Thursday, May 24, 2018
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History of the County of Dufferin

In 1860, the residents of Mono township thought they could get a better deal by seceding from Simcoe county and joining with Peel.  Several meetings were held and interest was growing.  A group of Orangeville professional and businessmen also took up the notion, but decided the real solution to the problem was a whole new county.  Various schemes were proposed between 1861 and 1874, all citing the remoteness of the county towns of Grey, Simcoe and Wellington, and the difficulties that caused for persons participating in municipal government or legal processes.

The first scheme called for the creation of a new county, centered around Orangeville, and called "Hurontario."  Competing schemes were floated, including one for a county based around Mount Forest, and another dividing Simcoe County.  The only one sustained was a modified version of the Hurontario scheme which omitted the townships of Caledon and Adjala.

The County of Dufferin Act was passed by the Ontario legislature in 1874, uniting the townships of Mono and Mulmur from Simcoe County, Melancthon Township from Grey County, and Amaranth, East Garafraxa and the Village of Orangeville from Wellington County, into a "provisional county."  The potential county was named "Dufferin" in honour of the popular Governor General of the day, Frederick Temple Blackwood,  Marquis of Dufferin, from County Down in northern Ireland. 

There were provisions attached to the Act.  A majority of voters had to vote in favour of creating the new county, and a county courthouse, jail and land registry office had to be built.  The depression of the mid to late 1870s dampened enthusiasm for the new project, but after five years, the "Separation Vote" was held in August, 1879.  The vote in favour of the county carried.  Under the terms of the County of Dufferin Act, Orangeville became the County town.  A site for the county buildings was procured and they were substantially completed by the end of 1880. By proclamation, the County of Dufferin came into being on Monday morning, January 24, 1881.

The first slate of county officials were patronage appointments.  The Conservative federal government appointed Maitland McCarthy of Orangeville as the first County Court Judge.  The rest of the appointments were made by the provincial Liberal government and all went to people from outside the new county. For example, Thomas Bowles of Chinguacousy was appointed Sheriff, and W.J. McKim of Peel township was appointed Registrar.

Shelburne achieved incorporated village status in 1879 and had opted into Grey County, with Melancthon Township, until the new county was established.  Luther had divided into two townships in 1881, with East Luther joining Dufferin in 1883.  Grand Valley achieved village status in 1897.

Launched on a wave of optimism in 1881, the new county soon faced major changes.  "Manitoba fever" lured hundreds away to the west, while opportunities in the cities of southern Ontario and the northern United States drew others.  Between 1881 and  1921, the population of Dufferin was cut in half.

Rather than a time of desolation, it was a time of consolidation as local farmers bought up land from their departing neighbors to make larger family farms.  Dufferin developed a healthy farm economy, with three service centers in Orangeville, Shelburne and Grand Valley that were interdependent for their survival.  Farm-related organizations flourished. The Women's Institute, Junior Farmers, and 4-H Clubs activities brought together people from all over the county. Dufferin abandoned old political habits and elected a United Farmers member in the 1920s.

Marginal lands were abandoned, and by 1931, a county forest scheme was in place, reducing some of the worst ravages of soil and wind erosion.  River basin conservation schemes started.  Dams were built at Belwood and Luther Marsh to reduce downstream flooding on the Grand River. In the 1970s, a reservoir, now called Island Lake, was built on the Credit at Orangeville.

The old interdependence of the rural - urban relationship survived until the 1970s. Since then, the rapid growth of Orangeville, the disappearance of many family farms, and the arrival of a new wave of rural, non-farming residents has modified the complexion of the county again.  One of the biggest challenges facing Dufferin is finding a new balance to best serve all of its residents.

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