From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
Did you know that one of the narrowest streets in the city was named after Edward Biggings, a former mayor and businessman? Who was he and why did a street get named after him?
Edward Biggings was born in Cornwall, England and his story is typical of many of the early immigrants who made their way from England to Canada to make a new life for themselves.
During the mid-1800s, England was facing problems caused by overpopulation and high unemployment. This situation left very little opportunity for many in England to be able to build careers and support themselves. Newspapers in England were filled with advertisements about the abundance of land and the opportunities available in Canada and encouraging people to move to Canada. Of course, some of these articles may have built up expectations a little too high so that when people arrived they found things were more primitive than what they had been accustomed to in England.
Edward Biggings had lost seven uncles in the wars between Britain and France, so he was the last one left in his family line. Deciding to embark on a new adventure, he left Cornwall in 1854 when he was just 24 years old.
He had a contract to work for a businessman in Montreal. While on board the ship, he struck up a friendship with a young girl named Eliza Ann Hockridge from Plymouth who was travelling to Oshawa to live with her married sister. She mentioned that her brother-in-law hired men to work for the government. When Edward arrived in Montreal, he discovered that the business he had been hired to work for had gone bankrupt.
With no job and no other friends in Canada, Edward decided to travel to Oshawa to meet with Eliza’s brother-in-law.
Through this contact, he was offered a job in Toronto and continued his friendship with Eliza and her family. Eliza and Edward married in April, 1859 and moved to Bowmanville where he had been transferred for his job. Although he now had a job, he was frustrated by the lack of opportunity for advancement in southern Ontario so he moved to the north, settling in Bruce Mines, which was a thriving mining town at this time.
Eliza found conditions in this mining town very primitive, compared to southern Ontario. After a number of disasters struck Bruce Mines and the mines located there, Edward Biggings moved his family to Sault Ste. Marie in 1869. They found life to be much more comfortable in their new home. Upon arrival in Sault Ste. Marie, Edward and Eliza moved into the residential quarters of the new ‘goal’ and he assumed the role of Governor of the Goal. They also joined the Methodist church and became active members of the congregation.
By 1877, Edward and Eliza wanted to have a home of their own, so Edward bought a piece of land on the northeast corner of Carney’s Lane and built the first house on this lane for his family, which included 13 children. This lane would later be re-named Biggings Avenue. Edward and Eliza suffered losses in their personal lives with a daughter and four sons dying before reaching adulthood.
In 1855, Edward started a real estate business which was quite successful and he operated this business until he sold it in 1903. The coming of the Canadian Pacific Railway created a building boom in Sault Ste. Marie and Edward was able to capitalize on this as new people began moving into the area.
Edward entered the world of politics in 1888, when he was elected and served as Mayor with a term beginning in 1889. Elections were held each year so he held this office for just one year before being voted out. In 1897, he was elected to the office of Mayor once again and took up leadership of the town in 1898 once again.
During his first term in office, Mayor Biggings supported a couple of contentious issues. The first was a bylaw that would prohibit cattle from wandering unrestrained throughout the city streets. A delegation of residents had come to City Council to complain about the ‘debris’ that was left on their streets by the wandering cows. The owners of these cows strongly opposed this bylaw.
The second was a request for a $15,000 debenture to build a new high school in the town. There was significant opposition to this proposed plan and a public meeting was held on August 27, 1889. The Secretary of the School Board led a delegation that appeared before Council to take a stand against this proposition. It took a number of years before the town eventually had their high school built and the cost ended up coming in at a much higher price.
It was felt that these were two of the main reasons that he was voted out of office the first time, after just one year. The town solicitor, Henry C. Hamilton was voted in as mayor for the following year.
Edward was not one to accept failure. He was described as a progressive thinker and “he had to fight all of his life to improve conditions in Sault Ste. Marie because the people were never as quick to see the advantages of his ideas.”
He had one goal that he wanted to achieve for the people of Sault Ste. Marie and, although he was voted out of office after his first year, he continued to advocate for the establishment of a permanent hospital for the townspeople. Up to this point, medical care was paid for out of the indigent fund administered by City Council. Therefore, during the next decade he visited Toronto and Ottawa, served on hospital committees and met with senior government officials to try and persuade them of the need for a permanent hospital to be established here in Sault Ste. Marie.
When he was elected as mayor once again in 1897, all of his hard work paid off and he was relieved to be able to officially lay the first stone of the permanent building that would become the General Hospital.
On April 16, 1885, a newspaper was started called The Algoma Pioneer. On the deed for the building housing the printing press, Edward Biggings is listed as the Editor and he continued in this role for 27 years. Although the population was still fairly small, Edward supplied jobs for the young boys in town to deliver the paper to homes and he wrote most of the content himself. When the Sault Star started publishing in 1901, The Pioneer was unable to compete and it shut down production soon after.
It is fortunate that Edward Biggings didn’t accept his first political defeat and simply walk away from politics. His desire to see the city grow in size and strength meant that he continued to advocate for improvements to be made, including a permanent hospital building erected for the residents of Sault Ste. Marie.
Edward passed away in 1903 at the age of 72 years but his wife Eliza lived for many more years after his death, passing away in 1928.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.