In 1884, at the age of twenty-two, Alice Maude Butler (1866-1935) found herself in a United States courtroom with her fifty-four-year-old mother, Hannah Cordelia (Friar) Butler. The courageous mother-daughter duo testified against a man who called himself Dr. Richmond. The man was in fact Ira Richmond Butler, who had deserted his lawfully wedded wife, Hannah, and their six children. Hannah testified that in 1874 Ira claimed he was leaving Smiths Falls, Ontario to “seek a better home for us.” She did not see her husband again until ten years later in front of a grand jury in Lockport, New York. He was being charged with bigamy and manslaughter in the first degree.
The 1869 Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory lists Ira B. Butler as a watchmaker. Lovell’s Province of Ontario directory for 1871 confirms that J.R. Butler was a watchmaker on Main Street in Smiths Falls. However, when he arrived in Lockport, Ira falsely declared that he was a physician and a graduate of the New York Medical University. His lack of medical training likely contributed to a botched abortion he performed, which resulted in a death. He was subsequently charged with manslaughter in the first degree. Ira’s career as a womanizer is also well documented in the press. One of his numerous conquests was a wealthy widow by the name of Mrs. Sarah Platts from Lockport, New York, whom he married in 1883. Mrs. Platts later testified against Ira. In 1884, he was sentenced to six years at Auburn State Prison for manslaughter in the first degree and bigamy. The story became national news.
Within one year of his release from prison, Ira was arrested again. In 1891, he was convicted of bigamy for a second time. On this occasion, he had married a Mrs. Catherine Boulivette in Brockton, Massachusetts. The couple were found to be in possession of an impressive array of counterfeiting equipment, including plates and 26 moulds for making $5 and $10 gold pieces, a forge, bellows, and bars of metal. Ira was sentenced to two years in prison, while Catherine was discharged. The press condemned Ira on several occasions, referring to him as a “disreputable character,” “a bad egg” and “the sleekest kind of swindler.”
Hannah was an independent woman who took on four boarders so she could raise her six children on her own. Alice was the fourth of six children born to Ira Richmond Butler and Hannah Cordelia Friar on January 2, 1866, in Cornwall, Ontario. She and her siblings Eva Estella, Angelo Dodge, Janette E., George E., and Cordelia May were raised in a Scottish, Wesleyan Methodist household.
In 1881, a twenty-nine-year-old engineer by the name of Robert J. Brodie was one of four boarders in the Hannah Cordelia (Friar) Butler household. He would later become a very influential Smiths Falls resident and town councillor. He would also become owner of the Keyhole House for several years with his future wife, Henrietta Lamb. Coincidentally, Alice would own the very same property for seven years.
In 1883, twenty-one-year-old Harry Stancliffe McNeill (1861-1936) made the 10-day journey from Glasgow, Scotland to Quebec City aboard the S/S Corean. During his 47 years in Canada, Harry would support himself with a variety of careers, ranging from bookkeeper and commercial traveler to wholesale confectioner. On June 7, 1886, Harry married Alice. By 1897, Harry and Alice were homeowners at 127 Brockville Street where they lived with their four children: Pearl Gertrude (1890-1978), Stanley Howard (1892-1972), Grace Marguerite (1897-?), and Edwin Bentler (1900-1984), as well as a domestic servant.
After creating a family, Harry focussed his energies on his career as a commercial traveller. He left his wife and children and moved to Edmonton. Pearl moved to Victoria, Ontario, and in 1927 she married John S. Srigley in Edmonton, Alberta. Grace moved to Buffalo, New York and married a Dr. McKowne. Edwin settled in Toronto.
Stanley was the only sibling who remained in Smiths Falls. He entered the workforce as a bookkeeper. By 1912, he was the first manager of the Rideau Theatre, located on Chambers Street at the corner of Beckwith Street. The state-of-the-art venue was equipped with a screen for moving pictures as well as a full stage for live theatre productions. It replaced the Opera House located on Market Street for touring vaudeville productions. The local press wrote that “…he ran the theatre like a well-oiled machine.” Bert Soper was the man responsible for the construction of this motion picture and live performance venue. It is featured on page 33 of the 1924 Who’s Who in Smiths Falls, along with a photo of Stanley. In 1936, the name of the venue changed to the Capitol Theatre. It continued to operate until 1949. Stanley married Lucy (Henderson) McNeill and they had a daughter, Jean.
Historical records indicate that Alice was financially stable and was close to her children. In 1921, fifty-four-year-old Alice was a homeowner at 3 Alfred Street, a semi-detached home. Her son Stanley lived next door at 5 Alfred Street with his wife and daughter. Her other children, Pearl and Edwin, came for a visit from Toronto that year, which made the news in The Ottawa Journal. In 1923, Alice paid $4,100 for the Keyhole House, which she owned for seven years. In 1930 she sold the property to John Briggs for $6,500 and moved in with her son, Stanley, and his wife. On November 3, 1935, a sixty-nine-year-old Alice emigrated to Buffalo, New York to live with her daughter Grace and her son-in-law. Alice died that same year and was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, Erie County, New York. Harry McNeill died November 12, 1936, at the age of sixty-eight in Edmonton, Alberta and he is buried at the Edmonton Municipal Cemetery.
Ted & Marion Outerbridge are currently restoring the Keyhole House, a Smiths Falls heritage home built in 1893. They are also being swept away by local history & mystery. You can follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok @thekeyholehouse or email firstname.lastname@example.org.