Meaford vs Purdytown 

Meaford vs Purdytown. Conflict over the name of a new community was not unusual in early Grey County but electing a school trustee was the "hot button" issue in this rivalry.

In the late fall of 1833 Charles Rankin and his crew of surveyors arrived at the mouth of the Big Head River. Their presence was due to Rankin's orders to survey the regions which would become the Townships of St. Vincent and Collingwood. Despite the fact that they had landed at the mouth of the Big Head, it would be several years before that area experienced significant settlement. 

In 1839 David Miller and his family arrived at the mouth of the Big Head River and began clearing land on Lot 15, Concession 5 of St. Vincent Township. Indirectly, the Millers were responsible for the first name given to the settlement which started to develop at the mouth of the river. After Miller had built his. log house he opened his doors to arriving settlers providing them with food and shelter until the became established on their new property. These newcomers called the area to which they arrived, Peggy's Landing after Miller's wife Peggy. 

A few years after David Miller arrived, William Stevenson arrived and settled on Lot 17, Concession 5 on the Georgian Bay shoreline northwest of the mouth of the river. Stevenson built an inn (tavern) which became a popular resting spot for incoming settlers. This led to the area being called Stevenson's Landing. When Stevenson became the first postmaster in the area, he added a store and a post office to the building which housed his inn. 

David Miller Junior, the younger son of the first settler, tried his hand at establishing a mill to serve the needs of the growing agricultural community. His first effort was on a small creek which branched off the Big Head River. When that failed, he built a dam on the Big Head and built a larger grist mill. How far he got on this venture is unknown, because in 1844 he sold the operation to Moses Chantler, a man with considerable experience in the milling industry. 

"Peggy's Landing", 'Stevenson's Landing" and "Big Head" were all names given to the small community that was developing around the mouth of the river. In the mid-184Qs the colonial government decided that they had better take some steps to organize a town site. In William Gibbard, was sent to survey Lot 16, Concession 5 into village lots. 

The proposed village was called Meaford, after Meaford Hall, the residence of Sir John Jervis, Earl of St. Vincent whom the township had been after. 

The new village lots went on the auction block in 1846. The first to purchase a lot was Joseph Hamilton who set up a blacksmith shop. In 1847 C.R. Sing opened the first carding operation in Grey County. Sing would become a significant leader in the community and after Grey County was formed, he would serve many terms as reeve of the township and one term as the Warden of Grey County. 

The village had been known by three names before it officially became Meaford. But its identity as a unified community also came under assault from its neighbours on the lots both on the north and the south: Despite the establishment of an official village on Lot 16, Stevenson, located on Lot 17 worked hard to develop the region to the north and gave the area the name of North Meaford. While there was a rivalry between these two "communities" the intensity was pale compared to the tensions between Meaford and the community on its southern boundary. 

Lot 15, originally developed by the Millers, was owned by Jesse Purdy. During the ensuing years he had worked hard to develop his area. His efforts included having his land surveyed into a village plot. He called the new settlement, Purdytown. 

This rivalry reached its height of intensity in 1854 when a meeting was called to elect a school trustee. Neither community could agree on a site for the meeting. Finally, it was decided that the meeting would be held under a large elm tree on the boundary between the two settlements. When the representatives from Purdytown were elected over their Meaford competitors, the Meaford people withdrew from the school board and established their own school. 

Needless to say, the development of Meaford was an exciting period in the early history of that region of Grey County! 

The information used in this article came from files in the Grey County Archives.

A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on April 20, 2001.

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