Betsy Ellen Law
and other proprietors of the Aldershot Hotel

By Scott Forsyth  

   After James Kenney left the tavern that he operated on the south-west corner of the Plains &
Waterdown Roads the next proprietor was a lady by the name of Ellen Roach, formerly Ellen Law. The
exact date for when she took possession is not known but the time period between 1886 and 1890 is
likely. The following account of her life and other's lives are made up mostly from Census's, marriage &
death records, and Directories for Hamilton and Aldershot. Although there are some missing pieces I
feel that I have sorted out the different proprietors of this establishment.

   During my research of Aldershot I have never come across a proper name for this hotel/tavern other
then the Aldershot Hotel. It has been referred to as a stagecoach stop which is quite possible due to
being located at a popular intersection between the Railway Station and Brown's Wharf. I do feel that
the proper term would be a Tavern. But for this article we will call it the Aldershot Hotel keeping in mind
that it was never a place that accommodated overnight guests.

   The first time we hear of Ellen Law in Canada is on the 1871 Census living with Jonah & Kate
Mothershaw at 71 John Street North. She is 19 years old and was born in Wolverhampton, England. She
was born to William and Susanna Law on April 7th, 1852. A search of immigration records does not
show when she arrived here but it is believed she was the only one from her family that came to Canada
because Census records from England indicate that her parents and siblings stayed there. It is likely that
she traveled here with the Mothershaws because by 1881 they have gone back to England and are living
in Wolverhampton.

   On March 8th, 1875 Elizabeth Ellen Law married James Roach a laborer born in Canada. On their
marriage licence it shows that her friends, the Mothershaws, were their witness's. By the time the 1881
Census is taken they have three children, William 5, David 3 and Charles 2 months old. James Roach is
listed as a Blacksmith and they are living at 103 Napier Street in Hamilton.  

   Using the Hamilton Directories from 1882 to 1887 James Roach is still a Blacksmith living in Hamilton.
There are two other address's for him. One is at 114 Bay St. North in 1885 and the other is at 23
Ferguson in 1887. It is not known if these are home or business places and a search for Ellen Roach
shows an address of 109 Catherine Street North in 1886. It is possible that she has been separated or
widowed. There was a David Roach who was a Blacksmith in Hamilton during this same time period and
he could have been a relation to James.

   At the time the 1891 Census was taken Ellen Roach is listed as a Hotel Keeper in Aldershot with her
three boys and a border named Charles Delt who was a Telegraph Operator, likely working at the
Aldershot train station. She is marked down as being married but her husband is not living there or
mentioned. Searches on Ancestry show a man on the 1901 Census with the same name, birth year,
place of birth being Ontario and that he is a widow but I cannot confirm that this is the same person.
Across the road from the Aldershot Hotel is John Reiger, the local Blacksmith/Storekeeper who had
been there since 1880 so the Roachs did not move there for James' employment. It is not known how
Ellen Roach came to be a Hotel Keeper. According to the Land Titles located in the East Flamborough
Archives, Ellen purchased the property on Dec. 31st, 1890 for $2100.

Aldershot Hotel circa 1920's-30s

   On November 1st, 1892 Ellen Roach, 40 got married to John Henry Geiger 60, a hotel owner in
Hamilton. On their marriage certificate both are mentioned as widowers. Mr Geiger was the owner and
proprietor of the Cosmopolitan Hotel on King Street West. This large building was also the location of
other Geiger family members. One had a Jewelry business and another had a bakery. Quite possibly
Ellen did not inherit any of this property because of it being owned by the other family members.
There is an odd bit of information that was found in the Land Titles at the Flamborough Archives. All it
says is that the Grant Lotteridge Brewing Company of Hamilton had some kind of title to the Hotel from
October 1895 to June 1896. It is possible that Ellen leased her Tavern to them and they supplied the

   On February 1st, 1895 John Henry Geiger committed suicide. Ellen Geiger had maintained a
connection to the property in Aldershot as she is on two Directories from 1896 & 1898 as being the free
holder on the Broken Front of Lot 7 but her post office is Hamilton. Another person by the name of
Charles Forsyth (no relation to me) is also listed on this same lot as a free holder with Aldershot as his
post office. He was known as a proprietor of the Aldershot Hotel. Likely Ellen leased or sub-let the
Tavern to him while living in Hamilton. On a death certificate for an infant child of Charles Forsyth it
states that he is a hotel keeper in Aldershot as early as June of 1894.

   Charles Forsyth was born in Ancaster in 1861. He was the son of Samuel and Maria Forsyth and
farmed there until around 1892. Going by the pages of the Census's his family lived close to another
family named Bamberger's whom you will soon learn about and this connection is most likely how he
became a proprietor of the Aldershot Hotel not to mention that Charles' grandmother's maiden name
was also Bamberger.

   Charles Forsyth was not in Aldershot long after 1898. On or about September 15th, 1898 his wife
Lilly, 34 years old and her friend Margaret Watt, 58 of Hamilton committed suicide together by
drowning themselves in the Bay. In a newspaper article regarding this tragedy, it mentions that her
husband was the proprietor of the Hotel formerly kept by James Kenney. It is likely that Charles Forsyth
operated Ellen's Tavern until shortly after his wife's death. Another scenario is that he was the
Proprietor of the hotel that James Kenney had left prior to his death in late 1895. This hotel was located
on the property where East Plains Church is located. This is confusing because James Kenney had also
operated the hotel that Ellen now has for at least 15 plus years.


   On the 1901 Census Charles Forsyth is now a Basket maker living in Nelson Township. A Directory
from 1907 shows that he is living down at the beach, on the Burlington side of the canal and the 1921
Census shows that he got remarried in 1905 and is still living at the beach and working for the Burlington
Canal Bridge. He passed away in 1930.

   On October 19th, 1898 Ellen Geiger got married to Charles Bamberger, a name I mentioned earlier.
On their wedding certificate he is a reporter working in New York State. He was born in Ancaster
Ontario and on the 1891 & 1892 Directories he is mentioned as a stenographer. Charles was the son of
George and Catherine Bamberger of the well known Bamberger Hotel that was located in the vicinity of
what is now Main Street west and Highway 403 in the mid 1800's. Coincidentally, this George
Bamberger was one of many who leased the Oaklands Park & Pleasure Grounds located not far from
Ellen's tavern. His lease was from May to October for both of the years 1864 and 1865. Charles and Ellen Bamberger are both on the 1901 Census as Hotel Keepers. With them are Ellen's two youngest boys David Roach and Charles Roach. Her oldest son William died on November 17th, 1900 of Phthisis or Tuberculosis . The next reference for Hotel Keepers in Aldershot is on a Directory for 1906 but it only mentions" (Mrs) Chas Bamberger". Sometimes Directories are re-printed for the following year and some information will not change and will be carried over. I believe this is the case for this 1906 Directory. In early 1906 the East Flamborough Council passed a by-law to reduce the number of liquor licenses from 4 to 2.  They decided to cut off hotels at the Valley Inn and Aldershot in July of that year.  After 1901 Charles Bamberger cannot be found on any Census's or death records that are available on Ancestry.

    John Gomph, second owner of the Ontario Brewery and now part of the Hamilton Brewers
Association passed away on January 21st, 1908. This Association was Ontario's first coalition and was
formed in 1903 by the amalgamations of the Ontario Brewery, H. Kuntz Brewery Ltd. and the Grant's
Spring Brewing Company, all in Hamilton. In Mr Gomph's probate it recites a mortgage to a Joseph
Sinclair in 1905 for property that the Aldershot Hotel is on and there was a one month default claim at
sometime. Likely Ellen had sold the property and premises to John Gomph of this Asscociation.
Joe Sinclair did eventually own this property but I believe it was through the help of Thomas Brooke
Townsend. Mr Townsend received the deed in 1910 and sold the property back to Joe and Matilda
Sinclair.  T. B. Townsend owned property on Lot 8, Con.1 overlooking Hidden Valley. He was a civil
engineer and a well established gentleman who in 1889 purchased most of the Oaklands Jersey Farm as
well as the 4.5 acres known as the Oaklands Park & Pleasure Grounds on the Broken Front of Lot 8.
On the Census for 1911 Ellen Bamberger and her son David are now living in Hamilton at 160 Barton
Street. Her youngest son Charles is now married to Margaret Walker with a son Frederick and living at
97 Ray Street north.

   Ellen Law/Roach/Geiger/Bamberger passed away shortly before Christmas 1914 in her home at 610 James St. N. Hamilton and she is buried in St Mathews Church Cemetery on Plains Road in Aldershot with her three sons. Her middle son David got married the same year on February 19th to Marion Robinson. He passed away the following year on March 31st of pneumonia. The youngest son Charles passed away in 1951.

St. Matthew's Cemetery

   So, the next proprietor of the Aldershot Hotel is now Joseph & Matilda Sinclair. Joseph was born in
1867 and was one of three sons of Robert Sinclair, an early resident of Aldershot who came to Canada in
the 1850's and was the local shoe maker living on what is now La Salle Park Road. His other son George
took over the grocery and general store from John Reiger around 1898 or 1899 and also operated the
Post office. It was located across the "road to the wharf" on the south east corner and eventually the
store moved directly across the road on the north side of Plains Road.

   Joseph's wife Matilda was born in Waterdown in 1870 as "Almira" Buchan. She was first married to
Thomas Smiley of Waterdown on December 4th, 1889. Thomas was a relation of Robert Smiley who
lived on what is now called Howard Road with his large family. These two Smiley's were also related to
another Robert Smiley, the proprietor of the Hamilton Spectator.

   On the 1891 Census Thomas and Matilda Smiley are living in Aldershot with their daughter Henrietta
born in 1890. A son Kenneth came along in 1894. Thomas is listed as a farm laborer and they lived in
single story frame house. Matilda's younger brother John Buchan was married to Joseph Sinclair's older
sister Mary and they too lived in Aldershot.

   In late March of 1896 a terrible boiler explosion took place at W Curtis's saw mill outside of
Waterdown. The mill was not operating at the time but Thomas Smiley, a teamster, had delivered a load
of lumber there and he stopped to have lunch sitting close by to the boiler, possibly for warmth. He died
of his injuries a few weeks later.

   On the 1901 Census Thomas Smiley's widow, now going by the name Jennie, is working as "table help"
for Samuel Cook, a Hotel keeper in the village of Waterdown, which in 1901 was called the North
American Hotel located on the corner of Mill Street & and the Dundas Highway. Directories indicate
that he had been a Hotel keeper in Waterdown from as early as 1885. He previously kept the Thompson
Hotel in Milton. Mr Cook kept ownership of the North American hotel and in 1891 he is living in
Hamilton with his second wife Mary English of Waterdown and was the proprietor of the Commercial
Hotel located at 49 Park St. at York from 1891 -1894. Later he is at the Franklin House on the corner of
King & Park Street from 1895-1900.

   Samuel Cook was 40 years old and a widow when he married Mary English, 23. on November 7th,
1889. She was the daughter of John English. Members of the Cook family were in the hotel business in
Hamilton from as early as the 1860's. Samuel's wife and her brother maintained ownership of the
American House into the 1920's.

   On this same Census of 1901 Jennie Smiley's children are with her parents Robert and Matilda
Buchan in Waterdown. She got married to Joseph Sinclair on December 27th, 1905. Shortly before their
marriage Joseph had already acquired the Aldershot Hotel.

   On the 1911 Census they are Hotel Keepers in Aldershot. Matilda's son Kenneth is living with them
and her daughter Henrietta has gotten married to John Edgar Harrod in 1908. The Harrod family lived
up the Waterdown Road, south of the tracks.

   Both Joseph Sinclair and his step-son Kenneth Smiley served in the first World War. They returned
safely though Kenneth did suffer with shrapnel in his body. Kenneth got married to Doris Lee while in
England and she joined him in Aldershot by 1918, six months after Kenneth arrived home.

   On the 1921 Census Joseph and Matilda are now listed as "merchants". It is not known why they are
no longer listed as Hotel Keepers. Still living with him is son Kenneth along with his wife Doris and a baby
named May. Also with them is Matilda's mother, Matilda Buchan.As mentioned before, Kenneth and
Doris did have a son named Kenneth known as "Sonny". He passed away in the late 1940's from being
struck in the head by a ball.

Joe Sinclair's Place circa 1940s

   On July 24th, 1934, Joseph made an application for a beer and wine licence for his premises which is
now known as a tobacco, candy and soft drink store. It states that he has $9000 dollars invested and a
mortgage of $3200 remaining. The only employees were to be himself and family. By August the licence
was not granted and his $80.00 fee was returned. It was rejected because the area was in a "local option
or dry territory" . A letter was also sent to the Liquor Control Board in Toronto from S.B. Stokes, Minister
of the United Church of Canada reinstating this law and also mentioning that "the place is not in any
sense a hotel or club and that is situated on a dangerous corner of the Toronto-Hamilton Highway". He
went further on to say that "the applicant was convicted in Hamilton for breaking the Ontario Liquor
Control Act about three years ago".

   A Voter's List from 1935 show that Joe and Matilda are still Merchants and their son Ken Smiley is
listed as a "Toy Maker". On a similar Voter's list for 1938 Joseph and Matilda are retired and son
Kenneth is now the merchant. The next Voter's List in 1949 for Aldershot shows that Joe Sinclair is by
himself and mentioned as retired. The place was sold around then and a major renovation took place.
This is possibly the time when a full second floor was added to the structure. It had been a storey and a

circa late 1930 - early 1940s

Ralph Rowcroft (Kenneth's son-in-law), Joseph Sinclair and Kenneth Smiley
photo circa late 1940's
Photo courtesy of Donna Vyse

   Matilda passed away sometime between 1940 & 1949. According to a Voters List from the Ancaster
ON. area, both Joseph Sinclair and Kenneth Smiley have moved there and are living with Kenneth's
daughter May and Ralf Rowcroft. Joseph passed away on September 5th, 1951 and is buried with
Matilda in St. Mathew's Cemetery. Matilda's son Kenneth Smiley died in April 1962 and he is also buried
there with his son Kenneth (Sonny), their daughter May and her husband Ralph. Joe and Kenneth have
military grave markers and Matilda and Kenneth Jr. are without markers.

   The next proprietor of the store is Mike Kelly.  After him an electrician from Hamilton by the name of Carl Rudolph is the proprietor of the Variety store in this building along with his wife Lydia and they are presumed to be living in the same complex.  In a phonebook from 1957 their home address is #4 Plains Road West and the store is at  #8 Plains Road West.  Likely they are living in one of the 2 upper apartments.  Carl eventually expanded his business by purchasing the building diagonally across the road where he kept Rudolph's Variety store until he passed away in 1967.  At the original site of the Aldershot Hotel there was also a restaurant called the Tor-Ham, later the La Salle and a barber shop.


Former Aldershot Hotel remodelled 1963
photo & adv.'s courtesy of Russell & Ron Hunsperger

   On January 16th, 1964 a fire destroyed the building and all of its contents. The fire was believed to
have started in the kitchen of the restaurant that at the time was operated by George Kontos. At this
time it was called La Salle Restaurant but in the 1950's it was known as the Tor-Ham. A barbershop in
the middle of the building had been operated by Joe Rohaly. He had cut hair in Aldershot for the past 12
years. Everyday Joe the barber would take the bus to work from the Hamilton Mountain. When your
haircut was finished he would always say "anything else"? A gift shop at the end of the building,
formerly run by Carl Rudolph, had been operated for the previous two years by Alex Forsyth, my Father.

   Aldershot Equipment Rentals purchased the property and expanded their business that had been
located behind this structure since the early 1950's. They lasted there into the late 1980's then the
property on the corner laid dormant until 2011 when the La Salle Retirement Home was erected.

Aldershot Equipment Rentals 1967

La Salle Retirement Community

background picture provided by David Craig