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Contributed photo

Contributed photo

The Carriage and General Blacksmith Shop of D. Miller, St. Marys, found on page 11 of the 1879 atlas of Perth County by H. Belden & Co.

Perth County Atlas sketches of a little town

Mary Smith, Historic St. Marys

In the late 1870s, a series of large, hard-cover, illustrated historical atlases were produced for 40 individual counties in Ontario, great additions to home libraries at that time. The 1879 atlas for Perth County produced by H. Belden & Co. included a 26-page introduction giving a historic overview from geological formation through first human habitation up to current political and industrial conditions in the county. All the counties abutting Perth had similar atlases.

These books were pre-sold by subscription and included a list of subscribers or “patrons.” Prominent county residents paid additional sums to have personal portraits and “views” of their homes or businesses sketched and included. For researchers today, the greatest value lies in the maps of each separate township with the owners’ names marked on all the farm properties.

Towns and villages are accurately mapped but do not include names of property owners. However, some townspeople commissioned “views” and so are represented. An example is the drawing with this week’s column: the Carriage and General Blacksmith Shop of D. Miller, St. Marys, found on Page 11 of the atlas. Research shows that a very young Duncan Miller came with his family from Glasgow, Scotland, to Ontario in the 1840s. They settled near Galt where Duncan learned blacksmithing. In 1859, he moved to St. Marys and was soon active in town life, serving as mayor in 1872.

The drawing shows Miller’s house, blacksmith shop and carriage works with nine tiny human figures and five horses adding life and activity
to the scene. Assessment records place Miller’s property on the west side of Thomas Street, extending from Queen to Jones. His carriage works must have been approximately where Thames Label & Litho is today.

Many county atlases were reprinted about 40 years ago and these reprints can still be found. The St. Marys Museum has all area atlas reprints available for reference. Copies of the originals are rare but much of the information they contain has been digitized by McGill University Library. Anyone interested can search on-line for the Canadian County Atlas project.

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