John James Hill arrived in Canada from Leicester, England in the summer of 1902. Fresh off the boat from Liverpool, John and his brother Will, debarked in Montreal and then took the train to “Muddy York”, now Toronto.
They had heard about the promise of free land in the great Canadian West. They had an address for a land registry office on Yonge Street, about 2 shillings in their pocket, and were full of adventure. Unfortunately somewhere between Montreal and what is now Toronto, their luggage went astray. To add to their misfortune, the land registry office did not exist, and the promise of free land out west was seemingly nothing more than a marketing scheme to sell tickets on a Liverpool steamer bound for Canada.
At a loss as to what to do, the two city boys from England, answered an ad, and obtained work on a dairy farm on the shores of Georgian Bay, near Owen Sound. Now as the record books show, the winter of 1902/03 was a return to the Ice Age, with record snowfalls and below freezing temperatures, nothing like the winters of today, and nothing like the two city boys had ever experienced back home in merry, old England. Come spring, Will, with his meager earnings, set sail back to England, licking his wounds and maybe a lot wiser for his adventure, completely astounded at how anyone could tolerate such an inhospitable country.
Grandfather, on the other hand, had left a young bride (with unborn child) back home in England, and as had been arranged, he was to have procured the family homestead, and be ready and waiting for his new family when they arrived the following spring. That May, his wife Mary, and baby daughter Phyllis, arrived at Union Station in Toronto, stepping off the train into a foot of snow just after an early May snow storm. What had they got themselves into?
Grandfather had come from a family of gentleman’s tailoring. It was a well-established and prosperous business in the midlands of England, which had served the family well, but at the turn of the century, the family business could no longer support any additional membership, (which had precipitated this whole adventure in the first place), so with his young family, here he was in Canada, homeless and penniless.
Grandfather had gone to trade school as a young man, and had learned the basics of shoemaking. Not sure of how the connection was every made but he discovered a gentleman by the name of “Sisman” (do you remember Hush Puppies), who was operating a factory in Aurora, Ontario, and who was in need of shoemakers. The rest was history, world war one would break out soon, and there was a need for army boots by the thousands. Aurora was to be their home. Welcome to Canada.
My dad, Percy Hill was born in the spring of 1910. With his older sister, and four other brothers, it was a busy house on Wellington Street in Aurora. Grandfather working, grandmother running the household and older sister Phyllis looking after her brothers, everything was percolating along just fine. That was until the summer of 1917 (we think). Musselman`s lake was a popular watering hole for all those Aurora kids. That seemed to be the common connection. Polio struck. Percy's younger brother Will, named after his Uncle, did not survive. Percy, was left paralyzed on his left side. It was agonizing months for Mary and John, watching their young son struggle for his every breath. Mary, not wanting her child to be confined to an iron lung or wheelchair for the rest of his life, massaged and exercised the withered limbs every day. Stories were told of Grandmother holding back tears, refusing to help her young son get up off the floor, until he could do it on his own. Rehabilitation came slowly.
Now Grandfather, realizing his young son needed some sort of activity as he could no longer play soccer with his siblings and friends, and remembering the beautiful flower gardens of the family home back in England, built Percy his very own greenhouse in the back yard of the Wellington street home. It was a wooden frame and glass construction. Flowers were grown, and a love for plants (that I'm sure was always there) was developed and nurtured. Stories were told of peddling flowers up and down busy Yonge Street, with no shortage of customers. Soon the depression followed and you couldn`t buy a job, but still flowers were important, and Percy continued to grow and sell flowers. War followed the depression, and men went overseas. Percy, not wanting to be left out of the fighting, tried to enlist. "Sorry son, you just won't do" was the reply, "but wait, do you know anything about gardening". It seems Camp Borden west of Barrie, a major staging ground of enlisted men, needed help with the grounds and the greenhouses. Military establishments must look professional. Now he was a man in uniform, and responsibilities of a serious nature, gardens to keep, and floral arrangements for those important meetings. Those were the war years.
While Percy was looking after flowers at Camp Borden, Madeline was looking after the Eaton Children at their summer home on Jackson`s Point, north of Sutton on Lake Simcoe. Madeline had grown up on the family farm, just west of Mount Albert in the little farming community of Holt. Madeline knew flowers. Her mother Hannah, had the finest flower and perennial gardens in East Gwillimbury. In fact, so beautiful were the gardens, that they had been on the cover, not once, but twice, of the then popular magazine, "Country Life". Grandmother Hannah, loved her gardens, and would often give tours of the beautiful flower beds to those "city people" who just had to stop in and enjoy the breathtaking colours of summertime, reluctantly, but never refusing, to send some blooms home with any or all of her erstwhile visitors. It was during the summer at Jackson`s Point that Madeline met Percy. The boys from the "base", would always come over on weekend passes to the dance hall at the Point. Mother always said good men where hard to find, and especially during the war years, one couldn't be that choosy, but she just couldn't resist that ear to ear smile, and besides he was in uniform.
After the war, Percy and Madeline headed to Toronto. They found a lovely little place on Cumberland Ave. present day Yorkville. Mother worked for CNR in downtown offices and part time at `Simpson`s, across from T. Eaton company. Dad got a job working for a Matt Higginson, at the Àrcade Florist. It was in the original indoor mall. Running between Yonge Street and Victoria, it housed numerous business, until a devastating fire destroyed one of the finest pieces of Canadian architecture. Percy`s boss, Matt Higginson, summered in Caesarea, just north of Port Perry on the shores of Lake Scugog. He suggested to Madeline and Percy, that there was a lovely little town north of the lake, called Lindsay. It certainly looked like a good spot to raise a family. Dad had his heart set on Barrie, but Mom like the lazy river flowing through the heart of downtown. It was 1946, Lindsay it was.
It was in the lobby of the Academy Theatre, where things actually got started. The Academy Theatre at the foot of Kent Street on Lindsay Street was a busy part of town and the Academy in 1946 was struggling for revenue (it seems some things never change). The fledgling movie industry had made vast inroads into live theatre, and attendance was down. It was a great idea, an ideal part of town, and a source of revenue for the Academy. It was March, 1946, Hill’s Academy Florist was born.
But what good was a flower shop without a greenhouse. Percy had to have his Greenhouse. In 1951, Percy & Madeline purchased property on Lindsay Street South, just south of Mary Street. It was on a busy street, actually the only way into Lindsay from the south, and what really enticed Percy and Madeline was the rich, deep, loamy soil on the property. It was over 3 feet deep on most parts of the property. Great growing soil, that’s the secret to great flowers. The family house was built the summer of 1951 and not long after that a greenhouse was erected and things really began to grow. Now it’s tough to run a greenhouse and a flower shop at the same time, and raise a couple of kids, and besides, Percy needed more space than the lobby of the Academy could provide, so he had an idea. The new little house on Lindsay Street South had a garage. Let’s convert the garage to a flower shop, move everything down to the Lindsay Street South address, and that way we would be handy to the greenhouses too. Sounds like a plan.
It was the spring of 1975. After 4 years at the University of Guelph, springtime in the greenhouses has an allure like nothing else. Maybe it’s the smell, the colours, maybe the promise of springtime, the young seedlings, the long hours, or maybe it’s just everything. That was over 37 years ago, and it seems just like yesterday. The shop was renovated, more greenhouses built, new pumps, controls, irrigation, heating systems, coolers, refrigeration, concrete and asphalt. We did manage to save all that beautiful topsoil though.
A recent graduate of the University of Guelph in horticultural, a young girl from Millbrook, Ontario, leaves a resume at the front desk, not once, not twice, but 3 times. With her skill, hard work, and knowledge of flowers the greenhouses flourished. Baskets of flowers cascading from every corner of the greenhouses. Springtime was everywhere you looked. Blooms after Blooms after Blooms. Her handiwork was evident everywhere you looked. Roger didn’t realize it, but he never stood a chance working beside his new employee. Roger and Deborah have been married now for over 30 years. They share a love of flowers, border collies, and their 3 children, Ryan, Andrew, & Sarah. What more could they ask for.
Today, Hill’s Florist is one of the oldest family floral businesses in Eastern Ontario. With a history and knowledge of flowers it continues to be one of the busiest flower shops in the Kawartha’s. Still with over 25,000 sq. ft. of greenhouses operating throughout the spring, fall, and early winter months, you can always be assured of beautiful holiday plants and blooms. With fresh cut flowers arriving almost daily from greenhouses throughout Ontario, and the OFG flower Auction in Mississauga, you can always be assured of fresh flower bouquets and arrangements that are guaranteed to please. With our 3 delivery trucks, we provide continuous daily deliveries throughout Lindsay and the surrounding areas. We are proud of our reputation, and we always strive to consistently provide the very best in flowers, plants and arrangements throughout the year. You have our word on that.
Roger & Deborah Hill