Jamery the 8th

Vernons2004I posted some old family pictures on Facebook for this week’s ‘Throwback Thursday’ shenanigans and was pleasantly surprised by the reaction to these nearly 100 year old snapshots. So much so that I thought I’d expand, and expound, on the information that accompanied them. The most obviously place to start is with my surnamesake. Ladies and gentlemen…meet The Vernons.

Contrary to popular mispronunciation it is not ver-NON. The name is VERNon. Pronounced the way you pronounce “anon”. One rolling, blurred double-syllable. No pauses, no breaks. Hit John Vernonthe “V” running.

I am not related to late Canadian ‘Animal House‘ character actor John Vernon. His real name was Adolphus Raymondus Vernon Agopsowicz. Nor any of his famous kids (actress Kate Vernon and singer Nan Vernon). I am also not related to late New York ‘King of Deadpan’ comedian Jackie Vernon. His real name was Ralph Verrone.

However, to confuse matters, one of my Dad’s sisters is named Jackie Vernon and my Dad’s late brother was John Vernon. Dad’s other siblings are Judy (Vernon) Spencer, Jocelin “Joseph” Vernon, and my late aunt Jean (Vernon) Rankin. Dad was James “Jimmy” Spencer Vernon.

Dad_Grandma_Jean_Dec1959My grandmother – Shierene (Boyd) Vernon – had a thing for the letter “J” when naming her kids. My uncle John and his wife, my aunt Lauretta, name their only child Janine. My mother and father followed suit by naming me Jaimie. Dad put the brakes on when my Mom wanted to name my sister Justine. Cooler heads prevailed and she became Christine.

Spencer Vernon at 93My grandfather was Spencer Vernon. He was born in York County (later Toronto) in 1913 – one of seven surviving children born to William and Elizabeth Vernon. We’ll get back to them in a minute. “Uncle Spence”, as us estranged family members used to call him, married my grandmother in 1936. They lived briefly in around the Vernon family farm located near Alliston, Ontario. The town where my Dad was born in 1939.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy the early 1940s they’d relocated to Denton Avenue in the pre-City of Toronto borough of East York. The house still stands and is located directly across the street from Victoria Park subway station and a block from Shoppers World mall on The Danforth. Sometime around my Dad’s teenaged years my grandfather fucked off on my grandmother leaving her to raise six kids in a very small house. Most of the kids had to drop out of school and get jobs just to help her make ends meet. It was a rough go but she did pretty good under the circumstances. None of them spent their lives in jail or wound up dead…so that’s a victory. She became a dispatcher for Diamond Taxi Cabs and would meet the man I consider to be my real grandfather – Larry Haines. But I’ll leave their story for another time.

SpencerVernon-w-crew1934Spencer ran back to the family farm near Alliston where his father William and some of his many brothers helped start up a sand and gravel business – a vocation that Spencer had dabbled in as early as 1934 [see photo]. By the 1960s the business was doing so well they landed a contract to pave the final leg of the Trans-Canada Highway in the inhospitable section of Canadian Shield on the northern shore of Lake Superior. It officially opened in 1962. Much of the work he and the company did is now known as the Terry Fox Courage Highway between Thunder Bay and Nipigon.

Despite the farming background of his parents, his father William also did what was necessary to make a living in post-World War I and pre-Depression era as a jack-of-all trades. Something he passed on to his children – and in turn to my Dad and his own brothers and sisters. F’rinstance, my aunt Judy can dismantle and clear a kitchen sink or retile a floor when necessary. But only Spencer followed directly in William’s trained profession – as a quarrymen.

BulldozerSpencer owned a gravel pit in Georgina Township. Though my father’s relationship was strained with the old man, I recall visiting Spencer at the Georgina gravel pit at the bottom of an otherwise non-descript valley below his ‘mansion. My cousin Janine and I would spend hours playing on the dilapidated steam powered front-end loaders and gravel crushing machines that Spencer was too cheap to have scrapped. Most of these contraptions were built in the 1940s.

It was here where he’d taken up residence with a new woman who I could never consider my grandmother. He loved dogs. Dozens of them. Most of them Beagles. My uncle John would adopt a few of them. They were welcome members of our extended Vernon Clan. Spencer never left home without his ‘babies’. But he had a habit of letting them sit in his expensive Cadillacs or pick up trucks while he visited people or went to see business associates. Usually to his regret. I remember a story recounting how two of his precious pups did about $5000 damage to the interior of one of his trucks – eating the seats AND the dashboard. When he died at the age of 96 in 2008 he left the bulk of his sand and gravel millions to the Barrie and Orillia SPCA’s. The old steam powered machines I played on as a kid were still rotting away in the yard of one of his properties. The gravel empire died when he did.

GreatGrandma_ElizabethVernonWilliam Vernon never lived long enough to see much of Spencer’s success. He and Elizabeth worked the farm and eventually turned it over to one of Spencer’s brothers. They decided to return to Toronto and run a convenience store out of the front of their home on Ashdale Avenue (east of Coxwell, north of Queen Street). My Dad recalls visiting them there to get candy. My Mom and her siblings did too – and this pre-dated her meeting my Dad. William died of a heart attack there in 1954. My great grandmother Elizabeth Vernon would return to live on another farm with her daughter Dolly. I was lucky enough to visit her there. She kept to herself in a little trailer at the side of the property as she didn’t want to intrude on Dolly’s family. Later she would move to a one bedroom apartment above a Becker’s Convenience store in the town of Bradford, Ontario. She would also live to the ripe old age of 96.

William_and_ElizabethVernonShe and William had lived a storied life. Elizabeth was born in 1886 in the town of Wormhill, Derbyshire, Peak Forest, England. William was born six years earlier in the same town. Who knows how they met. Chapel-En-Le-Frith in Derbyshire was the defacto religious hot spot with a church and all its social trimmings. Maybe it was a fête or maybe they were neighbours. Hell, maybe their parents set them up. Their courting years are lost in time.

However, on May 4th, 1905 – when he was 24 and she was 18 – they were married in Chapel-En-Le-Frith. Seven days later, May 11th, they were passengers on the Liverpool departing steam ship ‘SS Lake Erie’ heading for Canada. The trip took 9 days and dropped them in Montreal. Elizabeth miscarried a son named William in 1906 but they tried again and she would give birth to Joseph on August 3rd, 1907. As was sadly typical SS LAKE ERIEof the era, Elizabeth would miscarry several times but always bounce back with a thriving baby on the next attempt. Though there were three babies after her, Doris “Dolly” Vernon was the last of seven surviving children in 1924.

From 1911 to 1918 William worked as a stone ‘blaster’ for the Davis Brick Company in Toronto. They lived on Bee Street which is now Fulton Avenue between Pape and Broadview in Toronto.


In September 1918 the family made the decision to become farmers; a return to simpler roots left back in England witnessed in the records of his great, great grandfather John Vernon who was the heir to Knowl Top Farm in Derbyshire. They high tailed it out of Toronto, rented a house at Fennels Corners in Innisfil Township, Ontario and worked the land with their growing brood.

William de Vernon tombThough William never did, Elizabeth would return to England to visit her own family – The Spencers. Rumour amongst the Vernons for years has speculated that she may have been related to Princess Diana Spencer. Fat chance. The lineage doesn’t come anywhere near royalty. However, us Vernons – through the descendants of great great great great grandfather John Vernon – may very well be related to William de Vernon who arrived in England at the time of the Norman conquest in the 11th Century. The smoking gun is that William was granted a shitload of land when he got to England. This little tithe was passed down to his heirs.

The smoking gun to our historically significant family connection comes from this:
Sir Richard Vernon (a great, great grandson of William de Vernon) was High Sheriff of Derbyshire (in 1422 and 1425). His son Sir William was MP for Derbyhire and Staffordshire. Sir William’s son Sir Henry Vernon (1441–1515) became governor and treasurer to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and Haddon Hallrebuilt the family property at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire; Sir Henry’s grandson, Sir George Vernon, the last of the Haddon Hall Vernons, owned a vast acreage and was known as ‘King of the Peak’ (Forest). He died in 1565 without a male heir and his estates passed to his daughters. Haddon Hall passed to Dorothy Vernon who married Sir John Manners – ancestors of the Dukes of Rutland, and present owners of Haddon Hall. Haddon Hall is on the opposite side of the limestone quarry near Chapel-En-Le-Frith where my ancestors once worked.

The names in this entire soap opera were passed down through the Vernon lineage – though everyone agreed that abandoning names like Francis and Enoch for the boys was a very good Chapel En Le Frith Churchidea. I would love to visit Haddon Hall and Chapel-En-Le-Frith one day and see for myself where The Vernons came from. And it might answer the nagging question of why William and Elizabeth Vernon stepped onto that ship in Liverpool in 1905 and became the only members of their respective families to ever come to Canada. Though, William’s great great great descendents were lured to Utah and became Mormons. But that’s another story for another day. NEXT WEEK: Meet the Barkers!

Send your CDs for review to this NEW address: Jaimie Vernon, 4003 Ellesmere Road, Toronto, ON M1C 1J3 CANADA


Jaimie’s column appears every Saturday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS ButtonJaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 35 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 17 of those years. He is also the author of the Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ both of which are available at Amazon.com or http://www.bullseyecanada.com


  1. Blanche Says:

    I must be a cousin of yours way back .
    My great grandmother was Elizabeth Vernon born 1837 in Bugsworth Derbyshire and married John Watts in 1859 and they lived on Peaslow farm Derbyshire . Some of the Watts moved to East York ( married into the Spencer family ) and lived on Fulton and Browning Ave.
    I would love to exchange info and see where we connect .
    Blanche Somers

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