Among the many John Millers was a grandson of John Miller/Thistle Ha’, who established his own livestock business in 1905 at Blairgowrie farm near Ashburn, Whitby Township. Ashburn John, as he was commonly called, was described by a cousin as an unusual man who did things in an unusual way. He had a remarkable memory for not only livestock and pedigrees, but also faces, names and conversations. He was also known for his originality, and keen sense of good humour, along with a dash of boyish mischief. So, he just didn’t breed Shorthorns, but High Class Shorthorns. As a result of these traits, everyone Ashburn John met seemed to become his friend, not only for his knowledge and advice, but just to find out what he’d been up to. Consistent with his habit of doing things his own way, he persisted in refusing to hold office in the many organizations he supported. His friends claimed that the following story on how he singlehandedly retired the mortgage of Burns Presbyterian Church in Ashburn was typical Ashburn John.

Source: Hugh Miller/Thistle Ha’, in an October 16, 1981 letter to Professor Grant MacEwan. MacEwan, Grant, Highlights of Shorthorn History, p. 48-49, Alberta Shorthorn Association, Calgary, 1982.
Photo credit: Thistle Ha’ private collection.

blairgowriebusinesscardThe $4,000 of lingering debt against the church at Ashburn annoyed him [John Miller], and when he met a neighbor who was a member of the Board of Managers, he had something to tell his friend.

“Fred, are you going to the church meeting tonight? I understand they’re going to talk about reducing the church mortgage, again. Well, I can’t be there but you tell them for me that they had better do more than talk about it. They had better pay it off. Now, get this straight. Tell the people of the congregation to plan for a church supper and concert at my place. Admission will be $1.25 and every woman will have to make six pies and three salads and I’ll find everything else that’s needed. I want to see that confounded debt wiped out in one evening. How’s your new herd bull doing? Good bye, Fred.”


Many of the Millers knew my Aunt Margaret Moon, who was a frequent visitor at Thistle Ha’ during her retirement years. She died last November 28th. During her memorial service, we shared our many memories of her life. But afterwards, I realized that the many stories that she told us about her business career during her Thistle Ha’ visits were not well known to her family. I maintain that the health enjoyed by our generation is partly due to the efforts of Aunt Margaret and her colleagues. Some stories from her life and business career are posted below.

As told by: Margaret Moon.
Aunt Margaret and Salk Vaccine: Based on a 2005 email I sent to Christopher.
Additional details from: Margaret Moon article by Nancy Simpson, Communications Director, Sanofi Pasteur Canada, 2004.

Aunt Margaret said that she thought she was more practical than most people, which she felt was partly due to growing up on the Moon family farm, north of Port Hope, Ontario. Although she resided in Toronto her entire adult life, she always liked being on a farm, including Thistle Ha’. She was particularly fond of horses.

She was a renowned high school athlete; she held several of her Port Hope High School track and field records for many years.

Margaret Moon BA 1936

Margaret Moon, BA - University of Toronto, 1936

She graduated with a BA degree in math and science from Victoria College, University of Toronto in 1936. She maintained close life-long friendships with several of her college friends, including her room-mate Eleanor Shearer. She then attended Normal School, and obtained her teaching certificate. Shorthand and typing proficiency were requirements for her teaching certificate at the time. In the midst of the Great Depression, teaching jobs in her field were scarce, so she applied for several other jobs. She remembered being awakened by a telephone call from Connaught Medical Research Laboratories very late on Labour Day 1938, offering her a job, starting immediately. In the excitement, she forgot to ask what she would be doing or what the salary was. She caught the train to Toronto the next morning and started her career at Connaught on Spadina Road in the filling department, where glass vials were manually filled with various medicines and sold to doctors, pharmacies and hospitals. She was told that her job was to become filling department supervisor, but had to start at the lowest job and work her way up so that she understood how her department operated.


Source: Pickering Township Oral History Project Interviews. Audio Reel
RG-17-44-0-10. Copyright 1972, Archives of Ontario. Used with permission.
As told by: Hugh Miller.

Stan Whiston and David Nasby of the Pickering Township Oral History Project interviewed Hugh Miller on June 21, 1972 about the fairs attended by the Millers. The interview was done in the dining room at Thistle Ha’; you can hear the ticking grandfather clock in the background.

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