News from northern Wellington in 1877 and 1953

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.

143 years ago – June 1877

Favourable spring planting and growing conditions caused optimism among farmers for a good crop year in 1877.

Merchants in Wellington’s towns and villages shared in these sentiments. The economy had been stagnant at best for a couple of years, and businessmen believed that more money in farmers’ pockets would get things moving again.

The proposed railway line from Arthur to connect with the Great Western at either Alma or Goldstone, continued to attract much enthusiasm. After meetings in the north of Wellington during late winter, a delegation met with Guelph’s railway committee on Apr. 28, and received enthusiastic support.

A combined group visited the Great Western’s officials at their Hamilton head office in May. Their proposal was that the Great Western equip and run the line under lease. To finance the construction, Peel, West Luther, West Garafraxa Arthur Township and Arthur village would contribute money, which would be topped up by the provincial subsidy for new lines. Municipalities to the northeast of Arthur watched developments closely, and pondered an extension of the line into Grey County.

The Hollen flour mill, following bankruptcy, went on the auction block in May. This long-vanished landmark was about 10 years old in 1877. Several proprietors had attempted to operate the business during that time. The main building measured 36 by 36 feet, and was four storeys in height, the first of which was stone. The complex included a two-storey storehouse, an 8-room house, wood shed, driving shed, and a dam 11 feet high across the Conestoga.

A couple of petty thefts occupied public attention and the courts. In May, two daughters of Michael Harmon, a Peel farmer, appeared before Magistrate Landerkin at Drayton. They had been caught with clothing abstracted from Drayton’s Commercial and Queen’s Hotels. Landerkin bound them over for trial at Guelph. At Palmerston, Tom Knowles found himself in the hoosegow when caught red-handed pocketing nine packages of garden seeds in James Dickson’s store. Knowles hired Elora lawyer George Drew to defend him at the Guelph court sessions on June 13. Drew argued that Knowles had been drunk at the time, and had intended no theft. The jury bought this argument, and freed the accused.

The Independent Order of Good Templars, the dominant temperance organization, held an all-day picnic in a grove near Winfield on June 14, with about 200 attending, and the Elmira Brass Band to entertain. The big surprise of the day was the featured speaker – Dr. George Orton, MP, of Fergus. The Doctor had skirmished mightily with the bottle over the years, and his drunken escapades generated headlines in the Toronto and Ottawa dailies. He began by admitting, “I am no teetotaler,” and then stated that alcohol was “a curse upon humanity.” He spent most of his time arguing against prohibition, preferring that drinking be reduced by greater regulation and education. Those present gave a lukewarm response. Their chief activity was to promote local option referendums in Peel and Drayton.

Drayton council met on May 18. Councillor John Powley resigned, and council issued a call for nominations. The other major item that night was the approval of grading work on John Street, and improvements to the approaches to the Main St. bridge.

Road work again dominated the agenda on June 4, when Drayton councillors approved gravelling and grading on Main St. A petition for work on Mill St. resulted in the appointment of a special committee to investigate and report in July. Another motion requested a grant of $100 from the county toward a lockup for the temporary housing of accused persons.

After a hiatus since March 27, to allow for bad roads and the planting season, Peel council met on May 28 in Goldstone for a marathon session that stretched over four days. Sitting as a court of revision, they corrected 36 errors on the assessment roll, granted 16 appeals, and rejected a dozen or so others.

In other business, Peel council voted $50 toward drainage work in the long swamp, and $75 to replace a small bridge on the centre sideroad.

Before adjourning until July 5, Peel council approved a payment of $2.50 for a coffin for the deceased child of an indigent couple, and a bounty of $3 to Malcolm McQueen, whose sons had shot three wildcats.

67 years ago – April 1953

Immigration from the Netherlands continued to the Drayton area continued in 1953. The Ortens, Bult and Smid families were expected to arrive sometime during April. A single man, John Kristeman, arrived in March and quickly found work with the Canadian National crew, as a cook for the gang at work replacing the Conestoga bridge.

On March 30, Elora horticulturist William Brown spoke to the Drayton Rotary Club. His talk outlined the history of gardening from the time of the Garden of Eden. He urged Drayton to revive its horticultural society. The organization had become dormant during World War II. He emphasized the great benefits to the community in civic appearance and improvements that a horticultural society could offer.

Dr. B.T. Dale, of the Wellington County Health Unit, announced a program of examinations for preschool children to identify potential problems that might affect their progress when they started school. He also announced a program to provide vaccinations and booster shots to school children.

All area councils held their monthly meetings on Apr. 6. Drayton councillors received a petition for a liquor vote under the Liquor Control Act. They set June 7 as the date, subject to regulatory approval.

Maryborough council agreed to pay a share of the cost for an addition to the Listowel High School. The trustees of S.S. 12 requested approval for a $40,000 debenture for a new public school at Moorefield. With road repair season fast approaching, they let a contract for 10,000 cubic yards of gravel to John Murray, who submitted the low tender at 85 cents. Reeve Rowland lost his patience with those who dumped their garbage at the sides of roads. Council approved a bylaw to deal with the litterers.

Peel Council also dealt with a school issue when they signed the financial agreement to help pay for the new Arthur High School. The successful tender for Peel’s gravel in 1953 – 20,000 cubic yards of it – came from Urias Bowman at $1.00 per yard.

Arthur’s High School Board let the contracts for the new high school early in the month. It would be an eight-room school, plus cafeteria and gymnasium. Wunder Construction of Kitchener got the job for $236,500.

Palmerston had a major project on the books as well. To deal with overcrowding at the hospital, the board planned major renovations and an addition that would almost double the capacity of the facility to 44 beds. The board met with council and the contractors on Apr. 20 to finalize plans. The work would involve $102,000 of structural work by Starr Construction of Kitchener, $18,000 for plumbing, and $11,000 of electrical work. The later would be done by a local firm, Rotor Electric. The board and council agreed that an entirely new building, on a new site, would cost about $400,000, and was out of the question financially.

The Wellington Soil and Crop Improvement Association started a soil testing campaign. The objective was to maximize yields in the county. Results of the tests would help determine the types and quantities of fertilizers to be used on specific fields.

After many meetings with farmers and government officials, the Canada and Dominion Sugar Co. began signing contracts with farmers for sugar beets. This was a popular cash crop for Dutch farmers in the Drayton area. In the span of a few days, about 20 local farmers signed up to grow about 300 acres of sugar beets, a considerable increase over the 1952 acreage. There had been doubts all winter about the viability of the crop, because Cuba was dumping large quantities of surplus sugar on the Canadian market. The situation took on a rosier glow when the minister of trade, C.D. Howe, announced an embargo on Cuban sugar.

Canadian National crews completed a project started the previous fall, when they inched the new Warren truss bridge into place over the weekend of Apr. 18-19. A large crowd watched the operation from the banks of the Conestoga.

Rivaling the bridge replacement for attention was a community auction in Moorefield, sponsored by Moorefield’s businessmen, at the skating rink. The all-day sale, conducted by Emerson Simmons, consisted of items from dozens of residents pooled together in one large sale.

The Gowanstown Women’s Institute brought their popular three-act farce, “The Funny Brats,” to the Drayton Town Hall on Apr. 21. They filled the house at 50 cents a seat.

Ontario Hydro officials firmed up the schedule for conversion to 60-cycle power. Drayton would be done during the second week of May, immediately after the Moorefield and Rothsay areas. A mobile store to handle small appliances would be opened on May 4.

Taxpayers had to dig a little deeper into their pockets after Wellington County council announced a 10% increase. Road work claimed the lion’s share of the increase. There was also a new levy to help fund the three hospitals in the county, plus St. Joseph’s in Guelph.

Palmerston’s artificial ice committee had about $6,000 in the bank, but wanted to raise another $4,000 before proceeding with the project. Time, was running out: the engineers visited the arena on Apr. 13 to prepare final designs and financial estimates. The committee wanted to make a decision in early May.

*This column was originally published in the Drayton Community News on May 17, 2002 and May 2, 2003.

Thorning Revisited