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Derry West

Derry West
By Nicole Mair

Oh, what could have been – had fate and history dealt a different hand, we could well be living in the City of Derry West today.

Almost two hundred years ago, in 1819, around the intersection of modern Hurontario Street and Derry Road, a group of immigrants arrived by caravan intent on starting a new life. The hamlet of Derry West, founded in the early nineteenth century, was settled by Irish immigrants from New York. The forming of the village was led by two important pioneer settlers: George Graham and Joseph Carter.

George Graham reportedly suggested the name Derry Walls for the community in honour of his forefathers who had fought at Londonderry, Ireland, as well as to celebrate their Protestant Orange heritage. The name of Derry-in-the-West was accepted, but it was later shortened to Derry West by the postal department.

The Graham family, originally spelt Graeme or Graemes, were of Scottish ancestry. The family migrated to Londonderry, Ireland, where the Grahams who settled at Derry West originated from. George Graham, born in 1784 in County Tyrone, Ireland, immigrated first to the United States in 1812. He along with his brothers and sisters, Thomas, Joseph, James, Sarah and Margaret, then travelled on to Peel County from New York in 1819 as part of John Beatty’s caravan. At the American border, George Graham got into an argument with one of the guards, leading him to strike the guard with his whip. The border guards chased George Graham for a number of miles, for which time he hid, receiving food when he could from other travellers with the caravan. Eventually the guards gave up the chase and George Graham was able to rejoin the group around the Sixteen Mile Creek area in Oakville. He eventually settled on a 100 acre plot on the Northeast side of what would become Derry West.

George Graham’s wife was Mary Henderson whom he married in 1805. Together they had seven children: Mary, Thomas, Annie, James, Joseph (also known as Jose), Eliza Jane and Sarah. At Derry West, George Graham built a 12x16 foot log house. It had a chimney made out of stones and mud, a roof of bark, one door and a floor constructed of cedar boards. In 1839 George built another house on the east half of his property; this one was made of brick. He passed his farm onto his son Joseph and George’s son Thomas lived in the second house along with his wife and 11 children. George Graham died on June 11, 1863 and his wife Mary Henderson Graham died two years later in 1865. They were both buried in the Anglican cemetery.

George Graham also founded an Orange Lodge L.O.L. #10 at Derry West in 1822. It was unofficially known as Graham’s Lodge by the local residents because so many of Graham’s relatives were involved in its membership. For a time James Curry was the Deputy County Grand Treasurer and Master of the Derry West lodge. The building was also used for tea meetings, concerts and plays. Dinners to support the church were also occasionally held there. The building stood empty for a number of years after meetings ceased.

According to some sources, Derry West likely had the first post office in Peel County. It was opened in 1826 with Joseph Carter as its postmaster. The post office was first called “Toronto”, Toronto Township. However, Carter did not remain long and the post office closed shortly after its inception in 1827 when Carter returned to New York.

In 1851 a permanent post office was established, with Thomas McLear as the postmaster. The following residents also acted as postmaster at Derry West: William McClare (1854-1863), William Wilson (1863-1871), Thomas McCallam (1872 & 1879-1882) D. Sanderson (1873-1875), Charles Armstrong (1877-1879 & 1882-1884), George Earl (1885-1886), Harper McClelland (1887-1893 & 1899-1900) and Henry Riddler (1893-1898). The post office closed temporarily in 1901, then reopened in 1902 with William Davies as the new postmaster. It closed again in 1904, and again reopened in 1906 in James’ Odlum’s hotel with James Odlum himself as postmaster. His wife, Sadie J. Odlum, took over the role of postmaster when James Odlum died until 1910. Campbell Steen became postmaster in 1910, and continued in that role until 1915 when rural mail delivery began and the post office closed permanently.

The first postmaster, Joseph Carter arrived at Derry West along with his wife and two children in 1819. He had been granted 200 acres at the northwest corner of Hurontario and Derry Road. Prior to coming to Toronto Township, Joseph Carter had been a teacher in New York running an Academy with 200 pupils. When he came to his new residence he brought with him mahogany bedsteads, tables, chairs, a cooking stove, carpets and his 200 book library, which was once called “one of the finest collections in Upper Canada.” At Derry West Joseph Carter was very eager to contribute to the burgeoning community. In addition to postmaster, he was also a justice of the peace, a schoolmaster and occasionally gave sermons at his church. It was said that “he was so deeply interested in his public activities that he neglected his farm, and had it not been for his capable wife, things might have gone ill with him.”

After having received the support of Reverend John Stratchan, Joseph Carter donated a half-acre of his land for the building of a church. According to historian William Perkins Bull, Joseph Carter “gathered all the money he could spare, and obtained a few small donations from friends in New York. By June or July, 1827, he was ready to build a church on his own farm at Derry West.” Together with other members of the community, a log building was erected at the site.  

Once the church building was finished, Carter wanted to wait for Rev. Stratchan to return from England in order to christen the church. James Curry, one of volunteers that helped with building the church, did not approve of postponing the church’s opening. He passed around his hat to the other volunteers and collected about 75 cents, which was taken immediately to the local tavern to buy a bucket of whiskey. Carter did not approve of these actions, but he did not wish to anger his neighbours who had helped him so freely, so he stepped aside. The cornerstone was thus christened with the whiskey and the church was ready for its opening services. The church, dubbed “Carter’s Church” by the community, was the second Anglican Church to be built in the township; the only older Anglican Church was St. Peter’s in the village of Springfield (Erindale). When Reverend John Stratchan learned of the church’s impromptu christening he refused Carter’s Church Holy Orders on the basis that the church was spawned out of drunkenness. Carter was so disappointed by this turn of events that he sold his farm and moved back to New York.  His farm and land was sold to William Orr including 30 cattle, over 100 sheep, pigs, horses, ploughs, other farm implements, household furniture, and his library.

According to some sources there was a second Anglican church at Derry West, though information on the actual church is scarce. It was supposedly made out of mud bricks and when it closed in 1873 the organ was given to Campbell’s Cross Church in Chinguacousy. The Presbyterians also held services at this second Anglican Church until they built their own building in 1840. 

The new Presbyterian church was built on the Brown family’s land, on the south side of Derry Road, directly across from Carter’s Church in 1840. The Presbyterian services were given by Rev. Andrew Bell, Rev. Rintoul, A.S. Porter and Rev. James Pringle. In 1886 the Presbyterian congregation merged with the one from Brampton leaving the building unused and eventually it was demolished.

The Anglican cemetery at Derry West was not always well cared for. In the early nineteenth century one source recorded that it was sorely neglected. The cemetery was located in a wet, boggy area, the stones were often covered with weeds and overgrowth. Many of the stones were noted to have cracked or had fallen over. It was said that the north part was even used as a dumping ground by the local garage. The families buried at Derry West included Aikens, Allen, Armstrong, Black, Brown, Bussell, Cheyne, Coyne, Davies, Golden (from Tyrone, Ireland), Graham, Grafton, Grogan, Henderson, Huston, Lindsay, Mealey, Moore, Morrison, Nixon, Robinson, Patterson, Peirson, Rudder, Scollen, Wesley, and Woods. Mary Graham was the last person buried in the Anglican cemetery. By the 1980s, the state of the cemetery had much improved, although many of the early headstones had disappeared.

There were a total of three schools in Derry West over the years. The first school in Derry West was set up by the industrious Joseph Carter. The log schoolhouse was built on four acres of his own property, with himself set up as the teacher. Little else is known about this school. A second school was built in Derry West in 1856, it was known as Derry West Public School, School Section #13. The school was located on a four-acre site (specifically reserved for a school) on the southwest corner of a lot that had been purchased by David Hunter from Kings College seven years prior. The building was also constructed out of logs. The third school was built on the east side of Hurontario Street, just north of Derry Road in 1884. This schoolhouse was constructed out of bricks. The school committee consisted of Thomas Graham (George Graham’s son), Charles Uphill, David Brown, Josiah Oliver, Johnston Golden, George Evans, and Len Sanderson. William Adams did the mason work on the school and W.A. McCullock was responsible for the carpentry work, tinsmithing and painting. The trustees for the new school were Thomas Graham, Johnston Golden, Josiah Oliver, and George Cheyne. 

Over the years a number of improvements took place on the schoolhouse including new desks that were added in 1922, a well was installed in 1939 and toilets set up in 1940. Some of the teachers that taught at the schools over the years included: Mr. McVittie, Dr. Charles Young Moore, Tena Tead, Emma Forkes, Henry Weir and Thomas Graham. The school eventually closed in 1966, when it was converted into a restaurant by Nick and George Karagan (who owned the property) called the “Olympic Flame Drive-In”. In 1982 the building was demolished.

The Tilts were another significant Irish family from Derry West.  John Tilt was born in County Armagh in 1798; he emigrated in 1822, and settled on Hurontario Street just north of Derry West. His home at the village was known as “Derry West Cottage,” and he ran a grocery and liquor store out of the house, along with his wife Elizabeth. He also ran an ashery – a factory where hardwood ashes are converted into lye, potash, and pearlash – had stores at Westervelt’s Corners and Toronto as well as a considerable law business. He was a lawyer and a magistrate. John Tilt’s son, James, was a lawyer and part of the firm Mulock, Tilt, Miller, Crowther and Montgomery, an important law firm in Toronto. His granddaughter, Margaret Wilson Beattie, married Timothy Eaton, founder of the Eaton’s department store. 

In 1871, John Tilt and his wife Elizabeth moved to Brampton, and his son Joseph took over the farm with his wife Jennie and their 8 children. He kept the grocery store in the house for awhile, and then he turned it into a hotel. In 1880 the house was hit by lightening and burned down. It was rebuilt by Harry Hill.

The Tilt family had a livery stable on Hurontario. William Tilt, John Tilt’s son, raised race horses, oxford down sheep, and whiterock hens. William’s son James was the first breeder of Hackney horses in Peel County. William Tilt also had a brick house and barn at Derry West.

John Tilt’s brother, James Tilt, also emigrated to Derry West in 1822. He was a shoemaker and innkeeper in the community. He had a frame hotel at Derry West, with a shoe shop next door. The hotel unfortunately burned down in the fire of 1865. James’ sons, J.E. and David, were important shoemakers in Chicago. James Tilt eventually moved to Brampton.

The Temperance Hall at Derry West was built in 1870 on land donated by James Hunter, at the northwest corner of Derry Road and Hurontario. When the Presbyterian church was demolished the Temperance Hall was used for Sunday School until 1906. Sunday School was taught by the superintendent James McCracken and the Sunday school teacher Agnes Moore. The building was also used to host concerts and meetings. In 1885, the senior students of Derry West Public School formed a petition to have the local hotel’s license revoked, because their teacher often turned up at the school acting drunk and disorderly. It was one of the very first temperance acts in Toronto Township. When the Temperance Hall was finally closed the building was sold off to Robert Anderson. Also at Derry West was a Women’s Institute, formed in 1929. The women started a 4-H Homemaker’s Club, which was part of the Home Economics Service of the Extension Branch, of the Ontario Department of Agriculture, also in 1929. The club was targeted towards girls aged 12 to 26, to teach them domestic and other skills.

Derry West grew until 1865, when the hamlet was swept by fire. The fire broke out at the back of the Moffatt house when hot ashes were blown onto the porch. The flames grew and were spread throughout the village by a strong wind. The fire reached Thomas Grafton’s house, McVittie’s house, a hotel, Mr. McClare’s store, among other buildings. Only a few houses survived. Mrs. Moffatt was tragically killed while trying to rescue a gold watch from the house. Derry West’s buildings were replaced within the year, including the hotel which was rebuilt in the same place by Charles Armstrong. The village of Derry West, however, was never able to reestablish its former prominence.

Unfortunately little lingers of the village that once was Derry West, its memory only preserved by a few lingering reminders: the historically designated Hunter-Holmes House at the modern Derrydale Golf Course, the small historic pioneer cemetery just west of Hurontario Street, and the name of Derry Road itself, as the concession line that once led to the bustling crossroads hamlet of Derry West. In 2002, Derry West Village Public School was opened. It was the first cluster school to be built by the Peel Board of Education. 

We can look at family names from historic maps to help place a personal face and stir a collective memory: names like Armstrong, Brown, Carter, Golden, Grafton, Graham, Hunter, Moore, Moffatt, Oliver, Sanderson, Tilt and Wedgewood, to name a few.

© Mississauga Heritage 2009