By Orville Audrey Kalbfleisch,
Over seventy years ago I was born in the township
of Carrick, more precisely the
unincorporated hamlet of Mildmay. In 1883 my mother, Mathilda Magdalina Liesemer, had been born in the same community. Although Mildmay had been renamed in 1865, only eighteen years
before her birth, she did not know the origin of the new name. What is stranger
still, neither did the old-timers of that era who used to indulge in
reminiscences, often in the German language, at rear of Schnurr’s
shoe store. Some of these elderly citizens must have been in their early
adulthood in 1865.
As a curious enquiring school boy will, I,
persistently enquired here and there about the origin of the name; invariably,
I received the evasive answer that Mildmay was
formerly called Mernersville.
W. Stewart Wallace, an eminent Canadian historian, and for
many years, librarian of the University
of Toronto, wrote the following in his Encyclopedia
of Canada, 1940:
“Mildmay, a village in
Bruce County Ontario, on the Saugeen river and on the
Canadian National Railway, seven miles south of Walkerton. Originally called Mernersville after Senator Merners,
who erected a hotel there in the early days; the name was changed about 1865 to
Mildmay, after Mildmay Park
in Scotland, by William Murray, who built a grist mill in the village. Its
chief industries are dairying, farming, and lumbering; it has a public library
and a weekly newspaper (Gazette). Population (1934), 685.”
This brief article appeared to end my quest for the origin
of the name, but complications arose. Carrick was first surveyed by A. P. Brough in 1850-51 and the survey was completed in 1852 by
J. D. Daniel. The land was first offered for sale officially at the time of the
‘Big Land Sale’ in September 1854, but long before that every lot in the
township was squatted upon. It was a time of rampant speculation, and Senator Merner of Waterloo
county had built a hotel and invested in part of the
land on which Mildmay now stands. Perhaps, because he
was an absentee landlord, he was not liked, and just before the hamlet received
its post office the businessmen insisted that the name be changed Mernersville. According to Stewart and also to the Mildmay Gazette in 1903, it was William Murray, the owner
of the grist mill on Absolom
Street (the red mill), who around 1865 suggested
that the new name be Mildmay. The suggestion was
Robertson says that ‘Mildmay
commenced to take the form of a village about 1867’, but there, inevitably, was
a small hamlet or settlement a few years prior to that including perhaps, a
blacksmith shop, and a grist mill. There is reference to a Patrick Fitzpatrick
who opened a ‘shoe making business’ in a hut erected
in 1855. This was said to be the first business enterprise in the settlement.
Now, to return to Stewart Wallace’s
article in his encyclopedia. In attempting to
Park in Scotland,
I wrote to the Scottish Record Office in Edinburgh.
This office made a thorough search and replied in part, “If a property of the
Park) did exist in Scotland
it looks as though it must have been a very small one.” Another letter to the
Secretariat of Geographical Names, Department of Energy, Mines and Resources, Canada
elicited this response. “We have done further research on the name Mildmay and have been unable to find any information on Mildmay Park
At the suggestion of this office, I wrote to the Permanent Committee on
Geographical Names, London, England,
and was informed that a street named Mildmay Park
still existed in the Burough of Islington in northern
London. I shall leave the narrative
at this point for the time being.
Throughout my study the Secretariat of Geographical Names,
Department of Energy and Resources, has been most helpful. I received from this
office photostats of pages from an atlas of London
showing Mildmay Park in Islington, and also a
Photostat of a letter dated October 5, 1905 from a former Mildmay,
Ontario, postmaster, James Johnston. Mr. Johnston’s letter was in response to a
survey made by the then Department of the Interior for information on the
origin of Canadian place names. I shall quote the letter in its entirety:
“In response to how this village got its name, I remember when the
first Post Office was opened here, its name was Mernersville.
The office was on the corner of the Merner’s Survey.
The subdivision of the Farm Lot was made by Senator Merner.
About the time the Railway was first run through here the name was changed Mildmay. Who asked the change or why it was asked or made I
have no certain knowledge. Whether after one of Marryat’s
heroes, or after the place in England where the famous Mildmay
Evangelical meetings are held, I cannot say. The aforesaid change in name was
made sometime about 1870. There never was any person lived here by the name of Mildmay. The name possibly may have been given at the
suggestion of the Railway authorities when the station was placed here.”
The statements in this letter are at wide variance with
other references, indicating that Johnston’s
memory may have been faulty. Dr. K. S. Mackenzie of the National
Ottawa, writes, “I have no record
of a post office at Mernersville.” Mackenzie also
stated that the Mildmay post office was officially
opened in July, 1867 which was approximately five years before the railway
reached Mildmay in 1872. The railway authorities
cannot have suggested the name which was proposed earlier by William Murray.
However there is one intriguing sentence in his letter which refers to “the
famous Mildmay Evangelical Meetings……in England”.
I had hoped to learn more of the life of William Murray as
there seemed at one time to be the possibility that he secured the name from
his birthplace in Scotland.
He must have moved from Mildmay before 1867 as his
name does not appear in the Bruce County Directory of that date. For this
reason I did not search back issues of the Mildmay
Gazette for his obituary. Mr. Glenn Lucas, Archivist-Historian of the United
Church of Canada, is of the opinion that Murray
was an Evangelical Presbyterian (Free Church) which may be of some import.
By the courtesy of the British Tourist Authority, I received
a ten page photostat of the Islington Official Guide.
The extreme easterly part of the Burough of Islington
is known as Mildmay. Formerly, it was the southerly
part of the estate of Sir Henry Mildmay, master of
the Jewel Office, at the time of James I and Charles I. He is also said to have
been at the trial of Charles I. Forty-four acres of this estate was known as Mildmay Park and in later years must have been subdivided.
Now an avenue known as Mildmay
Park runs north and south through
it, and branching off at right angles from this important avenue are Mildmay Road, Mildmay Grove, Mildmay
Street and Mildmay Avenue.
In the mid-nineteenth century, a change from a rural to an
urban society occurred in England.
This change brought with it many social problems; unemployment, extreme
poverty, near starvation, drunkenness, prostitution, petty crimes, child
neglect and even abandonment. A loosely organized group called Evangelicals
sprung up almost spontaneously, and attempted to minister to the unfortunates.
This group had nothing to do with the Evangelical Church of Canada or the
Evangelical Association to give it its original name. The Evangelicals in England
were interdenominational and were initiated by Rev. and Mrs. W. Pennefather
about 1856. Wesleyans, Evangelical Presbyterians, Quakers, Baptists and others
all co-operated in this venture. What organization there was associated with
the Evangelicals, was centred at Mildmay
around Mr. Pennefather’s church, St. Jude’s of Mildmay Park.
Pulpits were exchanged among these denominations for worship and camp meetings
were prominent in these ecumenical sessions. But the main thrust of the
Evangelicals was social work which they claimed was the duty of every
Christian. In Mildmay over the years were formed a
Deaconess’ Institution 1862, a Mildmay Lads’
Institution for aiding adolescents 1867, a Mildmay
Mission to the Jews 1866, a nurses’ training institution 1866 (Dr. W. Grenfell
of Labrador fame secured nurses from this school), and many other worthy
organizations. The work of this movement covered all of England
and peaked between 1860 and 1870. This Mildmay
Evangelical movement was a truly great historical event of which little is
What has this to do with Mildmay, Ontario?
In 1861 the first Carrick camp meeting was held on the seventh concession. For
the next few years the venue changed from time to time until finally it was
held annually on its present site a few miles from Mildmay.
The camp meeting was organized by the Evangelical Church of Canada (Evangelical
Association), but, as stated before, the name Evangelical is purely
When William Murray was searching for an alternative name
for Mernersville, it is not improbable that he,
knowing of the great evangelical work, and the associated religious ecumenical
services centred at Mildmay,
England, connected the
movement with the newly organized Evangelical camp meetings held in Carrick a
few miles from Mernersville. Hence
the name Mildmay.
Ontario, January 5, 1981
Kathleen Heasman: Evangelicals in
Action (Gregory Bless, London, England, 1962)
J. Henry Getz,
editor: A Century in Canada 1964 (Published by Committee on Centennial
Observation and the Historical Society of the Canada Conference of the
Evangelical United Brethren Church, Kitchener, Ontario, May, 1964)
Metropolitan Borough of Islington Official Guide (Pyramid Press Ltd., Publicity
House, Streatham Hill, London, S.W.2, no date)
W. S. Wallace: Encyclopedia of Canada
1940 (University Association of Canada, Toronto, Ontario, 1940)
The Mildmay Gazette (Holiday Number, Christmas, 1903)
Robertson: The History of the County
of Bruce (Wm. Briggs, 1906)
Geographers A Z Atlas of London 1971.
E. A. Willats: Libraries Department, London Borough of Islington
(Central Library, 2 Fieldway
Crescent) Direct Correspondence, letter October 7, 1980.