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.
March and April 1879,
139 years ago
Drayton council began its fifth year of existence in January 1879.
The village, created as a municipal entity in 1875 from portions of Peel and Maryborough Townships, was the last of the municipalities in Wellington to come into existence in the 19th century.
With less than 1,000 people to govern, council conducted its affairs in the early years rather informally. The early reeves had a tendency to call special meetings every time a piece of business appeared.
Consequently, there were months when council met four or five times. It is entirely possible that the councils, in the early years, took much pleasure in being able to decide the affairs of their village themselves. All those meetings were a delight, not a burden.
A more businesslike tone came with the new council in 1879. Reeve Dan Smith, a druggist who had once practiced medicine, decided in February that one regular meeting per month should be sufficient to handle the village business. The council that year included a former reeve, carpenter Henry Deeble, and a future one, J.C. Johnston.
At the March 10 meeting, Reeve Smith asked three of the councillors to be a committee to review and revise the village’s bylaws. With the haphazard methods of the first four years, there were some duplicate measures, contradictions and much ambiguous wording.
The slow progress of the tax collector caused some irritation. A resolution from council instructed him to collect all the 1878 taxes and complete his report in 10 days, to be in the hands of the clerk on March 20.
Sidewalks were an issue in Drayton in the 1870s, and would be for decades to come. Another resolution created a sidewalk committee, consisting of councillors Deeble and Robson.
A small expenditure at the March meeting was the cost of mounting the village’s large map on rollers to preserve it. That map was seeing a lot of use: there were some errors on it, resulting in conflicts between adjoining property owners.
The general economy was not in good shape in 1879, and councillors had to deal with a string of welfare matters. In March they authorized a payment of $7.50 to Ann Turner, a nurse who had been caring for a Mrs Boultie, an indigent. As well, there were several small accounts related to her case. Councillor J.C. Johnston had procured some firewood for her, and was reimbursed $1.75. A Miss Hambleton received $1 for additional nursing care. Earlier in the year, council had voted $5 to Mrs. Boultie. She had not requested any help, but several councillors were aware of her circumstances.
Tramps were commonly seen roaming the countryside looking for work. The normal rate was 60 cents for a night’s stay and two meals. Councillors approved a payment of $4.90 to Rev. Anderson of the Christian Church, for four nights’ board for an indigent named John Emery, and for taking him to the Wellington County House of Industry.
An impoverished widow, Mrs. Taub, asked that her 1878 taxes be remitted. Councillors consented.
Problems with the official village map boiled to the surface. Councillors reimbursed R.H. Ashbury $2 for extra expenses related to survey problems with his lot. More seriously, there was a nasty letter from the county registrar, threatening a $100 fine if councillors did not rectify the problems with the plan for the village. Councillors authorized the clerk to contact the surveyor of the land in question, W.H.L. LaPenotiere of Elora, to redo some of his work, and to place stakes at the corners of the lots. Councillors regretted that he had already been paid in full.
With the accounts for 1878 almost completed, councillors paid the clerk his salary for the previous year: $75 plus $2 in expenses.
The clerk had received two petitions for new sidewalks: one from Jacob Striker, signed by 65 others; and the other from James Davidson, signed by 76 others. After a lengthy discussion, councillors decided to defer these projects until the 1879 assessment had been made, and a tax rate established for the routine expenses of the village. All feared a major rise in taxes when the economy was not thriving.
Another petition came from hotel keeper Martin Fox, and signed by four others. Based on its population, Drayton was entitled to three hotel licences and Fox had been denied one for the year. The petition claimed that Drayton’s population had topped the 1,000 mark, and therefore the village was entitled to a fourth hotel.
Sympathetic councillors appointed W.H. Smith to conduct a special census of the village for $2. He was to file his report three days later, on April 17, and council would meet the following morning.
At the special meeting on April 18, no one was surprised that Drayton’s population had crossed the magic line, and stood at 1,008. Councillors passed a motion requesting the county licence board to issue a fourth licence.
An additional item at the special meeting was a payment $2.50 to W.J. Davidson for removing and burying a dead horse.
The items raised at these two meetings continued to pop up for the rest of the year. The special committee to review the bylaws soon got bogged down. Three times they asked for extensions to their time limit. There were more welfare matters to deal with through 1879, and the problems with the survey of the village continued to be troublesome.
Though they did not say so publicly, the county licence commissioners had doubts about Smith’s special census, and held back with the issuing of a licence to the impatient Martin Fox. They preferred to wait for the population figures from the assessment, and those numbers would not be available until late summer.
64 years ago
April 1954 arrived with a bang. A severe storm on April 6 and 7 brought thunder and lightning, heavy rains, high winds and several small tornadoes. Most damage was minor, but a couple of barns suffered badly, and some trees were destroyed by the winds.
Drayton’s Rotary Club members worked hard on the 1954 Easter Seal campaign. At the beginning of April they had raised $380, and topped the $700 mark before the end of the month.
A postal increase forced post office patrons to dig a little deeper in their pockets for stamps. The letter rate went from four to five cents on April 1. Letters mailed to in-town addresses enjoyed a discount: that rate went from three to four cents.
A sure sign of spring rolled into Drayton the second week of April, in the form of farmers’ wagons laden with maple syrup. The door-to-door solicitors asked $4 per gallon for the delicacy.
After much discussion and disagreement, Drayton council passed a uniform hours bylaw for stores. The new closing time would be 6:30pm, except the Thursday half-day (12:30pm) and Saturday (11pm). Violators could earn a $50 fine. As might be expected, not everyone was happy. The issue had been a headache for Drayton council since its first store hour bylaw in 1902.
Maryborough council met April 5, with reeve Phil Rowland in the chair, and a long agenda in front of them. With the county’s centennial celebrations coming up fast, councillors discussed Maryborough’s participation, and then decided to call a meeting of the various organizations in the township for April 12.
Also on the agenda April 5 was the gravel for upgrading Maryborough’s roads in 1954. John E. Murray submitted the low tender for 10,000 cubic yards at 75 cents per yard.
Council received word that the Ontario Municipal Board had approved a $40,000 debenture for a new school for SS 12 at Moorefield. The construction required the formal closing of Reid Street.
The Moorefield United Church Women prepared a bundle of clothing to be sent to Korea for refugee relief. Though the war had ended in a truce, the effects on civilians lingered. Other volunteer and church groups in Peel and Maryborough also helped out with donations.
A group of 30 friends and neighbours gathered at Herb Thompson’s farm, on Concession 10 of Peel, to replace the barn roof and make repairs. The building had suffered badly in the freak early spring tornado on April 7.
All churches in the area enjoyed a good turnout for their Easter services, which in many cases included special seasonal music by their choirs. Most of the churches also scheduled services for Good Friday morning.
*This column was originally published in the Drayton Community News on April 2 and 30, 2004.