In the late 1850s, this house would have been full of people. The Pring family, after whom the building is named, did not live here for very long – in fact, HGH has occupied the building for longer now than they did. After they left here, some of them stayed nearby, and others traveled further afield. Of course, old records being what they are, it’s not always possible to get an accurate picture of how people lived. Sometimes, they just disappear from our records and we can only speculate what became of them.
Though it’s by no means perfect, one of the most complete pictures of the family is the 1861 Canadian census, taken in January of that year. In this census, we find William Pring is 53 years old and a collector of customs. His wife, Henrietta, is 45 and her younger sister, Flora, is 43 and lives with them. At the bottom of the census, the clerk has written that Mr Pring does not live here with his family, but rather lives in Port Colborne and was visiting his family at the time of the census. Two other family members are absent – the two eldest children, Emily and William, who are in Grantham, Ontario and New York, respectively. Also living with the family is a servant, Eliza Pritchard, who was 20 years old.
There were nine Pring children, and this is the only census upon which they all appear. It is a somewhat untruthful snapshot in that respect, as by 1861 the eldest child, Emily, was already married to Joseph Hamilton and had two children of her own. There are several records of Emily’s life and family, and it seems to have been a comfortable one – her husband was a farmer, and they were wealthy enough to have a live-in servant as well. Together, Emily and Joseph had nine children, and lived their whole lives in this area. Emily is buried in the Hamilton cemetery.
Two of the Pring children are a mystery. We know from the 1861 census that the eldest son, William, was 23 and living in New York – but this is the last detail we can find about him. If he was already living in the US in January 1861, it is possible that he fought in the civil war, which began only a few months later. Whatever became of him, we can find no record of marriage, relocation, or death. The same is true of his younger brother, the Prings’ sixth child, Charles. He was born in around 1849, and that is the last detail we have of him.
The fifth Pring child, Flora, seems to have had a fairly similar life to her elder sister. She married Thomas Bate, a brewer, in 1862 and the two of them lived in St Catherines. They had twelve children and had three live-in servants – in 1881, one of the servants listed on the census is Flora’s younger sister, Mary! As for Mary, after living with Flora’s family in St Catherines until after Flora’s death, she moved to the United States. She did not marry, and moved to Los Angeles, where she lived and worked as a nurse until 1929.
The third and fourth Pring children, Ferdinand and Benjamin, have somewhat similar lives as well. Both of them moved to the United States and married, Ferdinand to Elizabeth Church and Benjamin to Mary Kopman. Ferdinand and his family lived for many years in Chicago, Illinois before moving to Atlanta, Georgia; and Benjamin and his family lived in New Orleans, Louisiana for most of his life, before moving finally to Dallas, Texas.
By 1871, Henrietta had relocated to St Catherines with the three youngest children, Henry James, Mary and Henrietta, and is listed on the census as a widow. Exactly when her husband died is yet to be determined. Here, she would be close to her two eldest daughters and their families. Henry James is a clerk and seems to be supporting them.
Some time in the end of the 1870s, Henry and the Henriettas (his mother and sister) moved to Montreal, and there both the Pring kids got married. By the time she died in 1887, their mother had returned to Hamilton, probably to live with her eldest daughter, Emily, and she died here. Henry and his wife Irene and three children moved to Lexington, Massachusetts; and Henrietta and her husband Charles MacCrae and two children moved to Buffalo, New York.
It’s almost impossible to imagine how different the world we know is from the one in which they lived, here in this house in the 1850s. And when they all went their separate ways, it would have meant never seeing each other again, in most cases. William and Henrietta came to Canada from England and Scotland respectively – we know at least two of Henrietta’s siblings came to Canada as well, but William might have left all of his family behind. We don’t know yet – but we’re still looking.
** Please note: all historical photographs are by William Notman and are in the collection of the McCord Museum. Digital copies of prints can be purchased from the museum. https://www.musee-mccord.qc.ca/en/