Smiths Falls History & Mystery: Farmer grocer solider reeve

Ambrose Halladay
Ambrose Halladay. Photo credit: Ted Outerbridge.
Posted on: October 19, 2022

Ambrose Halladay moved into the Keyhole House in Smiths Falls with his wife and three children in 1945. His son, Ace, remembers eating a freshly baked bun while sitting on the porch that same year. “A light rain was falling, the aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through the house, and I felt like I was on top of the world,” Ace mused, then added “my mother was a great cook.” Ace shared more fond memories from his life as a nine-year-old at the Keyhole House including the spectacular staircase in the front hall and neighbors Geraldine and Levi Clark. They lived next door at 180 Brockville Street and were friends of the family. Levi had moved to Smiths Falls from Ottawa in 1921 to assist his brother Harry, who was the owner of Clark’s Dairy. The business was located at the corner of River and Elm Streets and supplied milk to over eight hundred families. The butter plant was so successful that surplus butter was shipped to Montreal. A voters list tells us that in 1945 Ace was living at 182 Brockville Street with his parents, Gertrude and Ambrose Halladay, his siblings, and his grandmother, Margaret Ann (Gillen) Jones. Mrs. J. T. Hall and her daughter had recently arrived from Toronto and were rooming in the front bedroom on the second floor. The house was rented from William Lorimer, a retired grocer in Brockville.

Ambrose Edmund Halladay (1895-1976) was born to Edmund Ambrose and Sarah Jane (Swayne) Halladay on March 2, 1895, in Smiths Falls. He was the younger brother of Beatrice Margaret (Halladay) Graham (1894-1972) and the elder brother of Hiram (1905-1981). When he was conscripted into the Second Depot Battalion, Eastern Ontario Regiment of the Canadian Armed Forces in 1918, he was a lean, twenty-three-year-old, brown-haired, blue-eyed farmer. Many farmers did not agree with being forced to enroll into WWI and sought agricultural exemptions.  The Borden government was anxious for farmers’ votes and agreed to some exemptions. Following the election, they broke their promise. New federal and provincial political parties were born as a result. Ambrose’s attestation paper is dated June 1918, however his medical was not until January 1919 when he was demobilized. 

Gertrude Mildred Jones (1900-1959) was born to Thomas and Margaret Ann (Gillen) Jones on September 20, 1900, in Smiths Falls. She had six siblings, Frankie, Eva (Jones) Wilson, Mary (Jones) McCreary, Harry, Ted, and Eldon. She was a graduate of the Ottawa Normal School and was a twenty-six-year-old teacher when she married Ambrose, a thirty-two-year-old farmer, on August 27, 1927.  The Ottawa Journal wrote: “The bride looked lovely in a dress of white flat crepe and wore a veil, the fold caught with orange blossoms, and carried a bouquet of sunset roses.” They had three children all born seven years apart, Edmund Ambrose (1928-2019), Asahel “Ace” (1936-), and Winnifred. 

Ambrose Halladay served as Reeve of the Township of Montague from 1931-1938 and was elected Warden of Lanark County in 1935. Framed photographs of Ambrose grace the walls of the Township of Montague Office, and the Lanark County Administration Building in Perth, as a tribute to his service. In 1935 Ambrose rented a store front at 22 Market Street in Smiths Falls where he made the transition from farmer to merchant and operated a grocery store. His phone number was 232 w. An advertisement in the 1938 Record News documents Ambrose selling plum jam for twenty-three-cents a jar. This building would later become home to Standard Printing. Ace remembers living in the second-floor apartment above the grocery store, which was across the street from Purity Dairies, and a few doors down from Kelly’s Meat Market. He also remembers a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the store around which local farmers would gather and spend time chewing and spitting tobacco. “Sometimes they would stay rather late,” he added. The Halladays relocated to the Keyhole House in 1945 and Ambrose reinvented himself again. He found employment with the Frost & Wood company as a technician testing farm equipment. A year later the family moved to Queen Street near the Hershey chocolate factory where Ambrose and Gertrude would live for many years. Clark’s Dairy had relocated and was now just down the street, co-owned by Ambrose’s brother Hiram, and brother-in-law, Gordon Graham. Gertrude and Ambrose attended St John the Evangelist Anglican Church. Gertrude died on July 12, 1959, at the young age of 58. Ambrose was living with his brother Hiram on Kilmarnock Road in Rosedale when he died at home, at the age of 81, on May 24, 1976. They are buried at Maple Vale Cemetery in Smiths Falls.

Their eldest son, Edmund, married Audrey Doreen Hall in 1953. Ed was an entrepreneur and home builder who developed the Pines, a small subdivision outside of Smiths Falls. Their youngest daughter Winnifred worked for Ambrose’s friend, J. C. (Bert) Cameron who owned a car dealership on Main Street. Bert “got stuck” with a horse during a trade-in 1938. This launched his career as an influential leader in Canadian harness racing.  His celebrity racehorses were raised at a 500-acre farm near Smiths Falls and included Ezra Blue, Slagle Hanover, and Ezra Dean, the first Canadian-bred to reach the $100,000 mark in winnings. Together Bert’s horses raced at over 75 tracks across North America. Winnifred would later marry William Diebold and move to Dorchester. Following a stint working with the Canadian Pacific Railway, Ace would become the longest serving police chief in Ontario and possibly Canada. Blue Line, Canada’s National Law Enforcement Magazine refers to Ace as “A champion of community policing… highly regarded by his peers and by the public.” He lives in Perth with his wife, Dale.

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

Column by Ted Outerbridge

Hometown News
Author: Hometown News