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A lightly edited transcript of an article on page 1 of the 5 Aug 1953 issue of The Simcoe Reformer.

Simcoe Reminiscences
by Lafe LaFortune

History has it that Simcoe's first telephone was set up at Brown's livery stable and from there a wire was strung to the Dr. Smith home; also a wire connected to the Battersby Hotel. This took place in 1885.

(The above information was revealed by Jean H. Waldie, a well-known writer on historical subjects, in an article that appeared recently in a daily newspaper.)

It may be said that the phone [installation] was the start of a new era and thus is of greatest interest to students and others who have a predilection for gathering facts and figures pertinent to Simcoe's earliest history.

Brown's Livery. After a perusal of Jean Waldie's article, older citizens of Simcoe may recall that Brown's Livery stood approximately on the site now occupied by Austin's Hardware store.

Around the gay nineties [1890s] the livery was a busy place. The proprietor, James Brown, spent considerable time at the Battersby House contacting commercial travellers who might require horse and rig to drive out calling on country merchants. It was characteristic of Mr. Brown to frequently appear dressed in a smart brown suit, brown derby hats, and a neatly-groomed light brown moustache.

Battersby Hotel. It is more than half a century since the barn was torn down. Recently the Battersby Hotel met the same fate, to make way for the new Woolworth store. 

Some folks have been heard to ask when the hotel was built and by whom? The answer to this is not found in Lewis Brown's History of Simcoe, although most important business places as well as hotels have received comment in his book. However the writer of this article has gathered the following information:

It is believed George Battersby built the hotel in 1873, one year later than the coming of the first railroad train to Simcoe.

A story is told that when Mr. Battersby made it known that he intended to build a large three-storey hotel, much bigger than any other in Simcoe, some of the village fathers raised their eyebrows, saying "Why, the man is daft." Simcoe already had six hotels and a population of only 1,850. 

Despite attempts to discourage him, however, Mr. Battersby went ahead and built the hotel. New and modern as the period, the interior was furnished with expensive equipment.

(Mr. Battersby also built a fine, large brick house on West Street, just over the railway track. This was for some years the home of the late Sherriff Jackson.)

William Battersby. Before the turn of the century, John Dixon and Robert Mead were managers of the hotel for a short time. After them, William Battersby, son of George Battersby, became manager. 

William was known to a dressy man. He was slightly taller than the average, well-built and of dark complexion. He usually appeared attired in the latest-style expensive suit, plus wing-collar boiled shirt and gorgeous diamond.

He had many friends among the travelling public who were loud in their praise for the excellent meals and good service they received from the hotel's employees.

Mr. Battersby had a passion for serving extra good meals to his guests. This probably stemmed from the fact that he was an epicure.

There are some older citizens today who may recall their boyhood days when they received a day's wages for a few hours' work in supplying Mr. Battersby with some mushrooms, frog's legs, a small basket of mint, watercress, occasionally a fine trout.

A description of the Battersby Hotel would seem incomplete without mention of two of the well-known employees, Lem Grey and William Wilkinson.

The former was the coloured porter and assistant manager. His cheerful disposition, his sense of humour, his deep southern dialect, were sources of amusement to those about him. His son, Bruce, was an outstanding hockey player for the Simcoe team more than 50 years ago.

'Push' Wilkinson. William ('Push') Wilkinson was for a number of years employed by Mr. Battersby as the maintenance and all-around handyman. He won local fame for his daring exploits before coming to work for Mr. Battersby. He spent a time sailing on the Great Lakes and was a  sail-rigger and repairman. An expert swimmer, he saved several people from drowning.

As a steeple-jack one of his outstanding and dangerous stunts was climbing the Dean's Hotel flag-pole, adjusting a pulley and rope. This was said to be remarkably daring. Some citizens advised him that the pole was not safe. But he ignored the advice and made the climb. A few years later the pole was officially condemned and removed around 1890.

For many years 'Push' Wilkinson was a familiar figure around Simcoe. His death occurred in 1921 and he was buried in Oakwood Cemetery.

Nostalgic Memories. The two business places which are said to have had the first phones in Simcoe have passed from view. Likewise the persons mentioned in this article. However, it is safe to say the wrecking of the Battersby Hotel brought back some nostalgic memories to older citizens.

It might be a memory of a particular event occurring half a century ago when on a splendid June day Jimmy Brown's sleek horses, shiny carriages and liveried coachmen, with care and decorum, did their part as they conveyed the wedding party to the church.

Or it may have been the occasion of being present at a sumptuous banquet and later attending the hall in the Battersby Hotel ballroom, whirling to the bewitching strains of the London Italian Harpists.

"Push" Wilkinson

Sherriff Jos. Jackson

Copyright 2014 John Cardiff