News from Maryborough Township in 1851 and 1876

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.



167 years ago – May-June 1851

Aided by good weather, settlers in Peel and Maryborough worked long hours to get a crop planted on land they had cleared last year, and to clearing as much additional land as they could.

The Crown Lands office in Elora had, by the late spring of 1851, sold the majority of the land in the two townships, and settlers were streaming in. The townships still seemed largely a vast forest, with less than 4% of the land cleared.

Maryborough council met on May 20, 1851, and voted to alter the courses of some roadways from the original survey due to difficulties with terrain. Council considered the lack of roads of any sort to be a great impediment to settlers and progress. They voted to require one extra day of statute labour from every man on the assessment roll so that most of the roadways could at least be cleared of trees and brush.

Like everyone else in the area, Maryborough councillors were preoccupied with their own farms. At the end of the May 20 meeting they adjourned until Oct. 14. At that time a council meeting required an overnight journey for at least some of the councillors.

Early in May the provincial government announced the school grants for the year 1851. Peel and Maryborough qualified for a total of £27, or about $110. By comparison, Nichol Township, which in 1851 had been completely settled for more than a decade and boasted a large population of children, received £61.

Maryborough had set up a system of school sections early in 1851, but it would not be functioning effectively for another two or three years.

When settlers got together, the volatile state of politics in the Province of Canada frequently dominated the conversation. Of particular interest in the early summer of 1851 was the Territorial Divisions Bill, which restructured the county system of government. There had been a major revision only two years before, when the province abolished districts and set up a system of county governments. Peel and Maryborough, along with the balance of what would later become Wellington County, were designated part of Waterloo County at that time.

The new bill would dissolve the county structure of 1849. In its place, Waterloo, Wellington and Grey would exist as individual counties, but would be united in a single county council. Peel and Maryborough were attached to Wellington in the new grouping. Some thought they properly belonged with Waterloo, which was reduced to only five townships, compared to 12 in Wellington. The bill passed, but there would be two more alterations to the map before Wellington County assumed a permanent form in 1854. The sentiments of residents on these changes were strong and partisan, because parliamentary representation corresponded strictly with county borders.

Transportation and communications ranked at the top of the list of concerns in Peel and Maryborough. There was much glee over the commencement, in June 1851, of a weekly stagecoach between Guelph and Owen Sound via Elora, Fergus and Arthur. The stage made mail service more predictable and regular. Peel and Maryborough residents used the post offices at all three of those points, and the new service connected with a run between Elora and Drayton. The stage line provided same-day mail service to Guelph, and overnight service to Hamilton.

There was more good news for the settlers at the meeting of county council in June. The Elora and Saugeen Road Company, which proposed to build a toll road through Peel and Maryborough, had held its annual meeting on June 2. The directors, all with strong Elora and Salem connections, petitioned county council a week later for a loan of £1,600 to assist with construction, to be raised through a debenture issue by the county.

The directors offered their own stock as security, and agreed to a requirement that the road would revert to the county should the company default. County council voted 15-8 in favour of a £1,500 loan, payable in 5, 7 and 10 years.

Most of the opposition came from the future Waterloo County; they did not want to pay for something they were unlikely to use. The money was earmarked for the stretch of road between Ponsonby and Elora, now Wellington Road 7, and as far beyond Elora as possible. Those to the north and west of Elora strongly supported the expenditure. By lowering transportation costs, the road would mean more net money in their pockets from the crops they sold.

Peel and Maryborough settlers managed to get a crop planted, though the typical farm was unimpressive – a field of two or three acres under cultivation. But there were already two mills in existence, others under construction, and willing grain buyers in Fergus and Elora waiting for the fall crop.

Commercial agriculture was under way in the new townships, and the big wheat boom lay only a couple of years ahead.


142 years ago – May 1876

Quarreling Presbyterians attracted much attention in Palmerston and area during May 1876. By a majority vote, the congregation of Palmerston’s Presbyterian Church filed a list of grievances against their minister, Rev. Daniel Anderson, among which was one of “preaching too high.” A special meeting of the Saugeen Presbytery convened in Palmerston to hear the charges. The governing body quickly concluded that the complaints against the clergyman were “trivial and vexatious, and scarcely warranted a visitation of the Presbytery.” To prevent further trouble, the Presbytery separated the Rothsay church from Palmerston, and combined it with Moorefield under a single minister. The Rothsay and Moorefield Presbyterians welcomed Rev. Anderson as their minister, while Palmerston began a search for a replacement.

Well into its second year of existence, following incorporation in 1875, Drayton council wrestled with some expensive capital projects, and decided to petition county council for assistance on two: a new bridge on Wellington Street and repairs to the Main Street bridge. Following complaints about pools of reeking stagnant water in the centre of the village, council decided to install a drain made of six-inch clay tile.

Drayton council also sought the help of Peel and Maryborough councils in grading and graveling the Peel-Maryborough town line from Bosworth, though Drayton to Hollen, offering to supply $2,000 if like sums came from the two townships. Peel and Maryborough had major road projects of their own, and both sought county assistance with the cost. Maryborough voted to borrow $5,000 for improvements to the township’s centre side road, which passed through Moorefield and had become a major thoroughfare since the opening of the Moorefield railway station.

At a meeting in Northgreaves Hotel in Glen Allan on June 2, Peel council voted to grade and gravel the centre side road through that township, all the way from Arthur through Parker to Macton. This route provided access to the railway stations at Goldstone and Arthur. Peel sought $4,000 from the county.

Drayton wasn’t alone in 1876 in dealing with stagnant water. Palmerston council bit the bullet and hired an engineer to solve serious drainage problems in its main streets.

The liquor commissioners met in Drayton to issue tavern licences for the year. After hearing reports from various inspectors and examining the applications, they issued licences to five hotels in Palmerston, three in Drayton, three in Moorefield, two each in Glen Allan and Rothsay, and others in Goldstone, Hollen, Bosworth, Parker, Alma, Stirton, Macton, and three others in rural areas. A municipality’s population determined the maximum number allowable. Due to this provision, the commissioners rejected one application in Drayton and four in Palmerston. This brought loud charges of favoritism, particularly from Palmerston residents.

At a meeting on May 2, 1876, Palmerston council voted to borrow money to purchase land for a market ground, and to build appropriate structures on it. Had they been observant, they would have realized that the monthly cattle markets, so popular in the 1860s, were in decline everywhere in Wellington. Cattle buyers where now calling from farm to farm to make their purchases. When council confirmed the borrowing bylaw after a plebiscite, they indicated that the building to be constructed would also serve as a town hall.

The same week that Palmerston voted to start a market, drovers Dennis and Whealy purchased 43 head, averaging 1,100 pounds, from a dozen Peel and Maryborough farmers and shipped them by rail from Drayton to Montreal.

As one of its first attempts to attract a major industry to the village, Drayton council had voted to offer financial assistance to Archibald Filshie to construct and operate a foundry in the new municipality. Yielding to public pressure against the measure, and fearing ballooning expenditures, council voted to rescind the bylaw in May 1876.

One of the important industrialists of 19th century Wellington, Filshie had recently resigned as general manager of the Elora Agricultural Machine Co. When the Drayton deal fell through, he took over management of a foundry in Salem. Filshie reached full stride later in life, taking over the Kilgour foundry in Mount Forest in 1889, where he designed and produced the “Favorite” threshing machine, which achieved popularity with farmers across Canada.

*This column was originally published in the Drayton Community News on May 18 and 25, 2001.


Stephen Thorning - 1949-2015