The former racetrack©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Strathaven (also spelled Strathavon) started out in the 1860s as a mill town, located in Holland Township, close to the Sydenham town line in Grey County. The tiny pioneer settlement remained relatively quiet until 1877 when Matthew Colville opened the first post office. Other businesses and factories quickly moved in and within a few short years things were starting to bustle.
By the 1880s, J. Thomas & Sons' flour, saw and shingle mills were in full operation. A.F.D. Lee, who ran the general store, took over the post office in 1884. Other residents included Hamilton Nigh, a merchant and John Nigh, who sold insurance. There was a blacksmith shop owned by James Dunlop and a wagon shop, run by J. Stinson. A track and field strip was added for recreational activities.
Strathaven's first church was built in 1871 by community volunteers that included Thomas Anderson Sr. and George Murray acting as head carpenters. The building, located on Lot 1, Concession 4 in Sydenham Township, was a small frame building, lit by coal oil lamps and heated by a wood stove. It sat on a hill, overlooking a quiet valley, known as Queen's Valley. However by the 1890s, Strathaven had outgrown the old church and in 1899, they began discussions on the construction of a much larger facility.
A new site on Lot 2, Concession 8 in Holland Township was chosen for construction of Strathaven's handsome new church. The name was changed to Strathaven Regular Baptist Church with plans drawn up by Rev. G. I Burns. Volunteers brought in much of the brick and lumber by wagon Meaford. The church was opened in 1900 with Rev. Burns as the first minister.
Strathaven was a deeply religious community and the handsome, red brick Romanesque-style building quickly became the focal point of the village. Curiously, dancing was strictly forbidden anywhere in Strathaven. However, since no similar ban was placed on horse racing or competitive sports, entertainment could usually be found on the race track, located behind the church. The first church building was sold to the Foresters of Strathaven at a cost $40.00 and relocated to McNabb Street. It was renamed the Foresters Hall.
Strathaven's first school, U.S.S. No. 8, Holland and Sydenham, was a frame construction, built in 1888 by George Murray at a cost of $425.00. Mr. J. Thomas added a picket fence. A shed was built in 1889. Mr. R J. Torrie was the first teacher. Ten years later, Joseph Denison upgraded the school by re-facing it in brick.
In 1915, water was piped in by J. W. Long from a spring on Malcolm Mustard's farm. Toilets were installed in 1935, but the students had to make do without electricity until 1953. One strange phenomenon was the lack of trees. In 1936, the teacher and students planted a total of 79 trees. In 1936, the teacher and students planted a total of 70 trees. More were added in 1937. Not one survived. Subsequent plantings produced the same results.
Strathaven's days of success were short lived. Without railway access, the mills were unable to survive and the population slowly began to trickle away. The Strathaven Women's Institute, organized by Mrs. Thomas Young in the late 1920s disbanded in 1940. By the end of the Second World War, almost everything was gone. The school lasted until 1965 when teacher, Mary Mustard, closed the doors forever.
Today all that remains of Strathaven are a few farms, the schoolhouse and the Baptist Church along with the parsonage. Unlike the remainder of Strathaven, the church continues to flourish and supports a small, but active congregation. The church holds fund-raising events and runs a full slate of summer programs. The building was recently renovated and remains an imposing and impressive site. The schoolhouse, after standing derelict and abandoned for many years, has been beautifully renovated and is now used as a private home.