Portrait of William Matthew Harburn

My great-grandfather through his son, Nelson.

The Canadian Florist

William Mathew Harburn was likely born on November 5, 1868, although documents vary widely on the exact date and year. This date is on his naturalization papers, and therefore, most likely a direct quote from him. His parents, James and Sarah Sadler Harburn, lived in Hibbert Township, Perth County, Ontario at the time. William, their first son, was followed by five more siblings.

William married his neighbor and member of the same Wesleyan Methodist church Jane Leary in Hibbert Township in 1894, moved near Hensall, Ontario, and had 11 children, ten of whom survived to adulthood. William was a carpenter and flower farmer, providing local florists with product.

Jane Leary and William Harburn
The Harburn family around 1911
A closer view of William, seated, left

When he immigrated to Flint, Michigan, on August 8, 1919, by boarding a train on the Grand Trunk Railroad, he had his wife and younger children. Two of the older Harburn children had come to Flint a year earlier to prepare for the large family’s arrival.

In Flint, William ran another flower farm, this time for the Chevrolet plant downtown. The Teddy Roosevelt environmentalists were concerned about the factory polluting the Flint River, so the Harburns set up a farm along the river to prove the water was “fine” (Spoiler: It was not fine.). He then ran a store at 1411 Third Avenue, Flint, for many years. After the marriage of his son, my grandfather, in 1936, he and Jane befriended my grandmother’s parents. The Harburns and the Wilsons lived down the street from one another and visited often.

William and Jane later in life

William retired in Flushing, Michigan, in 1935, and passed away on November 24, 1940, of heart disease. He is buried in Flushing City Cemetery.

Notable Facts

Matthew, William’s middle name, is a legacy name for several generations in this family.

William’s parents are recorded in Canada censuses as being born in England.


Canada, Wesleyan Methodist Baptismal Register, 1828-1910
Hibbert, Perth County, Ontario. Accessed on the internet at freepages.rootsweb.com

Canada Censuses
(1871 – 1911)
Hibbert, Perth County, Ontario; Hensall, Huron County, Ontario. Accessed on Library and Archives Canada or Familysearch.org.

US Federal Censuses
(1920 – 1940)
Genesee County, Michigan. Accessed on Ancestry.com or Familysearch.org.

Ontario Canada Marriages, 1801-1928
(Archives of Ontario, MS932, Reel: 83)
Accessed on Ancestry.com.

United States of America Declaration of Intention
National Archives. Records on file

US Border Crossings From Canada
National Archives and Records Administration; Washington, D.C.; Manifests of Passengers Arriving at St. Albans, VT, District through Canadian Pacific and Atlantic Ports, 1895-1954; National Archives Microfilm Publication: M1464. Accessed on Ancestry.com.

Michigan, Death Records, 1867-1952
Certificates 1921-1945; 121: Genesee 1934-1942. Accessed on Ancestry.com.

“Obituaries and Funeral Notices”,
Flint Journal, Flint, Michigan, November 25, 1940, Page: 17; Col 4; Item 1. Personal records. Accessed at Flint Public Library.

The William Harburn Family in Michigan”,
Flushing Sesquicentennial History 1835-1987, Flushing Area Historical Society (Michigan), Vol. 2 (1987). Page 166. Personal records.

“William M Harburn,” ID#62465901, Flushing City Cemetery, Flushing, Genesee, Michigan

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