London Free Press, July 6, 1935 p.49
Shakespeare Village boasted population of 400 in best days
Perth Settlement faded with building of railways, was originally known as Bell's Corners
The village of Shakespeare, located seven miles east of Stratford and 18 miles north of Woodstock, although not settled as early as some parts of Perth County, has an interesting history and , according to pioneers, was at one time a busy center. In the days when emigrants of the thirties were passing through the district on their way to the rich lands of the Huron tract, few cast a favorable eye on the Shakespeare area as the land in the immediate vicinity was low and not considered suitable for cultivation.
In 1846 David Bell, of Dumfries Scotland, settled on the north side of the corduroy road passing through Ellice, and later Donald Robertson took up land on the south side. These Scotchmen erected log shanties on what was later known as the main street of Shakespeare. Soon others in search of land halted here and the hamlet was known as "Bell's Corners." William Cassey became the first postmaster. It is believed the name "Shakespeare" was suggested as the neighboring town was known as Stratford.
About ten years after the opening of the post office the village boasted of a population of 400, the business places consisting of a mill, a tannery, a pottery, a carriage factory, a cabinet factory, a cooper shop, a tin ship, four shoe shops, five general stores, two tailor shops, three blacksmith shops, and three hotels. The Presbyterians erected a church which seated 400, the cost amounting to $1,600. Five years later the inhabitants numbered 650 and it became a very important marketing center. Prior to the building of the railroad farmers from the north came to Shakespeare with their grain and more wheat was sold at this point than in Stratford.
The early settlers in the vicinity of Shakespeare paid about $2 an acre for their land but were allowed ten years to pay for it in cash or in labor on the road. The first highway leading to Stratford being a chopped road, settlers were employed in laying the corduroy road. In the days when there was a track through the forest which served as a road many settlers walked with a bag of grain over their shoulder to Galt, 35 miles distant. Here necessities for the home were secured and stock for the farm was purchased.
A story is told of one settler who walked to Galt to buy a bushel of potatoes, the crop having proved a failure in the Shakespeare district. ON returning he found the River Nith impassable, as there had been heavy rains and as it was impossible to wait until the waters had subsided, he devised a method unique indeed. Walking along the bank until he reached the narrowest point, he took the potatoes from the bag and pitched them across the river one by one. He then removed his clothing an placed it in the potato bag. Holding the sack above his head by some means he swam across, dried himself with the sack, put on his clothing, gathered up the potatoes and put them back in the bag.
Grain at this time was hauled to Galt or Woodstock, but owing to the hills a very light load was all that could be managed. On the return trip the following day supplies for the neighborhood were brought back, Donald McTavish's farm serving as the station from which the farmers secured the necessities.
In those early times the Provincial Government offered prizes to farmers for the best kept farms. George Hyde, who was a splendid farmer, received the gold medal for the best farm in Ontario. The Hyde family later moved to Stratford.
David Trachsel, a Swede, erected many of the frame buildings in Shakespeare. The pioneers brought with them in to the district their spinning wheels and cards, carrying on their own weaving, and manufacturing all the clothing in the home. There was a light wool used for underclothing, and a heavier wool for homespun suits.
In the first log school erected there were over 100 pupils enrolled, the McCallum family being prominent pupils of this one- room academy. Perth County having always been noted for its interest in education,the township boasted of five libraries, all the volumes being non-fiction. These books were exchanged each year and in this manner every family had access to the best literature and an appreciation of the finest works was early developed.
One of the early preachers of the district was Rev. Daniel Allen, of Stratford, who traveled [sic] on horseback through the settlement, preaching at Woodstock in the morning, North Easthope in the afternoon, and in Stratford at night. Pioneers in the Shakespeare district frequently walked barefooted to Stratford to attend divine service. Carrying their shoes and stockings in their pockets, they put these on before entering the church. Communion service continued for four days at this time, many coming from Zorra and remaining with friends.
The building of the railroad, a boon to certain parts of the country, proved disastrous to Shakespeare as it was no longer necessary for farmers to come to the village with their produce, the markets of the larger centres being open to them. For several years the village stood still, but in recent years with the opening of the splendid paved highways, the place has taken on new life and today the village of Shakespeare is known to thousands of tourists from all parts of Canada and United States.
Meg Fuller Perth County Coordinator
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