Any thinking person, with even just a passing knowledge of Canadian history, can’t help but be impressed by the rich and diverse tapestry, quilted together, that ultimately formed the sometimes fragile fabric of the country we know as Canada — ‘The true north strong and free.’
Unlike the ‘melting-pot’ philosophy which rules south of the border, the Canadian ethos was one in which cultural, ethnic and religious differences were accepted – with, unfortunately a few notable exceptions – but in the end, the sum of the parts made for a healthier whole. In fact, and despite the naysayers, multiculturalism was alive and well in Canada long before the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau, in typical politicalese, stated the obvious and adopted it as his mantra.
Ballinafad, as with much of the surrounding communities in Southern Ontario, came into being because of political and social upheavals in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.
The American War of Independence saw upwards of 100,000 people leave the American colonies to more familiar and comfortable British ruled territories. Roughly 10,000 people, including native peoples and black Americans, chose to trek north.
Ballinafad, a small community of approximately 800 which straddles Trafalgar Rd. North, is an excellent case in point.
The 32nd Side Road virtually splits the community in half. The northern half is in Erin Township, a part of Wellington County, while the southern half is claimed by Halton Hills, in Halton Region.
Its’ first recognized settler was of German (or what was then known as Prussian) origin, yet Thomas Merry, an Irish immigrant, is acknowledged as the person who gave the fledgling community its name - in an obviously post-partum nostalgic farewell to the place of his birth.
The rolling farmlands and forested enclaves that now surround the community, give little hint of the wilderness, which both challenged and threatened the original settlers.
The survey of the southern part of Erin Township started in 1819 and the Roszel brothers, Nathanieland George, in 1820, (inexplicably, a second ‘L’ was added to the family name by some bureaucratic gnome) are generally conceded to be the first white settlers in Erin Township and the founders of Ballinafad.
There are records, however, showing an Archibald Patterson settling on Lot 2, Con. 8, but other than that, this mystery-man settler has disappeared from the scrolls of that time.
The Roszell family, having fled Pennsylvania around 1800 to settle in the Niagara Peninsula near Smithville.
Nathaniel, George and two other brothers also fought in the 1812-14 war.
As United Empire Loyalists and veterans of the 1812-14 fooferaw with the incipient Americans – under General Sir Isaac Brock, it should be noted – the Roszells qualified for land grants from the Crown.
Drawn by lot and with no choice regarding their ultimate destination, married men were granted 100 acres, while single men got 50 acres. A codicil to the grant allowed for an additional 50 acres per child.
Nate Roszell, obviously, was a financial and land-conscious luminary well ahead of his time. He fathered 17 children, with two wives, effectively taking control of the land he settled and its future development.
Nathaniel and George arrived at Lot 1, Con. 7 on the Erin Township side in 1820. Eldrick, one of Nate and George’s brothers arrived in 1821 and settled on Lot.2, Con7.
Industrious fellows, the brothers cut a nine-mile path through the woods to Georgetown as both a supply route and barter passage for their farm goods.
This venture essentially established Ballinafad as a commercial hub and hinted that better things were yet to come. Other settlers moved into the area and their surnames proclaim the diversity the community displays even today!
Hilts, Johnson, Vannatter, Buck, Patterson, McLean, Sparrow and on down to Obediah Roy sprinkle the list of the hardy original settlers.
There was a 'sometimes passable, sometime not' road linkage from Guelph to Toronto (The Old York Trail) and it crossed from Crewson’s Corner to Ballinafad where it turned south.
In 1850, the Trafalgar, Esquesing and Erin Road Company plunked down a planked road from Oakville through Ballinafad and on to Brisbane. Business was a-booming.
Founding father Nathaniel – while business conscious – was also community conscious. He donated land to allow for a church, cemetery, school, Temperance Hall and a parsonage.
Nathaniel was a Methodist in his religious beliefs, but the fair number of Scottish immigrants in the area, Presbyterians, wished to worship in their own services.
One church, two similar yet different sets of believers, could have posed a problem! Simple solution! No sweat. The Methodists could worship in the morning and the Presbyterians in the afternoon and that’s how it was done until 1925 with the formation of the United Church of Canada. The two congregations agreed to stop bumping into each other coming and going and the United Church, still standing, came into being in Ballinafad.
As a confluence of various area road arteries, Ballinafad was humming.
Three hotels were established, the first owned by John Frank; James Kirkwood built a chopping mill and Daniel Reid and Peter Ferguson operated Blacksmith businesses. A stagecoach between Georgetown, Erin and ultimately Guelph, passed through Ballinafad.
No community worth its salt – or butter or lard or yeast, for that matter – can survive without ye olde General Store. And Ballinafad still has one! In the same location at the 32nd Side Road intersection, where it was first established in 1825 by brothers James and Thomas Stevens.
Postal service was started in the store in 1832 and continues through today under owner Nancy Berg.
The Ballinafad Women’s Institute was organized in 1905 and has played an integral part as one of the mainstays of the community. Although disbanded in 1905, it reorganized in 1952 and their Tweedsmuir Books – reflections and recollections of the community – are literally, worth their weight in gold.
It was the local Women’s Institute that was instrumentally responsible for refurbishing the old Town Hall in 1963 and also for the expansion creating a Community Centre in the late 80s.
In 1871, the population of Ballinafad was listed as 160. In 2001, its population is estimated at 800 and possibly rising due to speculative development proposals.
However, it was, and still is, an agriculture area based community. Despite being strategically located on Trafalgar Road North, Ballinafad couldn’tattract industry. It was water-starved!
Communities such as Guelph, Kitchener, even Georgetown and Glen Williams, were able to operate hydro-powered mills while the flatlands surrounding Ballinafad merely allowed for sustainable farming.
The 1909 Canadian Prohibition Act also helped scuttle the community hotels’ efforts to quench the thirst of wayward – perhaps even wavering – travelers.
But the texture of a community, its ultimate belief in itself, is alive and well in present-day Ballinafad.
Jim Bailey, 79, a woodworker / cabinetmaker, moved to Ballinafad 31 years ago from Toronto. Having served in the Canadian Air Force, he was allotted an acre plot under the Veterans Land Act. He just wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of city living.
He has been involved in coaching women’s’ softball for 21 years in Ballinafad, Hillsburgh and Acton and was instrumental in getting a ballpark built in the community.
Appropriately named, the Jim Bailey Park was opened in 1989 with financial help from the Town of Halton Hills, Georgetown Branch 120 Royal Canadian Legion and the Georgetown and Hillsburgh Lions and Lionesses clubs.
Ernie McEnery, 81, and his wife Irene, married 55 years, now Guelph residents, fondly remember the Saturday night shindigs at the local hall. "It cost 25 cents for a man to get in," chuckled Ernie, winking slyly at Irene. "If your date didn’t bring food for the potluck, she didn’t get through the door."
Gloria and husband Giuseppe (Sal) moved to Ballinafad in 1987 with their three sons, basically because of a good real estate deal. Stefano and Tanya Guidotti, with one girl and two boys, followed in 1989. Sal and Stefano’s mother and father, Silvano and Maria moved to Ballinafad in 1998 – Sal’s property was subdivided – and the three generations live within 10 minutes waking distance of each other.
"It’s a relaxing lifestyle out here," says Gloria. "The boys (ranging in age from 10-16) have the outdoors and friends their own age. You also don’t have the worry about their safety, as you would, say in a city."
Nancy Berg, who has owned the Ballinafad General store since 1993, echoes Gloria’s thoughts. She and her husband Ingo and their children (two girls and a boy) moved to Ballinafad from Brampton in 1987.
Nancy was working in Guelph, got laid off, and the same day, while collecting her mail at the General Store, saw the ‘For Sale’ sign on the property. The rest, as they say, is history, with much more to come, as the Berg family has no intention of moving anytime soon.
"We wanted someplace quieter for the kids, someplace safer, plus, I wanted a nice size house with yard room for the youngsters," said Nancy. "We looked at other areas, but this was the winner and still is as far as I’m concerned."
Different names, different cultural backgrounds, people working together to strengthen a community.
Check out Ballinafad!