Early Settlers of Stratford, Ontario
Early Settlers
County Seat
Royal Visit
Banks, Insurance

Towns are like individuals; there is a "tide in their affairs, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." Whatever this place may be now is not owing to her natural position but to her citizens, who compelled circumstances to shape themselves in her favour. Success comes to no one by listlessly waiting. It is a result of continuous labour and watchfulness, and if Stratford so far has won, it was not by waiting on fortune, but by her conduct compelling fortune to wait on her.

An old gentleman, still living, informs me that he assisted, when a boy, in cross-laying a portion of road between what is now Stratford and the Little Lakes in 1831. At this period no one was residing in or around this section. A couple of shanties were utilized by the workmen and the oxen, of which he was teamster, as stopping places. These shanties, roofed with bark, were erected near the river by surveying parties (as stated elsewhere) to accommodate such venturesome travellers as might extend their explorations so far westward of civilization. In 1832 came William Sergeant, who was first settler in Stratford. At this period it was known as Little Thames, its present name being given by Dr. Dunlop in honour of the bard of Avon. Mr. Sergeant was an Irish gentleman of good family, but broken fortune, who sought a home in the wilds of the Huron Tract for himself and friends. The family consisted of John Sergeant and his two sons, William and Thomas, and came from Clonmell, County Tipperary, Ireland. They were liberal, high-minded people. Thomas was married to a Catholic lady, who appears to have had all the graces this Church so conspicuously develops in female character. She had assisted several of her Catholic friends to accompany them to Canada, where they settled near Little Thames. Mrs. William Sergeant appears also to have been an estimable lady, whose name is associated with many acts of kindness to all. Such were the first permanent residents of Stratford.

Mr. Sergeant erected a hotel near where the post office now stands, which he named the Shakespeare hotel. In this building he also opened a general store. About this time also a store was erected by one George Worsley, west of the river, which was supposed would be the point at which business would centre. Meantime other settlers arrived, and erected buildings on the Huron road, east of the river, now Ontario Street. Mr. Sergeant's hotel was used for a church as well as a tavern, representing the only spirituous and spiritual structure in Stratford. John Sharman and his family were also early settlers. Mrs. Sharman died shortly after their arrival, which was probably the first death in this hamlet. Interment took place in what is now the centre of a street opposite St. James' church. J. A. McCarthy was what eras afterwards known as a '32 man. In 1833 came J. C. W. Daly, as Canada Company agent, and erected another frame building as a general store. During 1833 arrived J. J. E. Linton, who was afterwards first schoolteacher in this county. Another settler of aristocratic distinction had located near the river as a suitable position for hunting, who was named Berwick. This gentleman had a retinue of servants, with a full outfit of dogs, guns, etc., but not finding backwoods life to his taste, soon returned to whence he came as being more congenial. The first location ticket I have seen is in possession of Judge Woods, and dated January 17th, 1833, before leases were issued. This ticket is No. 62-61, covering lot 1 on concession I and 2, Downie. Mr. Thomas Ward was the purchaser, and agreed to pay therefore 7s., 6d. per acre. He paid £12, 10s. in cash and gave notes for £62, 10s. This property was afterwards bought by the Woods family, a portion of it being still held by Judge Woods, on which a part of Stratford is built, known as Woodville. Progress was extremely slow, however. In 1840 there were three stores - kept by J. C. W. Daly, John Monteith, and a person named Meany; Mr. Sharman's blacksmith's shop, the first in this county; a shoe shop, a couple of cobblers, Way's cabinet shop, a saw mill, erected by John Sebring in 1833; a grist mill, built about the same time; and the "Auld Kirk," built in 1835. Subsequent to this period settlement became more rapid, although Stratford's increase in population was still slow. In 1850 the inhabitants numbered 900. There were now two grist mills, an oatmeal mill, a distillery, saw mill, foundry, carding and fulling mill, two tanneries, brewery, two asheries, one on a large scale, located where the Commercial hotel and Theatre Albert now stand; a post office, and six churches. Financial institutions were represented by the Upper Canada, the Canada, the National Loan Friendly Life Assurance Company, Provincial Mutual & Equitable Fire Insurance Company, and a Canada Company office.

From History of Perth County 1825-1902 by William Johnston, published in 1903