them up; but just at this instant a wicked boy behind stuck a pin in Mark and his punishment was swift and terrible. The teacher made a break for Mark but Mark made a bolt for the door, but seeing a window open he took a header through it and lit in a snow-bank outside.

On another occasion he attended school in a little wooden building east of the Windsor Hotel on Brock street, presided by the father of Mr. W.H. Robertson of the “Times”. But life here was too dull and monotonous especially on a bright spring day, so off to the river he went to study nature at close range. It was not long before he had quite a string of fish. Now the question was how to get these home without exposing his guilt. A fine idea struck him. Hiding his finny beauties he hustled home at 4, dug a few worms from the garden, seized a pole and was off in a jiffy. In a short time he returned with a handsome catch much to the surprise of his mother who wondered that he could land so many in so short a time but the suspicious eye of the father soon discovered that many of

the fish had been dead many hours. This time his punishment was swift and terrible.

Mr. Spenceley has lived in Peterborough nearly all his life with the exception of twenty years which he spent in the United States in and around Rochester. It was in that city he met the one who was to share his joys and his sorrows. On New Year’s day, 1865 he married Miss Francis Hedges, and eleven children blessed the union, eight of whom are living: George, of Lindsay; Joseph, North Bay; Albert and Wilbert at home; Mrs. Lloyd of Toronto; Mrs. Steep of Galt; Mrs. Ducas of Winnipeg and Mrs. Sleight, of Peterborough.

It is seldom one meets with a man who has passed through such a series of accidents and troubles. His life has been one of acute suffering, particularly the latter half. While quite a young man he lost the sight of his right eye through some putty falling on it while plastering. Eighteen or twenty years ago, while working in the Bridge Works he was in an accident and had his left eye split open. He was hurried to Toronto where a specialist put three stitches in the orbit and saved the sight.

A few years before this his left foot was frozen and developed into a running sore, which never healed. For two score years he plodded on, working under conditions that would have daunted the hearts of most men, suffering untold agonies till about a year and a half ago he went to the hospital and had the diseased member amputated. Even this ordeal was an undertaking from which all the doctors he consulted tried to dissuade him but he was made of better stuff and said: “It must come off.” Off it came and troubles him no more. He now has an artificial foot but he is not very skilled in its manipulation and as a consequence, has had many painful falls. Notwithstanding it all he maintains a cheeriness which is a delight to behold.

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