Canada’s 150 birthday on July 1 this year is also a huge milestone for the people of Bothwell, who are celebrating 150 years since founder and Father of Confederation George Brown designed the town during the oil boom of the 1860s.
Former reeve, author and town historian Marion Matt sat down with The Voice to discuss the significant history of the area, its founder George Brown and the huge celebration the town has planned for July 1.
Author of Life of a Boomtown, written in 2005, Matt is a wealth of information on the history of the area, from Brown’s journey that landed him in Bothwell, to the oil boom, to the devastating fires that decimated whole blocks in the town.
Set up in the Bothwell Town Hall seniors’ room is a series of panels on the history of Bothwell created by Matt that chronicle not only the life and career of Brown, but the life of workers in the oil fields, and the 25 hotels and 13 saloons that sprang up when the population of the town exploded from 400 to 8,000 in the 1860s. Matt said that at that time, Bothwell was second only to Toronto in population and became Brown’s home base when he ran for legislative assembly of Upper Canada in 1851 and won.
As a newspaper reporter and then publisher of The Globe, Matt said Brown was very influential politically as an orator and man who could rally public opinion. Those skills led him to working to abolish slavery in 1851 with the Anti-Slavery Society of Canada, investigating and overhauling the prison system and helping to join Upper and Lower Canada as a Father of Confederation.
In Brown’s time, Matt said the major industry was wood, and the newspaperman was key in bringing in businesses to Bothwell that crafted with wood and secondary business to support the oil industry.
Matt also has huge collection of photos and panels that outline the history of each building in town, and families who lived there, with some at Town Hall and some at the Bothwell library.
To keep the concerns and ideas of the community in the forefront, Matt said the Bothwell Community Boosters committee was formed after the amalgamation of Chatham-Kent in 1998 and needed a plan to raise money for their vision of the town, including a new main street, upgrades to the theatre in the town hall and a new floor in the seniors’ room at the town hall. With those tasks now done thanks to council, local businesses and Canada 150 Legacy Fund grant, the committee turned its efforts to the 150th birthday of Bothwell.
“The 150th anniversary committee has evolved to people who have moved here in the last 10 years and they have had draws and raffles, and got into the bingo fund which has gone exceedingly well,” Matt said. “I truly think if not for this group coming together to do things, it would be very different. They have been very faithful.”
Running Canada Day events for the past four years for kids in the park has been a training session of sorts for the committee, Matt said, and they have them assembled and ready to go for this year.
Matt said the day will actually start with a reunion for Bothwell Minor Hockey at 10 a.m. at the Bothwell Sports Arena. Established for the 1973-74 season, Bothwell Minor Hockey quickly rose to become one of the most successful small town organizations in the province.
Nametags will be provided with registration and memorabilia will be on display. The ceremony will start at 11:30 a.m. with guest speaker Brian Wiseman, coach of the University of Michigan Wolverines hockey club.
The day on Main Street will begin with registration at the town hall, and then visitors can take in a mini car show, inflatables for youth, a train for kids from Sloan’s Tree Farm, a kid’s carnival, face painting, a photo booth, food vendors and a street hockey rink with playing time for different age groups put together by Bill Sloan. A dinner will be catered by Park’s Blueberries, and three different shows will be put on in the theatre, a wood carver demonstration with his creations being auctioned off later in the day, a beer tent hosted by the Legion with main stage entertainment, and much more.
One of the highlights Matt said will be at 8 p.m. with a street dance and entertainment by The Shake Band. She said the finale will be fireworks over the train tracks at the end of the night.
Information on the event can be found by going to http://bothwellontario.ca/community.html, including information on a la carte ticket costs for the events or packages for couples and families to save money.