Interview with Mrs. Joyce Wehrstein conducted on 23 June 1978.
Mrs. Wehrstein, our local historian has always been interested in the history of St. George. Her family, the Lawrasons, is known for their contributions to the community. In this interview she gives us a "basic outline of the settlement of St. George, along with information about the libraries, Main Street area and water company.
Interviewer: Could you give us a basic outline of the early settlement of the village?
Mrs. Wehrstein: I’ll go fast, but I’ll go through a basic history of the village. As far as I can discover the first settler was Obid Wilson in 1814. His home, I assume a log house, stood where the Legion now stands. I have a whole Wilson family tree. His relatives have visited here. They came originally from New Jersey in the early 17th Century. Obid Wilson came here after the Revolution, I assume.
Interviewer: Would you say that was the beginning of St. George?
Mrs. Wehrstein: Yes. 1814 is the earliest date anyone has been able to discover. Prior to that, of course, Indians occupied the land, as evidenced by all the relics found on farms.
Interviewer: Did Bauslaugh come after Wilson, then?
Mrs. Wehrstein: Oh, yes. He came after. It was called Bauslaugh Mills at one time. It was also called St. John. It was called this because the first thing they would build after their homes would be a little mill, a grist mill and so on, to make their logs and grind their flour. There were many men, then, who came within a year or so of each other. Of course, the features that attracted the settlers to the village, of which there are 18 or 20, were the flowing wells and the fertile land for farming. You see, there were settlers here before William Dickson purchased the land in 1816. He bought the land north of South Dumfries and Obid Wilson was here in 1814. And there were men by the name of Corners and Dayton, who built log cabins the following year, 1815. And I have figured from the lot and concession that their land was where Misudas live now. I’m not so great on lot and concession. Then there was a man named Isaac Schaeffer and the Buckberrys that came in 1816. The Van Everys were an early family and J. Fox, 1817. John built the 1st distillery in 1818 (Pettit) and it was down across from the post office in the parking lot. That is recorded. Then in 1820 or so Henry Moe was the first storekeeper, in a log building, and I assume that it was in the area of the Main Street, because I imagine that the houses would cluster close together. I would think they would be. Of course it would be trade by barter of copper, brass buttons and so on and that he kept a keg of whisky under the counter. Also it was supposed to be good for snake bites. They said in that old 1883 history that a keg of whisky would be kept along the roadside so that people going by could get a drink. Henry Moe was also township clerk in 1832. The second mill was built by Henry Moe. I think it was John Phillips who had the first mill. I suppose that would be about 1820 for the first mill. Henry Moe had a mill that was south of the village. There were a lot of little grist mills along the Station Road because of the flow of water which was discovered from the flowing wells.
Interviewer: Do you know anything about John Bauslaugh?
Mrs. Wehrstein: Henry Moe purchased the mill from John Bauslaugh, after whom the village was named. But I am not sure of the date, but he would be in around 1820-27, because Henry Moe bought the mill in 1827. I don’t know how long Bauslaugh was here.
Interviewer: Do you know anything about the cholera epidemic?
Mrs. Wehrstein: It was in 1834 and was brought by a travelling menagerie which came to Gait. This was a circus and people flocked to see it. It is said that some died on their way home and had to be buried by the side of the orad. There is a plot across from Taylors, and in the Pioneer Cemetery I believe there are some cholera victims.
Interviewer: What about George Stanton, who was he?
Mrs. Wehrstein: George Stanton was born in St. John, Quebec, in 1804. He was quite a prominent St. George citizen. He had more education than most of the men. He had a grammar school education in Toronto at a Dr. Strahn school. He came to Brant County and was Justice of Peace in Brant for many years. He came to St. George in about 1832. I think he also lived around Paris for a time. He was a very prominent citizen and owned a-lot of land. He and his brother Samuel had the store, as you have probably discovered, where the Community Hall building is. He also had a grist mill, a distillery and a farm. And he had a lot of property there. I read that one of the reasons that St. George was named after him was because he was donating all the land for the Railway Station but they built it farther down the road and didn't use George Stantons land. A woman by the name of Mrs. Sara Barnor, in the 1883 history, suggested that the town be named after George Stanton anyway, because he was a very prominent citizen, involved in the Agricultural Society which was formed in 1839.
Interviewer: Which Agricultural Society was that?
Mrs. Wehrstein: It was the Dumfries Agriculture Society. I thought it was most interesting, because St. George was a prominent enough little town that the Show was held every fourth year in St. George. It was Gait, Paris, Gait, St. George; that is the way I believe it was rotated. It was like a Paris Fall Fair idea. The other point that I found very interesting and that was that there was a ruling “that Politics should be entirely excluded from any meeting on the pain of expulsion from a member who shall introduce the same”. This was as a result of the McKenzie Rebellion, when neighbours and even family members took opposite sides.
Interviewer: Could you tell us a bit about the various mills that existed in St. George?
Mrs. Wehrstein: There were a number of mills, and these came at a later time. I cannot get completely straight about the Woods and when the Brant Milling Company took over. The little chopper was in the area of the Archie Nesbitt home, and I think that home was W.B. Wood’s home. When I was talking with Marcula (Morris), she said that that was the Wood Mill... I think that they bought this Beattie and Wood, they bought into the 3 storey big mill, built in 1870. The little mill had its own stone grinder for the wheat. W.B.Wood was also the M.P. His middle name was Burke. He moved later, and had a home in the BCI area (Brantford Collegiate Institute). But he and his brother ran this milland the brother ran it while he was carrying on his Parliamentary duties. That was a flour mill, called the St. George and Woolvale flouring mill. This was before it was changed and bought our by Brant. These men advertised that the mills were driven by first-class, never-failing water power.
Interviewer: Could you tell us a bit about Snowball Wagon Works and When it was established?
Mrs. Wehrstein: The Snowball wagon Works came very early. In 1833, they built the first carriage and wagon works. That was bought by Mr. Dan Jackson in 1904 and operated till 1930 when the highway went through. The soldiers of WWI saw their supplies wheeled in on Jackson Wagons in Paris, France. Apparently, there was a pipe triangle which summoned the men to work for years, as well.
Interviewer: What was the cabinet industry?
Mrs. Wehrstein: There was a cabinet-making industry combined with the undertaking business. That was David Reid. There is quite a bit about it, in the history of 1853. Reid lived, you know where Hinans live, well the house before Hinans (On High Street). There was a pond in there, and he had a cabinet making and the undertaking. Apparently the undertaking business was on the Main Street, and the cabinet making business was in the West of the Village. The water supply by Wehrstein’s & Loveless provided the water for the business to saw the logs. That was about 1834.
Interviewer: When did the Bell Foundry come to St. George?
Mrs. Wehrstein: The Bell Foundry was the largest industry in our village and it was founded by Mr. Benjamin Bell in 1838. Originally it was a small frame building and there was a fire in 1877, after which they erected the large 3-storey building which there are pictures of. I remember the building. For 5 years, my great-uncle was in partnership with Bell. In 1858, this P. D. Lawrason joined Bell. This was before the fire. When it burned down, Dr. Kitchen of Sunnyside, gatheredall the prominent members of the village together .and they gathered funds to help build the factory. Evidently Bill Taylor bought that property, and then sold it as lots. I can remember when it came down and we used to play tennis there because of the marvellous cement floor. It closed in 1929. They made insulage cutters, food choppers, land rollers, cultivators, etc. They were known throughput Canada. Apparently when you got off the train there was a big sign that was laid on the side of the hill advertising the Bell Foundry.
Interviewer: When did the Great Western Railway come to St. George?
Mrs. Wehrstein: It came in 1852. The interesting thing about it was that Brantford did not get the Great Western Railway because it was to go through the Terrace Hill Area, and the people wanted too much money for their property. So they bypassed Brantford until the 1890’s. It went through Harrisburg and you had to change there to get to Brantford. At one time there were 60 freight trains and 9 passengers a day, and 17 employed at the station.
Interviewer: I heard there have been many interesting village happenings due to the train station. Could you tell us one?
Mrs. Wehrstein: George Hickox told me this story. There was a celebration in St. George and this man was riding a grey horse. They were shooting guns and the horse threw the man and took off down the Mill Hill and down to the station. He got on the tracks and ran to Paris. They caught him before he went over the bridge there.
Interviewer: What about the famous 1889 train wreck?
Mrs. Wehrstein: During the wreck of 1889, people were cared for in the Mechanic’s Library, Hotel halls, etc. The St. George stop was on the direct line to the Montreal and Chicago lines and this train had been bound for Chicago. In fact, people stayed here until August recovering. That accident is very well known.
Interviewer: Could you tell us about the shopping district?
Mrs. Wehrstein: Before 1900 there were more stores in the block directly to the north where the cenataph is. There was a bakery, shoe store, livery stable, butcher shop and a privately owned bank which burned in 1897. The bank was the Lawrason bank, and it moved into quarters in the Jackson's Wagon Works. George Hickox told me another story about that. After the fire, the safe was very hot and J.P. Lawrason couldn't get it open. Mr. Lawrason sent for men from Goldie McCullough in Gait to come and open the safe. These men came and finally got the safe open, and it was empty except for a few pennies. The men from Gait were very annoyed. There was great amusement around town over this.
Interviewer: What happened to the Bank after that?
Mrs. Wehrstein: J. P. Lawrason sold to the Merchant's Bank in 1903. It was located in the Shop on Main Street. In. 1922, the Bank of Montreal took over. The building was built in 1912.
Interviewer: When did the library start?
Mrs. Wehrstein: It began in 1877. It was just a library. In 1879 it became a Mechanic’s library. All I can find out was that it was housed in Lawrson Hall. Later it was located above what is Ron Morre’s Store now. It was then the Haas building. In 1925 it moved to the Community Hall, in 1952 to the lower hall, then in 196? it was below the Post Office and now it is in the old post office. The founders were Dr. E. Kitchen and F. H. Fleming.
Interviewer: We heard that there was once a water company in St. George, could you tell us a bit about that?
Mrs. Wehrstein: I could tell you some stories about the St. George Water Co. It was a privately owned setup. It began in 1888. There are many human interest stories that have been told to me that are very interesting. My family was always hooked up in some way with the Company and it was bad news.
It was founded in 1888 by Dr. Addison, J.P. Lawrason, David Reid, and J.H. Fleming. They were the prominent citizens. It was formed to improve the water system and to provide pure water for drinking purposes. Dr. Addison was a man ahead of his times and he wanted pure water for drinking because of typhoid and so on. This was the beginning of the Water Co.
The interesting part was that there was an old distillery where the parking lot now is. Water was piped into the distillery to make the whisky and when the distillery ceased to operate and they didn't want to not make use of these pipes so they formed this privately owned Water Co. and the first pipes of the water system were those used by the distillery.
A.E. Green was secretary-treasurer for years a long after the original men were gone. The only way you could get shares in the Water Co. was if a relative died or if someone wanted to sell their shares. We had relatives in the Co. down through the years. It was fine for a while because the Community was small but as it grew, and bathrooms came into existence there wasn't enough water. It was a headache, being still involved in the running of the company and the people who wanted water for bathrooms.
Down through the years it remained a private Concern and the shareholders having shares passed on to them of by buying them from a previous shareholder.
My family (Lloyd and I) acquired shares when a great many re¬pairs had to be made. This was after we were married because my father had shares in the company which had been left to him by Uncle Ed, who had acquired them from I think a great uncle. We ended up with quite a large number of shares. A.E. Green did not keep very reliable books, they were mostly in his head. At this time that the repairs had to be made, he hadn't paid income tax on the money they were accumulating for a number of years the stock holders did make money on their dividends. I can remember little amounts creeping in. Well, A.E. Green became too old and the members of the water company really wanted to replace him. This was in the late 19^0's and my father retired and came home, and they thought this would be a good job for him, William Lawrason. So Dad and A. E. did not see eye to eye, and Green was not eager to relinquish his duties. He took my father on a tour of the water system of which he was very proud. When a pipe would break he would get an old rag and tie it up. It wasn’t costing the stockholders any money, but the system was somewhat deteriorating. By this time, there were some new people involved, Mrs. Patterson, Muriel Thompson, and Lloyd by this time, had inherited down through old timers. Fred Glaves had shares from somewhere. Evert Dufton had gotten shares from somewhere and the former butcher, Mr. Strong, had gotten shares from somewhere. My uncle had just died, and this Mr. Strong asked me, well what about Ed’s shares in the Water Company, which didn’t please mehighly, they went to Dad anyway. Dad was getting shaped up for the job of secretary treasurer and he went on a tour with A. E. Green, who was pointing out with great pride these pipes, you know. Dad was bent over; looking at his repairs very annoyed with the whole thing, and Mr. Green had a cane and hit the pipe to show my father his repair job, and the water flew up and hit my father in the face and guess Dad turned on his heel and marched home. Now at this time, in the 40’s, people were starting to get upset, because they weren't getting water. A.E. Green used to walk around town and if people had water on watering their lawns, or something, he used to ask them to turn it off. It wasn’t the most popular company. Dad sold his shares to Lloyd. Eventually the water company was sold to the Township in 1966. But there were a lot of headaches before that.
Interviewer: Was the machine phone invented in St. George?
Mrs. Wehrstein: The machine phone was invented by the three Lorrimer brothers and they lived in the house where Marg Dawson now lives. They joined forces with a Mr. Romaine Callender in Brantford and then went to Picamer Ohio where the Lorrimer system was developed. In 1904, a patent was issued by the Dominion government. The machine phone was a forerunner of the dial system. You would have a number, and you would have a lever and you’s pull your number and you would be connected directly to the person who’s number you had pulled. But there were very few people who had phones, there may have been about 8 or 10. It was being developed at a parallel time to the Bell. Eventually the Lorrimer company failed but Bell bought it out in about 1925.
Interviewer: Who were some of the people who worked on the switch-board at the Bell?
Mrs. Wehrstein: Josie Wheat was on the switchboard and Flossie Sturgis was the operator for years. She was a cripple with a deformed back, but those operators were just tremendous people. They knew all the numbers in their head. You would say “I want Mrs. Smith” and we would be connected without you even have to know the number. Flossie was a real character, and the doctors just depended on her. She was their answering service, and the other operators. Josie Wheat saved a person’s life once, I think it was Winine Howell who lived up where Plants live. I think the phone was off the hook and she figured out that Winnie was having a heart attack and she sent the doctor over. But you better get Josie to tell you about that.
Interviewer: How long did she work at the Bell?
Mrs. Wehrstein: Flossie Sturgis was operator from 1916 to 1948. I can remember her sense of humour when my friend Mary and I were on the telephone, Flossie would chime in “Hang up, girls, there’s a baby on I the way”, or “Hang up, girls, Uncle John has a sick cow”. This was the sort of thing you remember about her.
Interviewer: You said that the doctors used the operators as an answering service. How did that work?
Mrs. Wehrstein: There have been interesting tales about Dr. Gordon and the operators. One time Dr. Gordon asked the operator to time the pains when someone was in labour, and then he’s go. I think he was probably playing bridge.
Interviewer: What about when the dial system came in?
Mrs. Wehrstein: When the dial system came in, that was, of course, all changed. The end of an era. I think Dr. Weldhen made the last call with Josie Wheat on the switchboard.
Interviewer: Do you know anything about the St. George Band?
Mrs. Wehrstein: The band was formed in 1870 and subscriptions were sent out to pay for the instruments. We have that book in the museum. It is quite interesting. Members were kicked out of the band for not taking their music seriously and another was expelled for unseemly behavior, which one would assume was for imvibing too freely, because the band fellows did. We have a 1900 picture, and my father was in it and Wilbur Jackson. Dad told me of many good times they had playing for strawberry Socials, 1st of July. They also used to go out of town and play. I know they took one trip to Niagara Falls. But the Bandmaster when my father was in the Band (he played baritone), was Reverend Miles, who was the Baptist minister, so the fellows didn’t have too much fun. We have copies of some of the hand printed music they played, too. I suppose each of the fellows would have a little case and keep their music in it.
Interviewer: Who have been some of the prominent citizens in St. George?
Mrs. Wehrstein: We have had many fine doctors in our village. The first doctor was a Dr. Stimpson. I don’t know just when he came but he was followed by a Dr. Mainwaring who lived where Millers live, and he married Dr. Stimpson's daughter and they were the two earliest doctors. The doctors were very important in the pioneer history of this community, and they served on Hall Boards, Library Boards, School Boards as we 11 as ministering to the sick on horseback, sleigh, on foot, by buggy until the advent of the motor car.
We have had several MP’s and MLA from our village, W.B. Wood, Dan Burt, Mr. John Charlton, Mr. Harry Nixon and now Bob Nixon. They are all members of Pioneer families in this village and all capable men to lead us, regardless of your political leanings.
Interviewer: What was the factory that used to be on Malcolms?
Mrs. Wehrstein: The first cheese factory was Richardsons in 1866. Lot 7, Concession 2, so that would be just in the area of Malcolms. It was one of the largest cheese producers in the county. 140 tons of cheese a year when the national average was 80 to 90 tons.
Interviewer: Where was the printing shop for the Sentinel?
Mrs. Wehrstein: It has been several places. It was in Gerge Wehrstein’s house at one time. And George Hevron was the editor and printer. It was also in the old Howell Block, in one of the rooms, which is the Community Hall.
Interviewer: How long was it printed for?
Mrs. Wehrstein: No one really knows. One of the earliest copies is 1893, and that's the one I have. The other old St. George paper was 1886, so there would only be a period of 6 or 7 years when there was a paper. How long the other paper ran we don't know. I would say it went to about the 1920's, but nobody can pinpoint the date.
Interviewer: There were a number of hotels in St. George, we hear. Do you know where any of them are?
Mrs. Wehrstein: There were four hotels in the village at one stage of the game. There was one in the corner where the Post Office was. That was the earliest, I believe, run by a Mr. Glass. That's where the girls attended school. Then there was one right across the street and one where the Commercial Hotel is now. I believe there was one across the block that burned. I don’t know for sure.
Interviewer: Were there ever any bake shops here?
Mrs. Wehrstein: There have been several bake shops. One was on Beverly Street, which my family owned. Mick Roberts, who was my Grandfather's brother, and Aunt Lotty, ended up with the thing when it burnt down. It was a ramshackle old shop. The Sass1 did their baking there. Arthur Horning had bakeshops in the village one time. One was located in where the Pot Pourri is. I remember that one. There was also a bake shop next to the Drug store that was in 1938-39.
Interviewer: Thank you very much, Mrs. Wehrstein.