In 1834, Edward Bristow became Elmira's first settler when he purchased 53 acres of land for 50 cents per acre. First called Bristow's Corners, then West Woolwich in 1853, the settlement adopted the name Elmira. Edward Bristow established the settlement's first store, tavern, shoe shop, as well as, a potashery. It is also interesting to note that the first post-office was located in his premises, only to be moved in later years to Christmann's Hotel.
The earliest inhabitants were of English and Irish origin, including families named Halfpenny, Seaton, Bristow, Isenhour, Kenning, Thompson, Thomas and Girling. In the 1850's, German settlers moved into the community. Among these families were Oswald, Esche, Steffen and Tresinger. These settlers followed the original settlement patterns of Waterloo County by other German immigrants, namely the Pennsylvanian Dutch, or more accurately, the Mennonites.
In 1861, The Elmira House was erected for the numerous artisans and merchants came to Elmira to earn a living. This activity helped Elmria become known as an enterprising community. In December 1886, Elmira entered a new chapter of its history with the incorporation of the settlement as a village by charter. At this date, the population of the newly incorporated village stood at 760 people.
Throughout the 1870's and 1880's, Elmira acquired various cultural trappings, including a brass band (1873) and a library (1885), which boasted an initial membership of 20 people. Industry has always held a vital place within Elmira. Apart from a sash and door factory, Elmira possessed a flour mill. This particular business was in fact, the community's earliest industry, built by a joint stock company. In 1869 this business was purchased by John and Jacob Ratz.
On January 1, 1923, Elmira, with a population of 2500, became an incorporated town and today Elmira is a thriving community of approximately 8,000 people with a variety of restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and specialty shops such as quilt, bridal and gift stores and home to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. The Bandstand, located in Gore Park, Elmira, is a reminder of the centre entertainment in a small town in the early 1900's. It was built in 1912 by A.M. Bowman, from a design prepared by members of the Elmira Musical Society. The bandstand was historically designated in 1985 and it was restored as a project to celebrate Elmira's centennial.
Canada Day in my neighbourhood is a celebrated event. It usually begins a few days before the country celebrates its birthday with the decoration of one house, usually mine, with Canadian flags--big and small, paper or nylon-- staked in the lawn or in garden beds or in flower pots. Many more Maple Leaf banners are fastened to the home’s front windows or on the garage doors. These red and white vignettes serve as beacons that shout out to all that “Yes, I am a proud Canadian!”
The particular ritual of decorating one’s property on the street is one of three times during the year (Hallowe’en and Christmas are the other two celebrated occasions) where neighbours have an opportunity to participate and work together for a common cause. Although the whole adornment process advances slowly in the days leading up to Canada Day, first with the neighbour beside me, then to the house across the street, then to their next-door neighbour’s property and so on, it spreads rapidly, like the domino effect, all the way to homes at the end of both sides of the street until most front lawns are blanketed with some sort of tribute to Canada’s birthday.
Although there is no collaborative, behind-the-scenes planning, neighbours are aware of what is happening. The panorama of red and white becomes the topic of conversation when people meet at the community mailbox. “Happy Canada Day” is usually followed by enthusiastic comments about the front yard displays. These opening words recognize that something special has been created on the street. What might have started out as a simple greeting or icebreaker at this point, evolves into people feeling comfortable enough to inquire about each other’s families and then share stories about recent happenings. Neighbours then leave with a little more knowledge about one other and a whole lot more understanding.
For anyone driving in the area, it truly is a spectacular sight when one turns the corner onto the street. The view out a vehicle’s window, of the parade of flags and Canadiana on properties, is both patriotic and heartwarming. The statement made by the participants is clear: here we live in harmony, celebrating a day that does not discriminate any household on the basis of income, ethnicity, race, age or gender. When you think about it, isn’t peaceful co-existence what every neighbourhood, or nation, should work towards for its residents and citizens?
Sometimes it is the little things that make the biggest difference in how we choose to live. The small act of decorating a lawn or the front of one’s residence for July the 1st shows that people are happy to live in this country. Expressions of living in harmony usually go unnoticed; it is often the worst acts of our society that grab the headlines. With the red and white displays is a declaration of the grass roots coming together for a common purpose--to gladly celebrate the anniversary of Canada’s Confederation. The spin-off effect of hoisting our flag for all to see turns into the experience of belonging to something greater than ourselves.
The Maple Leaf is a beautiful and proud symbol of peace and freedom in our country from coast to coast to coast, or as witnessed on my neighbourhood street, from house to house to house . . . Happy Canada Day Everyone!.