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.
141 years ago – November 1876
The Canadian economy had been sliding since 1873, and by 1876 hard times had arrived.
The local economy displayed mixed signs in the fall of 1876. Some businesses enjoyed robust business. In Rothsay, for example, the shingle mill struggled to keep up with orders, and Gregory’s flour and saw mills worked at full capacity. In nearby Teviotdale, M.G. Miller was so busy at his general store that he hired a second full-time clerk.
Farmers expressed disappointment at the crop as they commenced threshing operations in the fall of 1876. The low yield added to the pressure of declining grain prices. Commodity markets had been sliding downward for 10 years. In the late 1860s, wheat had topped $2 per bushel. In the fall of 1876 it hovered in the $1.10 range. Though some farmers were despondent, others responded to the market conditions by trying to increase their production. The optimists busied themselves with fall plowing in preparation for the 1877 crop.
Nevertheless, store owners in every village and hamlet feared that the coming season would bring a decline in business volumes. A sure sign of bad times was the increasing number of mortgage foreclosures on farms, residential properties and businesses.
Despite the shaky economy, new buildings went up in large numbers in 1876, and the pace continued into the late fall. A new carriage factory and blacksmith shop, plus several houses, were built in Rothsay.
In Drayton W.C. Wortley established a brick making plant. Palmerston enjoyed a building boom as the season neared its end, with more than $40,000 of new construction during the year, equal to more than $4 million today.
Taking its place on the construction list was the new Methodist church at Creekbank, built of local brick. It opened with morning and afternoon services on Oct. 29. The following evening, a crowd filled the church for a fundraising tea that featured addresses from a half dozen ministers. Temperance activity had heated up considerably, due largely to efforts by Methodists in the area. The Peel circuit of the Primitive Methodists held a special meeting to exert pressure for a plebiscite, for the township under the Dunkin Act. The main body of the Methodists raised the stakes by calling for a county-wide vote. A flood of petitions, both for and against prohibition, inundated Maryborough council in November. Those against prohibition feared the economic consequences of hotel closures.
In Drayton, a literary society formed to hear talks and lectures, and exchange books and magazines. The organizers hoped it would be the first step in the formation of a Mechanics Institute and lending library. Steadily increasing railway business led the Great Western Railway to enlarge the Palmerston station by adding a second storey to house offices for the assistant superintendent and other officials. This would permit the entire first floor to be used for services for the public, including the station master, ticket and express offices, waiting rooms, and a lunch counter. During construction in November a 20-foot high scaffold collapsed, badly injuring one carpenter. Two others escaped with only scratches and bruises, while a fourth grabbed a window sash as the scaffolding crumbled beneath him.
Hundreds of farmers took a break from plowing and threshing to attend one of the many plowing matches of 1876. Most were small affairs, restricted to residents in a school section or within a small radius of a village.
The last group of visitors to Philadelphia’s Centennial Exhibition arrived home on Nov. 11, and entertained their friends with stories of what they saw and did at the big show. For those who could not attend, a book salesman was roaming the countryside, selling an illustrated volume about the biggest exhibition in American history.
Municipal election talk dominated conversations by late November. Things promised to be lively in Drayton, where four men were rumoured to be running for reeve, though by Dec. 1 no one had yet declared his intentions publicly.
Winter arrived in the area on Nov. 25, with six inches of snow, and more during the next couple of days. Farmers switched to cutters and sleighs for their transportation, as cold weather froze the muddy roads of November.
66 years ago – November 1951
Turkey aficionados feasted at fundraising dinners in November 1951.
Drayton United’s was the largest of them, with a lengthy musical program after the meal. It generated a profit of $550. Other suppers were held in Glen Allan, Moorefield and Palmerston.
Campaigning for the Nov. 22 provincial election was well under way at the beginning of the month, as Conservative John Root challenged Liberal Ross McEwing, MPP since 1937 for the Wellington North seat. A late entrant in the race for the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF, the precursor of the NDP) was Lorne Guild of Rockwood, a cousin of party leader Ed Jolliffe. The Root campaign received a boost when premier Leslie Frost spoke at the Arthur Town Hall on Nov. 8.
Bad weather retarded campaigning and other activities. Three inches of snow fell on Nov. 3, and more three days later. The accumulation, combined with record cold temperatures, left roads treacherous and produced a rash of traffic accidents.
Peel council met on Nov. 5. The main item was a discussion of repairs to the township’s grader. A representative of Champion Works attended and on his advice council decided to send the machine back to the factory at Goderich for a complete repair job.
November 1951 was a busy month for Rothsay. On the 9th the hamlet’s street lights glowed for the first time. One week later, the Rothsay Women’s Institute held an “At Home” family evening, featuring National Film Board movies and a lunch, at the community hall. On the 18th, Calvin Presbyterian Church held a well-publicized anniversary service, with the sermon delivered by Rev. Young of Palmerston. Choirs visited from Harriston and Milverton.
Rothsay’s United Church congregation sold its church building to Harmon Mitchell, and purchased the former Anglican Church from Mitchell, with possession on July 1, 1952. The Anglican Church had closed in 1950, but the building was larger and superior to the old Methodist Church building.
The Bosworth Beef Ring marked its 50th anniversary in November 1951. It was believed to be the oldest one in the province, and one of the few survivors of what had once been a common organization.
Bosworth’s ring had 20 members, and each had to supply annually a steer or heifer dressing out at about 400 pounds. Each member received 20 pounds of fresh beef when a carcass was divided. Robert Reid was president in 1951, and Oron Campbell the butcher. To celebrate the event the members and their families, numbering about 80, went to the Commercial Hotel in Arthur for a dinner. The main course? Turkey!
Nov. 11 brought Remembrance Day services in Drayton and Palmerston. In Drayton the veterans marched from the Legion to the cenotaph for a brief service, then went on to the United Church for an address by Rev. A.F. Gardner. A lunch at Branch 416 followed.
The election of Nov. 22 saw the Leslie Frost government capture 79 of Ontario’s 90 seats. In North Wellington, John Root upset incumbent Ross McEwing with a vote of 7,252 to 6,506. Lorne Guild, representing the CCF, trailed badly at 633. McEwing piled up big majorities in Peel, Maryborough and Minto, but Root’s strength in the east put him over the top.
The next day nominations were held for municipal offices. Ratepayers returned Drayton and Maryborough councils by acclamation, but an election would be necessary in Peel.
Also on Nov. 23, more than 300 attended commencement exercises for the first class to take all its courses at the new Drayton High School. There were lots of options for entertainment in November 1951.
On the 30th, the Melville Players of Fergus staged Jumping Jewels, a three-act comedy, at the Drayton Town Hall, with proceeds to the Drayton Athletic Association. Fridays were movie nights at the Hall, where, for a 50-cent admission, the public could see recent Hollywood productions.
Palmerston’s Norgan Theatre continued its six-night-per-week screenings, offering such cinematic classics as Martin and Lewis in That’s My Baby and Ronald Reagan in The Last Outpost.
*This column was originally published in the Drayton Community News on Nov. 2 and 23, 2001.