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Following article posted Mar. 17, 1999 Vol. III No. 05

Dorothy Turcotte,

GRIMSBY - Settlement on Forty Mile Creek

These days, most travellers hurry right by Grimsby on the six lanes of the Q.E.W. which pass through the middle of the town. Those who take time to use the alternate highway, Regional Road 81, carry away memories of Grimsby's beautiful Victorian homes which are a legacy from the fruit-growing era. But Grimsby's history goes back much farther than that.

After the close of the American Revolution, many families loyal to the British Crown and living in the newly established United States of America found that it was to their advantage to move north to Upper Canada. Frequently, they had had their homes and farms confiscated, had been imprisoned for helping the British, or at the very least, were scorned by their republican neighbours. In 1787, 46 families gathered at Log Gaol, New Jersey to make the journey to the border at Niagara. Of these families, 42 were from New Jersey, and four were from Pennsylvania. They included such names as Pettit, Lewis, Glover, two John Smiths, Chambers, Willcox, Nixon, Beamer, Green, Lawrason, Kitchen, Moore, Carpenter and Neil.

When the group reached Niagara in July 1787, they found that all the "best" land - that is, the lots closest to Niagara - had been taken by veterans of Butler's Rangers. So they travelled further west until they came to Forty Mile Creek. It was here that they chose to settle, calling their village simply The Forty.

Actually, they couldn't have chosen a better place, because the creek plunging down the escarpment provided water power for their mills, salmon for their cooking pots, and a natural harbour on Lake Ontario. There was also plenty of woodland with game, edible plants and medicinal herbs. Many other families followed those early settlers, arriving during the 1790s.

In 1816, the post office was established, and the settlement's name was officially changed to Grimsby, after the township in which it was located. The village was just a rural settlement until the arrival of the railway in 1853. Then it became an industrial centre. John Grout established Grout Agricultural Works which produced the most modern farm machinery; John Van Dyke had a carriage works, while his brother George had a blacksmith shop and carriage works; Robert Gibson operated a stone quarry on the escarpment; there were several basket factories and a cannery; and super-entrepreneur Hugh Walker developed Walker Steel Range, Steel Art Furniture, Specialty Manufacturing, Metal Craft Company, and Grimsby Stove and Furnace. The latter two companies are still in business.

For many years, Grimsby was also a well -known centre of the fishing industry. Members of the Hand family operated boats out of the pond at the mouth of Forty Mile Creek. Until the demise of the fishing industry on Lake Ontario in the 1960s, Hands shipped fresh fish to New York City and other far away spots.

In spite of all this development in Grimsby, the area was still a farming community. It was discovered that the soil and the climate were ideal for growing fruit, so peach, cherry and apple orchards began to appear in abundance. One of the best known orchards was Maplehurst Fruit Farms owned by Linus Woolverton, a descendant of pioneer great-grandparents. Linus was secretary of the Fruit Growers' Assciation of Ontario, and the Ontario Fruit Experiment Stations, as well as editor of the prestigous publication The Canadian Horticulturalist.

Maplehurst was one of the experimental stations, producing huge crops of fruit for distribution both at home and overseas. Maplehurt, the house, is a rare example of Victorian architecture, and has been designated under the Ontario Heritage Act by Grimsby LACAC (now Grimsby Heritage Advisory Committee).

The proliferation of roads and houses since the 1950s has diminished Grimsby's fruit-growing industry. The basket factories have burned down or moved away; the cannery is gone; there are no longer fruit trains stopping for loads of peaches and cherries. But motorists can still stop along the roadside to purchase tree-ripened fruit from the person who grew it. There are still many beautiful houses that were built with fruit money. Here and there, there are still orchards that make Grimsby a breath-taking place to visit during Blossom Time in May. Beamer Point is part of the famous Bruce Trail, doubly famous in the spring when bird-watchers converge for the annual Hawk Watch.

It's not easy to hang onto our heritage in this hurried age, but Grimsby is trying hard. We have so much to remember, such high standards to live up to!

Books by Dorothy Turcotte:

  • People & Places From Grimsby's Past (out of print)
  • Places & People On Bronte Creek (out of print)

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    Norway Bay United & Anglican Cemetery
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    The Merivale Cemeteries
    (Protestant - Ottawa area)