Separation from the United Counties of Perth, Huron, and Bruce in 1850, and Stratford being selected as county seat, gave the first impetus to this still unimportant village. Hitherto it had been a part of those municipalities which converge within its limits. The new dignity of being elevated to a county town created higher aspirations in the citizens than being a small country village. During 1852 new county buildings were erected, and January 1853, saw met together for the first time that legislative body which was to control local affairs in Perth County. Stratford now aspired to become a town. In accordance with the Act, 12 Vic., chap. 81, a petition was sent to His Excellency praying that Stratford be set apart as an incorporated village. This petition was approved by William Rowen, then acting as Governor, who issued a proclamation raising Stratford to this new dignity. Robert Moderwell was appointed returning officer, the election to be held on the first Monday in January 1854. Mr. Moderwell having taken the oath before Mr. Andrew Monteith, proceeded to hold nominations at the court house. On this occasion came before the people as candidates, Alex. B. Orr, Robert Johnson. James Orr, Peter Reid, P. R. Jarvis, R. H. Lee, W. F. McCulloch, Peter Woods, James Woods, Henry Walters, John R. Vivian, John A. Scott, R. H. Keays, John Sharman, John Lynch, and John Hyde. Of this number Messrs. A. B. Orr, Reid, Vivian, Lee, and McCulloch were elected. At their first meeting Mr. McCulloch was chosen reeve, and Stewart Campbell clerk, who afterwards resigned, when Mr. S. L. Robarts was appointed. Jas. Woods and Peter Ferguson were appointed assessors; Robt. Johnson, collector, and Adam Seegmiller, treasurer. Compensation was allowed to these officers: Clerk, £30; assessors, £10 each; collector, £12; treasurer, £10; auditors, Peter Reid and Samuel Lloyd Robarts, salary not stated. Hotel licenses were fixed at £7, 10s., Thomas Stoney, John Alexander, and Samuel Hesson, inspectors; school trustees, Robert Monteith, John A. Scott. John Hyde, T. M. Daly, Robert Keays, and Andrew Montreith. Dr. Hyde and Dr. Shaver were appointed medical health officers; George Larkworthy, chief of police, at a salary of £20 per annum. Mr. Hammond's services in this department were accepted, but without remuneration.
These important functions having been performed they proceeded to other matters. A new fire engine was ordered from Montreal, and it is interesting to note that a special provision was inserted in the contract that delivery should not be made until navigation opened the following spring. Several by-laws of importance were also passed. Railroads were now occupying people's minds, as being of incalculable advantage to inland towns such as Stratford. £25,000 was, therefore, borrowed to purchase stock in the Brantford, Buffalo & Goderich railway. Explanations regarding this stock will be found in a paragraph dealing with county indebtedness elsewhere. A further sum of £1,800 was borrowed to erect a school building, with £1,700 for sidewalks and purchasing a site for a market house. The land selected for this building was an old saw mill yard, which Mr. McDonald, then proprietor, agreed to sell for £200. This is still the city marketplace, although in 1855 old saw logs, slabs, saw dust, and other refuse, lying scattered on all sides, was a source of great annoyance to the council and citizens generally. It was not till those in authority had recourse to stringent measures that an abatement of this nuisance was made, and sidewalks and streets were cleared of those unsightly obstructions. Stratford so far having no corporate seal, it was decided to adopt that of their chief magistrate for sealing official papers, which was a crest, an aim, an arrow, with the motto vi, it, anims.
During 1855 an attempt was made to introduce monthly cattle fairs, but which, as in other sections of this county, were never successful. Further legislation was enacted against saw logs interfering with travel on the principal streets. During this year we obtain a first glimpse at the finances of this now progressive village. Estimates for all purposes amounted to £1,176, 7s., 4d., or somewhat less that $5,000. In 1856 tenders were asked for constructing a market building, but not to exceed £5,000. A prize of £50 was offered for the best design. A by-law was also passed authorizing the purchase of stock in the Northern Gravel road. This was a most important movement on Stratford's part, opening up that dense swamp, a distance of ten miles, by a good highway to those fertile lands in Mornington. This road brought an immense trade to the town, and accelerated development in that splendid country lying to the north.
The year 1857 saw a market building erected, whose cupola with its extending flag staff was for years the pride of the citizens, exciting wonder and admiration in backwoods youths who came from the northern townships with their oxen to trade in this great metropolis. Like much in this world, however, it was not what it seemed. Erected by Messrs. Oliver & Sewell, contractors, at a cost of £5,490, from some imperfections in construction it was constantly being repaired. This old structure was destroyed by fire in 1897. In 1899 the present fine building was erected at a cost of $45,000. During 1857 a fire company was organized, and great improvements made on several leading streets. Nile and Waterloo streets were now graded, at a cost of 4s, 11 1/2d. per rod. Downie street was also graded, at a cost of 6s. per rod. A census was taken this year, the results of which indicated great progress since 1850. The village was now divided into five wards - Shakespeare, Hamlet, Romeo, Avon, and Falstaff. Enumerators were appointed for each of these, Mr. J. J. E. Linton being paid £1 for his services; W. D. Harrison, B. Grant, and Jas. Taylor, other enumerators, 15s. each. The total population being 3,198, action was again taken regarding hotel licenses, which were raised to £20.
1858 saw Stratford elevated to the dignity of a town, with Mr.
J. C. W. Daly as first mayor. Another new fire engine was ordered, and a new bell was placed in the cupola of the market building, which since its erection had been silent as the spheres. Three new town pumps were ordered from Georgetown for town wells. Tanks were placed on principal streets for cases of emergency.
On March 21, 1859, Mr. Linton, notwithstanding these indications of material development, presents a somewhat doleful report regarding poor people in the town, Relief had been given to 33 families, who were reported as destitute. Mr. Linton is reported as carrying a bottle of wine to a dying man named Pat Conners and paying $2 for his funeral expenses. A soup kitchen was established where the poor were fed; the first, and we pray heaven it may be the last, ever established in Perth County. In this trying period Mr. Linton's conduct presents a noble aspect of human character and a tender sympathy for human suffering.
Mr. Daly having resigned his position as mayor, Mr. William Smith was chosen to succeed him. A further sum of £1,250 was granted to the Northern Gravel road. Bowling alleys and billiard rooms were now first introduced, and by-laws were passed imposing regulations regarding the manner of conducting them.