By Michael Walmsley
Chaffey Street runs N from Main Street East until it becomes West Road
Chaffey Street is, decidedly, the Huntsville street that has the most convoluted history involved in the evolution of its name.
Whereas the overwhelming majority of the town’s routes can be linked to people who had a direct connection with the community, the name “Chaffey” seems not to be one of them. Indeed, one has to initially trace the name connection back to 1779 when, in England, a bouncing baby boy by the name of Benjamin Chaffey was born.
We next hear of Benjamin in 1816 when he and his brother, Samuel, emigrated to Canada along with Benjamin’s wife, Frances, and their four children.
After initially obtaining an Imperial Land Grant in Perth, Ontario and spending a year living in a makeshift shanty covered with blankets, the Chaffey clan made their way to Brockville, Ontario. Benjamin and Samuel set up a mercantile business and dabbled in the distillery trade before eventually building and operating Chaffey’s Mills near Brockville.
Things began to unravel for the brothers sometime around 1818 when Benjamin was charged by the British government for not paying import duties on goods brought into Upper Canada. Mired in debt, Benjamin pulled up stakes and moved his family to Zainesville, Ohio.
In 1827, Samuel passed away and Benjamin returned to Brockville to contest ownership of the mills. He appears to have been unsuccessful in this endeavour but decides that Brockville is the best place for Frances and him to reset their roots. History records that Benjamin opened a machine shop with three of his sons, constructed a shipyard in which he built tug boats and a steam-generated floating grain elevator. Benjamin also found work as a contractor assisting in the construction of the Saint Lawrence River canal system. Benjamin passed away in 1832 after contracting typhus while caring for immigrants from Ireland.
Benjamin and Frances were parents to twelve children including daughters Susan and Frances. It is with these two siblings that we continue our round-about route to Chaffey Street.
In 1847, the Chaffey girls ended up marrying two brothers by the names of Stephen and Andrew Richards. The Richards boys were both lawyers in Brockville but were each destined for far greater things in life. Andrew, who married Frances, ended up moving out to the west coast and eventually became the Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia. Stephen, who became betrothed to Susan, entered the Ontario political scene and became a member of the first cabinet of the Province of Ontario. In due time, the Honourable Stephen Richards was named as the Commissioner of Crown Lands, a position he held from 1867 to 1871.
It was during this time that Richards had a direct hand in organizing the Free Grants and Homestead Act of 1868. As the province began opening up territories for settlement, names for these areas were required for identification purposes. When it came to one of the areas around Huntsville to get a township designation, Richards put forth the name of Chaffey to honour his wife’s family. Just as with Brunel Township spawning Brunel Road, Chaffey Township shared its name with Chaffey Street.
Since it was Susan Richards (nee Chaffey) who, albeit indirectly, brought the name Chaffey to the map of Huntsville, a little more digging unearths that Susan was born in 1823 and that she and Stephen had four children. After Stephen’s passing in 1894, Susan moved to California. By 1901, she was residing in British Columbia with the family of one of her daughters. She died at the age of 94 in 1917.
As to whether Susan ever did manage to visit the township bearing her maiden name or walk along the Huntsville street named Chaffey, the mystery remains for future history sleuths to unravel.
See more Saturday Streetscapes here.
Michael Walmsley is a retired elementary school principal who resides in Huntsville. He enjoys looking at things with a bit of “outside-the-box” perspective and totally believes in living today with a hand on the past and an eye on the future. He has published articles in Kanawa and Adventure Kayak magazines and has recently published a book entitled The Joy of Kayaking – Including the Kayak Quiz.
During this past year, as president of the PROBUS Club of Muskoka North, he has written a weekly article to the club’s membership which has included a focus on Huntsville’s streets. These articles have been combined into book form which will be published in the summer of 2021.
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