Galt becomes an
Incorporated Village—Population in 1850— Other villages of
Dumfries—Early reminiscences of Paris. St. George and Ayr—Visit of Lord
Elgin to Galt in 1849—First Councillors of Galt—Peeves and Municipal
Officers The Dumfries Reformer—The County Town struggle—Berlin carries
off the prize—Public meeting Beform dinner to the Hon. George Rrown—The
Ferrie and Tiffany election—First great Fire in Galt—The Collegiate
Institute—Dr. Tassie—The Railway era opens— Turning the first sod of the
Galt branch—Municipal rejoicings.
Galt became an
incorporated village in 1850, and may be said to have then entered upon
a new stage of existence. Over thirty years had come and gone since Mr.
Dickson and Mr. Shade had followed the Indian trail to the site selected
for the village, and those years had not been passed in vain. The
wilderness had disappeared. Well cultivated farms and good roads
extended in every direction. Not a few log houses remained, and too many
pine stumps still disfigured the landscape ; but new stone and frame
houses were beginning to appear in every part of Dumfries, and other
evidences of increasing wealth met the eye at every turn.
The population of the
village had grown to a little over 2,000, and being in the centre of a
rich agricultural district, its business was unsurpassed, at that time,
by any of its rivals. As neither the Great Western nor Grand Trunk
Railway was then in existence, the area of its trade was much larger
than after these roads brought a wheat market to almost every farmer’s
door. Much of the wheat grown as far west as Stratford was then either
sold in Galt, or passed through the village as flour, on its way down
the macadamized road to the head waters of Lake Ontario at Dundas.
Nor was Galt the only
prosperous village which had arisen in the whilom wilderness. Thirteen
miles further down the Grand River, there was the large and prosperous
village of Paris ; on the east side of the township, the village of St.
George, on the west, the village of Ayr; and in the centre, the village
of Glenmorris. The existence of so many thriving villages, at this
comparatively early period, tells not only of the great natural
resources of Dumfries, but how heroically and successfully the early
settlers had battled with nature during the preceding thirty years. We
are indebted to several kind correspondents for information in
connection with the founding of these villages, which, though not so
full as we could wish, is interesting, inasmuch as it brings into notice
the names of some of those who were among the Pioneers of these places.
A GLIMPSE OF GALT, FROM THE HILL ABOVE THE C. W. R. STATION.
During its early days,
Paris was known by the name of the “Forks of the Grand River,” which was
derived from the circumstance of the stream called the Nith, or Smith’s
Creek, joining the Grand River at that point. “About 1836,” says our
correspondent, “Mr. Hiram Capron called a public meeting. Some fifteen
of the leading spirits attended. James Barker was one, and he remembers
the King (Mr. Capron was known as King Capron) protesting against having
to head all his correspondence with “Forks of the Grand River,” and he
also recommended the word “Paris,” for shortness, and because there was
so much gypsum in the neighbourhood.” It was in this way Paris obtained
its name, and the same correspondent gives us the following information
in regard to some of those who were its earliest citizens:—“In the year
1828, Hiram Capron, who was originally from Vermont, sold out his
interest in the Long Point Blast Furnace, and came to the Forks of the
Grand River. He bought 1,000 acres of land for $10,000 from Squire
Holmes, who resided within three miles of Brantford, and commenced
clearing and cultivating the land. In 1829, a millwright named Josiah
Cushman was brought by Mr. Capron from Buffalo, to build a mill, which,
when completed, had two run of stones, one for gristing, the other for
grinding plaster, of which there was plenty almost on the surface of the
ground. Cushman recommended one Elias Conklin as a suitable person to
manage the estate; Conklin was written to, but would not come at less
than $16 per month and board (!) This was accepted, but at the end of
one year, Conklin leased the mill from Capron, and became a very active
business man; he dug plaster and ground it, started a brick-yard, burnt
lime, built a saw mill, and made considerable lumber. Saw-logs were
floated down Smith’s creek, but they wouldn’t buy any in those days
unless over 22 inches diameter, and from that size up to 3 feet 6
inches, the price was 50c. each! Conklin ultimately sold out, and went
on a farm in Dumfries. After Conklin leased the mill (1830), Horace
Capron came in and took the former’s position on his brother’s farm.
Robert Fisher (1830) started a shoe shop; Robert Stewart, a waggon shop;
Macklin and Ingles, a tannery, which ten years afterwards was sold to
Hugh Finlayson & Co. ; James Barker, a blacksmith shop, which he
continued for 16 years ; H. T. Judson began to make farm implements; and
E. P. Forsyth started a tailor shop.
“A considerable number of
farmers had in the meantime taken up land, and settlement was going
steadily fonvard. Among those early settlers were the Curtis’s, the
Rykerts, the Sovereigns, the Maus’s and others. Samuel Heath came from
Mudge Hollow to the Forks in 1832, and started a blacksmith shop and
trip hammer. Norman Hamilton, who had previously been employed by Norton
and Bliss, of Mudge Hollow, started a distillery. He sold most of the
whiskey at Toronto, at 1s. 6d. York, or 18 cents per gallon! The first
woollen mill was begun by Daniel Totten, where he scoured, dyed, and
made the wool into rolls for the farmers’ wives. Asa Wolverton brought
in several carpenters about this time, and found work in erecting
buildings. One Van Every built a store in the Upper Town, but only lived
about eighteen months afterwards, and is said to have been the first man
buried in the cemetery. The father of Mr. P. O’Connor was killed by a
falling tree, and is said to have been the second. John Smith (now
Sheriff), came in and started a store in Van Every’s place. Among the
other early settlers in Paris who are remembered, were Daniel Spears, a
joiner by trade, and Joseph Andrews, a wheel-right, who came from Nova
Scotia. Daniel O’Neil and James Davidson, came into the neighbourhood
about 1833. Dr. McCosh, who came in 1834, was the first physician in the
“Many curious stories of
the early settlement are extant, but it would lead us too far to recite
them. Mr. Elias Conklin, who still survives in Paris, delights in
telling them. One which illustrates the kind and sympathetic feelings
which existed among the early settlers, may be mentioned.* Once he had
to go to Buffalo, to get some heavy machinery for the mill, the Long
Point Furnace being out. He brought in from Buffalo with him three
five-gallon kegs of oysters, which were then a rare luxury. Two he
parted with at Brantford, the third was bought by Hiram Capron, who
invited every man, woman, and child in the village to an oyster supper.
Nearly every one attended, as was the custom in those early days, and
such a jolly time was spent as few can understand in this more prim and
fashionable age. Mr. Conklin first saw Robert Stewart cooking oatmeal
bannocks in a frying-pan, near where the English Church now stands—then
all bush, with many Indians around, and wolves frequently howling at
night. The virgin soil of Dumfries was quite productive. In 1841, O. D.
Bradford rented a farm from King Capron, from which he raised 1,000
bushels of oats, which he sold at 10 cents per bushel. He also raised
forty bushels of wheat-per acre where the Paris station now is.
“The first preachers who
came to the locality were Methodists, and were named Cope and Pringle.
Brantford was the circuit town, and had the Post Office. People had to
go there for their groceries for a short time at first. The Roman
Catholics built the first church. In 1833 and ’34 the village prospered
well, but in 1836, there was nearly a famine before the harvest was
gathered in. Prices of produce had been good in 1835, and the farmers
had over-sold, leaving themselves with too little for their wants during
the ensuing season. Flour ran up to $16 per barrel, and had to be teamed
from the Niagara district or wherever it could be obtained. But as soon
as the crops ripened, plenty soon again prevailed.”
It has already been
mentioned that the neighbourhood of St. George was one of the very first
parts of Dumfries in which settlers took up land. Some persons had,
indeed, been attracted by the fine farming lands in that quarter, even
before Mr. Dickson acquired the township. “Obed Wilson,” says a St.
George correspondent, “built the first house on Lot number seven, on the
third concession, near where the Methodist Church now stands, and was
the first settler; this was about 1814. Conners and Dayton came in about
1815; Isaac Shaver and John Buckbeny, in 1816; David Van Every and J.
Fawkes, 1817; John Petit arrived in 1818, and erected a distillery; the
Mumas (Christopher, Michael, and Henry) took up land in 1819. The first
grist mill was erected in 1817, on Lot number four, on the third
concession, by John Phillips. Mr. A. E. Mainwaring took up his land in
1821. Henry Gardner built the first sawmill, onLotnumbersix, on the
second concession, in 1823. The first store was kept in a log house, not
far from the saw mill; it was carried on by Henry Moe. The first school
was begun in 1823, in a log house—indeed, there was nothing else but log
buildings in those days. The school was taught by one Mr. Lowe. Mr.
Edward Kitchen, now very aged, settled in the township about 1823, and
Messrs. Robert Snowball, and David Reid in 1833 and ’34, respectively.
Mr. D. Baptie, Township Clerk, did not arrive till 1847. Mr. Gavin
Fleming, M. P., came from Falkirk, Scotland, in 1849.” The writer states
that it is difficult to obtain the dates with absolute correctness, but
the foregoing statements are doubtless very near the mark.
Mr. Robert Christie,
father of the Honourable David Christie, late Speaker of the Senate of
Canada, arrived from Scotland in October, 1833. He was induced to do so
by the favourable representations of the Honourable Adam Ferguson, who
was an intimate friend. He settled in South Dumfries in 1834, where he
lived until 1861. From that time, until his death in January, 1877, at
the ripe old age of ninety-seven, he resided with the Honourable David
Christie at “The Plains,” between Paris and Brantford. Mr. Christie was
very devotedly attached to the Presbyterian Church, of which he was a
member for eighty-two, and an elder for thirty-five years. Until a short
time before his death, he drove nine miles to church at St George, every
Sabbath, so strong was his attachment to the congregation with which he
had been connected since its beginning.
Among the first ministers
who visited the neighbourhood of St. George were the Rev. Thomas
Christie and the Rev. William Proudfoot. They were sent out as
missionaries by the United Secession Church in Scotland, in 1832. They
visited a number of families, and were gladly received. Arrangements
were made for public worship, which was held for some time in a
school-house, on the farm of Mr. Kitchen, west of St. George. At first,
for nearly two years, the station was supplied by the. Rev. Thomas
Christie once a fortnight. He lived in West Flamboro’, and supplied a
congregation there on alternate Sabbaths. As the roads at that time were
very rude, Mr. David Christie’s habit was to go to Flamboro’ for his
uncle, leading one horse, and riding the other. At that period the
greater part of the way along the Governor’s road was merely a track
through the woods. In 1834 a frame church was erected, the contractor
being the late Mr. Asa Wolverton, of Paris. It is believed that this St.
George congregation was the first which (outside of Galt) was formed in
Dumfries. After Mr. Christie had ministered to it until it was in good
working order, a call was given to the Rev. James Roy, who was ordained
to the charge of the congregation, in December, 1838.
The Rev. Mr. Christie was
a brother of Mr. Robert .Christie, and lived until his eighty-sixth
year, preaching till within two weeks of his death. His colleague as a
missionary, the Rev. William Proudfoot, was the father of the Rev. Dr.
Proudfoot, of London, and of His Honour Vice-Chancellor Proudfoot, of
In a well-written article
by Mr. Geo. D. Lewis, we find that “seventy years ago the beautiful
agricultural country, in the midst of which Ayr is situated, was an
unbroken wilderness, the only denizens being occasional wandering
Indians, large and tolerably well-behaved bears, fierce and stealthy
lynx, and wildcats, and innumerable roving wolves.” About 1824, Abel
Mudge,a member of the family who settled Mudge Hollow, now Canning,
erected grist and saw mills, where the Ayr Agricultural Works now stand.
A few settlers had taken up land, but had made little progress in
clearing their farms ; among these were the Dobkins, the Marlatts, Luces,
and Kiikwalls. None of their descendants are now left in the
neighbourhood. Mr. Mudge died in 1832, and his son Chapman disposed of
the mills, which eventually fell into the hands of Mr. Daniel Manley.
About the time of the Rebellion many new settlers arrived. Among these
were Mr. Robert Wyllie, Messrs. Richmond and Manson, and Mr. B. O.
Howell. Mr. Wyllie soon engaged in business in Ayr, and during a long
life continued to be one of its most active and useful citizens. Early
in the decade between 1840 and 1850, Messrs. Baker, Piper, and others,
commenced business in the village. Quite an impulse was given to Ayr, in
1848, by the starting of the Ayr Agricultural Works by Mr. John Watson,
who had previously been employed in Fisher’s Foundry, in Galt. The
energy and enterprise of Mr. Watson soon made the name of Ayr well known
throughout Canada, and its fame has been extended to other lands by the
success obtained by his products at the American Centennial, the Paris
Exposition of 1878, and in the far distant Australian colonies.
The year before its
incorporation, Galt was honoured with a visit from His Excellency the
Earl of Elgin and Kincardine, then Governor-General of Canada, and the
pleasing circumstances of the occasion are well remembered by many.
Having been brought as far as the Swan Inn by the citizens of Paris and
vicinity, His Excellency was met at that point by two large processions.
One was from West Dumfries, headed by Mr. John Duthie, of Ayr, and the
other from East Dumfries, by way of Glenmorris.
The late Mr. James
Colquhoun read an address to Lord Elgin from the people of Dumfries, at
the Swan Inn. It is not generally known, but it is the fact, that there
were two Richmonds in the field from Ayr, each armed with an address,
but Mr. Colquhoun managed in some way to get His Excellency’s attention
first, probably through Col. Bruce, with whom, it was said, he had
enjoyed some previous acquaintance. However this may be, Mr. Colquhoun’s
address came off, and the other didn’t, after which His Excellency and
party, drawn by four beautiful grey horses, owned and driven by Mr.
Francis Lowell, and followed by a procession about one mile and a half
long, was conducted into Galt with every token of enthusiasm.
The village was suitably
decorated with arches and evergreens for the occasion. Appended to the
arch on Main Street bridge was a representation of a spider and its web,
suggestive of the well-known incident in the early history of the Earl’s
family. Salutes, addresses, lunch at the Queen’s Arms and speeches, made
up the entertainment.
Lord Elgin was a most
charming speaker, and his praise of the beautiful situation of Galt, and
the excellence of the surrounding country, surpassed that of Sir George
Arthur, and quite captivated his auditors. He was accompanied to the
Wellington County line amidst much enthusiasm, where he was met by the
representatives of Guelph, who conducted him to similar honours in that
The first election of
Councillors to conduct the affairs of the new Municipality, resulted in
the return of Messrs. Andrew Elliott, Morris C. Lutz, Sydney Smith, John
Davidson, and William Ferguson. Mr. Isaac Sours acted as Returning
Officer. They met for the first time on the 21st January, 1850, when Mr.
Elliott was elected Reeve. The first Municipal officers were:—
Clerk and Treasurer, Mr.
Adam Ker. and Mr. Henry McCrum,
Assessors. Mr. Neilson, and Mr. John Batters. Mr. Peter Cook, Mr.
*The Reformers of
Dumfries and Galt, who took the principal part in doing honour to Lord
Elgin, were so much pleased with the lunch served at the Queen’s Arms,
that they made Mrs. Francis Lowell a presentation of Silver shortly
afterwards. One of the pieces contained this inscription:— ‘Presented to
Mrs. Lowell by the Reform Committee, for the excellent manner in which
she enabled them to entertain Lord Elgin on his visit to Galt, September
Unlike the present time,
when many leading citizens shun Municipal duties, the seats in the
Council were then hotly contested, and for several years after Galt
became incorporated, these village struggles were frequent and warm. In
1851, the Council was composed of Messrs. Andrew Elliott, Thomas
Blacklock, James Crombie, M. C. Lutz, and David H. Forbes. All the
Municipal officers were changed, except Mr. Ker, who continued to act as
Clerk of the Municipality until 1858—a period of J' years. After his
return from Brantford, to which he removed for eight years, Mr. Ker was
elected Mayor of Galt for six successive years, from 1868 to 1874, the
duties of which office, as of those of Clerk and Treasurer, he
discharged with much faithfulness and general acceptance.1
The following gentlemen
were elected the Reeves of Galt during the years which it remained a
1850—Mr. Andrew Elliott,
1852— Absalom Shade,
1853—Mr. Morris C. Lutz,
1854— John Davidson,
With its incorporation,
the second of the two newspapers so lone: associated with Galt came into
existence. The partnership between Messrs. Ainslie and Jaffray having
been terminated, the latter removed the publication of the Reporter to
the third story of the Waterloo Buildings, where its politics became
more Conservative in tone. Mr. Ainslie having secured the services of
Mr. Walter Stewart, as editor, commenced the publication of the Dumfries
Reformer, whose polities were pronounced in favour of the Reform party.
In 1853 the latter paper was purchased by Mr. James Young, who conducted
it for ten years. Both newspapers have been well sustained, and after
thirty years’ existence, manifest no signs of decrepitude.
One of the most exciting
and important struggles in which Galt ever took part, occurred at this
time. It was over the new County of Waterloo and the selection of the
county town. In the Session of 1850, the Hon. Francis Hincks, who was
then Finance Minister, brought in a bill creating new counties
throughout Ontario, one of which was the County of Waterloo, with Galt
as the county seat. The appearance of this measure threw the whole of
the district into a state of excited interest, which, as the Bill was
not proceeded with that Session, attained to fever-heat during 1851,
when an amended bill was submitted to the House and ultimately became
Those who took the
principal part in advocating the claims of Galt were : Messrs. Absalom
Shade, Andrew Elliott, James K. Andrews, and James Cowan, and they were
actively seconded by Mr. Jacob Hespeler, the Erbs, and others, of
Preston. It was thought at first that one or other of these two places
would obtain the prize, more especially as Galt had been named in the
original bill. On the side of Berlin, its most active friends were:—
Messrs. George Davidson, Dr. John Scott, C. A. Ahrens, C. Enslin (then
editor of the German paper in Berlin), Elias Snider, Jonathan B. Bowman,
William Davidson, D. S. Shoemaker, Henry Snider, and Dr. MeGeorge.
The foregoing gentlemen,
aided by many others, made the contest very exciting on both sides, and
such a time for deputations to the Government, to the Legislature at
Toronto, and of public meetings in all parts of the proposed county, has
never since been witnessed. Meetings on the subject were held at Galt,
Preston, the Toll-bridge, Berlin, Aberdeen, Bridgeport, Conestoga, St.
Jacobs, Crosshill, New Hamburg, and many other places. From 150 to 200
crowded sleigh-loads of people are said to have been present at the
The struggle ended, as
every one knows, in Berlin becoming the county town, and the chief
causes which brought about that result are not difficult to discover.
When it was decided that Dumfries should be divided, and the southern
part attached to the County of Brant Galt was thus placed at one corner
of the proposed new county, whilst Berlin was near its centre. This
naturally weighed greatly with many of the people. Then, the majority of
the Provisional Council favoured the selection of Berlin, and they found
active friends in the Legislature in the persons of Dr. Rolph, Mr.
Malcom Cameron, and Mr. David Christie, the latter of whom naturally
became all the more zealous for Berlin in consequence of attacks made
upon him in the press and on the platform for the course which he saw
fit to pursue.
The loss of becoming the
county scat was no doubt an unfortunate circumstance for the town, and
caused much chagrin at the time. The citizens found consolation in the
fact, however, that if Galt was not the county town, it was at least the
town of the county ! Exciting as this struggle was, it was gene rail}’
characterized by good feeling, and its memory is already almost
The bill creating the new
county—as well as many others throughout Upper Canada—was passed during
the Session of 1851; the county buildings were erected at Berlin by the
Provisional Council in 1852, and the county was set apart for judicial
purposes on the 21st January,
1853. The first officers
appointed by the Government were as follows:—
Judge—Mr. William Miller.
Sheriff—Mr. George Davidson.
Clerk of the Peace—Mr. AEmilius Irving.
Clerk of the County Court—Mr. James Colquhoun.
Registrar—Mr. D. S. Shoemaker.
Clerk Surrogate Court—Mr. Christian Enslin.
Jailor—Mr. William Walden.
When the first County
Council met, much interest was taken in the election of Warden, as well
as of the gentlemen who were to act as permanent officials. The honour
of being first Warden fell upon Dr. John Scott, of Berlin; Mr. William
Davidson was elected County Clerk, and Mr. C. A. Ahrens, Treasurer. The
Judge and Sheriff are the only persons who still continue to hold the
offices to Avhieh they were appointed when the county was first set
The politics of the
Province glided into smoother water immediately after the union of Upper
and Lower Canada, but a quiet agitation for the settlement of the Clergy
Reserves, an elective Legislative Council and other reforms, was
gradually gaining strength. A great many meetings were held to protest
against the Clergy Reserves and the then Constitution of King’s College,
prior to the rise of the Baldwin-Lafontaine Government to power in 1848.
One of the largest of these took place ' during 1846 in Knox’s Church,
Galt. The chair was occupied by Mr. Robert Christie, of South Dumfries,
and the principal speakers were the Rev. Dr. Bayne and the Rev. James
Strang, of Galt, the Rev. James Roy, of St. George, and Mr. David
Christie, whose speech is remembered as one of the most effective
delivered on the occasion. They were opposed by Mr. Shade and Mr. George
Stanton, then of St. George, who submitted an amendment against what was
alleged to be an interference with vested rights, which, they
maintained, ought to be held sacred. Dr. Bayne’s reply to Messrs. Shade
and Stanton was a memorable effort. lie compared the favoured churches
to the sacred oxen of Egypt, and for once gave a free rein to the great
powers of satire which he possessed.
West Halton continued to
sustain the Reform cause. At the general election of 1848, Mr. John
Wetenhall succeeded Mr. Durand, who had so long and faithfully, in
conjunction with Mr. Caleb Hopkins, represented the county, and at the
next contest in 1851, Mr. John White, of Milton, and a Reformer, was
also successful. Between this period and the general election of 1854,
as we have seen, Dumfries and Galt were attached to the new County of
Waterloo. The political situation had also changed. Arrayed against the
Hincks-Morin Ministry were (1), the Conservatives under Sir Allan McNab,
who were bitterly opposed to the Secularization of the Clergy Reserves,
and an elective Legislative Council, and (2), the Hon. George Brown and
a large section of Reformers, who had been alienated from the Ministry
in consequence of their dillydallying with the Clergy Reserve question,
and some financial transactions of a questionable character.
The Hon. George Brown at
that time in his 35th year, and the very personification of intellectual
and physical vigour, was rapidly becoming recognized as the champion of
the rights of Upper Canada in the Provincial Parliament, and the
Reformers of Waterloo determined to tender him a public dinner in
recognition of his eminent ability and unwavering adherence to
principle. An invitation signed by over two hundred and fifty of the
leading Reformers was presented to Mr. Brown during the month of
September, 1853, and he named the 10th of October as the day on which
the dinner should take place. It was held in the Commercial buildings,
Galt, and was largely attended and very enthusiastic. The chair was
occupied by Mr. James Cowan, Clochmohr, and the vice chairs by Mr.
Robert Ferrie, of Doon, and Dr. Richardson, of Galt. This was the first
time that many of those present had seen Air. Brown, and his youthful
appearance, not less than his trenchant, powerful, and eloquent
discussion of the public questions exciting the Province, is often
recounted by them to this day.
It was during this visit
that the great political combat between Mr. Brown and the Hon. David
Christie took place at Glenmorris. The Reform party was much divided at
the time. Mr. Christie adhered to the Hincks Ministry, Mr. Brown opposed
them, and the announcement that they were to cross swords at Glenmorris
attracted a large and deeply interested assemblage of spectators. Both
gentlemen were in the flush of early manhood, full of vigour and
enthusiasm, and when the intellectual contest began, they seemed to
“The stern joy which
In foemen worthy of their steel.”
When the Hincks Ministry
fell, the causes of difference between Reformers disappeared, and Mr.
Brown and Mr. Christie became political friends, which relation has
continued unbroken ever since—a period of a quarter of a century—and
doubtless both gentlemen have since enjoyed many a quiet laugh over the
battle of Glenmorris and its exciting incidents.
When the elections of
1854 came on, a rather unusual contest resulted in South Waterloo. Mr.
Geo. S. Tiffany, of Hamilton, came forward as the candidate of the
Government, and Mr. Robert Ferrie, of Doon, in opposition to them. Both
gentlemen were members of the Reform party, and their respective
requisitions were signed by Reformers who, never before nor since, took
part in politics against each other. The Conservatives supported Mr.
Ferrie, and were associated with Reformers who also never, before nor
since, took part with them in any contest. The result of this somewhat
mixed political struggle was the return of Mr. Ferrie by a majority
3 of over two hundred.
The first great fire in
Galt took place in 1851. The buildings on Main Street were then chiefly
wooden, more especially on the south side where the long and handsome
Granite Block now stands. The fire broke out in the store carried on by
one McKinnon, and soon all that portion of the street was in flames. The
fire engines were worked with a will, but they were powerless against
such a mass of flame as soon arose. Messrs Peter Cook, Alex. H. Mowat,
R. McKinnon, Andrew Elliott, John McVenn, Robert Wallace—all
well-remembered names—were among those burned out on the occasion.
One of the well-known
institutions of Galt, the Collegiate Institute, took its rise at this
period. In 1852, a Grammar School was started in the old Township Hall,
the first trustees being the Rev. M. Boomer, Rev. James Strang, John
Davidson, Robert Ferrie and the Rev. Hamilton Gibson. Mr. Boomer was
elected chairman, and took much interest in the school for a long
period. It is but justice to mention, however, that the late Mr. John
Davidson, for about twenty years, was the most active member of the
Board, assisted during all the early struggles of the school, and
ultimately saw it become one of the four Collegiate Institutes first
selected for the Province.
The first teacher was Mr.
Michael C. Howe, B.A., and subsequently an LL.D. of Dublin University.
The second year, Mr. William Tassie, B.A., took over Mr. Howe’s charge
of twelve scholars, and the same fall removed to a small unpretending
stone building which the trustees by great exertions were able to erect
on the present site.
During the quarter of a
century which has since elapsed, the school has gone steadily forward
until it has become one of the principal Collegiate Institutes of the
Province. It has a regular staff of six teachers, besides music,
drawing, elocution and drill instructors, and an average attendance of
220 scholars ; considerably over one-half of whom are from different
parts of Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and the United
States. Dr. Tassie—for the degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him by
Queen’s College, Kingston, in 1871—has continued to act as Principal
ever since his connection with the institution, and its well-earnecl
celebrity as a seat of learning is largely due to his indefatigable
The great change which
had been gradually taking place in the circumstances of the Province, as
of this locality, was evidenced by the strong railway “fever” which at
this time began to manifest itself in all the older settled districts.
The Great Western Railway was nearing completion, the construction of
the Grand Trunk had commenced, and other railway projects were being
mooted on every hand. From having little better to travel on than
Indian-trails, marked by blazed trees, thirty years’ toil and sweat had
worked such a transformation that railways were now deemed a necessity
for business or travel.
The people of Galt were
early on the alert in railway matters, and a shadowy hope was at one
time entertained that the main line of the Great Western might pass
through the village. This expectation was doomed to disappointment, but
the directors of that Company were fully alive to the large business
which the locality could throw on their line, and consequently arranged
to make a branch to Galt, which was begun in 1852.
The Council of Galt
determined to have a grand celebration on the occasion of the turning of
the first sod of the branch line. Unusual preparations were made for the
occasion. Several leading public men of the Province were invited, and
it was arranged that the ceremony of turning the first sod should be
performed by Sir Allan McNab, of Hamilton, and that the event should be
signalized by a grand ball in the evening.
The first sod was turned
in the presence of a large assemblage of people, near the spot where
Cranston’s malt-house now stands, which was then about the centre of a
large and rather rocky field, extending eastwards over the adjoining
hills. Sir Allan used his silver spade amidst much cheering, the people
being greatly delighted with the prospect of soon seeing, to use the
language of the time, '‘the iron horse snorting through the village."
The ball in the evening
was undoubtedly the grandest affair of the kind which ever took place in
Galt or vicinity. The Commercial Buildings had not then been long
completed, and the three front rooms on the second storey were granted
by Mr. Shade for the occasion. Two of them were used for dancing, and
one for a supper room. Sir Allan McNab and daughters, several of the
chief officers of the Great Western Railway, and many other
distinguished persons from a distance were present. Galt and the
neighbouring villages were largely represented, and it is not too much
to say, that such a scene of beauty, fashion, and gaiety, had never been
witnessed in the village before.
“Soft eyes spake love to
eyes, that spake again!
And all went merry as a marriage bell. ”
Thus was the commencement
of the first railway projected into Galt, duly honoured.