Collingwood's history linked to Hurontario St.

Hurontario Street - Our Main Street - March 26, 2001

From Jubilee History of the Town of Collingwood 1887

Hurontario Street, for 125 years the heart of the Town of Collingwood, has had a long and colourful past. The history of the town is irrevocably tied to the street.

Carved out of a swampy wilderness, the street represents the efforts of thousands of Collingwood citizens, past and present. Along its course, Collingwood boys rode out to defend their homeland from the Fenians: returning veterans of the World wars were welcomed home: women doled out the meager earnings of husbands who toiled in the Shipyard for their bread and butter: men gathered to smoke their cigars and discuss the latest event in the chain of global happenings.

The street is a mirror to the progress of the town. Collingwood was born out of a tiny settlement in what is now the east end, along the banks of the Pretty River. Called Hurontario Mills, the settlement flourished, and expansion was necessary, expansion to the west, to Hurontario Street. But it took brave souls to make the move.

"Attention was directed to the north, but it was sometime before anyone would venture to settle on either side of Hurontario Street, The section being looked upon as the home of wild beasts and snakes."

But the arrival of the railway in 1857, and the resulting prosperity of the town, effected the transition rapidly.

"Stores went up here and there, and at first Huron Street from St. Paul to Hurontario was the favored thoroughfare."

John Nettleton, who with his family was for years a downtown merchant, came to Collingwood in 1857 in response to an advertisement from a business man and a map boasting the development of the town as a business centre. In his journal, he wrote of his disappointment:

"I could see no trace of the fine streets that were shown on the map. The only streets cleared were Huron and Front Street. Hurontario Street was dotted with stumps, and the houses seemed to be located in a swamp, and though it was the dry time of the year, I could see traces where the water had run across the street. There were no sidewalks and you had to take the road around the stumps."

In other journals settlers moaned, "Wild animals and snakes outnumbered the permanent and floating population."

But nature's hold on the street was driven back by enterprising businessmen who recognized the fact that Huron Street was too restrictive. Hurontario Street "wild beasts" yielded to more and more businesses.

In 1858, the year of the town's incorporation, the newly created town council passed the first by law for the construction of sidewalks on Hurontario Street and Huron Street. It was the first of many legislated advances.

"In 1863, the town decided to emerge into the full blaze of civilization and accordingly it was ordered that the Board of Works cause the stumps to be removed, though at the same meeting it was decided that the people could afford to do without street crossing then the council could do to build them."

About the same time, council passed a bylaw to prevent driving on the 'side paths.'

After the stumps were taken out of Hurontario Street, a corduroy road was laid over low places along the street. The street was an established business centre.

And it has remained established, through countless trials and tribulations, depression and inflation.

"In September 1881 a terrible fire visited the town and swept out of existence the largest portion of the business section. The loss involved was tremendous, and might well have paralyzed a less determined people than those of Collingwood. Yet in a short time the destroyed portion of the town was replaced by a class of business places, which for appearance and finish will compare favorably with any in the province. Not a single failure resulted from the fire, most of the businessmen resumed trade in other stands a few hours after an event which cleared them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Many of those "class of business places" still stands today. The brickwork, the ornamentation designed into buildings reflected the pride of their owners.

In Collingwood, in 1980, that same pride was reflected in the efforts of the Business Improvement Association, with the installation of sidewalk brickwork which brings a unique charm to Collingwood's Main Street, in their desire to make Collingwood's downtown attractive.

The changing face of Collingwood has been dramatic over our more than 151 year history.