Vers McMurray 1905-1977

Vers was born the second son of W.A. McMurray in 1905.  Home for Vers was the village of Gilmour where he was born and spent most of his life.

The village of Gilmour sprung up after the Central Ontario Railway ran a line from Trenton to Coe Hill during the 1880’s.  Being a train stop and the home of McMurray’s General Store made Gilmour the a chief North Hastings community for many years.  The mining and lumbering which brought the railway also brought more settlers to the northern townships where the land was not suitable for agriculture.  Many farmers supplemented the family income by working in the logging camps or the sporadic mining operations.

“Dad and I used to watch the crops.” “We knew what kind of year we were going to have by how good or how bad the crops were.”  From the elder McMurray, he and his brothers learned the common sense of good business combined with the credit and barter system.  A customer would  request credit with the promise to pay back by cutting cordwood or providing some pork in the fall.

To buy, sell or trade, the customers came to McMurray’s over miles of rough muddy roads or snowy trails by horseback, team and wagon or sleigh, by snowshoes, or just plain “hoofing it.”  They bought eggs, butter, maple syrup, potatoes, grain and cordwood to trade.  Women knit socks and mitts to sell in the store.  W.A. installed weigh scales for grain and shipped it out by rail along with products from the sawmills in Gilmour, Gunter and Brinklow.  McMurray’s sold anything and everything.

After the birth of her fifth child Mrs. McMurray died of peritonitis.   Running a business from dawn to 10 p.m. and caring for five children was to much for Mr.  McMurray.  His son Clayton was sent to a church boarding school in Brockville; Vers, Myrtle, Gerald and baby Jim were farmed out to four kindly families for a couple of years.  Vers stayed with the Higman family and walked two mile to the Thanet school on the Old Hastings Road.

“Sometimes it was 40 degrees below in the mornings.”  “Whoever got there first would get the fire started in the old box stove.”  This was no hardship to Vers.  His love of North Hastings was always greater than its cold winters, past or present.  He was also sent to the church boarding school a bit later.   When his father remarried the children came home.  Three more children, Edward, Pearl and Keith increased the household.

Children grew up quickly in those rugged settlements.  Children, as teenagers were adults.  Many of the local boys went to work in the logging camps when they were 13 or 14 years old.  Vers finished elementary school at 13 years of age.

When Vers was 17,  he experienced the restlessness that often comes with youth.  He joined his older brother Clayton in Niagara Falls, New York.  He got a job as a street car conductor on the Great Gorge route which went over to the Canadian side and circled back.  After two years he realized there was no future in going around in circles every day.  Vers returned to Gilmour to family and friends in 1924.  The store was prosperous and cars and gasoline were added to the stock.  Helen Dafoe was another good reason for Vers return to Gilmour.  The couple married in 1929 and had three daughters; Barbara, Jean and Diana.

During the Great Depression of 1929-1939, a drop in prices and profits occurred and customers were unable to afford much, some could not pay their bills, still McMurray’s doors stayed open.

McMurray joined the army when World War II stared in 1939.  As a buck private he rose rapidly in the ranks becoming a major after four years.  After Officers Training School in Brockville, he returned to Camp Borden where he trained infantrymen for combat, camouflage, handling of firearms, and advancing under fire.  He became the Camp Commandant at Borden with 30,000 men under his command.  He was awed by that post.  ” There I was, the raw country boy getting that honour when there were so many men to choose from, men with more education.”  That “raw country boy’ knew all about terrain and firearms and he was a natural leader.  Major McMurray was rated A-1 physically and mentally.

W.A. (Arthur) McMurray had kept the store open for his son’s return.  He lost Edward in the war (RCAF flier shot down over Bristol, England).  He was growing old and tired.

Vers took over the store from his father and expanded it.  He built a home in Gilmour, and acquired considerable holdings of land, a cottage on Weslemkoon Lake and a hunting camp in Grimsthorpe township.  He did some prospecting, staking a few claims.  He was a community minded man who wanted to see progress in the village of Gilmour.  The lack of  hydro lines was a sore point with Vers after his return in 1945.  The lines were as close as St. Ola, the only electricity in Gilmour was at the large Sprackett house, and at McMurrays through the use of generators.

The modern school was under construction and was nearly completed in August of 1949 but there was no hydro for it.  McMurray visited Ontario Hydro’s Regional Office in Belleville.  “I’m a Canadian citizen, a taxpayer and a six year veteran,” he advised and “I demand a hearing.”  When the school opened in September of 1950 it had electricity.

McMurray sold the General Store to Jack Scott in 1959.  It burned later that year.

His prospecting paid off during the 1960’s when his uranium stakes in North Hastings became prosperous.

When Vers noticed the growing demand for cottages in North Hastings, he purchased 800 acres on Limerick Lake and roughly the same acreage on Glanmire Lake.  He built roads on both sites, built 22 cottages at Limerick and 45 on Glanmire.  All cottages were promptly sold.

Vers was elected Reeve of Tudor and Cashel Township in 1961.  He served in the position for seven years and was Warden of the County for one year.

Vers was also LCBO representative to all liquor lounges with entertainment in Ontario.  He retired in 1970 from LCBO and accepted a managerial position with the Highlands of Hastings Tourist Association.  In addition he served as a director for the Central Ontario Tourist Association which included six counties and maintained an office in Peterborough.

From his accumulated knowledge and large interest in minerals and prospecting, McMurray compiled a book entitled Rockhound And Prospector for the benefit of mineral buffs.  Released in 1977 the book was designed to fit in a pocket.  It lists the minerals and fossils of Hastings County, and how to find them by lot and concession numbers.  Maps of each township, a background on local mining and coloured photos of mineral specimens and Bancroft Gemboree were included.

“Life is a gamble from the day you are born until the day you die.”  That line was one of Vers McMurray’s statements.  “Age is a matter of mind,” he said merrily.  ” I don’t intend to get old at all.”

“There’s excitement in the gambles.”  “The good gambler doesn’t quit while he’s ahead, he looks for another challenge to gamble on and it keeps him young.”  McMurray was a good gambler.  His wins were greater than his losses.  The losses added interesting experiences.  His definition of retirement was ” a change of occupation and new challenges.”  A great sense of humour and a remarkable intellect were teamed with his youthfulness.

Vers McMurray was well known as a country storekeeper, WWII army officer, prospector, landowner and developer in cottage country, an LCBO representative, and a veteran of municipal politics.

(Information from article from the Country Connection written by Ruth Howard)(Photo from the same article taken by Richard Lumbers)