As a day trip a while back, my husband and I decided on an outing to Arthur. Arthur, which I had heretofore never heard of, is about a half hour west of Orangeville on Highway 9. A wonderful little region for a close-by escape awaited exploration!
What drew our curiosity in the first place was a book series by Harry Turtledove, a famous science fiction and fantasy writer who also writes “alternate histories”. Here, the South won the Civil War, and has trench warfare drawing the battle line at Arthur, Ontario. Ironically, what first greeted us through flakes of snow that day, was the sign welcoming us to “Canada’s Most Patriotic Village”. Oh, there are definitely stories here!
By 1792, Augustus Jones, a land surveyor, arrived with a party of First Nations people to mark the northern border of the Six Nations land grant near Arthur. The Six Nations, don’t forget, fought with the British and Loyalist troops under Chief Joseph Brant in the American Revolution. This Baseline formed the boundary for many nearby townships and First Nations land claims. What is now Wellington County and Arthur were purchased from the Mississaugas, and the Huron Tract from the Chippewas, by the very early 19th century.
Wellington County was named after the first Duke of Wellington. Born into Anglo-Irish aristocracy, he rose through the ranks to become a leading military and political figure of 19th-century Britain, and is still today considered a brilliant military leader. In 1815, he ended the European Napoleonic Wars, defeating Napoleon at Waterloo. Arthur was his first name, and this was given to the town.
Settlers began arriving by 1840, and the town itself was surveyed in 1841. They mainly emigrated from Ireland, along with Scots and English. Gristmills and sawmills encouraged its growth in the community. The first church, school and post office appeared by 1852. In 1872, a station was built there for the old Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway. Times were hard along the way for settlers unused to the conditions of clearing using what tools they had, and included three years of crop failure in the township, between 1859-60. Called “The years of the yellow meal”, they were so named as corn meal had to be supplied to the needy. In 1890, the first high school opened with 55 students and 2 teachers.
Why is Arthur “Canada’s Most Patriotic Village”, as was stated in the Ontario Legislature in 2002? One out of every seven Arthur residents fought in the Second World War, 126 from a population of 890, and the highest ratio of comparable Canadian villages. The Cenotaph in town records their sacrifice. In WWII, they exceeded all objectives for war and victory bond campaigns, finally raising $250,000 equalling 64% of the assessed taxable property value of the village!
SUSSMAN’S at the HEART
The history of Arthur is not complete without including Sussman’s of Arthur. I first heard about good buys there from an old horse-riding friend. Sussman’s is a major draw in the town, offering a “big city selection with small town service”. In fact, my husband discovered that with men’s wear stores few and far between these days; it is one of the few still around for the “average guy” who likes to dress well, get great service, and find everything from basics to suit alterations! It is still the region’s largest independent supplier of quality men’s and ladies’ wear. The store’s history goes back more than 106 years ago, when it first opened.
In 1906, Joe Sussman and his two brothers, Art and Ben, left Poland for the new world due to lack of opportunities. Joe was only 21 at the time and spoke little English. Soon after, they arrived to the garment district of Toronto (yes, we had one). Joe then started peddling clothes via horse and cart in the Arthur area, even staying in many farm homes, and stabling his horse there overnight. He became popular as he was always willing to offer an extra hand, when needed.
After a few years, Joe decided to open a store in Arthur for his customers to visit him there, initially partnering with his brother-in-law, Willy Rother. The date was April 15, 1915, and it was originally located on the west side of George St. near Charles St. The business flourished and Joe bought Willy out; he also required a bigger store, so he moved across the street and northwards on George St. By 1955 even more space was needed, and in the 70’s and 80’s the store expanded to its present size by buying adjoining businesses.
The family flourished too! In 1916 Joe married and the family grew with the arrival of two sons and a daughter. In 1950, Shirley Sussman married Dave Kozinets from Toronto. Dave’s father had been a furrier and his grandfather a tailor in Russia, a natural for the business. Their two sons Steve and Harvey joined the business in the 1970`s and run it now. Harvey has been a lifelong Maple Leafs fan since that time, always having tickets (his first were $4 a seat!). His memorabilia collected over that period can be found in the store, including original seats from Maple Leaf Gardens! And he’s happy to “talk hockey” with any interested customer. Until recently, Sussman’s also provided a bright orange blazer for the winner of the Port Elgin Pumpkin fest, held every fall for the biggest pumpkin (the record being close to 2000 lbs). Dave was elected to the Village Council and then became Reeve, supporting community needs for a major factory, a library, medical centre, nursing and retirement homes, and a new arena complex. September 26, 2015, Harvey and Cindy Kozinets, along with the local historical society, changed the name of the Arthur Municipal Building to the David M. Kozinets Centre, in recognition of his many contributions to the community.
So, in these days of supporting local, Sussman’s really brings meaning to the phrase of a community business!
Before leaving Arthur, and in need of quick calories, think of the IScreamm Cone Company south of Sussman’s. We usually get our fix from one of the many delicious options there including sorbet, yogurt and gelato. But you can also get Ice cream pies and cakes, besides all kinds of chocolate and candy for those with a sweet tooth. Across the street is The Plumber’s Wife, whose bathroom and kitchen fixtures (and accessories) rival anything I’ve seen in Toronto boutiques! There are other businesses to explore too, like Arthur Cash and Carry, for some real finds.
ARTHUR and BEYOND
Beyond Arthur, there is more pleasurable crawling and discovering! Fridays and Saturdays, Gray’s Auction and Liquidation in Harriston offers real bargain hunting. I came away with a really neat bull rush solar light for my garden once. You can revive body and soul afterwards in Harriston at Harry Stone’s Social House, pub grub at its best, in a restored heritage building. Davie’s Antiques almost right next door provides a few floors of browsing pleasure for special finds.
For nature lovers, East Luther-Grand Valley offers the Luther Marsh Wildlife Management Area. The 1,400-hectare Luther Lake is contained within a 5,900-hectare property which is habitat for many birds, animals, plants and trees. They say it is one of the best bird-watching spots in Ontario, and a popular spot with hikers and hunters, besides for other outdoor activities.
And in between are all kinds of small businesses, B and B’s, restaurants and farm produce to discover at the side of the road. The last drive took us into a goat farm shop with wonderful homemade cheeses and other delectables. There is even a Butter Tart Trail for afficionados!
Speaking of trails, if you want to put on your comfortable shoes, walking trails (as well as events, sites and other things to do) are listed on https://www.simplyexplore.ca. This includes the Arthur Historical Society’s walking tour of the major historical sites in the Town itself.
So, as well as “buying local”, think local for great “daycations”!
WRITTEN BY: DIANA JANOSIK-WRONSKI