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.”

When the date was fixed, John Miller’s phone started ringing. He called the President of Purity Bread Company in Toronto, saying: “Charlie, I want a truck load of bread and rolls for the Ashburn church supper. Thanks, and be sure you come to be fed.”

John then called J. S. McLean, President of Canada Packers, and said: “Stanley, I want a truck load of Maple Leaf hams for the Ashburn church supper. Don’t tell me a truck load is too much because I want some hams left over to sell to our visitors after the concert. Thanks, Stanley, and be sure you come see us that night.”

He called all his prosperous friends in Whitby and Oshawa and Toronto and urged them to come and “be sure you bring your wallets.”

On the evening of the supper, John Miller was seated beside the Church Treasurer at the entrance, acting like a Robin Hood. Most guests were admitted on payment of the nominal admission fee of $1.25, but those to whom special invitations had been sent did not get past John Miller without paying amounts ranging from $5.00 to $50.00 — and then they were “invited” to come around to the garage after the concert to buy some high class ham. They had no reason to think they would be expected to pay $5.00 a pound for ham and $25 each for homemade pies, but they must have paid such amounts because when the receipts for the Miller-planned evening were counted, they totalled $4,050, enough to liquidate the offending mortgage.

When the church officers came to thank John Miller of Ashburn, they couldn’t find him.