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History of Walkerville: 1700- 1882

A small village, situated on the riverside, about a mile above Windsor. It contains a distillery, carried on by Hiram Walker and Company, a hoteḷ store, etc... and several tenements built by Walker and Co. for the convenience of their employees, which number from eighty to one hundred.

From the County of Essex Gazeteer and General and Business Directory for 1866-67 (Woddstock: Sutherland and Company, 1867)

1858.jpgLong before Hiram Walker bought the first of his many land purchases, the inhabitants of the area that became Walkerville were Indians of the Ottawa tribe under Pontiac.

In 1763, after failing to dislodge the British from Fort Detroit, Pontiac, the Chief of all the Ottawas, apportioned several land grants on the southern shore of the Detroit River to the French and English. It is thought that the very site that was to become the future town of Walkerville was formerly the Ottawa village.

Pontiac transferred land to Lieutenant Edward Abbott of the Royal Artillery Regiment in 1765 and to Alexis Maisonville. This constituted the entire territory of the future town of Walkerville. In 1769, Abbott transferred this land to Antoine Louis Labadie who deeded his land to his wife and 9 surviving heirs. One daughter Phyllis married John Hall and their son Eugene Hall received his mother's ninth share after her death.

1858dock.jpgOn December 22, 1856, Hall sold this portion of land to Hiram Walker who was based in Detroit but was ready to establish himself on the Canadian side of the border. Walker favoured this location due to the close proximity of the Great Western Railway, which increased his market access into the British Empire.

In 1857, Walker obtained additional parcels of land from C.F. Labadie and from grantors John Montreuil and Alexander Chapoton bringing his land holdings in Canada to 468 acres.

Hiram Walker began clearing land along the riverfront to make room for his distillery, a flour mill, as well as areas to hold hogs which he sold to France and England after fattening them up with left over mash from the distillery. Walker began building homes for his employees and in 1858, Walkerton was born. In the 1860's, the names Walkerville and Walker's Town were both used by the inhabitants of this hamlet. On March 1, 1869, the name Walkerville was officially sanctioned by Ottawa and the settlement was recognized as a post office village.

1865.jpgIn 1870, Walker established a church with a day-school in the basement for his employees. By the winter of 1875, Walkerville was illuminated by street lights erected at Walker's expense; he also built  a water system, a pumping station and a fire department.

By 1884, the unincorporated village of Walkerville consisted of four streets extending north and south, and five running east and west. Probably the first to be laid out was the Walker Road or Fifth Street about 1860. West of Walker Road, and parallel, were Fourth, Third and Second Streets (Monmouth, Argyle, and Devonshire). The east-west streets were Sandwich (Riverside), on the riverfront, with Assumption, Brant, Wyandotte and Tuscarora Streets parallel and south of Sandwich Street.

The distillery buildings were situated on the riverbank between the main street (Sandwich) and the river. These buildings included the feed mill and drying elevator, a ferry house by 1884, barber shop, the grain elevator and malthouse, the Walker residence and driving shed, various warehouses, waterworks, mill and distillery, boiler house and rectifying still house and large lumber and coal yards.

On the south side of Sandwich was a 3-storey structure built in 1882. The first floor housed several stores, while the second floor was the location of the Walkerville Music Hall, which served as a type of community centre and could accommodate nearly 600 people.

Also located in this triangular area, bounded by railways tracks, Sandwich Street, and Walker Road: a brick stable, several bonded warehouses, a wooden firemen's hall and reading room, a little brick church, a butcher shop, the fire engine house, a paint shop, a cooper shop that manufactured all Walker barrels, a carpenter's shop, and the Walker planing mill and stave factory.

aerial2thumb.jpgAlmost the entire populace, which numbered approximately six hundred in 1882, were employed in some capacity by the Walker family in their numerous enterprises. Only three industries existed in the settlement, the dominant one being the Walker distillery and its associated components, the Kerr Brothers Engine and Foundry Company, and the Dominion Syrup and Sugar Refining company.

The little village of Walkerville was about to experience a huge building boom, and Walker wanted it to be a carefully planned community.

next: The Boom Years



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