The Spry Community Hall©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko
Spry was a small crossroads hamlet that was first settled in the mid 1870s. Life was pretty tough in this desolate area of the Bruce Peninsula. Apart from small, isolated, pockets of land the terrain offered little in the way of farming or other resources. The lumber industry was a major player during this period, however its light burnt out quickly as the forests became depleted.
By 1870, a couple of crude roads were already in place. One, which became known as the "Government" or "Spry" road, offered somewhat easier access to the area, thereby paving the way for settlers to park themselves on their property and begin the process of clearing their land and building their homes. These early roads were far too primitive for anything beyond basic travel. Most of the settlers had to arrange for their goods to be transported by boat from Owen Sound to Wiarton and then onward by wagon. The origins of Spry's name are unknown, although it was likely derived from Spry Lake which was reportedly named after an early surveyor.
David Scott of Spry served as the first reeve of Eastnor Township. By 1875 the council had put plans in place for the construction of the Spry School, S.S. #2, Eastnor. Building materials were purchased in 1876 and in 1877 a small log school was built on David Scott's land with Miss. E. Wright as the first teacher. In 1879, the council discussed the purchase of land for a town cemetery, which they authorized in 1880. In addition to building services for the community, the council also passed a number of bylaws to ensure citizens conducted themselves in an orderly manner. Male animals (the assumption being those with tails and fur) were prohibited from running at large and the sale of goods, along with certain recreational pursuits, was outlawed on Sunday. These latter activities included dancing, fishing, games of marbles, and playing "profane" music. In 1878 George Jenks opened a post office, which also served residents from Lindsay Township who didn't have a post office until 1881.
By the mid 1880s, Spry had grown into a well established community boasting a population of about 160. It included a hotel, run by William McCutcheon and two sawmills, one owned by John Johnson, and the other, located on Lot 15, owned by a timber dealer, Royal Gawley. Frederick Mack, who was widely regarded as Spry's first settler, owned a shoemaking shop. An Orange Lodge was formed in 1882, with regular meetings being held in the schoolhouse each Wednesday just before or on the full moon. George Leith took over as postmaster in 1887, moving the post office to his brand new general store. In 1888, Spry acquired a much-needed blacksmith, Hugh Dunbar, who set up shop on Concession II, just east of Spry. The little log schoolhouse was struck by fire in 1887 and burned to the ground. The following year it was replaced with a new frame schoolhouse on the same location. The teacher, Miss A. McCormick, was able to augment her rather paltry salary by lighting the fires and doing the cleaning.
Although many sources point to 1892 as the year when Spry's Union Church was built, directories show that a Union Church existed as early as 1886. It's possible that worship took place in someone's home. Whatever the case, the church was built on property owned by Richard Gibson on the condition that if services were not held for a period of one year, the property would revert back to the owner. The church itself was multi-denominational and used by a number of religious groups, primarily Anglican and Presbyterian in those days.
Spry continued to grow and prosper during the 1890s. In 1892 a new Orange Lodge, LOL No. 569, was built just east of the school. In later years it was known as the Spry Community Hall. Andy Gawley opened a sawmill on Concession II. The school saw attendance rise from 49 pupils in 1896 to 67 by 1896. Businesses continued to change hands. By 1898 William Archer was the new blacksmith. In 1899, then store owner Will Gillis, ran the village's first telephone line from Lion's Head to Spry. Spry was about to enter the 20th century.
The "Patrons of Industry" had arrived in Ferndale in 1892. The "Patrons" was one of several farm-based organizations that took root in the late 19th century. These groups were formed to promote the interests of farmers, many of whom felt they were getting unfair treatment from both industry and the government. In the case of Eastnor, the lumber industry was thriving and the lumbermen were growing very wealthy, whereas the farmers didn't feel they were making much headway. Organizations such as "The Patrons of Industry", "The Grange" and several others believed that by buying and selling in bulk, farmers could secure better prices and reach wider markets. Duncan Marshall of Gillies Hill, the Patrons' organizer for Bruce County, helped establish Ferndale Association No. 1725, which frequently sent delegates to Spry. Marshall, who was also a teacher at the school in Gillies Hill, went on to build successful careers, first in the newspaper industry and later, as a politician and farmer.
During the early part of the 20th century, Spry continued to thrive as a small farming community. A Women's Institute was formed in 1904. They met sporadically in members' homes until 1922 when they secured a 99-year lease on the Orange Hall. The institute was active in fundraising events for many years. In 1936 they started a 4-H club in Spry and Pike Bay. In addition to the Women's Institute, the hall was used for a variety of other activities, such as school plays and dances. Another popular event in Spry was the summer garden party, held on the property of Mr. and Mrs. Herb Richardson. The parties lasted until well into the 1930s.
In 1908 John Dawson took over as blacksmith and worked in that capacity for many years. The noisy shop, located across from the school, was the object of frequent complaints from the teachers for many years. Once the need for a blacksmith began to dwindle, the shop only opened occasionally on an 'as-need' basis. It was finally closed and demolished in 1942.
The store went through various changes of ownership. In 1903 it was purchased by Robert McMaster and Robert Hilditch who in turn sold it to George McMaster in 1907. McMaster carried virtually everything besides clothing and groceries. He operated a full-service emporium that stocked such items as china, hardware, paint, wallpaper and toys. He continued operating the post office until 1916 when rural mail delivery arrived. In 1919 the store was purchased by William Shaw and closed at a later unknown date. The store was eventually demolished but the dwelling that was attached remained in use by the Shaw family.
The United Farmers of Ontario (UFO) had evolved from early farm organizations such as The Patrons of Industry. By 1914, they were organized province-wide and by the end of the First World War, they had grown into a political powerhouse. Support ran strong in small farming hamlets such as Spry where a number of rallies were held at the Orange Hall. Although the UFO party went on to win the provincial election of 1919 and form the government, this was of little help to Spry. By the 1920s, the community was already in a serious state of decline and the population had shrunk to about 50.
Spry's Union Church had a curious history. During the 1890s it was used by both the Presbyterians and Anglicans. Following church union in 1925, it became the property of the United Church, who rarely used it. The property had been donated by the Gibson family on the condition that the church was to be used for religious services. In the event that services were not held for a year, ownership was to be transferred back to the Gibsons. That's exactly what happened in 1927. In 1928 the Gibsons accepted an offer from a Pentecostal group to purchase the church for $150. Due to the absence of a permanent pastor, services were not held until 1939. Sunday school classes were held in a new addition. The church was later served by Reverend James Bush and Reverend Sherman Myles.
Gerald Hatt and his wife have lived in Spry all their lives. Gerald remembers well the one-room schoolhouse he attended until 1947 and reminisced about his boyhood evenings in the community centre where residents would gather around the old wood stove for card games, chit chats and community get-togethers. Hydro didn't arrive in Spry until 1948, long after the village was past its prime. The last sawmill in the area, opened around 1931, burned to the ground in late 1950.
The Hatts were married in the Spry Church in 1958 and live in the house that was once attached to the former general store. Mrs. Hatt's mother was the last store owner. Gerald now owns the schoolhouse, which he uses for storage, and has done a remarkable restoration job on the house. The church where he was married is now a private residence. The building was sold in 1970 after the congregation relocated to a newer structure in Centreville.
The Spry school lasted until 1963, when students were moved to the new Central school. The Women's Institute celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1964 but eventually disbanded in 1976 due to lack of membership.
Although Gerald Hatt watched his community dwindle to almost nothing, he's an optimist who has been successful in regaining hamlet status for Spry. He now jokingly refers to himself as the mayor, reeve, king or any other title you want to call him. As of late 1999, he was working on his next goal - to obtain new signage for Spry - one of the perqs that goes along with being legally established as a hamlet.
Many thanks to Gerald Hatt for a most interesting evening and for sharing his memories.