A.B. Munro - A Journey of Discovery

By: Tom Hughes

Volume 15, Issue 12, December 2020

In a box of family items that was passed down to me, I found a set of pictures for viewing through a stereopticon. Mounted on dark gray stock and embossed on one end of these stereo views is the name, “A.B. Munro, Gananoque, Ont.”, and on the other end, “Views of the Thousand Islands a Specialty.”

Captain Visger in ‘Out-of-Sight Channel’" by A.B. Munro, Bennett Block, Gananoque, Ont.

I recalled that years ago, my father told me that A.B. was the brother of my Great-Grandfather, Willis C. Munro, who came to Ohio from Ontario. Beyond this, I knew little about the Munro family and never pursued learning more until 2019, when I began going through that box of pictures, books, and documents. Doing so opened up a whole new world to me. It began a journey of discovering my family's Canadian connections resulting in a fresh insight into American history and my heritage.

"Looking South from Forsyth's Island" by A.B. Munro, Bennett Block, Gananoque, Ont.

Another item in the box was the pamphlet, "A History of Gananoque", written by John Nalon*, and published in 1985. Until then, the only thing I knew about Gananoque was an image of a Thousand Islands map on a bone china cup carefully displayed in my Grandmother's curio cabinet.

All this led me to researching the Clan Munro, where I happily discovered a new 5th cousin, JoAnn Munro Tuskin, who generously welcomed me into the Canadian side of the family. So, in the fall of 2019, we set off for Gananoque on a family quest. Our first stop was a wonderful and enlightening visit with cousin JoAnn, who we learned was descended from A.B.'s grandfather's brother. She brought along family mementos, an outline of our family tree and shared a great deal of knowledge on the Munros, and how they wound up in Upper Canada. We felt that we had known her all our lives; what a great way to start our trip.

Using the fabulous Seaway Manor B&B in Gananoque as a base, we visited the Gananoque Cemetery, where A.B. is buried next to his sister and her son, Olive and Alden Grier. We drove the beautiful Thousand Islands Parkway to the Mallorytown Cemetery, where my Great-Great-Grandfather, Alfred Munro lies, and also explored the fascinating genealogical library at the Brockville Museum.

Each stop gave us more Munro information and introduced us to wonderful people, including the very kind staff at the Gananoque Public Library and the 1000 Islands History Museum, where both staffs were extremely helpful in piecing together my family's story. And, to our surprise, on the outside of the Gananoque and Thousand Islands Visitor Centre is a painting of Half Moon Bay that we first learned about through A.B.'s photographs.

Arthur B. Munro was born in Mallorytown, Ontario, in 1857, just 3 miles from the St. Lawrence River and downstream from Gananoque. A.B. was the younger brother of my Great-Grandfather, Willis C. Munro, and was the 5th of 6 children of Alfred and Lydia Munro. Their father, Alfred, was a shopkeeper and Clerk of Court for Mallorytown. Both Alfred and Lydia were grandchildren of United Empire Loyalists, those who remained loyal to the King and fled the colonies to Upper and Lower Canada during the American Revolution.

In 1869, at the age of 13, A.B. showed a love of nature by filling a sketchbook with drawings of local birds, deer, and even animals of South America. I like to think that one of the drawings in the book is of the family home in Mallorytown.

In 1881, his sister, Olive, began a collection of "Mental Photographs", (subtitled "An Album for Confessions of Tastes, Habits, and Convictions"). Friends and family wrote entries in the book to capture a person's favorite color, amusements, and even their personal motto. A.B.'s entries revealed his sense of humor with his favorite color as "My 'Girl’s’ Hair”, and his favorite flower, “Two-lips”. His saddest words were “Too late for dinner”, and his personal motto was “Never to be too late”.

Around 1897, A.B. moved to Gananoque and set up shop on King Street as a studio photographer. Families from in and around town came to his studio, dressed in their finest clothes, to obtain those keepsakes and memories that we see today in the old photographs. In the early 1900’s, capitalizing on the popularity of the stereopticon and the increasing volume of tourists to the area, his business expanded to include sets of stereo views of the Thousand Islands.

“Overlooking ‘Out-of-Sight’ Islands” by A.B. Munro, Bennett Block, Gananoque, Ont.

His photographs even accompanied an article entitled “A Congregation in Canoes” by John C. Hodson, published in the Wide World Magazine dated October 1904. Written about the religious services that are held in Half Moon Bay, the photos are representative of A.B.’s work, and are similar to those in his stereoviews.

A comparison of the photo in “A Congregation in Canoes” October 1904 and a photo from A.B. Munro’s Stereo Views

In 1897, Olive’s son Alden was born. By 1900, Olive and Alden had moved in with A.B. to help care for their mother, Lydia, who had come to live with A.B. after Alfred’s death. After Lydia passed away, Olive and Alden continued to live with A.B. Eventually, Alden joined the military during WWI.

Many of the stereoviews in the collection are without any identifying location, yet we wonder if some of the views included areas around Fish Dam Islands, near Ivy Lea. This small island group was purchased in 1897-98 by A.B.’s brother, artist Henry Crofts Munro. Could the young boy frequently pictured have been Alden, and the older man have been Henry? That is a question that remains unanswered.

Could the young boy frequently pictured have been Alden, and the older man have been Henry? 

The last mention of A.B. as a photographer in the Gananoque directory was in 1918. Tragically, in a span of two days in October of that year, A.B. lost both his beloved sister, Olive, and her dear son Alden to the Spanish Flu epidemic. In an article published following Alden’s death, the Gananoque Reporter described him as, “Having an attractive personality popular with a large circle” and “A young man just entering a promising career” with the Bank of Toronto.

Less than two years later, in July of 1920, A.B. passed away. Though he never married, his legacy lives on in the photographs and stereo cards of the people and places of the Thousand Islands that we treasure today.

“Sunset at the Willows” by A.B. Munro, Bennett Block, Gananoque, Ont. 

By Tom Hughes

Tom Hughes is a life-long resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, where he lives with his wife, Susan. They are both graduates of the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and he is a retired technology marketing executive. For the past year, Tom has been actively pursuing their family histories, including the Munro’s of Mallorytown and Gananoque, Ontario. Tom is always interested in finding additional examples of the stereo views by A.B. Munro and the artwork of Henry Crofts Munro. They also want to learn more about their connections to the Thousand Islands.

Note: *John Nalon is still an active member of the Gananoque Historical Society, documenting and recording the history of the Gananoque area.

Posted in: Volume 15, Issue 12, December 2020, History, People, Places

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