Life in Brussels, 1892 style - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
Let’s turn back the calendar until we get to July of 1892 in Brussels. The only thing hotter than the weather that month was the desire to own a bicycle.
There were two merchants offering them for sale. A. Cousley had recently sold “Brantford” bicycles to Dr. McNaughton, T. Rutledge, Ross Bros., and W. Bright as well as retaining one for himself. The “Humber” agent, Jas. Ballantyne, had sold “wheels” to J.T. Pepper, A.C. Dames, J.C. Tuck, J. Hewitt and Walter Smith. Every evening there were expositions of cycling given on the Driving Park half-mile track (where the Brussels Agricultural Park was once located, west of Turnberry Street just north of the railway line).
Throughout subsequent weeks, some of these bicyclists reported their recent trips such as “T. Rutledge and W. Bright cycled to Listowel” and G.A. Deadman had cycled to Bayfield. It was posed that the only thing more common in Brussels than cycles were the mumps as there were now 16 of the vehicles in the village.
The Glorious 12th of July was celebrated once again in 1892 with large gatherings of the Loyal Orange Lodge, Ladies True Blue, and the Royal Black Preceptories in both Kincardine and Listowel. Many Brussels members joined the special excursion trains to Kincardine. One rider complained that the fare, regularly 70 cents for a round trip, had increased to $1 for that day.
Local residents had recently been treated to a spectacular light show when the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights, lit up the sky in “an immense arch that spanned the sky near to the zenith, while behind it darted various coloured and changing mellow lights”. This gift of nature lasted one night from 11 p.m. until midnight.
The directors of the local Mechanics’ Institute were to initiate night classes. Mechanics’ Institutes were first established in England in the 1820s as voluntary associations of working men seeking self improvement through education. They offered evening lectures, lending libraries and periodical reading rooms.
For the sports-minded, the Brussels and Seaforth Gun Clubs held a shooting match whereby each participant had a shot at 15 clay pigeons. The final tally had Brussels ahead by one point. Other recreational pursuits included a cricket match being played at Victoria Park (in 2022, location of the ball park) and a football match between the workers of the Ronald factory and the men of the Sixth Line of Morris. The factory team prevailed with a score of 3-0. The directors of the Brussels Driving Park were planning on erecting a large grandstand to prepare for the horse races that were to be held on Aug. 26.
In municipal affairs, the planking on the iron bridge over the Maitland River was being replaced by hemlock boards. And, for any accounts of one dollar or more, the Standard Bank was offering interest.
On the agricultural side, many were engaged in flax-pulling, a labour-intensive task. The local flax mill used the flax straw to make tow, which was used for stuffing buggy and cutter seats. The hay and grain crops must have been bountiful that year as merchants had had a run on binding twine. Insect pests were probably plentiful back then too, as G.A. Deadman, druggist and bookseller, sponsored ads for “Tanglefoot sticky paper” which promised relief from flies and Pepper’s drug store was selling Paris Green at the cost of 25 cents per pound. This deadly compound was used to control potato bugs.
Cultural activities were available as a “Grant Concert’ was well attended in the town hall featuring Miss Agnes Knox, a famous elocutionist from Toronto and soloists Miss Kate Strong, from Mount Forest, and Professor Scott from Wingham.
Miss Mories, of Wingham, was offering to give instruction in oil painting. She also would take pupils for music lessons. A special guest speaker at the Melville Presbyterian church was Mr. E. O. Eschoe, who was a ministerial student from Persia studying at Knox College in Toronto. The Melville folks also enjoyed a lawn social, sponsored by the Missionary Society, that was held at the residence of D. C. Ross.
For those people who wished to preserve their images for posterity, Harvie J. Strong was pleased to announce that he had added new scenery in his gallery to enhance photographs.
The Brussels Post was celebrating in 1892, marking 20 years in publication and it would continue on as the local news source for another 90 years. One interesting feature of the newspaper was its “Grumblers’ Corner”, where folks could anonymously vent their frustrations with village events. One such letter came from “Third Commandment” and denounced the profanities and obscenities noticed at Victoria Park in the evenings. It was suggested that Constable Broadfoot should control the situation. One wonders if the same person might have been the author of a grumble in 1885 about certain boys swimming in “exposed parts of the river”, presumably skinny dipping. The upright citizen wanted that activity to stop as well.
A surprising amount of the space in the newspaper was taken up by world events. For example, there was a long write-up about the murder of a powerful leader in Central Africa. On reflection, perhaps these news items would be the only source of world news for the people of the local area in those times.
And now, the people of Brussels and surrounding area continue to make history as they celebrate their Homecoming next weekend. Congratulations and best wishes for a successful event.