Tuesday, 8 August 2017


First Published in the Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogy Society Newsletter - Toronto Tree - July/August 2017

The Toronto Branch of the Ontario Genealogy Society invited members to share stories about ancestors who lived in Canada at the time of confederation in 1867.  John Busby is my maternal great-grandfather. 


Little is known of John Busby (1819-1899) before he came to Canada.  The census records indicate he was born in Scotland about 1819 and his death certificate gives Edinboro (Edinburgh) as his place of birth.   He married Ellen Fitzgerald (1840-1907) about 1862 as their first son John was born in November 1862 in York, Ontario.   I have not found him on the 1861 Census nor have I found a marriage record for John and Ellen.  His occupation varied from Labourer to Shoemaker to Railway Employee.  He was listed as a Protestant but his children were raised as Roman Catholics.

The first recorded entry mentioning John Busby is his son’s baptism at St. Paul’s Basilica, Power Street on 7 June 1865.  John and Ellen Busby had at least ten children that I have located and possibly they had 13 children as family history indicates.  The children included: John born 1862, Catherine & Mary (twins) born 1865, Ellen born 1866, Agnes born1870, Martha Ann born 1872, Matilda (Elizabeth) born 1875, Bertha born 1878, William born 1881, and Gerald Fitzgerald born 1884.  Seven of the children were baptised at St. Paul's Basilica in Toronto and only 2 of the children’s births were registered.

On the 1871 Census the family was listed as living in Toronto East, St. Lawrence Ward., bounded by Queen, Yonge, lakefront and McGee Street (east of Broadview Avenue)..  When the 1881 census was taken in April, the family was living in York East, York East.  Some of the 1891 census records are missing for York East, but the Toronto directories indicate that from 1884- 1891 the family lived in Norway Village and John Busby was a tenant of Concession 1, Lot 6.  This land was owned by his father-in-law Maurice Fitzgerald.  The 1892-1899 directories show the family living in Little York at Coleman Corners where John and his wife Ellen ran a boarding house for railway employees.

John Busby died 30 September 1899 after being struck by a train.  The Globe & Mail Newspaper of 2 October 1899, carried the following headline:  KILLED BY AN ENGINE - JOHN BUSBY, AN AGED RESIDENT OF COLEMAN, STRUCK BY A TRAIN AND DIED IN A FEW HOURS.   The following is a partial transcription:   “The Grand Trunk express from the west struck John Busby, an aged resident of Coleman, who was walking on the tracks near York station on Saturday morning and six hours later Mr. Busby died in the General Hospital....The train was immediately stopped and Busby was taken from under the engine and carried to the station....and Busby was then placed on the first train for the city.....He was 79 years of age and was a well-known resident of Coleman.....”

John is buried in St. John Norway Cemetery alongside his wife Ellen Fitzgerald Busby who died on 8 February 1907.  They are buried in the Old Plan of the cemetery at Plot 68 along with other Busby family members.

St. John Norway Church, Toronto - cica 1919 (Photo -Courtesy of Toronto Public Library)

In 1936, when his daughter Mary Busby Bell (1865-1936) died an article appeared in the Toronto Star about her death.  The headline of the article was DAUGHTER OF PIONEER MRS. A. BELL PASSES.  The article indicates that John Busby was born in Edinburgh, Scotland the same day as Queen Victoria was born in 1819 (May 24, 1819 - Queen Victoria's Birthday).  It also states that John Busby was "a veteran of the gold rush of '49 and a sheriff in California.  He knew Buffalo Bill, Kit Carson, General Sherman and General Grant of civil war fame and President Lincoln."  

Whether any of this information is true is still an unanswered question and he remains John Busby, man of mystery.    

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