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North Gower - 1953

Portraits of Valley Towns



In 1953, the Ottawa Evening Citizen published a series of articles on towns in the Ottawa Valley. They were written by staff writer, Fred Inglis. Four of these articles featured "the cordial community of North Gower". They provide an interesting view of life in the village at the time.

Excerpts from these articles are reproduced here with permission of The Ottawa Citizen. You can visit The Citizen's web site - it's on our Favourite Links page.

The first article shows a picture of 86 year old Tom Daly, pipe in hand, relaxing in a chair. He reminisced about hauling loads of hay from North Gower to Ottawa. His father had the first binder in the district, nearly 70 years earlier.




From the first in the series:

North Gower: No. 1

Police Village

North Gower is a police village of more han 400 - some say 500 - cheerful citizens, at the southern extremity of Carleton County. It's on that improved stage coach route known as Highway 16, about 26 miles south of Ottawa, and 36 from Prescott. If you drive through here from Ottawa, you will probably remember North Gower as the place where you bring up suddenly at a sharp curve before you enter the town at the north end. Well, it has the effect of enforcing the town's new 30 mile speed limit.

Since 1876, theoretically every building on the main street has been destroyed by fires ... In 1948 the township led others in buying a modern fire truck that helped to cut down the fire loss considerably.

The article then goes on to mention Algie Wallace, bachelor dairy farmer, as a well-known "Plowing Champ". He won the horsedrawn plowing class at the International Plowing Match at Carp in 1952.

At North Gower's Anglican Church on Feb. 8 this year, hundreds of sorrowing citizens paid their last respects to Howard Craig, respected reeve of North Gower Township for nearly 30 years and former warden of Carleton County. It was my humble assignment to "cover" his funeral for the Ottawa Citizen that day.

Since its earliest days, North Gower has been a Conservative stronghold - although when two men met on the street here after the last provincial election, one said "Did you notice that there were 87 Liberal and CCF votes at the poll?"

New Homes

North Gower is a neat village with many attractive business places, several new homes and well-kept churches ... Here I noted a few farmers who had turned successful merchants and business men and also a few former business men who had switched to farming ... One of the oldest stores in town is now being progressively converted into a bustling supermarket.

In North Gower during the day you see no high school kids hanging around the pool room or snack bars at noon hour, buying smokes, drinking cokes, playing the pin ball machines ... they're all away at the new South Carleton High School at Richmond.

North Gower boasts that it had one of the first continuation schools in the province. With the high school students gone, three rooms of the former high school have been taken over as a Public School and they have one room to spare. Next move, I hear, is a consolidated Public School.

If you're a short wave radio fan, you've probably heard the call letters of Gordon Buterfield, stock man at Elliott's big, modern garage here. Gordon served in the merchant marine during the war, as a radio operator and used "mostly CW." Now he operates "phone" and for some time has had the town's first TV set."




North Gower: No. 2

The second article featured a picture of the United Church, "reminiscent of New England".

It began:

Winding its way through the village into the fields with their stately elm trees and zig-zag rail fences is a pretty little stream called Stevens Creek. Once it was the route down which U.E. Loyalist lumbermen floated square timber in the spring and later powered a saw mill. The last timber drive was taken down Stevens Creek in 1876.

It relates a version of the naming of the creek thus:

In 1820, Mr. Merrick of Merrickville and a Mr. Stevens made a prospecting tour by canoe on this stream. The canoe upset and Stevens was drowned. The creek was so named in his honour.

Industry:

North Gower's first industry appears to have been a saw mill operated by water power, with a dam and mill pond between the bridge on Church Street and the highway bridge. In the 1840's and 50's this mill was owned by a Mr. Barrows.

....

Like other villages in the period from 1840 onward, North Gower was almost a self-contained community, with several small but thriving industries. There were asheries - where they made potash - there were tanneries, coopers, blacksmiths, tailor shops, dressmakers and milliners.

The coopers made barrels and butter tubs while the blacksmiths, besides shoeing horses, made farm implements, carriages and sleighs. Old timers here remember when haying tools were the scythe and a long wooden hand rake. They harvested with a sickle and flail and later with a scythe known as a cradle.

With respect to the village's tradition of cheese making, Mr. Hicks is quoted as saying:

"At one time they made 20 cheeses a day at the factory here. About 100 tons a season was the average made for 40 years. And now it's done. The cream goes to Kemptville and the milk to Brockville and Ottawa. If they used all the milk today, they could make 50 cheeses a day."

Cheese making is a tough grind, Mr. Hicks said. It's a 12-hour a day job and a man is tied down seven days a week from May until October.

"One man can run a cheese factory," he said, "but they pay higher wages in other work and you can't operate a cheese factory to make less than 50 tons a season."

A native of this district, Mr. Hicks helps his son William, who runs a hardware store and tin shop. Mr. Hicks remembers when North Gower had two hotels, four blacksmith shops, two woodworkers where they made buggies, cutters and sleighs. There was the cheese factory too, "but now it's gone."




From North Gower: No. 3

This article features a picture of 76 year old Hammond Reddick, one of the old time threshermen, comfortably seated in his rocking chair. "There's nothing like a good old-fashioned rocking chair for perfect relaxation," he is quoted as saying.

One of the few old timers around here who can remember farming the hard way back in the last century is 88-year-old Tom Daly. Born in the year of Confederation, this slender, handsome man with snow white hair lives in town with his daughter in a smart new bungalow completed only last fall.

"We used to haul hay to Ottawa and sell it on the market," Mr. Daly recalled. "We would start out at midnight, sell our load and be back home by 9 o'clock that night. Beef was $5 a quarter back then; hides two cents a pound. Today you pay $15 for a pair of boots."

The tell me that until recently, Mr. Daly worked hard cleaning up the big Anglican Cemetery on the hill behind the church.

As a boy, Tom Daly helped his father cut and thresh the grain by hand ... quite a job on a hundred acre farm, all of it cleared but six acres of bush.

"My father," he told me, "had the first binder in this district."

He remembered

I probed around to see if he remembered the make. After a minute's thought he recalled it was a Patterson.

"It was a good binder," he averred. "It was pulled by three horses and made a four-and-a-half- foot-cut. I was 18 at the time."

He remembered when Harry Good used to make boots here ... "take your measurement and so much a pair." He recalled the bad, muddy roads to Osgoode, the nearest railway. Eggs were 8 cents a dozen, butter 12 cents a pound, tobacco 5 cents a plug.

Still at it

Not far away lives 76-year-old Hammond Reddick; one of the old time threshermen. Mr. Reddick has been doing custom threshing for 56 years and is still at it each fall. He started out with a 12-horse sweep and a year later had a steam engine - a portable one, hauled by horses. Next he got a steam tractor and then came the gas engine, about 20 years ago.

"Most the the farmers have their own small outfits now," he said. "These mills' today have automatic feed and wind stackers. The old ones were hand fed and had straw carriers, a sort of conveyor belt that took the straw away.

"It's holidays now to what it used to be. We threshed in the barn until the last five years. One year I did 121 days threshing - but I sure shoveled a lot of snow. Now it's mostly oats and barley and buckwheat - hardly any wheat."

Keeps Busy

And what does Mr. Reddick do between threshing seasons? Painting and decorating.

Some of North Gower's most prominent businessmen are former farmers. Take Rex B. Craig, for example. Back in 1936 he had a good farm but ill health caused him to give it up for a life in town. Today he's the town's popular postmaster. He's also an able historian and has one of the best colections of local history in the village. Mrs. Craig is The Citizen's correspondent in North Gower.

Fifteen years ago Howard Perkins said goodbye to farming. Today he operates what the folks here say is one of the best sash and door factories in the district. He keeps four or five men working steady the year round, sells dressed lumber and builders' supplies and finds time to be chairman of the village board of trustees and chief of the volunteer fire brigade. His two Dutch employees who came to Canada a couple of years ago, have built splendid homes for themselves and their families. The night prior to my visit, thieves broke into Mr. Perkins' shop and stole $600 worth of tools and other items.

Another man who gave up farming, about 12 years ago, is Charles Craig. Charlie now has a successful Massey-Harris agency and appliance store. The day before my visit he installed the first demonstrator television set in town - an Emmerson.

Elliott's garage, one of the oldest in town, sells and services Pontiacs, Buicks, and GMC trucks.It was established in 1920 by Percy Powell who did well and sold out to Clayton Willis. He too did well for years and recently sold out to Lawrence Elliott - to go farming.

Wealth of Information

I went to have a chat with A.J. Craig, township clerk, treasurer and auditor. I found "Tony" Craig, as everyone calls him, at work - in the pig pen on his farm behind his house, within a block of the main street. His brother H.A. "Gus" Craig, a retired bank manager is an acknowledged authority on Canadian history while Tony, the township clerk, has township records going back to 1850 and a wealth of local information.

Just a mile and a half north of here, on the Richmond road, lives Algie Wallace, famous plowman who won the Esso Gas prize trip to the National Plowing Match in England last fall.

H.J.A. Dillon, president of Carleton County Hog Producers Association, lives half a mile south of the village. Dr. E.C. Hope, economist for the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, farms near Carsonby, just three miles north of here.

Horace Seabrook, reeve of North Gower, lives on a farm near here. North Gower was once the home of Ford Pratt, general executive assistant in the Indian Affairs Branch, Department of Citizenship.

Other well-known businessmen are W.G. McCulla, local undertaker, also prominent in church and fraternal activities, Percy O. Sadler, skilled cabinet maker and carpenter and Harold Wright who operates Wright's Welding shop - successor to the time honored blacksmith shop.




North Gower: No. 4 "First to Buy Modern Fire Equipment"

The township of North Gower was the first rural municipality in this district to buy a new and modern fire truck.

There have been 25 serious fires in North Gower and district since 1876 - schools, hotels, stores, barns, cheese factory, bakery, Anglican Church, Oddfellows Hall and several other places - until 1948 when they got their new factory-made, fully-equipped fire truck.

They fought fires with a bucket brigade until about 1908 when they bought a hand pump and a hose reel that gave good service until the early 1920's when the village bought a motor driven pump. They still use it as a booster to pump water from the creek to the truck's 500-gallon tank at a fire. The old hand pump was sold only this week to a man who plans to hitch a gas engine to it to pump water for his live stock. Sic gloria transit!

Two Brigades

The new fire truck is housed in a combination fire hall and township garage in the heart of the town. They have two fire brigades - township and village. Fire Chief of the township brigade is planing mill owner Howard Perkins and the village Fire Chief is M.E. Simpson who operates a grist mill, saw mill and a school bus.

When the fire siren on top of the fire hall is touched off, it's set to blow for two minutes. Firemen Klaas de Jong and Lloyd Perkins, the chief's brother, who work at the mill, told me that one cold night they were wakened by the siren, got dressed and had the truck on the way to a fire before the siren stopped blowing. Quite a change from the old bucket brigade days! The volunteer firemen are all trained under the Ontario Fire Marshal's course, and each man knows his job.

The article goes on to mention some of the prominent buildings in town: The Ashwood hotel, owned and operated by William Ashwood, the Royal Bank branch, and a cheese factory that appeared to have finally closed down after operating continuously since the year of Confederation.

The article continues:

North Gower has three Protestant churches, a beautiful white frame United Church that was built as a Methodist Church in 1872, a handsome stone Anglican Church built in 1879 and a Standard Church. There are three strong lodges here, Masonic Orange, OYB and the Oddfellows. Local veterans belong to the CAnadian Legion branch at Kars, four miles east.

The nearest railway is at Osgoode, eight miles east but the village gets two mails a day via Colonial Coach. There is a new provincial highways garage built last year, at the south end of the village. Foreman Cliff Shepherd is in charge of men and equipment that maintain the road from Kemptville to Ottawa.

A Newcomer

A comparitive newcomer to North Gower is Edwin Cummings, a former casket salesman from Ottawa, who took over one of the oldest general stores in this part of Ontario, about two years ago. The business was founded by the late George Craig and when Ed Cummings took over, it had been run by the Craig family continuously for 80 years. Since Mr. Cummings recently went "IGA" his large two- storey independent grocery store is being gradually arranged to give the people of North Gower what people everywhere seem to want, chain-store methods, prices and service.

There is room here for a doctor and a dentist which the village now lacks. The Board of Trade which organized the excellent 1950 centenary celebrations, appears to have disbanded.

The village trustees continuously strive to improve the community. Recently they bought 1,000 square feet of vacant land at the corner of Highway 16 and County Road 11, to prevent building that would create a traffic hazard by obscuring vision at this busy corner. They're putting in "blinker" caution lights and stop signs for side streets.

Preparing Map

A new map of the village is being prepared, showing areas which it proposes to annex and thus bring in new revenue-producing sources to support the village.

The Public Library recently moved into new quarters in the Community Hall. The library was established over 50 years ago as a Mechanics Library and has close to 1,000 books on its shelves. It is strongly supported by the local branch of the Women's Institute.

The Community Center, a long white frame building, has an interesting background. It was originally a United Church drive shed, then a Temperance Hall. Then P.W.Powell bought it and made it into apartments. Later he gave it to the North Gower Community Association, headed by Ken Craig. Here almost any night you can hear the balls roll and skittles fly on four slick bowling alleys. The association also operates a fine open air skating rink. The local athletic association, now in its third season, operates a successful lighted ball park. Store keeper Edgar Leach is secretary of this live group.

Important Center

The Co-op feed store and egg grading station is an important trading center in this agricultural district.

With no railways and no waterworks, North Gower has no ambitions to become an industrial town, although it would not discourage new industries from moving into town. Traditionally a farmers' trading center, North Gower seems content to remain the hub of a big milk producing area that ships surplus cattle to the United States; raises cattle, hogs and poultry and the grain to feed them.