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How a new Sudbury was born in Canada

Valerie Herbert explores

The East Coast states of North America are dotted with places that share a name with an English counterpart. One of the most unlikely pairings is that of the Canadian Sudbury in Ontario and Sudbury in the English county of Suffolk.The contrast between the two could hardly be more extreme. The Ontario version is a mining city, a source of nickel,the silvery metal used in alloys such as stainless steel. Your car, mobile phone and coins in your pocket or purse contain nickel. Mining and smelting over 130 years have scarred and polluted the landscape though this has been tackled by planting millions of trees and cleaning lakes and waterways. In 2001 the city expanded its borders to become Greater Sudbury and with a population of around 165,000 it is the largest in northern Ontario. It has an airport, a university and an earth science visitor attraction with a planetarium and every home and business has high speed fibre internet. The Canadian city is largely bilingual, about a third of the population speaking French as their first language, but almost half record their ethnic origins as English, Scots or Irish. The climate is challenging with hot humid summers followed by harsh winters,when the daytime temperature rarely rises above freezing from October to April and the average annual snowfall is 103 inches.

Two faces of Greater Sudbury: the city and the smelters

The original Sudbury is 60-miles from London in a lush valley on the river Stour border between the counties of Suffolk and Essex. This small market town is known for its silk mills that specialise in weaving luxury jacquards and velvets. These are destined for couture houses, and as furnishings in high status buildings including royal palaces.The population of 13,000 is tiny when compared to that of its Canadian namesake, though it borders on fast-growing parishes.This Sudbury is rich in history.The name was first recorded in 798, it has three medieval churches and cattle have grazed the water meadows for at least 1,000 years The main visitor attraction is the birthplace of the world famous 18th century painter Thomas Gainsborough. This is due to re-open in 2022 after a £9m project to create a national centre dedicated to the man, his contemporaries  and his work. Another contrast is climate. Britain’s climate is temperate and Sudbury is in the driest part of the UK with an average annual rainfall of only 26 inches a year. Snow seldom settles for more than few days.


Stour Street and Market Hill, Sudbury, Suffolk, England

So how it is that these two very different conurbations share a name? In 1883 engineer James Worthington was in charge of construction when a track of the newly-formed Canadian Pacific Railway reached a logging camp as it thrust north west in Ontario. The future junction needed a name and it is well known that it was Worthington who called it Sudbury after the Suffolk town where his wife had been born 51 years before. Whether his decision was a matter of expediency, affection for her, or maybe a late 50th birthday gift, we are unlikely to discover. Her name was washed away by time and she was recorded in the history of the new Sudbury only as ‘the construction superintendent’s wife.’

The search for ‘Mrs Sudbury’

Her identity was discovered in her birthplace in 2010. The breakthrough was a report found in The Canadian News of the marriage in Toronto in April 1859 of a James Worthington to Caroline Frances, ‘second daughter of John Hitchcock, of Bollington, Suffolk.’  There is no such place as Bollington in Suffolk but Ballingdon is the southern edge of Sudbury on the Essex side of the river Stour. Could this be the birthplace of Mrs Worthington? The facts support it. The census of 1861 records John Hitchcock and his wife Caroline living in Ballingdon Street next door to James Hale the blacksmith.The conclusive piece of the jigsaw is an entry in The Commemorative Biographical Record of County of York, Ontario, published in 1907. It describes James Worthington as ‘one of the well known men of Ontario who in 1859 married as his second wife Caroline Hitchcock, daughter of John Hitchcock’.

St Peter’s Church: scene of Caroline’s baptism

Caroline’s story

The woman who would become ‘Mrs Sudbury’ was born in 1832, the daughter of tailor John Hitchcock who described himself as draper when she was baptised at St Peter’s church on the Market Hill where her parents had married. She was In her mid-20s when her thoughts turned to Canada. There was serious poverty in Sudbury, as in many rural areas, so it is likely that she yearned for new opportunities. So many single men had already emigrated that there was a shortage in of female servants and potential wives in Canada. The Canadian government took active steps towards balancing the population and achieved results. A Canadian Immigration report of 1849/50 records the arrival in Toronto of a party of 18 women sent out by the London Female Emigration Society ‘who were all placed in situations in the course of a few days.’ That was Caroline’s experience in 1858 when she arrived in Canada and met James Worthington who at that time was a major construction contractor in Toronto. He was a widow with three young children but he offered the prospect of security and a good standard of living. He might have initially hired Caroline as a housekeeper but the following spring they married. She would have been 26 and he ten years older. The marriage was childless and it might have been a marriage of convenience but it lasted almost 40 years until his death in 1898.


James and Caroline Worthington in 1891

Another Hitchcock marriage

Emigrating to Canada would have been a brave step into the unknown for Caroline even though she had the companionship of her younger sister Emily. Yet only a month after Caroline married Worthington, 21-year-old Emily was also a bride, marrying John Malcolm a 22-year-old carpenter born in Canada of Scottish-English parents. Soon after the wedding he emigrated to the US, Emily joining him the following year with their newborn son. They named the baby James Worthington Malcolm, presumably in gratitude to Caroline’s husband for his support.The couple settled in Huntertown, Indiana, and had nine more children, founding a dynasty that is still thriving. Later two more of Caroline’s sisters and a brother would follow her to Ontario.

Malcolm grave  in Huntertown

Poverty and position in Sudbury

Back in Sudbury the Hitchcock family flourished in numbers and influence. Caroline and Emily’s father John Hitchcock, had been one of a family of ten as well as fathering eleven children. Since 1846 he had been an officer of the Sudbury Union Workhouse. This was one of the institutions set up in 1837 under an Act of Parliament to house the destitute. He was one of three officials who between them decided the fate of paupers in 42 Suffolk and north Essex parishes. This gave them the power to decide whether the poor were given assistance to remain in their own home or were admitted to the dreaded Workhouse.There, inmates were harshly treated, men, women and children being force to live apart under a regime devised to discourage admission. Even so in 1851 (seven years before Caroline and Emily emigrated) there were nearly 300 inmates in the Sudbury workhouse, 123 of them children. The sisters would have been aware of this though their family was unlikely to have gone hungry. Hitchcock had a salary of £100 a year, about four times the earnings of an agricultural worker, and seems to have had a sideline in providing coffins for inmates who died. Passions could run high among the desperately poor and one man denied help retaliated by attacking Hitchcock with a large flint.The blow was deflected but the magistrates fined the attacker two shillings or two months hard labour in jail. The fine would have almost certainly been beyond his means.

Sudbury Workhouse much as John Hitchcock knew it. This century the core of the building has been converted  into luxury apartments.

Caroline’s father died in 1865 at the age of 60 and was among the first buried in the town’s new cemetery Her mother then moved to London with her two youngest children Margaret Ann and Edward Horace who would later both join Caroline in Toronto. Other Hitchcocks had influence in Sudbury. George Hitchcock, one of Caroline’s uncles, was chief constable in charge of policing the town and her grandfather, another John, had been both landlord of the White Horse hostelry in North Street and proprietor of the fashionable Coffee House inn on the Market Hill. This had been demolished in 1840 to make way for the handsome Corn Exchange which is now the town library. He died in 1828 at the age of 57 as recorded on his headstone in St Gregory’s churchyard.

Grandfather John Hitchcock’s grave in St Gregory’s churchyard.

Caroline’s father, grandfather and uncle George had all been Freemen of Sudbury. This gave them special rights such as being able to practise their trades in the town and to graze cattle on the Common Lands. Sudbury Hitchcocks became coal merchants, shopkeepers and coopers. In 1869 a Thomas Hitchcock was a corn and seed merchant as well as a maltster preparing barley for brewers. In the 20th century three members of the extended family served as town mayor: Harry Hitchcock, the owner of a timber and coal business, was mayor in 1915; his son Clifford served several terms and in 1963 Kathleen Hitchcock was the first woman to hold the office.

Worthington’s story

The English background of railway builder James Worthington is sketchy but the man whose name was given to both the settlement of Worthington close to Sudbury and a nickel mine, came from near Leek in the county of Staffordshire in the West Midlands of England. Leek, like Sudbury, is an ancient market town and at one time also had a silk weaving industry. According to the Commemorative Biographical Record of the County of York, Worthington was orphaned when he was seven and emigrated to Canada when he was 17. He owned a small farm before moving to Toronto where he and his brother John ran a contracting business. Together, and separately, they built University College and other major buildings as well as fortifications in Quebec. In Toronto, No Mean City, a celebration of the city’s great buildings of the past, author Eric Arthur records that their projects included the House of Providence, a huge Roman Catholic Institution opened in 1857 to care for the old, invalid and destitute. James continued in business on his own after his brother left the partnership, lured away by the prospect of lucrative contracts to build railways then being constructed patchwork fashion in Canada. James’s next solo building contracts were for the Ontario Bank and the Bank of Toronto which he completed in1862 three years after his marriage to Caroline.

Bank of Toronto built by Worthington

Then he too left Toronto for the opportunity to build a railway that would open up untamed lands to the north that were rich in timber. Worthington joined forces with Montreal businessman Duncan McIntyre in building the Canada Central Railway then moving north west from Brockville on the St Lawrence river towards the future Sudbury. Progress was slow because of the bridge building necessary to punch through the rugged terrain.The company wanted faster progress and replaced Worthington with another engineer. As a result he was bankrupted in 1880 by the Bank of Montreal. Then in the following year the Canada Central was amalgamated with the newly-formed Canadian Pacific railway company and Worthington was employed again as construction superintendent to continue the line westwards.

Bridge at Sturgeon Falls

In 1883 he built 70 miles of track from Sturgeon Falls, east of what would be the new Sudbury, and on westwards to Vermilion river. Excavations for the new line drew attention to copper-coloured rocks in the Sudbury area and exploration revealed a bounty of valuable minerals resulting from a huge meteor strike billions of years ago.As well as nickel, prospectors found copper, gold, platinum and diamonds. Worthington Invested in the bonaza that followed and the mine and a settlement were named after him. The former Sudbury Halt became a busy station on a junction connecting the timber and mining hub with Toronto and the west. Now a relocated Sudbury station lies on the CPR line connecting Montreal and Toronto with Vancouver on the Pacific coast.

Sudbury Halt 1883

By the beginning of the 1890s Worthington had moved into manufacturing. He had a business in the Swansea area of Toronto employing a large workforce making bolts. The Canadian census of 1891 shows that he and Caroline were living there in comfort, their needs cared for by a cook, housemaid and a coachman. Eliza, another of Caroline’s sisters, was living with them, she having emigrated from Sudbury decades before.

James Worthington died in Toronto in November 1898 at the age of 75 leaving Caroline a very rich widow. During their marriage he had invested his energy and money into construction, railways, mining and finally manufacturing.  When the new century arrived Caroline had another of her sisters living with her. Dressmaker Margaret Ann had also emigrated perhaps encouraged by Caroline’s letters home. Youngest brother Edward, known as Horace, was also in Toronto.


Worthington descendant Ann McMillan visiting the Worthington and Hitchcock memorial in St James’s churchyard in Toronto

Caroline died in 1905, aged 73. Her estate amounted to 47,436 Canadian dollars, the equivalent value in 2020 was more than £2m. She left the major share to Eliza and Margaret the sisters who were living with her at the time of her death. They inherited the house and contents along with her clothes and jewellery plus the income for life from a 30,000 dollar trust fund. Her brother Edward and the son of her eldest brother George  also featured in Caroline’s will but the Worthingtons were not forgotten.The remainder was to be divided among the survivors of her three Worthington stepchildren and her husband’s grandchildren.

Above: Eliza Hitchcock, Margaret Ann Hitchcock and Edward Horace Hitchcock

So now Mrs Sudbury has been unmasked and the story of her family told. She was one of the many Brits who over the past two centuries have had the courage and initiative to seek a new life in Canada and help build it. She also has her special honour in its history – a thriving city named after her birthplace. Her husband James could not make that claim. In the 1920s the mine named after him collapsed and is now a lake Fortunately there was no loss of life as warning cracks had been spotted the day before. As for the Worthington settlement, that is now a ghost town. 

April 2021

This is an updated and extended version of my 2010 article on this website which was the first to identify  Worthington’s wife. This was read by Ann McMillan of the University of British Columbia who is a descendant of Edward (Horace) Hitchcock and I am grateful to her for sharing the photographs of her family.

Val Herbert