Stained Glass Window for the Village Church in the future plans.
Sim Salata - Collections Manager

Reconnecting History: The Desboro United Church Windows and the Meikle Family

Sim Salata - Collections Manager

As architectural plans for the church at Moreston Heritage Village draw nearer completion, I was required, in early February, to provide accurate measurements of the seven Desboro United Church windows to Grey Roots’ architect in order that reused building components could be accurately incorporated into the church design.  As you may know, Desboro United Church closed in 2009 and the gothic windows (six large side windows and one front entrance transom window) were donated to Grey Roots for the Moreston church project.

Moving the windows, which are large, heavy, and fragile, required Garlan Stained Glass of Markdale to come to the museum to lay them out as they will be reinstalled. After the measurements and photographs were taken and the calculations done for the arched top dimensions, Garlan provided a history on the windows, including the stained glass artist (William James Meikle) and date (1949), and returned the panes to their storage location within the museum.

Now the real fun began, as research to me is as fun as watching a hockey game is to my Habs fan neighbour.

By the morning’s end, I had found a historical reference and a modern one on William James Meikle.  The historical reference from Wyman’s Commercial Encyclopedia of Leading Manufacturers of Great Britain, published in 1888, reads that in 1839, a William Meikle (Sr.) “established himself as a Glass Merchant and Glazier in the City of Glasgow.”  A full page (in very small type) is dedicated to the history of this firm, in which his sons, William T. and James H. Meikle, joined him as partners, allowing him to retire in 1879.  It seems the demand for stained glass in Scotland was great and the firm grew over the years into space that took up two addresses, housing offices, warehouses and a studio that [is] “large and commodious.”

The reference ends here.  Obviously, besides being located in Scotland, not Canada, the two Williams Meikles mentioned were too old to be the William that made the windows for Desboro United.

This is where the modern web reference comes in — where history meets today.  Humanities and Social Science Online is a web forum in which people can post questions and queries on a wide range of subjects, hoping that someone, somewhere, in the world, will have an answer for them.  It seems that, in late summer, 2013, Larry Meikle did just this – posting a message that he was researching his grandfather, a Scottish-descended stained glass artist named William James Meikle, who founded Meikle Studios in Toronto, and would anyone with any information on the man or the firm or his work, please write to him?

It turns out that Larry got a response which I read with great interest.   I too emailed him, letting him know that Grey Roots had seven of his grandfather’s windows (and apparently, according to Garlan) the firm did a fair bit of work in the Grey Bruce area (as there are reportedly others in Mildmay and Teeswater).

Within the hour, Larry had written back with surprise and delight.  It turns out that he is a mature student currently living near Brockville, and is undertaking a Master of Fine Arts program in Creative Non-Fiction.  As part of his coursework, he is writing a manuscript entitled William Meikle and the Stained Glass Tradition in Canada.  He asked for photographs of the Desboro windows as an integral part of the telling of the story.  I gladly provided them, bartering his family history and a copy of the manuscript when it is finished, to which he agreed.

Here is what he sent:

William Meikle Sr. (1816-1900) (my great great grandfather) founded Meikle glaziers in Glasgow. He had two sons: William Tait Meikle (“Tertius”) (1841-1935), and James Harvie Meikle (1842-1914) (my great grandfather). It was William Tait Meikle and James Harvie Meikle who were involved in the 1895 legal suit [based the younger brother selling his interest to the elder brother, for which the elder required the younger to sign a non-competition agreement, which he later violated, was sued for and found guilty, resulting in paying of a fine].  They inherited the glazing business from their father, and began designing stained glass in 1886.

James Harvie Meikle’s son, was William James Meikle (1870-1953). William James is my grandfather, and it is he who founded Meikle Studios in Toronto and designed the windows you have. He was born in Ontario but his parents returned to Glasgow when he was young, so he was raised in Glasgow and it was he who apprenticed there with Stephen Adam. After his father (James Harvie) left Meikle & Sons and the legal battle raged between James Harvie and his brother William Tait, William James left Glasgow and moved to New York City, where he became a designer with Gorham Silversmiths. He is listed in the 1902 issue of “Who’s Who in America”. In 1908 he married [either his Canadian first cousin or his mother’s cousin], Mary Jane McNeill, and they lived for a time in New York.

They had four children. By age (oldest-to-youngest), they were: Anne; James (who worked with his father, William James, at Meikle Studios in Toronto, and carried-on the business after his father died); Mary; and Robert (my father). All are now deceased.

William James Meikle and his family left the U.S. in ca. 1914 and moved to Ontario, where he was the Art Director of Robert McCausland Studio in Toronto for over 20 years until he left and founded Meikle Studio. 

Great, I thought.  Now we’ve got a whole family history to go with the windows in the future Moreston Heritage Village church.

Hold onto your hat, this story doesn’t end there.

Unbeknownst to me, after I mentioned this research in a Grey Roots staff meeting a few days later, our volunteer coordinator contacted her son’s friend’s mother, whose husband’s last name is Meikle, casually wondering if there may be some relation to William James Meikle.  Sure enough, she wrote back that yes, her husband’s his great-grandfather came from Scotland and did stained glass in this area.  After getting permission from these two Meikles who knew nothing of each other’s existence, to release their contact information to one another, they have now exchanged emails and are, in all likelihood, second or third cousins.  Again, from Larry:

William James Meikle’s eldest son, James, (my Uncle Jim) carried-on the family stained glass business in Southampton and then Port Elgin, from about 1960 until he closed the business around 1980. That could explain the number of Meikle windows in Grey County. My father wasn’t close to his siblings, so I never really got to know my Meikle cousins. [except for two] both sons of James.  I have no idea if either of them had children, and, if so, what their children’s names are.

It’s a small world and we never know how history will reconnect today, which is why it’s so interesting!  Hopefully, in the near future, Larry Meikle will have a chance to meet his Meikle cousins in person, here at Grey Roots when the windows are fully restored and installed in Moreston Heritage Village!

Stay tuned for a future blog post on the details of the restoration needed to stabilize and bring these windows back to their past glory.


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