April 26, 2015
It was mostly sunny and 10 degrees and I decided to investigate the proposed cultural heritage site of Victoria Square. Unlike many of the communities in rural Ontario that grew up around a mill site, Victoria Square was established in 1805 as Reid’s Corners at a crossroads and served the local farmers. The 1901 census shows 117 people, most of them farmers or retired farmers and children. The businesses in town tended to be those that supported that local industry. The cover photo shows the hamlet around 1900.
It was centered around two churches, both of them Methodist. In the historical county atlas shown below they are shown as PM (Primitive Methodist) and WM (Weslyan Methodist). The Methodist congregation had split in 1807 over the issue of Calvinism vs Arminianism a theological issue which centres around free will vs predestination. (Did they split of their own free will or did they do it because it was predestined to happen? Hmmm…)
The Primitive Methodists built their church north of Elgin Mills road on the east side of Woodbine Avenue around 1830. Their cemetery remains but the church is gone. William Hatton was the first leader of the congregation and built his first house at 10754 Woodbine avenue in the 1830’s when the road was known as 3rd line.
About 1850 Hatton built the house at 10761 Woodbine road. A carpenter named Jacob Baker owned the house in the 1880’s and he added a veneer of patterned brickwork as well as a veranda. He replaced the original 6 over 6 windows that were typical of mid-1800’s small panes of glass to the 2 over 2 windows. During the mid-20th century Gord Mortson operated a bus line from this location. The outline of the veranda can still be seen in the picture below.
The Weslyan Methodists built their first building on the west side of Woodbine, south of Elgin Mills road around 1845. After a new building was constructed this was sold to William Frisby who used it as his blacksmith shop for many years. It now stands at the back of the cemetery where it is being restored.
In 1880 a new brick church was built and the old one moved off site. In 1925 the Methodists were part of a four church merger that created the United Church. This is how both cemeteries in town came to be under the control of the United Church.
Victoria Square was typical of small cross-roads communities that served their local farmers. People lived there for generations and everyone knew everyone else (and their business). William Boynton is shown in the 1901 census as the town butcher. William’s youngest son Charles Stanley would carry on in his father’s business renaming it C.S. Boynton and Sons. William and Donald bought the business when C.S. retired and their children also worked there. After four generations of Boyntons worked there the business was sold and a butcher still continues to operate it today. The picture below shows the first Boynton house built by William in the 1850’s or 60’s and was occupied by the family into at least the 1980’s. The buildings of the butcher shop were expanded in the 1960’s and can be seen in the rear of the photo.
This house is also in front of the butcher shop and was built by William’s oldest son Herman, likely in the early 1900’s. Charles Stanley lived here for a time and eventually it was split into two apartments, both of which were occupied by Boynton families.
The property on the south east corner of town is lot 25 con. 4 and was owned by Thomas Frisby (b. 1851). His father, John (Thomas) Frisby (b. 1822), had emigrated in 1850 and farmed the lot before retiring. Their house and drive shed are shown on the historical atlas above and stand today on Victoria Street.
The building of a barn was also a community social event where the structure would be raised in a matter of days. All the men in town would gather to build the barn and their wives would prepare food and swap stories. The picture below is of a barn raising on the Klink property just south of town. Notice the near identical form of the house to the Frisby one in the previous picture. Take away the chimneys and veranda’s and you have twin houses. The town carpenter’s handiwork.
William Frisby (b. 1855) left the farm to his brother Thomas and became the town blacksmith, a position he held for forty years. His business was so successful he hired another blacksmith who lodged with him and was paid $276 in 1901, Frisby’s shop was located at 2992 Elgin Mills and his house remains in use today.
John Rowbotham was the town carriage maker at the turn of the century. Like many local businesses his son worked for him as a carriage painter earning $240 in 1901. Their business was at 2972 Elgin Mills where the shop stood in the open space beside the house.
True to it’s small town heritage Victoria Square has several barns in what would have been it’s downtown. This one was William Macey’s workshop.
This house has had many uses over the years. In 1853 Thomas Farmer operated a cobbler shop here. James Stoutenberg bought it in 1860 and converted it to a general store where the post office would later be housed.
The farms to the north of town are being developed for townhouses including the property of George and Isabelle Pear. Their late 1840’s home is slated for restoration.
An old garage which formerly contained two gas pumps stands at the main intersection. This was Louis Stoutenberg’s garage and his house stands beside it. It sports a false square front and evidence of several car impacts on the side of the building.
There are 22 buildings in Victoria Square which are either listed or being considered for heritage preservation. Thanks to Deborah Boynton Robbilard who’s great grandfather William was the butcher at the turn of the last century. Her insights into the community were invaluable in preparing this brief history.
Other pictures of heritage properties will be posted at http://www.facebook.com/hikingthegta