Friday, January 28, 2011

Reviving Village Life with Music

Martyn Joseph in concert at the Wesley Church
April 1, 2011 Tickets $20 Call Holton Flowers (905) 885-7439

Friends of Wesleyville Village: Looking Back

Things have changed since 2004 when GO Magazine published this excellent article.
Reprinted with permission from Northumberland Today

GO! MAGAZINE Winter 2004
The concrete smokestack in the sky is a daily reminder of what Wesleyville, once a thriving rural community, was to become.
A light-controlled intersection with no traffic. "No Trespassing" signs next to wide open gates. A centuries-old church with no congregation. A one-room schoolhouse with no students. In fact, the only thing that seems alive here is the cemetery. Fresh flowers adorn one of the two dozen headstones, marking one of the few graves that do not date back to the late 1800s. A rangy dark grey cat loping along the side of the road pauses, as if in surprise, to watch not one but two vehicles pass by under the canopy of maple trees planted over a hundred years ago.
For this is Wesleyville, the hamlet that time forgot not once but twice. It is a place where irony rises into the sky as a hollow concrete pillar pointing to nowhere: even though you built it, they did not come. While new homes are dwelling in the beautiful countryside surrounding it, Wesleyville itself is now a collection of run-down or boarded up heritage buildings nestled amongst hundred-year-old maple trees along Lakeshore Road. It lies just to the west of Wesleyville Road, a modem addition to the area that serves only as a reminder of what was and what could have been.
In 1788, the First Nations settlers agreed to sell the land that lay east of Toronto to the Ganaraska River, which runs through the municipality of Port Hope, and no more than 10 miles back from Lake Ontario. When these Crown lands were granted after 1830, Wesleyville (originally called "Lakeshore") consisted of Lot 30 and Lot 31 in Concession 1, Hope Township. Farms-and families-were settled onto the land and by 1845, the community had both a school and a Methodist Church.
In 1860, it was necessary to build a new church, as the old wooden frame one had deteriorated, so John Barrowclough, one of the area's founders, provided the land from the west side of his property. Named "Wesley Church", the hamlet continued to grow around the church as Wesleyville.
"My ancestors have lived there continuously since 1847," says William Barrowclough, the great-grandson of John Barrowclough ."My great- grandfather and his wife came over from England in 1844 and bought the farm [on the west part of Lot 30] in 1847. The farm stayed in the family until we sold most of it to Hydro in 1968. After my father died, we sold the house and the surrounding 12 acres to Hydro in 1992."
You can't discuss the history of Wesleyville without the name "Hydro" coming into the conversation. Unlike stalwart names like Barrowclough, Oughtred and Harris, Hydro is the newest landowner. In the late 1960s and early '70s, Ontario Hydro (now known as Ontario Power Generation, OPG) bought 1200 acres in south Hope Township to build an oil-fired generating station. But when the oil crisis of the mid-1970s hit, Hydro halted construction in 1978. While most of the buildings were completed and the smokestack erected, the plant has never operated. The land, including the concrete ghost of the plant, remains an asset of OPG.
Carroll Nichols has lived his entire 86 years on the east side of Wesleyville, overlooking Lake Ontario. His grandfather bought Lot 24 in 1891, a property now known as "Century Farm".
"At our age," Mr. Nichols says of he and his wife, June, "we've lost practically all of our neighbours. No one our age is left in the community. First of all, Ontario Hydro tore down at least ten houses that were in the neighbourhood; the community was completely ruined. The thing that aggravates us the most is that Hydro ruined the community but they didn't make use of the land they purchased."
The Austin family farm, purchased in the early 1900s, was one of the properties sold to Hydro. It might have frustrated Roy Austin as well except that he saw it as progress. The grandson of Harry Austin is now 60 and lives on a small farm near the 401.
"There were farms all the way along and now it's just trees and the plant ' " Roy says. "I worked for Hydro then. Maybe if I'd owned the [family] farm, I would have felt differently than I did." Like Carroll Nichols and others in the area, Roy stayed in the area because it is still home.
"I was born and raised here. As far as Wesleyville, what it used to be, the school and the church are still there but they're all closed up now so you look at it as if they're not there."
More than a hundred years before the arrival of Hydro, Wesleyville provided much of what the local farm families needed. In his book, The History of the Township of Hope, written in 1967, Harold Reeve writes, "A school, a church and a post office have been the heart of the village. Around the 1860s, there was a tavern, a blacksmith shop, a machine shop, a cobbler and a carpenter." Wesleyville's first post office was established in 1875. Elijah Barrowclough, brother of John, was the village's first postmaster. "The post office was in my family's home," explains William Barrowclough, now in his sixties and living in Peterborough. "They had the post office there until 1911 when it moved over to the Oughtred place. When Laurier was defeated in 1911 and Borden got in, no Liberal family was going to have a post office."
The post office closed in 1944, the school in 1965 and the church in 1968 (when Ontario Hydro began buying the land around it). So the village was already in decline when the proposal for the generating plant was announced. It must have seemed like a chance for rejuvenation: an intersection at the 401, people moving into the area, an industrial park providing jobs. Unfortunately for Wesleyville, the potential was never realized. Now it provides a moment of nostalgia as you drive through. Lakeshore Road is a winding unmarked band of asphalt that sweeps through Wesleyville, oblivious to the six-lane highway to the north, ignoring the unnecessary traffic lights at the intersection of Wesleyville Road. It is a road riveted by farm fields, the sparkling blue lake and the giant concrete smokestack rising above the trees.
"It's an historic road," according to Carroll Nichols. "The soldiers marched from Kingston to Niagara in the War of 1812. This is not a surveyed road; that's why it's crooked. I think the original travellers went between this tree and that tree and around the swamp and so on.”
He is happy to share an amusing anecdote passed down through his family. "Right next to our garden, there was a house. The story that's been told to me was that when soldiers marched up through, the officers stayed in the house and the soldiers camped across the road in an open field. When they left, the owners of the house had lost a sow so the British Army paid for it, figuring the soldiers had butchered it. About three weeks later, the sow came out of the woods with her piglets."
Like the headstones in the cemetery, this kind of story reveals much about a community, about the generations who lived and farmed around Wesleyville along the shore of Lake Ontario. These stories must be kept alive so they don't disappear like the church congregation did, as the farmhouses bought and torn down by Hydro did. These stories are what will keep the spirit of Wesleyville dominated by, yet not yielding to, the great smokestack in the sky-from becoming a ghost haunting the cemetery of Wesley Church.
Sara Jewell is a writer and broadcaster living in her hometown of Cobourg.