Veteran of 2 Conflicts, Early Days Remain Vivid To Mike Swartzenburg


(from the Guelph Mercury newspaper for December 11th 1948.)


Michael Swartzenburg, Mike to his host of friends in Guelph and down Puslinch way, where he was born, is this week’s “Way back personality”.



Although he lived in Guelph for over half of his life, Woodstock is now his hometown, but he has been obliged by indisposition in recent months to be a patient at London’s Westminster Hospital.  He came with his wife yesterday to Guelph to visit her mother who at present is in hospital here.  There was a veritable outbreak of “Hello Mikes” as people met him on the downtown streets yesterday.


Mr. Michael Swartzenburg


He has a priceless fund of reminiscences of earlier days since coming from his Puslinch home when 17 years of age to take up his life’s activities here, where he became one of the most successful men in the construction field, for 25 years carrying on his business.




In Both Wars


These activities were interrupted by service in World War I, in which he served with the 153rd Battalion, going overseas with it when Lt.-Col. Tom Pritchard of Elora was in command.


He served in World War II as well, but by that time he had moved from Guelph to London and it was with the 7th Canadian Engineers that he enlisted in London.


To go back into early family history, Mike’s grandfather, Conrad Swartzenburg, came to Canada from Alsace Lorraine.  He was a shoemaker and he opened a shop on Wilson Street in Guelph, but he ran a hotel as well.  This was on the Hamilton Highway near what is now called Hamilton’s Corners.  Conrad’s son, Mike’s father, became a farmer in Puslinch township and also a thresher for as many as 33 seasons, his itinerary taking him all over the section for many miles around.  At first, this work was carried on by horse-power, but later with a portable steam threshing engine.


Mike’s mother was the former Theresa Lepard.  She was born in Newmarket, Ontario.  Their wedding took place in Guelph at the Church of Our Lady, on June 2nd 1913.  They have one daughter, Margaret, now Mrs. Wilfred Samuel, of Woodstock.


In addition to his skill in construction work, Mr. Swartzenburg was a great specialist in the removal of buildings from one site to another, not only in Guelph, but also in many other towns and cities.  For instance, one of his jobs was the removal of the big stone home of John H. McElderry from the corner of Woolwich and Norwich Streets to its present site at 24 Norwich Street.  In fact, he did hundreds of similar jobs, among them the removal of the old nurses’ home from Derry Street to Delhi Street, this building now being used as a private residence.




Moved Y.M.C.A.


In Kitchener, he moved the old Y.M.C.A. building back to the rear of the site of the present main building of that institution.  In Waterloo, one of his big jobs was the removal of the five-storey Snider Mill, with its contents, machinery and all.  This was moved back a distance of 200 feet and a brick warehouse was moved at the same time.


Following his return from overseas in World War II, upon being declared physically unfit for continued service, he was inactive for a time, but, upon recovery, he worked on the Alaska Highway for 2½ years.  Following that, he worked on the big polymer plant at Sarnia as a rigger and putting in place the big tanks as well as supervising machinery construction.


He helped to build new elevators at the big distillery in Walkerville and took on other jobs too numerous to mention here.


Recalling his boyhood days in Puslinch, Mike says that he attended old No. 10 school, near Corwhin.  Associated with him there was one of the sons of the famous temperance lecturer of those days, John A. Cockburn, who ran for the Ontario legislature on one occasion on the United Farmers of Ontario ticket.




Hallowe’en Mischief


Hallowe’en pranks are clear in Mike’s Puslinch memories and he says that the scene on Landing’s Mountain on the morning after was a sight worth seeing, for up there would be various vehicles, heterogeneous other articles, and not to be mentioned at all, certain small wooden houses.


An unfortunate sequel, in which he figured, following a series of such Hallowe’en displacements, was the time that each of the identified pranksters was arraigned before the local beak and fined a dollar and costs.


He remembers a famous tug-of-war down there when, on a challenge, five men undertook to out draw a team of horses, and they did, thereby winning a keg of beer. 






Mike was quite a soccerite in those days and there used to be great rivalry between football teams of Aberfoyle, Morriston, Badenoch, and the Crieff-Killean “Highlanders”.


Of his youthful days in Guelph, he recalls the famous Youth Social Club with headquarters on Oliver Street, near Algie’s Blacksmith Shop.  He and Jim Algie were great chums for years, not withstanding that Jim was a bit older.  Jim’s father was often confronted with his expressed problem, “Where’s that boy of mine got to?”, and he had frequent occasion to query Mike in that connection.


Referring again to moving jobs, Mike met Russell Daly while in town on this occasion, and both harked back to the occasion when Mike moved the old Tom Thumb golf course building from its position on the site where the Guelph Post Office now stands.  This building is now a useful appurtenance down at Daly’s dale, where flows the Speed.


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