Tom Currah stands beside a plaque bearing his name which designates the parkette at Talbot and Alma Streets. Courtesy of Elgin County Archives.
Over 70 years a faithful member of his church, over 45 years a retired railroad employee, and for 28 years a member a member of St. Thomas City Council, Thomas Howard Currah was born October 30, 1893 at Oil Springs, Enniskillen Township, Lambton County, Ontario.
The Currah family hailed from Carrigill, Parish of Alston, in the County of Cumberland, England, where they had lived for over a century prior to their coming to Canada in the 1840s, settling first in the County of Oxford. By 1860, the family was in Lambton County where Tom’s father, William John Currah was born in 1860. In 1885 in Plympton Township, William John was married to Mary Helps, a native of Plympton Township. There were seven children in this family – four boys and three girls. One of the girls died at 6 years. Tom had a twin brother – Edgar Stanley.
On August 1, 1897, Tom’s father died, aged 37, and on June 13, 1900, his widow, Mary, married William Robert Searle at Wanstead, Lambton County. There were several children of this union. The Currah/Searle family came to St. Thomas about 1905. Tom, who had begun school in Petrolia, finished his elementary school in St. Thomas.
Tom was a long-time employee of the Michigan Central – New York Central Railroad, where he began his apprenticeship as a machinist in 1913. With the exception of his wartime service in the army, he served for over 45 years, retiring on October 31, 1958, one day after his 65th birthday. He was for over 40 years a member of the St. Thomas chapter of the International Association of Machinists, Local 294.
On April 17, 1918, Tom (#3132614) enlisted as a private in the Canadian Army. He served in Canada in the Canadian Army and in France with the 18th Canadian Battalion. He was present at the Battle of Cambrai where he was wounded in October 1918. He was discharged and returned home in February 1919. He was a member of Lord Elgin Branch no. 41 of the Royal Canadian Legion.
In 1919 he married Julia Jean Morgan. There were two sons of this union – Edgar Morgan and James Ross. Julia died on February 13, 1960.
Tom’s career in municipal politics began in 1938 when he successfully ran for city council. He was on council for five years when in 1943 he succeeded in his run for mayor. He was mayor also in 1945. For the next six years he sat on council. In 1952 he was again in the mayor’s seat, and again in 1953 and 1954. In 1954 he was defeated in his bid for re-election as mayor by his long-time working partner and political cohort Peter Laing. He was out of council in 1955 and 1956. In 1957 he returned to council and in 1958 he again made an attempt at the mayor’s chair, against Vincent Barrie and was defeated by 133 votes.
By an unusual quirk, in the same month of December, 1958, he ran in a by-election to fill a vacant seat on council, and won handily over two opponents. Thus he was able to continue his service on council, where he remained until he finally retired at the end of 1968, having served a total of 28 years, at that time a record only exceeded by one other person in the city’s history – Patrick Meehan.
Tom was on the executive board of the Ontario Municipal Association and in 1952 served as president.
He was a member of Grace United Church for over 70 years and most of those years he was a member of the choir. He also was for many years a member of the official board and at his death was a member of the Board of Trustees.
He was a life member of the St. David’s Masonic Lodge no. 302 A.F. and A.M. He was initiated November 15, 1917 and at his death had been a member for over 67 years. He was a member and past Noble Grand of St. Thomas Lodge no. 76, I.O.O.F.
He was a long-time board member of both the Memorial Hospital and the St. Thomas-Elgin General Hospital, being on the building committee of the latter in the early 1950s.
He was a member of the board of the St. Thomas Cemetery Company from 1964 until 1982 and was chairman from 1976 to 1982. He was a life time member of the St. Thomas Horticultural Society, serving as president in 1968. He also filled the office of secretary for many years.
For over 70 years he Currah family home was at 41 Barnes Street, in close proximity to his place of work with the New York Central.
A remarkable citizen of St. Thomas, Tom Currah died at the Thomas Williams Home on Walnut Street on May 14, 1984 – aged 90 years, 6 months and 15 days.