(above: Derry West Hotel, in 1951)
By Nicole Mair
Oh, what could have been – had fate and history dealt a different hand, we could well be living in the City of Derry West today.
Almost two hundred years ago, in 1819, around the intersection of modern Hurontario Street and Derry Road, a group of immigrants arrived by caravan intent on starting a new life. The hamlet of Derry West, founded in the early nineteenth century, was settled by Irish immigrants from New York. The forming of the village was led by two important pioneer settlers: George Graham and Joseph Carter.
George Graham reportedly suggested the name Derry Walls for the community in honour of his forefathers who had fought at Londonderry, Ireland, as well as to celebrate their Protestant Orange heritage. The name of Derry-in-the-West was accepted, but it was later shortened to Derry West by the postal department.
[…] Derry West grew until 1865, when the hamlet was swept by fire. The fire broke out at the back of the Moffatt house when hot ashes were blown onto the porch. The flames grew and were spread throughout the village by a strong wind. The fire reached Thomas Grafton’s house, McVittie’s house, a hotel, Mr. McClare’s store, among other buildings. Only a few houses survived. Mrs. Moffatt was tragically killed while trying to rescue a gold watch from the house. Derry West’s buildings were replaced within the year, including the hotel which was rebuilt in the same place by Charles Armstrong. The village of Derry West, however, was never able to reestablish its former prominence.
Unfortunately little lingers of the village that once was Derry West, its memory only preserved by a few lingering reminders: the historically designated Hunter-Holmes House at the modern Derrydale Golf Course, the small historic pioneer cemetery just west of Hurontario Street, and the name of Derry Road itself, as the concession line that once led to the bustling crossroads hamlet of Derry West. In 2002, Derry West Village Public School was opened. It was the first cluster school to be built by the Peel Board of Education.
We can look at family names from historic maps to help place a personal face and stir a collective memory: names like Armstrong, Brown, Carter, Golden, Grafton, Graham, Hunter, Moore, Moffatt, Oliver, Sanderson, Tilt and Wedgewood, to name a few.
Fun fact: I am related to the Wedgewoods by marriage, and several live just north of this area, in Caledon.