Richard Henry Williams (1852-1924) and James Kemp Read Williams (1874-1939)
Regina’s 6th Mayor
Richard was born in Toronto. Tales of the West drew him to Winnipeg. After arriving in Regina in 1882, he became involved in the construction business. This led to the organization of the Regina Lumber and Supply Company. His son, James, learned merchandising while working summers in the Old Colonization Store. He soon acquired an interest in the company and his father later bought the company. It was renamed the Glasgow House. In 1910, a large three-story modern store was built on the corner of Hamilton Street and 11th Avenue. Many years later this store was purchased by the Robert Simpson Co. Father and son were successful merchants for over 60 years in Regina. Both served on city council with Richard winning the mayoralty on two occasions.
Richard was born in Toronto, and lost his mother when he was only six. After completing his education in Stater, Ont., at the age of 15, he moved to Simcoe County and worked on the family farm until he was 21. In 1874, he married Mary Susan Read (1851-1937) in Brantford, Ont., and subsequently found work in a lumber mill. However, the fabled fortunes of the “Last Best West” were too enticing to Richard. In 1881, he left his family in the East and traveled to Fort Garry (now Winnipeg) to explore the growing prosperity of the Prairies. He never returned to Ontario.
His first business venture on the Prairies proved to be successful, starting with a red river cart and a big red ox. After leaving Winnipeg, he arrived in Fort Qu’Appelle on Dominion Day in 1882 and sold lemonade to the tribesmen from the tail board of his ox cart at 25 cents a glass. When the day was over, he had $43 in his pocket. However, even greater success awaited him further west in Regina.
After homesteading in Balcarres for a brief period, Richard moved to Regina in 1882 where his family soon joined him. Mary was the second Caucasian woman to make Regina her home. In his early days in Regina, Richard built a ferry across Wascana Creek; then when the waters receded, moved it to a narrower point and used it as a bridge. The toll at either place was 25 cents per foot passenger and 50 cents per wagon. He also sold water he hauled from the creek at one dollar a barrel. Thus he learned early the values of industry, economy and perseverance. Richard later entered into a partnership with Daniel Murphy and accepted the contract to build one of the first Indian industrial schools in the West (near Calgary on the Bow River). Afterwards, he continued to build in Regina and, shortly after finishing his own home first at 1827 Rose St., then at 2152 Rose St. (considered the better area of Regina), he built the first Regina hotel, which was called the Commercial Hotel. He also constructed a 14-room residence at 2005 Victoria Ave., and this was turned into Eventide Home for elderly men by the Salvation Army. His commitment to the urban growth of the town prompted him and Murphy to build a series of sidewalks along Regina’s main streets. Two planks were laid so people could pass by walking sideways. Afterwards, he secured his first building contract in the city and erected the exhibition buildings on the site of the present exhibition grounds.
In 1891, he organized the Regina Lumber and Supply Company and became president of what soon became a chain of 11 stores. Meanwhile, his son, J. K. R. Williams, worked in the Old Colonization Store owned by Alex Sheppard, and soon acquired an interest in this local general store. In 1888, the elder Williams bought out Sheppard and re-named the growing establishment the Glasgow House. The company prospered and, in 1895, R.H. sold out his interest in the Regina Lumber and Supply Company. In 1910, the Glasgow House was converted into a new and much larger three-story building on 11th Avenue and Hamilton Street. It was an expansion from the hardware business into a major department store. It was one of the largest department stores west of Winnipeg. It was Regina’s pioneer department store, and remained an integral part of Regina’s business community and the city’s economic centre for nearly 60 years before it was purchased by the Robert Simpson Company in 1946. The R.H. Williams and Sons Department Store was well known for its award-winning window merchandising displays.
An alderman for six years, R. H. Williams was elected mayor of Regina in 1891-1892 and in 1909-1910. He served on the board of governors of the Regina General Hospital and was chairman of the board from 1915 to 1921. He was also a member of the school board in 1886. Both a street and a crescent have been named after R. H. Williams, the pioneer merchant.
In 1896, Williams’ eldest son, James, took over as president and general manager of the Glasgow House which later became R.H. Williams and Sons Limited. Born at Barrie, Ont., Jimmie, like his father, served on the Regina city council as alderman and was also connected with many public organizations throughout his life in Regina. They had the largest privately-owned business of its kind in Saskatchewan. He married Alexandra MacRae (1877-1968) of Ontario in 1902, and lived at 2356 Scarth St.
The Williams’ family memorial is constructed of granite, with hand-tooled lettering and carving. At the centre of the column rests a wreath inscribed with a design that clearly depicts the family’s Anglican faith. A sculptured torch and bouquet of flowers delicately adorns the monument’s white granite top.