“McGregor News” presentation packs community centre

 

 

By Ron Giofu & Jonathan Martin

 

A pair of events have been held recently in McGregor by the Town of Essex, but Amherstburg had some involvement in both.

The Essex Municipal Heritage Committee presented “McGregor News,” a presentation that explored the first 25 years of the Village of McGregor. The village is currently split between Essex and Amherstburg down Walker Road.

The evening had some Amherstburg involvement too, as it was held in collaboration with the Marsh Historical Collection.

After tours of St. Clement Church, people made their way into the McGregor Community Centre where retired librarian Nancy Brown made a presentation on the origins of McGregor along with events and people that shaped the community.

“The bulk of the information came from volume one of the McGregor News,” explained Brown. “McGregor had its own column in The Amherstburg Echo from 1875-1900.”

Timber was a big draw in McGregor’s early years.

“That was the big resource at that time,” said Brown.

Despite being a predominantly French village, it was named for William McGregor, whose background included being an Essex County warden and Member of Parliament.

After men such as Thomas Adair and Thomas Ouellette started buying up land in and around the “Walker Path,” now known as Walker Road, the timber industry started booming with Hiram Walker wanting lumber to build railway cars. Rail lines stretched from Walkerville to Kingsville. Sawmills also went up in and around McGregor, which was known for its tall trees.

During its first 25 years, McGregor had six butchers, two meat markets, three harness shops, five shoemakers, nine barbers, eight blacksmiths and much more.

“It’s hard to imagine there was so much activity back in those days,” said Brown.

While fires in 1881, 1890 and 1891 caused damage including the warping of train tracks, there was still much activity including the construction of schools and churches. An original wood framed church was built in 1880 while the current St. Clement Church was built in 1903.

St. Clement Church

“Just like today, there were fundraisers for things,” said Brown.

People would travel by train around the county going to picnics and dances and listening to debates and bands. Sometimes, attendance went into the thousands, Brown indicated.

Such clubs included bachelor’s clubs, the McGregor Council of Chosen Friends and many other groups.

One tale was about a seven-year-old girl fainting, and later dying, after seeing a large snake. Other people reportedly saw the same snake later on and Brown referred to it as “our own Loch Ness Monster.”

Brown used to work in the McGregor Library and came across materials from the village’s history. She became very interested in the area’s roots and got a lot of information from the Marsh Historical Collection.

Rita Jabbour, assistant planner with the Town of Essex, said the Essex Municipal Heritage Committee is the resource base for information and knowledge for Essex council, administration and the community on all matters of heritage.

McGregor residents from both the Amherstburg and Essex sides of the road took part in a recent community cleanup. (Special to the RTT)

“The Town of Essex is made up of four communities with distinct and unique histories. McGregor is unique in particular because it transcends the Essex and Amherstburg municipal boundary line. Guest speaker series, like the presentation with the Marsh Collection Society, is one of the ways in which the committee endeavours to communicate the rich history of those four communities. Speaker series also serve to shed light on important organizations and institutions, like St. Clement Parish and the Marsh Collection Society, which by their existence, preserve and communicate our local history.

Jabbour said they do not have a formal speaker series established; guest speakers are just one of the methods that the committee employs to communicate Essex history.

“We were very, very pleased with the turnout. The committee recorded nearly 150 people in attendance. I think this really speaks to the thirst in the community for information about our past and merits consideration of a speaker series,” said Jabbour. “The committee would like to work with the Marsh Historical Collection to organize a Part 2 to Nancy’s presentation in the future – hopefully with more chairs and food! In the meantime, the committee plans on unveiling two historical plaques this summer on the Colchester Reef and the founding of Harrow, in advance of Explore the Shore in July and the Harrow Agricultural Fair in August.

Those who attended the McGregor event are encouraged to contact the Town of Essex at 519-776-7336 ext. 1128 or rjabbour@essex.ca to suggest future topics for guest speakers.

A few weeks earlier, McGregor got a lot cleaner thanks to a community cleanup.

Richard Meloche, deputy mayor of the Town of Essex and Leo Meloche, Amherstburg town councillor and deputy mayoral candidate invited local residents to pick up litter from the Town of Essex’s four urban centres.

Around 50 people turned out for the cleanup, which more than doubles the 20 or so who showed up for previous years, according to Richard Meloche.

“I think a big part of it was Mrs. Ducharme and Mrs. Wood from Colchester North Public School, who decided to help out,” he said.  “They brought around 25 people just themselves.”

Altogether, the group picked up around 60 bags of garbage in a two-hour span.

“I was surprised and disheartened at the number of liquor bottles I found on the side of the road,” Leo Meloche said.  “I don’t like the idea of booze being that close to roads.”

Each volunteer was supplied with gloves and bags, which were purchased by the Town of Essex.  After the work was done, a free lunch was hosted for the volunteers by the McGregor Columbian Club, which Richard Meloche said was rented by the town at a discounted rate.  Leo Meloche said he would look into contributing financially to future iterations of the annual project.

“Amherstburg benefits from this too,” he said.  “It’s only fair.”

The Meloches agree that the benefits are definite and pronounced.  They explained that they like to see their communities get taken care of, but they love to see their neighbours coming together to make it happen.

 

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