Briefs: Churches, fires, taxes, trade boards and a runaway horse

While searching through old records and newspapers I frequently stumble on very interesting items that are not sufficiently long for a full column.

During the past few years, on a number of occasions, I have gathered several of these unrelated items together. Readers seem to enjoy these columns, so for 2014 I will end the year with a couple more.

The town of Harriston was a centre of Protestantism from its founding until well into the 20th century. The Roman Catholic church did not have a presence there, excepting a few isolated services, until the last days of 1930. In the late summer of 1930 a small group of Catholics in the Harriston area acquired the old Minto Township Hall, and set about converting it into a church. The group was not large, but compensated for their small numbers with great enthusiasm.

Vital to the success of the initiative was the support of the merchants and the leading citizens of Harriston. Altogether, Protestants donated more than $500 in Depression-era money to help establish the church. Others managed to find items to donate, such as an organ and some lighting fixtures.

On Sunday, Dec. 14, 1930, Father Doyle of Mount Forest celebrated the first mass in the building. The special guest was Rev. Dr. Ryan of Hamilton, who was later made a bishop.

Father Ryan offered an eloquent and appropriate sermon. The church was filled to overflowing for the service, with Catholics very much in the minority, outnumbered by visitors from the other Harriston congregations. The new church was dedicated as the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle. Following the opening service, mass was celebrated weekly at St. Thomas Church. The priest came each week from Mount Forest.

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The cluster of barn fires in 1929 and 1930 in West Luther, Arthur, Nichol and West Garafraxa Townships and described in this column earlier this year, continued into 1931.

At about 3am on the morning of April 13, 1931, several neighbours were awakened by the glow of flames coming from the barn of Bill McGivney on Concession 4 of West Luther. The neighbours quickly gathered to try to fight the fire, but they immediately realized that it was so far advanced that there was nothing they could do.

As well as the barn, the fire claimed a quantity of hay and straw, a hayloader and a manure spreader, along with miscellaneous small items.

Fortunately, McGivney had no livestock in the barn at the time.

As the neighbours watched the barn burning, someone glanced away and noticed that another barn, on a farm owned by Mrs. Ed Skerritt, was also on fire. It was more than a half mile away, but strong winds had carried burning shingles from the McGivney fire which had landed on the roof of the Skerritt barn, setting it ablaze.

The crowd at the McGivney farm hurried to the neighbouring property, and succeeded in getting out most of the livestock, but they were unsuccessful in saving the barn. Also lost were a few sheep, who refused to leave the doomed building despite the efforts of the men present. McGivney had no idea how the first fire began. As there were no animals in the barn, he did not go into it every day. He did discover some footprints around the barn and on the roadway that he claimed did not match those of anyone in his household. But no suspect was ever identified.

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One day in late January of 1929, Mr. and Mrs. John A. Bosomworth of Pilkington Township went to Elora by horse and cutter to do some shopping. Mrs. Bosomworth stepped out of the cutter on Geddes Street near what is now the Bell Telephone Exchange. She wanted to pick up a few things at Bell Brothers store across the street.

Bosomworth waited in the cutter alone. The horse was a little restive that day, and it took fright at a dog that came up and started barking. Then a noisy truck rolled by. That was too much for Dobbin. He took off at a gallop, as Bosomworth struggled to gain control. A block down the main street the reins broke, leaving Bosomworth without any hope of controlling of the horse.

The horse and rig continued a wild course down the street. Bosomworth, realizing the danger, risked injury by jumping from the cutter near the corner of Metcalfe and James Streets. The horse continued on its crazed course, first running into a boulder at the corner, and then running into the yard of the Royal Hotel (now the site of the Elora Legion) and crashing into the hotel barn.

The crash caused frightful injuries to the horse. Some volunteers managed to get the quadruped onto a stoneboat and moved to Hammill’s livery stable nearby. The veterinarian did his best to save the animal, but it died about four hours after the crash from what the vet said were internal injuries.

Bosomworth’s loss was about $200. He also had a shaking up that he did not soon forget, and downtown Elora experienced a rare few moments of excitement.

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In general, the towns and villages of Wellington rarely enjoyed sustained vitality in their Boards of Trade and Chambers of Commerce.

There were occasional exceptions, though.

One of those was the Arthur Board in the early 1930s. Arthur had little industry, and was hard hit by the Depression of the 1930s. Nevertheless, the Board of Trade there took an active role of leadership in the village. At its annual meeting, in April of 1931, the board voted in favour of a water works system for Arthur, and then voted a committee of their officers to work with council, which was reluctant to undertake major projects, to secure costs estimates and push the plan to completion.

Board of Trade members had been talking about a water system for weeks, and they invited a construction company to the meeting to answer technical questions. Members discussed the advantages of a water system in reducing fire insurance costs and attracting industry. The construction company pointed out that costs in 1931 were lower than they had been for a decade.

The members ignored the usual calls of small town businessmen for lower taxes, and agreed that the benefits of the water system would more than offset the costs.

A distressing item on the agenda that night was the Canadian Pacific announcement that service on their line through Arthur would drop from two trains each way to a single trip daily.

That would drastically impact the mail service to and from Arthur. The board voted to take up the matter with MP J.K. Blair, and endeavour to have the postal service maintained using trucks.

The Arthur Board of Trade decided on the half-day closing for the summer of 1931. In many other places that was a contentious matter, with a consensus hard to achieve, and frequently a few merchants attempting to secure an advantage by ignoring the uniform hours. The board decided members should close their stores on Wednesday afternoons from May through October, and remain open on the preceding Tuesday evenings.

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The matter of lower taxes in 1931 had greater traction at county council than it did with the Arthur Board of Trade. County councillors voted to cut their road budget by 50%, thus ensuring a lower county rate.

It would prove to be a short-sighted move, and create problems for county council in the future.

But as the saying goes, that is a matter for another time.


Stephen Thorning