- Harry Elsasser -
A Photograph of the Grandfather We Never Knew
The following photograph appeared on facebook one day recently:
Written on the back of the photo was apparently 'Harry Elsasser'.
The caption associated with the photo was 'The Grand-Father we Never Knew'.
Who was this?
Henry Arthur 'Harry' ELSASSER was born in Port Stanley, Elgin County, Ontario, Canada, on 9 November 1889 [see the Ontario civil birth registration record No. 007371-1889]. He was the son (the second child of three) of Wilhelm Conrad & Mary Anne 'Mame' [nee HULL] Elsasser.
Wilhelm Conrad Elsasser - known more broadly as William C., and/or W. C., was himself the son of Heinrich (Henry) & Catherine Elizabeth [nee GEIZ or GEISS] Elsasser. He was born in Baden, Ontario, in 1864. W. C. was the grandson of Gottlieb & Catherine [nee NEUTZ] Elsasser, the immigrant who had moved his family in 1856 from the tiny Neckar River village of Neckargartach in western Germany, to the tiny village of Baden, in what was then the British Province of Canada West (now the Province of Ontario in the Dominion of Canada). Harry was, therefore, the great-grandson of the immigrant.
Harry moved as a young boy with his parents and his older sister Hattie May, to the United States, just shortly before brother William Louis was born on 1 September 1891. Louis appears to have been born in Bryan, Williams County, Ohio. William Conrad's younger brother, Henry Martin Elsasser, who had also been born in Baden, Ontario, in 1871, married in Bryan in 1894, and later ran a merchant tailor's business there. By 1900 William Conrad and his family were living in Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana. Also moving with William Conrad was his youngest sister Charlotte Sophie 'Emma' Elsasser. William Conrad worked in Indianapolis as a 'cutter', one of a tailor's functions.
The photograph on the right shows Harry as he appeared in Indianapolis, most likely some time between 1902 and 1903. The photographer, Walter J Pursell had worked as a machinist and a cutter in Indianapolis (which is more than likely how he came to take the Elsasser photographs) before he opened his studio at 1717 College Avenue around 1902. After 1904 his studio was elsewhere in the City, and by about 1914 he had set up shop in New Mexico, where he remained. This photo shows a very confident boy, with very impressively cut clothing, as would befit his father's craft.
William Conrad applied for US citizenship while in Indianapolis, but by 1908 the entire family had uprooted again, and in the spring of 1911 they were living at 95 Brunswick Avenue in Toronto. Harry's mother Mary Anne and his aunt Emma continued to live at that address until just a few years after William Conrad died of heart disease on 24 August 1917, aged about 53 years .
Harry Elsasser, of 95 Brunswick Ave., was the 'best man' and groom's witness at St. Anne's Anglican Church in Toronto, when Jennie DOUGLAS of Toronto was married to Thomas Brewster RAMSAY of Sudbury, on the 20th of June, 1917 [see the 'Weddings' column published on Page 10, Column 3, of the Toronto Daily Star, 20 June 1917. See also the Ontario civil marriage registration, No. 003412-1917]. What the association between Harry and Thomas Brewster Ramsay might have been is not presently known.
Henry Arthur was within the 1st Class of men who became eligible for conscription in Canada between 12 October and 10 November, 1917, after the Military Service Act, 1917, received Royal Assent in Canada on 29 August 1917. Harry was a male; he was a British subject (having been born in Canada); and he was older than 20 years but had not been born before 1883. This put him squarely within the 1st Class. But Exemptions from military service were possible, and Harry apparently picked up a 'Claim for Exemption' form at his local Post Office, rather than a 'Report for Service' form, filled it in, and handed it to the Postmaster. The Exemption claim form allowed the individual to choose 1 of 8 reasons for claiming an Exemption from service. The Forms that were submitted have not survived, so we don't know for certain on what grounds Harry sought Exemption. It may be that he believed that as the sole surviving male alive in his family after his father's recent death, he should be exempted from military service in order to support his mother. The story has come down that as he was dying, in August of 1917, Harry's father implored him to never take up arms against his German relations. Whatever the basis, we do know that after responding to rigorous questions from a local tribunal which had been formed to assess and adjudicate on Exemption Claims, Harry received an official Exemption from Military Service, which was valid until July 1st, 1918. Harry gave as his permanent address at that time, the home where he and his mother lived, where his father had lived prior to his death - 95 Brunswick Avene. The Tribunal's decision on dozens of Exemption Claims from Toronto was handed down in that city on Thursday, 22 November 1917, and the names and addresses of many men were published in the Toronto Star on the same day (Page 9, Columns 2 through 5 - Harry's name is in the 2nd Column). Amazingly, 90% of the men in Toronto who were eligible for immediate conscription as 1st Class men in 1917 filed a 'Claim for Exemption' form. Harry was just one of many, in this regard. This Exemption should have protected Harry from a requirement to report for military service until some time in May of 1918, but the Prime Minister of the day, Robert BORDEN, cancelled all Exemptions in April, 1918. No records have survived which reveal when and where Harry might have reported for service, and there are no records of him actually attesting for service at any time during the Great War.
Harry Elsasser was married to Katie Eva 'Catherine' SMITH in Toronto on 30 January 1919, in a ceremony at which a Methodist minister presided. His brother-in-law James ROSE (the husband of Harry's sister Hattie) was the groom's witness. Harry was described at that time as 'clothing cutter' [see the Ontario civil Marriage Registration Record, York County #001075-1919]. Katie Eva was born in Toronto on 24 July 1893. She was the daughter of Samuel Smith, a carpenter, and his wife Catherine Emily WELSH [see the Ontario civil Birth Registration Record, York County #042756-1893].
Entries found in Toronto City Directories show that Harry moved his family around a lot, and that he held many positions between 1920 and 1944. The details below have been taken from each successive Directory, and show Harry's stated employment; with which company he was associated (when shown); and his residential addresses:
- 1920, designer, 115 Howard Park Ave
- 1921, designer, 115 Howard Park Ave
- 1922, designer Tailors Craft Ltd, 220 Fern Ave
- 1923, tailor Crown Tailoring, 220 Fern Ave
- 1924, cutter Crown Tailor Co, 42 Constance
- 1925, cutter Crown Tailor Co, 63 Constance
- 1926, tailor, 63 Constance
- 1927, traveller, 63 Constance
- 1928, traveller, 63 Constance
- 1929, salesman, 166 Pearson
- 1930, traveller, 166 Pearson
- 1931, traveller, 166 Pearson
- 1932, traveller, 166 Pearson
- 1933, sales manager Cadillac Shoe Co, 43 Geoffrey St
- 1934, traveller Ascot Clothes, 159 Parkside Dr
- 1935, --, 159 Parkside Dr
- 1936 (no listing)
- 1937, salesman Mannis Clothing, 104 Marion
- 1938, manufacturer Park Fashion Clothes, 188 Geoffrey
- 1939, -- Park Fashion Clothes, 188 Geoffrey
- 1940, salesman Park Manor Clothes, 209 Indian Road
- 1941, foreman Tip Top Tailors, 312 Sunnyside Ave
- 1942, tailor, 93 Pinecrest Rd
- 1943, tailor, 93 Pinecrest Rd
- 1944, tailor, 93 Pinecrest Rd
Harry and Catherine had four children, all now deceased: Kathleen Margaret 'Kaye', born in 1923; Barbara Ruth Marie 'Barb', born in 1925; Patricia Anne 'Pat', born in 1927; and Robert Henry 'Bob', born in 1931.
Harry died as a result of a coronary thrombosis (a heart attack) at his home, 93 Pinecrest Rd, Toronto, on 31 December 1944, when he was only 55 years old. Harry's oldest daughter Kathleen Margaret 'Kaye' always said that she was unaware of her father's death at the time - that she had been left waiting at the hospital where her first child had been born (on 16 December 1944), ready to return home, because the family was caught up in dealing with her father's heart attack, when it had been planned that they were to be coming to get her and her new infant son. She went on to say that she was not even apprised of her father's death on her way back home, or even after she arrived back at home. She was trundled off upstairs to bed with her new baby, and only learned of the death a few days later.
Kaye often said later that her family had been at the dinner table, when her father choked on some food, which lead to his heart attack. But she was not present, and, after reading an earlier version of this article, another granddaughter commented [a different granddaughter than the one who posted the photo at the top of the page to Facebook] that "My Mom had her own trauma [the day Harry died]: Grandpa was sitting in a wingback chair that day and she was sitting on the arm of the chair having a pleasant conversation with him. Suddenly, right before her eyes he died! For a few days she was tormented with the absurd idea that she had somehow caused his death!". Harry's Ontario provincial death registration record (No. 001123-1944) shows the date of death, but the forms in use at the time had no space for the time of death to be recorded.
These stories amplify the notions that 1) different folks have different 'memories' of singular events, and 2) we never know when the end is coming, so we should live each day to the max!
When Harry died, his wife described him as a 'clothing designer & cutter'. Catherine [nee Smith] Elsasser survived as a widow until her death in Toronto on 1 August 1978, and she was widely known within the large family of Harry's descendants as 'Gran'.
Harry's remains were buried in Toronto's west end Park Lawn Cemetery. He and Catherine are memorialized on a stone in that cemetery.
Since posting the article above, a few more photographs of Harry Elsasser have been received. The facial and other appearances in these new photographs suggest that the ones above, which shows Harry relaxing with his four children in the backyard of a house, was probably taken much earlier than initially thought.
The next photograph shows Harry striding along a city street - probably in Toronto, with his overcoat off, so it was either a late spring or an early fall (perhaps more likely?) day. In this photograph, Harry is seen wearing a 'fedora' style of hat, with a slightly wider brim, and a narrow band.
The next three photographs were probably taken in High Park in Toronto. All three were probably taken on the same day, probably within minutes of each other.
Note that in these photographs, Harry is seen wearing more of a 'trilby' style of hat, with a narrower brim which is rolled up all around. The bottom photo shows Harry flanked by his daughter Pat on his right (the viewer's left), then his wife Katie Eva to his right, Kaye in the background, and Barb in the foreground. It's a pity that the focus was not better.
The next photograph shown below may have been one of the last taken which shows Harry. Here we see him with his son Bob in front of garage doors, with a monstrous fish which they must have caught (perhaps in the Humber River, near their home, in west Toronto?).
Do you have a story about Henry Arthur Elsasser that you would be willing to share? Can you help date the photo showing at the top of this page, or maybe the backyard scene? We'd be grateful for any knowledge you can add. And, if you know of other photos of Harry that we could add to this mix here, we'd be overjoyed to receive them. Thank you!
© Bruce D. Murduck / 18 November 2021
- Bruce D. Murduck
- Category: Elsasser