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Heritage Gazette of the Trent Valley Volume 12 * number 4 * February 2008 -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Heritage Gazette of the Trent Valley Volume 12 * number 4* February 2008


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senator Francis Patrick O’Connor, the founder of Laura Secord Chocolates Enid Mitchell


In the early 1900s a young man in his late 20s named Frank Patrick O’Connor was living in Peterborough and working at CGE in the brass department. His parents were Patrick O’Connor and Ellenor McKeown and they lived on McDonnell Street.


Francis was anxious to own his own business so he opened a little shop on George Street, south of the railroad tracks and started selling candy and chiclets. His product was called Elizabeth’s Best. This venture was not successful so with the help of $500 lent to him by local businessman Louis Yeotes, Alex Weddell and J. J. Lundy he and his new wife, Ellen (nee Hayes) from Belleville moved to Toronto.


Neilson Company and the astute business sense of his wife, Ellen, other shops or studios were opened in Toronto and area. The factory was established on Bathurst Street and to ensure freshness Laura Secord Chocolates were delivered to the outlets by motorcycle and side car painted black and white. Frank O’Connor maintained


his connections in


Peterborough and had his good friend, Henry Hickey, owner of Henry Hickey Construction Company, build the Bathurst Street factory. Mr Hickey would later build a beautiful Grecian-style pillared brick home for the O’Connor family. In the early years of the First World War Frank O’Connor had the foresight to buy up large quantities of sugar so he could maintain his candy business. The popularity of the candies became famous for gifts to servicemen overseas and special treats for those at home when sugar was rationed. By the 1930s Frank O’Connor was a multi-


millionaire and to benefit his employees he initiated a profit- sharing plan; this was one of the first companies to do so. To enhance his financial stature Frank O’Connor


purchased 500 acres of land in Toronto and had his good friend from Peterborough, Henry T. Hickey, build a beautiful home near Victoria Park Avenue, at 5 Avonwick Gate. He named the estate Maryville for his daughter. On the farm, he raised Ayreshire cattle and race horses. His running colours were black and white.


In 1931, Ellen passed away leaving daughter Mary


and sons William and Fred. Sadly, Mary passed away at age 37. She had one son Michael who lives in Toronto. Son William passed away in 1989. He had three sons: William Jr, Francis and Kelly. Frank O’Connor always referred to his wife as Nellie. He was her second husband and at the time of their marriage he adopted her son Fred, and he was known as Fred O’Connor.


Frank O’Connor’s generosity became legendary. He


is reputed to have given three million dollars to charity. Recipients of his generosity were St Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto, St Joseph’s Hospital in Peterborough, Sisters of the Precious Blood in Peterborough, Toronto’s Sick Children’s Hospital, Star Fresh Air Fund, the Carmelite Orphanage, the Canadian Institute for the Blind, and Christie Street Hospital. In 1935, O’Connor who was always a staunch Liberal


Francis P. O”Connor (Enid Mitchell) In 1913, they opened a candy store at the corner of


Yonge and Elm Streets. They painted the store white accented with black, put white muslin curtains with black polka dots on the window and called the store a “studio”. Eventually as the business prospered sales girls wore black uniforms with a little black and white cap. Ellen O’Connor thought the name Laura Secord was appropriate for their product and distinctly Canadian.


Frank O’Connor realized his lack of expertise as a candymaker but with the hiring of the top candymaker from the


was appointed to the Senate by Mackenzie King. In 1937 Pope Pius XI elevated him to the rank of Knight Commander of the Order of St Gregory the Great. The next year the Pope conferred the title Knight of Malta on Senator O’Connor, the first Canadian so honoured. Clare Galvin, in My Town, tells of Frank O’Connor in


the 1930s, a widower, arriving at St Peter’s in Chains Catholic Church, Peterborough in his yellow Packard sedan convertible. Behind the wheel was a liveried chauffeur and sitting beside Mr O’Connor was Miss Geraldine Collins of Peterborough. Gerry was an attractive gold medalist soprano soloist who sang in the choir. She was employed at the Bank of Commerce at the corner of Hunter and Water Streets until the mid-1950s.


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