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.
165 years ago – September 1854
Farmers in Peel and Maryborough finished their 1854 harvest during the first 10 days of September.
Fall wheat provided a somewhat disappointing yield, but spring wheat fulfilled all but the most optimistic expectations. The area had suffered a drought in July, but it caused no serious harm locally, unlike the mid-western U.S.
Dry weather aided the harvest. Most people expected grain prices to improve. The market seemed to be strong, and a free trade measure before the provincial legislature promised to open new markets in the U.S.
Maryborough council met in special session on Sept. 3 to reconsider an issue that had given them a lot of grief over the previous year. Their plan to divert the Peel-Maryborough Townline Road at the eastern boundary of Drayton hit another snag. In attempting to secure the right-of-way they were clearly in violation of the Municipal Act, according to their legal advisor. Consequently, they revoked two bylaws establishing the new course through Lot 18, Con. 11.
The attempted rerouting would have permitted a less costly crossing of the river, but it carried the road through a barn on the property. The Townline Road remained on its original alignment.
The regular monthly session of Maryborough council took place on Sept. 18 and 19. On the first day, councillors approved new rates of pay for township officials: $15 per year for the assessor, $1.50 per day for the auditors, $40 per year for the clerk, $10 per year for the treasurer, and $2 per day for the returning officer. The following day they set tax rates for the school sections, and formed a committee to consider, in cooperation with Peel, the matter of a bridge at the controversial Con. 11 site. After dealing with a list of routine matters, councillors adjourned until Nov. 25.
Creekbank promised to be a new trading centre, with the announcement that Robert Philip, a recent arrival from Scotland, planned to build a large sawmill there. The hamlet already had a post office, store and a barrel-making shop.
As the result of the signing of a new treaty with the Mississauga Indians, portions of Grey and Bruce Counties would be opened to settlers after surveyors had laid out several new townships. There were widespread fears that political insiders would manage to get their hands on large tracts of the land as private speculations.
The summer of 1854 saw major progress with the road system, following three years of political manoeuvring and broken promises. David Gibson, with the provincial surveyor general’s office, issued a report stating that work was pushing ahead rapidly on 65 miles of the Elora and Saugeen Road, 30 miles of the Woolwich and Huron Road, and 45 miles of the Southampton and Goderich Road. All the contracts, both road and bridge, had been let on the Elora and Saugeen Road [now Wellington Road 7 and Highway 9], and that steeper hills would be cut down.
John Boyd of Peel shot what became known as “the king of bears” on the farm of one of his neighbours, where Bruin had acquired a taste for piglets. Boyd lay in wait for the black bear. He claimed to have shot it from 160 yards, with a shot that penetrated the animal’s kidney and heart, a remarkable feat of marksmanship considering the rather crude single-shot firearms of the period. The animal ran a short distance before falling dead.
The carcass yielded about 260 pounds of bear meat, plus a good hide and about 75 pounds of bear fat. The bear measured 66 inches from its nose to the base of the tail, and its forehead was 9 inches across. Experts in such matters considered it the largest ever shot in Peel.
Other bears had been seen in Peel Township, and a general bear hunt was called for Sept. 14.
The Elora Fall Fair, sponsored by the Pilkington Agricultural Society, took place on Oct. 6. Most of the entries and prize winners came from Pilkington, but dozens of people attended from Peel and Maryborough. The competition included classes for horses and cattle, seeds, vegetables, grain, cloth, butter, cheese, homemade wooden ploughs, and maple sugar. For farmers it was a chance to socialize after a hard season of work.
Many of them used the visit to shop in Elora’s stores, to transact business at the crown land office, or to enquire about the sale of grain.
90 years ago – August 1929
A dry spell in July 1929 ended with a memorable thunderstorm on the first day of August.
Lightning strikes killed seven head of cattle and four horses in five separate strikes. Severest conditions hit eastern Peel and parts of Arthur Townships.
The storm had ended by the afternoon of Aug. 1, when the Drayton Athletic Association sponsored horse races and baseball games. Although the races attracted good horses, the crowd was disappointing. As well, there were two accidents, when drivers were thrown from their sulkies. More people watched the baseball games, as Palmerston defeated Arthur 15-9, and then took on the local Drayton team, beating them 11-7. The Palmerston Brass Band played during the afternoon, and in the evening a good crowd enjoyed a Buster Keaton comedy at the Town Hall. They ended the day by dancing to a six-piece orchestra at the Chevrolet garage.
Several area farmers encountered the Protection to Animals Act. That piece of legislation attempted to outlaw the breeding of unregistered cattle. Agricultural Representative reported that four area farmers received stiff fines under its provisions.
Palmerston experienced some rare excitement during the first week of the month. The manager of a midway that had set up in town overheard two of his employees plotting to rob Palmerston’s Bank of Commerce branch. He immediately summoned Chief Wilson. The ringleader fled when he saw the chief, and a pursuit ensued, with the aid of the Provincial Police. They chased him into a swamp, but three days later they gave up. The suspect was never seen again.
The county’s treasurer reported the highest expenditures ever on road work in 1928: $286,000 by the county, and $431,000 by the province, 20% of which was paid by the county. In early August, Premier Ferguson announced that provincial road subsidies to rural municipalities would increase.
Major road work continued into 1929, with contracts let for the paving of Highway 6 from Arthur to Mount Forest. Godson Construction of Toronto tackled the Arthur-Kenilworth section, and Dufferin Construction the remainder. The surface was asphalt, covered with a layer of tar and crushed stone.
Drayton undertook another major project: the paving of about two miles of streets within the village. Brennan Construction of Hamilton had the contract. Excavation and grading on the downtown streets hampered retail merchants from mid August until well into September.
Palmerston marked the civic holiday with an Old Home gathering on Aug. 5. The day featured an afternoon concert and simultaneous dances in the evening, one at the arena and the other on Main Street. Estimates put the afternoon crowd at 9,000.
Reeve A.B. McColgan was in the chair when Drayton council met on Aug. 6. Councillors passed a bylaw regulating pedlars and transient salesmen. There were only a few bills: A.F. Flewwelling for 15 hours of grading streets for $8.25 in total, George Bramhall for 10 hours of labour at 25 cents an hour, and a six-month printing bill from the Advocate totalling $49.25.
S.P. Treleaven, who purchased the Goldstone Blacksmith shop in April, closed the business, and moved part of the building to his shop in Alma. It was another major blow to the once prosperous hamlet.
Drayton’s school gardens had a visit from the judges on Aug. 1. Each student had an area of one square rod (272 square feet), and all contained corn, potatoes, tomatoes, beets, carrots, onions, and flowers. Girls dominated the prize list. Marj Davis, Helen Jackson, Margaret Johnston, Leone Noecker, and Marjorie McEwen took the top prizes.
Maryborough’s council met on Aug. 12, with reeve Christie wielding the gavel. The major item was finalizing the 1929 budget and setting the tax rate. Councillors also paid a long list of bills, most for road grading and cutting weeds.
Peel council met the same day at Kaiser’s Hall in Goldstone, with a similar agenda. The largest account paid was a $2,000 partial payment to Frank Lynch for the replacement of Woolner’s bridge.
At about 6am on Aug. 12, a minor earthquake shook hundreds of people from their beds. No major damage was reported, but reports of rattling dishes were common. The tremor was detected by the Dominion Observatory in Ottawa.
The big social event of the month was the St. Martin’s Church garden party on Aug. 21. It was a fundraising event, and the organizers put together a program that appealed to the entire community. An afternoon baseball game pitted the Drayton locals against their Arthur rivals. Those who eschewed baseball enjoyed a lively horseshoe competition. Supper was served from 5:30 to 8pm, and the evening program consisted of a fiddling contest, a clog dancing competition, and a variety show featuring local talent. Drayton’s merchants supported the garden party by closing for the day. They remained open late the previous evening.
In the Rothsay area, Herman Mitchell attracted some volunteer superintendents to watch the raising of his new steel barn. One of the first steel barns in the area, it replaced an old barn destroyed in an electrical storm in June.
Agricultural Representative R.H. Clemens noted that wild carrot had invaded the north part of Wellington, and was becoming a major problem in hay fields. The noxious weed had already overrun Huron County, ruining some crops. Clemens stated that the weed seemed to be advancing five to 10 miles per year, but so far was restricted to the area north of the Grand River.
*This column was originally published in the Drayton Community News on Aug. 20 and Sept. 17, 2004.