Local History | W. H. Abbey | Back
This following article is a lightly edited transcription of a page 10 article in the 9 Aug 1976 
issue of the Simcoe Reformer newspaper, illustrated with photos from the collection of the subject's grandson,
Ron Abbey.

W. H. Abbey 90 today
by Bruce M. Pearce

One of Simcoe's oldest and best-known residents, William Harold Abbey, today celebrates his 90th birthday. He came to Simcoe in 1913 and has lived here continuously ever since. 

Engaged in the plumbing, heating and electrical trade here for more than 60 years, he is easily Simcoe's oldest businessman. Although he has turned over active direction of the business to his sons, he is still 
on hand at his place of business on Colborne Street nearly every day.

W. H. Abbey was born at Burgessville, Ontario on 9 Aug 1886, the son of William Abbey, who was a section foreman with the old Grand Trunk Railway. He attended public school at Burgessville. Then the family moved to LaSalette in 1898 and he received further schooling at the McKnight School in Windham Township.

Then the family moved to Stratford in 1902 and the young man apprenticed in the machinist trade at the Grand Trunk locomotive shop, where he remained for three years. The machinists went on strike and Mr. Abbey did not return to his apprenticeship when the strike ended. Instead, he started as an apprentice with a plumbing firm in Stratford and within six years, he became chief plumber with the firm.

He travelled to do work for the firm to various towns and cities in Southern Ontario. He first came to Simcoe on a trip in 1912. He liked the town and when he received an offer from Schaefer Bros., a plumbing and hardware firm, he decided to move to Simcoe in 1913 to work for them at $18 a week.

Mr. Abbey had married in Stratford in 1911, his wife being the former Mary Elizabeth Guthrie, To them were born three sons, Fraser, Clarence and Vernon. All three were educated in Simcoe schools and then learned the electrical trade with their father. Fraser and Clarence have spent their lives in the family business. Vernon now resides in Hamilton.

Mr. Abbey purchased the plumbing business from his employers, the Schaefer Bros., in 1916, which means that he has now been proprietor of the firm for a total of 60 years. It was located in the older portion of the building which the company still occupies. His brother, the late Cliff Abbey, who had worked for the CNR in Stratford, came down to Simcoe to join him in the business in 1916, and he continued his association with the firm until the time of his death a few years ago.

W. H. Abbey, shortly after coming to Simcoe, purchased a home for his family on King Street. Purchase price was $2,000. They lived there for quite a few years, later moving to a home on College Ave.

The Abbey business building was owned for some years by Ed Collins, who operated a carriage works in the north part of the building. After the death of Mr. Collins in 1922, Mr. Abbey bought the whole building from the estate and expanded his shop. At first it was devoted to plumbing and heating only but an electrical department was added later. Then in 1923, Mr. Abbey added an upstairs apartment.

W. H. Abbey staff in front of expanded store, 1934

In 1940 he purchased a substantial brick residence to the north and converted it into downstairs offices for rental and upstairs apartments.

The Abbey firm flourished through the prosperous 1920s and even through the depression years of the 1930s. The staff expanded to a total of 27 employees at one time, with a total of 13 cars and trucks operating to serve clients.

The firm had an important role in construction work during Simcoe's greatest period of growth to that time. It contracted for the plumbing, wiring and heating for Simcoe schools, churches, industries, public buildings and residences both in town and district.

Under the direction of Mr. Abbey, the firm's reputation for service became firmly established in the community. Some of his largest contracts were in association with the late David Gunton, a prominent Simcoe builder for many years. The firm has been incorporated since 1946 as the W. H. Abbey Co. Ltd. 

W. H. Abbey trucks in front of store, circa 1955 
-- see photo enlargement


Three years after the death of his first wife in 1944, Mr. Abbey was married to the former Mrs. Harry Sherk. They continue to reside in the upstairs apartment over the shop. During the summer months they vacation at a summer cottage in Port Dover.

Mr. Abbey was a charter member of the Simcoe Lions Club at its inception in 1931. He is still a 'past service' member. For many years he was a feature performer in the annual Simcoe Lions Club Minstrel Show, playing the mouth organ and doing a 'soft shoe' dance along with George Butcher and Fred Norman.

He is a member of Trinity Anglican Church and of Simcoe Lodge, No. 161, IOOF, to which he has belonged for 58 years.

Mr. Abbey has six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, of whom he is very proud.

Commenting to this writer with reference to his 60 years in business in Simcoe and to his 90th birthday, Mr. Abbey declared: "I have enjoyed every minute of my years in Simcoe. The town has been good to me and my family. It has been a privilege to serve so many Simcoe and district families in a business way over the years. I have seen many changes in Simcoe since 1916 and I have taken keen satisfaction in having a contribution to its material up-building through the application of my trade and through the contributions made by my sons. It now appears that Simcoe is on the verge of even greater growth."

'Bill' Abbey attributes his good health as he observes his 90th birthday, largely to hard work through the years of his active business life and to "abstemious living."

The Reformer joins with a host of friends in the community in congratulating William Harold Abbey upon his unique record of 60 years in business and upon the observance of the 90th anniversary of his natal day. All will hope that he may continue to enjoy good health in the years ahead and to continue to take an active interest in the town which he has had an important role in assisting to build.

(Mr. Abbey was guest of honor at a family gathering on Sunday afternoon at the Erie Beach Hotel in Port Dover. About 20 members of the Abbey family enjoyed a birthday dinner.)

W. H. Abbey

also see
W. H. Abbey's
Copyright 2017 John Cardiff