John Verner was born in Ulster, Ireland (now Northern Ireland) in 1832. The Verner family immigrates to Montreal, Canada in 1840. While in Montreal, John Verner meets his future wife Mary Ann Noble in 1849 when the young Noble/Fleming family immigrates to Canada. John Verner shows his young future wife Mary Ann around Montreal, and they witness the burning of the Parliament building by an angry Tory mob. The Verners eventually leave Montreal and choose to settle in Toronto like many other Irish immigrant families including the Noble/Fleming family. In 1854, Mary Ann Noble, or as she’s better known, Aunt Polly, marries John Verner on May 15th. The older groom has a promising career as a tailor, and has a good job at the Customs House as a land waiter to support his young family and 17 year old wife. Family legend has it that political connections to Sir John A. MacDonald helped John Verner obtain the much sought after job in the Customs house. The young Verner couple lives on West Charles Street with his wife’s two twin sisters, Rebecca and Isabella, who live with them until their own marriages.
By 1861, John Verner had lost his job at the Customs House, and he and Aunt Polly decide to become merchants in Cabbagetown. They bought a storefront location at 205 Parliament Street (now numbered 283 Parliament Street). John Verner started to build this store and house location from the back in incremental stages and scrounged together second-hand lumber to build the property. The Verners never had any children of their own, but they looked after the orphans of children from the area and ostensibly raised twelve children. Polly and John’s good nature did not end with the rearing of neighbourhood orphans, they were also guardians of the working poor. The Cabbagtown Store offered store credit to working class families, something which very few merchants did back in the 1800s.
John Verner was more than a Cabbagetown merchant, he was also a decorated soldier who fought in the Fenian raid war. He was apart of Number 1 Rifle Company and was deployed at the Battle of Ridgeway (Niagara Falls) in 1866. This military action repelled the invading Irish-American forces which were threatening to invade, and cut Canadian western territory away from the eastern territory.
By 1870, Polly and John Verner had saved up enough to move onto Parliament street to be closer to their store. By 1900 all their ‘adopted’ children had grown up and moved out of house, and the Cabbagetown Store’s dwindling sales necessitate the need for the Verner family to sell and move into a brick house on Bathurst and St. Clair, near Polly’s half brother R.J. Fleming. 1914 Aunt Polly and John Verner celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary, and not long after, John Verner passed away in 1915.