In 1843 squatters started moving into the un-surveyed territory known as the “Queen’s Bush”. Later this became known as the Township of Mornington. Millbank was founded in 1848 by settlers from Northern Ireland, who transformed the virgin forest into productive farmland and an enterprising community.
Situated alongside the Nith River, John Freeborn and William Rutherford sketched out the village plot and Freeborn erected the first sawmill and gristmill in the township. One day while passing the picturesque scene of the ‘mill’ on the ‘bank’ of the river, a surveyor named Maxwell suggested the name ‘Millbank’, by which the village has been known ever since. The original saw mill was destroyed by fire after only four years, but Freeborn promptly rebuilt a better one.
Millbank MuralBecause the early pioneers had to bring in supplies from either Shakespeare or Bridgeport, on ox cart or by foot, Millbank soon became a thriving commercial centre with a sawmill, grist mill, flax mill, a woolen mill, two carriage shops, one pump shop, saddler shop, pottery shop and brick yard, potash factory, hardware and tin shop, tannery, two harness shops, three blacksmith shops, a cooper shop that made barrels, a foundry which employed 40 men, four hotels, two drug stores, a bakery, a butcher shop, two doctors, three dressmakers, a boot and shoe store, two cobblers, three tailors, one builder and contractor, three drovers, two weavers, several stone masons, and three general stores.
The river was very important, providing water power for the mills, a place for boating, swimming, skating, and the washing of droves of sheep. In 1883 a cloudburst swept away the dam and all but two of the bridges in the township.
Millbank was noted for its Sports Days – the 24th of May and the first of July. Three churches were built in Millbank in the 1850s, the Presbyterian at the west end, Grace Anglican at the east side and the Wesleyan Methodist on Church Street. All three log or frame buildings were replaced with newer brick or cement block buildings between 1891 and 1905.
Millbank MuralThe first mail arrived in 1857, coming from Berlin (Kitchener) on horseback. A few years later a regular stagecoach drawn by two mules carried regular mail and passengers to and from Stratford. The first train came through Millbank in 1906. Years later these industries faded like a candle that has burned away.
Millbank became famous in the twentieth century by Vera Ernst McNichol (1910-1995). Vera was trained to be nurse and midwife, published many books of poetry, history of the local area, and Biblical stories. But it was her Extra Sensory Perception (ESP) that drew people to Millbank, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, early every morning waiting for their turn to seek her help.
Susan Knox, a former resident of Millbank and professional artist, returned from British Columbia in 2004 and 2005 to paint several murals, two on the building across from Anna Mae's and one on the Cheese Factory. Susan grew up in one of the oldest houses in Millbank. Her father, John had operated an Electrical Appliance business and her mother, Celica was the postmistress in the Post Office operating out of their home until 1988, when the post office was moved to Zehr’s Country Market.
History of Newton
Newton, the hub of Mornington Township, situated at the intersection of Line 72 and Road 129, was created in 1881 when the post office opened. At that time there were only three buildings, (a tavern, a general store, a blacksmith shop) but when the Grand Trunk Railway connected it with Stratford and Goderich it began to flourish.
By 1902 there were two hotels, a sawmill, hardware and general stores, woolen mill, shoe store, cheese factory, express, telephone and telegraph offices.
The first Township Council meeting in 1854 was held in the home of James Whaley who was elected as the first reeve of the township. The first order of business was a motion to form school sections, highlighting the sensed need for education for their children.
At the second meeting on Feb 8, 1854 the township’s first by-law was passed, “Any person found traveling on the Sabbath day or driving with horses or oxen or carry burdens, except in the case of necessity, shall be fined not more than 20 shillings, nor less than 5s. for each offence, upon conviction thereof before any of Her Majesty’s J.P.s”. The early records reveal the difficulties experienced by those pioneer families.