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When Harry Met Sadie


Harry Mason was born in Denver, Colorado in 1892, and when he was 13, he and his family moved to Canada, a short distance from Toronto. At 16, he was hired at the Bank of Toronto, and was subsequently transferred to the Sudbury and then the Winnipeg branch.

On October 28, 1913, when he was 21, Harry wrote a letter to Sadie Arbuckle, a woman he had never met.

Harry was no longer working for the bank. He was living in the new settlement of Compeer, Alberta, working to open the town’s first store. His business partner Jack Wulff was a friend of Sadie’s and spoke of her often. Sadie kept in touch with Jack, and sent a card to Harry as well, as a courtesy. Harry, overwhelmed by the loneliness and hardship of homesteading in the West, took the opportunity to start a correspondence that would change both of their lives.

Portrait of Harry Mason wearing a Royal Flying Corps
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Portrait of Harry Mason wearing a Royal Flying Corps
uniform with Observer pin, March 1917
Black and white print
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0050212

First letter, October 28, 1913
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First letter from Harry Mason to Sadie Arbuckle,
October 28, 1913
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0070087

In his first letter to Sadie, Harry explains that their store would eventually be situated along a planned CPR branch line between Lacombe, Alberta and Kerrobert, Saskatchewan, but in the meantime, “business isn’t very brisk.” He also apologizes for taking the liberty of writing to her, “some one I never met personally.”

Sadie forgave the breach of etiquette and wrote back to Harry, to his immense pleasure and relief. (Unfortunately, Sadie’s first letters do not survive in the collection.) In his earliest correspondence, he tells Sadie about living in the wilds of the Canadian West, and the shocking behaviour of the other settlers. At social nights, for example, he admits that “total strangers will ask others for dances without even knowing each other’s names.” He reassures Sadie, “I for one do not believe it at all proper and I never practice it myself.”

Letter from Harry to Sadie
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Letter from Harry Mason to Sadie Arbuckle, January 19, 1914
Sadie Arbuckle fonds
Reference Code: F 848
Archives of Ontario, I0070095


Even without Sadie’s letters from this time, we know that her life was very different from Harry’s. While he was settling new lands, Sadie was living in the heart of one of Canada’s largest cities.

In 1914, Toronto had a population of nearly 500,000. Living at 930 Queen Street East, Sadie was in a densely populated upper-middle class neighbourhood served by a robust streetcar system. Her letters describe a busy urban life. She worked in an office in the city, visited often with family and friends, attended church, and frequently went to the movies. Her social life was a stark contrast to Harry’s occasional community dances.

View of the Crystal Palace on Yonge Street opposite Temperance Street, Toronto, [ca. 1915]
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View of the Crystal Palace on Yonge Street opposite
Temperance Street, Toronto, [ca. 1915]
Ernest Hoch
Lantern Slide
William H. Hammond fonds
Reference Code: F 4436-0-0-0-171
Archives of Ontario, I0021973
Women at an Eaton's Company mail order office picnic, [ca. 1910]
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Women at an Eaton's Company mail order
office picnic, [ca. 1910]
Marion Owsten
Black and white print
Archives of Ontario photograph collection
Reference Code: F 2170-0-0-0-22
Archives of Ontario, I0014279


Queen and Yonge streets, [ca. 1920]
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Queen and Yonge streets, [ca. 1920]
Ministry of Education
Black and white print
Photographs of the Audio-Visual Education Branch
Reference Code: RG 2-71, Item COT-138
Archives of Ontario, I0012494