Smiths Falls History & Mystery: Father and Son served in WWI

Reginald Burroughs grave stone
Reginald Burroughs grave. Photo credit: Ted Outerbridge.
Posted on: January 12, 2023

When Reginald Burroughs moved into the Keyhole House, he left his mark by signing his name, his son Nelson’s name, and the year “1907” into the wet concrete of a basement windowsill. The family’s new three-digit phone number was 218, and they were listed in the Smiths Falls Telephone Directory as R. E. G. Burroughs at 182 Brockville Street. Mrs. R. E. G. Burroughs (aka Augusta Martha Parker) was six months pregnant at the time and was not mentioned in the windowsill or directory.

During our recent dining room restoration efforts, we discovered a golf ball inside the wall. The WHY NOT insignia made it easy to identify as a golf ball manufactured by Henley’s Tyre & Rubber Company Ltd of London. Golf balls such as this one were available for purchase in England in 1918. Did Reginald bring it home following his service in WWI? Could he have used it at the Poonahmalee Golf Club, which was right across the street from his house at the time?

Reginald Edward George Burroughs (1874-1944) was born in Ashton, Ontario on March 29, 1874. His parents were George Alexander Burroughs and Penina Jane (Argue) Burroughs. In 1891, the census documents Reginald as a tailor apprentice living in Mattawa, Ontario. He was one of ten people living at the same address which included: his two siblings, three step-siblings, his father and step-mother, a domestic servant, and a lodger. His mother, Penina, had died at the age of twenty-two.

Reginald was a brown-haired, blue-eyed merchant tailor and prospector when he married Augusta Martha Parker (1876-1966) from Kitley on February 2, 1898, at the age of twenty four. In 1907, the Burroughs bought the Keyhole House for $3000 and maintained ownership of it for sixteen years. Their son Nelson was seven at the time. Their daughter (Marion Augusta Bethune Burroughs) was most likely born at the Keyhole House, a few months after they moved in. Their son, Gerald Isaiah, died prior to his fourth birthday. This wasn’t the only tragedy they faced; according to Reginald’s WWI file, they had another child who died at birth.

Press clippings document several Burroughs family misadventures. In 1912, The Evening Telegram, St. John’s Newfoundland ran the following headline: Let Son Carry the Riffle, Father Must pay $300 Damages to His Son’s Victim. The article explained that Reginald, a dealer in mining properties, had allowed his twelve-year-old son to carry a rifle. While struggling for possession of the weapon with another boy, it went off; a third boy, Johnny Moran, lost his left eye. In 1913, The New Westminster News wrote that prospector R. E. G. Burroughs had been hired by a party of Ottawa capitalists to survey the Lake Mistassini area in northern Quebec for diamonds. Following a thorough search by Reginald and his team he was quoted, saying “As a diamond country there is nothing doing.”

Reginald’s sister Bertha was married at the Keyhole House, and it made the news. The Ottawa Citizen wrote “ARGUE-McCULLOUGH-On Wednesday morning, February 26, 1913 at the home of the bride’s brother, Mr. Reginald Burroughs, Brockville Street, Smith’s Falls, by Rev. D. N. Coburn, Bertha Burroughs-McCullough of Ottawa, to George Archibald Argue of Saskatoon.” Bertha was given away by her younger brother, John Ernest. Six-year-old Marion, the bride’s niece, was the flower girl. Following the wedding, Bertha left her civil service position in Ottawa and moved to Saskatoon with George.

Shortly after, both father and son marched off to serve in the First World War. In 1915, Reginald Burroughs filled out his attestation paper for the Canadian Expeditionary Force at Borden’s Motor Machine Gun Battery. The unit was under the command of Major E.J. Holland VC, and it was named in honour of Canadian Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden. Reginald, then forty years old, sailed overseas aboard the RMS Carpathia. He arrived in England eleven days later, at which point he was relocated to France.

Reginald’s military files indicate that his conduct and character while in service was very good. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1916. Notes in his medical file indicated that his judgement was undisturbed while in service. However, the horrors of war he experienced took their toll on him. Reginald was diagnosed with influenza, Trench fever, color blindness due to toxaemia in Vimy, psychoneurosis, and “shell shock.” Today we would recognize his fragile psychological state as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The Military Convalescent Hospital in Epsom, England issued a report recommending that he be hospitalized following his discharge. He was posted to Kingston Military Hospital in 1918, and was granted a two week stay at his home, news of which made the Ottawa Journal. They wrote: “Sergeant R. E. G. Burroughs, who has been on active service for three years, has been invalided to Canada and is at present at his home here on Brockville Street, having been granted two weeks leave from the Convalescent Home at Kingston.” On September 6, 1918, following four months of treatment, he was discharged for “being medically unfit for further War Service.

Reginald’s son Nelson also served in WWI. He was a seventeen-year-old student when he filled out his attestation paper for the Canadian Expeditionary Force to serve in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. At the age of nineteen, he was discharged and appointed flight cadet with the Royal Air Force. A 1921 census indicates that Reginald, Augusta, Nelson, and Marion relocated to Montreal. Nelson married Gertrude “Dorothy” May McCall on March 13, 1922. He was just 22 years old. The couple then moved to Halifax, where they would have four children. Only two survived beyond the age of one. Reginald William Nelson Burroughs died on March 30, 1967.

Marion worked as a nurse in Montreal. She was living in Lachine with Jamaican master builder Dennis Brian Caryll when their son David Brian Caryll was born on March 24, 1938. David married Jessie May Jackson in 1965, and relocated to Hamilton, Ontario. Dennis died in Montreal at the age of 57 in 1963 and Marion died at the age of 98 in 2005 in Toronto.A 1935 voters list documents Reginald living in Thor Lake, Nipissing, Ontario where he was working as a prospector. He died at the age of 70 in Geraldton, Ontario on April 3, 1944. He had been working for the Department of Land & Forestry prior to his death. His remains are buried at Maple Vale Cemetery in Smiths Falls. His wife Augusta lived until 1966 when she died at the age of 90. She is buried beside Reginald and their son Gerald, daughter Marion, and son-in-law Dennis, just down the street from the Keyhole House.

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