About thirty members of the Grey County Historical Society gathered in what used to be the 1868 General Store in Oxenden, three miles northeast of Wiarton on County Road 1. Baker, Kelsey Carriere welcomed the group. Her husband is restoring the building and bringing it back to life as The Rising Sun Bakery.
Kelsey spoke about the history of the old general store, while demonstrating her technique of making 16 loaves of organic bread filled with currents and/or nuts and seeds. The members later enjoyed sampling the loaves and the rest were quickly sold before everyone left the new bakery.
With the aroma of the baking loaves filling the room, historian and genealogist, Betty Siegrist, entertained the group with her memories of coming with her carpenter husband to this little out-of-the way community from London, Ontario in 1951. “We were as poor as church mice,” she related. The couple purchased the100 year-old house of tailor, John Flarity with its outdoor plumbing. They later built a more comfortable home behind it and then promptly tore down their first home.
The village of Oxenden started in the 1860s. Thomas Pettman settled on one side of its main street and registered his land as “Pettmanville” in 1873, while Thomas Reeve settled on the other side of Havelock Street and registered his land as “Oxenden” in 1875. “It wasn’t the most congenial community” and the stories of the antics of the characters and circumstances gave those present all a good chuckle.
The Gleason River runs through the village and flows into Colpoys Bay. No doubt this was one reason for settlement, although land sales did not open until 1872.
At one time, the village contained three Mills: Kent’s Grist Mill, James Hunter’s Flour and Feed Mill, built by Thomas Pettman in 1877 and David John Mallard’s Saw Mill. Mallard’s first mill was built around 1870 and eventually burned down. His son, William, built the second Mallard Mill and the dam.
Oxenden had two churches and two hotels. The Bible Christian Church was across from the cemetery. The Methodist, (later the United) Church was just north of the General Store.
The first Mallard Hotel was built in 1863 and sat on the corner, next to the Bible Christian Church, but in 1877 the hotel burned down. Not to be discouraged, David Mallard built a larger three-story hotel with a ballroom. It faced Colpoys Bay and one could buy a drink at five cents a glass. "In 1892," Betty said, “it providentially burned down when it was struck by lightening to the delight of the villagers.”
Thomas H. Reeve kept the General Store and Post Office from 1871-1890. His niece, Louise was the first telegraph operator. The store fronted on Havelock Street that runs parallel to Scott Street to the north, while Mill Road runs south off Havelock Street and bends toward the Bay where Mallard’s Mill was found. These three village roads all descend to the Bay. Some villagers earned a livelihood by fishing or working in Mallard’s Lumber Mill. At one time, the mill ran day and night with a crew of twelve.
Oxenden has two cemeteries. The earliest is dated 1863 and is on what was known as “old Sam Whitman and Jeremiah Collins’ place". The Oxenden Cemetery was not surveyed until 1882, despite having been used as a burial ground for 20 years. Rev. James Atkey was buried there in 1868.
The Orange Lodge stood west of the cemetery, where the Gleason Brook Pottery is now located. Across the road to the east was Kent’s Grist Mill and further east was SS #5, Keppel School.
Oxenden had two blacksmith shops. The one owned by Richard Walpole, just north of the Siegrist home, faced Grey Road 1. The Hunter Flour Mill was across from Smith Pottery. Years later, the mill was purchased and reduced to two stories and became a dance hall and snack bar that some will remember as, The Cascades.
Richard’s nephew, William Walpole built his blacksmith shop in 1896 to the west of the General Store on Havelock Street and combined wagon and sleigh making with his horse shoeing. The village had a tailor shop, a shoe repair business and a telegraph office, which was built in 1874. A few houses and barns completed the village.
Betty's colourful talk was amusing and informative. The group learned that there was more to Oxenden's history then most realized.
photo of Kelsey Carriere by Paula Niall, photo of Betty Siegrist supplied, article by Paula Niall