Interview with Mr. Vernon Gofton conducted on Thursday, 20 June 1978.
Mr. Gofton came to St. George in 1919. He came to St. George as blacksmith. His shop was the old red brick building beside the fire hall. Mr. Gofton was Fire Chief for 25 years and was involved with the Baptist Church.
Interviewer: When did you come to St. George?
Mr. Gofton: 1919. In the Spring, in March.
Interviewer: And what were you doing then?
Mr. Gofton: Blacksmithing. That's what brought me to St. George.
Interviewer: Could you tell us a bit about the blacksmithing business?
Mr. Gofton: My store was kitty-corner to the bank. The firehall is next door. And I was living in that big brick house on the corner.
Interviewer: What kind of tools did you use then?
Mr. Gofton: Oh, all kinds. I had the anvils, hammers, and horse shoes. I used to hit my knees once in a while.
Interviewer: What type of things did you make there?
Mr. Gofton: Horseshoes, and I didn't make any nails, they used to make nails, but that was before my time. I shoed horses and I did some welding. I mended harrows. I used to weld the piece on the end and sharpen them up. I used to have to get the far¬mers tools all ready too. I shoed horses, too.
Interviewer: Did you always live in that house in St. George?
Mr. Gofton: No. I got kicked on the head with a horse. It was a Western Horse. I was awfully busy, and I had put the shoes on it, and I had a stand to put the horses' foot on to file the nails etc., and I was under another horse and when I came back I was stooped over like a dog, and this mare just kicked me in the head. She even had a horseshoe on. I couldn't work for a week. It bothered me to stoop over. A fellow came along wanting to buy the shop, and at the time Roy Howell was boss of the highway. I went and worked with him for a while. Thomas was the Blacksmith who took over my shop, but he didn't own it. You would know the woman that lived there. Thomas and his son took over the shop. And after I quit Roy Hoxell, the government was not paying enough at that time, I went and bought a fruit farm down in Cainsville. I moved down to the farm which was on the Onendaga Road. I had thirty five acres there, and I got it pretty reasonable. I had that farm for four years and afellov; came along wanting to buy it. So I put a big price Km it and he bought it. That was just when things were starting to go up. Then I came back to St. George and built a house and it was just kitty-corner to the bowling green on West Street. That's where my wife died.
Interviewer: We heard that you were fire chief for some time. What kind of equipment did you have to work with?
Mr. Gofton: I was Chief for 25 years. When I started all we had was a two-wheeled cart with a hose on it. There was an engine in the firehall and the first team that got there got five dollars to take the fire engine out.
Interviewer: Was the fire hall in the same place?
Mr. Gofton: It was in the same place as it is now. I was made chief because My house was so close to the Fire Hall.
Interviewer: Did you have horses to draw the wagon, then?
Mr. Gofton: No, we had to run with the two-wheeled cart and the hose. We didn't usually go past the village. Once there was, you know where Les Grantham has his farm,(He was a butcher for a while), about a mile east of St. George, there was a big house there and it caught on fire. They got out and went upstairs and threw the good china dishes out of the window so they would not get broken. Some of the firemen told me about this and they were laughing about it afterwards. We would run with the cart all the way out to there.
Interviewer: How big an area did you cover then?
Mr. Gofton: Well, I don't think they covered any area, just the village. Also a few of the farmers around the area. When I got it we covered the whole township.
Interviewer: By this time did you have a regular pumper?
Mr. Gofton: Well, two or three years after that we went to Tillsonburg and got our first fire truck. (Mr. Gofton showed us a photo with the first firemen). Also of the first fire truck. He told us a lot of the men's names and we are going to get a copy of the photos he showed us.) After we got the first pumper, it was too heavy because there were two chemical tanks and the hose. It was too heavy so we got a Chev chassy and built it on to carry the hose.
Interviewer: What was the biggest fire that you remember?
Mr. Gofton: The biggest fire, hm. The worst fire was the old livery stable. There were eleven horses burnt. It was Reg Howell's. Well, it was his father's first and then Reg took it over when his father died. I had a book of the whole thing and when I sold my house I threw it in the fire. There are a lot of things that I wish I hadn't gotten rid of, but where would I keep them now?
Interviewer: How many men did you have working with you?
Mr. Gofton: There were twelve men and myself. We were all volunteers. Well, I got seventy-five dollars because I kept the fire going in the winter-time and looking after the hall to keep it warm and ready. I used to turn the truck over every morning. Once a week we all went into the fire hall and clean things up.
Interviewer: Do you remember the Malcolm’s fire?
Mr. Gofton: Well, I guess I do! That was about the biggest fire we had in St. George, although that corner store where the post-office used to be, Louis Wood had his store there. A bunch of fellows got in there and playing poker one night and I guess one of them lit a cigar or a cigarette and threw it down and that started up the fire. But we got it out, that one- Malcoms had quite a bit of damage. We had to send for Brantford trucks to help us, and we eventually got it out. There was a building at the back of the factory, and that burnt down. There's one fire I want to tell you about. You didn't know the old bake-shop, where Russells live now, well we got word that it was on fire. I don't know the name of the fellow that had it then, I know that Sass' had it at one time, but anyway, the oven got on fire at the back of it. I never sent a fellow in with the hose, because I was scared he might get burnt or something. I would always go in myself, and that was where I made the mistake. Tom Farrow and Tom was a carpenter and he knew all the ins and outs of buildings, and he and I used to go in the buildings. We went in with the chemical, and we had the fire just about out. I told the fellow that was driving the truck to go up to the Fire Hall and lay the hose. To bring the hose out on the truck. He had to run up to the Fire Hall and pump from there. But instead of that he went right across and up a lane. Out by the church, there was a pond back there, and he got stuck. He didn’t do what I told him, you see. He got stuck and we couldn't get water, we were beat. The place burnt up. They blamed me for it. They had the fire underwriter from Hamilton up there, and Lawrasons (They owned it, Ed Lawrason) they blamed me for it, they owned it and they blamed me. I went to a fire out in the country one time, and it was storming and it was up at Germans School Road. It was an awful big house up there. The chimney was on fire. The house was so big it had two furnaces and just the one chimney. You could crawl up there anyplace. When we were coming back, we had no windshield on our truck, and I had a good hat on and it went up into the air and I never found it.
Interviewer: Do you remember any of the industries in the area?
Mr. Gofton: The Bell Foundry was gone before I got there. The Wagon Works was there. I used to go over and weld some of their tires once in a while. They got a new blacksmith and they had four inch tire to put on the manure spreader and the new blacksmith couldn't get it on. He told Jackson that the iron that they had was no good. Old Dan came over to -me and I was busy shoing horses and he said, "I want this welded and I want it welded right away" and I said I was busy shoeing horses and the fellow that I was shoeing for said he was not in a hurry, and to weld it up for Dan, so I welded it up and I gave it to him and he said, " I don't want it, I just wanted to see if it could be welded or not". I think that other Blacksmith was fired in a couple weeks. Ore Cornell ran a service station at Bells Foundry when I was there, you know Ore, but there were no other industries there. There was a grist mill, I think it is still there. There were different ones who ran it. Tom Farrow ran it for awhile, Harry Richards ran it for a while and another fellow who moved to Lynden ran it for a while. But it was them that dug all the wells. When I was living in my big red brick house, I had three wells or four, running into that stream. They used to run by water power, at the mill.
Interviewer: How did people get from place to place?
Mr. Gofton: There was a bus went down to the station, you know where the station was, and a train went from there to Brantford. The bus left from the livery stable. I don't know who drove it, there were different ones who drove. Then there was two or three tried running a service into Brantford by car. They called it a bus.
Interviewer: What organizations were you involved in the village?
Mr. Gofton: I was in lawn bowling. We built a rink back of Bowdens there, but the ground was too soggy and warm and it melted the ice. We only had it for two or three years. The firemen did that. We had football and baseball. We had a good hockey team there for awhile. We used to go to Paris or Brant¬ford and play there. We played football up by the school. They tried Lacrosse but it didn't work. I played once when I was a kid. I played with Bright, they had a big team there. We played against the Indians in Brantford. I came home and my arms were all blood and my mother took my stick out to the woodshed and cut it all to pieces. She wouldn't let me play that game any more.
Interviewer: Were you involved in any of the churches in St. George?
Mr. Gofton: I was a Baptist, I am a Baptist. I used to sing in the choir. I was secretary of the Sunday School for a couple of years but I gave that up. I couldn't keep on with it. After we moved back to the village my wife's mother came to live with us. I had a gas stove and she turned it on, and I had been down to a Church meeting, and I came back and my daughter was on a chair, and my youngest son was on the couch and she was laying in a chair sleeping. I got the doctor up. And I was supposed to go in before, but I had been so busy, and couldn't get away. The doctor at that time was I believe Dr. Gordon.
Interviewer: What do you remember about the stores on Main St?
Mr. Gofton: Well, there was Benson next to the bank, then there was Bannister's harness shop. Then there was Ed Wehrstein’s barber shop. Next -t believe was the post office. That was Clem Keefer. One of the Forsythe girls worked with him. Next was the butcher shop I guess, then the hotel, then there was a drug store and a store that Bill Scott owned. Then there was Wilbur Jackson and his store, among two or three and then the big store at the end. There was a hardware store and a drug store there when I was there first, I believe. There was a big store at the end.
Interviewer: Thank you very much, Mr. Gofton.
Mr. Gofton: There is an awful lot I don't remember.