The History of 135 High Street and the Doctors who practiced there

There is a red brick home on the south side of High Street between Grosvenor and Huron that, for 94 years, was known as the “Doctor’s Office”. It is number 135 and the entrance to the basement medical office and clinic was on the east side. Here is the story of the doctors that served the community from there.

The ‘Carson’ home

Doctor Charles J. Laird was born in Puslinch, near Guelph, on March 20, 1866. He was of Scottish ancestry and was Presbyterian.

In 1901, at age 35, he was single and was a lodger in the Tehan Building on the north-west corner of High and Albert St. It would appear, that he also initially had his medical office in the Tehan building. (now the Outlaw Brewery)

Dr. Laird with friends on Southampton Beach – Bruce           County Museum Photo A964.018.010

In 1904, Charles and his brother Walter had their personal residence built at 135 High Street. It was designed and laid out with the basement to serve as a clinic and medical office for Dr. Laird. Thereafter, he married Cora Lindsay who was born in Ontario in 1865 and was of English ancestry. For a number of years, in the 1920’s, Mrs. Laird’s widowed sister, Helen Kilmer, also lived with them at 135 High St. with her three children, George, Andrew and Helen. Dr. Laird and Cora had no children of their own.

Entrance to medical office

One of the most unique features of the house was that there was a sound pipe on the main floor that went down to the basement patient arrival area. His parrot sat on a perch in front of the pipe on the main floor and when clients arrived in the lower level the parrot would say “Doctor’s In” repeatedly. Dr. Laird may or may not have been in. The confusion that the parrot caused was a topic of discussion around town.

Dr. Laird was the medical doctor attached to the local 32nd Bruce Militia. When the 160th Bruce Battalion was formed, in late 1915, Dr. Laird performed the medical examination test on all of the local recruits. His signature is on the attestation papers of more than 40 local men who enlisted between December 1915 and April 1916.

Doctor Laird died in 1931 at age 65. He and his wife Cora are buried in the Southampton Cemetery.

Their light coloured grave stone marker has only one word on it, in large letters; LAIRD.



Shortly after Dr. Laird’s death, Dr. William Harry Carson arrived at 135 High Street. He was born on December 10, 1901 and was raised on the family farm in Sullivan Township just north of Chatsworth. He went to school in Chatsworth and Owen Sound before attending the University of Toronto where he graduated in Medicine in 1926. Before arriving in Southampton, he practiced in Timmins and Barrie and married Helena Annie (Anne) Noden in 1930. Anne had been born in England but her family had immigrated to Alberta, where she worked for the Bank of Commerce. She later moved to Toronto where she met Harry while he was at medical school.

Dr. and Mrs. Carson were living in Desboro in 1931, where he had his medical practice before coming to Southampton. Dr. Carson and Anne quickly became part of the Southampton community. In 1932, Dr. Carson’s wife had a son who they named William (today, he is providing a history of High Street in Southampton).

Dr. Carson had an avid interest in sports, and he became involved in the local baseball, hockey and curling clubs. Over time he served as president of each of them. The local Southampton Fishermen Baseball team became a real force in the 1930’s and Harry served on their executive as the Team Medical Doctor when the team won the All-Ontario Intermediate B Championship in 1933.

Dr. Carson – Centre back row in light suit For larger view, Click on Image

Dr. Carson was named the local Coroner in 1933 and the Chief Coroner for Bruce County in 1938. He volunteered for Military Service with the Canadian Army in 1941 with the original rank of Lieutenant. Following basic training in Ottawa, he was promoted to Captain. In 1942, on February 21st, he was stationed in Kitchener and an interesting note in his army record reads; “Proceeded on command to Toronto re: Hockey game at 12:25. Returned at 22:00 hours.” Early in 1943, he was promoted to Major and served as Medical Officer of the Hospital in Camp Borden.

His next assignment was aboard the first Canadian Hospital Ship; The Lady Nelson, which was a refitted luxury cruise ship with 515 hospital beds. The Lady Nelson brought wounded soldiers and airmen from the wars front in Europe, back to England. In April 1944, Dr. Carson was named as Registrar of Number 4 Canadian General Hospital in Farnborough near Aldershot in England. When the war ended in 1945, Dr. Carson remained there treating Canadian soldiers before they could return home to Canada. This included some who had been Prisoners of War and Airmen requiring extended treatment. It was December 1945 before he received word that he would be returning home. Sadly, on December 18th , just a few days before he was to leave, he had a coronary spasm and died. He was buried in the prestigious Brookwood Military Cemetery in Woking, Surrey about 20 km from the hospital where he last served.

Brookwood Military Cemetery, London U.K. – Canadian Bldg.

This cemetery is the largest Military Cemetery in the United Kingdom with the graves of 5,628 of those that served in WWI and WWII. These were mostly those who were wounded at the front in mainland Europe and died from their wounds during treatment in England. This includes 2,729 Canadians with 325 from WWI and 2,404 from WWII.

For larger view, Click on Image
Carson family – for larger view Click on Image

Dr. Carson was also remembered on the family grave marker that stands today.

Anne and her son Bill continued to live at 135 High Street. A few years later, she married her next-door widowed neighbour, Cecil Bowman. She rented the basement medical office and clinic to other doctors who came to serve the people of Southampton.

For a short time, in 1946 and 1947, a Dr. Lawrence served the people of Southampton. His stay here was a short one before he and his wife moved on.

Soon after, Dr. Leslie Mottram arrived in Southampton. He and his family lived on Palmerston St. and he rented the doctor’s office and clinic at 135 High St. from Ann Carson. He practiced from there into the late 1950’s. He was very involved in serving the community from the new Saugeen Memorial Hospital. He oversaw the birth of the many babies born in the community following WWII. About 1957, he accepted a position in Cochrane Ontario and eventually he went to Alberta. There he served the community of McLennan, where he died in 1980 at age 62. His second wife, Therese, currently resides in a Long-Term Care home in McLennan.

After Dr. Mottram’s departure, Dr. William Allan Matheson arrived to take his place at 135 High Street. He was English born and educated and had been a British Airforce Bomber Pilot in WWII. After getting his medical training in England, he immigrated to Canada and practiced in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan. After arriving in Bruce County, he opened a practice at 135 High Street, renting from Ann Carson and he also had an office in Tara. He was only here two to three years after which he went to Fonthill in 1960 and practiced there for 40 years. He died in Fonthill on November 14, 2014 in his 90th year. Dr. Matheson was followed by Dr. Donald Mercer and his wife Sybil.

Donald David Mercer was born in Markdale in 1933 where he attended elementary and secondary school before being accepted at the University of Western Ontario Medical School. He participated in rowing and in wrestling during his time at Western and graduated in 1958 with his degree in Medicine. In 1959, he was serving his internship in Hamilton when he met Sybil Barger who was nursing at Victoria Hospital in London and, in September of that year, the two married.

Sybil came from Ashfield, near Goderich. At an early age she had learned to play piano and has played all her life. Sybil was an excellent student and was the School Queen in Grade 13. In 1955, she was accepted into the Nursing course at Victoria Hospital in London.

The day after their wedding, the Mercers loaded their car and headed off to Port Arthur. There Don was Resident in General Practice and Sybil nursed. While in Port Arthur, Don contacted Dr. Mountain in Chatsworth who told him that the practice of Dr. Matheson in Southampton and Tara was available. In September 1960, on their 1st wedding anniversary, the couple again loaded the car and headed to Southampton.

On arrival, they rented the house on Palmerston Street that been the same house where Dr. Mottram and his family had lived. Don, too, rented the medical offices at 135 High Street from Anne Carson and also maintained the Tara office for a few years. Included in the 135 High Street office was the original desk of Dr. Laird from 1904 as well as a baby weight scale (today that little baby scale now holds the soup pot in the Chantry Centre kitchen). In the early years, there was no Ontario Medical Insurance and payment was often made with goods or services by some. There were some cases where Don, in fact, would loan folks the money to pay and most would come back with payment when they had it.

Don and Sybil had a family of three born in 1960, ’62 and ’63. There was very little space in the kitchen and, with a crowded family, they did a Centennial project in 1967 and a new kitchen was added to the house. Other significant repairs and improvements were done then, including repairs to the leaded windows by local fine craftsmen, Aldous and Meikle.

The medical practice became very busy with night calls to the hospital, and starting in 1970, Don held weekly clinics at the Saugeen First Nation Health Office. He also served as the area coroner for 10 years. In the early 70’s, Don spent three years on Town Council and two years as mayor of Southampton. During that time, the Nursing Home was built, as were the Beach House Washrooms and the Riverside Apartments. In 1978, Don had the Elizabeth Apartments built at the rear of 135 High Street as the result of requests by some local single ladies.

Also, in 1978, the Mercers built a home on Shore Road, north of the river, and moved there with their family. Dr. Don maintained his office at 135 High Street however, and rented out the residential part of the home. The Mercer family was very active in the Beaver Valley Ski Club and both Don and Sybil were also very accomplished curlers. Don was a member of the prestigious Strathcona Cup Curling Tour to Scotland in 1988 and Sybil also joined a group of Canadian Lady curlers on their tour there in 1990.

Don and Sybil endured a serious family hardship in 1978 when their son David died in a car accident and they both devoted themselves even more to a wide variety of community services and activities. The Saugeen Golf Club was a big part of their life, both playing and serving as volunteers and on its Board. They also involved themselves in Curling Association organizations both at the Provincial and National level. The seniors’ Chantry Centre became an important part of their lives as they were involved in its construction and the development of programs for the seniors in Southampton.

In 1998, Don retired after having provided many local people with their health care needs for 38 years. At that time there was no Doctor looking for a medical office and so, the era of 135 High Street being “The Doctors Office” came to an end.

Upon retiring, Dr. Mercer was greatly honoured when the folks at Saugeen First Nation held a wonderful banquet and presented gifts of appreciation to him for all that he had done for them over the years. Sadly, Don passed away on September 7, 2019 at Saugeen Memorial Hospital where he had served so many from our community. He was 86 years of age.

In those 94 years of medical practice, there had been hundreds of us Southamptonites who made the trip down those stairs at 135 High Street to see the “Doctor”.


Researched and Written By: G. William Streeter
With special thanks to Bill Carson and Sybil mercer