RHODES: Chatham lawyer’s adventurous decision led to absolute tragedy

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Sometimes people make adventurous decisions that have terrible consequences and such would be the case of a young Chatham lawyer named D. M. M. Christie.

Let me give you some background.

Donald Christie, his father, was born in Scotland in 1816.

In 1839, he migrated to Kingston where he entered into the wholesale grocery business in which he continued until his untimely death in 1850.

In that year his son, Donald Malcolm Maulson Christie was born to a home that was now fatherless.

After the death of Donald’s father, his mother, Jane White Christie, moved to Bellville where she kept house for her father and raised her son.

Young Donald was bright and was able to exploit his intelligence to a much greater degree of instruction, vastly superior to that of most other young people of that era.

In an age when a simple level of Grade 3 was sufficient, Donald was able to obtain post-secondary instruction and became a lawyer.


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I am not sure when he was called to the bar; I am thinking early 1870s.

He was settled in Chatham by 1882 and had entered a partnership with Chatham lawyer, C. K. Atkinson.

By 1887, Mr. Christie had formed a new association with Oscar Leander Lewis, who was a well-known criminal attorney and an officer in the 24th Kent Battalion of Infantry.

His partnership with Mr. Lewis proved to be profitable and this allowed Mr. Christie to purchase a home in the upscale area of Victoria Avenue, north of Gladstone Avenue. I have traced it to house number to No. 317. I Googled the location but the home now situated at this location is of modern construction.

By 1892, his mother, and at least one of his aunts, was living with him and sharing his home.

Donald Christie was, to my knowledge, not married and was, as well, a bit of an adventurer. And this would lead to a sad event.

In the latter quarter of the 19th century, scull racing on the Thames River was a popular athletic adventure and Christie, as well as many of his friends, took an active interest in it.

Prior to 1894, Christie had been told that it was a great thrill to ride the rapids of the French River in Northern Ontario.

The adventurer in his makeup convinced him that he had to experience the thrill of “shooting the rapids”.

To accomplish his quest, he would need the collaboration of like-minded individuals and he found ready accomplices in two fellow adventurers – Arthur Patrick Northwood (born 1870) and George H. Rispin (born 1870).

In July 1894 the three men made their way to the French River where they commenced their travel of the volatile river.

There was a disaster.

Their vessel was overturned in the turbulence and all three were drowned.

Learning of the tragedy, the town dispatched Col. H. A. Patteson, a former and future Chatham mayor, to travel to the French River and return the bodies to Chatham for burial which he was able to accomplish.

All three men repose in Maple Leaf Cemetery.

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