William F. Knowles (1860-1918)

Southampton, August, 2008 -- Southampton's "father of tourism" was honoured on Saturday, Aug. 30.

A plaque honouring the life work of William F. Knowles (1860-1918) was unveiled at the foot of Morpeth St., by the beach, in the presence of descendants of William Knowles. Former and present mayors have been invited to the dedication ceremony.

Knowles started a tourism boom when he opened the Park Hotel in 1888. The small six-room hotel eventually grew to become the 38-room Breakers.

The plaque is one of a series of permanent markers to be erected in Southampton as part of the legacy of the 150th anniversary celebrations.

It is the product of the Cottage Life Project, a joint effort by volunteers Brenda Sharpe, Sam Klaman, Jane Kramer, Margaret Large-Cardoso and Arlene Letheren.

The Text of the Plaque Follows:

The Knowles Block

Southampton's father of tourism was William F. Knowles, born in Palmerston in 1860. As a baggageman on the Grand Trunk Railway he stopped often in Southampton, admired the beauty of the beach and dreamed of a summer resort, with hotel and other attractions.

He bought the "Knowles Block", the lakefront land bounded by Morpeth, Huron and Chantry View streets, and in 1888 opened the Park Hotel. It eventually grew from six rooms to 38, and was also known as the Lakeside Inn, Lakeview and finally The Breakers.

William and Eliza Knowles had three sons: Albert, William ("Biscuit") and Russell, and four daughters, Lydia, Irene, Lulu and Maude.

The Park Hotel was always busy thanks to Mrs. Knowles' wonderful whitefish dinners, tea biscuits and pies.

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William Knowles set about building cottages on his land, a dozen by 1910. Wood lay near at hand: he would get his young sons up at the crack of dawn to salvage wood washed ashore after falling off boats from the lumber mill opposite Chantry Island.

Families came by train and quickly filled the Knowles cottages. In 1921 rent was $25 a season.

 Knowles named some cottages after his daughters: there was Lydia, Maude and Irene & Lulu, a double cottage. The seven children inherited one cottage on the beach and one on Knowles Lane. As a result, Irene & Lulu was split in two by removing two feet down the centre.

When Mr. Knowles died of a heart attack in 1918, Eliza, Irene and Lulu ran the hotel with the help of Russell.

The Knowles built a Dance Pavilion and brought in well-known orchestras such as Guy Lombardo. The pavilion opened around 1922 with the music of the Southampton Rayner Dance Band. When Ferde Mowry played—1935 to 1942—they changed the name to Embassy Pavilion, after Mowry's dance hall in Toronto.

By 1938 Mrs. Knowles could no longer manage the hotel so Biscuit and his wife Irene took over. With the big band era fading, Biscuit decided to close the pavilion in 1942 and converted it to guest rooms.

Mrs. Knowles died in 1948, and Biscuit and Irene Knowles sold the Breakers to Larry and Elsie Smith, who in turn sold it in 1970 to Robert and Marnie Cammidge. It was closed in 1991 and the 103-year-old hotel was torn down.

In 2008, Biscuit's daughter, Arlene, still lives in the cottage named Killarney and her grandchildren are the fifth generation to have lived there.