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"Glorious Old Norfolk"
Compiled by Bruce M. Pearce, B.A., in 1924

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Rich as she is in her wealth of natural resources, her thriving centres of industry, and her many magnificent homesteads, undoubtedly the most prized possession of Norfolk is the mass of interesting historical lore, which has formed the background for the growth of our county down through the decades. The story of Norfolk's development from an unbroken wilderness into one of the richest agricultural districts in the province, would fill many pages. Hence we can give but a bare outline of her rise from infancy, a brief sketch of Norfolk's pioneer settlers, of the industrial, political and military leaders who have been responsible for the splendid heritage which is ours.

First Explorers. Two centuries and a half have elapsed since those intrepid French priests and explorers, De Galinee and Dollier de Casson, first visited the forest-covered area that now comprise the County of Norfolk. Like the Recollet father, De Laroche Daillon, who preceded them here by several decades, so did the French priests wax eloquent concerning the beautiful territory, which was destined to become Norfolk County. The meagre records of their sojourn here tell of stately forests abounding with wild game of all descriptions, swirling streams, teeming with fish, and a country laden with wild fruits of finest quality. Their unbounded admiration for this newly-discovered land found expression in the name which they grave to it. They christened it "The Territorial Paradise of Canada."

First Settlers Charlotteville  The story of the journey made by there fearless Frenchmen down the Grand River and along the north shore of Lake Erie, how they landed at the bluff, which now forms a portion of Port Dover village, and made their winter quarters on the point made by the confluence of Black Creek and Patterson's Creek, has long been a matter of historical record. But it is just two years since that pioneer visit was commemorated in a tangible and permanent way. In the month of July, 1922, in the presence of a large and representative assembly, a handsome memorial cross was unveiled on Brant Hill, near the spot where, more than two hundred and fifty years ago, the first Europeans wintered in Norfolk County. Fleeting decades grew to more that a century, after that brief visit, before Norfolk County was first settled by white men. Of course the country had been peopled by Indians for many years, but the first record of any settlement by a white man was in the year 1786, when "Uncle Billy" Smith, son of Abraham Smith, the pioneer settler of Charlotteville, came to the Long Point district, where he lived practically as a brother with the Redskins. Four years passed, however, before the first human habitation, in the shape of a log cabin, was erected in Norfolk. Dr. Troyer, Norfolk's first medical practitioner, and a confirmed believer in witchcraft, was its occupant. The cabin was situated upon the low, expansive stretch of land, lying beneath the ravine about one mile and a half east of Port Rowan village. Many and peculiarly interesting are the stories that have been broadcast concerning Dr. Troyer and his eccentricities, and the site of his residence of more than a century ago still possesses a certain indefinable air of mystery for those who visit it.

Coming of the U. E. Loyalists
Up until this time, Norfolk remained an unbroken wilderness, and no real attempt had been made toward a settlement in the district. But the close of the American Revolution, and the consequent influx from across the border of thousands of U. E. Loyalists, were ultimately responsible for the clearing of Norfolk soil. About ten thousand of these highly desirable people settled in the Lower Provinces, but many gradually came westward and became pioneers of this portion of the province.

Many of the Loyalists had held distinguished posts in the army during the war years, and the British Government recognized their valuable services with generous grants of land. But they were strangers in a strange land, and their path was beset with difficulties that must have taxed their skill and endurance to the utmost.

A considerable number of the best families settled in Norfolk County. Immediately they undertook the herculean task of building new homes, levelling the forests, removing the stumps, and cutting roadways through the densely-wooded country. The settlement commenced to prosper and many acres of fertile land were turned into furrows. One serious drawback was the lack of nearby markets for their products. At that time Newark (now Niagara) was the only important village west of the St. Lawrence River. Toronto, Hamilton and Brantford were not in evidence. To the east, and west of Norfolk there was not a single settler. The growth of the community was fairly rapid, and when the War of 1812 broke out there were about 3,000 inhabitants.

The exciting events of the war only served to stimulate the settlers' love for the country of their choice, and the forests soon resounded louder than ever with the sharp click of the woodman's axe. Lumbering quickly became the chief industry in the county. The land was covered with a magnificent growth of pine, oak and hard woods. For the lumberman it afforded peculiar advantages for operation, in its wealth of timber, ease of access and abundance of supplies within convenient distances. Thus much of the choicest timber in Norfolk was cut down and taken to market at a time when prices scarcely afforded a fair day's wage for those engaged in the business.

An Important Settlement
The district which comprises the present Township of Charlotteville had been discovered by the early settlers to be a choice field for lumbering operations, and otherwise admirably suited for settlement. Naturally many of the Loyalists who arrived in Norfolk in the closing years of the eighteenth century were attracted there. Among them were the Ryersons, McCalls, Walshs, Secords, Teeples, Spurgins, Johnsons, Smiths, Mabees, and the Shearers. Others were Ephraim Tisdale, Robert Henderson, Thomas Price, James Blayney, Noah Fairchild and James Mitchell. The latter was a highly educated and gifted man. He established a grammar school in 1810, where the Ryerson boys were among his pupils. Later he became judge of the London district. Many descendants of these families attained eminence in business, professional and political circles, for instance: Egerton Ryerson, the Father of Canadian Schools and his brothers John and William, Col. Samuel Ryerse, Duncan McCall, Simpson McCall, Alexander McCall, Francis L. Walsh, Thomas W. Walsh and Aquila Walsh.

Vittoria. The Charlotteville district prospered from the outset. Vittoria was its largest village, and for many years was a place of much importance. The courts of the London district were held there for eleven years, and the registry office was also at Vittoria for many years, preceding its removal to Simcoe.

Lynedoch. Lynedoch, situated on the banks of Big Creek, which crosses the northwestern angle of the township, reached the zenith of its fame about the middle of the century. The village was founded in 1812 by Philip Wilson, who built a mill there. But the Big Creek Valley did not become the theatre of extensive lumbering operations until the early forties. The forests were a dense growth of pine and oak chiefly, and scarcely a lot in the region was destitute of a liberal supply of valuable timber. Big Creek itself was a stream with superior facilities for the running and rafting of timber. The first operations were the building of saw mills, and the manufacture of timber for local consumption and export. One of the largest mills was located at Lynedoch which in 1864 became the headquarters for the lumber industry upon the Big Creek. Among the pioneer firms which operated at Lynedoch were those of Gray and Charlton and Charlton and Ross.

Normandale. In southern Charlotteville, Normandale was for many years the most important settlement. The "Furnaces" at the Normandale Iron Works were established by the Van Norman family, and provided many men with employment. Large beds of bog iron ore had been found in the locality, and the discovery was capitalized on by the Van Normans, who built a blast furnace. Normandale once boasted a population of 700, and was counted one of Norfolk's more prosperous municipalities. Today it is a "deserted village," noted alone as a pleasant retreat for vacationists.

Walsingham Township. Like their neighbor, the present Townships of North and South Walsingham were once the lumberman's paradise. Big Creek, which crosses these townships, became the gate through which flowed the pride of Walsingham's forests. Vast Quantities of timber were shipped from Port Rowan and Port Royal. The latter port, at the mouth of Big Creek, was one of Norfolk's earliest villages, and a very busy and important commercial centre in those pioneer lumbering days. In fact, while lumbering was in progress upon the stream, business of all kinds, was brisk throughout the district. Hundreds of men found steady employment, great quantities of goods were sold by merchants, farmers had a ready and profitable market for everything they raised, and the country enjoyed an era of prosperity greater than ever has fallen to its lot since the practical close of lumbering operations in 1878.

As the land was gradually cleared and the way paved for agricultural development, the numerous planning and saw mills disappeared, and were supplanted by grist mills. The Walsingham district has now become a good agricultural region, with well-to-do farmers and well-developed farms, and little trace remains today of the magnificent forests which were swept away by the woodmen's axes more than half a century ago. A few of the names that will always be associated with early Walsingham are those of Edward Foster, Colonel John Backhouse, Abraham Countryman, the Troyers, Killmasters, Copes, Procuniers, Ficks, Franklins, Ellises, Browns, Hazens, Mabees, Hutchinsons, and the Prices.

Houghton Township. The more westerly portion of South Norfolk, which now forms the Township of Houghton, was not settled until after the eastern part. Consequently the settlers were compelled to take their grist to a mill which stood at the Cross and Fisher Landing, between Normandale and Port Ryerse. Though comparatively remote from the main centre of settlement, this district likewise fell prey to the lumberman, and for many years the lumber industry, with its logging bees and saw mills, flourished there. Early in the century the fame of the Houghton sandhills began to spread, and since that day thousands of interested visitors have viewed this unique phenomenon.

Early Days in Woodhouse
Township / Port Dover.  Of the county's pioneer settlements none has had a more important bearing on the growth of Norfolk than the Township of Woodhouse. It embraced two excellent harbors, at Port Dover and Port Ryerse, which early in the nineteenth century were the scenes of great industrial activity. The land on which Dover now stands were first owned by Peter Walker, and Governor Simcoe laid out a village here upon the occasion of his visit to Norfolk. Daniel McQueen built the first saw mill and grist mill about 1801. They were burned during the War of 1812, only to be rebuilt in 1824 by Col. Robert Nichol. Andrew Thompson became their owner in 1847. The present site of the village was laid out in 1834, on the property of Moses C. Nickerson and Israel W. Powell, who became Norfolk's first Warden. Naturally Port Dover became the centre of the lumbering industry for the district, and huge quantities of timber were exported thence.

Port Ryerse.  Similarly the now-decadent harbor at Ryerse once was a shipping point of no mean important. Sailing vessels and propellers carried away cargo upon cargo of grain, lumber, staves and flour. It was a golden era in Port Ryerse's history, one that is not likely to be repeated in the near future, for industrially the once-thriving village has fallen upon evil days. Samuel Ryerse was the original founder of the Port, having settled there in 1794. He built the first grist mill at Port Ryerse.

Among the leading residents of Woodhouse one century ago were Abner Owen, Levi Douglas, David Marr, Joseph Walker, Jacob Lemon, Colonel Salmon, the Culvers, Misners, Steinhoffs, Austins, DeCous, Bowlbys, McQueens, Potts and Gilberts.

North Norfolk Pioneers
Townsend Township. The inhabitants of the northern part of the county, particularly of the district now forming the Township of Townsend, were among the earliest arrivals in Norfolk. The fertility and general excellence of the land which characterized this region, was no doubt responsible for the steady flow of immigration. By the year 1817 it boasted a population of over 700, prominent among whom were the Beemers, Culvers, Slacks, Sovereens, McMichaels, Kitchens, Barbers, Duncombes, Joseph Woolley, Adam Bowlby, Job Loder, Job Slaght, Ezekiel Foster, Amos Manwell, Jacob Clouse, Ezra Parney, John Walker, John Haviland, Levi Boughner, John Heath, Richard Wilcox, Nathan Wade and many others.

Waterford.  The present village of Waterford, with the natural advantages it offered to the lumbermen and farmers, soon became a thriving centre of industrial and commercial life. Job Slaght was the first resident, and it was his capital that built Waterford's first grist mill. James L. Green, who at one time owned practically all of Waterford west of Main Street, built a foundry and with his sons, continued to manufacture farm implements for many years. When fire destroyed his first establishment, he rebuilt on St. James Street. That structure likewise fell prey to the ravages of the fire demon.

Job Loder was another who stamped his name indelibly upon the growth of Waterford. During his sojourn in South Norfolk, he had built the Finch mill and the old Gustin mill east of Vittoria. When he arrived in Waterford early in the century, he purchased and enlarged the mill. Later he erected a saw mill and also engaged in merchandising. His enterprise and sagacity were of invaluable assistance in the upbuilding of Waterford.

Windham Township. A settlement in the southwestern part of the present Township of Windham was numbered among the first in the county. It was in the vicinity of what is now Colborne village and the Beemers, Culvers, and others settled at the close of the eighteenth century. At that time Windham was covered in stately pines, most of which succumbed to the vigorous attacks of the lumbermen and found their way down Big Creek to the lakeshore. Prominent lumbermen of the early days were James McKnight, George F. Martin, W. and D. Gibson, Robert Wood, James Robertson, and George Teeter, whose grist and saw mills at Teeterville practically laid the foundation for the present village. It was George Teeter who laid out the village in 1859. Familiar names in Windham one hundred years ago were: Searles, Sovereen, Green, Forse, Langs, Youngs, Powell, Culver, McInally, Hunter, Axford, Millard, Boughner, Waddell, Whitehead, Pettit, Lawson, Richardson, Davis, Reavely, Hagerman, McCurdy, Edmonds and others.

Middleton Township. To the west of Windham there was no settlement until about the time of the War of 1812, when the earliest arrivals appeared in that district which is now Middleton. Among them were Joseph Lawson, Frederick Sovereen, Henry Sovereen, and the Browns. Fredericksburg (now Delhi) was laid out by Frederick Sovereen, after whom the village was named. He kept a hotel there for many years, the license for which is dated 1834. Lot Tisdale settled at Middleton Centre (now Courtland) in 1823, shortly before the Talbot highway was opened for traffic. Talbot Street was named after Col. Talbot, who was responsible for its construction. Soon settlers were flocking into the district to take up land bordering Talbot Street. The community excelled in the quantity and quality of its prime timber, and for several decades many saw mills were actively engaged in the industry. But as the years rolled by, the timber supply neared exhaustion, and Middleton, with its sister townships, settled down to the production of the crops and fruits where have brought fame to Norfolk County.

Early Municipal History
Under the French regime, the present Norfolk formed a comparatively unimportant part of the old District of Hesse. In 1788, twenty-five years after the Treaty of Paris, Canada was divided in five districts. The most westerly one contained what is now the County of Norfolk. The formation of this district was the first recognition of the necessity for some system of administration in what is now Western Ontario. Although the district contained a large and rather undefined territory, there were only about 4,000 inhabitants, and all these were in the settlements about Detroit, which at that time was under British rule. Colonel John Graves Simcoe was the first Governor of Upper Canada, and in 1792 he issued his proclamation dividing the province into counties, of which Norfolk was the sixteenth. The territory now known as the Townships of Malahide, Dorchester, Bayham, Burford, Oxford on the Thames, Norwich and Dereham, were included with the limits of this county. In 1798, Norfolk, Oxford and Middlesex and certain other territory were united forming the London District.

Turkey Point. It is scarcely conceivable that the barren waste of Turkey Point was chosen, little more than a century ago, as the commercial and governmental metropolis of Upper Canada. In 1795, Governor Simcoe, while engaged in the work of laying out a thoroughfare from Niagara to Amherstberg, journeyed through Norfolk's forests to the lakeshore. He was greatly impressed with the admirable location and surroundings of Turkey Point. The sparsity of timber indicated that an excellent settlement could be easily effected. A reservation was almost immediately made for a town site and government buildings. The new municipality was to be called the "Town of Charlotteville," in honor of Queen Charlotte, and a survey was ordered for a road to connect the town with the Governor's Road. Thus Turkey Point became known as the town of Charlotteville and the district town of the London district. From 1800 to 1803 the courts were held in the house of James Moore [sic], in the Township of Charlotteville. In the latter year they were moved to the house of Job Loder, innkeeper at the Town of Charlotteville. The latter was the First Citizen of the town and his tavern became the capitol [sic] of the London district. He was made jailer and "burgomaster" of the whole town. The courts were continued at this house until a log jail and a two-storey frame court house were erected near the same place at the district's expense.

During the War of 1812, it was found necessary to appropriate the court house at Turkey Point for the use of troops, and in 1815 the district courts were removed to a more favorable location in the Village of Vittoria. A substantial brick court house was erected there at a cost of $45,000. It was accidentally burned down in November, 1825. The following year London was chosen as the district town, being in a more central position.

Subsequently the County of Norfolk became the Talbot district, which included about the same territory as we have now. Simcoe was made the district town. The first Talbot district council convened at Simcoe on February 8th, 1842. It consisted of nine members: Israel Wood Powell (Warden), Walter Anderson, Thomas Backhouse, John B. Grouse, Nelson Eagles, James L. Green, Lawrence H. Hunt, Jesse Millard and Peter O'Carr.

The act of 1849, which abolished districts, gave the name of Norfolk once more to this county and it still retains it. By the same act, the present municipal system was introduced. The first municipal council of the County of Norfolk convened on January 28th, 1850.

Parliamentary Representation
Although the first Canadian Parliament sat in 1792, the first election recorded for this county was in Waterford in 1800, the candidates being David W. Smith and Richard Cockerel. Thomas Walsh [sic] was returning officer. Mr. Smith was elected and became Speaker of the House. The next election was held at Turkey Point, when B. Mallory ran against Colonel Samuel Ryerse and defeated him. After 1820, Francis L. Walsh and E. R. Nichol represented the county, also Duncan McCall, Dr. Baldwin, Captain McNeilidge, Dr. Charles Duncombe, and Dr. John Rolph, who vacated the seat in 1838. He was followed by William Salmon, afterwards judge of the county, Israel W. Powell (1841-1848), and Hon. John Boulton. In 1850 Hon. John Rolph was elected again and again in 1854, defeating James W. Ritchie. The next representative was Walker Powell, who opposed Thomas W. Walsh in 1858. In 1861, Aquila Walsh was elected and continued to represent the county till Confederation, when he was elected by the North Riding as its representative in the Dominion House of Commons, the member for the South Riding being Peter Lawson. These gentlemen continued to represent the county until 1872, when they were succeeded by Hon. John Charlton for the North Riding, and William Wallace for the South Riding. The latter was succeeded in 1882 by Joseph Jackson (later Sheriff), followed in 1887 by Hon. Col. David Tisdale, who in 1896 was appointed Minister of Militia in the Tupper administration.

The Redistribution Act of 1903 consolidated the two ridings into one. Hon. John Charlton retired in 1904, after 32 year of distinguished service, and at the election in that year Hon. Col. D. Tisdale was selected to represent the county. He was succeeded in 1908 by Alexander McCall, who in 1913 was appointed to the Senate. Hon. W. A. Charlton followed from 1911 until 1921, when the present member J. Alex. Wallace was returned.

In the Local Legislature the North Riding was first represented by James Wilson of Townsend, and then by Dr. John F. Clarke, who was re-elected in 1875. In 1869 John B. Freeman of Windham was chosen, and he held the seat until his death in 1890, and was succeeded by E. C. Carpenter, who remained in the Legislature until 1902. In that year Dr. F. S. Snider won the election but was unseated, and at the consequent by-election in 1903 was defeated by A. M. Little. Colonel T. R. Atkinson became member for North Norfolk in 1905. He was defeated in 1908 by H. P. Innes, but was re-elected in 1911 and again in 1914. George D. Sewell, the sitting member, was returned at the 1919 election and again in 1923.

The South Riding had Simpson McCall of Vittoria as its first representative. He was there from 1867 to 1875, being followed by R. Richardson of Port Rowan. William Morgan was next, holding the seat for three parliaments, till the election of 1890, when Hon. William A. Charlton defeated him. Mr. Chartlon remained member until 1905, and was chosen Speaker of the House in 1902. Col. A. C. Pratt represented the South Riding from 1905 until 1919, and was followed by Joseph Cridland. Hon. John S. Martin, Minister of Agriculture in the Ferguson Cabinet, was the popular choice at the 1923 election.

Twentieth Century Norfolk
In conclusion, just a work concerning present-day Norfolk and the amazing strides made throughout the county during the past few decades. The age of invention has found its mark not only in the great metropolis, but in the rural district as well. Norfolk, with her sister counties, has kept apace of the remarkable developments that have everywhere been effected.

Probably the most important achievement of recent years in Norfolk has been the introduction of an electric railway service, by which the produce of this rich agricultural region can be speedily transported to urban markets, and which has greatly benefited Norfolk people by the facility with which short distance travelling may now be accomplished. In addition, Norfolk's chief lake port has reaped untold benefit from the new radical service and the prospect for future recognition of Port Dover as Lake Erie's foremost port is very bright, particularly if the latent harbor facilities receive long overdue assistance from the Federal Government.

But better railway service does not stand alone in the line of transportation improvement in Norfolk. Our pioneer forefathers were forced to content themselves with corduroy roads, and few enough of them. Today we possess a fine network of substantial gravel roads, together with a ten-mile paved highway and a second provincial highway crossing our county from east to west, all of which are very necessary in view of the rapid growth in the number of automobiles owned by residents of the county.

During the past half century, agriculture and its by-industries have naturally assumed the front rank position in Norfolk. The introduction of modern labor-saving machinery on the farm has been particularly beneficial in sowing and reaping the crops, while the excellence of the soil and favorable climate conditions have resulted in a rapid growth in the acreage of small fruits. Norfolk apples have become pre-eminent in two hemispheres, and today many of the growers are banded together in the Norfolk Co-operative Company, which packs and ships annually thousands of barrels of apples. The major portion of the small fruit produce and vegetables is taken care of by local factories, for instance the Dominion Canners and St. Williams Fruit Preservers, whose brands have become famous throughout the land.

Aside from its agricultural wealth, Norfolk boasts a number of important industrial lines. Lumbering has not altogether become extinct, and the timber limits of southwestern Norfolk are still the scene of rather extensive operations. Dairying, cattle-raising and poultry-farming are prominent in all sections of the county.

Moreover, in the County Town, as in several surrounding villages, principally Port Dover and Waterford, a variety of well-equipped manufacturing concerns are located. They lend employment to a vast number of inhabitants and have contributed no small share to the general prosperity of Norfolk people.

Again, Port Dover is one of the chief centres of the fishing industry along the north shore of Lake Erie, and the several prosperous firms whose net annually yield enormous quantities of fish, find a ready market for their produce in the larger cities across the border, as well as at home.

Two important government institutions are situated in Norfolk, namely, the Fish Hatcheries at Normandale and the Forestry Station at St. Williams, the latter being the most complete establishment of its kind in the province, and the object of admiration and wonderment on the part of sightseers from many distant countries.

The natural beauty of Norfolk's lake front has resulted in a widespread popularity for her summer resorts. Port Dover, Port Ryerse, Normandale, Fisher's Glen, Turkey Point and Port Rowan are becoming the homes of an ever-increasing summer population.

So today, in spite of the unsettled conditions that have been prevalent everywhere during the past few years, there is no room for the pessimist in this county. Norfolk is rich in her acres of arable land, her magnificent homesteads and all the modern innovations which have brought contentment to the farming community, villagers and townspeople alike. There is every prospect that the years will bring still more abundant riches to "Glorious Old Norfolk."

Source: Simcoe and Norfolk County published by Pearce Publishing, 1924
(Out of print. Copy available for inspection at Norfolk Historical Society.)
Copyright 1997-2014 John Cardiff and Norfolk Historical Society