While we know William Panton as the co-founder of Kilbride, Ontario, with Francis Baker, what do we know about the man himself?
Panton Family Early History
In an article written in San Francisco, California in 1938 (publication unknown), William’s son, Samuel wrote that the beginnings of the Panton family were to be found in Wales in County Carnarvon or as it was historically spelled, Caernarfonshire “Kylbryde in the Colach”. Unfortunately, the Gwynedd Archives in Caernarfonshire along with the Welsh Place Name Society, have recently confirmed that there has never been a Kilbride or derivative of that name in Welsh history. This family folklore passed down, while interesting, had no basis in fact.
Samuel further wrote that the family name Panton was originally “Ap Antony” and that somewhere as the family migrated, a letter from both the beginning and end of that name was removed to form “Panton”.
Museums Archives and Libraries Division of the Welsh Government did confirm that the contraction of the surname “ap Antony” (which means ‘son of Anthony’) to Panton does also make sense, and would be in line with the Welsh patronymic naming system. To better understand Manor Kilbride as it is known in Ireland, one needs to travel about 19 miles south west of Dublin. It has been described as “a quiet location on the southern slopes of the Dublin/Wicklow Mountains.
Early Years in Ireland
William was born in Crosscoolharbour, near Blessington, County Wicklow, Ireland to parents Samuel Panton and Jane Catherine Spence. His mother’s home had been nearby at Threecastles, so named as it was built near the ruins of three castles. The home in Crosscoolharbour was a two storey, stone house where William was born in a second floor bedroom.
In 1811, when he was just three years old, his father, Samuel, passed away. According to William’s sister Jane, his only memory of his father was of him putting him on horseback. After his father’s death, his mother, who was reported to be both young and beautiful, continued to carry on with the business of the farm. It was located in the Wicklow hills and was quite large in acreage. They raised hunters that were reputed to be very fine animals. When Jane visited the family home in 1907, the horses had won 27 prizes at the Dublin Horse Show.
The farm passed into the hands of William’s uncle and the family moved to the home at Threecastles where they lived a less prosperous life, although they continued to have servants and a tutor in their employ for the education of the Panton children.
Early Life in Canada
In 1834, at the age of 26, William and family (mother, and sisters, Jane and Maria, his cousin Susan, Uncle William Spence, his wife Mary (or possibly Martha Eades), son Patrick, his mother, his sister Anne Panton and her family) came to Canada and settled in a place that they called Frankville. This was ten years prior to the Irish Potato Famine of 1845 – 1849 however, hard times and political unrest had already started and no doubt contributed to their decision. Canada at that time was considered a land of great opportunity.
William’s sister Jane remembered that her Grandmother Panton and her aunts loved their garden and she called it “the most beautiful spot imaginable”. The plethora of tulips, daffodils and various other bulbs had been brought with them from “the home country”. She remembered large borders of violets, cowslips and polyanthus as well as peach trees and other fruit trees. William purchased a farm in Nelson Township not far from his mother and named it Bakersdale after his old friend from Ireland, Thomas Baker. The Bakers lived in Dublin where Thomas was an architect and they owned many, many properties. One of those homes was a country home that was located in Kilbride, County Wicklow. Kilbride was just a few miles north of Blessington and the birthplace of William.
Not long after arriving in Ontario, the 1837 Rebellion broke out. William immediately volunteered to serve with the Government forces on Navy Island (the only Canadian Island in the Niagara River). He achieved the rank of Lieutenant until the Rebellion concluded in 1838.
Road to Kilbride, Nelson Township
In 1841, William married Rebecca Sophia Culloden, daughter of Pearson Culloden of Lowville. After their marriage, they lived in Thorold where he held the position of Public Works Inspector. There, he had a role in the building of the second Welland Canal, work that was started in 1842. He and his family returned to Bakersdale until 1847 when he moved to Cumminsville.
Thomas Baker had travelled to Canada to visit his good friend, William. What he saw there convinced him that the prospects in this new country would be much better than those in Ireland for his five sons as the potato famine had begun in 1845. Baker’s son, George, was the first to come and was sent to William Spence to learn farming. Francis followed and went into business with William Panton. He became a merchant in Cumminsville. They built two stores and had two mills that were referred to as the upper and lower mills. One of the mills was a planing mill that apparently burned shortly after was started. The Cumminsville area was a perfect location for this venture as is was rich in forests and abundant water supply from the Twelve Mile Creek.
Not long after that, William and Frank purchased 200 acre farm just north of Cumminsville. In 1854, they laid out a plan for the Village of Kilbride. The Village was named after the one in Ireland where the Pantons and Bakers had spent much time together. While the Bakers lived in Dublin, one of their country homes was in Kilbride located very close to Blessington. The two men took this opportunity to name many of the streets after their family members and their home country.
In 1857, 80 lots were advertised for sale in Kilbride and were described as being “particularly suited for tradesmen and mechanics”. Kilbride, Cumminsville and Dakota were very busy areas of commerce. During this time, William built a house at what is now 2080 Kilbride Street. Kilbride Street was originally named Thomas Street. At the jog in the road by Coxe’s Creek, it was named Baker Street.
The house was built in the Gothic Revival style. Several building pattern books were popular during the mid-1800s and it is believed to be fashioned in this popular style.
In 1857 there was a ‘financial panic’ that rocked North America. By the 1850s the world’s economy was interconnected affecting Canada, the United States and Britain. The British and European markets dried up to North American imports as a result in part of the end of the Crimean war (1853 to 1856) and the resulting opening of the Russian markets.
William was not immune to the ensuing hard times. As a result, the building boom that was envisioned with the laying out of lots in Kilbride did not materialize. Both he and Francis failed in their businesses. William’s daughter, Jane, felt that a contributing factor was that her father was seriously ill at that time. He was so ill in fact, she recounted, that he had to leave the running of the businesses in the hands of his employees. Jane referred to him as “the soul of honour” as he liquidated his assets to pay his creditors.
William and his family moved to nearby Milton where in 1860, he was appointed County Clerk and later, Inspector of Inland Revenue. After his death in 1865, his son William Panton Jr. was appointed his successor.
The Historical Atlas of Halton describes him as a great student of poetry. He was also responsible for the “Craftsman of St. Clair’ a poem dedicated to the principles of Freemasonry. In Milton, he took an active role in the founding of the St. Clair Lodge. His obituary in the Milton Canadian Champion speaks to the high regard in which he was held:
Died, on Saturday, the 7th inst., after a brief illness, William Panton, Esq., county clerk aged 57 years. The deceased was born in Blessington County of Wicklow, Ireland; but emigrated to this county in 1834. He lived for many years in Kilbride, where he was widely known and highly respected as an honest and impartial magistrate. During his residence in this town he had endeared himself to all, being a man who left behind him no enemies, but many friends. On the death of the late Frances Hamburg he was appointed the county clerk, which office he held to the time of his death. He was a man of liberal opinions, and proved his loyalty by turning out in 37 for his Queen and country. He was a zealous member of the order of Freemasons, and squared his life by its immortal principles.Obituary of William Panton, October 12, 1865
Contributing Author: Helen Callaway