It was in 1876 when Joseph Edwards journeyed from his native Wrexham, in Northern Wales to settle in the Ottawa Valley. Twelve years later he would settle in a small community in Northern Ontario called Nelsonville and in doing so he became part of our story.
Before he moved here, the Canadian Pacific Railroad completed its Algoma branch answering an obvious need for easier and cheaper transportation of both goods and people. The station was located near the Spanish River, the reason probably being that was how they transported people and goods before trains. It isn’t hard to imagine the anticipation that the pioneering people of 1886 must have felt as they saw the rails going down. Young people probably talked of all the far away places they were going to see. Mother’s thought of children they could visit and have come home with greater frequency. Maybe men tentatively considered a greater market base for their goods. Needless to say everyone thought of the great change the advent of the steel highway was going to bring to their lives.
Two years after the railroad came to town so did Mr. Joseph Edwards Sr. He was a section foreman for the C.P.R. and lived in a company (section) house where, with his crew he worked the Nairn section. According to the Sudbury Daily Star’s May 14, 1953 article of Nairn Centre by Albert Crick, the first two buildings here were the station (Nelson) and a section house (where for a time Mr. Edwards lived) built by the C.P.R. on their Algoma line. Mr. Crick goes on to say that basically these were the only two buildings in a forest of conifer and birch. Joseph Edwards, Sr. was married by this time and had at least two children, a boy called Joseph A. and a girl named Mary. The residents of Nairn Centre would later affectionately refer to Joseph Jr. as “Old Joe” who lived in the family home on Smith Street. In the above mentioned article, Mr. Crick, writes that by 1953 the original logs were covered with clapboard and insul-brick siding.
In 1896 the people decided to be formally recognized as a community. They would have to decide on who their first officials were going to be and since they had to pick a name for their town they decided to pick Nairn Centre.
In our introduction we told you about that cold Saturday afternoon of March 7th in 1896 when the first meeting took place.
This transcription of the last paragraph of the minutes of the very first council meeting will give you the flavour of that meeting.
“THE REEVE laid on the table the proclamation of the Hon. Fredrick W. Johnson, Judge for Algoma certifying that the Townships of Nairn, Lorne and Hyman had been duly organized and that A. Dever was duly elected reeve and that Richard Fensom, R.G. Lee, John Hall and Wm. Hunt councillors for the said Municipality and fixing Saturday the 7th day of March, 1896, at the hours of 2 o’clock in the afternoon, at the school house in the village of Nelsonville, for the first meeting of said Council”.
At this meeting their 6th by-law stipulated that future meetings would take place on the first Monday of each month at the Forester’s Hall (IOOF -Independent Order of Foresters) at eight o’clock in the evening. According to Albert Crick they would continue to meet here until 1905 when they changed their meeting place to Mr. McLean’s hotel. He writes that they met at the hotel until 1909 when they moved their meeting place to the jailhouse. It makes you wonder what happened to make them change their plans with regard to the Forester’s Hall that was still around until it burned circa 1916.
From about 1890 and for two decades into the next century the economic mainstay of this area was logging. Several companies operated in this area and river drives along the Spanish and Vermilion Rivers provided a great deal of local employment.
Around 1890 or 1891 the lure of gold brought John Hall north from Brockville. He decided that he could make more money with a store than panning for gold, so he built the first general store of logs at the present intersection of Hall and Front Streets. This appears to be where the first post office was also. Eventually the log building was sold to Felix Biglow, a lumber foreman, who moved it to Lot 12 on Hall Street at which time John Hall had a new, bigger building erected.
Research gives the following names as some of the lumber companies: E. Hall, Bell and W. J. Bell followed later by Sarnia Bay Lumber Company, Michigan Land, and Graves, Bigwood and Company.
During the lumbering days each company had its own warehouse on the siding of the C.P.R. from which the camp supplies were toted into the different logging operations. Mr. Albert Crick worked at one of these warehouses.
Logging didn’t just bring prosperity with it, there was violence as well. Loggers apparently played as hard as they worked. Here is a tale told by Albert Crick that will demonstrate just how hard they played.
“Some disgruntled woods foremen, having a grudge against a hiring agent, decided they would make said agent dance to their music – that is, they would shoot close enough to his feet to keep him dancing away from their bullets.”
Although this particular event took place at the new Klondike, fist fights as well as boot fights were common in all three hotels. So it isn’t hard to understand that in 1897 a by- law was passed limiting the number of hotels in town to just three. At times, you can bet even that might have seemed like three too many.