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Then & Now: Finding the mysterious Mrs. Sudbury and how the Worthingtons left their mark on the Nickel City

Railway superintendent James Worthington named what he thought was a small station in the wilds of Northern Ontario for his second wife — little did either of them realize the vast riches hidden beneath the surface

Students of local history know Sudbury was named by railroad construction superintendent James Worthington after his wife’s hometown in rural England.

But until a few years ago, nothing was known about Worthington's wife, Caroline, not even her first name.

British researcher Valerie Herbert wanted to know how a Canadian city came to be named after a small English town. She read about James Worthington and then found the Worthingtons' 1859 wedding announcement in The Globe and Mail.

The announcement provided the bride's maiden name, her father's name and birthplace. Herbert then rummaged through census information in England and Canada to put the woman she calls "Mrs. Sudbury" in the history books for the Sudbury Museum Trust in England.

Inspired by Herbert's research, I wrote about Caroline Worthington for Sudbury Living magazine in 2011. Shortly after the story was published online, I received an email from one of her descendants, Ann McMillan of Kelowna, B.C.

“Caroline Frances Hitchcock Worthington was my great-great-grandfather’s sister,” she wrote. 

"An old photo album which belonged to my great-grandfather was pulled out of storage by my mother’s cousin. Among the photos were one of Caroline Worthington, as well as one of James Worthington. Both photos are dated August 1891 and taken by Railway Photo Studio."

McMillan sent copies of the Worthington photos to me, and I suggested she send copies to the City of Greater Sudbury Archives. She also provided the archives with some family history.

Caroline, born Aug 19, 1832, in Sudbury, England, was the daughter of a tailor. She had at least nine siblings. In 1858, at the age of 25, she crossed the Atlantic with her sister Emily in search of a better life in Canada. 

Young immigrant English women usually found domestic work as a maid or nanny. Perhaps the sisters were also looking for adventure and romance.

A year after coming to Canada, Caroline became the second Mrs. James Worthington. She married Worthington in Toronto on March 16, 1859.

Worthington, who was 10 years older than Caroline, was a widower with two children. A few years after his marriage, he was awarded custody of his niece.

Born in 1823 in Wetley Rocks, Staffordshire, England, Worthington was orphaned by the age of seven. He and his brother, John, immigrated to Canada around 1841 and first settled in the St. Marys, Ont., area. 

Trained as a stone mason, by the time of his second marriage, he and his brother owned a construction company in Toronto and employed about 350 workers.

Worthington was an ambitious man who took advantage of the opportunities in his adopted country. His brothers, John and George, also became influential businessmen.

Worthington Brothers Construction was contracted by architects F.W. Cumberland and William Storm to build University College at the University of Toronto and the Chapel of St. James-the-Less in Toronto. Both are designated heritage sites.

The three-storey Worthington Block, designed by Storm for the builder, was erected in 1874 where the St Lawrence Centre now stands on Toronto's Front Street.

In addition to his duties as a building contractor, Worthington served as captain with the Tenth Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Toronto Volunteers, retiring as a major in 1869.

By the 1880s, Worthington's interests were in building railways. 

According to the Canadian census of 1881, the Worthingtons were living in Brockville, an important railway centre. Worthington was a principal investor in the Canadian Central Railway (CCR), but he had to sell his interest in the railway to pay his debts

CCR was later amalgamated by the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), and Worthington secured a position as a construction superintendent. He was responsible for establishing railway stations across Northern Ontario from Pembroke to Pogamasing Lake, on the Spanish River watershed.

Blasting from the northeast, Worthington and the railway crew reached the lumber camp of Ste-Anne des Pines in early 1883. With the stroke of a pen, he put Sudbury (Junction) on the map. Researcher Herbert speculates he may have made the gesture for his wife's 50th birthday.

There is no record Caroline ever visited the new Sudbury, but she may have. Her husband lived here for about a year. He served as Sudbury's postmaster until he resigned from CPR in March 1884 after a disagreement with general manager William Van Horne (of Van Horne Street).

Worthington invested in mining properties around Sudbury and gave his family name to the community of Worthington and Worthington Mine. Worthington Street, which runs along the CPR tracks off Riverside Drive, is named in his honour.

By 1891, according to Toronto census information, the Worthingtons were living in the Village of Swansea, a community in the west end of Toronto. (The village was amalgamated by the City of Toronto in 1967.)

Worthington purchased Ontario Bolt Works – later called Swansea Bolt  – and employed a large workforce. He was one of the first landowners in the area. 

There is a Worthington Crescent in the Bloor West/Swansea area of Toronto.

Worthington served as postmaster for the Toronto-Swansea substation post office from September  1889 to December 1897. He is credited by some sources for naming Swansea after the Welsh industrial city.

“He and Caroline were living comfortably, cared for by a cook, housemaid and coachman,” writes Herbert.

The Worthingtons were married for 40 years.

Widowed in 1898, Caroline lived on 62 Walmer Rd. in the elite Annex area of Toronto with several of her siblings until her death at the age of 72 in 1905.

The Worthingtons are buried at St. James Cemetery in Toronto.

James Worthington thought he was naming a small train stop in the middle of the wilderness. He  would have no way of knowing at the time the treasures beneath the surface would make Sudbury an important region on the world map.

This is how Valerie Herbert ends her article on Caroline Worthington. It seems a good way to end mine.

"So now Mrs. Sudbury has been unmasked … She was one of the many Brits who over the past two centuries have had the courage and initiative to seek a new life in Canada and help build it. She also has her special honour in its history — a thriving city named after her birthplace. 

"Her husband, James, could not make that claim. In the 1920s (1927) the mine named after him collapsed … Fortunately, there was no loss of life as warning cracks had been spotted the day before. As for the Worthington settlement, that is now a ghost town."

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer and a former editor of Northern Life and Sudbury Living magazine. Then and Now is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.

“How a new Sudbury was born in Canada” by Valerie Herbert
City of Greater Sudbury Archives


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Vicki Gilhula

About the Author: Vicki Gilhula

Vicki Gilhula is a freelance writer.
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