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Fleetwood and Fleetwood Station

History

Town site photo

The Fleetwood School

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

Fleetwood was a small settlement near Lake Ontario that got started in the mid 19th century. Although official listings show the community was first settled in 1865, the area was actually settled somewhat earlier, during the 1840s and 50s.

The origin of Fleetwood's name is uncertain. According to some sources, it was named after a Chief Fleetwood, a local native chief. Others believe it was named after a village in Ireland. The village was also known as "the Brick Corners."

Fleetwood's first school was opened at an early unknown date. The original school was a small log house, located just north of the church. Sometime between 1855 and 1860, the school was relocated to its present site and the old log structure replaced with a brand new brick building. Up to 100 children were enrolled in the new school. Whether the workmanship was shoddy or the building just poorly maintained is unknown, but by the mid 1870s the building was condemned and shut down. In 1876, it was replaced with the present school, the Fleetwood School, S.S. No. 6. According to the rather strange customs of Victorian times, the boys and girls entered the main schoolroom through clearly marked separate entrances. The Methodist church, which was located just east of the old school grounds, was relocated just north of the new school to allow for expansion of the playground and recreational area.

Thomas Russell opened a post office in 1860 however it only remained open a scant three years. By the early 1870s, things were looking more promising. There were two general stores, one owned by James Morrow and the other by William Stacey. Morrow reopened the post office in 1872. Other residents included a shoemaker, Henry Morrow.

The original Methodist church was a red brick building located on Fleetwood's main road, Queen Street, just east of the present-day schoolhouse. In addition to serving the Methodists, the church was used for a time by the Bible Christians. Rivalry between the two denominational groups was intense. The arrangement wasn't a happy one and didn't last long. Henry Nugent led the Methodist Bible Class meetings in 1879. The church was a busy one with membership that topped 100.

By 1878 Fleetwood was contained within a neat little town site encompassing three roads. The main drag, Concession 12, renamed Queen Street, ran directly through the centre of town, with lots on each side. There were two cross streets, Mill Street and Mount Fall Street. A sawmill, started by the late Thomas Staples, was located on Lot 4, adjacent to Mount Fall Street on the north side of Queen, on property owned by his son, James. The Staples mill burned to the ground in 1881. Other mills, owned by the Argue and Gardiner families were located on the Leslie property, just west of the town site. The post office was located on Lot 7, on the south side of Queen.

In 1884, William Stacey moved the post office over to his store and James Morrow began operating as a local commissioner. Prominent early settlers who helped put a stamp on Fleetwood included the Staples and Grandys. The Staples family, who included William, Thomas, and James, worked alternately as blacksmiths, carpenters and sawmill owners. They owned several pieces of land in the immediate area. Thomas also acted as an agricultural implements agent. In addition to farming, the Grandys also operated the Grandy Tavern, which was used for township meetings until a township hall was built at nearby Lifford. In the early 1880s, Fleetwood's population was listed at around 60. By the time the decade closed, the population had grown to around 100.

In 1891 James Albertus Wood established the Fleetwood Cheese Factory, located on the 11th concession. Wood grew up in a family of cheese-makers; his father owned the Peterborough Cheese Factory, and each of his four brothers owned cheese factories in the surrounding area. In 1904, Wood sold the business to Messrs. Ryan and Renwick, who in turn sold the business to their head cheesemaker, Mr. J.C. Cummiskey, in 1910.

Fleetwood had the distinction of serving as an early conduit for the Manvers Township telephone system in Manvers Township. In 1908 a private line was set up in Fleetwood that ran directly to Dr. T.G. Brereton's office in Bethany. Service grew slowly. By 1911 there were still only two telephone lines into Bethany; the Fleetwood line and another established by Stephen Sisson, a farm machinery salesman, who needed to communicate with the GTR station. The timing of this venture was indeed fortunate for the residents of Manvers Township as Dr. Brereton lost his life in December 1911, following a fire that destroyed his home and office. Once the system was in place, demand for service skyrocketed. This led to the formation of The Mutual Telephone System in 1915. In 1921 all the independent telephone lines were amalgamated as the Manvers Municipal Telephone System, now part of Bell Canada.

Since Fleetwood was primarily a farm-based community, it was hampered in its growth by lack of a railway. The community was by-passed by the GTR in favour of Franklin, a small village about 20 kilometres east. Around 1913, CP opened a branch line that ran from Dranoel to Lindsay. They built a small flag station about 10 kilometres east of Fleetwood and the area became known as Fleetwood Station. The station was used primarily for shipping wood and livestock and saw little in the way of passenger traffic. The CP line managed to outlive the rival line in Franklin by almost 60 years, that line having been closed in 1928. The CP line remained in use until Christmas Day, 1987.

Although the railway did a booming business for a while and provided a big boost to the local farmers, it did little to revive Fleetwood's fortunes and the village continued on its slow descent to oblivion. In 1922, J.C. Cummiskey converted the cheese factory into a cooperative. Although initially successful, changes in farming practises led to its demise in 1929. Later on Cummiskey entered politics and served as Reeve in 1936. The store was taken over by William Bates in 1906 and continued in business as the "Bates Store." The post office was closed in 1914 following the arrival of rural mail delivery. Later store owners included Leila Jones and Eldridge Nelson. The store lasted until 1935 when it burned down. The church survived until 1947 and the school until 1967.

At least one Fleetwood resident went on to leave his mark on the country. William D. Staples, who was born in Fleetwood in 1868, was attracted by the opening of rich farmlands in the prairie-provinces and headed west to Manitoba where he established a farm. In 1904 he ran for parliament and was elected to the House of Commons as the representative for Macdonald, Manitoba. He won two subsequent re-elections and served for eight years as an M.P.

Today Fleetwood still supports a small rural and farming community. The schoolhouse, with its segregated 'boy and girl' entrances has been attractively renovated into a private home. After the tracks were lifted, the old rail bed, 10 kilometres east at Fleetwood Station, was turned into a recreational trail. Hikers and snowmobilers can still find small pieces of railway ties and other evidence of railway activity along the trail.