Over the past year or so, we’ve been doing a series called “Sons and Daughters”, profiling people who lived and worked in North Grenville and made an impact on a provincial or national stage. But two women have brought to my attention a connection that I had never imagined, to be honest. Kathy Whitley and Pam Whitehorne are both originally from Kemptville, though Pam now lives in Brockville, and have been doing research on various family members for some time. When they contacted me about some historical links, they casually mentioned that the famous Fonda family, Henry, his daughter, Jane and her brother, Peter, can trace their ancestry back to Kemptville.
Henry Fonda was married to Frances Ford Seymour, whose great grandfather was Joseph Bower, a leading merchant and distiller in Kemptville, and the man who built the Oddfellows Hall on Clothier Street.
Joseph was born in South Gower and arrived in Kemptville in 1835. It was noted of him that “All his ventures seem to have been successful financially”. At one point, Joseph and his wife owned what was judged the most extravagant house in Kemptville, at the corner of Clothier and Lydia Streets, and Joseph served as village Treasurer, and on the Kemptville School Board. Joseph married Mary Ann Huntington, herself a member of a prestigious family. Among her ancestral family were two signatories of the American Declaration of Independence, and two American Presidents, John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams.
Joseph and Mary Ann had a number of children before his death in 1870, at the relatively young age of 57 (Mary Ann lived to be 90). One of their sons, Harvey, born in 1848, married the wonderfully-named Frances Marcella Cameron Capel, from Winchester, in 1874. Harvey, too, died early, at the age of just 43, while his wife lived to be 89! One of their seven children, Sophie Mildred Bower, was born in Kemptville in 1886, where Harvey worked as an insurance agent. After his death in 1891, Frances and her children moved to Morrisburg, where Sophie met and married Eugene Ford Seymour, a lawyer from Ogdensburg, New York.
There is a story told by Jane Fonda in her autobiography that Eugene saw Sophie’s photograph in a photographer’s shop window in Ogdensburg and was so entranced that he traced her to Morrisburg, where they married in 1905. The pair had a long life together. Eugene avoided the early deaths of Harvey and Joseph, living to the nice age of 96, while Sophie died in 1974, at the age of 87, having seen her family become famous on the silver screen.
Sophie and Eugene’s daughter, Frances Ford Seymour, was born in Brockville and married George Tuttle Brokaw, a wealthy industrialist, in 1931. But he died after just four years, and Frances then married Henry Fonda, with whom she had two children, Jane and Peter. Henry Fonda’s long career as a successful actor was just getting started when he and Frances married, although he had been in a number of stage productions before that. The marriage was not a happy one, and when Henry asked Frances for a divorce in 1950, she had a breakdown. Frances committed suicide in 1950, on her 42nd birthday. Henry and Frances’ mother, Sophie, were the only people at her funeral.
Henry and Frances’ two children, Lady Jane Fonda and Peter Henry Fonda, and grand-daughter Bridget Fonda, are considered one of Hollywood’s most famous dynasties, Henry won the Oscar as Best Actor, Peter was nominated for two Oscars, one for Best Actor, and Jane has won two Best Actress Oscars.
Jane and Peter’s mother was born in Brockville, and their grandfather and great-grandparents were born in Kemptville. And, before all of these, were Joseph and Mary Ann Bower, natives of North Grenville.
Joseph, Mary Ann, Harvey and Frances are all buried in St. James’ Anglican Cemetery in Kemptville.
And that is North Grenville’s Hollywood Connection. Thanks, again, to Kathy Whitley and Pam Whitehorne for their discoveries.