Wyebridge: a Tiny Township Treasure
By Bonnie Reynolds
When traveling to the cottage, you might miss one of the treasures Tiny Township has to offer: the village of Wyebridge. Located on Highway 93, just a few minutes south of Midland, here you find a unique collection of places to shop, dine, play, stroll and design. A fun year-round destination, with a long and interesting history —
In 1859, Angus Grant named the village Macville after his father-in-law, Michael MacDonald, a retired Hudson’s Bay Company Officer. Very shortly after, when a bridge was constructed over the Wye River, the name was changed to “Wyebridge.” As settlers began to arrive, they started to cut down the huge timber – mostly pine and elm. The Wye River was not the quiet stream it is today and was swift and deep enough to allow logs to be floated out to the mouth of the river through what is now called “Wye Marsh.” From here they were either cut into lumber or loaded onto ships.
Wyebridge quickly grew from a tiny hamlet into a bustling village. Some of the early businesses were sawmills, flour mill, woollen mill, shoemaker, cheese factory, at times three hotels, pot and pearl ashery, two general stores, a tailor, harness maker, butcher, blacksmith, cooper shop (which specialized in making wooden sap buckets and barrels), and a post office. The village blacksmith would often double as a wheelwright and make or repair buggies, sleighs, cutters and wagons. Farmers from Elmvale, Medonte, Hillsdale, and all the way north to Lafontaine came to Wyebridge to have their wheat ground into flour. The Huronia Museum in Midland has two mill stones on the lawn which possibly were the very stones used to grind wheat in Wyebridge. Many of the original tools used in the village industries are on display in the museum, thanks to the generosity of area families.
Much of Wyebridge’s early history is known due to the meticulous diaries kept by Amos Arksey, a loan agent and appraiser for the Canada Permanent Loan and Savings Company (roughly 1880-1900). Arksey would record not only events concerning his own family, but also community happenings and topics of discussion at the general store and church. His diaries are still in private hands.
Another well-known area pioneer was Cevila McRae. Mrs. McRae and her husband Nelson, ran the general store (now the bright yellow building known as Mad Michael’s), post office and telegraph office. They set up shop in 1866 and carried on the business until 1915, when Nelson passed away. Mrs. McRae carried on until 1919, when her son-in-law, Fred Lummis took over the enterprise. The McRae store was the social centre of the community. When the telegraph, and later the telephone, were added to the store’s equipment, it was here the people gathered to hear the news of the outside world. On election nights the store was always jammed with partisans of both stripes, and many hot political arguments went on while the returns were being received over the wires. Nelson McRae was at one time Reeve of Tiny Township.
To give you an idea of what was available in the McRae store, one need only refer to the “Poetical Directory for North Simcoe” by A.G. Churchill, a commercial traveler and poet.
His grand supply on River Wye,
Is truly very splendid –
On shelves in store, from floor to floor,
And is politely tended;
Goods, every kind that are designed
for clothing men and women;
Keeps glass and delf upon his shelf,
All kinds of table trimmings;
Keep pork and flour that men devour,
Eggs, butter, cheese and fishes;
Keeps pepper, spice, salt, soda, rice.
Mugs, jugs and earthen dishes;
Keeps boot and shoe made clothing too,
For Tay and Tiny border;
Without fail, will handle mail
and telegraph to order.
(A copy of the Churchill “Poetical Directory” – with poems for many one-time local businesses — is available for reading at the Penetanguishene Centennial Museum.)
The educational, social and spiritual needs of the Wyebridge community were also met by a school, community hall (Orange), and two churches. As a point of interest, the “Orange Hall” was purchased by Frank H. (Franz) Johnston, famed member of the Group of Seven, in the 1940’s. Many of his well-known paintings were of scenes from the village. Many of the older residents still remember Franz Johnston and his equally talented son, Paul Rodrick. A plaque, noting the accomplishments of Johnston, was erected by the Province of Ontario and stands on the grounds of the former Johnston home.
As the settlement of Mundy’s Bay (now Midland) grew, aided by the fact it had a fine harbour and railway, Wyebridge began to decline in importance.
Today the focal point of the community is still the “Bridge” area. Strolling through the village, you can find a number of businesses located in primarily original buildings, offering everything from furniture and gifts to fine restaurant fare and ice cream cones.
No visit to Wyebridge would be complete without a visit to the Church of the Good Shepherd and Cemetery. Established in 1866, the Good Shepherd has been the spiritual and social home of many area residents. Much can be learned of the area history by reading the poignant and often touching epitaphs in the cemetery.
The Community Center, located at the northern end of the village, has a ball diamond, basketball court and picnic area. Feel free to kick up your heels here on Tuesday and Wednesday nights with line-dancing and ballroom dance classes. Often on a summer evening you can take in a ball game.
Enjoy exploring all that Wyebridge has to offer.