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Meadowvale Village: Pioneers

The story of Meadowvale Village begins in 1819 when twenty-nine families emigrated from New York State and settled in this area. These settlers, led by “Squire” John Beatty, were seeking a new home under the British Flag, having grown tired of anti-British sentiment in the United States following the War of 1812.

On May 1st, 1819, Beatty led a caravan of 29 wagons from New York. The party travelled along the Niagara Peninsula, following the Lake Ontario shoreline, eventually reaching what would become Port Credit. Here, the group split into two, with several families following Thomas Graham, settling in the eastern part of the New Survey of Toronto Township (modern Mississauga). The other group, led by Beatty, settled here.

Because of the lack of cleared roads, the party took boats and rafts upstream along the Credit River. The newcomers found their chosen land densely covered by extensive pine forests. Each family was given 200 acres. However, the Crown would not issue grants until settlement duties had been completed. The duties included the construction of a dwelling and the clearing and fencing of a percentage of the settlers’ land. Because of the quiet pastoral beauty which greeted these early pioneers, the area was appropriately dubbed “Meadowvale”.

John Beatty’s homestead became the early focal point of the developing community. The side road which formed the southern border of Beatty’s land grant soon became a well travelled route and functioned as the main thoroughfare for the surrounding settlers. Later known as the Derry West Road (now Derry Road), it connected Meadowvale to many other crossroads hamlets that developed along its course. Beatty was also the spiritual leader of the community, and his home became a meeting place for Wesleyan Methodist ministers. The first quarterly religious service was held in his home in 1821 and was attended by more than 100 people.

Meadowvale Village: The Early Years

Life for Meadowvale’s pioneers was not an easy one. The most basic of necessities were not easily come by. Many abandoned their farm homesteads in search of the basic subsistence they hoped to find in the early cities of York (Toronto) and Hamilton. Only the most hardy and determined remained, braving the harsh conditions and risking much. For those who remained, all was not toil and heartache.

The properties, which the disillusioned had abandoned, did not lay dormant for long. They were soon bought up by those who recognized the area’s potential and the soil’s fertility. By the early 1830’s, the white pines that covered much of the area were in great demand for shipbuilding and canal construction, and the future of Meadowvale appeared secure. In 1830, Beatty was appointed by the Canada Conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church to the committee charged with selecting a location for the proposed Upper Canada Academy. In 1831, he was appointed Steward of the new Academy and left this area to permanently settle in Cobourg. John Crawford purchased ownership of Beatty’s original grant.

John Crawford ushered in a new phase of development for Meadowvale by damming a branch of the Credit River and building the first sawmill. However, he soon discovered that there was insufficient water power where he chose to build. Regardless, Meadowvale settlers soon realized that there was a guaranteed market for Canadian timber, especially for white pine, which Meadowvale had in abundance.

In 1836, John Simpson established the first successful sawmill in the community, as well as a small carding mill, to which farmers could bring their wool to be spun into yarn. Simpson soon became an affluent member of the community. John Simpson is considered by many as the founding father of the village.

Meadowvale Village: Founding the Village

1836 was also the date that Meadowvale reached a sufficient size to be considered a village. It was estimated that over 250 people lived within the bounds of the village at this time. Milling continued as the lifeblood of the community for many years, and the burgeoning village’s prosperity was directly linked to the success of the mills.

Meadowvale soon added other essential pioneer services. In 1848, James Johnson opened a blacksmith and wagon shop while a Mr. Robinson is credited with building the first general store in the village. The village soon added a second store, operated by James Ward. Ward later sold his store to another early and prominent resident of the community, Matthew Laidlaw. In 1852 Hugh and Horatio Johnson built a small foundry in the village for making farm implements. This foundry is believed to have been the first of its kind in Ontario.

Luther Cheyne became the first postmaster of Meadowvale in 1854, followed by James Gooderham in 1867 and C.H. Gooderham in 1873. By the 1860s, Meadowvale boasted a shoemaker, two blacksmiths, a carriage and harness maker, wagon shop, cooperage, carpenter, minister, justice of the peace, postmaster, schoolmaster, two sawmills, a chopping mill, and the large grist mill. Meadowvale was also home to a far-famed musical band and, for many years, to an annual Meadowvale Band Garden Party, featuring classical music of Caruso and poetry of Tennyson. The village also became known for its literary and debating society. Known as “The Fortnightly Club”, they edited a small community paper called the “Mirror”.

The first hotel in Meadowvale was established by a local blacksmith, George Bell, in 1844. Matthew Laidlaw added a second hotel in 1852. Early general stores also flourished, with proprietors Matthew Laidlaw, Francis Silverthorn and William Elliott. William Elliott was also the local M.P. and Justice of the Peace. John Simpson’s legacy as one of the founders of the village was continued by his adopted son, Albert Lambe, who was considered to have a great community spirit, and served the early village for many years as a proprietor of a general store, as a post master, and in other business interests in the village.

Meadowvale Village: The Mill

The lazy course of the Credit River belies its importance to the establishment of Meadowvale Village. The founding of mills along the course of the river provided the single greatest incentive to the growth of the surrounding community. The early mills operated by Simpson and Crawford paved the way for new growth.

Francis Silverthorn, son of one the Township’s first pioneers, arrived in Meadowvale, purchased a portion of John Crawford’s mill allowance, and entered into competition with John Simpson. He built a dam and millrace and erected a large sawmill. Both Silverthorn and Simpson did a good business, even with primitive equipment and old mule saws, and cut about 10,000 board feet a day.

Silverthorn expanded his complex in 1845, constructing a large grist mill. His business boomed and farmers from Orangeville, Erin, Malton and locally brought wheat to the mill. In 1853 tragically the mill and its 10,000 bushels of wheat burned. With new financial backing from the Bank of Upper Canada, Silverthorn quickly rebuilt. Unluckily the wheat market collapsed in 1860 following the Crimean War.

Gooderham and Worts, a major stakeholder in the Bank of Upper Canada, acquired Silverthorn’s holdings in 1860. They added a general store to the milling complex, expanded the mill, upgraded the machinery and increased production considerably. The flour mill produced 300 barrels a day and wagons hauled the product to the railroad in Malton. Fall was the busiest time at the mill, which at harvest time would run for 24 hours a day. By providing employment and stimulating trade, Gooderham and Worts’s mill was the greatest single force in the economic life of the village. When business was good, everyone benefited. When business was poor, everyone was affected. The company opened a large store in the village, employing five clerks, nine tailors, three dressmakers and three milliners. The firm’s large barrel and cooper factory supplied their own and other mills, and produced crates and apple barrels for local farmers and fruit growers. The success of the mills brought a steady market for timber and wheat, rapidly clearly the dense forests surrounding the village.

Meadowvale Village: The Village Grows

By 1848, it was determined that the area required a permanent school. Controversy arose as to where the school should be located. The families from the surrounding areas decided upon Meadowvale, and in 1851 a new school house was erected in the village. One of the earliest teachers at the new school, S.S. #15, was Samuel True. This first school house was replaced by a new one in 1871. This second school remains part of the village today as a community hall.

In religious matters, Methodism held sway in Meadowvale and was the only denomination to establish a permanent church in the village. Those of Presbyterian faith travelled to Streetsville, the Anglicans to Derry West or Churchville, while Catholics would attend mass at Elmbank. Methodists began holding camp meetings in the Meadowvale vicinity in 1821, and holding meetings in parishioners’ homes and in the schoolhouse once it was established in 1851.

A new, permanent home for the Wesleyan Methodists was established in 1863. Reverend Charles Fish held the first revival services in 1866. Church meetings became the focal point of social life in Meadowvale, including social teas, church concerts, Sunday school picnics, Harvest Home services and camp meetings. In the early years of the church, Sunday School was taught by Mrs. Baskerville, while Mr. C. Switzer and Miss Jennie Gooderham ran the choir. Miss Jessie Gooderham was the church organist.

In the early 1900’s, as economic prosperity grew, well known artists such as A.J. Casson of the Group of Seven, and many others, came to paint the beautiful landscape they saw in the Meadowvale area. Some of those artists, such as Fred Haines, George Chavignaud and Edwin Thurston even bought houses and became active in Meadowvale’s community life.

Meadowvale Village: An Enduring Heritage

The prosperity brought by the mills gradually drew to a close when the village was sufficiently bypassed by the Credit Valley Railway in 1879. Although the tracks were nearby, it was not close enough to directly benefit the established businesses in Meadowvale, effectively ending whatever hopes the village had of growing into a major centre. In the 1880s, the sawmill industry declined with the depletion of the forests. Gooderham & Worts sold their interests in the village in the 1880s, and some of the mills closed. They were briefly revived by Henry Brown, but by 1913 only one mill remained in operation. The last vestiges of the large Grist Mill were torn down in 1957.

The coming of prohibition also spelt the end for most of Meadowvale’s inns and hotels. Only the Apple Tree Inn remained, a tea room operated by Miss Yates from 1922 to 1944, in what had been Luther Cheyne’s homestead. The Apple Tree Inn became a popular stopping place for artists who came to Meadowvale to paint the beautiful, pastoral landscapes that the Credit River valley had to offer. Notably, among these artists were the well-known Georges Chavignaud, Owen Staples and Fred Haines.

The remarkable numbers of buildings that survive in Meadowvale Village are more than just picturesque reminders of the past and of the ordinary men and women who left their mark upon the landscape. A walk through Meadowvale Village today offers glimpses of the truly unique vestiges of our pioneer past; streetscapes frozen in time. It also presents a sense of “rootedness” for the modern city which has grown up around it. In 1980, the distinctiveness of historic Meadowvale Village was recognized as it was designated as Ontario’s first Heritage Conservation District.

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© Mississauga Heritage 2009