To state the obvious; we all have a "pride of place!"
This "pride of place" can transmute into either the place we were born, the community we grew up in, or the community we finally chose to snuggle up in to raise our families because of the security blanket-like sense of well-being, it provides us with.
The town of Erin, straddling Highway 24 (originally the Erin-Eramosa Road), in Erin Township, Wellington County, might well qualify in all the above categories.
Located close to the Credit River, some still refer to Erin as a village. But with an encompassing population hovering around four thousand, the designation of "town" might be more accurate.
While it might not be considered particularly newsworthy to the people who control our print and broadcast outlets, Erin could quite easily be described as a Canadiana vignette. It is a mini-portrait of how small Canadian communities were born, grew, prospered, suffered setbacks, and eventually came to the gritty realization that to survive, the community must look inward for its true strength of self.
Some reports suggest that explorer Samuel de Champlain might well have been the first white man to tentatively venture into what we now know as Wellington County. However, Samuel didnít hang around too long, as he had other canoes to paddle.
The 1700ís proved a tumultuous time in Canada, and in Ontario. The 1791 Canada Act (also known as the Constitutional Act), created Upper and Lower Canada, which later became Ontario and Quebec.
Wellington County was part of Home District, originally Nassau District, as Upper Canada was sliced hither and yon.
There was unrest in the British colony. It soon became apparent that the reins of a centralized British-style governance had to be loosened for the fledgling Canadian colony to survive. This was especially evident after the ill-planned, and some say misguided, Mackenzie-Papineau Rebellion of 1837.
Wellington County Council, with representations from the various townships including Erin Township, met for the first time on January 23, 1854, at the Guelph Courthouse. As the story goes, Erin was the name adopted for the township to give a more well rounded British flavour to the area.
Neighbouring townships such as Albion, (an ancient name for England), and Caledon (for Scotland), were cementing their British roots. Thus the name Erin, reflecting Irelandís fabled past, came about. Ironically, Erin Township and the community of Erin itself were settled for the most part by people of Scottish ancestry.
Erin Township settlers were of a curious but hardy mix. Some were United Empire Loyalists, some had fought in the War of 1812, others were British soldiers yearning for a safe haven after duty in the Napoleonic wars, while others had emigrated from Britain and Europe to escape the class systems, which still predominated.
The Village of Erin was incorporated in 1879 when a by-law was passed by Wellington County Council. It stated:
"By-law to erect the Village of Erin and neighbourhood into an incorporated village by the name of Erin Village." Richard Hamilton was the communityís first reeve.
Drifting back in time, however, the founding fathers of Erin Village are recognized as the McMillan brothers. Daniel, Hugh and Charles (Scottish immigrants), settled in Erin Township in 1824. In 1832 they cleared three acres of land, and essentially built the community we now know as Erin.
The brothers, with Daniel showing the way, built two sawmills, a grist mill and a flour mill. They also encouraged other area settlers to join with them in building a town in the veritable wilderness.
When new settlers moved into the community, the McMillan brothers helped in putting up houses.
The original name of the community was MacMillanís Mill (the intrusive "a" is probably attributed to a bureaucratic error). The name Erinsville was adopted in 1851 and eventually was shortened to Erin.
Daniel suffered a tragic and untimely fate in December of 1849. A sliver had pierced one of his fingers. Nowadays this is something we might consider a minor medical mishap. Unfortunately, Daniel developed blood-poisoning and died three days later at the young age of thirty-eight.
What is now known as the Erin Pioneer Cemetery was formerly called McMillanís Cemetery, and contains the headstones of a number of early settlers, including that of Daniel McMillan. The cemetery is located just above Erin on lot 8, concession 9.
Alexander McLaughlin, an immigrant from Scotland, operated a tailoring shop in Erin for twenty years. He was a noted Gaelic poet and also a friend of Daniel McMillan. Upon Danielís death, McLaughlin penned a poem about his friend. Entitled, " A Backwood Hero". The first few lines are as follows:
yonder ancient willow weeps,
The Root family has had a predominant presence in both the history of Erin Township and Erin. Of German descent (the family name was originally spelled Rueth), the patriarch, Henry, left what we now know as the United States in 1799.
His son John settled in Erin Township in 1826, and Johnís oldest son Robert developed the property with painstaking care. The Root family has kept up this tradition. Robert Root established a wagon shop in Erin in 1852.
The Root family also believed in public service. Descendant John Root served as the Wellington-Dufferin MPP, under Premier Leslie Frost in the early Ď50s. He was later appointed to the Ontario Water Resources Commission.
It is recorded that a Miss Caldwell opened the first store in Erin in 1836 and that William Cornock, at the urging of Daniel McMillan, opened a distillery in 1839 which also served as the areaís first post office (Iíll get the mail, honey, but donít wait up!). S.L. Shotter is recognized as opening the first General Store in Erin.
In 1851, the village had a population of three hundred, two grist mills, two oatmeal mills, a distillery, a carding and fulling mill, a tannery and a church open to worshippers of all denominations.
A trunk railway line, operated by the Credit Valley Railway Company (taken over by Canadian Pacific Railway in 1883), was opened in 1879. It linked the small communities of Erin, Orton, Hillsburgh and Belwood to Elora, and through different branches to Orangeville, Guelph and ultimately, Toronto.
It provided valuable market transportation to the communities for both their mill products and farm goods. In fact, the influx of railway workers working on the line and living in the community allowed for Erin powers-that-be to apply for village status based on population size.
The railway operated for nearly 100 years in the area, but the improvement of highway infrastructure combined with the astonishing advances in the air industry eventually sounded its death-knell. Deserted rail beds still dot the area, but one in particular has been put to good use.
The Elora Cataract Trailway, just skirting Erin, follows an abandoned CPR rail bed!
This forty-seven kilometre multi-use facility is open throughout the year. It originates in Elora and ends near the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park. The Grand Valley Trail passes along a section of the Trailway and the Bruce Trail can also be accessed at the Forks of the Credit Provincial Park.
As befits, a prosperous and growing community, Erin once boasted five hotels: The Station House destroyed by fire in the early 1900ís; The Queenís Hotel, destroyed by fire in 1912; the Clark House, which became a butter-making business and home to James Hamilton; the Globe Hotel, destroyed by fire in 1945; and the Busholme Inn. The Busholme Inn is the sole survivor on its original site, but it is now called the Rob Roy.
Without the mills to provide employment, quite a number of the communityís workers drifted off to Guelph, Toronto and Hamilton, seeking work.
There was still however, a core of believers in the community whose affiliations have held steadfast to today.
The Erin Agricultural Society was formed in 1850 and continues uninterrupted into the twenty-first century, with its annual Fall Fair scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend.
The Erin Womenís Institute was organized in 1905 and is still thriving.
The Erin Horticultural Society was organized in 1922 and is still going strong.
The Erin Legion, Branch 442, Royal Canadian Legion, received its charter on February 19, 1947, with the Ladies Auxiliary receiving its charter in 1958. The Wellington Masonic Lodge in Erin, first established in the 1890ís, is still providing its good services to the community and area.
The Erin District Lions Club received its charter on April 26, 1951, and pardon the clichť, "is still going strong!"
All of these organizations promote respect for the individual and respect for the community. Sports and other life-defining experiences are geared to the youth of the community, and also to the community as a whole.
Although somewhat of a latecomer to the community, Fred Steen might well epitomize what dedication to the community is all about. At a hale and hardy 89 years, he is both the owner and scion of Steenís Dairy. Call the dairy almost any time, and 90 percent of the time Fred will answer the phone. His work week has never been counted in hours or days, but in what has been accomplished.
Relative newcomers, the Steen family arrived in Erin Township in 1915, having trekked from Streetsville to take up farming.
He immediately changed its name to Steenís Dairy and both the Dairy and Fred have, in a sense, come to represent Erinís resilience and its will to survive. Steenís Dairy employs twenty-eight people and services businesses throughout south and southwestern Ontario.
Fredís son, Tom, is in charge of sales, and son, Ken, schedules the truck routes. Fred is a charter-member of the Erin Lionís Club, serving as its first treasurer and he has also served a term as its president.
Time, as some wayward philosopher
once noted, is yours to use or abuse.
With its surrounding hills, vales, glens and greenery (borrowing from its Scottish founders), and indicative of its Irish name, it is an emerald to be discovered! The shops in and around the community offer a veritable cornucopia of treasured goods. The Theatre at Erin Centre 2000 offers productions worthy of Toronto stage sets.
Erin is a community with a strong inner core. That is what has allowed Erin to survive!
Itís this same strong inner core in small communities that has been Canadaís backbone, it is also what has allowed Canada to survive.