The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.
Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.
(Note: From 2001 to 2008 Stephen Thorning wrote a history column for the Advertiser’s sister paper, The Drayton Community News. This week’s “Valuing our History Revisited” is from two of those columns, published in December 2001.)
Depression conditions continued with meagre signs of relief into the Christmas season of 1933, putting a damper on celebrations for the fourth straight year.
Editor B.J. Garbutt of the Drayton Advocate told readers if they could not pay all their bills they should “pay what you can, and pay the local man first.”
An epidemic of jackrabbits in the Drayton area continued, and provided a good supplementary source of food for many tables in the form of rabbit pie and rabbit stew. Ben Harwood claimed that he had bagged two of them with one shot. The larger weighed 19 pounds. Another hunter shot four in one afternoon, averaging 12 pounds each.
Canadian National Railways, pleased with the popularity of its half-fare specials, offered another on Dec. 16: $1.60 from Drayton to Toronto and return. The southbound train that morning consisted of 11 coaches, rather than the usual two or three, in addition to express and mail cars, and fell hopelessly behind schedule due to the heavy patronage.
Merchants in the small towns on the route criticized the special fares, insisting they encouraged people to do their Christmas shopping out of town. Later in the month, both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific offered massive discounts for all travel for three days at Christmas and again for New Year’s.
In keeping with the poor economic conditions, O.B. Henry suggested practical Christmas gifts for 1933, such as five gallons of coal oil for 90 cents, and 45-volt radio batteries for $1.69. Several stores had Prairie Rose flour in 98-pound bags at $2.25, just in time for Christmas baking. Watt’s Mill in Palmerston topped that with a price of $2.10 for its own brand of flour. In Moorefield, John H. Weppler offered men’s wool sweaters for $2.95.
For those without the time or energy to bake, the Drayton Bakery had English plum puddings, fancy cookies and other treats, including freshly made doughnuts, at 15 cents per dozen.
On Dec. 11 the Palmerston Anglican Young People’s Group offered the play And Mary Did at the Drayton Town Hall. Admission of 25 cents included a chance on a draw for a big afghan.
Santa made appearances at a community Christmas tree celebration in Moorefield on Dec. 16, and at several church concerts during the following week. There was a second big event in Moorefield on Dec. 22, when the United Church put on an evening of seasonal entertainment at the Maryborough Town Hall.
Buyers for dressed fowl offered 10 to 16 cents per pound for chickens (the higher amounts for larger birds), 11 cents a pound for ducks, and 12 cents for geese. Few buyers wanted live birds. Prices were far below the levels of 15 years earlier.
Palmerston’s Chamber of Commerce offered free movies for youngsters on Dec. 16. Adults could attend the fourth showing of the day, at 9pm, for 10 cents.
At the annual meeting of the United Farmers Co-operatives of Ontario, W.A. Ames was elected president for 1934. The secretary-treasurer remained J.J. Morrison, originally of the Arthur area.
Most merchants reported much better sales volumes for the Christmas season than they had in the previous three. But no one thought the Depression was yet over.
Sub-zero temperatures, heavy snowfalls and blocked roads during the last week of the month caused embarrassment to those seers who had predicted a mild and open winter. Rural mail carriers had a particularly hard time making their routes. Some walked over fields to complete their rounds, and at least one pressed his collie dog into hauling a sled over part of the route. Many areas were without mail for days.
December 1901 in Drayton and Area
S.J. Delmage operated the largest store in Rothsay’s tiny but entirely respectable retail sector a century ago. There were clothing specials, marked down for the Christmas market.
The year 1901 ended on a happy note for farmers. Grain prices continued a steady upward movement, with no end in sight. Several sharp grain buyers toured the area, trying to talk farmers into selling their grain for future delivery. Few showed any interest. Horse dealers also called on farmers, gathering strong young animals for shipment to the army in South Africa.
Farm values began to reflect the improving prospects for agriculture by the end of 1901. Philip Oswald was the first to hit the $60 per acre mark when he sold his 100-acre farm on Con. 2 of Peel for $6,000. On average, farms were selling 10% higher than a year earlier.
In nearby Stirton, Henry Braun abandoned the small tannery and moved to Toronto. His friends and neighbours gave him and his family an oyster supper before they departed.
The intellectual stature of Glen Allan rose with the creation of a public library by a group of citizens. They staged a fundraising concert, and received two shipments of books by year end.
Young Methodists enjoyed a day off for an Epworth League convention at Moorefield on Dec. 19. Schools closed the following day for the Christmas break. Most suspended regular classes in the afternoon to mark Christmas. Drayton Public School put on a recital featuring well-rehearsed pupils. It attracted more than a hundred visitors to the school.
A few days before Christmas, the Rothsay lodge of the Good Templars of Temperance organized a Christmas sleigh ride to Harriston for a dance. After tea and biscuits for refreshments, they returned home, arriving after 3am. The rapidly growing lodge added a gallery in their hall in Rothsay to provide more seating, and made plans for further renovations to the structure.
Most of the churches in the area scheduled Christmas tree services, featuring music and enactments by Sunday school pupils. These came with a flurry in the week before Christmas, but at least one was scheduled for Dec. 21.
An outbreak of measles hit hard in the Parker and Rothsay areas during the month. Attendance at the Parker school was so low that the board considered closing a week early for the Christmas holidays.
The Drayton Methodist Church advertised a gala concert on Christmas evening, featuring Jessica Hambly of the London School of Elocution. She cancelled at the last minute. R.D. Norris of Elora substituted. His gashouse baritone shook the chandeliers and delighted the audience. The Drayton Quartette backed him up, while R.D.’s wife provided piano accompaniment. Norris had recently sold his drug store in Elora, and was preparing to embark on a career as a professional musician.
A week later there was another concert in Drayton, featuring the London Concert Orchestra at Drayton’s old town hall. Their selections of light classical music provoked an enthusiastic response from the overflow house.
Many regarded it as the best music ever played in the village. The proceeds went to new instruments for the Drayton Brass Band.
*These columns were originally published in the Drayton Community News in December 2001.