William Lawrence Munro’s death certificate says he died of cirrhosis of the liver in 1929 at age 59. At the time of his death he was living in the Wentworth Arms Hotel which he built in 1913 and owned at his death. His death and funeral drew only a couple of small references in the Hamilton newspapers. It appears Hamilton had largely forgotten a man who, a decade or more earlier had shown early signs of brilliance as an architect and who had designed many beautiful homes, estates, schools and churches in Hamilton and beyond. We know that Lawrence Munro was born in Caledonia, the son of a farmer, but by 1892 was beginning his trade as an architect working for a Toronto firm. His biography says he received education at Oxford, but no record of his enrolment or graduation exists. Whatever the mystery surrounding his education, success came early to Munro with his winning a commission to design the Presbyterian Church in Caledonia, which to this day is a distinctive structure bearing early influences of the Arts and Crafts movement which inspired later architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright. In 1912 he and partner William Mead designed the Victoria Public School in Kitchener now ranked as one of the finest Edwardian structures in Canada. Throughout the first decade of the last century Munro designed many of Hamilton’s finest homes, many in the Aberdeen and Ravensciffe area. His own home, until he built the hotel, was a splendid Edwardian home on Freeman Place. One of his most notable designs was ‘Ballymena,’ the sprawling Oakville mansion of William F. Eaton, of the department store Eaton’s, built in 1916. This project proved to be one of the last major projects for Munro , whose architectural output had slowed after 1913, which was around the time he conceived and built the Wentworth Arms Hotel utilizing the shells of two existing buildings. At the same time Munro was involved in a scheme to develop much of what is now Aldershot, advertising a $1Million stock offering. It is not known how successful this venture was for Munro. The Wentworth Arms was launched amid favourable reviews in the media, who in particular praised the fine furnishings and decorations that Munro had incorporated. From that point until his passing Munro disappears from view. There is a reference to a fire in the hotel in 1928, the year before he died—and a harbinger of the massive fire that ultimately destroyed the landmark in 1975. By 1928 Munro’s two sisters , who like Munro were unmarried, were ensconced in the hotel and appeared to be its managers. We know that Munro was a member of the British Royal Society for the Arts, and that he as a young man was active in militia affairs. Beyond that, this creative and apparently self-made man is one of the hundreds of enigmatic figures that helped shape Hamilton.
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