Bowmanville in the Fifties - Part 1

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MR. EDITOR - Agreeably to your request I have written and herewith hand you a few notes and memos respecting "Bowmanville during the Fifties". Should you deem it advisable to publish them in your newspaper, you are at liberty to do so, but I must request that you do not give the name of the writer, and after publication that you return to me the manuscript. I have no doubt that it will be interesting to some of your older readers to be made acquainted with the acts and doings of the early citizens of Bowmanville, most of whom have since passed over to the great majority. It will enable them also to contrast the spirit of enterprise in former days with that of the present. When one considers the large number of manufacturing and other industries that were founded and carried on in Bowmanville during the "Fifties" compared with the few that are in operation in the town today, it exhibits in a severe and strong contrast when after nearly half a century has elapsed that the citizens and business men of the "Fifties" were more enterprising and possessed a broader grasp of business, than the inhabitants and business men controlling the destinies of the town today.

It was originally intended by the early settlers that the village of Bowmanville should be laid out and built on the west side of Barber's creek, hence the little hamlet situate on the hill west of the bridge crossing Barber's creek formed the nucleus of what is now the prosperous town of Bowmanville. In its early days, as it is usual with most Canadian villages, its formation consisted of a tavern, blacksmith shop, and a general store. As the township of Darlington became more thickly settled it was considered advisable for the extension of trade to be more advantageous to have the village plot laid out on the East side of Barber's creek, the present site of the town.

Bowmanville in the fifties was considered to be a very prosperous village, in fact one of the most prosperous in Western Canada from its advantages of having a good harbour - Port Darlington - possessing good water power within its corporate limits and also being surrounded by a good agricultural country.

The mercantile community doing business in the village during the fifties were a very enterprising class of individuals. The late Honourable John Simpson was the great central figure in the promotion of all public enterprises. He was a gentleman of sterling character, of large experience in mercantile transactions, and possessing exceptional financial ability, business acumen and keen discrimination, and many of the early settlers and business men of the village and surrounding country can attribute their success to his kind advice and financial assistance. On account of the large and varied stock of merchandise carried by the merchants they controlled the principal portion of the trade of the townships of Darlington, Clarke, Cartwright and Manvers and during the winter when Lake Scugog would be frozen over quite a large trade would be done with the farmers from the township of Mariposa when marketing their wheat in Bowmanville.

The large quantities of wheat which was produced in Mariposa, most of which was brought to Bowmanville, the proprietors of the Flour Mills in Bowmanville in the winter after Lake Scugog was frozen over would send their agents back to the lake to purchase the wheat, when the Mariposa farmers would meet the buyers and dispose of their wheat when very large amounts of money would be paid out for the produce. Our merchants in order to secure a profitable trade with the settlers of Mariposa adopted a peculiar method of doing business. During the short time - a few weeks - which it took to purchase the Mariposa grain, they would resort to the lake with all kinds of merchandise and erect frame shanties or canvas tents to protect their wares and in which to do business, and during the limited period in which it took to complete the season's purchase, the scene had the appearance of a large country fair. Large quantities of wheat would be purchased and drawn to Bowmanville and delivered at the Burk and McDougall Mills which gave employment to the teamsters of the village and also to the farmers during the winter months.

Bowmanville in the Fifties - Part 2

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In the early fifties the only means afforded the public for travelling was by boat or stage, the Grand Trunk Railway not being built until 1856. A line of stages running from Toronto to Belleville carrying the mails and passengers was owned and conducted by Wm. Walter, and Wm. Glover, "an executive character," the father of our Mr. Wm. Glover, the livery stable keeper, was the stage manager in Bowmanville. The arrival or departure of the stage usually created a little excitement in the village.

The principal portion of the merchandise, both imported and exported, was carried by boat and during the season of navigation most of the merchants doing business would be compelled to lay in sufficient stock to carry on their business until the opening of navigation the following season, although it was not an unusual occurrence during the winter, when navigation would be closed, to see sometimes as many as 25 to 50 Frenchmen passing through the village each driving a horse and sleigh loaded with merchandise for Toronto and on their return journey they would be loaded with wheat for Montreal. A long haul, you will say, from Montreal to Toronto and return, but such was the state of travel and transportation of merchandise before the Grand Trunk was constructed.

The inhabitants of the village of Bowmanville during the fifties were an enterprising people who founded quite a number of manufacturing and other industries; there were four flour mills, two situated on Barber's creek, one a large mill owned and operated by George McDougall, situate on the site at present occupied by the Electric Light Power, and the Bowmanville Mills owned by the Raynes estate and operated by John Burk and situate on Smith's creek, one owned and operated by Capt. Usher, now owned by Samuel Souch, and the Soper Mill which was situate on the site at present occupied by John McKay as an oat mill. There were two foundries in operation each employing a number of men, one situate on the corner of King and Liberty Streets and conducted by Wm. Porter, who manufactured stoves, plows, wagons and agricultural implements, our veteran school teacher, Malcolm McTavish, being employed as master mechanic and the other situate on the west side of Barber's creek in what is known as the Hollow; this one was conducted by Jacob Neads in which he carried on a large foundry and machine shop and also manufactured agricultural implements. There were two large tanneries, one situate on the west side of Barber's creek and conducted by Gainer Gifford and one situate in the south east part of the village in close proximity to the oat mill at present occupied by John McKay. This tannery was owned and operated by Wm. Muir, who did a large trade. On the west side of Barber's creek, near Jacob Neads' Foundry, Robt. Squair operated an oat mill and gristing mill and John Williams operated a carding and woollen mill and near Wm. Caffrey conducted an ashery for manufacturing potash. On the west side of Barber's creek on the north side of the road and immediately under the hill on which is J.C. Vanstone's dwelling, a pottery was conducted by two brothers named Bailey. Edward Silver owned and conducted a pump factory on Silver St. on the site of the property now owned by Percy family.

A furniture factory, situate on the site of the late Upper Canada Furniture Co., was owned and conducted by F.Y. Cowie, Samuel Mason and Richard Philp; Thomas Manning and Mr. Freeman each conducted cooper shops on Scugog St., employing a number of men making barrels for the mills as at this time the flour was exported in barrels. Harvey Soper owned and operated a sawmill near the site of John McKay's oat mill. The village also boasted of having two distilleries and one brewery. The brewery was situated on the property now owned by George Haines on the north side of the gravel road near the cemetery. It was owned and conducted by Thomas Sutton. One of the distilleries was situate near the mill now occupied by Samuel Souch and was owned and conducted by John Hibbert. The other was operated by John Burk and situated on the side of the hill and directly opposite what was then known as the Bowman or Burk store, between King St. and the building now used as a curling rink. The site, on which the curling rink now stands, was formerly occupied by cattle byres where cattle were fattened in connection with the distillery. In those days you could purchase whiskey by the barrel for 20c per gallon and at retail for 25c and 30c per gallon. It was not an unusual thing during those years when the back townships were being settled and cleared, when logging and clearing bees were in vogue, to see the settlers driving home with a barrel of whiskey in their wagon.

The village also boasted of a number of hotels where the tired and weary traveller could rest and the thirsty souls could regale themselves with whiskey at 3c a glass. The Western House, a large three-storey frame hotel, conduced by one, Bailey, stood on the site now occupied by the dwelling of Mr. J.C. Vanstone on the hill on the west side of Barber's creek; the Waverly Hotel, a large three storey brick building, conducted by Alphonzo Hindes, occupied the site at present occupied by the registry office and the Glover's livery stables; the Alma Hotel a large threee-storey brick building. on the corner of Church and Temperance Streets, conducted as a Temperance House by George Mason; a two-storey frame hotel, conducted by Jos. Maynard, situate on the site at present occupied by Couch, Johnston & Cryderman; a frame hotel, conducted by Thos. Shaw, situated on the site of the Frank Henderson yard on King St.; the large three-storey brick hotel, now the Bennett House, kept by John Menshaw; the Eastern House, a large three-storey hotel, kept by Thomas Brodie, situated on the corner of King and Liberty Streets; a large three-storey hotel situated on the corner of Liberty St. and the Base Line and kept by one, Morley; and also a frame hotel near the wharf at Port Darlington.

Bowmanville in the Fifties - Part 3

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The banking interests of Bowmanville village in the "fifties" was in the hands of the Bank of Montreal, who had a branch in the building now owned by M.A. James, known as the STATESMAN Block, in that portion of the building now occupied by Geo. P. Freeland as a Photo Studio. The Bank of Upper Canada also had an office in the building next to the Bennett House in that portion of the building at present occupied as sample rooms for the hotel. The late Robt. Armour, Esq, was the manager.

Two newspapers were published here then - THE CANADIAN STATESMAN, edited and owned by the Rev. John Climie, and advanced and uncompromising Liberal, who occupied the building, at present occupied as our town Post Office, and The Messenger owned and edited by W.J. McMillan, organ of the Conservative party, whose printing office was upstairs over the office at present occupied by THE CANADIAN STATESMAN. Mr. McMillan removed to British Columbia, about the year 1858 and subsequently became Sheriff to the City of Victoria.

The inhabitants were strongly divided in their religious opinions and in consequence there were quite a number of places of worship. The Wesleyan Methodists then supposed to be the most numerous, their place of worship, a neat little frame church was situated on the corner of Church and Division streets, the site of the present imposing brick edifice. The Free church (Presbyterian) was situated in the then open common at the north of the village, being the building now occupied as a dwelling by Robert Adair on Prospect street. The Kirk or Old Presbyterian church was a frame structure situated on the corner of Church and Temperance streets, on the site at present occupied by the Disciples' church St. John's Episcopalian Anglican or English church still remains on its old site at the south end of Temperance street. The Primitive Methodists worshiped in the little brick church situated on Division street and for some years past has been occupied as a foundry and machine ship, and now in a very dilapidated condition. The Bible Christians worshiped in the once fine old brick church situated on the corner of Division and Queen streets at present converted into an alleged vegetable Evaporator. The Congregationalists worshipped in a small frame chapel on Church street the site of the present beautiful little brick church, and Disciples worshipped in their little brick church on Church street, which building is fast going to decay, not having been occupied since the imposing brick church was built on the corner of Temperance and Church streets and was occupied by the denomination.

The Post Office was located in an old frame building on the site at present occupied by W.H. Williams' blacksmith ship at the west end of King Street. In the early fifties Mr. Robert Fairbairn was postmaster, and on his decease his son, James B. Fairbairn, was appointed postmaster, a worthy successor of a noble sire.

Our educational institution in the late fifties was the large brick building destroyed by fire some years since and which occupied the site of our present commodious Public School. This building was formerly used as a Town Hall before that imposing building now bearing the name, Town Hall, was erected. It was conducted as a Union High and Public school. Alterations and additions were made to the original building, as the school population demanded increased accommodation.

A large portion of the land in the west ward now covered with buildings was then occupied as pasture lands. The land bounded by Elgin, Wellington and Concession streets was occupied by John Burk for horse and cow pasture; and the land bounded by Wellington, Elgin, Temperance and Concession streets, excepting that portion occupied by the Union School, was occupied by David Fisher for a cow pasture.

Dr. Geo. H. Lowe, a highly esteemed medical practitioner, owned the property now occupied by Dr. J.W. McLaughlin and also that extending to the Centre street, there were no buildings on the land in that aristocratic neighbourhood, now known as Beech Avenue or on the west side of Centre Street. This block of land was then used by Dr. Lowe for cow pasture.

During the construction of the Grand Trunk Railway in this vicinity, a very large number of men were employed on the work and in consequence a great impetus was given to the volume of trade transacted in the village, and a large increase of population followed, in consequence of which lands advanced rapidly. Village lots for building purposes were in great demand. Rents were forced up and two brickyards then in operation were kept running and operated to their full capacity to produce brick for building purposes.

Bowmanville in the Fifties - Part 4

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Village lots were purchased, contracts for buildings were let, the spirit of speculation was rife and buildings and tenements were being erected in all parts of the village to accommodate the influx of population. The accommodation for business purposes had also to be provided for. A large number of business blocks were built; one large three storey brick block was built by Peter Coleman on the sight of the dwelling now occupied by J.K. Galbraith on the south side of King Street; a portion of this block was occupied by Josiah and Thomas Darlington as a grocery store. A number of brick terraces for dwellings were built to the south ward by Peter Coleman and other individuals, most of which after a few years were either allowed to fall into decay and tumble to pieces or were torn down.

During a continuation of the work of construction on the Grand Trunk Railway where a large number of men were employed; large amounts of money was earned by the employees and as freely spent, consequently money was plentifully circulated and all branches of business were prosperous and the inhabitants generally were looking forward with high expectations for the village to soon reach the limits of a town, if not in the near future to become a city. In the spring of 1857 the village had outgrown itself and like a youth near attaining its majority ambitious and struggling to be free and become a town, consequently an act of incorporation was applied for which was granted and assented to 27th of May, 1857. Whereas the inhabitants of the village of Bowmanville by petition have prayed the Legislature to incorporate the same into a town, the population now exceeding the number required by law. And whereas it is expedient and necessary and would tend to produce the benefit and convenience of the inhabitants if the prayer of the said petition were granted, therefore Her Majesty by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and Assembly of Canada enacts as follows; - the tract of land within the boundaries or limits of the present village of Bowmanville shall upon, from and after the 1st day of January in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and fifty-eight, be incorporated into a town to be called and designated as the Town of Bowmanville. The inhabitants had now reached the height of their ambition for the present in having obtained a charter to become a town. Application was also made at this session of the Legislative Council by the Honourable John Simpson, David Fisher, John Milne and a number of other gentlemen for an act to incorporate the Ontario Bank which was destined to have a large beneficial influence on the mercantile and agricultural community, the capital stock to be 250,000 ($1,000,000). The charter was granted and the Honourable John Simpson became its first president. The building now occupied by Cawker & Tait as a grocery store, was erected and became the home of the Ontario Bank with the Hon. John Simpson as president and David Fisher as cashier and James Mann as vice-president.

Our most enterprising merchants were located as follows: - Thos. Brown kept a tin and stove shop in the frame building on the corner of King and Scugog streets; Murdoch Bros. were conducting a large family grocery in the building now occupied by Thomas Peat just west of the Registry Office and F.F. McArthur conducted a dry goods establishment in the shop now occupied by John Gilbert & Son; John Milne conducted a grocery and liquor store on the corner of King and Temperance streets on the present site of the Standard Bank; McClung Bros. conducted a large and extensive dry goods business on the premises at present occupied by Rice Bros.; John McLeod did a large and profitable hardware trade on the premises now occupied by W.H. Dustan; Jacob Neads conducted an extensive hardware business on the sight now occupied by Mr. John Hellyar. Mr. McIntyre conducted a family grocery and liquor trade on the corner of King and Silver streets; Aaron Buckler did a large jewellery business in the premises at present occupied by Fred J. Manning as a variety store; Robert Squair kept a grocery in the brick building on the south side of King street opposite Scugog street and Samuel Mason kept a harness shop in the old frame building on the site of the late office of the Standard Bank near the Bennett House; S.B. Bradshaw kept a boot and shoe store in what is now the STATESMAN block; Richard Maynard conducted a boot and shoe business in a frame building on the corner of King and Silver streets on the site of the Bowmanville News office; Wm. McMurtry conducted an extensive dry goods and grocery business in the old stand now occupied by John McMurtry; Wm. Fuller kept a stove and tin ware shop in a large frame building near the Balmoral Hotel; John Stott did an extensive carriage trade and George Haines manufactured wagons, carriages, etc., in the premises on King street at present occupied by his son; Markus Mayer kept a hat and cap store in a frame building near what is now the News office; Zacharia Mitchell kept a grocery and confectionery shop in the building now occupied by Heal Bros.

Bowmanville in the Fifties - Part 5

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Many business houses not enumerated were scattered along King Street "it being the principal business thoroughfare" from Scugog to Ontario streets, but this unusual prosperity and speculative boom of advancement was destined to have a severe check. With the completion of the construction of the Grand Trunk Railway, and the discharge and removal of such a large number of men from this vicinity, and the consequent withdrawal of the large money "earned as wages" from circulation completely paralysed trade.

Nevertheless the village of Bowmanville on the 1st day of January 1858 shook off its swaddling clothes and became a full-blown town with James McFeeters as its first Mayor and Richard Windatt Town Clerk. Notwithstanding the advance from village to town the depression in trade did not revive and in consequence there was a large exodus of the population quite a number of migrating to British Columbia. Property became unsaleable, rents declined, in fact a very large portion of the resident property you could occupy for paying the taxes, distress was the order of the day, and Peter Coleman, the bailiff, was kept busy with the duties of his office. It must be admitted that the town of Bowmanville entered its career under very inauspicious circumstances quite a severe contrast from its prosperity of a few years ago when a village.

An incident occurred in the summer of 1858 which at first gave promise that it would have an important bearing on the future prosperity of the town. James Bates, a prominent citizen residing on his farm situate in the southwest portion of town, conceived the idea from a peculiar odour emanating from water in a well on his farm that coal or some valuable mineral deposit was the cause of this peculiar phenomenon. After studying a number of geological books he consulted a Cornishman who resided in the neighbourhood who professed to be a practical miner and they arrived at the conclusion that there must be a large coal deposit in the neighbourhood of the well. Consequently it was determined to sink a shaft to obtain the coal. A large shaft was opened about eight feet in diameter and when about thirty feet deep Bates determined to employ an individual to bore the remainder of the distance until coal was obtained. The boring plant was obtained and set up and work commenced and after boring several days and no indications of coal Bates' faith in the coal theory commenced to weaken "as the thermometer in his bank account indicated lower temperature". Here was a dilemma he must cease work or ruin would be the result. Consequently the Cornishman must be taken into his confidence when it was decided to charge the bore hole with coal and as it subsequently transpired an agreement was entered into between them and that night the Cornish man stole a bag of coal from Donald McTavish's blacksmith shop and the next morning after boring for some time a test was made of the strata they were passing through when behold the test produced coal - pure coal without any doubt or question. We have a veritable coal mine located in the town of Bowmanville. About nine o'clock in the morning a flag was hoisted near the mine as an indication that coal had been found; information was hurriedly brought to the town that coal had been discovered. Excitement was soon at fever heat, business for the time was neglected, every person was shaking hands with himself and also with his neighbour, every owner of real estate expected to realize a colossal fortune. Speculation in real estate was rife. Options in real estate were given and taken but a large number of real estate owners looked wise and held out of the market for larger advances. The town was soon dressed in holiday attire, flags were freely displayed, the band paraded the streets, and a public meeting of the inhabitants was held in the town hall, which was addressed by a number of prominent citizens. Telegrams were flashed over the wires to all parts of the Dominion and to some parts of the United States that coal had been discovered in Bowmanville.

The next morning Professor Croft, an eminent Geologist, and a number of gentlemen from Toronto and from other parts of Ontario arrived in town to inspect the coal mine, and to examine the coal, they pronounced it pure anthracite coal but still held to their opinion and theory that there were no coal beds in Ontario, and treated the matter with scepticism. The following day some American gentlemen from the State of Pennsylvania interested in coal arrived, and accepted an option for the purchase of the property at a high price.

Now, comes the sequel. All had progressed favourably up to the present but the Cornishman must be disposed of or he might divulge the secret, it was agreed between him and Bates that Bates should give him $20 and a ticket for a steerage passage to England he to leave the following morning. Bates accompanied him as far as Newcastle to see him off and wish him bon voyage, but the Cornishman did not proceed on his journey, and returned to Bowmanville the same evening and demanded more hush money which Bates refused to pay, and in consequence the Cornishman divulged the whole secret, "and Bowmanville was deprived of its coal mine".

Bowmanville in the Fifties - Part 6

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The learned professions both in Law and Medicine were well represented. In Law, Robert Armour was the senior practitioner. He was a gentleman of acknowledged ability and at one period occupied a distinguished position and ranked high in the estimation of the public and enjoyed a lucrative practice. John Hoskin, K.C., who has since risen to prominence in his profession and is now recognized as one of the most learned and distinguished members of the Canadian Bar, was then a student in Mr. Armour's office. St. John H. Hutcheson, a gentleman of ability, was solicitor for the Bank of Montreal. His office as in the building then known as the Simpson Block on King Street. He also enjoyed a large and remunerative practice. He owned and resided in that beautiful home now owned and occupied for R.R. Loscombe where he used to entertain his friends in a lavish manner. He was at this time at the zenith of his prosperity. He kept his carriage and a beautiful pair of horses and usually had his servant drive him to his office each morning for business. Donald Bethune, a gentleman of ability in his profession, occupied an office in the Simpson block over the office at present occupied by THE CANADIAN STATESMAN. R.R. Loscombe, our distinguished Ex-Mayor, was then quite a young man, and when the Ontario Bank opened its doors for business Mr. Loscombe was appointed solicitor for the bank. Although a young practitioner his ability was at once recognized and possessing the confidence of the public he advanced rapidly in his profession and was soon in the enjoyment of a large and lucrative practice.

In Medicine, - George H. Lowe, M.D., a gentleman of distinguished ability in his profession who enjoyed the respect and confidence of the entire community and with the medical profession he enjoyed the distinction of being one of its most learned and experienced practitioners. He was a kind genial individual and very charitable to the deserving poor. He owned and occupied that beautiful dwelling now occupied by Dr. J.W. McLaughlin and at that time including the land bounded by Lowe Street, Centre Street and Concession Street which comprised a beautiful little park containing a large number of noble old national forest trees. Henry R. Reid, M.D., a gentleman of distinguished ability and possessing the confidence and respect of the public enjoyed a large and remunerative practice. He was a very kind and generous person and extremely charitable to the poor. -- Patton, M.D., an individual of acknowledged ability but a penurious, eccentric character, a bachelor, kept an office and also lived in a room at the back of his office in a little frame house that occupied the site of the brick dwelling on Silver Street immediately in the rear of what is now Joseph Jeffery's tailor shop. --Coates, a quiet inoffensive individual possessing limited ability and in consequence enjoying only a limited practice also kept a Drug Shop near where Heal Bros. Grocery store on King Street now stands. William Allison, M.D., a gentleman somewhat peculiar in his manner but of acknowledged ability, being possessed of considerable wealth, was somewhat indifferent respecting the practice of his profession. Dr. Bradford Patterson, a Homoeopathist resided in the premises on Church Street now occupied by Mr. Nathan Horn. He had a small brick office adjoining his residence. A few practical jokers resided in the village and they determined to play a joke on the doctor they had a duck painted on a board with the bird's Quack, Quack, Quack, painted above the duck, and on a Saturday night the board was nailed on the door of the Doctor's office which was noticed by the people going to church the following morning, when the Doctor discovered the joke that had been played on him he became very angry and his devotional spirit was very disturbed for that particular Sunday.


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