Inducted: October 23, 2002
More than 90 years after that Drain was built, it is still working well. Amazingly, it reversed an error that nature had made, the natural flow of water from a watershed close to Lake Erie to Lake St. Clair and the Thames River. Engineers and farmers saw that drainage would be improved immeasurably if that flow could be reversed, and it could be diverted to Lake Erie. Achieving that proved a challenge that Lamarsh finally met and mastered in 1908/1909.
Arthur Lamarsh was one of 14 children of John Lamarsh, a descendant of French pioneers, and Jane Gibson Lamarsh, a native of Northumberlandshire, England. Like most children of that period, he had little more than a basic education, but he made up for it by using a quick and retentive mind.
In 1882, he married Alwilda “Jane” White, the daughter of James White and Mary Alice Setterington.
Lamarsh was basically a farmer, which gave him a greater understanding of the drainage dilemma in that area. Perhaps looking for a political solution to the problem, he became Romney Reeve in 1890/91, at the beginning of the decade when the first, expensive and unsuccessful Romney Tunnel Drain was built.
Looking for greener pastures, he homesteaded near Ridpath, Saskatchewan, and established an implement agency there in the early years of the 20th Century. Dissatisfied with Saskatchewan, he returned to Ontario and the Wheatley area. In addition to his other interests, he was a real estate agent, and an issuer of marriage licenses, and enjoyed a good reputation in his home community.
It was in 1907 that he was given the job that was to add luster to that reputation, the construction of the second Romney Tunnel Drain. The gravity of the problem in that area can be judged by the fact that after a heavy expenditure on the first Tunnel Drain, Township Council authorized the construction of a Second Tunnel Drain a little more than a decade later.
The first 1,500-foot long tunnel drain had been dug by two teams of area farmers, digging from opposite ends of the project. One end of that drain was 15 feet below ground; the other, 17 ½ feet. There was difficulty with the alignment, and the results were unsatisfactory.
Lamarsh profited by the bad experience of the first tunnel drain and built the second tunnel drain 35 feet underground. There were three shafts, each eight by four feet, down to the tunnel level. Safety measures were built into the platforms at the top of the shafts.
At the beginning, area farmers did the digging, a backbreaking job working with pails and shovels, sometimes through blue clay. They were unequal to the task, and Lamarsh went to Windsor and hired Italian miners who completed the job.
Lamarsh pioneered in the use of dynamite. Holes would be augured at night, and the dynamite charges would be exploded, speeding the digging. The dynamite was obtained from Detroit, and had to be transported across the Detroit River by rowboat. The brick to line the tunnel was brought from Cornhill Brick Works in Chatham by train, and unloaded. The tunnel was double brick-lined.
Arthur and Alwilda Lamarsh had two children, a daughter, Mabel, who married Burton W. Voakes in 1907. He died, probably from tuberculosis, nine years later.
A son, Wilfred “Clayton” Lamarsh followed his father’s example, and went to Rosetown, Saskatchewan, to homestead. To quote one authority at the time: “Clayton’s land was no good, so he went back east and went to law school.” He practiced law in Chatham, and later in Niagara Falls, where he was buried.
Clayton Lamarsh was the father of Julia Verlyn Lamarsh, better known as Judy Lamarsh, who became Canadian Minister of National Health and Welfare, and later, Secretary of State, before her untimely death from cancer in 1980. Like preceding generations of Lamarsh men and women, she was a Liberal.
Joe Lamarsh Hickson, of Wheatley, a great nephew of Arthur Lamarsh, remembers, as a kid, seeing the tunnel builder, a man of medium height, and stocky. He recalled, as a boy, walking barefoot through the tunnel drain, and ending that experience footsore, and determined never to do it again.
Hickson said Arthur Lamarsh, in spite of his modest height, was “a man who stood out in a crowd”. The Lamarsh family enjoyed the respect of the community. Arthur “knew what he was talking about.”