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.
In the autumn I spend a lot of time raking an abundance of leaves which drop on my front lawn. The only thing is there are no broadleaf trees on my property. Where do these leaves come from you might ask? Yes, they fall from above, and as you might have guessed, they were once attached to the trees next door, so technically they are my neighbour’s leaves. As it happens, the neighbours on either side of my property have majestic Sugar Maple trees which tower over the boulevard. These mature trees provide ample cooling shade for the cars which park under them in the summer, as well as year-round spots for the neighbourhood dogs to relieve themselves. As wonderful as these particular deciduous trees are, in the autumn their “fallout” is the bane of my existence in the make-work department.
Somehow the prevailing neighbourhood winds seem to deposit all of these leaves on my lawn, and for some reason once they settle on my grass, they stay there. They say possession is 99% of the law and so, week after week, I rake a huge mass of leaf litter. This plant material is then scooped up and deposited into numerous paper sacks to be set curbside for pickup. Bag after bag, stuffed with colourful leaves, line the sidewalk on the weekly collection day. Anyone walking by this sight would marvel at the forest of invisible trees in front of my house that are most prolific at shedding their foliage.
While it might be easier to mow the leaves with a lawnmower and let the mulch decay on the ground, I prefer to rake them. Although I have tried the lawnmower shredding method before, I find the end result a bit messy. Again, the leaf fragments do not blow away but merely accumulate and tend to suffocate the grass. With raking, as the leaves are gathered, the prongs scratch over the surface of the sod and lift off the dead thatch that has accumulated there. And, after bagging the leaves, they are set out for the city to collect. They are then composted and used in public parks, or given out to residents in the Spring for their gardens so the transient leaves (that migrated to my place) do find a loving home after all.
While raking the lawn is a thankless chore, it allows one the opportunity to enjoy the fresh autumn air and reflect on the beauty of the season. I recollect that when I was in the sixth grade my classmates and I were instructed to write a poem about the splendors of Fall. It was my very first attempt at poetry and I was very proud with what I had composed:
“The leaves are beautiful
At this time of year,
Red, orange, yellow,
And brown as beer.”
Little did I know then that my simple poem describing the variety of coloured foliage would be so controversial. I only realized how shocking it was to some after I had read it aloud in class. After a few gasps from the other children, my teacher ushered me aside and recommended politely I change the last line to “And brown as a deer.”
At the time I felt hurt by the suggestion that my word choice was inappropriate and needed to be altered. In my mind, when I saw the brown tones of the changing leaves, it was the same colour as the beer my dad held in his glass when he was finished work at night. In no way was I advocating underage drinking. Heck, I was still a little kid. I was merely making an observation about the colour of the dying leaves and creating a simile that best described what I saw. I never did change the offending word.
Although my carefree childhood days of jumping in a pile of leaves are long gone, I realize that finding them scattered on my lawn at this time of year is inevitable. Deciduous trees losing their foliage is a part of nature’s cycle of decay and renewal. While the “colourful” description of them in my 6th grade poem, or the ownership of the leafage on my front lawn today, might be debatable, one cannot argue with the spectacular sight they display on trees (or in bags) in the fall season.