The 7th Concession and Brock Road intersection marks the southern limit of the village of Strabane, although for several years the corner was known as Motorville. Located on both sides of the Brock Road between the 7th and 8th Concessions, Strabane was originally named Nairn after a village on the Moray Firth by the first settlers from Scotland, but when it came time to establish a post office, it was found that a community named Nairn already existed in Canada West, so local Irish settlers proposed Strabane, after a small community in County Tyrone.
The village developed around a gristmill and a sawmill, both erected by John Fraser. Many settlers, members of the Church of Scotland, wanted a proper education for their children, “both spiritual and academic,” so Fraser’s donation of land for a school was warmly received. The first regular worship services and Sunday School were held in the schoolhouse completed in 1841. Attendance grew steadily and it soon became evident that a building to serve solely as a church was needed. Fraser offered a piece of land adjacent to the school and offered to prepare the required lumber at his Nairn Mill. According to the Strabane Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir History, logs were brought to the mill in 1843 and a bee was formed to frame and erect the church. The building apparently stood for over a year in this unfinished state; members were galvanized into action by someone driving through the village shouting “…You Scots are good at starting something, but you never finish it!”
By 1865, Strabane boasted a hotel, two sawmills, a general store, saddlery, carpenter’s shop and a stonemason. The hotel, with a large stabling area, was one of the points of change for the horses who pulled the stage and mail coaches between Dundas and Guelph. Later entries in the 19th century Wentworth County Business Directories show the village also contained a law office, a shoemaker, blacksmith shops, a carriage maker and a dentist who “…pulled teeth with no anaesthetic,” as well as a travelling dentist who would make “a denture in the patient’s home in return for payment plus board while he completed the job.”
Strabane was an important stopping place for the stage and mail coaches and for teamsters and drovers on their way from Guelph to Dundas or Brown’s Wharf. The halfway point of the journey, the village often saw dozens of wagons loaded with farm produce on its way to be shipped out by lake schooner.
Sylvia Wray is the former archivist with the Flamborough Archives. She can be reached through the Archives at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the Flamborough Review, 17 July 2009.