Thomas Foster (Honest Tom)
July 24, 1852 – December 10, 1945)
was the Mayor of Toronto, Ontario, Canada from 1925 to 1927.
Thomas Foster is reported to have been born in Vaughan road in the Dufferin Area of Toronto in 1852, the son of John Towst and Frances Foster, and grandson of Robert Foster and Mary Hodgson of Patrington Parish in the Hull area of Yorkshire England.
His sister, Eliza was born in England. John’s brothers Edward and Robert, and sister, Harriet, and the mother of came to Canada and settled in the Leaskdale area of Scott Township Ontario County. Edward was a shoemaker, John T. and Robert were proprietors of the hotel at Leaskdale, and were farmers at different times. Harriet, a widow and the mother, lived with Robert and wife and family.
At fifteen years of age and in very modest circumstances, Tom went to Toronto to apprentice as a butcher in the Queen Street and Berkeley area. He worked as a drover, errand boy and butcher for three years, emerging as a well qualified butcher. A field near Berkeley Street served as a holding area for the stock which they killed and butchered themselves. He started his own business between Berkeley and Ontario Streets on Queen which became quite successful through hard work and honest dealings.
He bought his own shop and began investing his savings in real estate. After eighteen years in the business, he retired and went into municipal politics. He served first as a member for St. David’s riding in 1891, then as controller, later as a member to the Federal Government in Ottawa, and finally as Mayor of Toronto, 1925, 1926 and 1927. After his defeat in 1928, he quit politics to travel, and it was at this time that the idea of the Memorial was born.
After considerable travel, he returned to his home at 20 Victor Avenue aided by his Chinese servant.
His young daughter, Ruby died in 1904 at the age of 10, and his wife, Elizabeth McCauley, whom he married in 1893, died in 1920.
In the 1930’s Tom approached the Toronto architect firm of Craig and Madill with is plans for the Memorial. The plans were very ambitious for the sum of money proposed, $100,000. The structure ended up costing twice that amount. The fact that it was finished so reasonable and so elegantly was due to the ingenuity of the building contractor, Messrs. Witchall and Son, and the general foreman, Ted Griffith, with Dave Billson. Many of the special jobs were done by craftsmen brought in for the occasion.
Italian workers for the mosaics and terrazzo imported from Italy. Sometimes for a weekend, jobs, such as the gold lettering were done because other jobs were being held down. This was depression time,and jobs and commissions were scarce. It was the originality of the project which attracted contractors. Local people benefited by jobs, billeting workers at $1.00 per day – three meals and lodging as well as supplying services.
The project took three seasons to complete. The corner stone was laid in the fall of 1935 with ceremony, and the dedication took place in October, 1936.
Thomas Foster died a millionaire in 1945 at the age of 93. Many stories are told of his frugality – often repairs to his real estate buildings were done by himSELF.
In his will, as well as bequests to relatives, he provided for a large number of philanthropic gifts, which included:
-$3,500 restoration of the Mohawk Chapel near Brantford, built in the reign of George III;
-$12.000 for reconditioning of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Niagara on the Lake
-$3000 gifts to the charwomen in the buildings in downtown Toronto:
-$1000 in 10 equal amounts to each newsboys in business in Toronto.
-$500 to the LOL True Blue and Orange Home
-$500 to Catholic Children’s Aid Society of St. Vincent De Paul. Teron.
-annual picnics for underprivileged children:
-$3,500.00 a 45 foot flag pole, on a marble base, for Central Technical School.
During his lifetime he donated the flag pole that stands outside City Hall
-$500.00 for the Salvation Army to maintain & repair their instruments;
-$600,000 for Cancer Research at the University of Toronto;
-$100,000 to plant trees to beautify the approaches to the City of Toronto;
-Prize money for students at Leaskdale Sunday School,
-$5000, to feed wild birds around the city during the winter months.
-$15,000 will go toward the conservation of wild animals and game fish.
-$80,000 for the maintenance of the Thomas Foster Memorial
-$25,000 to fund the maintenance of Thomas Foster wards in Toronto Hospital for consumptives.
-$5000, for Northern Ontario mission station of the United Church
-$5000 for an Anglican Mission for Eskimos.
-$1000 to provide the Royal Canadian Humane Assoc with medals for recognition for saving human life.
-$10,000 for a fund to provide motor drives, motion picture machines, radios and other entertainment for patients at the Toronto Hospital for Incurables.
-$5000 to be divided among 10 patients of the Toronto Hospital for Incurables who have no other sources of income, to be spent as they say, in their own absolute discretion.
-$15,000 for a trust to establish Thomas Foster Scholarships for public school children and prizes t be presented by the Mayor and Chief inspector of the Public Schools
-$1000 for a fund to provide prizes for attendance and memorizing of Scriptures in the Bible Classes of Knox Presbyterian Church, Spadina Ave. Toronto
-$2000 to the Jack Miner Migratory Bird fund
-$500 to the Toronto Humane Society
-$5000 to provide the Elizabeth McCauley Foster and Ruby Foster Scholarships, in memory of his wife and daughter in domestic science or household economics in the vocational or technical schools in Toronto.
As I approve of large families as such and desire to extend some benefit to the mothers of such families, I direct my trustees to set aside a fund which, with interest, will provide the sum of $2,500 at the end of each of 4 – 10 year periods, the first commencing at my death, the second three years after my death, the third six years after my death and the fourth nine years after my death, the will reads:
The money is to be distributed among mothers living in Toronto for at least one year prior to the start of each period, who have given birth “in lawful wedlock to the children during the 10-year period in question.” The mother giving birth to the largest number of children is t receive $1,250. Second prize is $800 and third prize is $450 in each of the four periods.
Thomas Foster and His Memorial
by Douglas Blanchard:
The children’s picnic that Thomas Foster left provisions for in his will is called
“Thomas Foster Day in Toronto”
“Five thousand children enjoyed a super picnic in the Exhibition Grounds. But what has spread his fame all around the world it the Thomas Foster Memorial Temple north of Uxbridge.
Believe it or not, there’s nothing like it anywhere, with the exception of the Taj Mahal in India”.
“Last time I paid the Temple a visit was when it was dedicated, about seven years ago. The local bigwigs here hadn’t quite caught on to the significance of the occasion. There were plenty of sly jokes about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on your own tomb and dedicating it before you died”.
“Yesterday I drove up to have another look, and now I know that wise old Tom has the last laugh. He knew what he was doing. The beautiful shrine that dominates the landscape for miles has drawn visitors from every part of the world. The registration book gets filled up so fast it has to be changed several times a year. If this building were on a main highway it would be one of the biggest tourist drawing cards in Canada”.