Paul Wilson: Woman living in same house 95 years watches her world tumble

Marguerite Mooney looks out and sees the view she's known for nearly a century suddenly erased. Otis Elevator and the Studebaker plant, empty these many years, are now just rubble.
Salvagers with loaded carts move past the demolished Otis Elevator site. This is what's left of Marguerite Mooney's neighbourhood. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Next month Marguerite Mooney turns 95. She lives in the two-storey frame house where she was born. There is comfort in that.

But Marguerite looks out her front window and sees that everything has changed. The wreckers are nearly finished and a sprawling piece of Hamilton’s industrial history is gone.

Otis Elevator came to the corner of Victoria and Ferrie in 1902 and grew and grew. Next door Studebaker started making cars in 1948. Both plants have been empty for many years and suddenly they are gone. There are plans for a new industrial park.

Marguerite enjoys her livingroom, but is no couch potato. If the weather is nice, she hikes downtown and back. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

For nearly a century Marguerite has been looking out at the factory walls across the street. "I’d rather be seeing that than all this stuff," she says, pointing to the brick piles.

And there’s the wind. She’d been protected all these years, but now it blows right over from the harbour. "I don’t like a strong wind," she says.

She coughs, then apologizes. "It’s the dust," she explains, which is coming her way from the demolition site.

No complainer

But Marguerite’s not a complainer. She figures she’s been lucky in life.

Her parents arrived on Ferrie East the year before her birth. The house was one of four that got moved from across the street so that Otis could expand its plant.

When Marguerite was born, the First World War was not yet over. Otis made shells for that war, then got back to building elevators for the nation.

Otis Elevator came to the corner of Victoria and Ferrie in 1902. (

Marguerite was 21 when the Second World War began and she watched as Otis joined that fight too. In the original plant, they made gun barrels and tank mounts. In a large addition, which later became Studebaker, 3,000 workers made the Bofors anti-aircraft gun.

There were nine kids in the Mooney family. In order, Jack, Fred, Anne, Bern, Marguerite, Paul, Larry, Teddy, Jim. "I was smack dab in the middle," Marguerite says, "and I’m the only one still alive.

She was inside the Otis plant a few times as a girl, helping deliver the newspaper. Brother Fred and sister Anne ended up working there.

Too much sickness

Marguerite trained at St. Joe’s to be a nurse. She worked at that a couple of years. "But there was too much sickness in the family," she says, so she was home to stay and to help out.

What about a life of her own, what about marriage? "I just knew I never would," she says.

A sea of vintage bricks is what remains of the Otis plant. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

She is in remarkable health. Each day when the weather’s nice, she walks to the Farmers’ Market and Jackson Square, then home again, more than five kilometres round trip. On Sundays, she often walks to service at St. Mary’s.

She’s up by about six each morning, and always reads the paper before breakfast. Hamilton politics makes her wonder: "Oh, brother, how can city council be so bad?"

Marguerite still has a dial phone. She has a TV, but doesn’t watch it, not since all the signals went digital and her rabbit ears stopped working. "I don’t miss it at all," she says.

Lamp from Larry

She does crosswords instead, in the cozy light of a red lamp, shade wrapped in plastic, passed along from brother Larry in the ‘70s.

This picture of the Studebaker plant was snapped last summer. Too late now for a retake. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

Her nieces and nephews make sure she’s not on her own. And the house is where she wants to be until it’s time to say goodbye at Dermody’s downtown. Everything is in order.

But as she looks across to that expanse of rubble, Marguerite does long for other times. She remembers the Reynolds family, the Dakins, Mrs. O’Neill. And little stores on every corner. Mrs. McKenzie had one. So did Mrs. Hatley. And a couple named Keys.

Her house stands alone now, parking lots on both sides. "I regret what’s happened around here," she says. "It’s not like a neighbourhood anymore. It’s lonely. The people I knew are gone."

Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.