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Town site photo

The Vandeleur Pioneer Cemetery

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

Vandeleur was a small farming community that was first settled in the early 1850s. Many of Vandeleur's early settlers were farmers from Ireland, likely looking to start new lives following the devastating effects of the Irish Potato Famine. The earliest recorded settler was Richard Smith, who arrived in 1852. Other settlers included James Boland, William Buchanan, Thomas Kells, William Knight and Robert Shannon. The origins of the village's name remain a mystery.

The new settlers quickly embraced their new homeland. Once they had cleared their property and established a homestead, a number of them became active in local affairs. These included Thomas Kells, who arrived in 1853. Kells went on to serve as Township Assessor and Collector, became president of the Agricultural Association, and held public office for several years. James Boland's son John, who was one year old when the family arrived, was highly active in community organizations, and also held public office for several years.

Vandeleur's first school, S.S. No. 11, was opened in 1857. The original school was a simple log building, located on lot 21, midway between Concessions 11 and 12. It included little more than a blackboard and maps. George Harrison, the teacher, looked after a class of about 24 pupils. The log school was later replaced with a stone building located on lot 20, Concession 12.

One of the earliest businesses was the blacksmith shop, built around 1859 by Andrew Graham. It was located a little east of the town site on lot 22, and was later relocated to lot 21 by his son George, some time before 1871. Other smittys who followed him included Don Walker and by 1886 George Pritchard, who operated the shop for more than half a century.

Early church services took place once a month in Robert Warling's home. Around 1869 a Primitive Methodist church was built on land donated by Robert Smith for both a church and cemetery. The stone structure was built by stonemasons Samuel and Elijah Paul.

Around the same time, Thomas Gilbert donated a quarter of an acre of land for a Wesleyan Methodist church. The Wesleyan church was built of frame and roughcast and included a library. Reverend Josiah Green was the first pastor, assisted by David Williams. The two churches eventually merged, probably in 1882 following the union of Methodist churches in Canada, although another source refers to 1875. An organ was purchased in 1884.

At the time of the church merger, there were 160 students enrolled in Sunday school. Teachers included Thomas Boland, Alice Kells and Mrs. Sparling, who was also the first church organist. The old stone church stood until 1916, when it was demolished and the contents auctioned off.

In 1870, storekeeper James Henderson opened the village's post office. Mail deliveries took place twice weekly. The post office closed in June 1874 and reopened in April 1875 by James Rowe. In January 1884 William Hutchinson took over the post office and relocated it to his home where it remained for the next 25 years. The mail route began at Kimberley, then on to Epping, then to Vandeleur, Flesherton, Eugenia, Epping and back to Kimberley.

During the 1870s and 80s, a number of sawmills sprang up in the area. As early as 1871, Jacob Teet was operating a small sawmill. By the mid 1880s there were several others in the area including the "Eclipse saw mill," located on lot 17, Concession 12, operated by the Sparling brothers, James and Henry. Other mill owners included Edward Davis and William Lucas.

By the mid 1880s, Vandeleur was booming. Its population was between 150 and 200. In addition to the mills, the village included two carpenters, Robert Buchanan and George Warling, the blacksmith and a general store. One of the Boland brothers, Thomas, taught music in the village for a number of years.

Several of Vandeleur's residents were active in township politics. This began with William Leckie, who served as reeve from 1869-74. John Boland held several terms as councillor, was deputy reeve from 1886-91, and later reeve in 1897. Also active was Thomas Kells who in additional to serving as Township Assessor and Collector, served as a councillor and deputy reeve from 1891 -1900.

Vandeleur continued to grow in leaps and bounds throughout the 1890s. By the mid 1890s, it offered a full range of services. Besides the usual carpenters and blacksmiths, there were two dressmakers, Miss Eliza Carson and Mrs. Mary Graham, an apiary owned by the carpenter Robert Buchanan, and a cheese factory, opened by James Brodie. Thomas Kells was listed as an insurance salesman for the Royal Insurance Company of England and Miss Kells had taken over as the village's music teacher.

The old stone school was replaced with a new brick schoolhouse in 1894. Typical of schools from the period, heating was provided by a large wooden stove in the centre of the classroom, and drinking water was brought in by pail from the pump outside. On cold mornings teachers would often arrive to find the ink frozen in the bottles, and a block of ice for drinking water. Classes ran from grades one through eight and sometimes included the first year of high school.

Until about 1900 the teacher lived in a teacherage, known as the "Section House." After that, many of them boarded with local residents. In 1907 the school section celebrated its 50th anniversary. To commemorate the event, a pioneer's monument inscribed with the names of the 25 founding families was erected in the schoolyard.

Farm, church and fraternal organizations played an important part in Vandeleur's history. The Canadian Order of Foresters was organized in 1894 and the Centre Grey Farmer's Institute, in 1885. The Foresters court was very successful in the early years and at its height boasted 80 members. In 1903, the Farmer's Institute assisted in the formation of the Vandeleur Women's Institute, of which Mrs. John Boland was the first president. Other groups that were active for awhile included the Grange and the Patrons of Industry.

Of particular note during this period was the construction of the Foresters' hall. In addition to regular Foresters' meetings, the hall was also home to a number of other groups including the Women's Institute and the Sons of Temperance. The building was constructed by W.J. Holley and William Love, who several years later were involved in the reconstruction of the Vandeleur church.

Vandeleur was a deeply religious community, as evidenced by the number of children enrolled in Sunday school classes. Early church groups included the Sunday School Association formed in 1900, and the Epworth League, a Methodist group for young people, formed in 1892.

Temperance sentiments also ran extreme in Vandeleur. Former politician John Boland was a charter member of the Vandeleur Sons of Temperance, a group that was highly active and influential during the early 20th century. Known as the Evergreen Division, this group held the rather dubious distinction of winning a prize banner as the best division in the county. There are no details on what they accomplished to achieve that accolade.

In 1900 the church underwent major changes. An addition was built on the front and the entire building was moved on to a stone foundation with a basement. The old rough cast siding was then covered with an attractive brick veneer. The work was completed by Ed Holley, W.J. Holley and William Love. Following church union in 1925, the church became part of the United Church of Canada and the Epworth League was replaced by the Young People's Union.

An important addition was the construction of the Vandeleur community shed. Although the exact date of construction is unknown, it is known the shed was built prior to 1910. The entire community got into the act. Members of the Foresters court, along with many of the villagers, felled the trees and hauled them over to nearby sawmills for cutting. The Foresters, Sons of Temperance, and Women's Institute meetings attracted a considerable amount of traffic and a shed for horses, buggies, and sleighs, was considered an absolute necessity.

In 1909, the general store changed hands with Samuel Gilbert operating the store, butchery, post office and acting as a general agent. The post office was located partially in Gilbert's home and in the store. It remained open until 1918 when rural mail delivery was established. The village also boasted a constable, Thomas Gilbert and John Boland, in addition to his other duties, was serving as Justice of the Peace. George Hutchinson ran sawmill.

Vandeleur remained a busy village throughout the early part of the 20th century. In 1914, the school boasted approximately 40 students. Although the school was dry and well kept, there was a wooden shed attached to one side that was filled with mice. The little creatures spent the better part of each day running around the floor and in and out of the desks, much to the delight of the students.

Music and sports were both very popular in Vandeleur. Music instruction was available from about 1884 onwards. Teachers included Thomas Boland and Miss Kells. One group known as The String Band included former postmasters Sam Gilbert and Will Hutchinson on violins. Another group, known as the Mouth Organ Band included Will Bowles, with Mrs. Fred Boland on the piano. Both groups entertained regularly at Foresters meetings, community dances and socials, picnics, and other venues from about 1900 to about 1930.

Competitive sports teams began to make an appearance in the early part of the 20th century. Vandeleur was part of a soccer league that included Priceville and Flesherton. The community also had a baseball team which was part of the Centre Grey Baseball League. The team captured the league championship in 1921.

By about 1930, the community shed had outlived its original purpose. By then many people were travelling by car and even the owners of the Vandeleur general store got into the act and erected a gas pump in front of the store. The shed was well maintained and used for community activities over the next couple of years. One particularly memorable event in 1930 was a play, put on the girl's club, to help raise money for hydro installation in the community hall.

In 1932 the villagers decided to convert the community shed into an ice rink for skating and hockey. The project had a twofold purpose. It would provide recreational facilities for the schoolchildren and make constructive use of the shed, which had become something of a village landmark.

The ice rink involved the efforts of the entire community. Members of the school board donated materials and organized work bees for the actual construction. Most of the work was voluntary, however when it was necessary to hire outside labour, the cost was borne by the school board. Some of those expenses included an electrician to install hydro and lights, at a cost of $1 per hour for labour plus materials, and a well at a cost of $1 per foot. Later on maintenance for such things as caretaking and snow removal was handled by volunteers.

Although the rink seemed like a good idea at the time, overall it was not a success. The structure was completely unsuited for this type of conversion. The posts supporting the roof created skating hazards and the water supply was not sufficient for proper flooding. The rink was used on and off during recess, lunch hour, and after school until around 1940, when it was closed.

By around 1940 the Foresters Court had pretty much dissipated. The hall by this time had fallen into a very bad state of disrepair. The roof was leaking, one wall was buckling and corners were falling away. In 1942 the Foresters donated the building to the community for use as a community hall after it was repaired, but it was impossible to find a contractor to do the work. Once again the community banded together and a number of residents and groups took on the work themselves. The hall was eventually refurbished and used as a community hall for the next 25 years.

One individual who was particularly active in volunteer work was Howard Graham, a local area farmer. Graham was secretary of the Sunday School Association, a position he held for 44 years. He was also the Grand Worthy Patriarch of the Sons of Temperance for the province of Ontario. However Graham's activities were not limited to religious groups. In 1941 he organized the Vandeleur Farm Forum. This group launched a number of worthwhile rural projects including calfhood vaccination programs, and roadside reforestation plots. He also served as a trustee for the community park that was established in 1924. In later years, Graham received several honours and awards in recognition of his many years of dedicated service.

The Women's Institute also initiated a wide variety of projects and fundraising efforts. Donations found their way into hospitals, memorial funds, festivals and other social activities. In 1921 they commemorated three young Vandeleur men who had been killed overseas by providing furnishings to a ward in the General and Marine Hospital in Owen Sound. It was through their efforts that hydro was installed in the Vandeleur church. In the early 1940s, they provided a regular supply of disposable towels to the schools in Vandeleur and Cheeseville.

By the mid 20th century, vestiges of Vandeleur's earlier days had begun to trickle away. The blacksmith shop was demolished in 1949 and the store in 1955. In later years, the store was operated by the Dolans and then the Kelsos.

The school saw a few modest improvements including chemical toilets in 1940, and hot canned goods for lunch. The school was used until 1968 when it was closed due to centralization of the school system. Shortly after that it was converted to the new community hall, and the old Foresters building was sold. The community shed was used by several farmers until 1970 when it too was sold and moved to a nearby farm. The church closed in 1970. Sadly in 1979, it was struck by lightning and burned.

Today a small handful of people continue to live in Vandeleur, however very little is left of the original town site. The cemetery has been converted to a pioneer memorial site just south of the town site. The schoolhouse was used for a time as a small community centre, but is now a private home. The Foresters Court building appears to be vacant but remains in a good state of repair. A few rural dwellers remain in the area and most of the town has reverted to farmland.