Long-disappeared Bosworth once a place of importance

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.

Long-disappeared Bosworth was once a place of importance. 

Now it is easy to miss the place completely.

There are a few new houses – but none of the old buildings of Bosworth remain. The only indication that this was a place of importance is a sign facing south bound traffic on Wellington Road 7.

In the early years of Peel and Maryborough, Bosworth, located on the boundary of the two townships, would seem to be the ideal location for a townsite. 

It was on the gravelled Elora and Saugeen Road, midway between Alma and Teviotdale, and at an important crossroad where traffic to Drayton and Hollen turned to the southwest. Bosworth enjoyed a few good years, but was already in decline in the early 1870s.

The origins of Bosworth date to about 1860. It was predated by a nearby ill-fated hamlet known as Walmer, located at the first crossroad to the northwest, about three-quarters of a mile away. The government opened a post office at Walmer in 1854. Two sawmills operated nearby, and a Zion church opened its doors to the new settlers.

The Elora and Saugeen Road made Walmer a backwater. Originally a private company, this road came under the control of the county in 1855. Construction gangs chopped the right of way through Peel and Maryborough that year, but financing problems delayed major construction for years. The route was not completed to Bosworth corner until 1861, and to Teviotdale in 1862.

The county collected tolls on the road during the 1860s, and one of the toll gates was at Bosworth corner. The earliest detailed map of the area, drawn in 1861, shows a hotel on the southwest corner. There are no other buildings, and the settlement had yet to be named.

With the road in a reasonable state of repair, the post office improved its service north of Elora. Stagecoach operators secured contracts for two routes: Elora to Harriston, and Elora to Drayton and Hollen. The latter left the main road at Bosworth.

The post office at Walmer closed in 1863, in favour of a new office at Bosworth. Martin Schneider, a farmer who also ran the Commercial Hotel, became the first Bosworth postmaster.

Bosworth enjoyed a boom over the next seven years. Charles Draper opened a store, and the post office soon moved to this location. Samuel Zingg opened a second hotel, the Ontario House. Two blacksmithing shops, one of which also built carriages, competed for business.

A furniture maker operated for a time, as did a boot and shoe maker. A second store opened for business in 1868. Martin Schneider soon devoted most of his time to cattle dealing. He sold his hotel to Timothy Chalmers.

Traffic on the Elora and Saugeen Road increased through the 1860s. On a typical night, some 20 freight wagons with their teamsters would stop overnight at Bosworth. Sometimes there were more. A boarding house handled the overflow from the two hotels.

The boom did not last. Storm clouds, or rather, locomotive smoke, appeared on the horizon in 1870. The Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway opened to Harriston in the fall of that year. The railway’s route ran through Drayton, bypassing Bosworth by almost three miles.

Traffic on the Elora and Saugeen Road fell dramatically in 1871 as shippers and travellers diverted their business. Drayton enjoyed a boom at the expense of the all the surrounding hamlets. Postal revenue at Bosworth shows the effect. The best year for this office was 1870, when revenue topped $125. That translates to about 15 outgoing letters per day. Revenue in 1871 declined by 40%.

The wagon factory with its associated blacksmith shop closed late in 1871, and one of the stores soon after. In early July 1872, a fire destroyed those vacant buildings, taking with it the Commercial Hotel, run at the time by Louis Boupre. Other buildings barely escaped.

There was not sufficient business for the remaining hotel. The Ontario House closed in 1873. Storekeeper Charles Draper died, and his wife struggled to keep a few customers coming through the door. She bailed out in the summer of 1874, offering the store and post office for rent.

The Elora Observer lamented the decline and near extinction of Bosworth in July 1874. Several of the houses, it noted, had become the homes of retired people, and others were available at very low rents.

The obituary was slightly premature. 

Martin Schneider, who, as proprietor of the first hotel, could be considered the founder of Bosworth, returned to business and took over the store. He could not make a success of it, and the Bosworth store closed permanently in the early 1880s.

The Ontario House went through a succession of publicans, who rented the hotel for one-year terms. A widow, Mary Leader, bought the property in 1878, but she could not keep up her mortgage payments. She lost the property in 1881. 

Michael Casey picked it up at a low price, and kept it open until 1899, when he decided to concentrate on farming.

There was one bright spot in Bosworth in the 1880s. John Gordon reopened the remaining blacksmith shop, and did a steady business with horse shoeing and repairs to farm implements.

Bosworth enjoyed a minor renaissance in the years immediately before the First World War, based on rising agricultural prices and a more prosperous farming sector. Mike Casey reopened the door to the Ontario House about 1906, and John Watt took a fling at store keeping.

These two businesses, along with Gordon’s blacksmith shop and the post office, constituted the renewed business sector of Bosworth.

The post office closed in 1914, with the introduction of rural mail delivery. With no reason for farmers to go regularly to Bosworth, the other businesses soon expired.

In retrospect, Bosworth suffered a 50-year lingering death following the completion of the railway through Peel and Maryborough. 

Its period of health was more concentrated than that of any other Wellington County hamlet: from nothing through boom and prosperity to bust in a period of only 10 years.

Not only have all the buildings of old Bosworth gone, the victims of decay, fire, and road widening, but most historical evidence is gone as well. 

The majority of the buildings were constructed on unsevered lots. Few assessment records for either Peel or Maryborough have survived, and there are none before 1883.

I have never seen a 19th century photograph of Bosworth, but there may be some buried away in someone’s attic. It is therefore impossible to determine the sizes and shapes of the various buildings, or their precise locations. Detailed research on the hamlet would require metal detectors and archaeological spade work.

Still, there is sufficient evidence to show that Bosworth was once a place of some importance, and might well have become a more consequential one. 

We should reflect on this idea each time we pass through the Bosworth intersection.

*This column was originally published in the Wellington Advertiser on June 7, 1999.

Thorning Revisited