Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJanuary 6, 1871
Place of BirthHastings, Peterborough County
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinElizabeth Jemima Fife, mother, Kenora, Ontario
Trade / CallingHardware Merchant
Service Details
Regimental NumberN/A
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion53rd Company, CFC
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Forestry Corps
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentKenora, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentMarch 24, 1916
Age at Enlistment45
Theatre of ServiceGreat Britain
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathMarch 26, 1957
Age at Death86
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario

Fife, Ashton Thomas

Ashton Thomas Fife was born on 6 January 1871 in Hastings, Peterborough  County, Ontario. His father Doctor Joseph Alexander Fife was the son of Scottish immigrants Thomas and Janet (née Becket) Fife. Thomas Fife  had arrived in Canada  in 1820 with his parents and siblings, settling in Otonabee as true pioneers. Thomas married Janet, cleared out his own plot of land in the wilderness and built a log cabin where Joseph and his many siblings  were eventually born. Joseph received his education in nearby Peterborough and Victoria College in Cobourg, entering the Victoria School of Medicine, Cobourg  in 1860. In 1863 he  travelled to Washington and received the commission of Assistant Surgeon in the Navy in Admiral Dahlgren’s fleet in the South Atlantic Squadron. He was present at the bombardment of Charleston, SC and was  close to  two years on blockade duty. After the war ended he took a course at Bellevue Hospital in New York and then attended the University of Toronto School of Medicine. Ashton’s mother Elizabeth Jemima Fletcher was born in Manchester, England, the daughter of Reverend Ashton and Hanna Fletcher. Along with her parents and siblings she immigrated to Canada in 1842.

Joseph and Elizabeth married on 30 January 1868 in Woodstock, Ontario. Joseph first  practiced medicine in Brampton and then Hastings, eventually moving to Peterborough where he established his own practice.  Children born to the family were William Fletcher (1869-1941), Ashton Thomas, Joseph Harold (1872-1904), Mary Hannah (1874-1966), and Alice Louise (1877-1954).

By 1890 William had headed out west where he took up farming in the Roland/Myrtle area of Manitoba. He married Ida Lundy in Winnipeg in 1891 and by 1901 the couple had five children, a girl and four boys. Harold also went west and by 1901 was living in Vancouver, working as a merchant. He married Mary Bull back in Toronto in 1903. The couple had one child, a girl. Harold died in 1904 in Vancouver.

Before coming to Rat Portage (later renamed Kenora) in northwestern Ontario in 1892, Ashton was employed in the hardware business in Peterborough. Found in the 1901 census for Rat Portage, he was listed as a lodger and in the hardware business. His sister Alice had moved to Rat Portage in 1893, followed by his mother Elizabeth in 1905; father Joseph had died in 1902. In 1906  Ashton built the Fife Hardware Company store, a two story building, complete with a basement, on Main Street.  Ashton’s sister Mary also moved to Rat Portage where she was working as a teacher at the time of her marriage in 1907 to Louville Eugene Emerson who was born in Portland, Maine and was working as a teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mary had graduated with a MA from Radcliffe in 1903. By the 1911 census, Fife household members in Kenora were Ashton, his mother Elizabeth, sister Alice, and visitors from the States, sister Mary Emerson and niece Mary.

Ashton had started his military career back in Peterborough where he was found listed as a Private with the 57th Regiment Peterborough Rangers in 1887; by 1889 he was a Sergeant. Once in Kenora he became a member of the 98th Light Infantry, listed as Captain in 1913. With the rank of Major, he signed his Officers’ Declaration Paper with the 141st Battalion in Kenora on 24 April 1916. Based in Fort Frances, the 141st had begun recruiting in the Rainy River District of northwestern Ontario in late 1915. With the 141st, he embarked from Halifax on 29 April 1917 aboard the Olympic and upon arrival in England he was transferred to the 18th Reserve Battalion. A few days later he was struck off strength to the Manitoba Regimental Depot and from there to the Canadian Forestry Corps Base Depot at Sunningdale. For the balance of the war he served as a Lieutenant with the CFC based in Stirling, Scotland and Egham, England. Stricken with influenza, Ashton spent time in the #3 London Hospital in late 1918. In April of 1919 he was granted a 10 day leave of absence. Struck off strength due to general demobilization, he embarked for Canada aboard the Carmania on 5 July 1919.

Once back in Kenora Ashton was selected in October 1919 as the Liberal candidate for the upcoming election. He went on to serve as the president of the Liberal Association. Active in civic affairs, he served as the mayor of Kenora for 1926 and 1927. He was involved in the Kenora Rotary Club, a charter member serving as president. He was a member of Knox United Church, chairman of the Advisory Board of the Salvation Army, a member of local lodges, as well as a Shriner and Noble of Khartum Temple.

Predeceased by his mother Elizabeth in 1925 in Kenora, his brother William in Winnipeg in 1941, his sister Alice in 1954 in Kenora, Colonel Ashton Thomas Fife died while on vacation in St Petersburg, Florida on 26 March 1957. He is interred in the family plot in Lake of the Woods Cemetery. His sister Mary, predeceased by her husband Eugene in 1939, died in 1966 in Boston, Massachusetts. She was survived by the couple’s four children two girls and two boys.

The Fife building still stands today on Main Street in Kenora, Ontario although the business was sold in September of  2003. Ashton’s grand nephew Bill Fife, grandson of Ashton’s brother William, began working at Fife’s in 1957, taking over as manager in 1969, with other Fife family members working  in the store over the years. It was an amazing place with merchandise ranging  from horse saddles and troughs, to mining equipment, to small household appliances, as well as  numerous items as small as nuts and bolts, found on all three levels of the building. Ladders reached to the ceiling to access the many drawers and shelves yet staff had  no trouble instantly locating requested items.  Visitors to Kenora made it a stopping point in their travels, with the saying going for locals and travellers alike when looking for something, ‘Fife’s will have it’.

by Judy Stockham

Fife-Ashton-Thomas-2 Fife-Ashton-Thomas-3 Fife-Ashton-Thomas-4 Fife-Ashton-Thomas-5 Fife-Ashton-Thomas-6

Photograph of Ashton in uniform courtesy of the Lake of the Woods Museum Archives
Fife family photograph provided by Ray Fife

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