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: March 1901
As the 1901 planting season approached, Peel and Maryborough farmers weighed the advantages of one of the new farming technologies: tile drainage. The Ontario Agricultural College offered field drainage surveys, under the direction of W.H. Day. Haack’s tile works in Drayton gladly supplied the finest clay tile obtainable. Haack had increased his manufacturing capacity the previous year, on the strength of the increasing popularity of field drainage systems.
Determined to establish a strong municipal identity, Drayton council decided on March 12 to build a town hall, including council chambers, library, fire hall and hoosegow (jail) on the main floor, and a large public assembly hall upstairs.
The population of the village had edged above the 1,000 mark, and the finances were in good shape: the last of debentures for the public school had been paid off the year before. By a 2-1 margin, the ratepayers agreed with council, approving a $5,000 debenture issue, repayable over 20 years, to finance the edifice. Though council supervised the project carefully, and local subcontractors shaved their quotes as much as possible, the project could not be completed for $5,000. The town hall, soon known as the Drayton Opera House, would become a major political issue because of the additional costs until its completion in the fall of 1903. More than a century later no one regrets this council decision.
The West Wellington Farmers Institute held meetings in Palmerston, Moorefield and Rothsay during the month, featuring guest speakers on subjects such as beef rings, fertilizers, and the profitable raising of poultry. The popular Drayton Quartette provided music diversions at all three day-long sessions.
The return of Frank Whitely from duty in the South African War as a member of Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment triggered a huge outpouring of patriotism. A dozen sleigh loads of well-wishers greeted Frank at the Drayton station. A few days later, admirers carried him on their shoulders to a reception at the Hollen school, where Dr. McNaughton presided. Backed by a chorus of six waving Union Jacks, Bill Slemmon opened the evening with a solo, followed by recitations, speeches and music, concluding with Dr. Fell’s rendition of the The Maple Leaf Forever. Young Frank received a gold watch that night, and four days later, at another reception organized by Drayton Reeve E.E. Dales, he accepted a purse of $25.
Though only into their third month in office, Palmerston council offered the best political show in the county in March 1901. Frustrating mayor W.J. Ward was an acrimonious council. They began squabbling among themselves at the first meetings of the year, and the bickering grew worse at each meeting. March brought a crisis as council attempted to deal with tax concessions to several industries, a proposal for electric street lighting, and charges of conflict of interest. By the end of March two councillors had resigned, two others faced threats of lawsuits, and the fifth was seriously considering resignation.
120 years ago: March 1902
Spring arrived early in 1902. The snow melted slowly in the first weeks of 1902, and there was no major rainfall. The streams overflowed their banks briefly, but no serious flooding resulted. Residents of Rothsay spotted robins on March 11. The roads soon dried up, and by month end they were dusty, rather than the usual spring time seas of axle-deep mud.
Peel and Maryborough farmers took advantage of the conditions by starting their spring plowing in the third week of the month. The braver ones began sowing grain on March 29 and 30, while their skeptical neighbours shook their heads and looked on.
Hughes Bros., the Massey-Harris dealer in Drayton, staged a delivery day on March 15. Massey-Harris promoted these events, for publicity purposes, all over the province. The manufacturer sent all the implements ordered at Drayton in a single shipment. The dealer unloaded and assembled almost 100 pieces of tillage equipment in the second week of March. Massey-Harris picked up the tab for a dinner for the purchasers, then had them assemble in a parade, led by the Drayton brass band. Company photographers captured the event on film.
John Fairweather of Parker and other local temperance advocates returned from the week-long Toronto Prohibition Convention on March 1. They expected a liquor referendum later in the year. Despite increasing prosperity in the agricultural sector, the migration to the west continued. At least a dozen families left Peel and Maryborough during March 1902, for Manitoba, Dakota and Assiniboia Territory (which would become Saskatchewan three years later). Several left with all their possessions, including implements, livestock and a couple of family members, travelling in a box car.
Other people moved too, but not as far. Farewell presentations in Drayton honoured Lucina Adams, who had been superintendent of the Methodist Junior Epworth League for nine years, and Jim Davidson, the public school principal, who had taken a new job in Merlin. Dell Hill moved from Drayton to Winfield to open a general store.
An epidemic of measles swept through the area during the month. The Creekbank vicinity seemed to get the worst of it in number of cases. Complications from the disease claimed the life of the young daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Rogers of Con. 12, Maryborough.
The unseasonably mild spring advanced the building season. Contractors had been overwhelmed with work in 1901, and the boom gave every indication of continuing into 1902. By month-end projects under way included new houses for Bill Fairweather at Goldstone, Jesse Jack at Stirton and Frank Hellyer in Rothsay.
Several older buildings found new homes. A log house at the mill property in Rothsay found a new life as an outbuilding on the Gregory farm. Joseph Coffee and his son John secured a contract for the removal of the separate school building on Con. 12 of Peel near Parker. The roof collapsed when they were dismantling the building, injuring both men. They planned to rebuild it as a storage building on their farm.
The big project for 1902 would be the new town hall in Drayton. The project had stalled in the fall of 1901 when tenders came in at far higher than estimates. On March 3 Drayton ratepayers voted on a bylaw to borrow an additional $3,000. The campaign for it soon turned acrimonious, not only over the cost, but also over the location, which displeased some residents. When the votes were tallied, ratepayers supported the new money by a margin of 88-63.
Council sprang into action immediately, calling tenders for March 11 for the facility, which would include the municipal office, library, and a public performance hall. Local opposition dissipated considerably when council awarded the work to H. Schieck & Co., Adams Bros., and Adam Flath, all local firms.
Maryborough Township also had construction on its mind when that body met on March 15. At the top of the agenda were new bridges at Hollen and on Con. 10. Several of the councillors received correspondence from bridge companies proposing to build steel structures. A representative of Ellis and Patterson of St. Mary’s appeared as a delegation, seeking the contracts for poured concrete abutments. Councillors decided to issue invitations for tenders to the bridge companies at Hamilton, Kincardine and Stratford for a 90-foot steel girder bridge at Hollen and a 60-foot structure on Con. 10, both to have 14-foot roadways and decks of three-inch rock elm.
Peel council, also meeting on March 15, dealt with bridge work of a more modest nature. They approved the reinforcing of the bridge on Con. 9 at a cost of $7.75. Anticipating drainage and culvert work in the coming season, council ordered a carload shipment of concrete culverts, in diameters of 10, 12, 16 and 20 inches, to be delivered to Goldstone Station by April 15. A legal matter was also on the agenda: Walter Saigson was suing the township for damages after an accident on the Peel-Maryborough town line. Peel councillors instructed their solicitor to defend the case in court. With nothing major on the horizon, Peel councillors adjourned until May 28.
With plowing and planting commencing, entertainment for the season wound down. Jim Fax, billed as “the funniest man in Wellington,” gave a concert of comedy and vocal routines on March 18 in Drayton. Two weeks later, the Drayton Athletic Club scheduled a fundraising concert.
Local dairy farmers took an active interest in a proposed cheese curing station for Listowel. The federal government planned the building of two, in Brockville and Woodstock, to encourage cheese exports. With annual cheese production in the Listowel area topping 2,500 tons, local dairymen and cheese factories wanted one of their own.
*This column was originally published in the Drayton Community News on March 30, 2001 and March 22, 2002.