In 1834, Edward Bristow became Elmira's first settler when he purchased 53 acres of land for 50 cents per acre. First called Bristow's Corners, then West Woolwich in 1853, the settlement adopted the name Elmira. Edward Bristow established the settlement's first store, tavern, shoe shop, as well as, a potashery. It is also interesting to note that the first post-office was located in his premises, only to be moved in later years to Christmann's Hotel.
The earliest inhabitants were of English and Irish origin, including families named Halfpenny, Seaton, Bristow, Isenhour, Kenning, Thompson, Thomas and Girling. In the 1850's, German settlers moved into the community. Among these families were Oswald, Esche, Steffen and Tresinger. These settlers followed the original settlement patterns of Waterloo County by other German immigrants, namely the Pennsylvanian Dutch, or more accurately, the Mennonites.
In 1861, The Elmira House was erected for the numerous artisans and merchants came to Elmira to earn a living. This activity helped Elmria become known as an enterprising community. In December 1886, Elmira entered a new chapter of its history with the incorporation of the settlement as a village by charter. At this date, the population of the newly incorporated village stood at 760 people.
Throughout the 1870's and 1880's, Elmira acquired various cultural trappings, including a brass band (1873) and a library (1885), which boasted an initial membership of 20 people. Industry has always held a vital place within Elmira. Apart from a sash and door factory, Elmira possessed a flour mill. This particular business was in fact, the community's earliest industry, built by a joint stock company. In 1869 this business was purchased by John and Jacob Ratz.
On January 1, 1923, Elmira, with a population of 2500, became an incorporated town and today Elmira is a thriving community of approximately 8,000 people with a variety of restaurants, bed and breakfasts, and specialty shops such as quilt, bridal and gift stores and home to the Elmira Maple Syrup Festival. The Bandstand, located in Gore Park, Elmira, is a reminder of the centre entertainment in a small town in the early 1900's. It was built in 1912 by A.M. Bowman, from a design prepared by members of the Elmira Musical Society. The bandstand was historically designated in 1985 and it was restored as a project to celebrate Elmira's centennial.
I was in the midst of enjoying all three when I heard a commotion outside my front window. As I drew back the drapes to glance at what was causing the hubbub, I saw a procession of school children from the elementary school around the corner. They were marching along the sidewalk accompanied by their teacher who was leading the way, on a walkabout to explore the neighbourhood, I suppose. I was pleased to see this merry group of youngsters yelling and laughing and doing everything that young kids should be doing, being themselves. They seemed to be enveloped in all they were experiencing, with their boundless energy on display as if they did not have a car in the world. Freedom from the constraints of the classroom seemed to release them from any inhibitions.
“What a joy to see this,” I thought. What really struck me at this moment was that the children’s actions seemed to mimic the change of the season and herald the arrival of Spring. I found this idea invigorating. Soon, young, green shoots would pop up from the warmed soil and flowers would bloom from the bulbs underneath, signaling a new beginning. The whole transformation in nature, like the youngsters’ surprise visit, would add life to a barren landscape. My garden would soon welcome new growth too and flourish with abundance.
As the children ventured on their journey, I noticed there were a couple of stragglers at the end of their line. One of them was a small boy who had stopped to look at something. Actually he was standing and gazing intently at something in front of my house. With him was a woman who I presumed was an Educational Assistant. She had stopped also and was kneeling beside him. Both were deep in conversation.
What moved me at this point was the way this woman was relating to the child. Nothing was hurried by her actions. It did not matter that they were lagging behind the others from the class. She was now pointing and reading something to him. As I watched them it occurred to me that sometimes our lives get so hectic with our daily routines, that we forget to take time to pause and reflect. These neighbourhood visitors reminded me that life’s simplest pleasures arrive when we live in the moment and appreciate what is around us.
And now, you’re probably wondering what it was the little boy and woman were admiring on my front lawn. As I moved closer to the open window to listen, I could just make out that their fascination lay in a little statue sitting under one of my small trees. It is here that two colourful elves encircle it’s concrete front where the phrase, “Welcome To My Garden” is etched.
I smiled to myself and thought, “We should always remember this simple message - to open our hearts to visitors, to the wonders of nature and to Spring!”