The former hotel built by Hugh Bell in 1868 was destroyed by fire in 2013.©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
The opening of the Durham and Elora roads in the 1850s offered promising opportunities to those willing to endure a few years of hardship in the bush. Before the arrival of the railways, road access was the only means of transportation and communication. New settlements along the roads were widely considered to have unlimited potential for growth.
John Eckford was one of the first of two settlers to take up land along the new Elora road. He is generally regarded as Dunkeld's first resident and one of its most prestigious. He was 52 years old when he and his family arrived from Scotland in 1851. Eckford, who had spent twenty-five years as a Presbyterian minister, arrived with the ultimate goal of finding a "desirable spot in the backwoods." Evidently he was ready for new adventure.
Although John Eckford continued to conduct services when he was needed, he devoted the remainder of his life to public service. He was elected reeve in 1857 but chose instead to accept the position of Local Superintendent of Schools. He later held the position of reeve for a brief period from 1869 to 70. After the superintendent position was abolished in 1871, he served as township treasurer until his death in 1881. The position was then taken over by his son James, who held the post until 1905. Both men were highly regarded for their dedication and the high quality of their work.
Hugh Bell opened Dunkeld's first post office in 1856. A log schoolhouse was built on William Chisholm's property in 1857. In the early days children from Cargill and Chepstow also attended this school and attendance stood as high as 80 during the winter months. On Sundays the school doubled as a church. The log building was replaced in 1871 with a white brick structure.
In 1861 the post office moved to Andrew Brown's general store. It was closed in February 1865 and reopened by Hugh Bell in 1866. In 1868, Bell moved the post office to his newly opened hotel. The hotel continued to be used as a store and post office over the next 45 years. In later years it was operated by F. Schuler and boasted choice wines, liquors, and cigars among its offerings. In 1871 the post office was moved to Thomas Whitehead's store where it remained until 1876.
An Orange Lodge was formed in Dunkeld, probably sometime in the 1850s. In 1868 an Orange Hall, shared with neighbouring Eden Grove, was built on Lot 30, Concession A, on property donated by William Garland. The lodge, located north east of the Dunkeld crossroads, was known as the Garland Lodge 856.
The West Brant Presbyterian Church was opened in December 1869. The congregation had grown so large that meeting in the schoolhouse had become unbearably uncomfortable. The limestone church was built on land donated by John Eckford and James Young. The Reverend John Eckford returned to the pulpit to conduct the early services. Later on he was assisted by Dr. Moffat.
A second church, known as the Christ's Disciples Church, was also active in the area. Many of the members had originated from Eramosa Township where this church had a large following. The members met in various peoples' homes until the early 1870s, when a log church was built beside the Whitehead store, across from the schoolhouse. The log church was used until 1878, when the congregation relocated to a larger building in Walkerton.
The Great Western Railway arrived in Brant Township in 1871. By 1876, Dunkeld boasted a small flag station about a half a kilometre west of the village. The rail yard included a siding, stockyard and scales. The Great Western was absorbed by the GTR (later CN) shortly afterwards.
Residents during the 1870s included a framer, James Hill, two blacksmiths, William Whitcraft and Duncan McDonald and a horse-breeder, Thomas Stevens, who was the proud owner of a stallion named "Young Champion." Dunkeld even boasted a constable, one William Boddy, who farmed on lot 7, Concession B. By the late 1870s, Charles Dands was operating a lime kiln. At the time, Dunkeld's population stood at around 75.
By the 1880s Dunkeld was a small but industrious little hamlet with a number of farm based industries. These included a flour mill, operated by William Austin, the Dunkeld Cheese and Butter Company, opened in 1881, with James Bell as president, and the Dunkeld Cider Manufacturing Company, which manufactured cider and apple butter, and was run by Frank Schuler, the hotel owner.
By 1880, the post office had been moved back to the hotel. Both went through a few changes in ownership that included Joseph Fletcher and John Tschirhart (also spelled Tscheirhart). Tschirhart was also associated with the cider company. As well there were the usual grain and livestock dealers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cheese makers, and a wagon maker. A second cheese factory was also in operation during the late 1880s.
One of Dunkeld's more important industries was timber shipping. The area was highly regarded for its rock elm timber which was used for shipbuilding in the UK. After the timber was squared, it was floated over to Southampton and shipped off to England. Thomas Chisholm was one of the wood dealers. Chisholm was also active in the cheese factory, the Farmers' Central Fire Insurance Company and served as a Township Council member.
By the early 1890s, Dunkeld's population had grown to around 100. The community continued to prosper during the early part of the 1890s. Joseph Zettel took over the hotel, store, post office and cider operation. However by the close of the 19th century, Dunkeld's population began to drop as its businesses closed or moved to larger centres, such as nearby Walkerton. The Dunkeld Cheese and Butter Company operated into the early 20th century. The post office remained in use until 1914 when it was replaced by rural mail delivery.
A new school was built in 1909. The new building was located directly across the road from the old one and was used at least until the 1950s. The school was well maintained and saw a number of improvements over the years that included free hot lunches during the winter, new desks and a piano. Electricity was added in 1945. The school was used until 1968.
Also in 1909 the West Brant Presbyterian Church, built by John Eckford, closed its doors. A new Presbyterian church had been built in Cargill, and the area was too small to support two Presbyterian congregations so close to one another. The church was restored in 1929. During the 1960s it was used as a mortuary.
Today Dunkeld continues to support a number of rural dwellers and farms. The old stone hotel built by Hugh Bell in 1868 was closed after 45 years, an unfortunate victim of the temperance act. The building was sold and used as a private dwelling for a number of years before reopening as a popular restaurant, pub, and a catering and banquet facility. Sadly it was destroyed by fire in March 2013.