News from The Gentlemen's Club with The Kansas Farmer - Curated by Paul Nichol (Feb. 3)
I’ve been enjoying Karen Webster’s columns in the paper for weeks now. In fact, my readers have suggested if I could write as well as Karen, I might eventually catch on some day. I consider myself a bit of a community historian. Yet, I don’t know where Karen gets some of her stuff. I’m certain that she wouldn’t make things up - only I would do that. But, whatever her sources, I do think she is missing some pieces. So for those history buffs out there seeking the real truth, the title of this dissertation is: The Sordid History of Homo Sapiens and Human Civilization as Pertaining to Brussels, Ontario.
Before European contact, the land upon which Brussels sits belonged to the First Nations, in particular, Chief Menesetung. He was a bit of a ladies man. I’m not certain if he was an Oneida or Onondaga or Chippewa, but his wife caught him fooling around with some gal called Della Ware. She was so upset she tried to commit suicide by jumping into Turnbull’s Pond. Even back then, the pond was only four feet deep, so her efforts were in vain. Chief Menesetung had to ship her down to Benmiller Falls to achieve the desired outcome.
Next, a couple of strangers, I think maybe a Stretton and a Lowe, showed up. They offered Menesetung a bit of costume jewellery and a haircut and the deal was done. Keith Mulvey wasn’t even there to collect the realtor fee. Then they said to their horseman, “Go over to the registry office in Goderich and stake our claim.” Ainlay was the man’s name and, being a self-promoting Yorkshireman, he wanted to name the town after himself. Well, even back then, Goderich could always find a way of screwing things up. A sloppy county clerk misspelled it and so Ainleyville was born.
Fast forward to the 1870s. Businessman John Leckie had his sights set on bringing a railroad to town so he wouldn’t have to send his cattle all the way to Seaforth. So he got himself elected as the first Reeve of the Village and made the Grand Trunk an offer they couldn’t refuse. “Tell you what,” he says, “for every dollar you invest in your railroad, I’ll make sure the local taxpayer gives you two.” And it worked. If you look at old maps, the rail line should have gone straight across from Kincardine to Palmerston. Instead, it dips down to Brussels like a fat man’s belly. The only other concession that the Grand Trunk Railway asked for was to rename the town after their favourite vegetable.
Roundabout 1895, the Brussels Gentlemen’s Club was founded. So we are not as old and venerable as the Ag. Society or Horticultural Club, but we have more staying power than the Orangemen, Mechanics, Masons, Oddfellows and the Morning Stars (not to mention the Perth County Conspiracy).
That brings us to the 20th Century. At one time, we had three butcher shops. One was owned by a Baeker, another by a Thompson and the third by a Stephenson. They soon realized that if they amalgamated, they could get a bulk rate on sawdust, which promptly went into their wieners and increased their bottom line. (I don’t even have the heart to talk about the good old days when Brussels was full of baloney.)
Next, Roy Cousins came down from Aurora and launched Cousins Creamery. Over the years it became a source of pride for all of Brussels. Sadly (according Jack Thynne), Roy’s fatal mistake was to hire Ivan Campbell. And that was the end of that.
After the war, Max Oldfield got tired of growing potatoes in Dundalk and started selling radios and TV sets in the 1950s. For the next six decades, he could get you whatever make or model you wanted, provided it was on a Wednesday.
When the federal government repealed prohibition, it put a great many McCutcheons out of work. They had to pivot their operations from bootlegging into car sales just to survive. In fact, Brussels was one of the very last jurisdictions in Canada to go “wet”. George McCutcheon was Brussels Reeve and County Warden at the time and fought the repeal tooth and nail. (That’s why my mother always blamed the Anglicans.) Funny thing how back in the day, everyone went to main street to get their groceries, and a back street to get their booze. Now it’s the other way around.
That brings us to the present. Stay tuned for next week’s column entitled: The Future of Brussels: Will it be like Sodom and Gomorrah, or can Jonny Harris keep us Still Standing?
(Disclaimer: This article has not been approved by the Tweedsmuir Histories, Huron Historical Society or Karen Webster. Or Shawn Loughlin for that matter.)