150 years of West Guilford
By Sue Tiffin
Decades before longtime Haliburton Echo correspondent Eleanor Cooper wrote about the happenings of West Guilford there was a place in the newspaper to share bits and pieces of information about people who lived in the hamlet.
“Miss Phyllis Little of West Guilford was the winner of the fruit cake raffled recently at Hay & Co., Kennisis Lake,” reads one clipping from the archives, noting the “hearty response to ticket sales netted $50.25.”
“Miss Hattie Stamp spent a week in Toronto visiting relatives,” reads another.
“Tom Barry has had a long siege with his broken leg,” reports another. “However, he is to have the cast removed in a few days and hopes to be able to resume his studies at the Haliburton High School before long. We hear that he has become a pretty expert cribbage player during his long confinement.”
And in local traffic news, “On Sunday, churchgoers on the River Road saw a string of cars held up, while one of their number sat crosswise on the slippery road.”
The archives, and Cooper’s work today, record the stories of the community that celebrates its 150th year in 2019.
According to Place Names of Ontario, written by Alan Rayburn, Guilford was named in 1861 for the borough of Guildford in Surrey, England. William Overton was 25, Francis Coates was 26 and George Kelso was 30 when they were listed on the assessment rolls as the first three settlers in West Guilford in 1869.
The community was brought together in tragedy in 1909, when a triple drowning accident was reported on “Keneese” Lake, on June 14. An article in the Fenelon Falls Gazette reports that on June 14, friends of Robert H. Cruickshanks Jr., Edmund McGuire, and Archie Bird were “mourning the loss of three noble-hearted young men of West Guilford.” They had headed out for Dorset by way of the Keneese Lake canoe route.
“Apparently all went well until this lake, which is a very large one, was reached, when it would appear that their canoes filled,” reads the article. “No one knew of the accident at the time, and no search was made till after it was learned that they had not reached their destination and none had seen them. As they were all active young men it was yet hoped that they were safe, but no time was lost in making a search, which disclosed the fact that all were drowned.”
Cruickshanks and McGuire had been married to sisters.
“The young men were all raised in West Guilford, their parents, brothers and sisters are there, and nearly every home in the community is in mourning,” reported the paper.
But the community came together for good times, as well.
In the ’50s, the “Tag Alder Gardens” ice rink was used for figure skating and hockey by residents, including Ron Stackhouse, who went on to play for the NHL. Bernie Nicholls, too, skated at Tag Alder Gardens before his own NHL career.
Nowadays, attractions like Abbey Gardens or the Lakeside Golf Club draw visitors to the area, but from 1909 until 1925, a half-mile racetrack on George Barry’s farm in the area brought in a crowd.
“It was a huge attraction and people would come from places like Fenelon Falls and Lindsay to race their horses – which doesn’t seem like far today, but considering what the roads were like back then...” said Kate Butler of the Haliburton Highlands Museum.
Guilford Boy, a local horse, won races throughout the province, and broke track records in the United States on a trip there with Barry and Jimmy Powell, the horse’s trainer.
According to Nila Reynolds’ In Quest of Yesterday, Barry and Powell, “travelled widely with the ‘Guilford Boy,’ whose speed and proud carriage made him a crowd pleaser at races and fall fairs all through Ontario. He collected a trunk full of ribbons as the best animal in his class. The trio even spent three months on the American racing circuit where the ‘Guilford Boy’ established some new track records. After six or seven years, the ‘Guilford Boy’ was kicked on the stifle and died from infection. George Barry did not long survive him and with their passing the Guilford races were held no more.”
From horse racing to the Hillman, the Haliburton Highlands museum has a reproduction photo of Jimmy Cooper’s garage in downtown Guilford, taken likely in the 1950s.
“The building is nondescript – it appears to be stucco over cement block construction; it bears no signage,” said Steve Hill, describing the photo. “However, Jimmy Cooper is pumping gas from a Texaco pump into a customer’s car.” Hill believes that Cooper sold the Hillman, an English car.
“They were popular in Canada after World War Two, say from the 1950s into the early ‘60s as I recall.”
Carol Stamp notes she wasn’t born in the area but area phone numbers roll off her tongue and she casually refers to Guilford, like a local. She started visiting the area in ‘72, and was married in ‘75.
“We always went to the dances, they used to have a monthly dance in West Guilford, and if you didn’t get your ticket halfway through the month, you didn’t get in because it was full,” she said. And then, laughing: “At that time, Gerald Bain’s dad, Clarence Bain, sold the tickets. He kept them in his pocket, so you had to catch him around town to get a ticket or you didn’t get going.”
For many years, Stamp volunteered on the committee that made Canada Day happen, and she still helps organize a nomination for Citizen of the Year. Past winners have included Mac Prentice, the last principal of the school in West Guilford, Gerald Bain and George Nicholson who ran a horseshoe tournament for years, Bill Burden, Kathleen Owens, Nancy Brink, Stackhouse and Nicholls – even Stamp herself, who was nominated unbeknownst to her.
The award goes to someone who is community-minded. “It’s what you’ve done for your community,” she said. An announcement of the year’s recipient of the award takes place at the Canada Day celebrations.
The inaugural West Guilford Canada Day event was held in 1980, and now hosts hundreds of attendees.
“What we started it for was to have a free day for parents to take their kids and have fun,” said Stamp. “We encouraged everyone to bring their own picnic lunch for their families.”
Stamp said in the past, generations of families would attend the celebration.
“Families used to come, extended families,” she said. “They would all gather around picnic tables, the Sissons and the Stamps, and ... just every big family in Guilford would bring all the kids, the grandparents would come.”
For years, Stamp said there was maybe just one rain day in the decades of celebration, though the last few years have had some “iffy” weather reports. But still, people come out for the day.
“We’re all very close, we all know what’s going on, pretty much, even though there’s new people coming in, they’re still welcomed in the community,” she said, and spoke of seasonal residents making the move to full-time: “Once you get West Guilford in your blood, you don’t get it out,” she laughed. “It’s a neat little community.”
The 39th West Guilford Canada Day and 150th town anniversary celebrations take place July 1. They include a pie baking contest and pick-up hockey with Nicholls, as well as the annual Horseshoe and Pine Lake swim at 10 a.m. (registration at 9 a.m.), the Highlands Concert Band, field races, a scavenger hunt, bouncy castle, water games, a mud pie contest, tug of war, a roast beef dinner at 5:30 p.m. and fireworks in the evening. Prizes will be awarded to the “best red and white,” and the best decorated bike.
with files from Kate Butler, Adele Espina, Steve Hill and Hannah Sadlier