Brantford 1945 to 1950 - Post 18

In August-1945, Brantford turned its attention to how the post-war world would unfold. War production at the local factories had come to an end, servicemen returned home and assumed the jobs they left, and women left the factory floors. The City had to catch up with the backlog of unaddressed infrastructure and municipal needs put on hold during the 1930s and war years.

War Matters

On 3-October-1945, thousands of cheering residents gathered at the train station to welcome home the 54th Battery; the first unit from Brantford to be deployed overseas in December-1939. The last of the war children from England left for England in December-1945. Over 100 war brides move to the City. The No. 5, Service Flying Training School closed in 1944 and the No. 20, Canadian Army Basic Training Camp was closed in February-1946. The Brant County War Memorial Association was resurrected to determine a suitable means to honour the causalities of war. The day nurseries funded by the Federal government were threatened with closures, however the Charlotte Street nursery continued operating with municipal and provincial funding. Demand for nursery spaces remained strong as women continued working, but moved from the factory floor to the office.


Rationing did not disappear after the war ended; some items were removed from rationing while others were added to the list. Nylon stockings were removed from the list in February-1946 and there was an immediate rush to purchase them. Sugar and molasses were removed in November-1947. Meat was added to the list in September-1945 and was not removed until February-1947. Meat was rationed to prevent starvation in the newly liberated countries in Europe. Restaurants operated under a meatless Tuesdays and Friday order from July-1945 until August-1947.

Municipal Affairs

The pay-as-you-go practice of City Council continued but the need to address the accumulating capital deficit meant tax increases for the first time since the war began. The idea of financing improvements over time was given serious consideration by council given the built up demand caused by years of frugality but adoption of this practice would wait until the 1950s.

Finally, after decades of debate and discussion, in January-1946 the City started to address the issue of inadequate street signs by installing new ones. Plans to replace City Hall began in haste in 1946 and an offer was made for the Market Square, but no proposal for redevelopment ever materialised.

Traffic congestion and parking were two serious issues facing the downtown. Commercial activity in Brantford was concentrated in the downtown because no suburban plaza’s yet existed. To address the congestion issue, the City considered: increasing the number of traffic lights installed (up to 25 more), prohibiting all turns at major intersections; introducing parking restrictions at rush hour; and twining the Lorne Bridge. Motorists suggested synchronising the traffic lights but no civic department ever took responsibility for this.

Parking meters were introduced in December-1946. 312 were installed, the largest number of automatic meters in any city in Canada. At first they were a novelty, but very quickly became a nuisance for motorists.

Transit ridership increased dramatically during the decade. Ridership went from 2 million riders in 1940 to 7.4 million in 1945 with further increases through the remaining years of the decade.

Chip wagons, i.e. kiosk selling french fries bathed in apple cider vinegar and dressed with salt, first appeared in 1948. The wagons were greeted heartily by the public but with disdain by the downtown merchants. The merchants felt the wagons had an unfair advantage because they paid no rent or taxes, only a $75 licence fee. Initially the wagons had to move around throughout the day but could occupy a parking space after 5PM by feeding the parking meter. The City passed a bylaw limiting the number of wagons to four and allowed them to set up on the Market Square.

Example of a Market Square Chip Wagon. Reputed to be the best french fries in Canada.

Example of a Market Square Chip Wagon. Reputed to be the best french fries in Canada.

A dog pound was set up and a dog catcher hired in 1947.

Postwar Brantford had no sewage treatment plant. Raw sewage from homes and factories flowed directly into the Grand River. This was common practice for communities along the River and resulted in objectionable drinking water. The drinking water was treated and safe, however it tasted bad. The City considered pumping water from Lake Erie for drinking but it was deemed too expensive. The solution was to clean up the River. The water quality of the river was so poor that the chairman of the Grand River Conservation Commission commented: “No self-respecting fish will live in the Grand River.” In 1946, residents voted to build a primary treatment plant. City Council decided to build the plant only after the City raised the money to pay for it, continuing the policy of pay-as-you-go. As the decade closed, no work on the plant had commenced.

Brantford started to experience power shortages in 1948. Because of low rainfall conditions, Ontario Hydro set power quotas for municipalities in southwestern Ontario and began rotating power interruptions. Factories started to work on Saturdays and close Mondays to conserve power. For a time power was cut off at noon for 20 minutes and between the hours of 4:30 PM and 5:30 PM and between 6:30 PM and 7:30 PM. This became a nuisance for all residents and businesses.

In 1949, the Fire Chief recommended that the City build a new fire hall to replace the station at Dalhousie and Queen Streets. This station was overcrowded, lacked training space, and was located on a busy and congested street.

The growth of Brantford during the 1940s led to the beginning of talks regarding the annexation of land from Brantford Township. Land in the City for industry and housing expansion was scarce.


The housing crisis that plagued Brantford during the war years only got worse as servicemen returned home and factories expanded to meet the peace time demand for their products. By 1945, 300 wartime homes had been built in Brantford and the Committee on Civic Housing estimated another 500 homes would be needed.

There were many roadblocks faced by the City to get the houses built. The Legion lobbied that the homes be made available to returning veterans first. There was a building materials shortage. Many neighbourhoods did not want the homes in their neighbourhood because they were seen as cheap, temporary housing that would devalue their homes. Local builders showed little interest in building this type of housing because they viewed these houses as a waste of scarce materials; and the relentless housing demand raised the price of labour and materials to the point that the homes were no longer economical to build. The City converted the barracks at two decommissioned Defence Department training facilities into apartments for families and single rooms for single men. However the City was competing with Massey-Harris who wanted access to these buildings for their workers. More than 750 people lived in the converted barracks at the airport in the late 1940s.

Public Health

No hospital expansion occurred during the war years after the Queen Elizabeth Pavilion opened in 1940. Yet demand for services increased with the population. In December-1945, the hospital board proposed that the John H. Stratford building be replaced by a modern 8 storey 105-bed building, and a 200 bed nurses’ residence. Overcrowding was an issue and had been for decades. Regarding the raising of funds for the expansion the hospital board chair noted that if the City and County were able to raise over $75 million for Victory Bonds the capacity likely existed to raise $1 million for the hospital for the health of the community.

The Stratford Hospital main building before it was demolished and replaced in the 1950s.

The Stratford Hospital main building before it was demolished and replaced in the 1950s.

The City contemplated ending the fluoride experiment with the City’s drinking water because of costs until the Provincial government agreed to share in the costs.


When Victoria School was rebuilt after the fire in 1944 and reopened in 1946 it became the City’s most modern school. More schools were needed to serve the population. It was not uncommon for Kindergarten classes to have more than 40 students, and elementary school enrolment exceeded graduations by 200 students. In July-1948, construction of Princess Elizabeth and Lansdowne schools were approved, the first new elementary schools built in the City in 25 years.

In 1946, the Local Council of Women drew attention to the deplorable conditions that existed at the Mohawk Institute, a residential school run by the Anglican Church. The Council noted that the students had insufficient food and clothes, no infirmary or sick room, no medical or dental services, no recreational facilities, and cold, damp, drab rooms. The Department of Indian Affairs promised an enquiry but did nothing. Conditions in 1950 were unchanged.

Arena / Civic Centre / Art Centre

During the war, the City struck a Recreation Projects Committee that investigated 32 arena and auditorium complexes in Canada and the United States. After the war, discussion began in earnest about the need for a new arena or civic centre for the City and County that would support various activities, e.g. public assembly, music and drama productions, lectures and forums, convention and exhibit space, hockey and skating, basketball, badminton, bowling, and gym classes. In December-1945, residents voted to support the idea of a multipurpose civic centre. There was division within the community as some groups advocated for separate facilities, an arena for sports and a theatre for the arts. In 1947, the mayor suggested a partnership between the City and Board of Education to build a theatre at Brantford Collegiate Institute and suggested the Board of Trade launch a campaign to fund an arena with three ice pads. By this time public interest was waning on the idea of a new arena and the proposals were shelved.

Arts and Culture

The arts and culture scene really picked up after the war. The Cockshutt Male Choir, under the direction of, first, Frank Holton, and then, George Smale, and the Brantford Ladies’ Choir, later renamed the Universal Cooler Ladies’ Choir, under the direction of Frank Holton, continued their winning ways tradition. The Ladies’ Choir placed first the 1947 Kiwanis Festival in Toronto and won the 90th Eisteddfod competition in Utica, NY. In 1949, they won first prize at the Chicagoland Festival after placing second in 1948.

In November-1945, the first Brantford Music Festival (now known as the Brantford Kiwanis Music Festival) was organized by the Ontario Music Teacher’s Association and attracted over 400 entries. The Eaton Operatic Society restarted after the war and their annual show performed to sold out audiences. The Brant Drama league was revived and revamped presenting their first production, The Late Christopher Bean, in 1949, while the newly organised Lyric Opera Guild presented two short operas. In March-1949, the dormant Brantford Symphony Orchestra was relaunched. The orchestra, under the direction of Frederick R. Godden, was made up of 44 local musicians.

The Odeon Theatre on Market Street opened on 17-December-1948. The first feature film shown was Blanche Fury starring Valerie Hobson and Stewart Granger. The theatre sat 998. The Sunset Drive-In opened on Wednesday 5-May-1948 on Highway 53 opposite the Brantford Airport. The drive-in theatre’s screen was 56 feet high and the complex accommodated 500 cars. The lot was expanded to 721 cars when a second screen was added in the 1970s. On 23-November-1948, a downtown radio store demonstrated television for the first time in Brantford showing a fuzzy black and white picture on an 8 inch by 10 inch screen, broadcast from WBEN-TV (now WIVB) in Buffalo.

The Sunset Drive In on Highway 53 across from the Brantford Airport.

The Sunset Drive In on Highway 53 across from the Brantford Airport.

Sports and Recreation

In 1948, Last Mark, a horse owned by Jim Fair of Cainsville, won the King’s Plate.

The Brantford Red Sox of the Intercounty Baseball League won their first championship in 1949. Attendance at the games at the beginning of the season was 2,000 and steadily increased until a record crowd of 5,378 watched the Red Sox defeat Waterloo on 18-September for the championship. This was the heyday of the league. Softball was also popular, drawing between 1,500 and 2,000 fans to the games at Earl Haig Park three and four nights per week.

In August-1948, Earl Haig Park was renamed Lions Park to recognise the commitment of the Lions Club who planned to invest $100,000 over ten years to upgrade the park facilities. These improvements were to include improved drainage of the baseball diamond, increased seating, more floodlights, a club house, public wash rooms, and a children’s playground. Major renovations were also completed at the baseball stadium at Cockshutt Park, formerly known as Agricultural Park, where the Brantford Red Sox played, and continue to play. Additions included new stands to seat 3,000, concrete dugouts, ground resurfacing, a new press box, scoreboard, and lighting.

Industrial Developments

The cancellation of war contracts had an immediate impact on employment as many men were laid-off but as the conversion to peace time production began there was soon a labour shortage. 

By the 1940s, the Adams Wagon factory on Mohawk Street became Brantford Coach & Body's main manufacturing plant. The former Brantford Carriage factory on Pearl Street was relegated to being a parts warehouse. The production of wooden farm wagons ceased in 1941. The company transitioned to the manufacturing of stake bodies, steel dump bodies complete with their own hydraulic hoists, and all types of trailer bodies. In 1947, the workers voted to insert the Rand formula into their collective agreement; this meant all workers had to have union dues deducted from their pay.

Brantford Carriage factory on Pearl Street. Used as a warehouse for White Farm Equipment before it was sold and demolished.

Brantford Carriage factory on Pearl Street. Used as a warehouse for White Farm Equipment before it was sold and demolished.

In 1944, Waterous Limited became the first Canadian manufacturing company to reach its 100th anniversary. The company closed for the day to honour the milestone. Donald Waterous was president of the company at this time. There was no family member in line as a potential future president so in April 1947 Donald accepted an offer from Modern Tool Works Ltd. of Toronto to buy the company. The company was no longer in the hands of local ownership. The new owners took the company public with a listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange and began to modernise the factory.

The Waterous factory complex on Market Street across from the present day Civic Centre.

The Waterous factory complex on Market Street across from the present day Civic Centre.

Ruddy Freeborn achieved success after the resurrection of Ruddy Manufacturing factory in 1937 and started producing reach-in refrigerators for retail use and refrigerated display cabinets for food stores. In 1948, Hussman Refrigeration Company of St. Louis purchased Ruddy Freeborn. In 1950, a new modern factory was constructed on Frank Street in Holmedale and by 1954 the plant on Elgin Street was closed with all production transferred to the new facility.

During the late 1930s and early 1940s the engineers at Cockshutt were working on two company-altering products. The self propelled combine harvester was introduced in 1944 and in 1947, after years of selling rebranded tractors built by others, Cockshutt introduced their own Cockshutt designed and built tractor, with live power take off (PTO). Live PTO ensured continuous power to towed equipment even when the clutch was disengaged. This innovation, developed here in Brantford, forever changed the tractor industry and within a few years it was difficult to sell a tractor without live PTO. Cockshutt expanded their production facilities by converting the new plant built for Cockshutt Moulded Aircraft during the war to tractor and combine assembly. In 1947, the workers voted to insert the Rand formula into their collective agreement.

Massey-Harris constructed a new foundry at their Verity complex and predicted a need for 800 new workers within two years as their production ramped up.

The introduction of the self-propelled combine harvester would forever alter the business of Brantford Cordage. The popularity of the combine harvester drastically reduced the need for binder twine. Between 1948 and 1951 Brantford Cordage replaced and changed virtually all the equipment in their factory to remake the company. Although binder twine was still produced production was focused on the more profitable baler twine and ropes.

James Hillier

James Hillier was born in Brantford on 22-August-1915. He grew up on Hill Street and was a graduate of Brantford Collegiate Institute and the University of Toronto. Hiller perfected the electron microanalyzer in 1941 while working at the RCA Labs in Princeton, New Jersey. Hillier and colleague Albert Prebus built the first North American electron microscope at the University of Toronto in 1938. Hillier rose through the ranks at RCA. When he retired he was the Executive Vice President and Chief Scientist of the RCA Labs. Hillier remained involved with the Brantford community and established the James Hillier Foundation in 1993 to award annual scholarships to Brant County students pursuing an education in Science. James Hillier Public School on Queensway Drive was opened in 1950. Hillier is buried in the Farringdon Cemetery on Mount Pleasant Road.

Dr James Hillier with his Electron Microscope.

Dr James Hillier with his Electron Microscope.

Thomas B. Costain

Thomas Bertram Contain was born in Brantford on 8-May-1885. He attended Victoria School and Brantford Collegiate Institute. He wrote for the Brantford Courier and the Brantford Expositor. He became editor of Maclean’s magazine in 1917 then went on to become the fiction editor at the Saturday Evening Post in New York City in 1919. He worked for Doubleday Books (1939-1946) as an editor and was the head of 20th Century Fox’s story department (1934 to 1942). His first novel was published in 1942, when he was 57. Costain went on to write 22 more books. His 1950 novel, Son of a Hundred Kings, was about an orphaned boy who grows up in Balfour, which was based on his experiences in Brantford. His books were translated into 17 languages. In 1947, Costain began his sponsorship for an annual short stories contest for students in Brant County secondary schools. Thomas B. Costain Public School on Morrell Street was opened in 1953. Costain is buried in the Farringdon Cemetery.

Thomas Bertram Costain.

Thomas Bertram Costain.


Evelyn Feely became station manager of CKPC in 1940, the first woman in Canada to hold this position. She was replaced in 1941 by Florence Buchanan. In 1941, CKPC moved to the frequency 1380. In 1946, the station increased its broadcast power from 100 watts to 1,000 watts. The station received an FM radio licence in 1947 and CKPC-FM began broadcasting in 1949, simulcasting the AM station’s programming.

Arcade Building

The Arcade Building built in 1916 on the site of the Crompton’s Department Store that burned down in 1915 was Brantford’s first shopping mall. The building was home to over 30 businesses, including radio station CKPC, a ballroom, and a recreation club. In 1944, Eaton’s bought the building. The building operated as an Eaton’s until 1965.

Bell Telephone Building

In 1947, the Bell Telephone Company of Canada purchased the old Digby home, a stately colonial house, on the corner of Market and Wellington Streets. Three generations of Digby’s practised medicine from this house starting in 1835. Of particular note is that one of the world’s first business telephones was installed in Dr. Digby’s residence which connected him to Samuel Tapscott’s apothecary at 24 Market Street. When the new Bell Telephone building opened in April-1949 it marked the introduction of direct dial service to the 14,000 telephone subscribers inBrantford, replacing operator placed calls. In June-1949, Bell’s eldest daughter, Elsie May Grosvenor, unveiled the statue of Bell in the portico of the new building.

Years of neglect of the City’s infrastructure and services caught up with Brantford after the war and through the late 1940s,1950s, and 1960s Brantford had to catch up to meet the demands of its residents. This, of course, posed a problem for City Council who had to meet the demands of the residents for services while keeping taxes affordable. Brantford began to change, leaving behind the large, hulking, heavy brick architecture of its past.

Brantford During World War II - Post 17

Precautions in case a war broke out in Europe began in April-1939. All fully-fit unemployed war veterans were to report to the Canadian Legion. Men would be needed to guard the Brant Hydro sub-station between Brantford and Paris, the sewage treatment plant, armoury, and the Canadian National Railways track infrastructure. However, most were confident that war would be averted.

War Declared

Canada declared war on Germany on 10-September-1939. When war was declared, the mood was sombre, there was no euphoria like there was in 1914; city life would be disrupted. Veterans started to report for active duty. In response to the call for service, the City and Board of Education guaranteed that anyone leaving for the war would have their job to return to. The Brant-Norfolk Aero Club was conscripted for the training of pilots for the Royal Canadian Air Force.

The first unit from the 54th Battery at the Brantford Armoury arrived in England before the end of 1939, the only local unit to land overseas as a separate entity. The 69th Battery was mobilised in May-1940 and the Dufferin-Haldimand Rifle in July. Men were not eager to enlist because the stories of the horrors the fighting men of the First World War experienced were well remembered, so the federal government announced conscription for home defence as of 15-July-1940. This announcement was accompanied by a sharp increase in marriage licence applications because married men could avoid overseas service. Enlistments in Brantford remained low throughout 1940 compared to other centres cause jobs were plentiful and because of the First World War horror stories.

Training Camp and School

In 1940, No. 20, Canadian Army Basic Training Camp, was established on the Glebe lands where Pauline Johnson Collegiate now stands. As of 1942, the Canadian Women’s Army Corps were also stationed here. In April-1940 the federal government announced the establishment of No. 5, Service Flying Training School, as a part of the Commonwealth Air Training Plan, the site of the present Brantford Airport. In January-1942 the Canadian Women’s Air Force joined the men at No.5 school. The school graduated over 2,000 pilots in four years of operation.

These bases had their own dance bands, drama leagues, cricket, hockey, and baseball teams, wrestling and boxing matches. Service personnel assisted in harvesting local crops and digging out the city after particularly heavy snow storms. These camps were a boon to local merchants given the payroll of service personnel. The City ensured that the men and women of the camps were made to feel welcome by organising clubs for them, providing free bus rides, raising money for camp improvements, and acquiring books for camp libraries.

Percy Nelles

Notably, Percy Nelles, who was born and raised in Brantford, rose to the rank of Admiral in the Royal Canadian Navy; Canada’s first full Admiral. At the outbreak of WWII, Nelles held the rank of Rear Admiral and was chief of the naval staff. During the war Nelles rose to the rank of Vice-Admiral and was promoted to full Admiral upon his retirement from the navy. Nelles also served with the Royal Navy during his career.

Percy Nelles

Percy Nelles

HMCS Brantford

The government decided to name destroyers after Canadian rivers and corvettes after Canadian cities and towns. On 6-September-1941 HMCS Brantford was launched in Midland, Ontario. Local organisations supplied the ship with knitted articles, books, records, and a loud speaker system. HMCS Brantford began her service as an escort ship and ended the war as a training ship. The ship had a range of 3,500 nautical miles and a complement of 61 men and 5 officers. The ship was decommissioned on 17-August-1945 and was sold off for conversion. In 1950, the ship became a whale-catcher. In 1972 it was converted to a tugboat. The ship was broken up in 1976.

HMCS Brantford

HMCS Brantford


The government’s initial position was that there would be no conscription as this was a divisive issue in the First World War. The government then modified their position and adopted compulsory training for home defence, however a faction of the population wanted conscription for overseas service as well. Brantford’s M.P. W. Ross Macdonald favoured conscription for overseas service as did Brantford City Council and the Canadian Legion. In April-1942 the government held a national plebiscite on overseas conscription and it was supported by two-thirds of the voters in nine provinces. Quebec voted against the measure. Even though overseas conscription was supported by the majority of Canadians the government was hesitant to reinforce Canadian units with conscripts until near the war’s end when the final push to defeat the enemy was on, after the D-Day invasion.


In order to protect the war supply lines, the government encouraged citizens to reduce their consumption of staples. This request went unheeded by the populace and as a consequence the government imposed rationing in 1942. Staples such as sugar, flour, meat, butter, tea, coffee, evaporated milk, silk stockings, tires, and gasoline were all subject to rationing and available only by presenting the merchant with the appropriate ration coupon. In order to celebrate a special occasion like a wedding, family and friends would contribute ration coupons to the bride’s family so a wedding reception could be held. Silk stockings posed a particular challenge because when Japan entered the war, the supply of silk was almost entirely cut off, and bare legs for women at the time was not fashionable. Tires and gasoline also posed problems as the availability of new or used tires was restricted to essential war work. These restrictions led to a spike in the theft of tires and gasoline. Bicycle use surged during this period.

Gasoline ration coupon

Gasoline ration coupon


Fundraising for countless war-related causes was continuous throughout the war years: Victory Bonds, War Savings Certificates and Stamps, milk funds, and British air raid victims to name a few. The Victory Bond drives in Brantford (there were 10 drives over the course of the war) raised over $775,000, the equivalent of over $10 million today. During these bond drives, the Expositor noted that citizens could either pay increased taxes to support the war effort or buy Victory Bonds and earn interest on their money. Equally important to the various fundraising drives were the scrap collection drives; rubber, metal, glass, newspaper, and rags were all scavenged. The rail and bridge of the old Great Western Railway mainline between St George and Paris was scavenged, melted and used for war purposes.

Victory Bond poster designed by AJ Casson in 1941. AJ Casson was a member of the Group of Seven. The Group was financially supported by Brantford-born artist and Group member Lawren Harris.

Victory Bond poster designed by AJ Casson in 1941. AJ Casson was a member of the Group of Seven. The Group was financially supported by Brantford-born artist and Group member Lawren Harris.

Wartime Paranoia

As happened during the First World War, paranoia and fear swept through Brantford. In May-1940, City Council passed a resolution to establish a Citizens’ Committee that would identify subversive elements. The government established the Home Guard to keep an eye on these subversives. The Guard were volunteers, WWI veterans under the age of 50. The Board of Education required all staff to take the pledge of allegiance and threatened to expel students that refused to salute the flag. In June-1940, the Police investigated over 100 reports of disloyalty. Most complaints were from anonymous sources. The Police attributed the reports to petty jealousies, fights between neighbours and spite. Spies were regularly reported to be working in the City. When Italy joined the Axis alliance in 1941, the Italian community in Brantford came under suspicion and scrutiny.

In February-1941, the City was designated as a vulnerable point because of its wartime industries and because it was within range of German bombers. 400 volunteers were recruited and air raid preparations were organised and practised. However the designation was suddenly withdrawn without explanation in September. The City was aghast. The designation was reinstated in January-1943. Censorship and government controls and restrictions were imposed. Mail could be opened and read by government agents. In 1941, City Council asked the library to remove all books by Charles Lindbergh, a known pacifist and admirer of Hitler. No action was taken on this request.

Industrial Capacity

The factories in the Brantford had largely recovered from the depression when WWII broke out. Although Brantford had the industrial infrastructure for wartime production it lacked adequate human resources. Workers flooded in from across the country and women returned to the factories. By 1942, Brantford factories were operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week turning out gun mounts, munitions, truck cabs, boilers, and aeroplane wings. Cockshutt and Massey-Harris produced war supplies alongside their regular products. In 1940, Sternson and Sonoco enlarged their facilities, Brantford Cordage announced a record output and in 1941 Harding Carpet achieved record profits. Cockshutt opened Cockshutt Moulded Aircraft Ltd in December-1942 producing moulded plywood for the fusages of Avro-Anson multi-engine trainer. In 1944, Waterous Ltd. turned 100, the first Canadian company to achieve that milestone.


The demand for labour and the resulting surge in workers and their families moving to Brantford resulted in a severe housing shortage. Since demand outpaced supply, evictions became common as landlords were able to increase rents faster than the occupants were able to meet the increases. This especially affected the families of service men. Even though the federal government imposed rent controls in December-1941 many landlords ignored the regulations and evictions continued.

City Council asked the Crown Corporation, Wartime Housing Ltd., to help alleviate the housing shortage. Even with the help of Wartime Housing, construction of new houses could not keep up with demand because the company was faced with material and labour shortages. Originally the intent was to construct temporary structures that would be dismantled after the war but Council felt that this would likely never occur, once built, the houses would remain. Many were built on slab foundations without basements. Over the ensuing decades most of these home owners would dig out a basement. Wartime homes can be found in Holmedale, Eagle Place, and along Elgin Street west of Arrowdale Golf Course. These houses provided little relief for the housing shortage and people lived wherever they could find a place: in spare rooms, empty factories, and camping in Mohawk Park. Living conditions during this time were crowded.

In 1941, Brantford’s population was 32,660; two years later it had grown to 35,000. The sudden increase in factory production due to the war combined with the closing down of the street railway on 31-January-1940 led to a crisis in public transportation. The new buses did not have the capacity of the street cars, nor did the City have enough buses to meet the demand for service so buses were often crowded, all the time. And with production focused on the war, the acquisition of new buses was a slow process, and even as the bus fleet was expanded, overcrowding persisted throughout the war. Oddly enough, Sunday bus service did not prove popular when it was added in December-1942, even though the factories were working seven days a week and the public had clamoured for Sunday service. Sunday service ended in May-1943. Sunday service was re-introduced after the war and proved to be very popular.


During the war, labour stoppages were rare. The Ministry of Labour had little patience for labour disputes if wartime production was impacted. Because of the demand for labour, the workers’ bargaining position improved. Regarding labour relations, management preferred the use of Industrial Councils to settle labour disputes. Industrial Councils were company controlled bodies comprised of management and workers. Unions continued to try to organise workers but management made it difficult. In 1943, the United Auto Workers (UAW) were successful in organising Canadian Car & Foundry, but Cockshutt workers voted to continue using the Industrial Council. In 1943, the Provincial legislature outlawed the use of Industrial Councils because they lacked the separation between management and labour. By the end of the war, the UAW represented workers at Cockshutt, Massey-Harris, Brantford Cordage, and Robbins & Myers.

The labour shortage was acute in Brantford throughout the war. Retired workers were asked to return to work, farmers were conscripted in the winter months, and BCI opened vocational classes geared to war work. Workers could be moved from jobs the government deemed non-essential to those supporting the war effort and were fined if they refused to move. As war production declined, the need for farm implements to repair war damaged units took up the slack and labour needs remained high with hundreds of positions going unfilled. Between September-1942 and June-1945 14,371 women were in the workforce. The first day care nursery in Ontario opened on Charlotte Street in November-1942 to accommodate the working mothers.

The labour shortage had far reaching consequences, tradesmen were difficult to find, gas meter readers could not get into residents houses to read their meters because residents were at work, the City was seriously short staffed, the hospital suffered a nursing shortage and curtailed visiting hours, farmers could not recruit enough able bodies to bring in the harvest, and students left school before graduation to take on factory jobs; my father being one of them.

Municipal Affairs

In 1939, the province tried to change the terms of municipal politicians from one year to two years or until the end of the war, as a cost savings measure but this was rejected by voters. City Council continued their pay-as-you-go philosophy adopted during the 1930s, and avoided capital expenditures. This was to allow taxpayers to spend money supporting the war effort. This resulted in tax reductions, debt reduction, and budget surpluses. Because of the industrial boom, the need for relief payments was virtually eliminated. One of the most contentious municipal issues during this period was where to locate the garbage dump. As you can imagine all suggested locations were soundly rebuked by the various neighbourhoods adjacent to the recommended sites which included West Brant, Eagle Place, and the North End; the North End being the area just north of Grandview. Street name signs were problematic for the City. They were not installed at each corner or even adjacent corners making Brantford resemble a labyrinth rather than an organised community for visitors.

The daylight savings time issue did not disappear. Brantford held fast to standard time all year long even when neighbouring municipalities adopted daylight savings time; even the Army camp and Air Force school adopted daylight savings time. In January-1942, the federal government made daylight savings time mandatory for the whole country.

The Queen Elizabeth pavilion at the Brantford General Hospital opened in October-1940 but the city’s rising population and nursing shortage continued to strain the abilities of the hospital to meet the demand for services. In 1940, Brantford became the first city in the world, with a population over 25,000, to be diphtheria free for ten years. This was the result of the immunisation programme instituted by the Board of Health in 1928. In June-1945, Brantford added sodium fluoride to its drinking water becoming the first city in Canada, and the second city in the world to do so.

Earl Haig pool, closed since 1930, reopened in 1942. Jennie Steer became the first woman elected to Brantford City Council in 1942. Plans for a new arena were revived in November-1944. Earl Haig Park was the preferred location. When the Civic Centre was finally completed in 1967, it was built on the site of the former Massey-Ferguson complex on Market Street South, adjacent to Earl Haig Park. The City wanted the federal government to ensure that the airport built to serve the flying school would remain open as a commercial facility. The training school site airport on Burford Road replaced the St. George Road airport. On 27-April-1970, the airport was transferred from the federal government to the City.


The Brantford Catholic High School opened in September-1941, becoming Brantford’s second high school. Victoria School on Richmond Street, now Victoria Academy, was gutted by a fire in February-1944. It would be rebuilt and reopen two years later. Over 1,800 students from BCI joined the armed forces during the war years. 135 never returned from battle.

Recreation and Entertainment

During the war, the recreational needs of the community and the service men and women stationed in Brantford were coordinated by the Community Wartime Recreational Council, formed in 1942. The council organised dances, special events, social clubs, baseball and hockey leagues, and popularised basketball.

Because of the shortage of players, senior hockey and baseball suffered. The Brantford Jr. B Lions won the provincial championship in 1940-41, the first Ontario hockey championship for a City team in 51 years. Fred Hunt went on to play with the New York Americans and New York Rangers, Leo Reise played for the Chicago Black Hawks and won two Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, and Tommy Ivanoff, later known as Tommy Ivan, went on the become the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings and later General Manager of the Chicago Black Hawks. In 1945, the Waterous Ladies’ basketball team won the city, intercity, and provincial championship and then won the Dominion Intermediate A crown.

Dancing and going to the movies were popular pastimes. The dance pavilion at Mohawk Park attracted over 15,000 people in 1942. Popular entertainers like the von Trapp Family Singers, Gene Autry, and Gracie Field appeared in Brantford. The Canadian Choir disbanded because of a significant decline in its membership and the Schubert Choir delivered their final concert on 23-April-1941 because conductor Henri K. Jordan was retiring.

End of Conflict

On 7-May-1945, Brantford went wild with the news that the war in Europe was over. Stores, factories, and government buildings shut down for two days of merry making. Only the Bell Telephone offices remained open handling a record number of calls. This scene was repeated on 14-August when news of Japan’s surrender reached the city.

During During the Depression - Post 16

We have in Brantford, a microcosm, expressive in a way, of the whole Dominion of Canada, which is composed in part of great manufacturing and industrial centres, surrounded by great agricultural areas. - from Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s speech at the Brantford Armoury in 1930 in front of an audience of 5,000 and broadcast over a country-wide radio hook up, that opened his re-election campaign.

Brantford During the Depression

The bubble burst on 29-October-1929. That day marked the beginning of a long descent into misery and heartache for the working man. The stock market crash was the manifestation of an economic system that was unsustainable. The repercussions would be far reaching and long lasting. Boom and bust cycles have existed since the beginning of the industrial revolution but the world and Brantford never experienced a bust as was to come. Up to this time, the federal and provincial governments did not play a large part in the economy. They did not run any social programmes to speak of. No social safety nets were in place to ease the burden of those about to lose their jobs. The burden fell on the unemployed themselves and municipal governments. The most disadvantaged workers during this period were single men, because they did not have families to support; they were the first to be laid off, the last hired for civic relief projects, and allotted the least number of hours.

The stock market crash led to food lines and relief programmes becoming common as the 1930s progressed. The problems Brantford would encounter were exacerbated by a lack of diversification in the city’s industrial base.


The sudden drop in the stock market and the tales of gloom that followed caused the general population to reduce their spending. This happened in spite of the press, business, and government leaders telling the public that all was well and there was nothing to fear. On 25-April-1930 the Expositor wrote: The present is no time for pessimism in Canada. On the contrary, all the indications confirm the wisdom of those who have insisted that the present depression throughout the Dominion is merely temporary, and not justified by actual economic conditions.

The farm implements industry was impacted by the failure of the 1929 grain crop in western Canada. This directly led to a reduction in orders for both Massey-Harris and Cockshutt’s. Both companies asked the federal government to raise the tariffs on foreign made farm implements but the Liberal government of Mackenzie King took no action.

In September 1930, over 1,100 were unemployed in the City, the worst situation since 1921. The situation started to look promising for the farm implements industry when the new Conservative government of R.B. Bennett, elected on 28-July-1930, announced a 25 per cent tariff on imported farm implements. But a million dollar deal that Cockshutt had negotiated with the Russian government was lost when the federal government placed an embargo on Russian products entering Canada. In 1931, Cockshutt posted a $500,000 loss, Massey-Harris suffered a 50 percent decline in their business, and Brantford Cordage shut down indefinitely because they objected to new taxes imposed by the federal government.

During this time, the City worked feverishly to stimulate the local economy with various campaigns: Made in Brantford Week, Buy In Brantford, Spend for Prosperity, and Shop At Home, all designed to get residents to buy Brantford produced goods. In addition, the Industrial Commission continued their efforts to attract new companies to the city. This resulted in Kester Solder Company of Chicago, Sterling Action & Keys, Universal Cooler, Sonoco Products Company, Turnbull Furnace Company, H.E. Mott, W.J. Campbell Electric, and the Coca-Cola Company to set up operations in the City.

In 1933, some companies started to show improvement in their sales. The stocks prices of Cockshutt, Massey-Harris, Waterous Engine Works, and Brantford Cordage made appreciable gains and Harding Carpets posted a profit. Cockshutt managed to survive the Depression years because they employed tight money controls and added to their cash reserves during the 1920s.

By 1936, factories reported significant increases in their workforces. The federal government reduced the tariffs on farm implements but Cockshutt and Massey-Harris did not suffer from a drop in business as they expected. In 1937, Massey-Harris reported their first profitable year since 1929.

Cover of a brochure developed by the Brantford Industrial Commission designed to attract new industries to Brantford

Cover of a brochure developed by the Brantford Industrial Commission designed to attract new industries to Brantford

Goold, Shapley & Muir, a manufacturer of steel windmill towers and small stationary gasoline engines, struggled through this period. The company’s product line stagnated in the 1920s and the company did not come up with new innovations. The company soldiered on but the Depression took its toll and in 1934 the company was liquidated after 47 years in business.



Another company to close was Ruddy Manufacturing, formerly Ham & Nott. Ruddy produced refrigeration cabinets that were cooled electrically. Ruddy produced special refrigerators, cold storage doors, ice cream cabinets, and soda fountains. As the Depression took its toll on new store building and modifications, sales plummeted and the plant was closed in 1933. In 1937, the plant was reopened under new management and a new name, Ruddy Freeborn, as the business climate started to improve. 

Rumblings of war in Europe resulted in orders to local firms from the Department of National Defence. Now the companies faced another problem, too many jobs and not enough men.


In 1937, Canada Carriage & Body Company, which was the renamed entity for the merged Brantford Carriage Company and Adams Wagon Company, became the first factory in the city to be organised by the United Autoworkers. However, the union had to withdraw its charter because of funding problems and because they received no support from the company to collect union dues. The union managed to again organise in 1942 and got the company to deduct union dues from the payroll, a first for a Brantford company.

The economic conditions were favourable to union organizers who provided workers with an alternative to company run unions. Workers felt that the companies were using the Depression as an excuse to reduce their wages and weaken working conditions. Labour unrest occurred at the Brantford Washing Company in 1935, Canada Car & Foundry Company in 1936, Dominion Radiator & Boiler Company and Kitchen Overall & Shirt Company in 1937, and with the projectionists at the College Theatre in 1939.

Relief Programmes

As the number of men on relief swelled in 1930, city council responded by arranging for public works projects that would provide employment, like they did during the economic downturn of the early 1920s. The relief burden was more than the City could bear on its own and measures were taken to reduce the relief rolls by disqualifying single men. Provincial money for public work projects became available in the fall of 1930 and these funds were directed to the construction of sanitary sewers and dikes along the Grand River. In November, federal funds provided assistance to begin work on the Canadian National Railways cutoff north of the city. Tracks were never laid along the cutoff. The intent of the cutoff was to allow through freight trains to bypass the city. The cutoff ran from Garden Avenue to Paris Road. Freight trains continue to run through the City along the CN mainline to this day. The work on the cutoff became the foundation for Highway 403 through Brantford which was built in the 1960s. The highway through the city opened on 31-October-1966.

In order to lessen the municipal relief burden, the provincial and federal governments began to cover one-third each of the relief to individuals for groceries, fuel, and rent. Although grateful for provincial and federal assistance, the City was determined to deal with its problems locally as much as possible.

By the summer of 1931, 1,900 men were on the relief rolls in Brantford and over 3,100 registered as unemployed, the fifth highest unemployment rate in Ontario, this, in a city of 30,000. In October, Brantford sent 140 men to work camps in northern Ontario to work on the Trans-Canada Highway. However by the spring of 1932 fewer than 25 Brantford men remained. The working conditions were horrible. In 1931, the City organised the Community League to oversee and coordinate all the relief agencies in the city regarding the raising of money for the relief effort. This was an arm’s length agency independent of city control. This model was initially so successful that it was copied and implemented by the provincial government. However, as the relief rolls swelled and the poor economic situation continued unabated, the social need outstripped the Community League’s ability to supplement and fund the relief effort, while at the same time trying to meet the directive from the Minister of Public Works to slash its inadequate relief allowances even further. In August-1933 the Community League disbanded. A more permanent solution was needed.

The Community League was superseded by the Brantford Welfare Board that was tied to the City’s administration. As always, fairness and favouritism became issues with the Board and abuse allegations where regularly raised diverting attention and resources to investigation rather than providing support.

Relief numbers declined significantly in 1937 and 1938 but rose again in the first half of 1939. Even though the number of families on relief was declining, costs continued to increase because the federal and provincial contributions decreased. Their funding decreased because the economy was improving. The relief rolls and costs began to decline after the outbreak of World War II; in 1940 there were 226 families on relief compared to 1,245 families in 1939.

Relief matters were complicated during the decade by the arrival of the unemployed looking for work. Early in the decade, transients were tolerated and supported with free meals offered at the Police station but by 1938 the local citizenry had become less tolerant and the free meals were discontinued. The transients were largely single men.

Civic Matters

In 1931, City Council reduced the pay of city employees by ten percent. In 1932, all honoraria for civic officials were eliminated, including the $750 that the mayor received. However in 1933, the mayor received a raise and councillors voted themselves an annual honoraria of up to $200. Councillors to this point in the city’s history had not received any remuneration. The City’s financial situation was made worse because as relief payments increased, the ability of citizens to pay their taxes decreased. As a consequence, the total amount of unpaid taxes continued to grow. By 1935, the situation had become so severe that efforts were taken to collect the tax arrears by appealing to the citizen’s sense of obligation and the implementation of an instalment plan. It also helped that, by 1935, the economy started to improve.

On 25-May-1933, the Governor-General, the Earl of Bessborough, officially unveiled the Great War Memorial, honouring Brantford’s war dead. Proposed shortly after the end of the World War I, the completion was a long time coming.

Although civic improvements projects were curtailed during the 1930s, the Parks Board continued their efforts to beautify the City and provide functional recreation facilities. In 1935, Tutela Park was changed from an active sports park to a passive beauty spot; sports events were moved to Earl Haig Park. Mohawk Park remained a popular attraction although as the decade progressed the park moved away from hosting sports activities to that of leisure and recreation. In 1938, serious consideration was given for the construction of a combined arena and auditorium but World War II intervened. This project would finally come to fruition in 1967, 29 years later, with the opening of the Brantford and District Civic Centre, largely underwritten by the Brantford Labour Council.

Schools in the City fared no better. Teacher’s salaries were reduced, school renovations were kept to a minimum and no new schools were built. School closures due to budget constraints were avoided. In 1935, the school board introduced a free swim programme for boys offered through the YMCA. The CBC began to broadcast education programmes on the radio and the school board embraced the radio as a teaching tool. Because of the unemployment situation, attendance at BCI increased and many students returned after graduation for more work-oriented commercial and vocational courses.

The Brantford General Hospital suffered through the 1930s with a chronic space shortage and lack of an isolation ward. A hospital expansion was proposed in 1929 but it was defeated by City Council because of the fear of an economic downturn. In 1938, the Sisters of Saint Joseph proposed building a 50 bed hospital in the City, but this was rejected by the City. Instead the City finally proceeded with an expansion to the Brantford General Hospital and in July 1939 sod was turned for the construction of what would become the Queen Elizabeth Pavilion. St Joseph’s Hospital was eventually built and opened in 1955.

Interestingly a motion was passed by City Council in December 1936 supporting the Eugenics Society of Canada’s call for the sterilisaton of the feeble minded.

Pastimes and diversions

Brantford had an active choir community of national and international renown. Brantford was known as the city of choirs. The Schubert Choir, conducted by H.K. Jordan, was recognised as one of the best unaccompanied a cappella choirs on the continent. The choir performed at Massey Hall and at the New York’s World Fair. The Canadian Choir, under the direction of Frederic Lord, was formed in 1930 and sang in Albert Hall in London and the Town Hall in New York City. Lord was the organist and choir director at First Baptist Church. Press reviews for both choirs were outstanding everywhere they performed, The Cockshutt Male Choir was organised in 1935 and was under the direction of Frank Holton. Holton was the organist at Wesley United Church. Holton also organised the Brantford Ladies’ Choir. Choirs were also organised in the city’s public schools.

The Brantford Boys’ Band was started in 1931 and gave their first concert in 1932. In 1933 the dormant Brantford Symphony Orchestra was revived for one concert. It was a 75 piece ensemble with 30 musicians from Hamilton, conducted by Harold Vansickle. The Brantford Music Club brought vocalists and musicians to town as did the Brantford Community Concert Association, and the Kiwanis Club sponsored yearly operetta productions. The Brantford Drama League emerged to sponsor drama festivals, run apprenticeship programmes for aspiring actors, and produce one-act and full length plays at its Playhouse in West Brant. During this period Brantford no longer had a suitable theatre to stage productions. The Temple Theatre, now the Sanderson Centre, was converted in 1930 to exclusively show movies. The Grand Opera House was demolished in 1931. Only the Brant Theatre, primarily a movie theatre, BCI, and the Armoury remained, inadequate as they were, to host theatre productions.

The miniature golf craze took the city by storm in 1930. This led to the establishment of seven courses in the city. Deteriorating economic conditions snuffed out this craze the following year. Roller skating became all the rage in 1933 to the point where skaters became a traffic hazard. In order to provide skaters with a safe area to skate, Water Street, between Market Street and the Lake Erie & Northern train station at the Lorne Bridge was roped off in the evenings. A refreshment booth and improved lighting were installed on the street. Chain letters were also a popular pastime.

Circuses were a popular attraction. Brantford had its own circus company for 22 years, the Y Circus. The company produced an annual Easter event that was the city’s biggest annual entertainment attraction. It attracted sold out crowds. The circus’ run ended in 1935 when its organiser, George Mosely, moved to Owen Sound.

The City’s swimming pool at Earl Haig Park was closed in 1930 due to a spinal meningitis outbreak then remained closed thereafter because of the difficult financial times the City was experiencing. So citizens returned to the river to swim and beach areas were developed in West Brant, Eagle Place, and Holmedale. A proposal was made in 1939 to reopen the pool but the costs were deemed too high.

Brantford had professional teams in both baseball and hockey but both teams folded in 1930; the baseball team midway through its season. Sports continued to thrive at the amateur level. Brantford’s most successful hockey team during this era was the Brantford Lions who won their junior B group in 1937, 1938, and 1939. The team was coached by Tommy Ivan, who left to coach the Chicago Black Hawks. Jack Sewchuk went on to play for the Boston Bruins. My father played on this team in 1939.

Brantford Lions Jr B hockey player, my father, John Jackowetz, 1939. Photo was taken on Usher St. The Broad St hill is in the background.

Brantford Lions Jr B hockey player, my father, John Jackowetz, 1939. Photo was taken on Usher St. The Broad St hill is in the background.

The Maich brothers, Joe, Bill, Don, and Peter, dominated in the boxing ring. Bill won the Canadian amateur heavyweight championship in 1933 and went on to represent Canada in the British Empire Games in England in 1934.

Brantford Street Railway

During the 1930s, a battle was fought between those that valued and wanted to keep the street railway and those that thought of themselves as progressives that wanted to convert the system entirely to buses. The increase in automobile ownership and the Depression were contributing to a decline in the ridership and revenue of the street railway. These events eventually wiped out the intercity radial railways. The Brantford & Hamilton Electrical Railway which opened its line between the two cities on 23-May-1908 made its final run on 30-June-1931. Transportation service between the two cities was replaced by buses.

In October 1932, a two month trial of bus service was implemented and all street cars were withdrawn. After the trial, citizens voted two to one to return to street car service.

In 1934, the street railway, hydro, and water commissions were merged into the Public Utilities Commission. One aesthetic result of the merger was the elimination of innumerable poles carrying hydro, telephone, telegraph, and street railway lines. The proliferation of poles along Colborne Street was such that residents referred to it as Poleborne Street.

In 1936, the slow implementation of buses to replace street cars began. The future was buses, not street railways. The route along Market Street to Terrace Hill Street was switched in buses. In 1937, buses began running to West Brant, the street car tracks to Mohawk Park were removed, and the street car barns on Brant Avenue were remodelled to accommodate buses. In May 1938, a bylaw to replace the street cars with buses was again defeated. Finally in December 1939 a bylaw calling for the gradual motorisation of system was approved. The street car made its last run on 31-January-1940. It is interesting to note that street car systems that were common in Ontario municipalities and largely removed during the 1920s and 1930 and now making a comeback.

Law enforcement

The last person hanged at the Brantford Jail was Joseph Bomberry in 1932. He was executed for the murder of his common-law wife.

The raising rate of automobile ownership added new problems for police to deal with. Traffic accidents, Highway Traffic Act charges, and gasoline theft where new and growing problems. Downtown traffic and parking were also significant problems for the City and the police. Drivers charged with certain types of careless driving began to be referred to as Brantford driving by the police magistrates across southern Ontario. To combat the challenge of the automobile being used more regularly in criminal activity, two-way radios were introduced in police cars in 1937.

The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, A Film

In 1939 Twentieth Century-Fox released the movie The Story of Alexander Graham Bell. City Councillors were outraged to learn that no scenes of Brantford were included in the movie and only one passing reference to Brantford was made in the film. City Council called on the Ontario Censor Board to ban the film unless changes were made to give Brantford its due regard and place in the story. The Censor Board ordered the temporary suspension of the film on 18-April. Twentieth Century-Fox then cancelled all bookings of the film in Canada. They then added a prologue to the film for Canadian screenings which included two shots of the Bell Homestead, two of the Bell Memorial, and a scroll which contained a statement by Bell that the invention took place in his father’s home (the Bell Homestead) in 1874.

Movie poster - The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1939

Movie poster - The Story of Alexander Graham Bell, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1939

Royal Visit

On 7-June-1939 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited Brantford on their 1939 Royal Tour. A fifteen minute stopover at the CNR train station was reluctantly granted after fierce lobbying by civic officials and Brantford’s M.P. W. Ross Macdonald. Over 50,000 people showed up at the train station, some as early at 2:30 in the morning to catch a glimpse of the royal couple. In a break with protocol the couple refused to sit in the chairs provided for them so they could better experience the visit.

Brantford in the 1920s - Post 15


After the First World War, civic enthusiasm was great and there was a sense that prosperous times and growth would continue, employment would grow, and the number of people on relief would diminish. Local industry retooled for a post war boom and the city reviewed their list of civic projects put on hold during the war.

The Dominion Bureau of Statistics reported as of 1918 that Brantford ranked fourth in the country in the export of manufactured goods, eighth in the amount of salaries and wages paid, and eleventh in the number of employees.

Brantford boomed after the war because the city’s Industrial Commission aggressively pursued new businesses. The following companies set up operations after the war: Robbins & Myers, Bluebird Appliances, S.C. Johnson Company, Holstein Friesen Company, and A.C. Spark Plug Company, and Slingsby’s announced an expansion. By the end of 1920, although the unemployment rate was negligible, those requiring relief was increasing, likely caused by workers moving into the city because of the prospects of jobs only to find few available. As orders that flowed into the city’s factories slowed, the companies were expecting an economic slowdown and indeed in 1921 it happened. As relief rolls swelled, the city undertook relief work projects constructing sidewalks and sewers in Eagle Place and the reconstruction of the Murray Street bridge. In 1920, Buck Stove Works was sold to the McClary Company of London, Ont. The company continued to expand in the 1920s but was closed down entirely in 1931. Brandon Shoe Company never rebuilt after its fire in March of 1923. Canadian Machine Telephone Company closed, and the Wm. Patterson Company was forced into bankruptcy, it reorganised and reopened and then was sold to George Weston by the end of the decade. This factory remained in operation until 1976.

In 1925 the economic situation started to improve, unemployment declined and the relief rolls grew smaller. By 1927 Harding Carpets, E.A. Gunther Company, and the Huron Cordage Company began operations. Orders for manufactured goods were increasing. Expansions were underway at the Dominion Flour Mills, Verity Works, and Niagara Silk. Tariffs on agricultural implements were lowered a few times during the decade making business tougher for this sector of industry, but they successfully adapted.

City Changes

The Lorne Bridge was a safety concern to the city yet council continued to put off any action to rebuild or replace the bridge. When a road roller crossed the bridge, all traffic had to be stopped so the roller was the sole occupant of the bridge. Money for a new bridge was approved by ratepayers in 1920 but inaction continued because of concerns regarding the cost and the type of bridge to be built, iron or concrete. Finally in 1922 council approved the construction of a new reinforced concrete bridge. Port Arthur Construction won the contract in March 1923. The bridge was largely completed by January 1924 and opened to traffic. The official opening occurred on 11-August-1924, with Lieutenant-Governor Harry Cockshutt cutting the ribbon.

The city saw little boundary expansion since 1891. In 1908, the portion of Holmedale west of Morrell Street and south of Dufferin Avenue, including Waterworks Park and in 1914 Westmount Boulevard were annexed. In 1920, the Parkdale (the area south of Aberdeen Avenue and west of Erie Avenue) and Bellview (south of Emilie Street between Erie Avenue and Mohawk Street) areas of Eagle Place were annexed. The folks in the Grandview district, centred around Grandview School on North Park St, resisted annexation and did not become part of the city until 1954.

The debate regarding what to do with City Hall and the Market Square continued to rage after the war and throughout the 1920s. Even though City Hall was voted the City’s greatest eyesore, no progress on these two files were made.

On 28-December-1918 the Brantford Courier, the voice of the Conservative party in Brantford, ceased publication. The paper began in 1833 as The Sentinel.

Horse drawn cabs and livery stables began to disappear. The automobile had clearly taken hold. The popularity of the Saturday Night Parade, which saw a crush of people descend on the downtown, was joined by increasing automobile traffic.

A housing shortage continued in Brantford throughout the 1920s. It followed the ups and downs of the industrial economic cycle. Factories experienced difficulties attracting new workers as they expanded and new ones were built. Building apartment buildings to alleviate the shortage was not welcomed for fear they would turn into overcrowded tenement slums. However by the end of the 1920s apartment buildings started to appear.

Brantford’s immigrant population, i.e. non-British immigrants, continued to remain a convenient target for blame when the occasion arose. They were seen as competitors for jobs. The city police commissioners wanted these “enemy aliens” in the city deported. Although nothing came of the matter, their request was endorsed by city council.

Although prohibition was repealed federally in 1919, it continued in Ontario. A number of referendums were held in the early 1920s and all were defeated in Brantford. In May-1925 the Liquor Control Act was passed in the provincial parliament and local hotels started selling beer again.

On 10-June-1925 the United Church of Canada was created with the merger of the Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational churches.

The City agonized whether to adopt daylight savings time. It was not popular with the citizens of Brantford. Every time this issue appeared on the ballot it was defeated but it was continually resurrected. In 1929 the motion was finally approved.


After the war, two toll roads in the area remained. In 1918, the Paris Road and then in 1920 the Cockshutt Road became public roads.

The first manually operated traffic control signals were installed on Market Street at Dalhousie Street and Colborne Street in 1920. In 1927 automated signals were installed. Stop signs were introduced in 1925.

As automobile use dramatically increased, improved road links with surrounding municipalities resumed after being stalled during the war years. In July 1921 the province began work to build a new road to Hamilton. This concrete highway was completed in August 1922. In December 1923 a new concrete highway was completed to Paris. These roads, once known as Highway 2, have since been bypassed by Highway 403. The bow string bridge over Fairchild Creek along Highway 2 was built in 1931 and is still in service. It was rehabilitated rather than replaced in 2006.

Street Railway

The street railway expanded to meet the demands of passengers. Service was extended to Terrace Hill, a new loop was built in Eagle Place, the Holmedale line was extended, and service was reintroduced to West Brant over the new Lorne Bridge to replace the bus service that replaced the street cars over the old, failing Lorne Bridge. Even though the system was expanded ridership declined during the economic downturn at the beginning of the decade. Increased automobile registration and a growing number of taxi cabs operating in the city had a negative impact on ridership. Compounding the problem was that the system grew too big in size which adversely impacted passenger’s travel times. The street railway was never able to recover its operating costs, even after wage and staff reductions were implemented. Brantford Transit deals with similar problems today.

Map showing the Street Railway System. The system reached 51 of 57 factories in the city.

Map showing the Street Railway System. The system reached 51 of 57 factories in the city.


Brantford’s first airport, or air harbour as it was called then, was developed on 85 acres of land on what was then called the St George Rd, now known as King George Road, in 1929. The facility was located where the Home Hardware and Fairview School are now. The facility was officially opened on the weekend of June 6 and 7, 1930. On 16-May-1932 passenger air service between Windsor and Toronto was inaugurated. Canadian Airways Limited, flying a seven passenger Fairchild 71 monoplane provided daily service, except Sunday. The newly formed Brant-Norfolk Aero Club provided pilot training and held small meets. It struggled through the depression but it survived.

War Memorial

A priority for the city was the creation of some form of memorial to commemorate the over 600 soldiers and nurses who died in the war. In 1921 a War Memorial Association was formed to plan the building of a memorial. Their task was to consider the form, location, and financing of the memorial. A hospital, a new City Hall, and a monument were all considered. In 1923 a memorial was proposed on land near the Armoury that would include park land and a provision for a future City Hall, financed by a fundraising campaign. Given the state of the economy at this time, the plan was placed on hold. Instead a small cenotaph was provided by the Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.) in the Armouries Gore Park across from the Armoury. This memorial now resides in Tom Thumb Park, a block to the west, in order to make room for the Brantford Walk of Fame. In 1927, with an improving economy, the fundraising campaign for the memorial was launched and Canadian sculptor W.S. (Walter) Allward was commissioned to design the Brant County War Memorial. Allward designed the Bell Memorial and the Vimy Ridge monument. The memorial was dedicated in 1933. The Memorial Gallery surrounding the war memorial was dedicated on 2-July-1954. The figures representing the men and women who served was unveiled on 12-Sep-1992.


Civic elections occurred yearly. Mayors typically served for only two terms. When Morrison Mann MacBride tried to secure a fourth consecutive term in 1921 The Expositor launched an all-out campaign against MacBride. The newspaper’s position was that “The Brantford mayoralty should not be made a life job for any man”. MacBridge was reelected as mayor in 1925.

In 1921, city industrialist Harry Cockshutt was appointed the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, a position he filled until 1927. Harry brought informality to the position and travelled extensively around the province promoting unity within the province, the county, and the Empire. Cockshutt revolutionised the office in Ontario. Regarding his tenure, The Globe wrote, “Col. Cockshutt has broadened that function materially and most acceptably…Old prejudices have been broken and new interest created in the other fellow’s problems.”

Public Health

On the health front, the city lived with an overtaxed hospital. This was most noticeable when flu outbreaks struck the city. Although no major expansion of the hospital occurred, an x-ray department was installed in 1923 and a crippled children’s wing opened in 1927. The stock market crash in 1929 scuttled expansion plans the hospital’s Board of Governors were contemplating.

Two contentious public health issues of the day were smallpox vaccinations for school children and pasteurisation of milk. Both were rejected by the citizens. Parents saw vaccinations as an assault against their defenceless children. The Medical Officer of Health saw it as a solution to minimise the outbreak of the disease among school children. The pasteurisation question was solved in 1921 when the city ordered that all milk sold in the city had to be pasteurised or be fresh milk from tuberculin-tested cows.


Overcrowding at schools was common throughout this period. It was particularly acute at Brantford Collegiate Institute. In the early 1920s the province increased the age a student had to be before they could leave school. This resulted in enrolment at BCI going from 565 in 1920 to over 900 in 1923. Overflow space was opened up in Grace Anglican Church, St Jude’s Anglican Church and Central School. In 1924 a new wing was opened at BCI with eight classrooms and two woodworking shops. A technical wing and an improved auditorium opened in 1929 and the school could now accommodate 1,500 students.

Conditions at elementary schools were such that in 1919 the system could not accommodate 153 children. To rectify this situation Major Ballachey School on Rawdon Street opened in 1919, Graham Bell School on Grand Street opened in 1923, and Riverview Public School on Wade Avenue opened in 1924. Major Ballachey and Graham Bell are still in operation. Riverview closed in 2006. The Catholic Board opened St. Ann’s School on Pearl St. in 1923. St. Ann’s closed, along with St. Basil’s (1910), in 1978. Health and schools became more closely aligned in the 1920s as more extensive medical inspections of school children began to be conducted in schools.


The Temple Theatre, a 1,600 seat theatre, designed by Thomas Lamb, a New York architect, opened on 22-December-1919. The theatre offered a programme of vaudeville and silent films. In 1929 Famous Players purchased the theatre and made it one of the first theatres in Ontario wired for sound. It was renamed the Capital in 1931. The City purchased the theatre in 1986 and on 11-December-1989 it was renamed the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts.

A municipal swimming pool opened in 1923, at the location of where Waterworks Park is today. In 1929 it was named Earl Haig Park. This provided a safer alternative to the Grand River. The park also had a merry-go-round, a dance pavilion, and games of chance. The YMCA, built in 1912, contained an indoor swimming pool. Also in 1923 development started on Arrowdale Golf Course on Stanley and Elgin Streets. The golf course opened in 1927. Improvements continued to be made to Mohawk Park that focused on picnickers and tourist campers. A dance pavilion and boathouse were constructed and the sports fields where upgraded but the park never regained its pre-war prominence.

Arctic Arena

Brantford’s first artificial ice surface was built by Ellston Cooper, owner of the Arctic Ice Company. The Arctic Arena opened on 27-Dec-1926. It sat 3,500.The arena was located at the bottom of the West Street hill, across from Harris Street. Until this arena opened, Brantford only had the natural ice surface of the Alfred Street Arena, which opened in 1912. The Arctic Arena was demolished in May-1968 after the Brantford & District Civic Centre opened on 25-March-1967.


In 1922, Tom Brown received an amateur experimental broadcast licence and started his radio broadcast experiments over station 3TP. In 1926 Brown began broadcasting as an amateur station under the call sign 10BQ. 10BQ was known as the “Little Station on the ‘ill”, and was located at 12 Terrace Hill Street kitty-corner from the hospital. 10BQ remained on the air until June-1934 when its licence was suddenly cancelled by the Canadian Radio Commission.

Brantford’s first commercial radio station CFGC began broadcasting on 17-March-1926, out of a studio in the Hotel Kerby. Due to financial difficulties the station’s final day of broadcast was 5-June-1927. CFGC stood for Canada’s Finest Growing City.

CKCR started broadcasting from the home of owner John D Paterson in St. George in March 1926. A studio was then established above the Bank of Montreal on Main St. In January-1928 a fire destroyed the studio and shortly thereafter it moved to the 4th floor of the Arcade Building in Brantford, at the corner of Colborne and Queen Streets. The station continually experiencedtrouble finding sponsors and advertisers in Brantford so in 1929 the station was sold to Kitchener interest and on 22-July-1929 began broadcasting from Kitchener. In 1965 CKCR became CHYM, and in 1992 CKGL.

In 1923, Wallace Russ began broadcasting from his living room in Preston, Ontario. This was the beginning of CKPC. In 1927 Cyrus Dolph bought the station and continued broadcasting from Preston. In 1933 Dolph sold the station to his daughter Florence Buchanan and she moved the station to Brantford. CKPC began broadcasting from the old CKCR studios in the Arcade Building on 29-Dec-1933. The PC of CKPC stands for Preston, Canada. CKPC stills operates today from its studios on West Street, although the station is no longer locally owned.

The 1920s were a period of growth and optimism for Brantford but the city’s star position as one of largest industrial centres with respect to manufacturing exports started to diminish, superseded by other cities in the country.

Brantford During World War I - Post 13

The First World War would cause changes in Brantford unlike anything the City had ever seen. During this period there was a demand for men for the front; shortages of food, fuel, and labour; and a pandemic. At the beginning of the war the City’s population was about 25,000.

The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, of Austria-Hungary, and his wife on 28-June-1914 led to a chain of events that triggered four years of misery and horror. Tensions quickly escalated in Europe causing the Expositor to write in an editorial on 31-July When needs arises, Canadians one and all are Britishers. Britain's declaration of war on 4-August was met locally with unrestrained enthusiasm. In Brantford the farm implements industry was concerned about what the effects of that war would have, there was a fear that the Lake Erie & Northern Railway’s construction would be in jeopardy causing hardship for local labourers, and there was concern that food prices would increase.

Immediately local men raced to volunteer for service fearing they would miss the war, and wartime precautions went into effect - railway bridges in the city were to be guarded and wireless transmission equipment would be removed. The city’s attention turned from local matters to national and international concerns. By November-1914 500 men had left Brantford to fight.

W.F. Cockshutt, Brantford’s Member of Parliament during this time, sought permission to organise a Brant County battalion. The 125th battalion was the result of Cockshutt’s efforts. A second Brant County battalion, the 215th, was organised soon after.

Various methods were used to induce enlistment: the call to duty, patriotic rallies, public shaming, editorials, posters, and pressure from the churches, wives and girlfriends. Those whom avoided volunteering were referred to as slackers and subjected to ridicule. The recruiting rallies were very popular at the beginning of the war. They occurred every Sunday night at the Brant Theatre. The Brant Theatre was located at 77 Dalhousie Street, across from the Temple Building, roughly where the Bodega Inn is now.

The Hext Carriage factory at 77-79 Dalhousie St was remodelled into a theatre in 1913 by J. O’Reilly, the owner of the American Hotel next door. It was known as the Brant Theatre. In 1951 the theatre was renamed the Paramount Theatre. It closed in 1960.

The Hext Carriage factory at 77-79 Dalhousie St was remodelled into a theatre in 1913 by J. O’Reilly, the owner of the American Hotel next door. It was known as the Brant Theatre. In 1951 the theatre was renamed the Paramount Theatre. It closed in 1960.

As the war dragged on, enlistments plummeted, requiring the need for conscription in 1917. The idea of conscription was well received by the citizens in Brantford, although no so much by those about to be conscripted. The stories from the trenches coupled with the increase in pay offered by local factories contributed to men wanting to stay home.

At the beginning of the war, as the soldiers paraded to the train station to leave the city they would be accompanied by bands and townsfolk to cheer them on. By 1917 the soldiers paraded to the train station alone.

Brantford changed in other ways. Residents from enemy nations were deemed enemy aliens. These enemy aliens were divided into two camps: threats to security and those who posed no risk. The government interned the former while the latter had to report to the police monthly. People of German, Austrian, and Turkish descent were highly suspect. Hostilities even went beyond war issues; in 1918 foreigners, that is, those who spoke with an Eastern European accent, were barred from using the city run swimming area on the Grand River.

There were constant drives for money to support the war effort - Victory Bonds; the Patriotic Fund, to care for soldiers’ dependents; the Red Triangle Fund, for the comfort of soldiers overseas; the Red Cross and various relief funds, for the victims of war. Money was also raised locally to meet the needs of local army units. As enlistments declined so too did the community’s ability and willingness to contribute ever more dollars. By the end of the war Brantford and Brant County contributed over $1.2 million. This is equivalent to almost $22 million today.

As expected, food prices increased. Initially this was offset by an increase in wages but as the war dragged on the price increases exceeded wage increases. This resulted in the popularity of Victory Gardens, where residents would grow food to meet their own needs. Shortages were common for staples such as; meat, bread, canned goods and heating fuels. Coal was particularly hard to come by during the winter of 1917-1918. The city attempted to alleviate the situation by intervening to control the distribution of coal based on need. The end result was that no one was satisfied with the availability and distribution of coal; residents, local businesses, farmers, and especially the coal dealers.

The war also had a negative effect on many of the city’s industries, especially Massey-Harris, who relied on a large export shipments to Europe. The winter of 1914 - 1915 witnessed unemployment and economic hardship. However in 1915 the situation turned dramatically. Slingsby Mills, Brandon Shoe Company, Adams Wagon, Kitchen Overall & Shirt Company, Goold, Shapley and Muir, Waterous Engine Works, Ker and Goodwin, Cockshutt’s, and Dominion Steel Products started to receive war orders from the federal government. The city workforce went from underemployment to a scarcity of workers. The need for workers was so acute that women for the first time entered the workforce in large numbers. The need for factory workers to fuel the war effort led to the abandonment of virtually all civic improvements and created farm labour shortages. The business outlook for 1919 was promising as Europe needed to rebuild and resupply itself. One shift of note was the continuing use of women as bank clerks and tellers after the war.

One of the few city changes during the war was the city’s takeover of the street railway and the purchase of brand new street railway cars. In 1915 the Lorne Bridge was declared unsafe and costly repairs would be required. These repairs were not undertaken. The bridge was finally replaced in the early 1920s. The Lake Erie & Northern Railway was completed by the Canadian Pacific Railway. This gave the CPR a connection with its mainline at Galt and all the way south to Port Dover.

The Lake Erie & Northern Railway Station. It also served as the terminus for the Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway. The station opened in 1916. The B&HER ceased operations in 1931. LE&N passenger train service ended in 1955. The station was demolished in 1958.

The Lake Erie & Northern Railway Station. It also served as the terminus for the Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway. The station opened in 1916. The B&HER ceased operations in 1931. LE&N passenger train service ended in 1955. The station was demolished in 1958.

One the health front, during the war the Brantford General Hospital opened new wings and a smallpox hospital. The Brantford Sanitorium opened a new pavilion. Smallpox vaccinations for school children were made mandatory, then quickly rescinded due to negative public reaction. The first case of the Spanish flu which swept through Europe sickening and killing millions arrived in Brantford in the fall of 1918. By the time the epidemic had passed, 2,500 cases of the flu had been reported and over 250 people died as a result of the flu.

Prohibition went into effect in Ontario on 15-September-1916. With the battle against alcohol won by the temperance forces, attention was focused on the proliferation of pool halls in the city.

The war affected sports, entertainment, and recreational activities too. Sports were especially hard hit because of a lack of players available. Baseball limped along with local factory and regiment teams but hockey and soccer largely disappeared. Live theatre and filmed entertainment continued at the city’s theatres.

On 24-October-1917, the Bell Memorial was unveiled during a driving rain storm and cold weather. The memorial was designed by Canadian sculptor Walter Allard. Many thought that the memorial was too abstract, however, it propelled Allard to fame and led him to to create the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France, his most renowned work. It was at the unveiling of the memorial that Bell confirmed Brantford’s claim as The Telephone City …I am prepared to state that Brantford is right in claiming the invention of the telephone here.

Alexander Graham Bell posing in front of the newly unveiled Bell Memorial

Alexander Graham Bell posing in front of the newly unveiled Bell Memorial

When the war ended, the announcement was met by the ringing of the fire bell and church bells and the blast of factory whistles. Factories and stores closed and everyone converged on downtown making as much noise in celebration as they possibly could.

The pressing question for the city and its citizens was, what does the future hold for Brantford?

Brantford in the Edwardian Era - Post 12

For the majority of her reign Queen Victoria was in mourning for her dearly departed Albert; shebecame a recluse after his death. Edward VII, her son, who succeeded her in 1901, was the complete opposite. Edward was a pleasure seeker, leading the commonwealth into a new, lively age of art, fashion, and travel.

King Edward Vii

King Edward Vii

Canada celebrated the first decade of the 20th-century with an abundance of wealth unmatched in the country’s brief history. In little more than 70 years Brantford evolved from a rugged backwater community where living conditions were harsh to a socially and economically diverse city of the industrial age.

The years between the 1901 and the start of the Great War saw a sustained period of industrial growth. The fiscal caution of the 1890s was replaced by confidence and the city moved rapidly forward garnering a national and international reputation for manufacturing excellence. During this period there were recessions and labour disputes but the city’s workforce and roster of companies grew.

In the first few years of the 20th-century Brantford Cordage started up and major additions were completed at Pratt and Letchworth, Brantford Carriage Works and Verity Plow. Cockshutt completed their new factory on Mohawk Street and Buck Stove Works moved to a new and larger location. Ham & Nott, Waterous Engine Works, and Massey-Harris announced expansion plans.  By 1903 4,000 people, in a city of 18,000 were employed in the manufacturing sector. In mid-decade Barber-Ellis, Canada Glue, and American Radiator set up operations in Brantford.

The first slow down occurred in 1907, a world-wide phenomenon. The economy improved in 1908 and in the next few years Canadian Machine Telephone, Brandon Shoe, Crown Electric, and Brantford Computing Scale started up. Cockshutt and Brantford Carriage both made large additions. This continued growth however never reached the heights of growth of the first years of the new century.

A pressing issue of this era was who should provide the services the growing city needed. Was municipal ownership of public utilities to be expanded? Private operators were commonly under capitalised and constantly struggled trying to keep up with demand. The small size of the local market prevented operators from earning adequate returns to improve and the expand service. In 1905 city run garbage collection began, replacing private contractors. Ownership of companies providing telephone service, electricity, gas, and the street railway were constant sources of debate.

It is interesting to note that by the turn of the 20th-century the City Hall on Market Square was deemed to be an eyesore and an embarrassment to the city yet it would remain in place and in use for another 63 years.

Brantford's first City Hall

Brantford's first City Hall

During this period three more railways were built. The Grand Valley Railway began operating to Paris in 1903 and to Galt in 1904. The Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway commenced service to Hamilton in 1908 making 18 rounds trip a day. Service continued on this line until 1931. The Lake Erie & Northern travelled south to Waterford, Simcoe, and Port Dover and to Galt and north to Kitchener and Waterloo via the Grand River Railway beginning in 1916. Passenger service on the LE & N ended in 1955.

In 1905 the Grand Trunk Railway’s mainline was diverted to run through Brantford, 51 years after the Great Western bypassed Brantford because the city refused to pay a bonus to the railway to put its line through Brantford. The main streets in Brantford began to be paved in 1908 in response to the expansion in use of the automobile.

In 1908 the Brant Historical Society was organised, dedicated to researching the history and archaeology of the County and to “excite a greater appreciation of the efforts of the early settlers”.

The constant growth in manufacturing was such that the Post Office on George and Dalhousie Streets, now Laurier Brantford’s Post House, could no longer handle the municipal and federal business in Brantford. A new Federal Building commenced construction in 1913. Today this once important local symbol of the federal government has been deemed surplus to the government’s needs and is to be sold off.

The winter of 1913-1914 saw the return of hard times. The economic slowdown combined with patriotic commitment to England meant many men were available to enlist for the war after Great Britain declared war on Germany. However, fewin Brant were aware of the issues and circumstances that provoked the war. War was seen, and sold, as an adventure and a gallant pursuit, rather than the horror it truly was. As the war progressed and the stories of the terror and suffering reached Brant, fewer and fewer men were willing to commit to the cause. However demand for war supplies and equipment soon provided the factories of Brantford with scores of contracts.

As American influence began to exert itself in Canada, efforts to strengthen ties with England, the mother land, increased. Some considered it inevitable that Canada would join the American Union. The on-going debate about whether to remain committed to England or form a closer relationship with America culminated with the Reciprocity Treaty (a free trade agreement) the Laurier government negotiated with the United States. Local industrialists thrived in the high tariff environment that existed and were not anxious to see their American competitors invade Canada and steal away their markets. Farmers were hopeful for an agreement but industry and urban forces against the Treaty led to the defeat of the Laurier government in the 1911 elections. Free trade with America would prove elusive until 1987 when the Mulroney government signed the Free Trade Agreement.

Brantford At the Dawn of the 20th-Century - Post 11

By the turn of the 20th-century the business leaders of Brantford had transformed the City into an industrial powerhouse. As the 19th-century came to a close Brantford was number three in Canada in manufacturing output exported, surpassed only by Montreal and Toronto. The earliest manufacturing industry in what is now Brantford was shoemaking. Arunah Huntington and W.D. Dutton both started their shoemaking businesses in 1819.

       Arunah Huntington

       Arunah Huntington

The population of the City in 1901 was 16,685. Brantford was the thirteenth largest city in the country. A number of factors contributed to Brantford’s rise to industrial prominence.

  1. For reasons not clearly understood, every era develops hot spots for entrepreneurs, e.g. Silicon Valley. During the 19th-century as the industrial revolution took hold in North America, Brantford was an entrepreneurial magnet. When new technologies are introduced, barriers to entry are low and anyone with an idea and some money can start a business to exploit the technology. Many of these ‘idea’ people landed in Brantford.
  2. Transportation. Brantford was a quiet inland village that was arduous to reach by road, so trade was local. Ambitious and driven people recognised that the Grand River could be made into a waterway to provide cheap and easy access to the Grand Lakes and the Erie Canal. Brantford thus became an important grain and farm produce distribution centre. The commerce that the canal created led to the early building of the railway to Brantford, a more reliable method of transportation that operated year round. Brantford no longer was constrained by poor road transportation.
  3. Capital. Many of the businesses that started or moved to Brantford were able to secure financing locally. The merchant class, established in the early days of the village, created a pool of locally available capital. These capitalists, today we call them venture capitalists, wanted the town to grow. Growth was good for their businesses. The returns on providing financing were also lucrative to the financiers. This class was led by Ignatius Cockshutt.
  4. City Council. The City Council was populated with successful businessmen. As a consequence, the Council took an aggressive stance in encouraging new industries to establish operations in Brantford through preferential tax treatment and bonuses paid to companies to locate here.
  5. Marketing. Marketing in the 19th-century was accomplished by demonstrating the prosperity of the community. Public buildings were elegant and substantial, e.g. the County Courthouse. City services were also developed: fire protection, street cars, library, water works, gas works, electricity, and a hospital. Brantford had everything you would expect in the old country or large North American cities.

In 1901 there were 45 manufacturing businesses in the City. Farm implements and machinery factories were the largest employers but there were also woodworking factories, foundries, woollen and cotton mills, pickle and biscuit factories, binder twine makers, carriage builders, distillers and vintners, saddlers, flouring mills, and packing houses. Farm implements output represented about a third of all industrial shipments.

Railways were the drivers of the industrial revolution, helping to get manufactured goods to market. Three railways served the City, the Grand Trunk Railway (1854), with direct connections to Buffalo via the International Railway Bridge, the Toronto, Hamilton, & Buffalo Railway (1894), with its connection to the Michigan Central Railway system at Waterford, and the Lake Erie & Northern Railway (1916) connecting Brantford to Port Dover and the Canadian Pacific Railway mainline in Galt. In 1905 the Grand Truck Railway diverted its main line to run through Brantford, rather than Harrisburg, and built a new train station that operates to this day. An electric radial railway line to Hamilton opened in 1908. 25 passenger trains a day passed through Brantford in 1901.

Original Grand Trunk Railway Station

Original Grand Trunk Railway Station

In 1902 the cornerstone of the new public library was laid. The library opened in 1904. The first locally owned automobiles appeared in 1903. Movies started to be shown at the Theatorium in 1906.

Notable manufacturing and commercial enterprises operating in Brantford in 1901:

Brantford Packing Company - meat packing.

Cockshutt Plow Company - farm implements.

Adams Wagon Company - wagons and carts.

Waterous Engine Works - steam engines, boilers, saw-mill machinery, road rollers, rock crushers, fire engines, and pulp making machinery.

Mickle, Dyment & Son - lumber - lath, shingles, sash, doors, blinds, and other building supplies.

Snow Drift Company - baking supplies, spices, and coffee.

Massey-Harris Company - farm implements.

Brantford Starch Works - culinary and laundry starches.

Brant Roller Mills - flour mill.

Goold, Shapley & Muir Company - wind mills, iron and wood pumps, and bee keepers’ supplies.

Slingsby Manufacturing Company - bed and horse blankets, flannel sheetings, and yarns. Dean Braund's Ardency Corporation operates out this mill building today on Grand River Ave.

Slingsby Manufacturing Company

Slingsby Manufacturing Company

Schultz Brothers Company - construction, box-making, and washing machines.

Mathew K. Hallaron and H.B. Gardner - cigars.

J.S. Hamilton & Company and Pelee Island Wine and Vineyards Company - wine.

Brantford Box Company - cigar boxes and paper boxes.

Canada Cycle and Motor Company (CCM) - bicycles.

Scarfe & Company - varnishes and shellacs.

Turnbull, Howard & Company - hardware. Located on the corner of King and Colborne Streets, the current location of The Crawford Collective.

Turnbull, Howard & Company

Turnbull, Howard & Company

Fleming’s Restaurant - the present location of Brant Stereo on Market Street.

Fleming Restaurant

Fleming Restaurant

Brantford Adds Municipal Services - Post 10

We take for granted the services Brantford has available for its residents. Two hundred years ago this area was scrub oak, cedar trees, and swamp with a road passing through. As settlers moved in and tamed the wilderness they also endeavoured to improve their developing community. As the settlement grew, services were added. Ignatius Cockshutt was a leading driver to build the services the residents sought which led to the development of a desirable and prosperous community.

Bridging the Grand River

The first wooden bridge across the Grand River was built in 1812. It did not last long, probably days or a few weeks. Over the years other wooden bridges were built but were washed away with the spring floods. A covered toll bridge was built in 1841. This bridge lasted until 1854 when it washed away. At this time, a foot bridge and ferry service was introduced but did not serve wagon movement well. In 1857 an iron bridge was constructed. This bridge was washed away in 1878 and was immediately replaced by a wrought iron bridge in 1879. It was named the Lorne Bridge after the Marquis of Lorne, Canada’s Governor General at the time. This bridge was replaced in 1924 with a reinforced concrete arch bridge which was reconstructed in 1980.

Post Office

A post office was first established at “the Ford” in 1825. Throughout the next 55 years the location moved regularly. Finally in 1880 a Post Office and Customs Office was built on the north east corner of George and Dalhousie Streets. Home mail delivery was instituted in 1898, as were street letter boxes. Residents no longer had to go to the post office to pick up and mail letters. In 1915 the post office relocated to the new Federal Building on Dalhousie and Queen Streets were it remains to this day.


A Mechanic’s Institute, the forerunner to the modern library existed in town in the early 1830s but closed in 1837. It was revived in 1853. The Institute was supported by fees paid by its members. In 1884 the Mechanic’s Institute was converted to a free library. The Carnegie Library, the Public Library’s first permanent home, opened in 1904. It was built with a grant from Andrew Carnegie. The present Brantford Public Library, a former Woolco Department store, opened in 1991 replacing the Carnegie Library.


A fire brigade was first organised in 1836. It included most of the abled-bodied men in the village numbering between 40 and 50. During the 1850s, 1860s and 1870s new volunteer brigades were organised. Finally in 1889 a City fire department was established with fully paid members. A fire hall was constructed on Dalhousie and Queen Streets. The department moved to a new headquarters at Greenwich and Newport Streets in 1953. In 2000 the present headquarters on Clarence and Wellington Streets opened replacing the Greenwich Street building.


The earliest form of “police” protection in the village was that of night watchmen. Henry Peckman was hired by the Town as high bailiff in September-1847, he was the Town’s first official officer of the law. The requirements to be a high bailiff at the time were to be big and strong. The terms high bailiff, high constable and chief constable were used before police was adopted in the early 1870s. Thomas McMeans was the sole officer from 1854 until 1875. He was supported by ward constables. A Police Commission was established in 1875, Thomas McMeans was made chief and was supported by a force of four men. These men did not wear uniforms. In 1885 the department was reorganised and uniforms were introduced. Police headquarters was at City Hall until October-1889 when a Police Station was opened on Queen Street, between Dalhousie and Darling Streets. Detectives were introduced in 1912. The first police car was acquired in 1916; the first motorcycle in 1928. In December-1953 the Police moved into a new building at Greenwich and Newport Streets. The Auxiliary Police Force was started in 1962. In 1991 the Brantford Police Service replaced the Brantford Police Force and in November-1991 the Police moved into their new headquarters on Wayne Gretzky Parkway.

Water Works

Water service began with the need to fight fires. In 1849 a well and pump was put in place on Colborne Street. In 1861 six cisterns were constructed throughout the Town. The water works was organised in 1870 as a private concern under an arrangement with City Council.  In 1889 the City acquired the water works and plans commenced immediately to provide drinking water to the City’s households.

Gas works

The Kerby House and Ignatius Cockshutt’s store were first lit by gas in 1854. In 1855 the Brantford Gas Co. was organised and the first gas street lamps were installed. This gas was synthetic, made from coal. Natural gas first started being used in Brantford in 1906 after the Dominion Natural Gas Company took over the local concern.


In the early years, temporary hospitals would be constructed in times of small pox and other epidemics, but no permanent facility was built. In 1884 a public subscription campaign was launched to rectify this situation. In 1885 John Stratford donated a hospital and seven acres of land to the City. The hospital was named the John H. Stratford Hospital until 1910 when it was changed to the Brantford General Hospital. The original buildings and additions were out of date by the late 1940s and began to be replaced with the buildings we see today. For a time Brantford had two hospitals. St. Joseph Hospital, operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph, opened in 1955. It closed in 2001.


Electric lights appeared on city streets in 1885, powered by electricity from the Alfred Watts power generation station located at the locks of the old canal, at Beach and Locks Roads. Watts organised the Brantford Electric Light Co. and financed improvements and expansion until 1892 when he sold the business to the Brantford Electric and Power Company. In 1894 direct current for motive power purposes, that is to drive electric motors, began to be generated and distributed. In 1897 alternating current for motive power purposes was made available. Until then, power was generated solely for lighting. Keeping up with the burgeoning demand was taxing on the company. In 1908 hydro-electricity generated from DeCew Falls near Thorold began to power Brantford needs. This change rendered the local generating plant at the locks obsolete. The plant was decommissioned in 1912.

Street Railway

The first street railway system was formed by Alfred Watts in 1879 but no service was ever initiated. In March 1886 the Brantford Street Railway Co. began service using 6 cars and 14 horses. In 1893 the service was electrified and extended to Echo Place and Cainsville in the east, West Brant along Colborne Street West and Mount Pleasant Street to the Farringdon district, to the train station along Market Street to the north, through North Ward to the School for the Blind, and through Eagle Place to the south. The Company purchased Mohawk Park in 1895 and developed it into a recreation destination. The Company went into receivership in 1912 and was taken over the by the City in 1914. Bus service was introduced to Terrace Hill in 1916. Service to Paris was provided between 1914 and 1929 by rail, then by bus. Buses began to replace the street cars in August-1937. The last street car ran in 1939.

Sewage System

The initial sewage system was built between 1889 and 1893 and drained sewage to the flats east of the Mohawk Chapel where the present day sewage treatment plants lies.

Brantford Becomes a City - Post 9

Beginning of a village

A village at the crossing of the Grand River, commonly referred to as Brant’s Ford, started to develop in the early 1820s. Between 1818 and 1823 the population in and around the crossing grew from 12 to 100. The catalyst for growth beyond 1823 was the completion of the Hamilton to London Road, which crossed the Grand River at the settlement. However growth proceeded slowly because the land was Haudenosaunee territory; white settlers could not acquire title to the land they occupied. In 1827 the village, now numbering about 250, formally adopted the name Brant’s Ford; it was quickly shortened to Brantford.

Village of Brantford

On 19-April-1830 the Haudenosaunee surrendered 807 acres of land at the Grand River crossing to the Crown. This land, formally held by Chief John Hill, would become the village plot where settlers could acquire title to land.

The village survey was completed by Lewis Burwell in June-1830. This was the third survey or plan for the village. The first was prepared by Joseph Read in 1824. Burwell used this plan to prepare a preliminary village plan dated 22-October-1829. Village lots were first offered to the lot settlers for £10 a lot. Lots were later sold at auction with an upset price of £10. Settlement was largely around the river crossing and what is now the downtown area but little settlement occurred east of Clarence Street or north of Darling Street. Much of the village was swamp land, especially east of Clarence Street and north of Wellington Street.

The boundaries of the original 807 acre village site: starting at the Lorne Bridge north along Bridge St to West St, then east along Henry St / Freeborn St, site of the Arrowdale Golf Course, south along Stanley St to East Ave then west to Alfred St, south to Greenwich St, south just west of Clarence St S to where Market St S meets the Veterans Memorial Pkwy interchange, west along the Grand River back to the Lorne Bridge.

Town of Brantford

Lobbying to make Brantford a county town began in 1842. Public meetings were held to establish committees and subscriptions to build a court house, jail, and school, but nothing came of these. The Town of Brantford was incorporated by a special Act of the legislature on 28-July-1847. The population at this time was about 3,000. The first meeting of Town council occurred on 9-September-1847. At the time of incorporation Brantford was located in Wentworth County in the District of Gore.

The area of the Town doubled when 937 acres where added to the village boundaries to constitute the new Town. The boundaries of the new Town of Brantford: starting in the northwest corner at St Paul Ave and St George St, east along St George St to West St, north to Henry St, east along Henry St / Freeborn St, Ava Golf Course, south along Stanley St to Colborne St, then south between Rawdon St and Iroquois St to Greenwich St, west along Greenwich St, then south along Port St, west along Superior St, south along Eagle Ave, but not including Eagle Ave to the Grand River, west across the Grand River to Walnut St, south to Mount Pleasant St, west behind the Stelco Fasteners factory, continuing west along Raleigh St, then north at Shellard Lane along the property lines for McLean Foundry, Brantford Cordage, the Knights of Columbus Hall to the Grand River, west across the Grand River to St Paul Ave, and finally north to St George St.

Initially Brantford was divided into seven wards. That was reduced to five in 1850 and has remained that way ever since except for the brief introduction of a sixth ward in 1981-82. Councillors commissioned the construction of a Town Hall on the Market Square in 1849. Brantford architect John Turner prepared the plans for the Town Hall. Council moved into the new Town Hall on 7-October-1850. Brantford became a port of entry in 1852. It remains a port to this day.

County of Brant

In 1851, six townships: South Dumfries, Burford, Brantford, Oakland, Tuscarora, Onondaga, and the Towns of Brantford and Paris were joined to form the Provisional County of Brant. To achieve full county status a court house and jail needed to be built. The court house and jail, designed by John Turner, were completed in 1852. On 6-November-1852 a petition was prepared by the Provisional County of Brant to separate from the United Counties of Wentworth, Halton, and Brant. The first council meeting of the County of Brant was convened on 24-January-1853.

City of Brantford

The City of Brantford was proclaimed by a special Act of the Provincial Parliament on 2-March-1877 to take effect on 31-May-1877. Brantford at this time withdrew from the jurisdiction of the County of Brant. The population of Brantford at this time was 10,600. Dr J.W. Digby mayor of the Town of Brantford in 1877 became the City’s first mayor. Dr Digby’s father was the Town of Brantford’s second mayor from 1848 to 1849. The land area of the City remained the same as the Town. The next annexation of land from Brantford Township did not take place until 1891 when 707 acres including the northern portion of Eagle Place and the eastern portion of Holmedale became part of the City.

Brantford never experienced periods of boom. Throughout its existence growth was measured; steady and consistent.

Version 2

Conditions in Brantford in 1877

The stores on Colborne Street had wooden verandahs which extended across the sidewalk. Horses were hitched to the verandah posts. The roadways were crude, dirt roads. They became muddy and almost impassible with any load of weight in wet weather. The sidewalks were plank boards. Market Square was a hive of activity on market days. There was no municipal water or sewage system. Typhoid fever was common and expected as a matter of course. There was no garage pick up, as a result bonfires were a common form of sanitation. There was no hospital. Firefighting was done by volunteers however a waterworks for firefighting was installed and expanding. There was no organised Police force, simply a chief and a few constables and night watchmen. Streets were not well lit. Oil and gas lamps were used. Electric lights first appeared in 1885. Street cars did not appear until 1886. Livery stables were numerous and many residents owned horses. There was no home delivery of mail; mail was posted and picked up at the post office. Summer pastimes included verandah and garden parties and in winter show shoeing, skating, and sleigh rides. Regarding spectator sports, horse racing and lacrosse drew crowds.

The Rise of the Farm Implement Manufacturers in Brantford - Post 8

The railway revolution in Ontario began in the 1850s. Railways conquered inland distances like no other form of transportation to that time. Quick and relatively unfettered access to the interior of the province was now possible. Buffalo was 24 hours away via steamer using the Grand River Navigation Company’s waterway. When the railway arrived in Brantford in 1854, travel time to Buffalo was cut to 4 hours.

Because travel was so difficult, local economies served local needs; blacksmiths, wagon makers, farm implement makers, were all small enterprises selling mostly to residents in their immediate vicinity. Moving anything large and heavy overland was virtually impossible given that the poor road conditions could not support the weight of heavy shipments. Rail changed that. Large, heavy objects could be moved easily beyond the local trade area. Small enterprises could grow because their markets expanded. Economy of scale could be achieved resulting in lower prices, further expanding markets. Change was not immediate, but gradual. Railway development didn’t proliferate in Ontario until the 1870s. In the meantime, as we recounted in last month’s article, manufacturing continued to develop in Brantford, attracting entrepreneurs, skilled tradesmen, and capital.

Farm implements manufacturing

Large scale production of farm implements, which was the main economic driver of the City’s economy for over 100 years, did not begin until the 1870s. This development would result in Brantford ranking third in Canada for the export of manufactured goods by 1905, surpassed only by Montreal and Toronto.

It is not a coincidence that the farm implement industry took root in the 1870s. During the 1870s and 1880s, Canada levied a high tariff on imported farm machinery which made Canadian produced machines less expensive than their imported counterparts.  Canadian manufacturers usually got started by initially licensing American designs. As they grew and prospered they began to innovate and on many occasions led the industry in innovations, e.g. Harris’ Brantford open-end binder which allowed grain of any length to be cut and tied, or Cockshutt’s riding plow. These companies grew beyond Canada to worldwide enterprises.

A. Harris, Son and Company

A Harris, Son and Company was founded by Alanson Harris in Beamsville in 1857. In 1871 Harris moved the business to Brantford where he formed a partnership with his son J. Harris and J.K. Osborne. The firm was incorporated in 1881. The company focused on the development and production of harvesting machinery - mowers, reapers, and self binders. The original factory was located on the south side of Colborne Street below George Street. By 1882 the company had relocated to “Cockshutt Flats”, Market Street South on the site of the present Civic Centre.

By 1890 the farm implement industry was dominated by the Massey Company of Toronto and A. Harris, Son and Company of Brantford. These two companies achieved their position through technology leadership and aggressive marketing. The companies amalgamated in 1891. The combined entity became known as the Massey-Harris Company Limited. The company built the world’s first self-propelled combine harvester in 1938. In 1958 the company was renamed Massey-Ferguson. The company closed its Brantford operations in 1988 after going into receivership.

Verity Plow Company

The Verity Plow Company began operations in 1857 manufacturing plows in Exeter, Ontario. Soon the company was producing mowers, reapers, and stoves. In 1875 the stoves patents were sold and Verity concentrated efforts on plow production. Business grew to the point that better facilities were required and in 1892 the company moved to Brantford, into the former J.O. Wisner premises at Wellington and Clarence Streets (discussed in April’s column). In 1895 the company became affiliated with the Massey-Harris Company. This allowed the company to focus solely on plow design and development while Massey-Harris provided the the exclusive sales organisation for the company’s output. Their factory burned down in 1897 and a new facility was built on Greenwich Street, at Murray Street, in 1898. Massey-Harris wholly acquired Verity in 1914. The factory buildings were demolished in 2014 as the property undergoes environmental remediation.

Cockshutt Plow Company

The Brantford Plow Works was started in 1877 by James G. Cockshutt, who had an idea he could make a better plow. He wanted to make every item so well that its reputation would drive growth. The company, financed by James’ father Ignatius Cockshutt, developed and produced stoves, scufflers, and walking plows. Cockshutt created the first plows specifically designed for breaking prairie sod. This helped the company achieve a leadership position with western Canadian farmers. The pioneering J.G.C. Riding Plow became known as the plow that opened the west. The name of the company was changed to the Cockshutt Plow Company when the company was incorporated in 1882. The company started production where the casino parking lot is today. In 1903 a new complex covering 23 acres was built on Mohawk St. In 1945 Cockshutt introduced the world’s first live power take-off (PTO) tractor. In 1958 the company was taken over by a British mercantile bank and the name of company was changed to Cockshutt Farm Equipment Limited. White Motor Company acquired the company in 1962 and the company was renamed White Farm Equipment in 1969. By the 1975, the Cockshutt name was no longer used on any White made equipment. In 1985 operations in Brantford ceased.

In thirty years the farm implement manufacturing sector grew exponentially. By the end of the 19th century Massey-Harris and Cockshutt alone employed 35 percent of Brantford’s workforce.

Manufacturing Takes Hold in Brantford - Post 7

Inland community economies in the first half of the 19th century were local. Because of the poor conditions of the roads most staple items were crafted locally. This would change with the coming of the railways in the second half of the 19th century. The railway permitted goods manufactured inland to easily and speedily reach ports and other communities along the railway. The railway allowed small manufacturers with innovative ideas and products to grow through economies of scale; their goods were no longer confined to a local market. 

The opening of the of the Grand River Navigation Company’s canal to Brantford in 1848 turned Brantford into a busy forwarding centre, especially for flour, but also timber and agricultural produce. Then the arrival of the Buffalo, Brantford, & Goderich Railway in 1854 combined with Brantford’s central location all combined to attract industry to the Town. However, the farm implement manufacturing companies that built Brantford’s economy did not start to develop and flourish until the 1870s.

The Earliest Manufacturers

As discussed in my February column, Philip VanBrocklin started Brantford’s first manufacturing company, the Brantford Engine Works in 1844. This would evolve into Waterous Engine Works and become the first Canadian company in continuous operation for 100 years. It lasted 148 years. VanBrocklin started by producing stoves and plows.


In 1849 Justus Morton, who emigrated from Lyons, NY, established Morton & Co, at the corner of Dalhousie and Clarence Streets, where the Husky gasoline station is today, to produce stoneware. The company was locally known as Brantford Pottery. It was one of the earliest stoneware manufacturers in Ontario. In the 1870s the company enjoyed a near monopoly of the market for stoneware in southwestern Ontario. By the mid-1880s glass and sheet-metal ware began to chip away at the stoneware market. The company underwent several ownership changes, name changes and two fires, yet continued to produce stoneware through to 1906 when it closed.

Stove works

In 1850 B.G. Tisdale started a foundry which became known as the Brantford Stove Works. The company produced stoves and stove furniture. Stoves were a common product produced by foundries. William Buck started a tin and stove business in 1852 which he later merged into the Victoria Foundry. In 1866 the company moved from its west end Colborne Street location to premises on West Street bounded by Brant Avenue and William Street, were Tom Thumb Park is today. The business incorporated as the William Buck Stove Company in 1897. Buck’s Radiant Home stove for the kitchen and Happy Thought stove for the parlour became household names across Canada, Europe and Australia. In 1903 the factory moved to Elgin Street at the railway underpass, just east of Clarence Street. The McClary Company of London purchased the company in 1920 and the factory closed in 1931 when all manufacturing was moved to London.

Railway workshop

The Grand Trunk Railway Workshops were established in 1854 by the Buffalo, Brantford, & Goderich Railway. The workshops, which produced castings and railway equipment, were located along the Grand Trunk Railway tracks on Usher and Sydenham Streets. The workshops were closed and moved to London in 1897 when the City of Brantford aided the Toronto, Hamilton, & Buffalo Railway to complete its line from Brantford to Hamilton ending the Grand Trunk’s monopoly in Brantford. The workshop employed about 300 men at the time of its closing. Pratt & Letchworth, of Buffalo, NY, took over the works in 1900 and manufactured malleable iron castings. In 1912 Canadian Car and Foundry of Montreal purchased the company. It closed in 1952 when all operations were moved to Montreal. The company occupied all the land where the railway sorting yard is now. The pattern shop of Pratt & Letchworth is still in use today as retail space on Usher Street across from Yates Castle.

First farm implement manufacturer

Jesse O. Wisner came to Brantford from Wayne County, NY in 1857 and engaged in the manufacture of fanning mills. The company Jesse started became the Town’s first farm implement manufacturer. Jesse’s son, Wareham, started his own company in 1871 making seed drills. Father and son merged in 1872 to become J.O. Wisner Son & Co. The company amalgamated with the Massey-Harris Company in 1891. Their factory was located at Clarence and Wellington Streets.

Candies and biscuits

In 1863 William Paterson and Henry B. Leeming established a baking, confectionary, and cigar factory on the north side of Colborne Street where the parking lot of the Royal Bank is today. Lemming left the business in 1872, it was then solely operated by Paterson until his son joined the business in 1894. The business came to be known as William Paterson & Son Co. Limited. The business grew steadily making biscuits, chocolates, and candies. Cigar production was discontinued during WWI. George Weston Ltd bought the company in 1928. The plant operated until 30-May-1975.

Carriages and wagons

Carriage and wagon production began in earnest when Adam Spence founded City Carriage Works in 1857. Spence made carriages, wagons, buggies, and sleighs in a factory on the north side of Colborne Street between Charlotte and Clarence Streets. In 1864 a fire burned the factory to the ground. Spence rebuilt on Colborne Street at Echo St, where Laurier’s Dalhousie Centre is today. In 1866 Thomas and John Hext opened the Brantford Carriage Works at Dalhousie and Queen Streets. The output from this operation was largely sold throughout southwestern Ontario. Neither of these companies grew to become substantial, long lasting companies. Brantford Carriage Works ceased production in 1891. Adams’ Wagon Company started in Paris in 1863 and moved to Brantford in 1901, at the behest of Harry Cockshutt, to grow Brantford’s industrial base. The company located at the corner of Mohawk and Greenwich Streets. Adams manufactured wagons and buggies. Adams was acquired by Cockshutt Plow Company in 1911. In 1929 Adams was merged with other Cockshutt carriage companies and renamed CanadaCarriage and Body. In 1938 Canada Carriage was renamed Brantford Coach and Body. A new plant was built on Shaver Street in Cainsville in 1958 to replace the antiquated Mohawk Street factory. Brantford Coach and Body was sold to Trailmobile Canada in 1968. This plant closed in 1990 and production was transferred to the U.S.

The early manufacturers suffered regular setbacks, fire being the most devastating, but they rebuilt and continued. The boom and bust cycle of the economy caused havoc and companies changed hands on a regular basis. But there was a sense of optimism andthe Town continued to grow and attract new businesses. However, the best was yet to come.

The Railway Comes to Brantford - Post 6

During the first half of the 19th century, settlers began to populate south-western Ontario. Trade and travel were restricted by the poor road conditions in the region. Money in general was scarce and this had a huge impact on the ability of the government and private interests to build and upgrade the travel infrastructure: roads, canals and railways.

The construction of the railways in the middle of the nineteenth century was the catalyst for the economic development of Ontario. Railways facilitated the inland development of the province. Access to larger markets resulted in greater outputs from farms. More goods became available locally and manufactured goods could easily be shipped beyond the local market.

The first two railways constructed in Ontario were the Great Western Railway, construction began in 1851, and the Buffalo, Brantford, & Goderich Railway (BB&G), in 1852.

The Great Western was conceived to run between the Detroit River and the Niagara River moving freight traffic from the U.S. midwest to the east coast crossing southern Ontario, a shorter route than an all American route south of Lake Erie. The route was surveyed in 1847 and Brantford was by-passed, the route ran north of the Town through Paris and Harrisburg.

A couple of developments led to the decision to by-pass Brantford. The road from Detroit through London to Hamilton already passed through Brantford; it was thought that the railway would closely follow the road; so the Town did not offer the railway a bonus to build through Brantford. In addition Sir Allan MacNab and Dr Hamilton, two directors of the Great Western, wanted to build the railway through Hamilton and along the northern edge of the Dundas Valley. This route favoured their land holdings, rather than a more southerly route by-passing the Niagara escapement. The southern route was a less challenging route from an engineering standpoint. This route would have placed Brantford in a more favourable position on a route to London.

As it became apparent that the Great Western would pass the Town, local merchants, led by Phillip VanBrocklin, organised The Brantford & Buffalo Joint Stock Railroad Company in 1849 to connect Fort Erie with Brantford. A ferry would provide the final link to Buffalo. The line would terminate in Paris at a junction with the Great Western. Brantford and Buffalo already had a trading relationship via the Grand River Waterway; the railway would provide an all weather, 12 month connection.

The route between Paris and Fort Erie was surveyed in 1850 by William Wallace, the chief engineer for the New York City Railroad. In 1852, the railroad was chartered as the Buffalo, Brantford & Goderich Railway. The extension to Goderich was designed to open up Perth and Huron Counties to development and to capture freight traffic on the upper Great Lakes and funnel that traffic through Buffalo, maintaining Buffalo’s dominance as a conduit for mid-west America trade. The line was the only railway in Canada over 50 miles in length built without the aid of Government funds.

Besides VanBrocklin other prominent local investors included Ignatius Cockshutt, Arunah Huntington, Archibald Gilkison, James Christie, George Wilkes, John Kerby, and John Lovejoy. James Wadsworth, the mayor of Buffalo, was the first president of the company. Brantford’s VIA Rail station is located on Wadsworth St.

The line reached Brantford on 13-January-1854 and Paris, connecting with the Great Western, on 6-March-1854. The Great Western line through Paris opened 15-December-1853.

The line through Brantford built in 1853 is still in service; from Paris across the Grand River on a trestle 80 feet above the river, along Highway 2 to the VIA Rail station then heading straight in a south east direction through the east end of Brantford to Cainsville. The north-east diversion just east of the train station to Harrisburg and Lynden opened in 1871.

Initially the company appeared set to prosper but a series of financial debacles would push the railway into bankruptcy. The line was under capitalised. This resulted in a line that was poorly built and labour unrest when payrolls were missed. In protest, the workers damaged railway equipment and tore up miles of tracks. Labour unrest made people reluctant to use the railway. There was also evidence that the decisions of the railway’s directors placed their personal interests above the company’s. This was not unusual for the time. The railway ran out of money in 1854 and had shut down completely in the fall of 1855.

The Great Western made a low-ball offer to buy the company but the offer would have resulted in substantial losses to the English bondholders so the bondholders reorganized the company as the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway (B&LH) in 1856. The line reopened in November 1856. Despite the financial crisis of 1857, construction of the line to Goderich continued and was completed in June 1858.

Traffic along the route never came close to initial expectations. Lake freighter traffic through Goderich required transshipment at both Goderich and Fort Erie proving more costly than an all rail route through the U.S. In addition, Goderich harbour was ice bound in the winter months. A bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo was finally opened in 1873 permitting through traffic to Buffalo.

Suffering financially, the Buffalo & Lake Huron Railway entered into a joint management agreement with the Grand Trunk Railway in 1864. The B&LH provided the Grand Truck a direct route between Sarnia and Buffalo, through Stratford. Because of continued poor financial performance, the Grand Truck acquired the B&LH under a perpetual lease in 1869.

The existence of the railway, much like the construction of the Grand River waterway, spurred the development of manufacturing in Brantford. For an inland town, Brantford developed reliable transportation connections to the outside rather early.

Before the railways, travel to Hamilton from Brantford by road took 7 hours; Toronto, one day; Buffalo via the Grand River waterway, 24 hours; but by train to Buffalo, 4 hours, and that included 18 stops along the way. The increase in speed was staggering. The railway was the equivalent of a 400 series highway in its day.

Brantford Becomes A Town - Post 5

The population of the area grew slowly but steadily since the arrival of Joseph Brant and about 700 of his followers in 1784. In fact, this region has never experienced a surge of new residents; population inflow has always been measured and steady. Initially, white settlers trickled into the area.

Brantford's population growth: 1805 - 1,      1818 - 12,      1823 - about 100,      1827 - about 200, 1832 - 350,       1837 - 1,200.

The settlement that was to become Brantford was referred to by many names in its early years: Mississauga Hill, Brant’s Fording Place, Brant’s Ford, Grand River Swamp, Grand River Ferry.

Because Brantford was sited on “Indian Lands”, title to the land a settler occupied was not possible. This is the reason the village grew so slowly in the beginning. Mount Pleasant, Oakland, Waterford, Burford, and Ancaster where thriving villages in 1820 and centres of trade and exchange in their districts. Brantford was little more than a river crossing and trading post.

During the 1830s Brantford was a rowdy, and at times a lawless frontier village. Settlers from England, Ireland, Scotland, America, and United Empire Loyalist and native Canadians began moving to the area as title to land became available after 1830. Cheap whisky, an abundance of navvies working for the Grand River Navigation Company, rival gangs and the political conflict between the Loyalists and the Reformers meant that brawls were a common occurrence. The village had no police to keep order. Battles with clubs and axe handles were not uncommon especially around election time.

By 1835 the Mohawk Village, which served as the catalyst for settlement and development in this area, was vacated. By 1844 settlement was centralised on the current reserve.

Early medicine

In the earliest days of the settlement, settlers had few medical resources. Pioneer women provided care and administered herbal remedies to their families and acted as practical nurses and midwives. Anyone with knowledge of herbs and medicines was considered a doctor. Allan Ellis of Mount Pleasant was one of these early doctors. The first doctor by profession in Brantford was Dr John S Thomas. He arrived in the late 1820s. Dr Gilpin settled in Brantford in 1832. Dr Alfred Digby began his practice in 1835.


The first newspaper published in Brantford was the Sentinel. It was launched in 1833 by David Keeler from Rochester, NY. The Sentinel represented Conservative interests. The Sentinel merged with the Courier in 1839. The Brant County Herald, sometimes referred to as the Brantford Herald, edited by Wellesley Johnson, was first published in 1840. The Herald represented Reform interests. It ceased publication in 1861. The Tribune was started by John Steele in 1841 and folded shortly thereafter, after Steele’s untimely death. The Tribune served the Clear Grits after a schism developed in the Reform ranks. Henry Racey began the Conservative Expositor in 1852 after a dispute with Courier publisher Henry Lemmon.

Fire Fighters

The first fire brigade was organized in 1836. About 50 men formed the volunteer brigade. Their pumper was a box on a carriage. Water was poured into the box from buckets and then pumped to create pressure. The water, under pressure, was sprayed from a hose. The hose mechanism resembled a goose’s neck and the fire-fighters were nicknamed The Goose Neck Company.


When the Village of Brantford was organised in 1830 the closest place of worship was the Mohawk Chapel. The 1830s and 1840s saw the major faiths organise and establish churches. The first church to be built in the village was Grace Anglican, in 1832. It was built at the corner of Albion and West streets were the present church is located. The Inghamite Church was organised in 1833. A frame building was erected in 1839 on Mount Pleasant St, on the grounds of the present Farringdon Independent Church. The name was changed to Farringdon because it was built on a section the Farringdon Farm. The First Baptist Church was established in December 1833. The present church was constructed in 1857. The First Presbyterian Church was organised in 1834. A church was constructed in 1845 at the corner of Wellington and George streets. In 1901 it was relocated and renamed Alexandra Presbyterian Church. The British Wesleyan Methodist Church was established in 1835 at the corner of Market and Darling streets where the TD Canada Trust building now stands. St Basil’s Roman Catholic Church was established in 1840. In 1842 a frame church was built at the corner of Crown and Palace streets at the location of the present church.

Brantford in 1845

George Wilkes recalled in his later years that the village in 1845 was bounded by Colborne St to the south, Clarence St to the east, Marlborough St to the north and West St to the west. The main business district was located on Colborne St near the bridge crossing the river. The school was still located on Market Square. 

Brantford’s first manufacturing company

American Phillip Cady VanBrocklin started Brantford’s first manufacturing company, Brantford Engine Works, in 1844. His foundry, located on the present site of the Federal Building, produced stoves and plows. In 1848 Charles Horatio Waterous, another American, joined what was then called VanBrocklin, Winter and Company to help reorganise the business. The business under Waterous' direction moved to producing saw mills, boilers, steam-engines, and heavy fire-fighting equipment. In 1855 Waterous entered into a partnership with a foundry in Brantford and a foundry in Brockport, NY to purchase the business. The new firm was named Ganson, Waterous and Company. Ignatius Cockshutt provided some financing for the factory. In 1864 a new partnership of Waterous and George Wilkes took over the business and renamed it C.H. Waterous and Company. After struggling along for most of the 1850s and early 1860s C.H. Waterous and Company started to prosper. The company was incorporated as the Waterous Engine Works Company Limited in 1874. Cockshutt continued his financial participation in the company. In 1879 Waterous bought out Wilkes and Cockshutt. In 1928 the business was renamed Waterous Limited. In 1944 Waterous became the first Canadian manufacturing company to operate continuously for 100 years. In April 1947 the family sold its shares of the company to a group of businessmen who controlled the Modern Tool Company of Toronto. In 1953 the Koehring Company of Milwaukee acquired Waterous renaming it Koehring-Waterous. Koehring-Waterous was sold to Timberjack Equipment of Woodstock in 1988. The Finnish company Rauma Repola acquired Timberjack in 1991. After 148 years in business, the oldest Canadian manufacturing company was closed down in 1992.

Town Status Granted

Brantford was granted town status on 28-July-1847 by a special Act of the legislature. The population of the community had reached 3,000. At that time Brantford was located in Wentworth County in the District of Gore.

The election for town council was held on 6-September-1847. The first meeting of town council occurred on 9-September-1847. The original voters list consisted of 328 male inhabitants of the community. William Muirhead was elected mayor by the first town council. William Muirhead and his brother came to Brantford in 1828 buying land in West Brant on the Clench Tract. Muirhead was the agent for the Bank of Montreal and the Canada Life Assurance Company.

The town was divided into seven wards: West, North, South, Kings, Queens, Brant, and East with one elected councillor from each ward. The first Council meeting was held at Bradley’s Inn at King and Colborne streets. Council then rented a former chapel on the northwest corner of Market and Dalhousie streets (now Laurier’s Johnson Building) until the Town Hall was completed in 1850. The Town Hall was designed by Brantford architect John Turner. In 1849 the number of wards was reduced to five, Kings, Queen, Brant, East, and North, and each ward elected three councillors.

Canal Fever Strikes Brantford - Post 4

Travelling through southern Ontario in the late 18th century and early 19th century was a chore. Early settlers used trails long established by the Indigenous peoples, but these trails were foot paths, not ideal when trying to move possessions to new settlement areas or crops to market. Many of these paths were widened and upgraded to support the movement of troops and wagons but these early roads were rough and muddy and often impassible. Passage over these roads was often best in the winter months. It was cold, but the surface was hard and permitted smooth travel by sleigh.

The entrepreneurs in the area realised that making the area more easily accessible would improve their situation. Needed goods and staples could get to the area more easily and more importantly goods and crops produced in the area could get to an expanded market hundreds of miles away. They also saw a potential lucrative money making opportunity in the tolls the waterway would bring.

In the early 19th century canals were all the rage in North America. Canals leveraged the existing river systems and made the interior of the continent more easily accessible. Early canals in eastern North America included: the Erie Canal (1825), Lachine Canal (1825), Rideau Canal (1832), and the Welland Canal (1830).

Grand River Navigation Company

These canals all preceded the Grand River Navigation Company, a company chartered in 1832 to make the Grand River navigable from Brantford to Lake Erie, a river distance of 60 miles. The waterway would make it easy and inexpensive to ship and receive crops and goods, leveraging the water transportation system throughout the Great Lakes and the Erie Canal, crossing New York State to the Atlantic coast.

The Grand River Navigation Company was pivotal in the development of Brantford. It led to the early arrival of the railway into Brantford and then provided the motive power for electrical generation making Brantford one of the earliest cities in Canada with electric power.

A proposal for a navigable Grand River to Brantford first gained public attention in December of 1827. Local men that supported the proposal included: James Racey, John A. Wilkes, and Warner Nelles. The chief promoter of the waterway was William Hamilton Merritt, the promoter and builder of the Welland Canal. The prime motivation to develop a navigable waterway was the significant reduction in transportation costs versus land transportation, a three-quarters cost reduction if not more. The area was rich in timber and gypsum, and flour milling was beginning. Flour became a major commodity to ship via the waterway. These commodities would all benefit from inexpensive, reliable water transport. Seven dams and locks would be required between Dunnville, on Lake Erie, and Brantford. Competing canal ideas were floated in 1828; connecting the Grand River with Burlington Bay, or to Hamilton, or to the headwaters of the Thames River. But it was the original proposal that prevailed.

To construct the waterway, land would be required to build the dams, the locks, wasteweirs, towpaths, and mills. About two-thirds of the required land was Haudenosaunee land; land they did not give up willingly.

Work commenced on the waterway in 1834. Initial financing was provided by William Merritt (¼ of the stock); David Thompson (¼), a Grand River miller; a number of Brantford’s leading citizens (¼); and the Six Nations trust fund (¼), which was used without the consent or knowledge of the Haudenosaunee people. Money was scarce in the 1830s and as a consequence the company was inadequately capitalised.

The Grand River was navigable from Dunnville to Cayuga. Five dams and locks were required for the 9 miles between Cayuga and Caledonia. From Caledonia the river was navigable to Cainsville. The locks and dams were completed in 1836 and navigation to Cainsville was possible. Construction on this portion of the waterway continued until 1840, to complete the towpaths, build the mills and repair and reconstruct the failing dams and locks. The workmanship and quality of construction was poor; many of the low cost bidders had no experience in building dams and locks.

The Brantford Cut

Three more locks, a dam, and a three mile canal would be required from Cainsville to downtown Brantford. This avoided following the twelve mile river course between Cainsville and Brantford. Getting to Brantford was essential if the navigation company was to generate sufficient revenue to become a successful business concern. Work on the Brantford Canal began in 1842 and was completed in the fall of 1848.

Construction of the canal was fraught with numerous problems causing lengthy delays in construction; the Company’s ongoing struggle to raise money due to the scarcity of capital and the Company’s dire financial condition, low tolls fees charged by the Company to use the waterway (designed to encourage traffic), labour unrest within the workforce building the canal, and the difficulty acquiring land at a fair price.

Tolls revenues increased substantially after the waterway was completed through to Brantford but they were not sufficient to cover the cost of operating and maintaining the waterway, and servicing the large debt incurred to build the waterway. It took fourteen years to complete the waterway from Dunnville to Brantford.

Legacy of the Grand River Navigation Company

The development and opening of the Grand River waterway fundamentally changed Brantford. Brantford was no longer another inland settlement that traded locally. The condition of the road system at the time did not encourage the development of trade over distance. It was too costly and difficult to move large, heavy goods. Brantford became a sea port in the loosest sense. Brantford became a port of entry in 1852, unusual for an inland city. The Port of Brantford remains in force to this day.

With the completion of the canal, goods could be loaded on a barge in downtown Brantford and reach anywhere in the world through a well-developed water transportation system. This encouraged local entrepreneurs to begin manufacturing goods because they could economically ship them to distance points. It also attracted entrepreneurs to locate in Brantford.

The waterway established a connection with Buffalo, a thriving, vibrant city of 42,000 in 1850. Buffalo was one day travel by Steamer and so became a favourite travel destination for local residents because of its ease of access. Buffalo was the gateway city from the interior of the continent, to the Atlantic seaboard and beyond by way of the Erie Canal. The St. Lawrence Seaway would not open for another 111 years.

The waterway attracted railway interest because the town was already established as a shipping point and there was business to be had immediately. When the railway arrived in Brantford in January 1854, the fortunes of the Company diminished rapidly. The railway reduced travel time to Buffalo to four hours. The railway started to syphon traffic away from the waterway. The railway operated twelve months a year, the waterway did not.

From a purely financial point of view the waterway was a failed commercial venture, but its development forever changed the fortunes of the town. Perhaps if the waterway had been completed to Brantford in the mid 1830s rather than the late 1840s, just before the emergence of railways, a different outcome may have occurred. The arrival of the railway occurred too soon after the waterway was completed and gave the Company little time to reap the harvest of increased revenue and turn the venture around financially.

The Town of Brantford had become financially involved with the Company in 1851. In 1859 the Town foreclosed on its mortgage with the Company because the Company could no longer continue financially. From 1860 to 1871 the Town managed the Company. Haldimand County then purchased and operated the waterway except for the Brantford Canal which was retained by the Town. In 1875 the Town sold the canal to Alfred Watts for $1. By 1880 all waterway traffic had ceased. In 1885 Watts started generating hydro electric power by harnessing the water flow of the canal at the dam at the Grand River. Power generation continued until May 15, 1911 when the power house was closed.

Visible Today

Some readers may be surprised to learn Brantford had a canal. Most of the Brantford Canal is still visible to this day. The canal starts at the Grand River just south east of Beach Road. It follows Beach Road and crosses under the Locks Road bridge, then flows along Mohawk Road, into Mohawk Lake, then along Greenwich Street to just west of Alfred Street. From Alfred Street the canal was covered over in the 1930s. The Brantford Mosque is built over the canal. The downtown parking garage is also built over the old canal. Wharf Street and Water Street fronted the canal.

For a thorough history of the Grand River waterway, pick up a copy of Bruce Hill’s book The Grand River Navigation Company, available at the Brant Museum & Archives, 57 Charlotte St, Brantford, Ontario.

Brantford Becomes a Village - Post 3

I started these articles on local history asking the questions: What were the attributes of locations and the circumstances of time that saw certain areas develop? Why did some communities prosper and thrive while others stagnate or disappear? Who were the early players and what were their dreams?

The significance of the location of what would become known as Brantford, was that Indigenous peoples’ trails converged here, at Market Square, which became a trading centre; and the Grand River was easier to cross at this location. It was a natural gathering / meeting place.

White settlement in the vicinity of Brantford grew slowly. Population estimates of white settlers was mostly anecdotal, through recollections of the early settlers - 1818, about a dozen people; 1823, about a hundred people; 1827, between two- and three-hundred. Word of the desirability of the area was spreading. In 1824 Joseph Read prepared a village plan. So by the mid-1820s it was clear that the settlers were contemplating organising the settlement. In 1827 the settlement was officially named Brant’s Ford which quickly became Brantford. Lewis Burwell prepared a preliminary survey of the area and a plan for the village in 1829. Burwell based his plan on the plan prepared by Read.

1830 was the tipping point for Brantford. On 19-April-1830 the Natives surrendered 807 acres of land to the Crown as a town plot. The land was the farm of Chief John Hill. Burwell’s second survey was completed in June-1830. His village plan consisted of eight streets running east / west and thirteen streets running north / south. The shape of the original village plan resembled a parallelogram. Land was then sold to the current landholders.

Burwell’s map shows the business in existence at the time and the land holders of property under Brant leases. Joseph Brant and his heirs did not sell the land in this area, they granted leases, typically 999 year leases. On his final plan Burwell set aside six blocks: Market (Square), Public Square (Victoria Park), County Court House, Market (Alexandra Park), Kirk (Presbyterian Church) of Scotland (block immediately north of Alexandra Park), and Burying Ground (Central School). Burwell also designated six church properties: Episcopal (Grace Anglican), Methodist (where the downtown TD Bank is located), Presbyterian (where the City Hall is located), Congregational (Dalhousie St, second lot from the corner of Charlotte St), Baptist (Bridge St), and African (corner of Peel and Dalhousie Streets).

In 1830 Brantford was described as not much of a place, a thin scattering of frame and log houses along Colborne St. Nothing but scrub oak and a swamp filled with thick cedar trees.

 In May of 1831 the sale of land by public auction was held and the pace of development picked up considerably. With land (and title) available, settlers began to arrive in greater numbers; English, Irish, Scots, Canadians, and Americans.

John A. Wilkes erected a distillery in 1830; William Kerby opened a distillery and grist mill in 1831, William Spencer built a brewery in 1832. These provided a market for locally grown grain. John Lovejoy and William Dutton built hotels.

Brantford’s most influential citizen in its formative years was Ignatius Cockshutt. Ignatius first arrived in Brantford from Toronto in 1829 to help his father’s partner open a general store. Ignatius was 17. The business quickly failed and Ignatius returned to Toronto. Sensing the opportunity in Brantford, Ignatius returned in 1832 to manage the Brantford branch store for his father. The Brantford store performed so well under Ignatius’ management that the family closed their Toronto operations and moved to Brantford in 1834. This store, a general store in the broadest sense, was the foundation of the Cockshutt business empire that bankrolled the Cockshutt Plow Company. Cockshutt and its successor companies operated in Brantford from 1877 to 1985.

No place of worship existed in Brantford until Grace Anglican Church was completed in 1832. The current church replaced the original white frame building. Before that, the Mohawk Chapel was the closest place of worship.

By 1832 a daily stage coach ran between York, Brantford and Niagara, and three times per week between Brantford and Detroit. These services made Brantford accessible but the condition of the roads were horrendous. Travelling by stage coach was physically demanding.

In 1832 a visitor to Brantford described the village as follows: "This thriving village (Brantford), is quite a neat and stirring little place....It is situated on the bank of the river, which is here a stream of some importance....There is a handsome bridge erected over it, opposite the town. A grist mill, running four pair of stones, is located within its limits, and several saw-mills are in operation nearby. There are about a dozen mercantile stores....a considerable number of mechanics shops that make a good appearance and two pretty good taverns in the village....The settlements on either side of the road, for some distance, are extensive and quite dense.” (from Gary Muir’s Bits and Pieces of Brantford’s History: Brantford in the 1830s).

This is quite a contrast to the 1830 description of the village. In just a couple of years Brantford really started to develop and take shape.

The first newspaper published in the village was The Sentinel. It was launched in 1833 by David Keeler, who moved here from Rochester, NY. The name of the paper was changed in 1839 to The Brantford Courier and Grand River Commercial Advertiser, published by Thomas Lemmon, Keeler’s father-in-law. The Courier’s final issue was published on 28-December-1918. Its subscriber list was sold to the Brantford Expositor.

Popular past times in Brantford in the 1830s included: drinking, almost every store in town sold liquor, whisky sold for 12 ½ cents a gallon; fighting, from too much drinking; gambling, which led to drinking and fighting; and the Bee, from barn raising to corn shucking to quilting, the Bee provided for gossip and drinking. Residents also enjoyed swimming, fishing, sleighing, and horse racing. With the lack of diversity in entertainment and cheap liquor readily available, it is understandable why drinking was such a popular past time. The availability and abuse of spirits is what led to the temperance movement and ultimately Prohibition.

In 1832 Brantford had a population of about 350. By 1837 the village had grown to 1,200.

In 1833, Lewis Burwell reported that Brantford had several merchandising stores, a gunsmith, a blacksmith, a saddler, a lumberyard, two hotels, saw mills, grist mills, a brewery and two distilleries. This activity was largely located in what is now the downtown area. Because of the primitive conditions of the streets and roads at that time Queen and Wellington was considered far away and out of the way. East Ward and North Ward were all bush with a few log huts. West Brant was cleared and farms were established.

Brantford Takes Shape - Post 2

The arrival of the Haudenosaunee hastened settlement in the Grand River Valley of Upper Canada. Joseph Brant, travelling along the Detroit path, led his people to the Grand River Valley in the fall of 1784. Not only did Brant encourage his non-Native friends to the area, other non-Natives were attracted by the prospect of trade and barter with the sizeable Native population.

The first settlers that arrived found a land covered in a thick forest. The first order of business was to clear the land and build homesteads. The homes were small and simple, round logs caulked with woodchips and clay. There were no glass windows, rather openings covered with oiled paper to make them translucent. The earliest settler’s settled beside rivers and creeks and worked their way inland over time. The land was rich, providing an excellent yield for crops. This was a land where settlers could prosper. A productive farm could be established within six or seven years.

In 1793 Benaijah Mallory and his father-in-law Abraham Dayton claimed land in the Burford area. Dayton built the first house in what became Burford. Thomas Horner also arrived in 1793 and built the area’s first saw and grist mills. Whiteman’s (white man) Creek was named after him.

Of note, Joseph Brant moved to Burlington in 1798, building a fine home overlooking Lake Ontario on land granted to him for his loyal service to the King during the American Revolution. Brant passed away in Burlington in 1807. His remains are interred at the Mohawk Chapel.

The Ellis and Sturgis families accepted Brant’s offer of land in the Mount Pleasant area in 1799. The village of Mount Pleasant was the first trading centre in the area. It was named by Henry Ellis in 1800 because it reminded him of his home in Wales. There is no mount or high ground in Mount Pleasant, it is located on an unbroken plain.

The Mohawk Village that Brant started was still the principal and largest settlement in this area. The first inhabitant in what would become Brantford was John Statts. (Published histories of the area identify him as John Stalts but recent research suggests that the spelling of his last name may have been misinterpreted, the double t at the end of his name interpreted as l t because only one t was crossed. Reviewing settlement records indicates that the surname Stalts was unique whereas there is evidence of the Statts surname in Upper Canada.) John built a log hut in 1805 where the Boar War Memorial now stands in front of the Armoury. This location was near the ford, a shallow spot on the Grand River used as a crossing. Enos Bunnell built a cabin nears Statts’ two years later. This site was called Mississauga Hill, because it was a favourite camping ground of the Mississaugas.

The exact location of the ford has been debated for decades. Local historian, the late Robert Deboer, researched this extensively and through his efforts, the location was determined to be between the Lorne Bridge and the TH & B railway bridge connecting Brant’s Crossing with Fordview Park. A plaque in Lorne Park identifies the location of the crossing.

Jacob Langs settled in what would become Langford in Brantford Township in the earliest days of the 19th century. In 1806 John Oles Sr. and Issac Whiting settled along Fairchild’s Creek.

The opening of the London Road to the Grand River crossing from Hamilton in 1810 made the countryside more accessible The road was rough, little better than a path. By 1812 it became a corduroy road (logs laid side by side) to facilitate troop movements. In 1815 the road was planked, graded and levelled, but by no means was travel on this road quick or comfortable; a trip from the Grand River crossing to Hamilton, a distance of 23 miles, took seven hours.

Non-Native settlement at the Grand River crossing was slow. Thirteen years after Statts built his log hut, 1818, the population at the crossing consisted of 12 people. However things were about to soon change. Marshal Lewis arrived from New York in 1821 and built a grist mill. Lewis reportedly constructed the first bridge across the Grand River at the crossing. Consider H. Crandon, a carpenter from Massachusetts, arrived about the same time.

By 1823 the London Road was completed to London and the population at the crossing was about 100. The completion of the road and the potential of trade with the Natives attracted business and tradesmen to the crossing. Three trading stores were operating owned by John Aston Wilkes, S.V.R. Douglas, and Nathan Gage; two shoe shops owned by William Dutton and Arunah Huntington; and a blacksmith shop established by William Qua.

Wilkes store was opened and run by his sons, John and James. Wilkes Sr. joined them in 1825. Wilkes became a large landowner in the area. Huntington, who came here from Vermont, possessed keen business instincts and amassed a small fortune with his business and money lending enterprises.

Up until 1820 mail had to be collected in Ancaster, when a post office was established in Burford. A post office was opened at the crossing in 1825.

The community continued to grow slowly. A school was opened on what is now Market Square in 1826. By 1827 between two and three hundred non-Natives lived in the vicinity of the crossing. The settlement needed a name. Marshal Lewis suggested Lewisville; Robert Biggar of Mount Pleasant, who owned land at the crossing and built the second bridge across the Grand River, lobbied for Biggar’s Town; John Wilkes wanted Birmingham, his home town. Since the place was at the location were Joseph Brant forded the river, Brant’s ford, this name gained unanimous approval. The ‘s was quickly dropped and Brantford was born.

Since the settlement was located on Native territory the settlers were concerned with the legalities of their land transactions; they did not have clear title to the lands they acquired. This situation resulted in the slow growth of the settlement during the 1820‘s. In 1830 the Natives surrendered 807 acres to the Crown, for 5 shillings, as a town plot. The settlers could then obtain formal titles to their properties. The site of the village was the farm of Chief John Hill. Lewis Burwell, the deputy surveyor to Peter Robinson, Commissioner of Crown Lands, was tasked with preparing a survey of the area and a plan for the village. Lewis’ village plan consisted of eight streets running east / west and thirteen streets running north / south.

Brantford, the Earliest Occupations - Post 1

When I travel I often wonder why and how the places I visit were created out of the wilderness. What were the attributes of locations and the circumstances of the time that saw certain areas develop? Why did some communities prosper and thrive while others stagnate or disappear? Who were the early characters and what were their dreams? I will be writing about local history. Let me begin with settlement in the Brantford area.

During the last ice age most of Canada was covered by the Laurentide Ice Sheet. This glacier advanced and retreated a number of times. It was the advance and retreat of the glacier that altered the geography of southern Ontario. When the ice finally retreated, about 12,000 years ago, Glacial Lake Warren was formed in the Lake Erie basin. Brantford / Brant was under this lake, but near the shore line. Notice how the topography of Brantford rises from south to north; the rise to Terrace Hill from the downtown. The glaciers shaped the land and created the Grand River Valley which was left with rich deposits of fertile soil and gravel.

The earliest human occupation of this area after the retreat of the ice can be traced back about 12,000 years ago. These people were nomadic leading a subsistence lifestyle. Between 10,000 and 3,000 years ago, the climate warmed, and the population became less nomadic settling into particular geographical areas. The period that followed saw cultural and horticulture development and communities established.

The early European records suggest that the people living in this area were the Attawandarons or Neutrals. The French called them Neutrals because they remained neutral during the continuing conflicts between the Iroquois to the south and east and the Huron to the north. Recollet missionary Father La Roche Daillon was the first European to record his visit with the Attawandarons in 1626. He found 28 villages in his travels in the Neutral’s territory, with the principal village, Kandoucho, located near present day Brantford, although the interpretation of this record is in dispute.

Father Daillon described the Grand River Valley as the most beautiful place he had seen in all his wanderings; a luxuriant valley featuring great stands of trees of all types, nut trees, fruit trees and bushes and plants, and ample variety of game, fish, and birds. Notwithstanding Father Daillon’s description of abundance, the Neutrals experienced periods of feast and famine which kept the population in check. They numbered between 12,000 and 40,000 over their period of occupation. European infectious diseases and periods of famine led to their declining numbers. The Neutrals were driven from the area in 1651 after being annihilated by the Iroquois in their conflict with the Huron over the fur trade. Of those that remained some were assimilated by the Iroquois and the others migrated west to Michigan and beyond.

The area was used by the Iroquois as an extended hunting ground and remained largely permanently uninhabited until 1690 when the Mississaugas moved into the Grand River Valley.

The Haudenosaunee, also known as the Iroquois, are a First Nations confederacy comprising the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora nations. They are also known as the Six Nations.

Meanwhile in the American colonies, discontent was fomenting between the settlers and the crown after the Proclamation of 1763, which closed off the western frontier to colonial expansion. As unrest in the American colonies increased, it became clear to the British that a rebellion against the Crown was forming so the British enlisted the support of Joseph Brant, a Mohawk, and a man of influence with both the British and the Iroquois, to help them fight the rebellion and keep the American colonies under British rule. When the British lost the war and the Americans gained independence, many of the Iroquois loyal to the British, based in the Mohawk Valley and Finger Lakes region of New York State, migrated north of the Great Lakes along with their loyalist neighbours and friends. 

Brant lobbied Frederick Haldimand, the Governor of the Province of Quebec (which at the time included what is now Ontario) for compensation for their support of the Crown and the subsequent loss of their land in America. On 25-October-1784 Haldimand granted “to the Mohawks and all those that followed”, “a tract of land, six miles in depth, on each side of the Grand River” from its mouth to its source. This land was purchased by the Crown from the Mississaugas.

At the time of the land grant, south western Ontario was identified by the British as ‘Indian’ lands, as per the Proclamation of 1763. European settlement was focused in what is now southern Quebec, eastern Ontario and the north eastern and mid-Atlantic United States.

In the fall of 1784 Joseph Brant, encouraged many of the Haudenosaunee to follow him and settle in Grand River Valley. They forded the Grand River at a shallow spot south of the present day Lorne Bridge and stopped at a site that was to become known as the Mohawk Village, where the Mohawk Chapel is located. The Mohawk Village was located on an oxbow-shape bend of the Grand River, situated on a high gravel ridge above the flood plain where corn could be easily grown. The geography and climate around Brantford was similar to the Finger Lakes region. Brant and his followers were able to transfer their crops to this area of the land grant tract.

John Smith, a loyalist, and his son-in-law John Thomas, friends of Brant, were persuaded by Brant to come to the Grand River Valley with the Mohawks. Early white settlers included the Nelles, Dochsteders, Youngs, and Huffs, all military veterans. In 1788 Alexander Westbrook and Benjamin Fairchild (Fairchild’s Creek is named after him) moved to the district.

Brant eventually began to lease and sell certain sections of the land grant planning tocreate a fund for the long term benefit and support of the Haudenosaunee in this area.

Brant realised that the Six Nations people alone could not utilise all the land granted so he encouraged his non Native friends to the area. Blacksmithing, schools and other European trades and services integrated well in their traditional homeland therefore would also work well in this area.