Robert Ward Shepherd (Captain)

Robert Ward Shepherd was born on December 15, 1819 at Sherringham, Norfolk where his father had a small farm. He was the eldest son and fourth child of John Shepherd and Esther Ward. He had three older sisters and one younger as well as four younger brothers.

(Please note... much of the information about the early life of Robert Ward Shepherd comes from his memoirs which he wrote in 1877 at the age of 58. Unfortunately they only tell the story to 1860 so that details of the next 35 years of his life are rather sketchy although we have quite a few letters both to and from his family.)

In 1830 when Robert was eleven, his family immigrated to Canada. They sailed for Quebec on July 26th, arriving there on October 8th – a 2 ½ month trip on a very uncomfortable sailing ship. Their mother who had spent weeks preparing all the food they would need on the voyage, took to her berth as the ship began to pitch and roll and remained there until they reached Quebec.

She never really recovered and died at Quebec the following summer. Robert’s father was left with nine children – the oldest a girl of fifteen and the youngest, a one year old baby.

After his wife’s death, John made his way to Montreal with all the children except Robert and his sister Mary who stayed with friends in Quebec for another year. In 1832, Robert Ward Shepherd joined his father in Montreal and since he was the eldest son, he was expected to work. He was not quite thirteen. For the next few years he had a variety of jobs which he describes in his memoirs.

Several of these were in different hotels in Montreal where he learnt a great deal about bookkeeping. By the time he was seventeen, he was head clerk at the Ottawa Hotel and his salary for the first year was $9. a month. The second year, it rose to $112.

It was while he was working at the Ottawa Hotel that Robert Ward Shepherd met a young man who worked on a steamer based at Lachine. The possibility of getting such a job appealed to Robert and so he applied to a forwarding company that owned 13 steamers running between Montreal and Kingston via the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal. He was hired to work on the steamer “Ottawa” under Captain Robins of Cavagnal.

Robert was eighteen. After three years on this steamer and seeing little chance of advancement, he looked for another job and soon was hired by another company – this time to take command of one of their steamers, the ”St. David”.

Within a few years he was given command of one of their larger steamers, the “Oldfield”, and in 1846 when this company decided to move their business from the Ottawa River to the St. Lawrence, Captain Shepherd was able to buy the “Oldfield” having raised the necessary 5000 pounds. This was the beginning of the Ottawa River Navigation Company in which Captain Shepherd played such an important role.

For the next 60 years the company owned and operated about 20 steamers both passenger and freight on the Ottawa River. Until 1853 Captain Shepherd commanded one of the steamers and after retiring from active steamboating, he became General Manager of the Company and later President, a position he held until his death in 1895.

In 1847, Robert Ward Shepherd married Mary Cecilia Delesderniers, whose family had settled in Cavagnal in the early 1800’s. The Delesderniers lived in Greenwood where the young couple lived for the first year of their marriage and where their eldest son, R.W, Shepherd jr. was born. In 1848, they moved into Riversmead which Captain Shepherd had had built for their young family.

Robert became one of the leading citizens in the area. It was he who requested permission from the government of the Province of Canada to give this area a new name. It had formerly been known as Cavagnal but by the 1850’s it was known, for postal purposes, as the Ottawa Glass Works because of the glass factory here.

However, because much of the mail went to the Ottawa Gas works in Ottawa, Robert was determined to find a more suitable name. Government permission was granted and so the whole area became known as Como, a name he chose as he felt the area reminded him somewhat of Lake Como in Italy. He says in his memoirs “It was situated on a beautiful lake, though perhaps not equal to the one in Italy.”!

In 1860 when the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, was in Canada on the first ever Royal tour, he traveled up the Ottawa River on Captain Shepherd’ newest steamer the “Prince of Wales”. The 18 year old prince was here to lay the cornerstone of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, as well as to open the newly completed Victoria Bridge. Captain Shepherd was part of both these events: as owner of the steamer on which the prince traveled up the Ottawa River as well as an invited guest to the opening of the bridge.

Robert Ward Shepherd was involved in many other interesting events over the years which are described in his memoirs but it is his relationship to Greenwood that is more important here.

Later, all but one of his married children lived in Montreal and spent their summers in Como, most of them in houses built by Shepherd near Riversmead. His eldest son, Robert Ward Jr. and his family spent their summers at Greenwood for many years.

This part of Como used to be known as the Shepherd Village. Robert and his wife, living at Riversmead, were surrounded by their married children and grandchildren - they had 8 married children and 20 grandchildren.

Judging from their many letters that we have here at Greenwood, with so many affectionate references to family, it is clear that they were all very close.

Robert Ward Shepherd died at Riversmead in 1895 and is buried in Mount Royal Cemetery. Mary Cecilia died in Montreal in 1901 and is buried beside her husband.

Their eldest son, Robert Ward Shepherd Jr., inherited Riversmead and their youngest son, Del, inherited Greenwood after their mother’s death.

(Submitted by Eleanor Abbey. Eleanor is a great-granddaughter of R. W. and Mary Cecilia Shepherd and sister of the Late Marg Peyton.) 

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