Belle Vue’s veterans – strands from their wartime culture


By Paul Hertel


(Editor’s Note: This is the latest in a series of columns on Belle Vue, as written by members of the Belle Vue Conservancy. Though the bulk have been written by Debra Honor, this entry is written by Paul Hertel.)


“The Secret History of Soldiers” is a new 2018 book by military historian Tim Cook on how Canada’s soldiers survived the Great War 1914-1918.  As I read it, I realized that aspects of Cook’s story related directly to the Belle Vue veterans in Amherstburg 1946-1954.

Cook focused on the unique genius of soldiers to develop with resilience a wartime secret culture to cope with the horrendous conditions they faced. A language of slang and swearing became a defensive oral way to cope, and built both identity and morale. Whether through cartoons, poetry, or souvenir collection, an integrated culture evolved. It included live entertainment shows such as the ‘Dumbells’.

This complex cultural legacy came home with the veteran survivors, having an impact on daily life. During the years 1946-1954, the Amherstburg Echo reported regularly on activities at the Veterans’ Home. Local legion groups provided entertainment shows for the residents, as well as musical reviews, continuing the cultural events of wartime into the lives of convalescent veterans.

Yet underneath this veneer of normality, the impact of military injuries and “going home to Blighty” (a term for medical hospital care) must have had a daily impact on the lives of the aging vets with limited family support .

Who could really understand the impact of military medical discharge facing a veteran with poor feet and circulation arising from the trenches? What aid could be provided for a vet facing shrapnel still circulating within a scarred torso? And what about those facing long-term mental health issues? Such cases are found behind the records of the old sweats, our Belle Vue vets.

One administrative decision reported in January 1948 demonstrated a concern for the safety and emotional well-being of the veterans: hunting on the grounds of Belle Vue was now prohibited.

As Major Gavin Greig stated, “Sorry, boys. As usual, some one spoiled it for the rest of you. A rabbit hunter fired two shots within ten yards of the house today. In consequence all hunting and shooting privileges are cancelled on the property of the Bellevue Veterans’ Home.”

On 6 March 1952 the Amherstburg Echo reported on a minstrel show held at the Home which showed an on-going legacy of popular live entertainment described in Cook’s book :

“Verne ‘Pop’ Phelps, well known minstrel man, was the star of a show staged at the Bellevue Veterans’ Home on Sunday afternoon by the Disabled Veterans Association of Windsor. Mr. Phelps, who will be 78 years of age in April, won the hearts of the old sweats with his songs and dances of yesterday. The show was arranged by Hugh Simpson of Windsor…. Alexander Rose, president of the association, spoke briefly and told what a pleasure it was to bring the show to Amherstburg. He presented cigarettes and tobacco to the Bellevue patients. Major Gavin Greig, manager of Bellevue, expressed the thanks of the patients to the association and the artists.”

As we remember the sacrifices made by our veterans, Tim Cook’s recent addition to the military history of Canada adds empathy for their individual and collective war experiences. It contributes to a deeper knowledge of those veterans who briefly called Belle Vue their home.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again or visit www.bellevueconservancy.com for more information!


Essex County Steam & Gas Engine Show keeps Co-An Park busy


By Jonathan Martin


Co-An Park spent last weekend humming, popping and whistling.

Hundreds of pieces of vintage machinery rolled onto the shared space for exhibition in the 34th annual Steam and Gas Engine Show.

According to Gary Struhar, president of the Steam and Gas Engine Museum, the weekend is all about educating the public.

The Essex County Steam & Gas Engine Show took over Co-An Park in McGregor the weekend of Aug. 10-12.

“Our goal is to let people see how agricultural equipment has evolved over the past hundred years or so,” he said.  “They can even get hands-on with some of it.”

The event began with a parade of antique equipment rolling in from St. Clement’s Church.  It was more than double the size of last year’s, according to Struhar.

The equipment hailed from a variety of histories.  John Deere was the big name on-site, with tents dedicated entirely to the company’s products in honour of its hundredth anniversary.  Other brands weren’t left out in the field, though.

“Colours mean nothing in the real world,” Struhar said.  “But out in the farming business, they mean a lot.”

John Deere’s green dominated the showgrounds, but Massey-Harris’ red, Ford’s blue and Allis Chalmers’ orange also dotted the landscape.  Army green was there, too, brought in by the Southern Ontario Military Musters.  Of course, the colour of rust outdid them all.

Antique agricultural equipment was on exhibit as part of the Essex County Steam & Gas Engine Show.

Most of the equipment on-site wasn’t just there for show.  A lot of it had seen a lifetime of use on real farms, doing real hard work.  The weekend offered up demonstrations of that work.

Steam power got wood sawed, sweetcorn cooked and wheat threshed.  The younger attendees got to dig through some of that threshed wheat to find tokens they could redeem for prizes.

Massive, powerhouse tractors pulled heavy weights across a demonstration field in a show of strength, which was sanctioned by the Ontario Vintage Tractor Pullers Association.

Struhar said the weekend was a great success, on-par with the past few iterations of the event.

Gary Struhar, president of the Steam and Gas Engine Museum, demonstrates an antique wood cutter at the 34th annual Steam and Gas Engine Show.

Next year, he said, Massey Harris’ red will be in the spotlight.

“That’s my family’s colour,” he said.  “Out here, colours mean a lot.

To see our photos from the Aug. 10-12 event, check out our Facebook album.

Photos, art and artifacts sought for upcoming marine exhibit at Gibson Gallery



The Gibson Gallery will have an exhibit entitled “Ahoy! Amherstburg’s Marine Past” that will run from Sept. 27-Oct. 21.

Through a collection of art, artifacts and photos, the exhibit will showcase the marine history that flourished in the Port of Amherstburg since the 1800’s. A highlight of the exhibit will be the colourful history of McQueen Marine Ltd. that was based in Amherstburg for over 50 years. Come aboard to hear the stories told by crew members of McQueen’s famous tug, Atomic. See what our Detroit River shoreline and the Navy Yard Park looked like 50 years ago!

The tug “Atomic” is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the Marsh Historical Collection)

Among those putting the exhibit together are Dave Cozens, Al Jackson and Capt. Cliff Morrison.

“The three of us are putting this exhibit together,” said Cozens, as he and Jackson looked through Dave Goodchild’s collection of photos.

The Gibson Gallery is looking for photos, paintings, prints, artifacts and any other materials that depict Amherstburg’s marine past. The gallery is looking for photos of Mullen’s Coal Dock, the Boblo dock at the foot of Murray St., Duffy’s marina, the custom’s dock and the Navy Yard Park construction.

Cozens said they are hopeful to get calls and submissions from the public. He believes there are “hidden gems” out in the community “but we don’t know what they are.”

The Marsh Historical Collection is also assisting with providing materials.

The “Prudence” is photographed. (Photo courtesy of the Marsh Historical Collection)

“It’s a united effort,” said Cozens.

If there are members of the public that have anything of interest that they would be prepared to loan to the Gibson Gallery for the exhibit, please contact Cozens at 519-736-2228 or via e-mail at office@gibsonartgallery.com. The public’s support is greatly appreciated.

The public is invited to visit the “Ahoy! Amherstburg’s Marine Past” exhibit at the Gibson Gallery this fall. The gallery is located at 140 Richmond St.

Native burial found at Belle Vue in 1892


(Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of articles by historian/genealogist Debra Honor regarding the Belle Vue house and its history. Honor is a member of the Belle Vue Conservancy.)


By Debra Honor UE, PLCGS


Little is known about the gravesite found at Belle Vue in 1892 by Perry Barclay Leighton. The exact location was never documented like a modern-day archaeologist would. Little was written in the Amherstburg Echo at the time. This was an accidental find by the owner. P. B. Leighton was a farmer, a real estate agent, an amateur “Antiquarian” and the owner of Belle Vue.

The first mention in the Amherstburg Echo was on 2 December 1892.

“The Indian relics found on the water lot of P. B. Leighton, some months ago, have been mounted by Mr. Leighton and are on exhibition at his office on Murray Street. D. H. Price, of Aylmer, a collector of Indian relics, was greatly taken up with these and considers them of great value. “

Over the years, the location of the burial was lost, but another article has clues. June 23rd, 1893, “While grading the bank opposite his residence, a few years ago, Mr. Leighton unearthed the remains of a dusky warrior of one hundred and fifty years ago, with all his accoutrements of war, religious symbols and fashionable adornments of that period.” Of all the 1,800 different pieces found, the most important were “a large solid silver cross 11 ½ by 8 ½ inches” and “a copper coin of 1736.”

A postcard of the Belle Vue shows the place from the Detroit River with the stones in front.

A postcard of the Belle Vue shows the place from the Detroit River with the stones in front.

The cross showed that the person was of high rank, possibly a chief of some tribe in the area. The coin gives us a clue to the burial time, which would have happened after 1736. But the coin is no longer among the artifacts of Leighton’s collection.

Again, the article of 1893 gives us a clue as to where the coin disappeared. “Mr. Leighton has not made a collection of old coins. In this respect, he yields the palm to his townsmen William S. and Frank M. Falls.” So most likely he gave the coin to them.

A lot of Perry Leighton’s collection was purchased by George MacDonald who donated his collection to the Windsor Community Museum. That is where the cross is now located.

As to the original burial ground location, there is a post card of Belle Vue from the river showing a sloping grade from the road to the river. Within the grass are white stones spelling out the name “Belle Vue”. Somewhere in that slope would have been the location of the burial. Since that time, the Mullen family have also changed the waterfront slope and added a little boat well. With all these changes, the exact spot is lost.

Please support our fundraising campaign. One hundred per cent of your contribution will be used for restoration of the Belle Vue House. You will receive a full tax receipt and a Belle Vue gift. Visit amherstburg.ca/donate to help us open up Belle Vue once again!

Historian/genealogist to write series of articles on Belle Vue



By Ron Giofu


A local history buff and genealogist will be sharing stories of Belle Vue’s history with the public.

Debra Honor is not only writing a book on the 200-year-old mansion’s history, but she will also be submitting articles and photos to the River Town Times on a monthly basis starting in January. She has been researching the Belle Vue property with husband Robert for the last eight years.

Honor said they have three full binders of information dating from the early history of the building to the present. However, they are always on the hunt for more information.

Belle Vue, as seen in Oct. 2016.

Belle Vue, as seen in Oct. 2016.

“We would like everyone else to realize the historical importance of the building,” said Honor. “I do more of the people stories. Robert does more of the building stories. He does more on the architecture. I’m the person who says that’s the one who did it and the time period.”

The Honors are gathering stories from those who used the building during the course of its history. They would also like more photos of the grounds, including the gardens but particularly the inside. She pointed out photos of the interior are tough to come by.

“Having pictures from different time periods would help us pinpoint time periods when things were changed,” said Honor.

If anyone has stories or photos regarding the Belle Vue property, contact the Honors at 519-736-7737.