News from the Mapleton area in 1903 and 1928

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.

121 years ago May 1903

Too big for Drayton Town Hall:

With posters plastered on telegraph poles all around the Drayton area, the coming June 2 appearance of John F. Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin created much anticipation during May 1903. 

Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 story ranked as the best selling American novel of the 19th century, and theatrical adaptations had been on the stage since the mid 1850s. John F. Stowe was no relation. A brazen showman, he got his start promoting wild west, trained dog, and other low-brow entertainment in Kentucky. He changed his name to “Stowe” when he put together an elaborately staged version of Uncle Tom, to suggest that it was some sort of family affair. Using a rented train, his show toured North America for 20 years, with its own tent and sideshow attractions. The complicated staging and special effects made the use of regular theatres impossible. Old Harriet got no royalties: she had died in 1896.

Warm weather in early May 1903 had farmers smiling. They were able to get their cultivation and seeding done early. Continuing dry weather caused some concern mid-month, and by the end of May the country was in full drought, with no rain clouds in sight.

Local businesses had problems early in May 1903, when labour trouble on the Grand Trunk Railway disrupted service. The section men and track maintainers had struck for higher wages, and some of the other trades supported them with wildcat walkouts. The trouble ended in mid-May, when the railway raised section men from $1.20 to $1.25 per day, and foreman from $45 to $49 per month.

A major construction project in Rothsay was under way, with a carriage shed 140 by 50 feet at Calvin Presbyterian Church. In Drayton, a new blacksmith shop went up for a Mr. Andrews, who was setting up business in the village. Another new Drayton business was W.H. Richard’s ice cream parlour. He opened on May 16, in premises beside the Traders Bank.

The liquor commissioners for West Wellington met at the beginning of the month, and approved beverage room licences for 1903. The list included four hotels in Palmerston, three in Drayton, five in Peel Township and three in Maryborough. The licences caused no joy to temperance advocates. The Royal Templars of Temperance North Wellington branch was the largest in Canada outside Toronto. The group set up a full agenda of meetings and activities for 1903.

Drayton council met on May 7. One item of business was a motion thanking George Fox for planting 221 maple trees on the streets of the village. The trees had been donated, and came from the Burrows and Mclsaac farms. Council granted Henry Irvine permission to install a water trough on the street; it would bear advertising for his popular store. The Drayton branch of the Peel and Maryborough Rifle Club set up a shooting range in a pasture near town. Following a successful shoot on May 9, the group decided to enter a team in the Canadian Military Rifle League competition.

With little chance of electrical power in Peel and Maryborough, T.W. Heron of Moorefield secured an agency for the Siche acetylene lighting system. During May 1903 he gave demonstrations through Peel and Maryborough.

The Drayton Lawn Tennis Club was busy during the month, constructing new courts beside the skating rink.

For the first time since the late 1870s, a proposal for a new railway aroused interest and discussion. The Tilsonburg, Lake Erie and Pacific had built a line from Port Burwell to Ingersoll, and was proposing an extension all the way to Collingwood. The proposed line would pass through Peel Township. The TLE&P was really a front company for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

Several Drayton businessmen wanted the village to be on the line, and they called a public meeting. It soon degenerated into a noisy and acrimonious affair. Advocates wanted the benefits of competitive service. Others thought that no advantage, because rates were already regulated. Many present opposed public aid to the line. Municipalities had heavily subsidized earlier lines, and had been rewarded, in their view, with high rates and poor service. 

The meeting voted to have nothing more to do with the scheme, and refused to send a nominee to Ottawa as part of a delegation to petition the government. Proponents put together another meeting two nights later, which approved the sending of George Fox. W.C. Quickfall of Glen Allan would also go, as the representative of Peel Township.

In Ottawa, the delegation, including Fox and Quickfall, eventually arranged an appointment with railway minister A.G. Blair on May 20, but he was non-committal in his comments about the proposal.

A lawsuit involving Peel Township went to trial. During the recent smallpox epidemic, the Peel Board of Health had hired a Miss Hayes as a nurse to attend the various cases in Peel. She was on the job for five weeks, and submitted a bill for $125. Peel council paid her only $80, and she sued Peel Township for the difference. In tossing out her case, the judge ruled that the Board of Health, not the township, was responsible.

Stirton saw a business change, when Henry Lime sold his house and blacksmith shop to W.J. McColgan. Lime intended to retire in Drayton.

Organizers of the Moorefield Bible Camp were busy making plans for a 10-day camp meeting in early June.

The West Wellington Farmers Association held its annual meeting in the society’s hall on May 23. President for 1903 was John C. Dixon of Maryborough, with J.J. Morrison (the future United Farmers leader) of Peel as secretary-treasurer.

Drayton residents took renewed pride in their village at the end of May, as contractors finished work on concrete sidewalks in the downtown area.

96 years ago May 1928

Drayton council met on May 1, 1928, with a short agenda. Among the payments they authorized were several for municipal employees, all modest by the standards of 75 years later. George Bramhall received 25 cents per hour for 70 hours of general labour in April. George Kerr got $50 for compiling the 1928 census of the village.

The proposed closing of Canadian National’s Goldstone station had caused much concern in the fall of 1927, and had resulted in a Railway Board hearing. The decision came in May 1928. The station agent could be removed, but the station had to remain, with a caretaker opening the building at train time, and handling express shipments. Residents of the area put together a farewell party for Clayton Groh and his wife. Groh had been the Goldstone station master since 1916.

The OPP’s clampdown on impaired driving was already in practice 75 years ago. Ed Bridge, of Concession 10 in Peel, found himself a guest of the government for 30 days, after a constable stopped him for drunken driving, and having an open bottle in his motor car. He also had to pay $34 in court costs.

Drayton’s village constable was also busy in May 1928. He had become exasperated with complaints about dogs and hens running at large and destroying gardens, and decided to start laying charges.

Rev. George Gomm, the popular minister at Rothsay’s United Church, put on a special service on May 1, a Tuesday evening. He read from Ben Hur, and illustrated the story with coloured slides. The Lew Wallace novel, published in 1880, had been a best seller for years, and there was renewed interest in the biblical tale after the release of the epic silent movie version in 1925.

Drayton’s merchants, by mutual agreement, decided to post their summer hours beginning with the first week of May. Stores would be open Wednesday evenings and close Thursdays at noon.

The Central Baseball League organized for 1928 with a meeting in Clifford on May 3, and a couple of subsequent sessions. In the end, only Drew, Clifford, Neustadt, Gorrie and Palmerston fielded teams. The absence of Drayton and Harriston disappointed fans in both towns. Drayton did put together a local softball team. The season opener, on May 7, resulted in a 6-4 victory for the High School over the Drayton Bachelors.

Maryborough council met on May 7, with the Peel council in attendance to deal with maintenance on the Peel-Maryborough town line. An agonizingly long discussion eventually led to an agreement, with Peel assuming the portion between Dorking and the blind line at Con. 7-8, and Maryborough taking charge of the northern portion. In other business, Maryborough councillors awarded a tender to John Tilker of Arthur for new bridges at McClary’s on Con. 3 and Cowan’s at Con. 8.

Most churches arranged special services for Mother’s Day on May 13. The ladies choir at Hollen United Church spent several evenings practicing for the big day. At Drayton United, the Sunday school took charge of the morning service, under the direction of J.M. Amy. 

The congregation at Moorefield United came to church wearing flowers. St. Andrews in Moorefield was decorated with flowers. After the service, they were taken to the sick and infirm. The best bouquet went to the oldest mother, Mrs. James Christie, who was seriously ill. She died a week later, three days short of her 91st birthday.

Palmerston’s Dance Arena opened on May 16, with Harold Skinner’s Blue Water Boys providing the music. The venue planned to be open every Wednesday and Saturday during the spring and summer.

Moorefield Motors, recently appointed a Chrysler dealer, installed two new gas pumps during the month. Alma saw a business improvement as well, with Percy Treleaven beginning construction of a feed mill on the site of the old Commercial Hotel. A stone’s throw away, the Alma Sports Association purchased three acres of land from Les Johnston for a park.

Taxpayers had to dig a little deeper with the setting of the Wellington County budget. The big item was a substantial increase in the road budget, with a number of widening and paving projects planned. By the end of 1928, Drayton would be the only village in Wellington without a paved main street.

The theatre-going public had a choice of several shows at the Drayton Town Hall during May 1928. Most popular was a performance by the Drayton Dramatic League, Making Daddy Behave. Among the local thespians on the bill were Arthur Mayne, Myrtle Morgan, Beth Haley, Mae Thompson, Stan Overend and Harold Sturgis.

Reserved seats sold for 50 cents and the Drayton Orchestra provided the music.

The Women’s Institutes in Peel and Maryborough enjoyed a robust season, with excellent attendance at most of the meetings. One of them substituted ice cream cones for the usual delicious lunch at the end of the meeting. Largest of the Institutes was Drayton. At the annual meeting of May 30, 57 women attended to elect a new executive and enjoy a program of music and a discussion on houseplants.

A new radio star emerged on May 30, when Tom Miller of Bosworth went to Toronto to present an hour-long program of old time fiddling over station CKGW, from the studios at the King Edward Hotel. The locals back home gathered at the houses of  neighbours who had radios to hear the broadcast.

*This column was originally published in the Drayton Community News on May 9 and 16, 2003.

Thorning Revisited