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History  of Midhurst.      (Photos)


 Midhurst is a small community of approximately 3000, located just north of Barrie amongst an area of 70 year old pines. It is 5 minutes drive to the Bayfield Street shopping strip (the golden mile) , 5-10 minutes drive to alpine and cross country skiing and 15-20 minutes from Wasaga Beach. (Largest fresh water beach in the world) Springwater Provincial Park is nearby where deer, bear, wolves and other animals can be viewed. There are also picnic areas and recreation areas where families and other groups can enjoy a day of fun and relaxation in the outdoors.


Midhurst history can be traced back to the early 1800s. Its development can be attributed in part by its proximity to Willow creek which provided the early settlers with a source of power to operate grist and saw mills. Samuel E. Wilmot, a surveyor in 1808 was the first to mention this creek. In 1825 George Oliver and John and Thomas Mair built a saw mill and a grist mill. Four other mills, a soap factory, a distillery, and two hydro plants were later established. Midhurst as it is now known, was once called Oliver's Mills after the owner of the first saw mill. But in 1864, at the suggestion of George Sneath, who had been born in Midhurst, in the county of Sussex, in southern England, and was the village's first postmaster, Clerk-Treasurer and Justice of the Peace, the community was renamed, to honour himself and the original 16 settlers from Midhurst, England. The mill having been established encouraged further development in the area, with an influx of new settlers and more businesses to look after their needs. This was a peak time for the lumber industry. Virgin forests were being cleared, communities were springing up all over Simcoe County. Midhurst was a thriving community, once boasting four taverns, a blacksmith shop, post office, three churches, several schools and a store. Its community activities were numerous.


Midhurst is noted for its part in supplying electricity and providing lighting to Barrie. Lumbermen ,George Ball and James Burton, together with Samuel Lount the County Registrar, formed a partnership to provide a system of electric lights to Barrie. Electricity produced by the water from Willow Creek was carried down a mill race and generator to a station at the south end of Bayfield Street, providing 2,000 candle power at a price of 25 cents a night. In August 1888 amid a great rejoicing, 17 lights were turned on for the first time, in downtown Barrie. this was the first successful attempt to transmit water-powered electricity to a municipality in Simcoe county. The inscription on a plaque in Midhurst commemorates the occasion.


The clearing of the large tracts of pine and other timber also provided land for agriculture and many farms were established. But, with the cutting of the forests there were also changes to the water levels, when many of the springs and creeks disappeared because of the deforestation. Likewise, much soil erosion took place. Willow creek's water level has been lowered becuse of this. However, the Midhurst community began a reforestation program in the early 1920s to repair some of the damage and stop erosion. The trees that grace the landscape of Midhurst are over 80 years old. As the land was cleared and farms were established many of the lumbermen remained in the area and turned to farming. Midhurst farmers often sold their products at the farmer's market in Barrie, travelling there once a week by horse and buggy.


Midhurst's telephone system was organized in 1912 to service both Midhurst and the Grenfel areas. The first post office was opened in 1862 in the home of George Sneath, its first postmaster, located on what is now known as Doran Road. Sneath also operated a store on the site. Over the years, four schools were built in Midhurst. The original S.S.# 6, a wooden structure was built in the 1850s on conc.4 and closed in 1886. The second school, built of bricks, opened a year later on lot 12, conc. 4. SS #17 was built in 1912 on the second line of Vespra, but by 1948 enrollment had dropped and it was closed. In 1962 Forest Hill School was built and after several additions is in use today.


Four of the citizens were very prominent at the time. they were Dr Wallace Coutts, George Sneath who contributed his time and efforts as postmaster, sunday school teacher, clerk-treasurer and justice of the peace. Charles Stewart, a resident of Midhurst from 1884 to 1906 became premier of Alberta in 1917. Hunter Russel was an early promotor of the Simcoe County Federation of Agriculture. The nature trail through Doran park in Midhurst was named after him. An expert on trees, Russell classifised 44 different trees along the trail.


Over the years many residents have contributed much time and effort into the preservation of the history of Midhurst, its old buildings and pioneer cemetery. Midhurst still maintains much of the ambience of a small village even though many new subdivisions have been added. There still remains , the old country store, church and community centre and the rushing waters of Willow creek. Plaques and cairns dot the sides of the road throughout the community, denoting a historical event, or the former site of a historic building, making it easier to trace its history. Over the years many residents have dedicated much time and effort into documenting and preserving the history of the community. These plaques have been placed by the Midhurst Historical Society and the Simcoe County Historical Association. The feeling of pride in community, friendliness, and community spirit of participation and co-operation, largely derived from a small village setting still thrives in the community today. Let us hope that it will continue for many years to come.