Old St. Andrews



Billy Van Horne



If Benny showed the first signs of decay in the Van Horne line, these became full-blown in his son William Cornelius Covenhoven Van Horne, Junior, nicknamed Billy.

Educated at private schools and at Lower Canada College, Billy was an enthusiastic sportsman who won many trophies at motor boat racing and yachting, and was a member of the Royal St. Lawrence Yacht Club. During the war he was at Halifax with the Sea Cadets. He organized the Auburn Motor Sales Company and served as its president for some time. In the 1930's he worked as a pilot and mechanic for Skyways Limited, an Ontario flying company operating out of Toronto which offered flying lessons, aerial photography, charter flights, and mechanical repairs. He was there in 1930 during one of the biggest media events of the year—the arrival of the R-100 dirigible from Britain on its first Atlantic crossing—was allowed to inspect the craft and sent off photos to the Toronto papers. He would sometimes fly down to Minister's Island for a quick summer vacation in his seaplane. A photograph survives of him in his flying gear.

Billy never needed to work. His grandfather, who spoiled him shamelessly and allowed him to destroy valuable, hand-made model boats on the Island's pond, had left him $200,000 in his will.

Billy married his first wife, Audrey Edythe Fraser, of a well-to-do Montreal family, on November 29, 1928, and had a daughter Beverley Ann born to them in 1932. Billy's marriage with Audrey Fraser did not end on a happy note. On August 14, 1934 she and some friends had driven to a dance in St. Stephen, and on her way back, in foggy conditions, she drove over a cliff at Oak Bay, just outside of St. Stephen, and crashed into a dry creek bottom. Her skull was fractured and she died after admittance to Chipman Hospital in St. Stephen. The cause of death was ruled accidental, and no autopsy was performed, but there was another occupant in the car, a man named Nels Svenson, whose relationship to her was not mentioned. Local resident David Caughey recalled that this man was the head waiter at the Algonquin Hotel and that after this "accident" he was never seen in the area again. Implying, it seems, that there were other factors involved not mentioned in the newspaper account, and that all may not have been well in her marriage with Billy.
Billy married Margaret ("Billy") Hannon, of Toronto, the next year.

Addie soldiered on at Minister's Island. It must have been rather lonely for her at times. Benny was gone, her mother had died in 1929, Sir William in 1915 and her beloved Aunt Mary in 1904. And of course both her grandmothers, who had been regular summer visitors to the Island in the early years, were distant memories. It's not certain just how often Billy came down to visit. Addie seems to have fallen ill in the late thirties. In one of his many affectionate letters to her from Japan, Randolph Bruce made concerned reference to the "many troubles" with which she was surrounded. That was in 1938.

In 1940, Miss Addie spent her last summer at Covenhoven but was quite infirm. It took a team of men and some special equipment to remove her from the house. A block and tackle was set up over the bed, and a platform was built on the back of a truck to hold a special sedan chair that had been hammered together out of lawn furniture. Henry Clarke, just four years old at the time, remembers that event because he was chosen to sit in it while the men made sure it could safely negotiate the stairs. Miss Addie returned to Montreal that fall and died on Feb. 24, 1941.

In her will of 1939, Addie had bequeathed her Minister's Island Property not to Billy but to his daughter Beverley Ann. In the summer of 1941 Billy and Margaret Hannon purchased the Thomas Turner O'Dell house in St. Andrews at the corner of Montague and Augustus streets, a handsome neo-colonial structure. In Beverley Ann's minority the Minister's Island Estate was administered jointly by Mrs. Bruce and the Royal Trust Company. Billy and Margaret were given permission to remove a few personal items from Covenhoven, as well as some encyclopedias for little Beverley Ann to use in her studies. The estate also provided them with a regular supply of chickens for their kitchen, and the tennis court was rolled so that Beverley Ann could play on it.

Many stories survive of Billy's antics on Minister's Island. It's not certain just when these took place, perhaps some while Addie was still alive, but it's probable that with restraining influences out of the way he had freer reign after Addie's death. Like his father he was an alcoholic, showing up drunk at church and the Algonquin pool room. A later owner of the Island wondered at a series of small boxes attached to various trees around the Island and was informed by then Manager Pat Pethick that these were where Billy hid his liquor. They provided him with a much-needed drink while roaring around the Island in his various cars and motorcycles, some of which were driven off cliffs and whose wreckage was still evident in the 1960s. He was particularly fond of Red Indian motorcycles, powerful machines with a "suicide shift" on the side. With these he would do some amateur logging, and when one was destroyed he would order in another. He had a loyal band of young adults around him, and equipped them with war-surplus .22 caliber rifles. He also had a cabin on the north end of the Island—quite a handsome affair, and still in existence, though fallen into ruins—in which he once got drunk with a bear cub.

Like his father he loved boats. He took over stewardship of the "Uvira" and/or "Uvira II." There is a story that he destroyed one of these boats, but that is not certain. He also had smaller boats such as the "Gilda Grey," "N. Mason" and "June Bug," derelicts which he had fixed up. According to former gardener Sandy Miller, these boats were just an escape for Billy. "He'd load up with liquor and a bunch of cronies and away they'd go." Myth and fact become one with Billy, and it is hard to know which is which.

One local story has it that Billy committed suicide in his Augustus street house, and that the affair was hushed up in the press. This story is not true, however. Billy died at Weir, Quebec, in September 1946 after what the obituary described as a short illness. Billy had requested that his body be brought to St. Andrews for burial as a Roman Catholic. He was formally interred beside his father on Sept. 9 of that year. He was only 39.