The Methodist cemetery in Sunshine©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Sunshine, despite its cheery name, was not destined for a bright future. Located in Huron County, the community was founded in 1868 as a small milling centre. A school, SS #5, the Clegg's School, opened around 1874. Originally known as Providence, the community's name was changed to Sunshine sometime before 1874 when the first post office opened.
The saw mill, located at the south end of the hamlet, was the mainstay of Sunshine's economy. Built in 1868 by Alfred (Paddy) Brown on Lot 11, Conc. 6, it was originally powered by water from the fast-flowing Maitland River. It was sold in 1874 to Isaac Rogerson, who converted it to steam and added a chair factory. By the late 1870s Sunshine had added a general store and a blacksmith, John A. Caister, who also sold plows.
Sunshine was a clean, well organized community, with the homes and businesses located in a row along one side of the road with a boardwalk in front. The main road had been well gravelled by both the villagers and farmers for easy transportation by horse and mule. For added protection, each home was protected from fire by a lightning road.
Unfortunately for Sunshine, fire protection could not be extended to the surrounding area. The village's decline began with a fire that destroyed the sawmill in 1878. The mill was rebuilt in 1879, at great cost to the owner, Mr. Rogerson, and resumed operation. It didn't last long. Depletion of the lumber supplies, largely the result of a series of major bush fires in 1879, led to a spiral of decline from which Sunshine would never recover.
Sunshine struggled along until 1887 when Rogerson sold the mill to the Vanstone family in Brussels. The furniture and chair factory was moved to Blyth which from a business perspective made far more sense. Railways had arrived and both Brussels and Blyth had abundant access to the GTR and the CPR. Sunshine couldn't possibly compete. The mill equipment was later relocated to Southampton.
Although Sunshine was slowly dying, community activities continued for quite some time afterwards.
Social events in Sunshine revolved around the church and lodge. The Methodist Church, reputed to be the first church in the township, began as a log structure around 1856. It quickly became the pride and joy of the tiny settlement. By 1870 the church boasted a choir, and later added a organ and regular Sunday school classes. The building was replaced with a frame structure around 1875.
By the 1880s the church had grown to become a popular gathering spot, both for community activities and social events. The church saw continual improvements. In 1886 the cemetery was enlarged and in 1893 brick facing was added to the walls and a horse shed was built.
The Orange Lodge was first chartered in 1855 in nearby Bodmin, and relocated to Sunshine in the early 1870s. The rise of the temperance movement in the late 1870s led to an increase in temperance meetings and lectures by the Sons of Temperance. Many of those took place in the Orange Lodge and also the nearby Foresters Lodge.
Without the mill, Sunshine's decline escalated. By the 1920s there was almost nothing left of the small community. According to postal records, the post office was replaced by rural mail delivery in 1914. Another source points to a former postmaster, Milton Watson, who continued as postmaster until 1923. It's possible Watson served as a rural mail carrier. However by that time there were no businesses and only a small handful of local dwellers. The church finally closed its doors in 1927. The building was dismantled and the materials used to build an implement shed.
Today nothing remains of Sunshine, with the exception of the hilltop Methodist cemetery. The tombstones tell a tragic tail of Henry Baines and Margaret Clegg, both of whom drowned in a boating accident in 1886 while returning home from a church event. The accident hit the village hard and was retold for many years afterwards. The school lasted until 1964. Although the cemetery is classed as "abandoned," it continues to be well maintained.
Additional details The Power of the Maitland by John Hazlitt and Ted Turner.