Recognized as one of the wealthiest families on Canada, the Richardson clan are well known to many in financial circles. The source of their much-diversified fortune (reputed to be more than $5Billion) began with the patriarch James Richardson, who came to Canada from Northern Ireland in the 1820’s. He eventually founded the family firm “James Richardson & Sons” in Kingston, Ontario some three decades later.
What is not commonly known is that two of his eventually renowned descendants would bring the gift of golf to World War 1 soldiers. One of those offspring would do so because he lost his life in that same conflict.
For those who have been to Kingston, Ontario, you may be familiar with Richardson Stadium at Queen’s University. The formal title is the George Richardson Stadium, named in honour of James Richardson’s grandson.
George Taylor Richardson was born in 1886, but would not live to see the end of 1916.
George was was talented athlete, with a capital “T”. While he played football, he was best known for his hockey prowess. Richardson attended Queen’s University from 1902 to 1906 and it was there that he helped the hockey squad win the Intercollegiate Championship of America in 1903, and the Canadian Intercollegiate championship in 1904 and 1906. In 1906 their Queen’s team won the Ontario Hockey Association title and Richardson was a multiple goal scorer in the losing challenge against the Ottawa Hockey Club (the famed Silver Seven) for the Stanley Cup.
After completing his time at Queen’s he joined the 14th Regiment, playing hockey on their team that went to the OHA finals in three straight years, from 1907-1909. They won the title in 1908. During that final in 1908 he scored a record seven goals. He became an Executive member with the Kingston Frontenacs hockey club junior team (eventually President) and would see time playing for their Senior team.
While he left the regiment to pursue business opportunities with the family firm, when war broke out in 1914 Richardson immediately joined the Second Canadian Infantry Battalion as a Lieutenant. After training in Canada and the United Kingdom his battalion was sent to the Western front in early 1915 where he saw action in the trenches of Ypres (Belgium).
A promotion to Captain came after he was the sole Number 2 Company survivor from the Battle of Saint-Julien. While he was wounded during the battle of Lanemarck, Richardson refused to be hospitalized.
Known for his generosity and leadership, Richardson twice returned to the United Kingston only to return with provisions for his men bought with his own money. That included hundreds of pairs of boots, and on his later trip, gas masks to help his soldiers combat the German use of the deadly vapours.
His untimely death came on the night of February 8/9 during an operation in Wulverghem, West Flanders, in a battle where many of the men under his command were killed. In an attempt to retrieve some of their ordnance outside of their trench, Richardson was shot three times. He would die hours later. He was just 29.
Buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension in Bailleul, France, the generosity shown by Richardson in life would carry on past his death.
The dashing athlete and commander left provisions in his will for money to be donated to athletics and arts at Queen’s University, more funds to be given to charities and bathing facilities in the City of Kingston, and an additional sum for an educational trust for the children of the men in his company who had been wounded or killed in his battle.
To further his impact his sister, Agnes Richardson (later Agnes Etherington), would use money left by her brother to open a convalescent home for recovering soldiers.
She did this on an island she purchased on Indian Lake, near Chaffey’s Locks, Ontario. (Between Ottawa and Kingston). It was there on Fettercairn Island (now Richardson Island) that 45 rooms served some 50-80 soldiers beginning in May 1916. They enjoyed life along the lakeshore as they dealt with the wounds of war. They could fish, boat, while enveloped by a place free from the horrors of what they seen in the European theatre.
As part of this, and noted in an edition of Canadian Golfer in 1917, Miss Richardson conceived the idea that golf be part of the recreational opportunities. This was possibly prompted by the rise of the Cataraqui G&CC in Kingston that year, where various family members resided and were involved at the club.
It is recorded that Miss Richardson brought family friend D.W. Baxter, the Secretary of the Rosedale Golf Club in Toronto, to the the island to lay out six holes. He also procured clubs and balls for use by the soldiers.
When the war ended in 1918 the facility was shut down and eventually the island was gifted to the Girl Guides of Canada. We can surmise that the golf course likely only lasted the two seasons when the soldiers were present.
Reportedly the only remains of the camp are building foundations and part of a chimney
The golf course and convalescent home have been lost to time but the legacy of a war hero should never be forgotten.
George Taylor Richardson was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950 and the Kingston and District Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
Lest We Forget his sacrifice and those of many others.