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Authors: Terry Boyle

Hidden Ontario

BOOK: Hidden Ontario
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Hidden Ontario

Secrets from Ontario's Past



Copyright © Terry Boyle, 2011

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from Access Copyright.

Editor: Matt Baker

Design: Courtney Horner

Printer: Webcom

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Boyle, Terry

    Hidden Ontario : secrets from Ontario's past / Terry Boyle.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

Issued also in electronic formats.

ISBN 978-1-55488-955-6

    1. Ontario--History, Local. I. Title.

FC3061.B685 2011    971.3    C2011-901175-1

1  2  3  4  5    15  14  13  12  11

We acknowledge the support of the
Canada Council for the Arts
and the
Ontario Arts Council
for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the
Government of Canada
through the
Canada Book Fund
Livres Canada Books
, and the
Government of Ontario
through the
Ontario Book Publishing Tax Credit
, and the
Ontario Media Development Corporation

Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credits in subsequent editions.

J. Kirk Howard, President

Printed and bound in Canada.

3 Church Street, Suite 500
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
M5E 1M2
Gazelle Book Services Limited
White Cross Mills
High Town, Lancaster, England
2250 Military Road
Tonawanda, NY
U.S.A. 14150









Algonquin Provincial Park




The Baldoon Mysteries




The Bay Monster and the Shadow
















Curve Lake


Gore's Landing


Holland Landing










Lake Superior Sites
















North Bay






Parry Sound




Port Hope


Port Perry


Presqu'ile Provincial Park


Sault Ste. Marie




The Ghost of Tom Thomson













History is always relevant. To understand our present and to plan for our future we need, somehow, to relate to our past. We can't look at everything — it just isn't possible, but perhaps we can find some doors previously unlocked, some tales almost forgotten. We can look at some chronology that creates a pathway back to the present; we can examine occurrences that remind us that the flow of time was meant to bring growth and change, evolution. This book is an opportunity for all of those things.

A book should be an inspiration. A history book should be an invitation to review, to explore, to reminisce, to discover, to travel, to unravel. I want to take you to the past in your mind and inspire you to visit it in the present. Visit museums. Listen to our elders. Discover the stories behind the places. Learn to question when you travel, to open your awareness to all that was, is, will be, could be.

History is alive. You can see it. Sometimes you can taste it. Often you can feel it. I love it. Let me share it with you.



It hits you when you walk through the doors: the massive space, the quiet, the rich earth-colours, the soft and strong textures, and a certain pungent smell that only comes from one thing. Here is Canada's largest store of its kind and one that gives the whole town a nickname — Leathertown! This is Acton, and we are in The Olde Hide House.

The story of Acton and its leather industry began in 1829 when Rufus Adams and his two brothers, Zenas and Ezra, arrived in the area and purchased land to farm. Ezra built a gristmill on his property. The Adams brothers opted to survey their farms into town lots and called the settlement “Adamsville.” In 1833 Rufus Adams purchased the land where the The Olde Hide House is situated today. By 1842 Abraham Nelles established the first tannery in Adamsville. The Adams brothers' combined holdings, at that time, had reached approximately 500 acres. In 1844 the postmaster, Robert Swan, renamed the village “Acton” in honour of his birthplace in Northumberland, England.

The ownership of the various parcels into which Rufus Adams's original lot had been divided changed hands several times over the ensuing years. In 1856 the Grand Trunk Railway ran a rail line through it and opened the Acton Train Station.

The tannery industry was flourishing, and in 1852 Abraham Nelles's tannery was sold to Messrs. Coleman and McIntryre of Dundas, Ontario. It burned down that very same year and was rebuilt. It was, in turn, acquired by the firm of McCloshen and Atcheson, who turned it over to Sessins, Toby and Co.; George L. Beardmore purchased it in 1865. Thus a period of frequent turnover ended, as the tannery stayed in the Beardmore family for more than half a century.

The Beardmore family had been associated with tanning in Ontario since 1840. George Beardmore was born in Islington, London, England, on February 16, 1818. At the age of 14 he sailed from Bristol to Canada. He returned to England in November 1838 in a bit of a quandary. He was a very religious young man and had considerable trouble reconciling his burning desire for wealth with his pastoral beliefs. April 1839 was a turning point, and he and his younger brother, Joseph, left for Canada.

In 1840 the two brothers built the first stone tannery building in Canada, in Hamilton. The foundation for the building was laid on March 31, 1840. The Beardmores worked hard and improved, expanded and created a successful leather business. On the night of July 11, 1840, disaster struck. The tannery was destroyed by fire.

Joseph Beardmore's health failed and he returned to England on April 15, 1846. He died at the age of 33 in 1852. Two years later George re-established himself in Toronto, where he engaged in business as a leather merchant and at the same time continued to supply the trade in Hamilton. He then bought a small tannery at Grand River which was later destroyed by fire. Next, he bought a tannery in Guelph. In 1865 he closed shop in Guelph and headed to Acton, where he purchased the Sessions, Toby and Co. tannery in 1865.

George Beardmore's four sons all followed him into the business and became partners. They were Walter D. Beardmore, 1849–1915; George W. Beardmore, 1851–1934; Alfred Beardmore, 1859–1946; and Fred Beardmore, 1871–1967.

The role a tannery played was extremely important to the economics of a settlement. The tannery was a great help to homesteaders who were clearing their land. The settlers felled hemlock trees, peeled their bark, and piled and delivered them to the tannery for cash during the winter months. The
Acton Free Press
once reported farmers bringing bark to the tannery at a rate of 20 to 30 loads at a time, by teams, in a long string, down the main street of Acton.

The hemlock spruce were not considered to have any other value before the Second World War, and whole stands of these trees were clear-cut just for the bark, the wood left in the bush to rot. The bark, on average, contained 8–10 percent tannin. This tannin solution produced a firm, quality leather with a reddish cast.

In 1872 a serious fire at the Acton tannery destroyed most of the buildings, but the Beardmores rebuilt immediately. By 1876 hemlock bark was in critical supply and the Beardmores decided to move their tanning operations to Bracebridge in the Muskokas. Mr. Charles Knees, a native of Sweden, took over the Acton tannery in 1877 and tanned horsehide for shoe uppers.

BOOK: Hidden Ontario
8.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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