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Remember This? The seldom told tale of Harold Tolley

He ran the city's welfare office through the Great Depression, served as city clerk for many years and was a tireless volunteer. He was also really good at tennis
Harold Tolley2 SSMPL
Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive photo

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

Remember This? . . . Harold Tolley

Our city has been home to many unsung heroes throughout the years. One of these people was Harold Tolley. 

He was born in Darlaston near Wolverhampton, England around 1893.  He moved to Sault Ste. Marie in late 1913 or early 1914 when his father George Tolley gained employment at Algoma Steel. 

Harold Tolley worked at various jobs including Algoma Central Railway and in the Open Hearth, the Merchant Mill and the laboratory at the Steel Plant. In 1916 he went overseas to fight in the First World War with the 199th Battalion from the Soo, however he didn’t see action until early 1918 with the 1st Canadian Machine Gun Battalion.  

When he returned from WWI in 1919, he worked on dredging the St. Mary’s River.  Following this, he worked as Secretary and Physical Director of the YMCA.  In 1921 Tolley was hired as an Inspector for the Engineering Department in Sault Ste. Marie.  Approximately five years later, Tolley went on to run the Welfare Department, a position he would hold in the early years of the Great Depression. 

During this time 5,000 out of 22,000 residents were unemployed and in need of relief.  Due to his performance in the Welfare Department, City Council passed a bylaw in 1932 appointing him as City Clerk.  He would hold this position until his retirement in 1968. 

In 1923 he married Ada Miller and together they raised two daughters, Ruth and Madeline.     

Harold Tolley spent much of his personal time volunteering throughout the community.  After returning from the war he worked hard for veterans’ services and was elected as President of the local Legion in both 1936 and again in 1937.  When World War II began he served as second in command of the Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury Regiment.  Tolley was posted as an Executive Officer to the staff of Military District No. 2 in Toronto.

Harold Tolley SSMPLHarold Tolley is pictured in this Sault Ste. Marie Public Library archive photo

Harold Tolley’s volunteering extended beyond the Legion to include many other organizations.  He was an active member of the Sault Ste. Marie Horticultural Society, serving as their secretary-treasurer from the late 1940s to 1983.  He served as secretary for the Board of Health, the Housing Authority and Point des Chenes Park Committee. 

He volunteered with the Sault Ste. Marie United Way from its beginning in 1957.  At the age of 91 the United Way honoured him for being the oldest volunteer in Sault Ste. Marie. In 1974 he was honoured to receive the city’s Medal of Merit. 

As a young man he enjoyed an active lifestyle and this continued throughout his life.  If there was a sport, Harold Tolley seemed to have played it. 

He was the St. Mary’s River Boat Club singles tennis champion for several years and earned bowling championships as well.  Tolley participated in the Northern Ontario Badminton Association Tournament (N.O.B.A), a title which unfortunately eluded him. In 1935 and 1936 he was the regimental revolver champion.  

While overseas he played football with the 119th Battalion and Machine Gun teams and won the divisional championship in Huys, Belgium in 1919.  In addition to football he also participated on the 119th cross-country team winning the Southern Command championship.  He also participated in many other competitions throughout Europe.

In 1985 Harold Tolley died at the age of 93 at the Plummer Hospital.  He will be remembered for a life full of accomplishments both in his various careers and volunteer efforts.  Many individuals in this community, particularly veterans have benefited from his great work.    


Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at and look for more Remember This? columns here