If you search the name “Brett” in the digitized newspaper archive of the Essex Free Press, you’ll get 8,756 matches between 1895 and 1968. It’s a daunting result and one that makes research particularly ponderous. But it’s also a testament to the Brett family’s dedication to preserving living history, including their own. As the owner of the Essex Free Press from 1896 until his death in 1937 (partnering with William H. Auld from 1896 to Auld’s death in 1932), Richard Ruddy Brett left a legacy of influential dealings in business, politics and the community (see also Commemorative Biographical Record entry). Indeed, his obituary in The Amherstburg Echo had this to say:
He had been a noted Oddfellow, municipal officer, parliamentary candidate, president of several organizations, secretary-manager of many enterprises, and was in every way not only a useful, hardworking and industrious citizen but will be classed in history as one of the makers of Essex County…
Born in Amherstburg on April 17, 1869, Richard Ruddy was the youngest son and the seventh child of nine to be born to John and Ann Brett. His mother died when he was only 9 years old and his father passed away two years later. The census returns for 1881 show R.R. Brett at age 11 living with Richard Elliott, his mother’s brother who, at the time, had two very young children and resided in Amherstburg. The 1891 census shows R.R. Brett at the age of 22 still residing with Richard and Eliza Elliott and pursuing the occupation of printer.
It is safe to say that R.R., later known as “Bert”, was a very promising student. Writing Brett’s obituary in the Amherstburg Echo, Arthur W. Marsh said, “[h]e was always clever.” R.R. Brett attended the public schools in Amherstburg and, in 1884, at the age of 15, received a second-class teacher’s certificate. Being too young to teach, he became an apprentice at the Western Herald, published in Amherstburg, where he worked for three years learning the printer’s trade. In 1887 he attended the model school in Ingersoll and received his full teacher’s certificate, after which he taught for two years near Harrietsville in Elgin County, followed by a one-year appointment to the Webb schoolhouse in Colchester South.
Although Brett left the Webb schoolhouse in 1890 to join the staff of the Amherstburg Echo, the school would play an amusing role in his later political life. A.W. Marsh recounts the following:
Old men are living there yet who remember the boy who taught their school; but at that time politics of a certain brand were high there and later in years when Mr. Brett was interested in Liberal politics he ventured to address a meeting among his old friends at the Webb schoolhouse, and was escorted from the place because of his alleged political heresy.
Brett joined the staff of the Echo when its president, the Hon. William Douglas Balfour, was immersed in political life. Arthur Marsh reported that Brett became steeped in Liberal doctrines at the Echo and followed the fortunes of Mr. Balfour (MPP for South Essex from 1882 until his death in 1896) both at home and in Toronto, where for some time he acted as Balfour’s private secretary. The impression Balfour made on R.R. Brett was clearly strong, and there is no better support for this assertion than the fact that Brett made tribute to Balfour by naming his youngest child and son Douglas Balfour Brett.
In 1893, it became known to R.R. Brett and William H. Auld (brother of Balfour’s business partner John A. Auld) that the Essex Free Press was for sale. Like his brother, William Auld was a printer. He had formerly partnered with H.J. Pettypiece, a reporter who had learned the trade at the Amherstburg Echo, to purchase the Forest Free Press. Auld and Pettypiece eventually dissolved their business arrangement, paving the way for Brett and Auld to form a new partnership. In June 1896, ownership of the Essex Free Press passed to Brett and Auld. This partnership faired better than any other in the volatile history of newspapers in Essex and lasted until Mr. Auld’s death in 1932. At that point in time, R.R. Brett became sole proprietor of the paper until his death in 1937.
By all accounts Richard Ruddy Brett was an industrious man. In his obituary in the Amherstburg Echo, Marsh reported as follows:
To show the industry of the man, he not only managed the editorial department of the Free Press, but after Mr. Balfour’s sudden death in 1896 he assisted Mr. Auld in the management of The Amherstburg Echo until A.W. Marsh, its present publisher, came on the scene. He worked at Essex daytimes and at Amherstburg far into the night during a whole year…
While Mr. Brett was interested in fraternal and political matters, his first and lasting love was for newspaper work, of which he made a known success. He had a keen mind, was deeply read, and a writer of plain English. His scent for news was best described by a woman writer of note many years ago who said ‘Bert Brett always reminds me of a thoroughbred bird dog on the scent, and every time you see him go by you know he is going to flush a flock of interesting news items.’”
During 41 years of reporting on events in Essex, R.R. Brett witnessed many significant events, including the nitroglycerine explosion in August 1907 that killed two railway workers and shattered virtually every pane of glass in town. He reported on the departure of young men heading off to war in 1914 and those who failed to make it home. He also reported on the stock market crash and the troubles that ensued in the town’s finances during the 1930s. Writing was an everyday part of his life and he even wrote a partial travelogue of his trip to the Pacific coast.
On June 14, 1893, R.R. Brett married Frances Lillian Roberts of Pontiac, Michigan. Although we can’t be certain how they met, we know that her older sister Emma had married Richard F. Lalonge of Amherstburg and was living in that town as early as 1881 (based on the 1881 census return). R.R. Brett was probably introduced to Frances during one of her visits to town.
Richard Ruddy was 24 and Frances 27 on the day of their wedding. Four news clippings recording the event were carefully preserved by their daughter, Elaine (Brett) Cascadden. Transposed in the 1970s before the era of photocopiers, these reports lack sources. They are, however, reproduced below for reasons of posterity. It is likely that the last two clippings derive from The Amherstburg Echo.
Brett – Roberts — At the residence of the bride’s brother-in-law, in Charlotte, Michigan, on Wednesday, June 14th, by Rev. W.H. Martin, rector of Grace Church, Mr. R.R. Brett, local editor of The Amherstburg Echo, to Miss Frances L. Roberts, of Charlotte, Michigan.
Mr. Brett of the Echo staff, Amherstburg, was married last Thursday in Charlotte, Michigan, to Miss Roberts. The Post extends congratulations to this rising young journalist.
On Tuesday evening, R.R. Brett, of The Echo staff, accompanied by W.T. Wilkinson, left here for Charlotte, Michigan, to participate in a wedding ceremony in that town on Wednesday, the former as groom and the latter as groomsman. The ceremony was performed at the residence of Orlo Blodgett, brother-in-law of the bride, at noon, by Rev. M.H. Martin, Rector of Grace Church, Charlotte. The bride was Miss Frances L. Roberts, who has visited here on several occasions and is well acquainted in town, and she was assisted by her sister, Henrietta, of Lansing. After the nuptial knot had been tied, the assembly, composed only of the relatives and a few of the bride’s most intimate friends partook of a repast and at 3 o’clock the newly married couple left by M.C.R., arriving at Windsor at 8 o’clock and driving down here the same evening, and to the residence of Mrs. E.J. Gott, sister of the groom. A few of the relatives and friends of the couple were present and sat down to a sumptuous repast. The newly-wedded pair will reside in John A. Auld’s house in Dalhousie Street and will be home to their friends after June 20th.
Messrs. W.T. Wilkinson and R.R. Brett left town so mysteriously last Tuesday evening that their friends cided something was up. Their thoughts proved correct, as Mr. Brett was married in Charlotte, Michigan, on Wednesday, to Miss Frances L. Roberts, an estimable young lady of that town, and also favourably known in Amherstburg, in both of which places she has many friends. Mr. Wilkinson supported “Bert” through the trying ordeal, and Miss Etta Roberts, a sister of the bride, was bridesmaid. The ceremony was performed at the residence of the bride’s brother-in-law by the Rev. M.H. Martin. The young couple came to Amherstburg on the same day and will settle down here. “Bert’s” many friends wish the newly married pair a long and happy married life.
R.R. Brett’s Political Involvement
Following in the footsteps of his father, John Brett, and his mentors, William D. Balfour and John A. Auld, Richard Ruddy Brett embarked upon a political career when he was only 30 years old. As a three-year resident of Essex, he ran for town council in 1899 and was elected. He was one of 17 candidates for six positions on council. Dr. James Brien was the successful candidate for mayor.
As council was elected annually at that time (in the first week of January), Brett ran again in 1900 and was re-elected.
Unlike our local electoral system today, elections for County Council were held separate and apart from municipal elections. In 1901, R.R. Brett did not run for municipal council, opting instead to run for a two-year term on County Council. He was elected in District #2 (which included the Town of Essex and the townships of Colchester North and Colchester South) for three consecutive terms – 1901-1902, 1903-1904, and 1905-1906. In 1904 he was elected as Warden, the top position on County Council.
In 1906, R.R. Brett was appointed as Clerk of the Town of Essex. In 1923, upon W.D. Beaman’s death, he was also appointed as Treasurer.
In 1911, R.R. Brett made an attempt at provincial politics, running as the Liberal candidate against Conservative incumbent Dr. Charles N. Anderson of Leamington (see Essex Free Press, December 8, 1911). The results published on December 15, 1911 show that Brett lost by only 121 votes, besting his opponent in the communities he knew best – Amherstburg, Malden, Colchester South, Colchester North and Essex.
R.R. Brett was well-connected in fraternal and community circles. At the time of his death he had been a freemason for almost 50 years, joining the Amherstburg Lodge in the late 1800s and working his way up to Master Mason as a member of the Essex Lodge. He was also a Master Workman with the Ancient Order of United Workmen, a fraternal organization established after the U.S. Civil War to provide social and financial support to its members, and a member of the Knights of the Maccabees, an organization founded in London, Ontario, which provided low-cost insurance to its members.
Brett was also an active member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, being elected as Grand Master in 1907 and being the oldest living Grand Master in Ontario at the time of his death. He was also a charter member of the Essex Rotary Club, founded in February 1935, secretary of the Essex County Fair Board, and secretary of the Essex County Children’s Aid Society when it was first formed.
The Brett Children
Richard Ruddy Brett and Frances Lillian Roberts had seven children, the first two born in Amherstburg and the rest in Essex.
Helen Henrietta – Birth: 28 March 1894, named after her aunt Etta (Roberts). Death: 9 September 1894 at five months old. Cause of death: Cholera infantum (gastroenteritis).
Frances Elaine – Birth: 29 July 1895. Death: 22 July 1998, just shy of her 103rd birthday! Marriage: 5 September 1931 to Arol Glenn Cascadden.
Richard Ruddy – Birth: 25 December 1896. Death: 16 August 1940. Marriage: 14 September 1922 to Berniece Gertrude Beech.
Kenneth Elliott – Birth: 1 August 1898. Death: 14 July 1979. Marriage: 24 April 1941 to Gertha Stowe.
Lillian Ann Maria – Birth: 27 August 1901. Death: 25 July 1988. Marriage: 14 June 1927 to William Earl Hannan.
Marwood Roberts – Birth: 25 November 1902. Death: 13 January 1989. Marriages: (1) 14 September 1937 to Gertrude Connelly; (2) 15 June 1963 to Willma Hayes.
Douglas Balfour – Birth: 8 July 1905. Death: 9 September 1965. Marriage: 26 March 1932 to Dora Elaine Allen.
Watch for a future blog posting to provide more details about the Brett children.
Deaths of R.R. Brett and Frances L. Roberts
His wife died on 1 December 1945 of a coronary thrombosis (see obituary). She was 80 years old.