The Town of Orangeville has a rich and vibrant history. Learn about our heritage and explore our walking tours and Broadway medians for more information about our past.

The Early Days of Orangeville

Settlement began in the Town of Orangeville in the 1830s and steady growth led to incorporation in 1863. The community continued to see economic expansion through the 1870s and 1880s, which led to the Town being named the county seat for the newly developed County of Dufferin in 1881.

Early Settlers

One of the earliest known settlers in the Town of Orangeville, is John Corbit who acquired land in the Brown's Farm area in 1829. Here Spring Brook, a tributary of the Credit River, provided water for settlers and power for several mills located downstream.

In 1833, Seneca Ketchum bought 200 acres on the north side of what would become Broadway, creating a settlement on Purple Hill. Four years later, George Grigg bought 100 acres on the south side and by 1844, when Orange Lawrence and his wife Sarah arrived from Connecticut, a well-established community called Grigg's Mill had taken root.

As an entrepreneur, Orange Lawrence was just the type of settler this developing community needed – an entrepreneur. Upon his arrival, he bought 300 acres of land. He laid out the southeast part of town, bought Grigg's Mill, opened a general store and a tavern, and built a second mill. He also founded the first school in Orangeville and he became the first postmaster in 1847. So strong was the mark he left on this community that everyone agreed Orangeville was the most appropriate name.

Immigrants from Ulster and other parts of the British Isles and Canada West arrived throughout the 1840s and 1850s. Some established successful mixed farms, much like the farms they had left behind. Others settled in the village and became landowners, merchants and tradesmen whose needs prompted the development of viable transportation routes.

The Arrival of the Railway

By the 1860s, it was clear that the residents of Orangeville needed dependable transportation. It was increasingly difficult to deliver and receive goods from the supply centres to the south. Mono Road, Centre Road, and Trafalgar Road were all routes south. The Toronto to Owen Sound Road opened in 1848, but travelling any of these gravel roads by horse and wagon was difficult for much of the year. During winter, most goods were transported by sleigh over frozen roads.

In 1864, after the village of Orangeville was incorporated, the merchants and business leaders began the process of promoting a tramway that would connect with the Grand Trunk Railway that ran between Toronto and Guelph. As a result of efforts from Jesse Ketchum Jr., Samuel and Robert McKitrick, Johnston Lindsey, Thomas Jull, John Foley and Dr. William Armstrong, work began in 1868. This was the same year that the Toronto, Grey & Bruce Railway (TG&B) proposed a narrow gauge line that would run from Toronto to Owen Sound and pass through Orangeville.

The tramway was set aside in favour of the TG&B Railway. In April of 1871, the first train arrived in Orangeville with a full complement of dignitaries, all celebrating “the opening of an epoch in the history of the town.” Regular service began in September and by 1873 there were 117 miles of railway line between Weston and Owen Sound.

When this railway and the Credit Valley Railway became part of Canadian Pacific Railways in 1883, Orangeville became an essential part of the line to Owen Sound. There was even a stagecoach that transported visitors and businessmen to and from the railway station on Mill Street and the hotels and businesses along Broadway. Orangeville was the divisional point on the main line as well as the starting point for several branch lines to places such as Fergus, Elora and Mount Forest. Passenger service to Orangeville ended in 1971, exactly 100 years after it began.

Growth and Development

Within six months from the opening of the railway, Orangeville was shipping out as many as 16 loads of grain a day as well as timber, lumber and fence rails. The grain warehouses stored as much as 100,000 bushels of wheat.

At this same time, Orangeville had 11 hotels, several law firms, three newspapers, a market twice a week, six churches and multi-storey buildings began to appear on the main street. The 1871 census tells us that the population had risen to approximately 1400, doubling in less than ten years.

By 1875 there was a foundry, three planning mills, two saw mills, a tannery, a carding mill, several carriage and wagon manufacturers and a successful pottery enterprise in Orangeville. The Town also included the following merchants:

  • 4 grocers
  • 3 hardware merchants
  • 2 drugstores
  • 3 watchmakers
  • 3 bakeries
  • 3 boot and shoe makers

Orange Lawrence and Jesse Ketchum had the foresight to have land on either side of the main street set aside for commercial and residential building lots. In 1851, Orangeville Lawrence hired Chisholm Miller to survey the first business area in this growing community on the south side of Broadway east of John Street. In 1856, Jesse Ketchum hired Charles J. Wheelock to lay out a commercial and residential subdivision on lands north of Broadway. Ketchum's plan was based on plans being developed for lower Manhattan Island. It established a regular grid pattern for the streets from the First and Fifth Streets both east and west and north to Fifth Avenue, with a wide and inviting main street called Broadway. This 30-metre avenue was certainly not typical of Ontario towns of the time.

Ketchum's plan was in distinct contrast to the existing development that lay south of Broadway. There, a more organic pattern had evolved along the banks of Mill Creek. Now, however, there were businesses established on both sides of Broadway, and very rapidly this broad main street became the heart of the town. Joseph Patullo and Maitland McCarthy both opened law practices on Broadway in the early 1860s. The year of 1875 saw the construction of the Town Hall, a clear measure of the kind of growth the town was experiencing.

In 1878, the construction of a seventh church began and in 1881 the population had doubled again. By the 1880s, the coffin factory was also producing steam-generated electricity for four streetlights on Broadway. In 1887, the first telephone exchange was established and by November 1889, it listed 69 subscribers including many of the businesses along Broadway.

At the same time that the business centre flourished, so too did the residential areas. Housing was needed for the many newcomers and for the railway workers who were moving to Orangeville as railway service expanded. Of houses built before 1920, for every one built after 1900, six were built before the turn of the century. People wanted to live in Orangeville.

By the end of the century, 40 of the early buildings on Broadway that we can still see today had been constructed. The architecture varied though much of it was based on the Italianate style. At this time, however, the town's development began to slow down. Of the original structures still on Broadway, only five were built between 1900 and 1925.

Twentieth Century Orangeville

By 1901 the population of Dufferin County had begun to decline; 1,000 fewer people in 1901 and 4,000 people fewer in 1911. This population decline in the surrounding areas meant a decreased demand for the services of Orangeville.

There are several reasons for this decrease in population. By the end of the nineteenth century, there was very little crown land left in Dufferin County. The children of these early settlers had to move away if they wanted to continue farming. In addition, in many places the soil had deteriorated. For the most part, the soil was quite light. As the forests were destroyed, erosion began to occur and water tables began to drop. Farming in certain sections became more marginal and as Canada opened up lands to the west, people began to move on. As water tables dropped, water-powered enterprises either invested in new equipment or went out of business.

Orangeville Today

In recent years, however, Orangeville has experienced enormous growth and regeneration. Today the population is more than 29,000. Much of this growth is a result of the Town becoming a bedroom community to those who work in the greater Toronto area. Today many of the businesses that the serve the community aren’t located along Broadway. Instead, they are found on the outskirts of town in malls easily accessible by car.

The historic downtown of Orangeville is still very much alive. Some of the buildings on Broadway have been demolished, others have been renovated, while still others remain much as they were when they were built 120 years ago. The early days of a prosperous, successful county town are still there for everyone to study and consider.