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Caledonia - Along the Grand River

Edinburgh Square

Edinburgh Square has held a certain aura for Caledonians throughout the existence of the town. One always knew that when noise was heard in the Square, something of importance was happening.

For many years Edinburgh Square was one of five planned squares. The first Horticultural Society, organized in 1910, planted many trees on Edinburgh Square some of which are still standing around the Cenotaph. Peonies once lined the avenue leading to the front step of the Town Hall. Ornamental shrubs and plants were also placed on the other four squares. Prior to the building of the Town Hall in 1857, Edinburgh Square was known as Market Square. Here farmer’s produce and meats were sold by vendors.

In 1864 a private school, housed in a frame building, began operation on the Square where the lawnbowling clubhouse is located today. This school was later moved to make room for weighscales and the village animal pound. Lawnbowling began in H.B. Sawle’s backyard on Sutherland Street. By the turn of the century a green was being laid out at its present location in Edinburgh Square.

One block west of Argyle, paralleling the east side of Edinburgh Square, was Glasgow Square. The other three village squares were on the south side: St. Andrews Square at Stirling and Argyle Streets, then known as Dumfries; Greenock Square at Perth and Selkirk and Paisley Square on Peebles Street just north west of Kinross.

A Drill Hall was built by the Caledonia Rifles on Glasgow Square in 1866. It opened November 22, 1867 as Glasgow Hall. A few years later it was moved to Edinburgh Square’s northeast corner as the drill hall for the Caledonia Agriculture and Art Society’s annual Caledonia Fair to exhibit grain and produce. From 1872 to 1876 the annual Fair was held on Edinburgh Square. The Drill Hall was then moved to the present fairgrounds where it remained until 1924 when the arena was built. Today the Square is used at Fair time to park cars.

Little league baseball is still played at the Square. However, at one time Edinburgh Square’s baseball diamond was the only one in town and huge crowds came to watch hardball at its best. Over the years tennis, lacrosse, boxing, skating on an outdoor rink and football have been played on the Square. Rodeos and a popular annual circus also were held on this popular location. Until 1950 Garden Parties were held there during the July 1 celebrations. Those holiday events usually included an all-day baseball tournament which continued until Garden Parties were relocated to the Band Shell in Kinsmen Park on the west side of town.

The Square was also the centre for political rallies. Many political platforms were aired there to the large crowds who gathered to hear and discuss issues of the day. In the days before television this was the only chance for voters to see and hear the Party Leaders and politicians of that era.

Today Edinburgh Square’s baseball diamond is one of five busy diamonds in Caledonia. The lawnbowling green there remains the only one in town. The Cenotaph each year draws large crowds for the November 11 Remembrance Day services. The number of cars parked on the square the first weekend in October indicates how large the crowd is for the annual Caledonia Fair held just east of the square on the fairgrounds. Some years an outdoor ice rink during the winter months attracts hockey and skating enthusiasts from all parts of the community. Edinburgh Square is indeed a year-round centre of activity in Caledonia.

The Old Town Hall

The Town Hall opened for its first council meeting on January 18, 1858. The architect was John Turner, a well-respected businessman and citizen of Brantford who had come to Canada from Great Britain in 1839. Turner was responsible for the design and construction of many fine public and commercial buildings erected across Southwestern Ontario between 1850 and 1886. Some of his building achievements include court houses in St. Thomas and Simcoe and churches, such as St. Basil’s Roman Catholic and Park Baptist in Brantford. John Turner died in Brantford in 1887.

The Town Hall soon became the centre of the community. The basement housed the jail and a meat market. Stalls were set up for butchers to carry on business inside the "Caledonia Market House", advertised to be open everyday except Sunday. Until 1955 the main floor held the apartment quarters for the town’s constable. The Constable’s wife was expected to serve meals to the prisoners, who were usually locked up for drunkenness.

The town’s character of the 1930’s was a frequent guest in the jail. The story is told of this fellow who as a young lad knew the Bible well and wanted to be a preacher. He didn’t fulfill his ambition, but instead cleaned septic tanks for a living and became a habitual drinker. One day during a spring flood, he was seen sitting in front of his house on the river bank just west of the bridge with a bottle of spirits in hand while the Grand River rose around him, singing in a loud voice "Rescue the Perishing". He was rushed off to jail where, it was said, he always enjoyed his stay.

The top floor of the Town Hall was used by Council for meetings and as a hall for social events. Happenings as diverse as Chautauqua Shows, concerts, wrestling matches, court hearings, short courses and W.I. meetings were once held here. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides had weekly nights for group meetings. A library was housed on the upper floor as well. In 1917, the year women first got their vote, a polling station was located there. Some senior Caledonians still remember that landmark day for Canada.

After 1955 Council meetings were held on the main floor. Other than a place for the Public Utilities administration, Red Cross storage and a lawn bowling clubhouse, the Town Hall became relatively inactive. It stood almost vacant after Regional Government took over municipal affairs in 1974. At that time all administrative activities and Council Meetings were moved to an administration building in Cayuga.

Never had there been such an eruption of public outcry as in 1974 when it was suggested the Town Hall should be torn down to make room for parking facilities. Although the Public Utilities office had remained in the building, essentially it was unused and needed many repairs. However, as a consequence of the public uproar over the suggestion of demolition, the Town Hall was saved. On January 25, 1982 it was designated as a Heritage building, on its way to becoming a museum, ensuring its place of pride and usefulness in the community.

The Town Hall’s exterior was given a complete facelift, including wheelchair accessibility. During a colourful ceremony in September of 1983 a replica of the original cupola was lifted to its rooftop. A fundraising committee was established the following year to begin the long arduous trek toward renovating the inside in preparation for its becoming a museum. It would not be until the spring of 1988 that the old Town Hall was finally reopened, this time as the Edinburgh Square Heritage and Cultural Centre.

Today the main floor holds a display room for the historical artifacts of years gone by, along with office and washroom facilities. The modem staircase has been relocated to make the basement and the third floor area easily accessible. The meat market found years ago on the basement level is now a work area for preparing artifacts for display. As well, a gift shop has been included in this area. The "public lock-up" jail cell remains as a remembrance of the Town Hall’s beginning. Even the monstrous safe has been kept for storage of valuables.

The third floor is once again a meeting room for community events. A small kitchenette and the Gillespie Clark Library Resource Centre is filled with books and documents containing town history. Here the Grand River Sachem newspaper files from 1856 to the present day can be researched in the library. A piano has been donated by The Music Teachers Association and placed in the meeting room for small concerts and recitals. Currently the Edinburgh Square Heritage and Cultural Centre is administered by The Town of Haldimand, a Board of Directors, a Curator, Barbara Lang Walker and an enthusiastic group of volunteers. It is a proud symbol of the achievement of a heritage-minded community.

The Landmark The Caledonia Bridge

More than sixty years old, this symbol of Caledonia was said in 1927 to be the first reinforced concrete arch bridge ever built. Today it is recognized as the only nine-span bridge of its kind in Canada.

Built by the Department of Public Highways of Ontario, its contractor was the Randolph Macdonald Company Limited of Toronto and the designing engineer was A.B. Crealock from the Ontario Department of Public Highways. Work was completed in just one hundred and forty working days from June 7th to November 19th, 1927, a major feat of the time.

The bridge is 700 feet long with eight concrete piers and two concrete abutments. Each of the nine spans is 72 feet 7 inches (21.12 metres) long. The width is about 42 feet (12.5 metres) with sidewalk and hand-railing on each side. Its strength is attributed to the bow-string-type trusses. The bow strings are of reinforced concrete with square columns which support the spans. The foundations for the piers were excavated to solid ground rock and the concrete poured on this foundation.

A gala two-day affair was held to open the newly completed bridge. The celebration included a dance sponsored by the Caledonia Fire Brigade on that very mild Friday November evening. On Saturday, people from the district gathered on the bridge in the afternoon to hear provincial government officials pay tribute. The bridge was declared officially open at 3:00 p.m. when a pair of gold scissors used by T.J. Mahony, M.L.A. for South Wentworth, severed the wide white satin ribbon at the north end. A procession led by the Caledonia Citizen Band was the first to cross the new bridge and the first car to cross carried the wife of the contractor.

The crowd then adjourned to the Opera House to hear a program of laudatory speeches including one by B.E. French, Reeve of Caledonia, who declared the new bridge second to none in the province. Members of County Council, Town Council and other dignitaries moved on to the Union Hotel to conclude the festivities.

Just after the crowd had dispersed from the bridge location, a runaway horse couldn’t resist the attraction. The Sachem reported that R.J. Thompson was driving down Argyle Street in a democrat, sitting on a cream can and holding a gasoline engine, when the breeching strap on the harness broke. His horse panicked and couldn’t be stopped until it reached the other side of the bridge. No one was hurt, but spectators said the first runaway over the new bridge was a real John Gilpin ride.

During the summer of 1984 extensive repairs were made to the bridge to further strengthen the structure for today’s heavy traffic. Motorists continue to use the bridge despite the construction a year before of a bypass around Caledonia to lessen traffic passing through the town.

Former Bridges

There had been two permanent bridges built before the present bridge. The first was a sixty feet wide wooden structure, reinforced with steel plates. It had six spans, one of which was a swing section. Built in 1842, it lasted for only nineteen years until jams of ice floes and floating logs destroyed it during the spring thaw of 1861.

Temporary bridges were built between 1861 and 1875. Although the Halidmand Navigation Company still held navigation rights on the river there was little river traffic to warrant building a swing section on a new bridge. For a sum of $400 they agreed to dispense with this requirement. Consequently a new solid iron structure was built at a cost of $22,500 with a Toll House going up to pay the debt.

This 1875 bridge had six spans of 105 feet (32 metres) each supported by a cast iron bow-string truss manufactured at the Scott Foundry of Caledonia. It was built with a wood floor, a wooden wall on either side for protection and a six foot wooden sidewalk along the west side. A swing iron gate at the north end prevented drivers from passing through without paying the toll.

This bridge withstood the raging Grand River, in particular the spring floods, for fifty years. There are people who still remember the disaster that occurred at 3 p.m. on Monday, August 24, 1925. A large truck loaded with stone, driving from the south end reached the middle span only to have the span collapse behind it. The driver felt the rear of the truck tilt downward and instantaneously the air was filled with flying timber and iron. Truck, driver and span dropped into the river some 30 feet (9 metres) below. Somehow the vehicle remained upright when it struck the river bed. Miraculously, the driver was unhurt. He immediately jumped out of the truck to rescue a boy who had disappeared with the fallen sidewalk. Twenty children bathing in the shallow water under the fourth pier were uninjured.

When the span collapsed, it was described as "the bang that woke the town". Women at their clotheslines on that Monday afternoon wondered what had happened. Others busy with their summer canning were upset at having the gas go off. The gas main had been broken as a result of the collapse and there was some fear of an explosion. However, their concerns were unfounded and repairs took place very quickly. The span also was reconstructed and the bridge was reopened to traffic on September 3oth, 1925.

Negotiations immediately took place between the Provincial Government and County Council for the construction of a new bridge. The old one was demolished by the contractor to make room for the new bridge. During construction, in the summer of 1927, a temporary bridge was erected to the west of the construction site to accommodate the welcoming home of the Old Boys and Girls of Caledonia.

The Bridge Without A Reason

There is a small steel bridge in the Caledonia vicinity that will not wear out from use. This bridge is known today as Seneca Bridge, but was known previously as Black Creek Bridge. Located on the eastern outskirts of Caledonia in Seneca Park, it appears to be a bridge built without a reason, but the historic plaque placed there in 1989 stamps it as a heritage site.

Contractor Melvin Runchey constructed the steel rod structure for $1,400 in 1913. The Hamilton Bridge Works was paid $1,000 for steel structure material, J.H. Creighton was paid almost $100 for providing planking and the Caledonia Milling Company $114.50 for cement and lumber. Contractor Runchey offered his services for $100 per month and was paid $200.

Originally the old river road needed a bridge to cross Black Creek until 1950. The building of the new No. 54 highway led to the route of the creek being diverted to flow into the river west of the bridge. The bridge lost its purpose. If there is a reason for Seneca Bridge today, it is as a reminder of those days when travelling and the pace of life were not as hectic.

The Old Mill

The Old Mill is the only mill left. Today it stands to remind us of the early milling days in Caledonia. Its historic importance was recognized by the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC) in 1989 when it was declared a Heritage building. The Mill was built by James Little in the 1850’s to process wheat into flour. Considered to be the best example of an operational mill left on the river, it is a monument to the community’s beginning.

The Golden Horseshoe Antique Society was assigned by the Town of Haldimand to manage the restoration of the Old Mill. The Society has solicited co-operation from the York-Grand River Historical Society for this project. Although the inside remains untouched, the outside has been refurbished with paint and attractive lighting and the building has been wired for security.

Plans for restoration are extensive. The committee hopes to divert water from the Grand River into the millrace to re-activate the original power turbines which are still intact and operable. Some of the milling machinery had been removed by the Grand River Conservation Authority in 1980 to refurbish Apps Mill near Paris. However, the restoration committee, spearheaded by enthusiasts Fred Thompson and AIf Peart, has acquired most of the missing machinery from various sources.

Authentic Caledonia Milling Co. "Peerless" flour bags and "Peerless" flour barrel top labels were left in the Old Mill from the days of operation. The Restoration Committee presents laminated originals to those whose generous donations enable the restoration work to move forward. The Old Mill, situated just east of the Caledonia bridge, provides background scenery for photographers wanting to capture the heritage essence of Caledonia’s beginning.

Built To Take Tolls

The Toll House stands today as a reminder that once upon a time a toll was paid every time one crossed the Caledonia bridge. This substantial brick building, located in the downtown area at the north end of the bridge, was built in 1875 at the same time as the bridge. Constructed specifically as a residence for the Toll Keeper, it was used for this purpose until the late 1800’s. The County owned both the Bridge and Toll House and sold the right to collect tolls. The person who had the highest tender lived in the Toll House and, of course, made sure no-one passed over without paying.

In 1856 a warning was published that, "the travelling public may as well observe that nothing is to be gained by taking to the ice and avoiding the toll for the Bridge, spanning the River at this place. On Monday last a span of horses crossing the ice, broke through and were rescued with much difficulty. On arriving at the east side of the stream, the gatekeeper demanded the toll and we believe got it. Teamsters will please make a note and govern themselves accordingly.

Before tolls were abolished, the rate for a team of horses was 25 cents while a single horse return was 25 cents. Tolls were also charged for carriages, cows and oxen, sheep and swine. The Toll Keeper would shut the swing iron gate at the north end of the bridge at night to prevent drivers from passing through without paying the fee. However, before the new bridge was built in 1864, the Toll Keeper protested the poor condition of the old wooden bridge by refusing to make collections.

A small boy by the name of James Tutton died November 15, 1850 as a result of drinking whiskey he found in the former Toll House. He was only four years old. This may or may not explain a story that the present century-plus old house is haunted. Despite these tales, the Toll House has been privately owned for many years, and is still standing by the bridge along the banks of the Grand.

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