The Growth of Minden and Area (1885-1908)
In December 1885, black diphtheria raged through Haliburton. Almost half of the children in Haliburton County died during the winter months that followed. John Welch, one of Minden’s blacksmiths, was also a carpenter. He made so many coffins during the plague that he became the town’s first undertaker. His shop was located on the site where Monk’s Funeral Home is now standing.
Minden’s downtown had been completely rebuilt following the fire of 1879. The second of the town’s major fires struck early in the morning of July 29, 1890. It is believed that the fire started in a pile of old oil rags in the back of the Curry pharmacy building. There was still no fire department, but Minden residents used buckets of water to douse the buildings on the east side of Main Street and were able to contain the fire to the west. The doctor’s office, pharmacy and town library (all of which were located in the same building), Noice’s General Store, Dominion House, the post office, John H. Delamere Private Bank, and the Echo newspaper and printing office were all destroyed. There was only one injury, which occurred when Dr. Curry jumped from his roof to escape the flames.
Following the fire, James Thompson, the new owner of Dominion House, built the structure that still stands today. He renamed it Dominion Hotel and Tavern. Today it is not only the oldest building in downtown Minden; it is also one of the oldest hotels operating in Ontario.
Settled in 1860 and first known as Little Ireland, Gelert grew overnight with the arrival of the railway in 1878. By 1891, Gelert was a booming shipping centre for farm produce, cattle, and lumber. It was the closest rail station to Minden. Gelert with its surrounding area had a population of about 1,000 and was far more properous than Minden. But the lumber industry died out in the 1910s ,the farmers left in the 1920s, passenger rail service stopped in 1960, the post office closed in 1969, and freight rail service stopped in 1972. Today Gelert is just a step away from being a ghost town.
Thomas Ranson was hired in 1893 as a carpenter to construct a large, wood-framed building on the corner of Newcastle Street and Bobcaygeon Road. Fifteen years later, Ranson bought that building he had built years earlier and opened the Ranson House Hotel. Around 1920, Ranson House was renamed the Valley View Inn.
In 1894, there were nine schools in Minden, two schools in Anson, and six schools in Lutterworth. Students in these one-or-two-room schools used the Red Ontario Reader series and progressed by books and classes instead of grades. In the first year, children began with the primer and then worked through the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth books. Each book contained two classes (such as Junior Third and Senior Third) and it would normally take one year to finish each class. Senior Fourth was basically equivalent to Grade Eight so high school began with Junior Fifth. The other available textbooks were Arithmetic for Public Schools, The First Book of Canadian History, and Composition and Grammar. The books were printed by the T. Eaton Company and families usually bought them through the company’s mail order catalog. By the1930s, a primer cost four cents and a fourth book cost sixteen cents.
During the school year, the teacher would normally be invited two or three times for supper at each student’s home. These visits helped parents to keep track of their children’s progress.
Country children learned to shoot at an early age and it was common for nine-or ten-year-old boys and girls to have their own shotguns. Some children brought their guns with them to school. During the day, the guns would sit unloaded by the teacher’s desk. On the way home, the shotgun could be used to supply the family with a partridge supper—or scare away inquisitive animals.
By 1901, Minden Township had approximately 1,170 working farms.
Robert B. Nevitt, an Anglican minister, worked as a summer replacement in 1905 and 1906 for the regular Minden minister. He most likely stayed at the Clergy House. Ernst, Robert’s son, and Thilde Nevitt purchased lots #18 and #19 out of the original 30 lots in the South Bob Lake Association in 1957. Thilde was an internationally renowned weaver. In 1968 she founded the Haliburton School of Fine Arts and in 1979 founded a permanent gallery for the Guild of Fine Arts in the Rail’s End Art Gallery in Haliburton village. Ernst became association president and for many years was very involved with the political affairs of Bob Lake.
In 1907, the wooden bridge across the Gull River was replaced by a new steel bridge. The newly-formed Women’s Institute of Minden purchased the first three of the town’s street gas lights, and Alf Langdon became the town’s first lamplighter for which he received an annual salary of $15.
Alf was also a master carpenter and boat maker, and later that year he opened Minden Boat Works in the former Eastman’s Blacksmith Shop on Bobcaygeon Road. During his career, Alf’s business built steamboats, alligator logging boats (as shown at the top of this chapter), motor launches, and thousands of wooden canoes and skiffs. Larger boats were moved on rollers down to the Gull River to be launched. The company also made wooden pews for six county churches, including the United and Anglican churches in Minden. In 1947 Alf retired, and the shop closed a few years later. The building eventually became Sunny’s Variety Store, which closed in 2010 and was subsequently demolished.
Beside the Burnt River on the edge of the village of Donald, the Donald Wood Products Company was constructed in 1908. Nicknamed “the Chemical,” the company produced wood alcohol, acetate, and charcoal from maple trees. In 1914, the plant was taken over by Standard Chemical Company. The business was one of the largest employers in the county, with 60 people working inside the plant and 300 outside workers. Due to the high cost of transporting the wood, the plant was closed in 1946. The building skeletons, although overgrown, can still be seen today off the Gelert Road about a half-kilometre down the Donald Road.
In 1908, Albert Jones, who owned the Minden Hotel, brought the first car, a Stanley Steamer, to Haliburton County. Since wagon roads would not be improved until the 1930s, cars were unable to travel during the winter months. During the summer, it was a common sight to see a team of horses pulling a broken-down car.
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