Rural Roots

The bell-ringers of Tiverton

The school bell rang from many locations over the years, but never from the school. And the townsfolk set their timepieces by it


Some towns used to let the folks know the time of day by blowing the fire siren. Others relied on the steam whistle of a local factory to wail out the hours. The blasts from the bells and whistles were a way of letting the people know when to stop for lunch, when to come in from playing or when work was to start.  

The town of Tiverton, Bruce County, relied on the school bell to keep them on time. It was a bell with a long history, which continues to the present day. This school bell rang from many locations over the years, but never from the school.

Father O’Connell – at rest in his own church

When his church burned down, the devoted priest hastened home from Ireland and started the work of rebuilding. And when he died, his parishioners buried him beneath the floor


One of the most unusual burials in Mount Forest was that of the much loved Catholic priest, Bartholomew Joseph O’Connell, who died in the winter of 1908 on his 64th birthday.

Father O’Connell served two periods in Mount Forest, first from 1876 to 1886 and then again from 1892 to 1908. He is remembered for endearing himself to the entire community by his warmheartedness to Catholics and Protestants alike.

Stan Morris, Mount Forest’s free spirit

He painted everything from roadside signs and truck lettering to local ladies in the nude. And he lived life just as he wanted


Stan Morris was an artist, a sign painter, trapper, free spirit, eccentric and man about town.

He studied art in New York City for seven years, then lived the life of a hermit, trapping and painting on his own in the New Liskeard area during the Great Depression. He sold his paintings far and wide, including many through Eaton’s and the Hudson’s Bay Company.

All for the love of a good car

They were noisy, cantankerous and hard to start, but those early customized automobiles inspired devotion from those who built and owned them


The late Nelson Moore always said you could never love a car like you loved a horse.

But, if it wasn’t love, then it must have been lust when those first cars started arriving in the early 1900s.

It wasn’t because they were easy to love. They were noisy, cantankerous, hard to start, and they did not obey commands such as Whoa! Gee! Haw! More than one farmer found that out the hard way during his first driving lesson.

Palmerston’s glory days of rail

The town’s old overhead railroad walking bridge still looms large as a testament to an era when the railroad was king


For most pioneer towns, proximity to a strong river was a prerequisite for settlement. In the case of Palmerston, it wasn’t a river of water that gave the town its start in the 1800s. It was a river of steel.   

For most towns, the railroad arrived after the town was already established and the train station was located on the outskirts of town. In Palmerston’s case, the railroad arrived first and the town grew up around it, leaving the train station smack in the middle of town. That caused some problems, especially for the kids.

High jinks at the Holstein Creamery

Though it wasn’t much to look at, its butter was out of this world. But watch out if the boiler blew!


Farmers would come from all around to the Holstein Creamery for buttermilk to feed their hogs.    Such was the case one well-remembered day in the 1940s when Bill Calder came with his team of horses and wagon. While waiting for the container to fill, Bill and creamery owner Rube Treleaven got into a hot argument as to who would win that night’s hockey game. Suddenly the whistle on the creamery boiler blew, signalling it had reached 80 pounds pressure. Away went the horses with Bill in hot pursuit, the buttermilk spewing everywhere up the main street.

Wally Holliday, Mount Forest’s legendary auctioneer

White shirt and suspenders were his usual outfit for a sale and, as often as not, he conducted his auctions from a perch in the back of his red Ford F150


An auction sale is never easy. All your precious stuff is laid out like so much meat on the counter. And the prices! Something that should have gone to the dump fetches a killer price and the family heirloom that was treasured for generations goes for a song!

“Go ahead regardless of the weather in the winter. The bidders will be there,” auctioneer Mike Heffernan of Damascus, Wellington County, used to always say. His keen sense of timing kept him in the auctioneering business for an amazing 47 years.

The annual ritual of sheep washing

Giving the sheep their bath before shearing was a job facing most farms as May 24 came around. And often the job fell to the kids


May 24 was always a good day for washing sheep. The kids were out of school and could be counted on to help drive the sheep to the creek or the pond. And it was often the kids who went into the icy water to deliver the scrub to the woolly creatures.

The washing was an annual ritual which preceded shearing. The cleaner the fleece, the better the price.

Parties, presentations and poems

Such was the way folks celebrated everything from weddings and anniversaries to farewell parties. And every community had its bard


It was the local custom for about 40 years, beginning in 1930, to honour newlyweds with a “presentation” or reception. It usually took the form of a card party or dance put on by the community in the local hall, maybe the agricultural hall, the Women’s Institute Hall or the Independent Order of Odd Fellows hall. Volunteers collected money from the neighbours – 50 cents to $2. This was used to buy a useful gift for the couple’s home. A washing machine often topped the list or a chesterfield or chrome table and chairs.

If the walls of Rae’s Barbershop could speak….

It held down a corner of Mount Forest’s Main Street for more than a century and it was where the ‘senators’ went to thrash out the affairs of the town


Most often, when you dropped into Rae’s Barbershop the “senators”’ would be leaning back on their chairs lined up against one wall. Rae’s was a place where the “old boys” met each day to thrash out the affairs of the community.

Their specialty was revisiting some decision or other by council. There was always plenty to be said, even if it was just about the weather. At centre stage was a man getting a shave or a haircut by the attentive town barber, Floyd Rae. Floyd was as careful with what he had to say as he was with the straight razor at his customer’s neck.