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.
1852: 167 years ago
Early school in Drayton
From time to time I like to deviate from the usual chronological sequence of this column to feature an interesting tidbit from the earliest years of Peel and Maryborough. Such is the case again this week.
This column was inspired by a letter written by Ezra Adams in August 1849, which I recently acquired. It concerned school funding. Adams addressed it to Alexander Allen in Preston, who apparently had administrative responsibilities for school grants provided by the Province of Canada.
The name of Ezra Adams appeared in a recent column. He was a Methodist minister of stern and serious demeanor who settled near the future site of Drayton in June 1848. His original cabin and those clustered near it soon gained the name of Adamsville, but when postal officials decided to open an office they chose the name Drayton. Adams served as the first postmaster.
That didn’t happen until 1851, two years after Adams wrote this letter. Like most Methodist ministers of the mid-19th century, Adams took an intense interest in education and literacy. It is not at all surprising to see him involved in local education only a year after arriving in the area.
This letter is another piece of evidence to prove that the educational system in Peel was solidly established before the commencement of municipal government.
The letter reads as follows: “Dear Sir, I send you inclosed a receipt for the special grant made to the school section No. 3 in the Township of Peel; and also an order for the first quarter’s instalment due the teacher for the current year.
“As the distance from this to your residence is long; I will be much obliged to you if you will be so kind as to send both sums to me, by letter at Peel, Elora Post Office, which mode of conveyance I consider to be quite safe.
“I suppose the sum of £2-12-5 to be one fourth of the government allowance to our school. Please inform me if this is correct.
“Yours etc., Ezra dams”
The letter raises some questions about the day-to-day administration of the schools. First of all, Adams seems to be acting as secretary-treasurer of the board for Section 3. How were these boards established, and who selected the trustees? Also, was there any local funding to support the school?
From other records and correspondence we know that there was no assessment or voters list in Peel until the establishment of the municipal government in 1850. The quarterly installment mentioned by Adams works out to little more than 10 pounds, or $40, per year. Did the school, before 1850, levy a tuition charge, or accept donations from the families using it? We should remember that compulsory schooling was still 20 years in the future, and a considerable portion of the ratepayers believed that schools should be supported on a “user pay” basis, rather than through taxes.
Rev. Adams does not mention the enrolment in the school, or how many days it operated during the year. Both undoubtedly were factors in the calculation of the provincial grant. Alexander Allen made several notations on the letter, the most important of which is “1 Oct. wrote and sent £5-10” in the lower left margin. This means that the poor teacher eventually did get paid.
Although Adams wrote this letter on Aug. 31, it was not posted until Sept. 3, when either he or a neighbour went to Elora, then the closest post office. In 1849 the mail stage served Elora three times per week, leaving for Guelph during the noon hour. Arrival in Preston would have been very late in the day. Even so, Allen could easily have received the letter less than 24 hours after it was posted.
So much for pioneer communication conditions!
142 years ago
Maintaining the type of schedule set the previous year, Drayton council met frequently in early 1877. On Jan. 29 they met to complete the official appointments for the year and to pay some bills. Among them was $1 to a local hotel for the overnight care of a couple of tramps. With the economy in a downturn, unemployed men wandered widely looking for work. Council also made a call for tenders for a fence around the new fair grounds.
The following night council met again to hear the first proposal regarding the fence. The firm of Shaw and Pawley offered to construct an eight-foot fence around the grounds free of charge, providing the council give them 50% of the revenues from the grounds, excluding the fall fair, for the next seven years. Anxious to keep their expenses down, Reeve Ernes and council accepted the offer without formally calling for tenders.
Drayton council met again on Feb. 12, 17 and 28. At the last meeting they instructed the clerk to obtain a design for an octagonal building 80 feet in diameter, for use as a combined drill shed and meeting hall.
Peel councillors endured a less onerous workload. They met on Feb. 5 to pay bills, amongst which was one from Neil Peffers for $8.75. The amount covered the cost of a coffin and burial for Ellen Johnstone, who had died an indigent. Council also made $10 payments to each of two elderly men who had no other means of support. Peel council would not meet again until March 26.
Palmerston council continued its efforts to diversify its economy. During February they considered a proposal from McKinnon & McAuley, who wanted a $5,000 loan to move their foundry from Tiverton to Palmerston.
Holy Trinity Church in Alma held a tea meeting to raise money for an organ. The evening, held at the Alma school, began with a supper. An evening of music, readings and recitations followed, lasting almost five hours. Dr. George Orton, MP, chaired the tea meeting, an ironic choice, considering the doctor’s reputation as one of the heaviest drinkers in the county.
Teviotdale, in decline since the opening of the railway, suffered another blow when Dr. S.A. Henry closed his office and moved to Harriston.
Armed with a petition bearing 141 Maryborough names, Robert Hay and James Ross went to county council to ask that the county aid in the grading and gravelling of the centre line road through the middle of the township. Township council had already taken the request to the county. The delegation told council that the road was necessary to bring business into Moorefield, and that the deplorable condition of the route caused may residents to take their trade to Listowel. As well, they believed that Maryborough received a disproportionately small share of the county roads budget.
Maryborough had invested $40,000 in the railway on the promise that Moorefield would be a major station. The ratepayers wanted to realize on their investment. County councillors listened carefully, but then decided to defer a decision on the matter to their June sitting.
Meanwhile, to the west, Wallace Township debated a $10,000 investment in the Stratford and Huron Railway, which planned to build from Stratford to Harriston by way of Listowel and Palmerston. In a mid-February vote, the ratepayers approved the measure by a slim majority of seven.
In an attempt to crack down on illegal liquor sales, the provincial inspector hired detectives to pose as legitimate travellers. One of the first caught in this “sting” operation was John Wood of Alma, proprietor of an unlicenced hostelry known as Duncan’s Hotel. He appealed his conviction and $40 fine. Judge Macdonald heard the appeal at Guelph in mid-February 1877. After reviewing the evidence, he found that it was insufficient to prove that Wood had sold whiskey. Wood contended that he charged the agents for dinner and rooms, and that the whiskey he gave them was free. As well as acquitting Wood, the judge strongly criticized the use of agents to secure charges and convictions.
Another tavern keeper. Robert Ramsay of Peel, also found himself in court that month. Michael Dillon, a burly blacksmith, charged the publican with assault during a bar room dust-up. Ramsay pleaded guilty and received a $2 fine.
Mrs. William Askett of Peel made her mark as a pioneer in the egg business. Rather than running a flock of motley laying hens, she took the business more seriously. In February 1877 she was selling 15 dozen eggs per week, at price of 18 cents a dozen, proving that the egg business could be a major source of farm income.
*This column was originally published in the Drayton Community News on Feb. 1 and 15, 2002.