William Clegg
Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada

William Thompson Clegg

William Clegg was a conscientious elder of St. Andrew’s Church for 58 years. A founding member of this congregation, he was one of the few to be present both at the laying of the corner stone for St. Andrew’s first stone church in April 1828, and at the laying of the corner stone for the second larger church in June 1872.

As Colonel By’s Chief Clerk and Master of the Cheque (Paymaster) at the Ordnance Department, William Clegg saw Bytown begin. In August 1827 he watched Arctic explorer Capt. John Franklin place the first stone of the Rideau Canal’s Entrance Bay locks.

Born near Belfast in Lisbourne, Ireland in March 1796, William joined the British Army and served as a Lieutenant. He came to Canada in 1821, and to Bytown with the Royal Engineers in early 1827, where he and his wife Catharine McDuff raised their four children: Barbara, Jane, Ellen, and William, who became a lawyer, and later a travelling evangelist.

Capt. Clegg had a talent for drawing, and his watercolour sketches of the Rideau Canal lock stations can be seen in the collections of the Royal Ontario Museum, the National Archives, and the Archives of Ontario. As well, he coloured some of surveyor John Burrows’ sketches of the canal locks. These watercolours, dating from 1832 to 1845, were probably intended to document construction along the canal.

Ordained as an elder of St. Andrew’s in 1835, William Clegg was one of the founders in 1837 of the Bytown Benevolent Society which endeavoured to relieve “the suffering of the poor and destitute class”. He served as secretary of an academic institute, the Bytown Athenaeum, in the 1840′s, and was a vice-president of the Ottawa Auxiliary Bible Society in the 1870′s. He subscribed to ‘The Presbyterian’ magazine, begun in Montreal in January 1848, which recorded his donations to the Queens University Endowment Fund.

For years, Mr. Clegg lent his accounting skills to various organizations within the church. He was famous for his flower gardens, and when the first stone church was dismantled in 1872, he bought two of the original pews.

Painting used with kind permission from Archives of Ontario.
“Davis” ca. 1845 (Archives of Ontario, C 232-0-0-0-17)

A widower since 1859, William Clegg died on March 5, 1894 at the home of his daughter Barbara and her husband H. V. Noel, 124 Wellington Street. The Ottawa Evening Journal, in a lengthy obituary said:

“Mr. Clegg was one of the honoured servants of the British government sent out to Bytown at the time of the commencement of the Rideau canal locks at Bytown. He belonged to the Royal Engineer department.

“Mr. Clegg had attained the unusual age of 98 and up till last spring was in good health and able to walk around. Since that time his strength has been giving way and last evening he left this earthly scene, quietly passing away in the firm hope of passing to a better land – a country he had long desired to see and to meet his Master face to face.

“There are but few who will remember the old official staff of ‘Her Majesty’s Ordnance” located in the buildings still standing on either side of the locks. From these old buildings the management of the ordnance lands and the payment of the troops stationed here took place, Mr. Clegg being among the first to come and the last to go of all those connected with the movements of that early period.

“Mr. Clegg was in all respects a model citizen, amiable in disposition, unobtrusive and charitable beyond all praise. He was a member of St. Andrew’s Church and delighted in taking part in the duties pertaining to church work – his passing around with the collection plate twice each Sabbath up to the time of his strength giving way last summer, being considered as remarkable.”

An appreciation of William Clegg’s life was read into the Session minutes on March 7th, 1894:

“The Kirk Session of St. Andrew’s Church desire to give expression to the deep sense of loss they have sustained by the death of Mr. William Clegg, their oldest member … [who] has left behind him a long unbroken record of earnest fidelity. The Session regard him as in some degree the father of the Congregation, since it was his unique privilege to follow its career from its formation, and to take part almost to the end of his life, in active service for its welfare. They gratefully acknowledge his wise counsel, his kindly spirit, and his unvarying interest in every good work.”

A plaque to the right of the pulpit honours Mr. Clegg’s years of service to St. Andrew’s. Clegg Street, which runs west to east between the canal and the Rideau River just south of St. Paul’s University, is named for him, as is the Clegg Block of buildings on Rideau St. at Dalhousie.

In this little rhyme from “Recollections of Bytown and Its Old Inhabitants”, William Pittman Lett gives us a sketch of William Clegg in earlier days. [For those whose Latin is rusty, semper idem = always the same.]

And down below near Nicholas Street,
A quiet man each morn you’d meet,
At ten a.m., his pathway wending,
With steps to Ordnance office bending,
A mild man and an unassuming,
Health and good nature ever blooming,
Seem’d stamped upon his smiling face,
Where time had scarcely left its trace:
Semper idem, let me beg
Thy pardon, honest William Clegg.

- David B., Sheila U.