Meet Mary Greenlees
Whenever the busy pace of life permits me the time, I love to slow down as I pass her home, and admire the beautiful gardens tended by Mary Greenlees. Perhaps you have noticed them, always several varieties in flower (unlike mine!), perfectly blended, at Mary’s home at the corner of McNiven and Derry Roads. Mary says her father was the real gardener, as he designed them, lovingly tended, modified and expanded them, but I think there must be some know-how and certainly many hours of attention and a love of gardening to keep them such a joy today. I spent an enjoyable afternoon with Mary recently, pouring over photo albums and listening to the history of the Greenlees family. I would like to share the story of Mary’s family with you…
John Greenleese (then spelled with an ‘e’ on the end of the name), her husband’s great grandfather, came to Canada from Ireland in approximately 1823 with his wife Elizabeth. On the 200 acres of crown land (today bounded by McNiven Road, Derry Road, Kilbride Street and Milburough Line), they raised their 4 sons and 3 daughters. He built a frame house and farmed the land. In his will, he left the oldest son, George, the house and 50 acres of land; each of the 3 other sons received 50 acres and each had to pay one of their sisters $100. A 2 acre square parcel at the southwest corner of Derry and McNiven Roads was severed for another purpose, possibly a blacksmiths shop. John Greenleese and his wife were buried at the cemetery at Lowville United Church.
George continued to farm the land and married Elizabeth Small. On one day in 1870’s, the family was out picking potatoes, when the house caught on fire. Some furniture was saved; in fact, the kitchen table was carried out of the house, all set for the evening meal, and was one of the few possessions that was saved! Fortunately, two of George’s sons, Frank and Tom, ran the shingle business in Cumminsville, and quickly rebuilt the house, the brick one which today is the main house at Pickletree Farm.
George also had a son named George, who enjoyed performing as a singer at local garden parties. Throughout the summer, each little community had its own garden party; there were baseball games, fishponds, recitations, singing, orchestras, and, of course, an abundance of delicious food. At one of the garden parties, George met his future wife, Ethel Emerson from Nelson Village, who reportedly performed one of his songs before he had a chance! George and Ethel were married in the early 1900’s. George later became active in the Nelson Township council; one of the projects he spearheaded was to divert the creek at McNiven Road so that no bridge was necessary on Derry Road (at Zion’s pond). Mary’s husband Frank was the youngest of George and Ethel’s 5 children. He went to public school in Kilbride and to high school in Waterdown. Subsequent generations of the Greenlees family continue to have farming interests, including her son George, who studied agriculture at the University of Guelph.
Mary’s father, Dick Tinkler, had a bit of a wanderlust. Born in England, he joined the British forces in 1916, married his bride Jane while on furlough, and when the troops were demobilized, he came to Canada, arriving in Hamilton. Jane followed him to Canada shortly after with 6 month old Mary, and was surprised to see how modern it was – she was expecting to see bears! The Tinklers settled on a farm on Appleby Line north of Rattlesnake Point in 1923, specializing in flowers, but also raised poultry, market gardened and sold their produce at the Guelph Market for 47 years. Mary went to public school in Kelso and to high school in Milton.
Mary and Frank met on a blind date, set up by mutual friends. She had heard that he was a bit of a mischief, reportedly having tied one of his school mistresses apron strings to a desk at one point when he was young! (I guess this did not concern Mary too much as she married him anyway!) They moved to the family farm on Derry Road in 1938, having also just purchased 75 acres of property on McNiven Road. In 1939, their son George was born. The Greenlees family practised mixed farming until 1960, when the farm was sold, and they moved into their new home on McNiven Road where Mary still lives.
Meanwhile, in 1945, Mary’s parents built the house next to the McNiven Road property. The gardens and the house became a showcase for the local horticultural society, with many tours stopping to admire the displays. These are the gardens that still flourish at Mary’s home.
One of Mary’s important memories is that of the Sunday School at Christie’s Mission, near her home as a child, run by the Presbyterian Church. Her father was a superintendent of the Sunday School at one time. Mary’s parents were active in Kilbride United Church and Frank’s oldest sister, Edith Chisolm, was the organist at the Church for a while; both Edith and sister Catherine Tarswell Lankton sang in the Church choir. Mary has been involved at Kilbride United Church for several years and loves the energy of our little Church.
We too in the community are grateful for Mary’s faith, her energy and her enthusiasm, whether it is helping a friend in need, serving hot dogs at the hoedown or cutting her grass on her John Deere tractor. Next time you drive by Mary’s home, slow down, take a long look and appreciate the hard work, the history and the handsome flower beds, her father’s legacy.
Contributing Author: Cindy Allin
Source: Kilbride Chronicles, Issue 4, Page 12
Transcribed by: Lyndsey Innes