History | Norfolk County in 1865 | Back
The following is a heavily edited transcription of an article published on page 7 of the 1 Mar 1937 Simcoe Reformer. To see the unedited version, click here. Compiler's Notes appear below article.

Norfolk County in 1865
by C. W. McCall, D.C.M.
A Sketch of the County of Norfolk, Canada West by school teacher John Earl, printed at the office of the Norfolk Messenger, Simcoe, in 1857, lists the owners or occupants of all lots in the county. [It says] Norfolk contains 386,000 acres, with an assessed 1855 value of 1,211,000, and a population of about 25,000. 

O. L. Fuller's Counties of Elgin and Norfolk Directory for 1865-1866; contain[s] a separate alphabetical directory for every town and village in both counties, together with an appendix of useful information.

County Council 1865

The members of the Norfolk County Council for 1865: 
Daniel Matthews is warden, 
Geo. Jackson is reeve of Simcoe, 
the township reeves were: 
Charlotteville -- Daniel A. McCall
Houghton -- Moses M. White
Middleton -- Jacob Sovereen
Townsend -- John Barber
Walsingham -- Jacob B. Hutchison
Windham -- Daniel Matthews
Woodhouse -- Peter Lawson.

Other county officials were: 
William Salmon, County Judge; 
William M. Wilson, County Attorney, Clerk of the Peace and Registrar Surrogate Court; 
James Ermatinger, County Clerk; 
Henry Groff, Treasurer; 
Edmund Deeds, Sherriff; 
Abraham B. Rapelje, Clerk County Court and Deputy Clerk of the Crown.

26 Post Offices

There were twenty-six post offices in Norfolk in 1865, some under different names than they bear now. St. Williams had the unique distinction of bearing its own appellation officially as a village, yet at the same time using the name of the township for its post office. Its appearance under both names in the directory is not an error, for I have a registration receipt issued at St. Williams as late as 1869 with the post mark "Walsingham."

Taking the towns and villages in the same order as they occur, the first on our list is Simcoe. Mr. Fuller seems to have been particularly struck with the architectural features. He says, "Amongst the buildings of the town which are chiefly worthy of mention are the County Buildings, the Simcoe Union School, and the large block of buildings on Norfolk Street known at the Norfolk Buildings." The population was appropriately 2,000.

Three Newspapers

The Conservative weekly, The British Canadian, of which W. Wallace was editor, claimed to have the largest circulation of any paper in the county. The Norfolk Reformer, R. Thoroughgood, editor, was at the time "the only Liberal newspaper published in the county of Norfolk." The Norfolk Messenger, Mrs. C. B. Clancy, proprietress, called itself "The oldest and most reliable Reform journal of Norfolk." 

The Norfolk House

The Norfolk House, George Battersby, proprietor, was the leading hostelry. To quote in part from its full-page ad, "The House is furnished in the most Modern Style, the Upholstering and Furniture being New throughout, and purchased without regard to cost. The Table will always be supplied with the best the market affords, including the delicacies of the Season. The Bar will be found to contain none but the Best Brands of Liquors and Cigars, it being the intentions of the Proprietor of the Norfolk House to make it in every respects second to no hotel in Canada. In connection with the House is a Concert Hall and Ball Room, capable of containing 500 persons, to which the attention of Proprietors and Managers of Exhibition is respectfully directed."

Livery Stables

On Sydenham Street, were the Simcoe Livery Stables, own by Asa A. Purcel. Here was the headquarters of the Simcoe and Harrisburg Stage Line (via Waterford, Oakland, Mount Pleasant and Brantford), operated by Bradley and Pursel. A notice in the directory reads, "Stages leave the Norfolk House every morning at 8 o'clock, arriving in Harrisburg in time to connect with Trains on the Great Western, East and West, and also with the Trains on the Galt Branch of the same Road. Returning Stages leave Harrisburg at 9.55 every morning and arrive in Simcoe at 1.30 p.m. Freight and Passengers conveyed at Moderate Rates."

Early Drugstores

The reputation of drug stores for handling everything under the sun is borne out by the ads of J. Austin & Co. and Dr. John Wilson. A sideline of the former firm was "R. S. Williams' celebrated Organs and Melodeons, ranging in price from $75 to $300."  Both handled paints and oils, but only Wilson's Medical Hall dispensed "Soda Water from the Fountain." 

As early as 1865 dentistry was practised in Simcoe. Lyman Wells, surgeon dentist of Colborne St., informs the public that he can supply "Every description of Mineral Teeth Mounted on Gold, Platina, Silver and Vulcanized Rubber, with Continuous Gums."

In the realm of art, photographs and ambrotypes were supplied by Isaac Horning of Talbot Street and William Hendricks of Norfolk Street. 

The Simcoe Marble and Stone Works had on its staff a competent sculptor, S. Gardner. Not only did he carve monuments and tombstones, but he was ready to undertake commissions for "Statues, Busts, the Royal and other Arms." The announcement further states, "S. G. has taken the first prize in Sculpture at all the Provincial Exhibitions he has exhibited, viz: Kingston. Brantford, Hamilton and Toronto."

Early Port Dover

Mr. Fuller tells us that this town was laid out in 1836 by Israel Powell. By 1842 it contained only "17 dwelling houses, 2 small taverns, 1 general store, 2 blacksmiths and 1 shoemaker."  

He goes on to say, "In 1861 the town was materially benefitted [sic] by the erection of the Norfolk Woollen Mills ... at the present time owned by Andrew Thompson, Esq., of Port Dover. The machinery, which is of a superior description is the property of the Norfolk Woollen Mill Co. John Harvey, Esq., of Hamilton is the leasee, and Mr. Joseph N. Pitt, the manager. Under the skilful [sic] directions of the last named gentleman, large quantities of cloths have been made, which for durability and appearance are equal to other goods of a similar class, the productions of any other part of the world. The quantity manufactured is about 400 yards a day."

The Port Dover Tannery was also an important plant. It was erected in 1860 on the ruins of a similar manufacturory destroyed by fire. The main building contained a mill and leech house. In the latter was a hide mill, rolling machine and a leather-splitting apparatus.

The principal merchants were Buckwell, Skey & Co., B. Powell; Robert Riddell and Norman B. Schofield. Many other trades were carried on for the population had risen from 125 in 1842 to 1200 in 1865.

The harbour comes in for much praise in the directory. A sidelight is the list of vessels at Port Dover at the time. These ships are "the Barque Mary Jane, of 387 tons, and the schooners Active, 31 tons; Three Friends, 110 tones; E. Hall, 106 tons; Saucy Jack, 68 tons; Ada 54 tons; Bay Queen, 115 tons; and May Flower 96 tons."

Waterford Village

Waterford, with its population of 800, "is a place of considerable importance, and presents an appearance of solidity and enterprise, which indicates that from a business point of view it is in a very flourishing condition. Waterford possesses a water power, and being in the midst of a remarkably fine agricultural district of country, enjoys in consequence an excellent local trade. There are several good mercantile establishments in this place, a saw and grist mill, doing a very large business, and an agricultural implement manufactory which annually turns out a large amount of work."

Boring For Oil

In 1852 the first well drilled in the United States for the discovery of oil for the extraction of petroleum was successfully completed. Immediately a craze for oil swept the continent, as is borne out by the following extract from the Directory: "In the south-east part of the township (Townsend) a few miles from Waterford, an American company was at the time this information was obtained, boring for coal oil. Persons who from their knowledge of the subject are competent to express an opinion on the matter, state that the 'oil indications' are of such a nature that they could not possibly be more favourable. Probably by the time this Directory is placed in the hands of its subscribers, the efforts of this company will have been crowned with success, and a vastly important branch of commerce thus be added to the business of this locality."

Port Rowan Village

Mr. Fuller gives a good summary of Port Rowan. To quote, "It was laid out in 1825 (40 years ago), but for the first 20 years of its existence its progress was the reverse of rapid, for we find that in 1845 it contained but one store; one blacksmith; one tailor; one shoemaker; and 16 dwelling houses. 

"From the last mentioned date, however, it steadily improve[d], and has continued to do so up to the present period. In the rear of this place are large timber districts, and from this port immense quantities are annually shipped. Total exports from Port Rowan, including lumber, grain, &c., for the year ending 30 Jun 1865, amounted to $246,858. The imports for the same period were $24,011. In 1845 the population was only 100; in 1855 it had increased to about 200, and at the present time it is between 600 and 700."

Judging by the advertisements, the villagers were exceedingly well dressed. No less than three citizens describe themselves as fashionable tailors -- Samuel B. Eyre, William Ross and James Ryan. The second was a photographic artist and sewing machine agent as well. He featured "the Franklin Sewing Machine ranging in price from $25 upwards and the Empire from $50 upwards."

Historic Vittoria

Someday Vittoria will receive the recognition as the most historic village in the old London District. By 1865 its past glories had so faded that apparently Mr. Fuller had never heard of them. However he does credit Vittoria "with an air of solidity and substantial wealth, which unfortunately, is not characteristic of all Canadian villages." It hosted a Mechanic's Institute Library of 230 volumes in charge of John Machon. Not to be outdone by Simcoe, Vittoria had a "mechanical and surgical" dentist in the person of William Barrett. The population was estimated at 500.

Other Villages

Bloomsburg, though numbering only 70 souls was equipped with a woollen mill, tannery and a common school. 

Forestville's postmaster, Calvin A. White, had the distinction of being an artist as well. Woodworking seems to have been a specialty in Forestville as the Directory lists a firm of saw-mill owners, a builder, a cooper and a waggon-maker. 

Colborne, with one 80 people, was provided with a potter, John Garland, and a [malfster], Alexander MacKay.

Speaking of Pleasant Hill, Mr. Fuller says, "It possesses good water privileges and considering its size is one of the best business places in Upper Canada." This seemingly bold statement is backed up by a list of no less than 25 citizens in business out of a total of 110.

Mention is made of Lynedoch's mineral spring, "the analysis of which proves it to be one of the most remarkable in America."

Rolph, Langton, Teeterville, Fredericksburg (at the time just altering its name to Delhi) and St. Williams have but very superficial notes. 

Port Ryerse was in a thriving state, being served by both a collector of customs, C. Walsh, and a collector of internal revenue and excise, Edward P. Ryerse, J.P.

Clear Creek, Townsend Centre, Spring Arbour, Hartford, Round Plains, Normandale, Rowan Mills, Rockford and Houghton Centre lack business names in large type -- good evidence that the scanty information about them was obtained second hand.

So completely had Normandale fallen from its high estate in the days of the Van Norman Furnace, that Fuller was utterly unaware of its former importance.

When the Directory appeared, the Town of Charlotteville, once the capital of the London District, was already wholly obliterated. Vittoria no longer enjoyed the political importance that was its lot at the end of the century's first quarter.

Normandale, from an industrial viewpoint, was but a memory in 1865. In that year lumbering was in a far more flourishing condition than at present.

The waterborne shipping trade of Port Rowan, St. Williams and Port Ryerse had not yet been adversely affected by the railroads.

General farming had not improved, but intensive schemes have been tried out with varying success right up to the recent introduction of tobacco-growing.

Yet it can be seen that the stability of the county, already assured in 1865, has since been maintained and consolidated.

Simcoe Reformer clipping

Compiler's Comment: The author, Clayton Walter McCall (1891-1973), a native of St. Williams, and a World War I recipient of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, was a son of Andrew McCall and Emily Dease, a grandson of Daniel A. McCall and Ann McInnes and of Charles J. W. Dease and Nancy Brown, a great-grandson of Major Daniel McCall and Hannah Shearer, of Captain Andrew McInnes and Sarah Clark, of William Johnson Dease and Emily Stone, and of Tyler Brown and Sarah Fick. At birth he was a fifth generation Norfolk resident, but lived most of his adult life in Vancouver, B.C. The foregoing is one of several articles he wrote that were published in the Simcoe Reformer. The scion of amateur historians on both sides of his family, his home was virtually a private museum and archive of early Norfolk memorabilia.