I am indebted to fellow Advocate writer, Jamie Morris, for allowing me to borrow the title of his column for this month’s installment of ‘Just In Time.’ As regular readers of the Advocate will know, “Friends & Neighbours” introduces the community to familiar individuals among us who have fascinating stories to share about their life, their culture, or their vocation.
Our past is full of interesting citizens who would have been regarded as friends and neighbours by their contemporaries. Whether it was the keeper of the local general store, the milkman, or the arena manager, small communities across Ontario could once claim a cast of characters who made an indelible impression on a generation of local citizens.
One such example is Stanley Dayton. Anyone between the ages of 40 and 100 who grew up in, lived in, or worked in the Little Britain area will no doubt have a recollection or two about this memorable gentleman. They recall him shuffling along the shoulder of what is now called Eldon Road, often with the latest edition of the Lindsay Daily Post in hand. Sporting a long dark coat, a newsboy cap, and a pair of rubber boots, he stopped at homes in and around Little Britain to ask the same question of farmers and villagers alike: “Would you like to buy the paper?” Such was the job of a subscription agent for the Post, a role Stanley Dayton faithfully fulfilled well into his sunset years.
But who was Stanley Dayton? Of all the historical personages from our past, why have I chosen to focus on this particular character, and why is it important for us to respect the memory of those “friends and neighbours” who still haunt our collective consciousness, decades after their death?
Stanley Roy Dayton was born on November 17, 1895, to Mr. And Mrs. Charles J. Dayton, of Mariposa Township. At the time of Stanley’s birth, Queen Victoria was on the throne, Prime Minister Mackenzie Bowell was serving Canada, and Premier Oliver Mowat was in power in Ontario. Electricity and telecommunications were novelties; local, national, and international headlines made their way into communities like Little Britain through newspapers like the Post.
The Dayton clan lived north of Little Britain, in a farmhouse at the northeast corner of Concession Road 6 and today’s Eldon Road. Stanley was the younger of two children; his older sister, Delia Maude Dayton was born in 1887. Oral tradition suggests that Maude regarded Stanley with the kind of patronizing air that older siblings are often wont to bestow on their younger kin.
Maude must have had something of an adventuresome spirit in her, for she would go on to train as a nurse at the Clifton Springs Sanitarium Hospital in upper New York State, and ultimately served as Nursing Sister in France during the First World War – an experience which afforded her the opportunity to see more of the world.
Stanley, too, had a brief stint in the army, having enlisted in the spring of 1918 with the First Depot Battalion of the Eastern Ontario Regiment, Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force. Sadly, his time in the military was marred by ill health, both mentally and physically. Service records indicate that he was in constant fear of “people who mean to harm him,” corroborating stories which suggest that Stanley was bullied as a child. Even as a senior, Stanley Dayton was frequently the victim of practical jokes committed by local youths, often at Hallowe’en.
Standing out amid those who saw him as an eccentric, the “town fool,” and a gullible recipient of pranks, were people who regarded Stanley Dayton as an intelligent gentleman whose vast knowledge of Mariposa Township, its people and history, was something to be treasured and respected.
Ruth Coppin was one such individual. She got to know Stanley in the late 1970s, after moving to the area. “He became a truly good friend, and we considered him a part of our family,” says Ruth today.
After Stanley gave up driving, he relied on friends and neighbours like Ruth to drive him into Lindsay for errands. He was well-known throughout the area for his frugality, something Ruth remembers well. “He was a very careful shopper,” she reminisces. “He would have bought a pie or some sweet treat, but he never paid full price for it. He would find what he wanted, then shuffle up to (the grocer) and ask ‘Is this the best you can do?’ and they would mark the price down for him. He would tell me what he got, and then he would say, ‘And I got it for my price!’”
Stanley Dayton died on July 31, 1990, aged 94. Nearly 30 years after his death, elements of his story continue to inspire us.
He inspires contentedness. The accompanying picture of Stanley Dayton beside his beloved Model “T” Ford was taken in the summer of 1967, at a time when the world was undergoing enormous cultural, social, and technological change. This image captures someone who was clearly undaunted by the latest trends and fashions, being content with what had served him well for so long.
He inspires renewed appreciation for everyday history. Our past includes much more than the dramatic and often controversial meta-narratives found in “official” histories. It also includes people like Stanley Dayton, who through his work as the Little Britain correspondent for the Lindsay Daily Post saw the 20th Century play out in the everyday lives of his friends and neighbours: births, weddings, deaths, and annual events enjoyed by a tight-knit community. As Ruth Coppin recalls, “He was always ready to go to any strawberry social, or the steam shows, and he always enjoyed the Lindsay Fair.”
He inspires us to respect seniors and listen to their stories. As the author of the Book of Job put it, “Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” This was indeed the case for those who saw in the person of Stanley Dayton living history.