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The village of Bethany is peaceful and picturesque, but may seem not overly historic. Since I’m a history buff, I decided to look into the origins of the village. I discovered the settlement grew up along the tracks of the Midland Railway that went from Port Hope, through Millbrook to Lindsay. It does seem that the tiny village of Bethany was thriving in the late 1800s, even before highways and cars and trucks, with a population of 1500 and bustling halls and hotels and churches, with an annual fall fair that entertained the entire community. There are more than a few instances where buildings have withstood the tests of time, which is impressive considering a fire in 1911 destroyed the whole of the main business section of the south side of Main Street.

Bethany Ontario Post Office

The Post Office – I’m picturing how the mail was first brought to Bethany from Port Hope. Since I’ve made the drive from Port Hope to Bethany many of times (lived for a time in Garden Hill, outside Port Hope), I know the route so it’s easy for me to imagination. I also used to love the show, The Young Riders, which told the story of how mail was delivered in the United States. I’m sure it was a similar system here. In this age of email and texting and instant messages, not to mention the internet telling the news almost before it happened, it would be difficult for the younger generation to realize how important a post office would be. Bethany’s post office was established in 1875 with a man named Frank Blakely installed as Postmaster and handling all the duties and responsibilities that entailed. The Old Bethany Post Office, at 1480 Hwy 7A Bethany, is the only restored free standing heritage post office in Ontario.

Bethany Ontario Bank, circa 1920

The Bank Building – This bank building and residence was built in 1920, which is impressive enough, but the original bank was opened in 1918 in one room of a house owned by Thomas Jackson. The first bank in Bethany, known as The Farmers’ Bank, failed in 1910, taking with it the savings of many of the farmers that it was named for.

The Orange Hall – This was entirely new to me. I have to admit I’ve never heard of the Orange Lodge, which is a Protestant fraternal organization based in Northern Ireland.

Bethany Ontario Orange Lodge Hall

It was founded in 1796 and its name is a tribute to the Dutch-born William of Orange, who became Protestant King of England, Ireland and Scotland during the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688. The Orange Lodge remembers the victories of William of Orange and his forces in Ireland, especially the defeat of the army of Catholic James II at the Battle of the Boyne. This is celebrated on July 12, 1690 and was one of the best-known battles of British-Irish because James’ defeat allowed the continued ascendancy of Protestantism in Ireland and has become part of the folklore of the Orange Lodge. The institution sees itself as defending civil and religious liberties gained via the Protestant Reformation, the Glorious Revolution and other historical events.

Although based in Northern Ireland, the Orange Order played an important role in the history of Canada, where it was established in 1830. Most early members were from Ireland, but later many English, Scots, Italians and other Protestant Europeans joined the Order, as well as Mohawk Native Americans. Toronto was the epi-centre of Canadian Orangeism: most mayors were Orange until the 1950s, and Toronto Orangemen battled against Ottawa-driven initiatives like bilingualism and Catholic immigration. A third of the Ontario legislature was Orange in 1920. The highlights of the Orange year are the parades leading up to the celebrations on the Twelfth of July.
Bethany’s Orange Lodge 1022 was organized in 1859 with Andrew Brown as the first Worshipful Master and has been at the present location on John Street since 1912. Before WW1, there were 300 members and the lodge sponsored the first the Bethany Brass Band, and a Community Band, both which won many prizes in parades in neighbouring towns over the years.
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Bethany Ontario Train Station

The Railway Station – The long, low building used to be the train station with the addition of the other building in later years. I found a story about how the railway company settling in the area was looked on with mistrust. Not only were the railways changing the landscape of the country, but how people got around. To win over the residents, they would give free trips to anyone who accepted. Back then, there were no comfortable coaches to ride in; rather a flatbed train car was converted with seats set the width of the bed and cedar branches nailed along the sides for safety. The trains were wood burning and stacks of wood were left along the tracks for refueling. It must have been the highlight of the week for the village – young people in their Sunday best, and some of the older residents too, I’m sure, hopping on a train for a short trip to get a taste of the latest in transportation. Unfortunately, I’m sure the trip would end with the passenger’s faces and clothes blackened by smoke and cinders!
The Midland Railway was later taken over by the Grand Trunk Railway and later known as Canadian National. It stopped running through Bethany in 1928.

The more I look into Bethany, the more I find out. Reading about this little village gave me a glimpse into the past, at the development of services we take for granted and a way of life all but forgotten. The next time you drive through Bethany, take note of more than just the scenery.

Visit http://www.BethanyVillage.ca

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