The Life Story of Leander Gole, Blacksmith

 of West Montrose, Ontario


Leanders Grandfather Jacob immigrated from Germany in the mid 1800s and settled in Waterloo North, his son John operated a saw mill in Wallace Township in the early 1880s. By the time of Leanders birth on March 21 1887 John had returned to the Waterloo area and was living in Kitchener near what is now the Schneiders Plant, but was at that time still out in the country. John and his wife Nancy (Gillis) had 8 chidren, Melinda,Caroline, Catherine, Joel, Solomon, Leander & Leo.

Leander went to school in Breslau, walking about three miles home to the farm on lot 72 Upper Block, (SW of Bloomingdale) until he started the 4th reader when he left school to help his father on the farm. At age 16 he started his apprenticeship as a Blacksmith with Henry Huuf in Bloomingdale. For the three years of his training he was paid a total of $125.


In an interview for The KW Record he says:-

“There were two saw mills and we often worked until nine o’clock at night…. And no coffee breaks!.........McAllisters mill had 3 teams, big Clydesdales, and they came in every four weeks for shoes. They were on the road a lot. Those that scraped their feet along wore out their shoes much faster……..We would take two shoes off and set them for 25 cents, one for 15 cents”


Around 1906 he worked briefly for Charles Mansfield in West Montrose at the shop that was then at the NE end of the Covered Bridge (this became Graffs Garage and is now a Bed & Breakfast Inn). During the next few years he worked in Blair, Hespeller setting wagon wheels and St Jacobs where he stayed for about 6 years. During this period he married Martha Letson at Winterburne Manse on 22 Nov 1911 and his 4 children were born. Russel 1915, Cecil 1916 died at birth, Myrtle 1917 and Isaac born 1920, all in St Jacobs. His father died 1910 and his mother died in 1934.

He moved to Moncrief near Brussels around 1926 and built a blacksmith shop between the store and the church. In the early 30s times were tough and he was often paid with a bag of potatoes or a small pig, unable to make a living this way he took a job in the foundry in Mitchel in 1935.In 1937 when his father in law Isaac Letson died he moved back to Waterloo North to live with his mother-in-law Nancy (Groh) in their house at Zubers Corners, walking down the hill to work each day to the same shop in West Montrose that he worked in for Charles Mansfield. He rented this shop for about a year until he bought the building on the SE corner of Hill, Church & Bridge Streets that became the village blacksmith shop until he retired.


The earliest deed I have seen Transfers the  property that Leander eventually owned  and operated as a Blacksmith shop, from Byron Letson to Charles Mansfield on 20 Feb 1915 for a down payment of $75. William Letson held a mortgage of $1,000 to be paid at a rate of $200 per year for 5 years. It is believed to have been built by William Letson around 1900. On 16 Jan 1918 it was sold to  Weichel & Son Ltd for $800 plus the balance of the mortgage which at that time was held by Isaac Letson, it changed hands again in 1924 and 1938 when Leander said he purchased it from Oscar Israel. It would seem that Oscar held the mortgage because on 25 July 1950 the property was transferred to Leander Gole by Deed. Additional small adjacent pieces of land South and East of the shop were transferred from Oscar Israel to Leander Gole on 21 June 1957 for the sum of $7,500. It is unclear if this included the house.

His Mother in law died in 1942 and Leander and Martha remained at Zubers Corners until the West Montrose bypass and new bridge was built in 1957/8 when their house was demolished to make way for the new Highway 86. They then moved to the village and purchased the house next to the Blacksmith Shop from Oscar Israel.

Leander continued Blacksmithing here until 1975 but ceased shoeing horses in 1958, age 71, when “his back gave out”. He was known as "Grandpa" to all village residents, and  often the subject of a column in the Elmira Signet written by the village store owner Greta (circa 1980s) mostly due to his fine sense of humor. He was also filmed for Bill Brahmas Ontario on Global TV and interviewed for a project for the Kitchener Library.


Greta writes in her column;-

“Early Saturday morning, dear Leander came into the store and, rather that the usual one package of tobacco, he bought a whole weeks supply. …..94 year old Leander….. was off for a week’s hunting up north……Upon his return, I asked him if they had any luck. His eyes twinkled, but his mouth very solemnly admitted, “We only saw one.” Then he grinned, “And we got it.”


In an interview for The Octo Project he says:-

“I used to like shoeing horses…… I never was rough with a horse and I never got hurt. But I was shoeing horses and there were quite a few in the shop. I don’t know if this horse kicked at me, but my hair whiffed up on my forehead and then another horse kicked and brushed my backside. Oh I had some rough ones”

“I used tobacco since I was 7 years of age….smoking, chewing or took from my mothers tea can. I took up a pipe when I started blacksmithing.”


In another interview at age 98 he says:-

“We used to walk three miles from home to school no matter how much snow………I never got into the forth reader. I had to stay home and work on the farm. I had to pick rocks………I had good times and I had rough times. My idea is when your time is here, you are going to go…….I believe that there’s a lot of people who have a little ache and they stop. It never bothered me, but maybe I should have stopped……..If I want to kill myself smoking, its my business………I wont tell no one what to do. I tell them to do what they think is best. That’s their business, not mine.”


In later years he walked up the hill to his daughter-in-laws each evening for supper but continued to make all the rest of his own meals and continued to work in the shop making wooden Chests, Cradles, Corner Cabinets and other unique items until 1984. About this time the Township issued an order to repair or demolish the old shop which although structurally sound had a brick facing that had started to crumble, some temporay shoring was installed and the chimney was removed at that time. When his house burnt down on Christmas day 1985 whilst he was visiting his daughter Myrtle in Milverton, he remained with her until 1990 when he moved into a nursing home there. He still smoked his pipe as he had most of his life and enjoyed a drink now and then. His property in West Montrose was sold to the township for use as a “park” and in May 1987 the Blacksmith shop was demolished and at the time of writing only a gravel parking lot remains.

Extracts from a local newspaper report July 1985 say:-

Woolwich township has ordered Leander Gole. 94, to repair his workshop or decide how it will be torn down by Oct 15…….Township administrator Bill Kowalchuck said. “….the bricks are breaking apart and there are large cracks in the walls…….Tourists….may come close…and could be hurt if any bricks were to fall”

Ruth Gole, Leanders daughter-in-law said. “The people here have gone wild about it. Every one is all upset…..(Our men) took down the two chimneys and the loose bricks. They also put up plywood and straightened out the wall with steel braces. They feel it’s okay for a couple of years, but maybe the township wont accept it”

Later township building inspector is quoted as saying:-

The foundation has been fixed and a new header put in place. The chimneys have been knocked down and it does not appear to create a hazard for pedestrians any more…..We will have to keep an eye on it over the winter.”


And early in January the paper reports;-

A Christmas morning fire destroyed the West Montrose home of Leander Gole, 98, who is well known as the former village blacksmith……….There was no one home at the time of the blaze. Mr Gole was visiting his daughter, Myrtle Partridge in Milverton. Mr Goles granddaughter Judy Rawls, of West Montrose said her husband, “Don, was first on the scene”……Dressed only in his pajamas and an overcoat, Mr Rawls ran to the house and pushed in the door…….it was too hot to enter, so he ran to get help from a neighbor (who) reminded him that Mr Gole was in Milverton. Mrs Rawls said that her husband “knew Mr Gole was away but the shock of it made him forget.”


Leander said later, in an interview in Milverton where he remained:-

“I’m sort of sad I had to leave. But I just couldn’t rebuild, not at my age. And the shop was no good to me anymore. But don’t you worry. I’ll be around the place from time to time, just to look in.”


And after the shop had been demolished the paper reported:-

Make more “people parks” in West Montrose – not more car parks” villagers told Woolwich Township council…….The township bought the smithy property from retired blacksmith Leander Gole for $25,000 last year…… Tentative plans called for considerable new parking space. “The plans will virtually destroy an old eclectic village, unspoiled and pastoral in nature” said residents Pat & Paul Albright.


Leander celebrated his 100th birthday with a gathering of about 400 friends and relations at the Milverton Legion on May 24th 1987  .He Died 14 June 1991 at Knollcrest Lodge Nursing Home, Milverton. He was survived by one son and one daughter, 13 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.


The above is based upon the best information available at this time, corrections and additions are always welcome,

 please see Gole Decendants or my Home Page for my email address