Summer hail storms can be violent and dangerous.
Fortunately for us in Wellington County, they are rare events, and when they do occur the damage is usually quite local in nature.
Perhaps the worst of the hail storms in this county swept through parts of Minto, Arthur, and Maryborough Townships, in the vicinity of Teviotdale, on the morning of Aug. 1, 1890. Damage was heaviest in an oval-shaped area about four miles by two miles, and totalling about 3,200 acres, but a larger area in Wellington experienced minor damage.
Portions of five townships in adjoining counties also suffered significantly that morning.
The storm occurred near the end of a heat wave, during which daytime temperatures hovered between 95 and 100 degrees.
Storms came in on Aug. 1 and 2. On the latter day, there were heavy isolated rainstorms through the area. One in the Harriston area produced some more hail, accompanied by winds that uprooted trees. In the Elora area, there was a magnificent display of lightning.But none of that equalled what had happened in the Teviotdale area on the morning of Aug. 1. According to J.J. Cook, of Mount Forest, who visited the scene and reported on it to the Mount Forest Representative, about 1,500 acres of the affected area were in Minto, a similar amount in Maryborough, and about 200 acres across the line in Arthur.
The hail stones were large ones, up the size of robin’s eggs, but what made the storm especially destructive was the driving wind that accompanied the storm.
Damage to grain fields and crops in the area hit by the storm made anyone who visited feel ill. In some of the grain fields, not a single head could be found on the stalks. Pods on peas were torn into pieces as if someone had snipped them with scissors. In orchards, most of the apples were knocked to the ground, and the few still hanging in the trees had gouges in them.
Faced with mortgage payments and other bills, and their crops partially, and in about 30 cases, completely wiped out, farmers affected by the storm were in a state of panic. Immediately after the storm they discussed the situation among themselves. A couple of leaders quickly emerged, and they called a meeting for the morning of Aug. 6 at Teviotdale.
Though there was no time to advertise the gathering in any of the weekly papers, the meeting was very well attended. Also present were MP James McMullen, MPP A.S. Allan, and reeves John Corbett, of Maryborough, and John Darroch, of Minto. All expressed their sympathy with the sufferers. After much discussion, the meeting approved three resolutions. The first requested that each municipality appoint an evaluator to assess the damage. The second requested that the municipalities grant aid to the sufferers, perhaps in the form of tax relief.
The last resolution would be sent to Wellington’s federal and provincial members, urging them to lobby for aid on behalf of their constituents.
The following week the reeves of Minto, Maryborough, and Arthur Township called special council meetings.
Reeve Darroch, of Minto, was most anxious for quick action. He called his council into session on the morning of Aug. 11.
His council appointed him the evaluator for Minto, and authorized him to meet with the valuators appointed by Arthur and Maryborough.
Specifically, Reeve Darroch was to establish the financial losses suffered by farmers, and “to inquire into the financial standing of the several parties.”
Clearly, councillors did not intend to assist anyone who was prosperous. As well as the reeve’s valuation of losses, another motion requested any farmer requesting aid to submit to council his own valuation of his loss. Arthur Township council appointed its reeve, and Maryborough its deputy-reeve to conduct evaluations and meet with the other affected townships.
All three men realized that the evaluations placed on losses could be a delicate political matter. Only a small proportion of the farmers of the three townships had suffered losses, but they could still be a factor in the coming municipal elections. On the other side, unaffected farmers were disinclined to pay special tax assessments to aid the afflicted.
When the three met in mid August, they decided to appoint a Mr. Wilson, of the Rothsay area, as the man to do all the evaluations. That would provide consistency, and remove them from charges of favouring one farmer over another.
Wilson had his reports in the hands of the three councils in time for their September meetings. In Arthur, for example, he found damage on 23 farms, with losses ranging from $90 to $475. To put that in context, wheat prices at that time hovered in the range of 90 cents per bushel. The total loss for Arthur topped the $5,000 mark, sufficient to cause the faces of the tight-fisted men at the council table to blanch. The totals were much higher for Maryborough and Minto.
Rather than discussing the aid, Arthur councillors instead made a big deal over the charge made by Wilson for the evaluation: $7.50. Two of the councillors believed that $5 would be more realistic, but they took no action because one of the councillors could not attend the meeting.
Minto considered Wilson’s report for that township on Sept. 22. Councillors there voted to receive the report officially, but there was no motion made to take any action on it. For Minto, Wilson reduced his bill to $3, claiming the work took him a day and a half. Minto paid the account without protest. The fate of the report in Maryborough was similar.
By October, more than three months after the hail storm, the affected farmers were growing restless over the lack of progress with their requests for help. There had been generous promises at the Teviotdale meeting in August, but since then politicians at all levels seemed to be backing away from the issue. No township had taken any action with Wilson’s report, and not a peep had been heard from Queen’s Park. At the Minto council meeting of Oct. 27, farmer David Nicholson presented a petition signed by himself and 13 of his neighbours, all of whom had sustained major losses. Councillors accepted the document, but took no action.
The last hope for the sufferers was Wellington County council, which met during the first week of December. None of the reeves of the three townships put the matter on the agenda. That seems to have been the end of the trail for the farmers seeking help.
It is quite possible that the 1890 hail storm forced some farmers who lost all or most of their crops to abandon agriculture. Though the accounts are incomplete and no photographs seem to have been taken, the 1890 hail storm may have been the worst ever experienced in Wellington County. The lack of aid forthcoming to the victims showed vividly that agriculture could be the most financially precarious of occupations.
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