Over the years, this column has offered short biographies of people born in Wellington County who went on to significant achievements elsewhere in North America.
On the other hand, there were some people who came here and decided to stay in Wellington, often turning down opportunities to advance their careers by moving on to other localities.
An outstanding example of the latter was Stephen Springer. In 1881, the Credit Valley Railway appointed Springer as the line’s first permanent agent at the Elora station. He soon became one of the village’s most ardent boosters and a man prominent in the affairs of the community. In 1889, Springer turned down a transfer and resigned from the railway so that he might remain in Elora.
Stephen Springer was born in 1858 to a farm family near Blenheim. His family valued a good education, and sent him for his high school courses to the famous grammar school operated by Dr. Tassie at Galt. After graduation, Springer showed no interest in pursuing a life on the farm. He signed on with the Grand Trunk Railway and trained as a telegrapher operator at the Galt station.
Bright and a quick learner, young Springer impressed his employer. They transferred him several times in the late 1870s to positions of greater responsibility, though he was not yet 21. Seeing greater chances of advancement with the upstart Credit Valley line, he left the Grand Trunk in 1879 in favour of the new company. Two years later the Credit Valley transferred him to Elora as agent.
For a man who had just turned 23 this was an impressive achievement. Springer had a half dozen men under his direction, and full responsibility for the operation of the Elora station and the terminal facilities there. He also had family responsibilities. He had married Alice Badgley, a native of Haldimand County, in 1879, and the couple had an infant daughter, Alvina. The family eventually included two more daughters.
Gregarious and enthusiastic, Stephen Springer quickly made friends for himself and the Credit Valley Railway. His farm background helped in dealings with farmers, and his obliging manner made him popular with local shippers and merchants receiving shipments of goods. When the Canadian Pacific absorbed the Credit Valley line, the CPR saw no reason to remove Springer from his position at Elora.
The Springers became active members of Elora’s Methodist church, and in 1883 Springer joined the Oddfellows Lodge. He would remain an active member for the rest of his life. With his wife he participated in church activities, and became an enthusiastic gardener, participating in the activities and flower shows of the Elora Horticultural Society.
In 1889, CPR management decided to promote Springer and transfer him out of Elora. He respectfully declined the promotion, expressing his wish to remain in Elora. Railway officials expected employees to show greater allegiance to the CPR than to local communities. That ended Springer’s railway career.
He purchased a feed and supply business, and soon built up a good trade with farmers who had dealt with him at the station. Within months he added a livery stable to the operation, and slowly expanded to offer the public a full grocery store operation. By 1892, he was also a coal and fuel dealer. His knowledge of that business acquired during his railway years was a great benefit to him. In the early 1890s, he ran one of the major retail operations in Elora, with several employees.
Friends persuaded Springer to stand for a seat on Elora’s council in 1894, and he was handily elected. He found that he enjoyed municipal work immensely, and was again returned to the seat in 1895. Two years later he was in the reeve’s chair.
As a councillor Springer championed economy measures to remove inefficiencies in administration, but he was willing to spend to improve the village. He strongly supported expenditures for concrete sidewalks, for example.
In 1900, voters sent Springer to Wellington County council. At that time the county used a short-lived ward system for its elected representatives. A year later, his colleagues elevated him to the warden’s chair by acclamation. He was the first man to be unopposed for the position in the history of the county.
By that time, he was an easily recognized figure. After years of devouring ample lunches his figure had swelled to a rotund profile, and for several years he sported an impressive bushy moustache with twirled ends.
His term as warden marked the end of his political career. In 1902, Springer received an appointment as bursar at the Ontario Agricultural College. That meant moving to Guelph, though he never bid goodbye to the many friends he and his wife had made in Elora over two decades. He remained particularly close to his brethren in the Elora Oddfellows Lodge.
Prior to leaving Elora, village council and some of the village’s leading citizens organized a testimonial dinner for Springer at the village’s Royal Hotel, which is currently the older portion of the Elora Legion. The room was packed with old colleagues, lodge members, customers, and business associates. Springer thoroughly enjoyed himself, revelling in the speeches, good humour, and social good will.
Several times he emphasized that in many ways he regretted leaving his adopted home. Others outlined his many contributions to village life during his 21 years in Elora.
Springer’s duties as bursar expanded two years after he joined the O.A.C. when he was named superintendent of the college. Much of his time and effort centred on relations with provincial civil servants. His good humour and business abilities allowed him to function effectively in situations that might have frustrated others, dealing with civil servants and tight-fisted provincial politicos who continually attempted to slash the college’s budget and programs.
Springer’s career as a university administrator spanned a quarter century. He retired in 1927, at the age of 69. His wife, Alice, had died in 1919. In 1923, he married for a second time, to Mary Montgomery, of Lanark County. At the time of his marriage he switched his religious affiliation, joining St. George’s Anglican Church, in Guelph. With the help of his new wife, he entertained frequently, welcoming college staff and provincial officials at his residence at 101 King Street in Guelph.
Stephen Springer died on March 30, 1934 at his Guelph home, survived by his second wife and his three daughters. The funeral took place at his home, followed by burial at Guelph’s Woodlawn Cemetery.
The Oddfellows Lodge was in charge of the service. Sixteen members of the Elora lodge took part. Among them were Bill Duncan, who acted as chaplain, and Burt Brown, who was Noble Grand at the service.