Family members of Mount Forest banker achieved distinction

The career of James A. Halsted, the Mount Forest private banker, was the subject of a column in this series several years ago. In brief, Halsted, who came from Listowel, opened a banking office in 1877, and enjoyed immediate success. He soon opened branches in Durham and Shelburne. Halsted sold the banking business in 1904 to the Sovereign Bank, but retained an office, writing mortgages and loans until 1911. Suffering from ill health, he moved that year to Toronto and a palatial house on Admiral Road. Jane Halsted, his wife, died in 1913, and the following year James passed away at the age of 73. He left an estate valued at $304,000, a substantial fortune for that time. More than half consisted of loans, 140 in number, and mortgages on six properties.

Halsted had four children, all of whom achieved a degree of fame and accomplishment. They were spread out in ages, born between 1866 and 1884.

The elder of the daughters, Edith, married George Reid, Halsted’s office manager and assistant at the Mount Forest office from 1886. He stayed on as the first manager for the Sovereign Bank in Mount Forest when that organization purchased Halsted’s bank. When Halsted moved to Toronto, the Reids accompanied him. George looked after his employer’s portfolio of loans, and later became involved in business affairs in Toronto during the boom of the 1920s.

Mrs. Reid became prominent in social circles and a supporter of various charities in Toronto. She had money of her own: Halsted’s will divided the bulk of his estate among evenly among his four children. In present day value, that works out to more than $1,500,000 for each of the children.

The younger daughter, Mabel, married D.M. Balfour. The Halsteds had known the Balfours when the later family resided in Mount Forest. Later, several members of the Balfour family went west, eventually settling in Regina, where they are still prominent in social and political circles. Among Mabel’s pet projects was support of the Regina Symphony Orchestra.

The oldest of the children was Thomas H. Halsted, born in 1866. For all of his life he was known as Harry Halsted. After excelling at the Mount Forest public and high schools, young Harry trained as a doctor, and then went on to secure advanced training as a throat specialist.

In the 1890s, Dr. Harry Halsted moved to Syracuse, New York. There he established the Syracuse Eye, Ear and Throat Infirmary. Dr. Halsted was a pioneer in the use of x-rays for diagnoses and treatment. He married in Syracuse in 1903 to a woman named Charlotte Palmer. In 1905, the couple had a son, named James A., after his grandfather.

By 1910, Dr. Halsted was recognized as an authority in his field. In 1917, Halsted’s colleagues elected him president of the American Laryngological Society. He served with the U.S. Army during the brief American involvement in World War I, and returned to Syracuse in 1919 to resume his work there.

Halsted’s wife died in 1932 from injuries suffered in an automobile accident. By then, the couple’s son, James, was on his way to a distinguished career in his own right. An excellent student like his father, James earned a degree from Harvard in 1926, and graduated from the Harvard Medical School in 1930.

Dr. Harry Halsted maintained his connections with Canada. He purchased a cottage at Oliphant, near Sauble Beach. During the 1920s and 1930s he often stopped in Mount Forest to visit old acquaintances on his way to and from the retreat.

In 1933, at the age of 67, Harry Halsted married for a second time, to Maida Smyth, a woman from Scotland. He retired soon after, and was able to linger for longer periods at his cottage.

In an interview with the Mount Forest Confederate in 1938 he lamented that there were few people remaining in town that he knew.

As Dr. Harry Halstead was nearing the end of his active career, his son was at the start of an even more distinguished one. In November of 1930, a few months after his graduation from Harvard, James Halsted married Isabel Hopkinson, a daughter of Charles Hopkinson, the noted portrait painter and water colorist.

Hopkinson was closely associated with Harvard, and Dr. Samuel Eliot, the noted minister, officiated at the wedding. The happy groom began his career as an intern at the prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital.

After that brief stint, Dr. James Halsted practised for a time in Cleveland, then joined a group practice in Dedham, Massachusetts, one of the first in North America. He joined the U.S. Army in World War II, rising to the rank of Lieutenant. Colonel. He received the Legion of Merit for his studies of psychosomatic illnesses among combat soldiers.

After the war he joined the staff of a veterans hospital in Los Angeles, specializing in gastroenterology, and joined the faculty of the UCLA Medical Centre. Though his career was successful, his marriage was on the rocks: he divorced Isabel in 1951.

In 1952, a year after his divorce, Dr. Halsted married again.

His second wife was Anna Roosevelt Boettiger, 46-year-old daughter of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was her third marriage. Anna took some courses in social work, and was an activist working on behalf of several social causes and as a public relations spokesperson for various medical programs during the years of their marriage.

The couple led something of a nomadic life: three years in Syracuse at a veterans hospital, then to Iran, where Dr. Halsted conducted studies in nutrition. Later the couple worked at hospitals in Kentucky and Michigan.

In 1964, Dr Halsted was in Washington as an official with the Veterans Administration, retiring in 1970 to take up a private practice in Hudson, New York. He continuing to publish and lecture all the while. He authored about 125 articles and edited several textbooks.

Anna Roosevelt Halsted died in 1975. As a widower, Dr. Halsted continued his research activities on nutrition. He married for a third time, and finally retired for good in 1982, at the age of 77. He died in March 1978 of leukemia.

Charles Hopkinson Halsted followed his father and grandfather into medicine. He is a gastroenterologist, and a member of the Faculty of Medicine at the University of California, Davis.

The youngest of Banker Halsted’s children, Tracey A., was born in 1884 in Mount Forest, 18 years after his elder brother. He spent his career as a businessman in Toronto. In 1910, he married Marie Murphy, of the well-known milling family in Mount Forest. He died in Toronto in July 1959.

Tracey’s daughter, Shirley Halsted, became a champion skater in the 1940s, holding the Canadian title in pairs competition with Michael Kirby in 1941. In 1948, she married Edward Charles Kline, an officer in the United States Navy. By then she had turned professional, and skated with the Ice Follies show in the early 1950s.  Her career came to an abrupt end when she was diagnosed with polio. She died of the disease in January 1957, at the age of 34.

James Halsted was one of Wellington County’s most successful businessmen, operating a sound and well-respected private bank for 27 years, and a lending and mortgage business for another decade until his death.

His children and grandchildren made names for themselves as community activists, as businessmen, and especially as doctors, all far from the family’s beginnings in Mount Forest. One married the daughter of an American president.

It appears that Dr. Harry Halsted was the last of the family with close ties to the old home town of Mount Forest. Nevertheless, the achievements of the various members of the family are a source of pride to those of us in Wellington County who can claim the Halsteds as Wellington County Old Boys.


Stephen Thorning