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