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William John Watts Fonds (P663)

Excerpt from a list of expenses of William John Watts (1846-1907) (detail), about 1864. Gift of Mr. Leslie H. Millar, William John Watts Fonds P663, M976.270.1 © McCord Museum

A journey itemized down to the minutes

"June
27............Ferry over 1st Branch of Nicolet........................0,10
27............Ferry over 2nd Branch of Nicolet.......................0,10
27-28......Mrs. Hardie at St. Christophe............................0,80
28...........Post Stamp........................................................0,05
28...........Prince[ville] at Somerset....................................0,35
".............Beer between Summerset & Inverness..............0,05
".............Grass for horse at St. Agat.................................0,10
28-29.....Night at St. Giles (Jimmy le Fife)........................0,65
29..........St. Nicolas beer for self & Hay for horse.............0,12 ½ [...]
".............Pt. Levi Beer & Stable for horse.........................0,12 ½
".............Steam boat from Pt. Levi to Quebec .................0,10"


In June 1864, 18-year-old William John Watts left Drummondville to take a three-month course at the Military School of Instruction in Quebec City. This training, partially based on compliance with rules, enabled militia candidates and officers to improve their skills and become more proficient at their duties. The ability to organize one's time and equipment seems to have already been a strength of this young man, who drew up this itemized itinerary of his journey and detailed breakdown of his expenses.

We thus learn that his three-day journey began exactly at 2:30 pm on June 27. Watts took two ferries and then made his way to St. Christophe in Arthabaska, arriving at his lodgings for the night with Mrs. Hardie at 8:15 pm. He left town the morning of the 28 at 7:10 am, then made a stop in Somerset (today Plessisville) before continuing his journey at 12 noon. He stopped for a beer between Somerset and Inverness and took a short break in St. Agathe to give his horse some grass. Arriving in St. Gilles at 7:15 pm, he spent the night with Jimmy le Fife and left at 7:00 am the next morning. Upon reaching St. Nicolas, Watts allowed himself and his horse a short rest before taking the 11:00 am ferry over the Chaudière River towards Pt. Levis, where he slaked his thirst with several beers before boarding the 2:00 pm steamboat to Quebec City, his final destination. Total cost of the trip: 1 pound, 2 shillings and 3 pence.

Thanks to this discipline, William John Watts would eventually achieve the status of a veteran, not of war but of politics, as he spent nearly twenty years in the Legislative Assembly between 1874 and 1901.


P663 William John Watts Fonds. - 1861-1866, 1900. - 4 cm of textual records.

Biographical Sketch

Born in Drummondville, William John Watts (1846-1907) was the son of Robert Nugent Watts (1806-1867) and Charlotte Sheppard (1816-1882). His father, the cousin and heir of Frederick George Heriot, the founder of Drummondville, was a lieutenant colonel, landowner and MLA for Drummond from 1841 to 1851. His mother was the daughter of William Sheppard (1784-1867), a merchant and member of the Executive Council, and Harriet Campbell, daughter of the king's notary Archibald Campbell.

Watts studied in Montreal at the High School Department of McGill College from 1861 to 1866, as well as spending a summer at the Military School of Instruction in Quebec City in 1864. He was called to the Quebec Bar in 1869 and practised law in Drummondville before becoming a mill owner.

Entering politics in 1874, he was elected Member of the Legislative Assembly for Drummond-Arthabaska as a Conservative, and then again as an independent in 1875. He was elected as a Liberal in 1878 and 1881, and then resigned his seat in 1885 following the Louis Riel affair. Watts was re-elected as a Liberal MLA for Drummond in 1890, defeated in 1892 by J.-P. Cooke, and elected again in 1897 and 1900. He left politics when he was named registrar of Montreal West in 1901, a position he held until his death at the age of 61. He was buried in Drummondville.

In 1882, Watts married Mary Louisa Millar (1849-1915), the widow of William John Playart (1846-1873), in Drummondville. She was the daughter of Robert James Millar (1815-1877) and Elizabeth Ann (Eliza) Robins (1818-1891), as well as the sister of Charles Howard Millar (1856-1939). The couple had one son, Robert Watts (1886-1903).

Scope and Content

This fonds chronicles the activities of William John Watts in the latter half of the 19th century, primarily during the period when he was 15 to 20 years old.

There is a diary that records his daily routines for the year 1861, succinctly noting his leisure activities (snowshoe races, festivals, concerts, etc.), school work, and city outings to go shopping or attend church. Numerous documents relate to his studies at McGill, including an absence report, tuition receipts, invitations, Annual Founder's Festival programs, certificates of matriculation, a table listing the students' ranking on the December 1864 exams, a report card, and admission cards for the gymnasium, library and the museum of the Natural History Society. There are notes pertaining to his expenses and schedule during his time at military school, along with two certificates of military proficiency, one a second place result dated August 1864, and the other for first place dated September of the same year. Correspondence from his parents, his sister Charlotte Watts and his grandfather William Sheppard chronicle his family relationships and agricultural and domestic activities associated with the family home in Drummondville, while letters from his father and mother, notably those sent to commemorate his 20th birthday in 1866, illustrate a lot of tenderness and affection. Other documents include a confirmation certificate and receipts for his clothing, lodgings and the care of his horse.

In addition, the fonds contains several documents associated with Robert Nugent Watts: receipts and bills, such as a subscription to the London Journal, and a letter signed by Major Charles King. Finally, the fonds also contains a handwritten prayer, a certificate of posting, a list of names, and a press clipping about the story "How Charlie Caught Santa Claus" (written by Robert Watts at the age of 14).

Source of title proper: Based on the creator of the fonds.

Immediate source of acquisition: The documents in this fonds were donated to the McCord Museum in 1976 by Leslie Howard Millar, the son of Charles Howard Millar and nephew of Mary Louisa Millar.

Arrangement: Originally incorporated into the Canadiana Collection (C002), these documents were reclassified as a separate fonds in November 2004.

Language: The documents are in English.

Associated material: Société d'histoire de Drummond: Collection Famille Millar (P3)

Related groups of records: The McCord Museum's collection also includes the Charles Howard Millar Family Fonds (P431), an archives that contains a photograph of William John Watts (MP-1974.133.85).


The fonds is divided into the following series:

 

Last update: June 5, 2018