Historical Plaque Properties

 

John Sharman - Land Agent/Blacksmith/Businessman
110 Douglas Street
1873

The settlement of the Huron Tract, a block of more than a million acres in the lee of Lake Huron which today is part of Southwestern Ontario in hi tech 2014, began in the early 1800’s. A future Stratford, then commonly referred to as Little Thames, was beginning to emerge as the surrounding countryside of highly fertile soil, interspersed with lakes, rivers and hardwood forests was surveyed by representatives of its owner, The Canada Company, based in London England. One of the very first settlers was John Sharman, a blacksmith from Bedfordshire, England. His good friend, John C.W. Daly had preceded him in the summer of 1833 and quickly realizing that this burgeoning locale urgently needed a blacksmith somehow sent word to John who arrived with his wife Lydia Brown in July 1834.

 

The Canada Company surveyors had just completed the town plan when John arrived in time to purchase the first lot the Company sold.  It was in a clearing on the riverbank just north of what is now the Huron Street Bridge and opposite St Joseph’s Church.  John and Lydia built a dwelling and he located the first blacksmith shop there. Sadly, Lydia died shortly after arriving and was buried in an unmarked grave in” God’s Little Acre”, a small cemetery plot adjoining St James Anglican Church. Some historians believe she could have the distinction of being the first person to die in the new settlement.

 

In 1839 John married Isabella Gibb, whose parents, John and Beatrix, had travelled from Northumberland. England with their family in 1834 to Downie Township where they settled on a farm property adjoining one soon to be purchased by John. The blacksmith business quickly prospered not only because horses and oxen needed to be shod, but also in response to the demand for nails, tools and other supplies needed for the building of the new settlement. He was soon able to purchase additional land including farm properties in adjoining Downie Township and was appointed a Crown Lands Agent for the sale of properties in the northern townships of Perth County.

The first frame building in Stratford was the Shakespeare Hotel built in 1832 by the village’s first settler, an Irish immigrant, John Sargint and his wife. Located on the south bank of the river close to the top of what is now Downie Street,*it quickly became the centre of business and community life until it was destroyed by fire in 1839. Other hotels were built and one of the first was the Farmers’ Inn built by the Sharman’s at the corner of Huron and Mornington Streets. The Sharman blacksmith business, perhaps not surprisingly, led to the establishment of the settlement’s first foundry on Birmingham Street opposite St Patrick Street and a family business manufacturing machines such as “The Little Giant Thresher” and other equipment farmers used to plant and harvest their crops. 

 

John and Isabella were the parents of 7 sons and a daughter. The eldest, Joseph, born in 1841 who may have been the first immigrant child born here, was followed by 6 brothers and a baby sister, Sarah, who only lived for 5 months. Two sons, Henry and Charles also died as infants. 

 

Joseph became a Deputy Crown Lands Agent, served on the both the Perth County and Stratford municipal councils and, with his brothers James and John, managed and operated the foundry and agricultural implements manufacturing businesses.  In 1885 he moved west to Manitoba with his wife Isabella Logan, their 11 children and a herd of pure-bred Hereford cattle, established a successful farming operation and eventually retired in Russell, Manitoba after living in Winnipeg and other locations.


The second son Robert and his wife, Jane Headley, also went west, stopping for a few years to farm in Michigan and then locating near Brandon, Manitoba where they also acquired farmlands and raised a family of 8 children.

 

James Sharman, the third son, and only family member to remain in Stratford, in addition to his involvement with the family foundry and agricultural implements manufacturing business, took a prominent role in the city’s civic affairs, serving as a councillor and city assessor. He was a school board trustee when Central Collegiate opened in 1885. James and his wife, Mary Dean were the parents of 5 children. He died in1925 and is buried in Avondale Cemetery.

 

The next son, John Sharman Jr, his father’s namesake, was also active in the family business endeavours but branched into one of Stratford and area’s early businesses-cheese making.   In 1873 he was operating the Town of Stratford Cheese Factory. By 1881, still a cheese maker, he and his wife, Annis Skidmore Brown, also of Stratford, were living on a farm property in Downie Township with their family of 3 children. However Manitoba also caught their attention and they went west to the Brandon area where older brother Robert and his family were already situated.

The youngest surviving son, William was a shoe merchant in Woodstock, south of Stratford, in Oxford County, when he married Sarah Wilson in 1876.They returned to Stratford with 2 young daughters, but soon made their way to Selkirk, Manitoba where William gained experience as a cattle broker. They eventually moved into Winnipeg with their family of seven children and Sarah’s mother, where he took a position as a valuator/ appraiser with Union Trust. He was on the staff at the company’s head office in Toronto when he died suddenly in 1927 at age 78. He was buried in Winnipeg. A note of interest, the Union Trust office building in Winnipeg where he worked and now known as the Union Tower has been included in the Historic Sites of Manitoba.

 

According to assessment and census records,  John J. Odbert, age 25 and a tinsmith, acquired the ¼ acre property at 110 ( then numbered 31) Douglas Street in 1872. He built the first residential structure there in 1873 but almost immediately sold it to John and Isabella Sharman, who were by then in their sixties, and living nearby on Avon Street. They enlarged the existing dwelling, doubling the assessed value from $900 to $1800 by 1876.

 

John Sharman died in May 1883 at 77 years of age. Isabella eventually moved to Birmingham Street to live with her son James and his family. Before she died in 1902 at age 84, she gave an interview to the Stratford Herald recounting some of her experiences as a pioneer woman. The article refers to her as “Very Oldest Resident”. John and Isabella are buried in Avondale Cemetery.


*A memorial plaque marking the location of the Shakespeare Hotel is mounted on a large boulder just off the sidewalk close to the westerly wall of Pazzo’s Restaurant.