Historical Plaque Properties


John F. Hyland - Train Dispatcher
138 Nile Street
Stratford, ON


John Francis Hyland was thirty-six years old when he moved into the newly built brick cottage at 138 Nile Street. Born in 1851 in Newfoundland, John was living in Toronto by his early 30’s.


The 1881 Census lists him living in downtown Toronto’s St Andrews Ward and boarding with a family named Smith. His occupation is given as ‘clerk’. The head of the household, Margaret, was a widow. Two of the younger Smiths, Andrew and Benjamin, were both listed as ‘telegraph clerks’. Perhaps John Hyland was already an experienced telegraph operator by 1881, or was busy learning the trade that brought him to Stratford.



Like many Stratford residents at the time, John worked for the Grand Trunk Railway, holding a fairly responsible position. He was a train dispatcher – a position comparable to the modern air traffic controller.


In addition to knowing the train schedules by heart, his tasks involved coordinating the movement of all trains safely along the tracks from point to point. He had to have a working knowledge of the region’s geography and the locations of all rail meeting and crossing points. The dispatcher coordinated all trains on the rails making the necessary decisions for one train to meet another, or to wait at specified locations while other trains made use of the rails. The dispatcher made any changes to the published schedule due to weather or other cautions.



The dispatcher was required to know Morse code for he was responsible in communicating all instructions to trains, stations and staff by telegraph. Following the telephone’s invention and widespread use, orders were communicated less by telegraph, but the dispatcher’s responsibilities continued.


On March 11, 1884 John married Mary Elder (born in Ireland) in Toronto. Three years later, they moved to Stratford and were living at 138 Nile Street.



William Gibson, a baker whose business was on Downie Street, owned the property and other lots in the neighbourhood. William Gibson had built the Italianate house at 35 Grange Street a few years earlier, in 1879. 138 Nile Street remained in his possession until 1896 when it passed to Carrie Drumm (‘spinster’), the sister of William’s wife Annie. During the years he owned the property, the assessment rolls list him as living in Stratford, then Ingersoll, then Brantford.


Although John Hyland and his family only occupied 138 Nile Street for two years, his work with the Grand Trunk Railway was important and continued. The Toronto Directory for 1890 lists John F. Hyland, train dispatcher, as a resident of the West Toronto junction area – a major rail centre in Toronto.



In 1896, John F. Hyland is listed as living on Gladstone Place, a street in Toronto’s west end not too far from his workplace. Just as the railway is important to the growth and history of Stratford, the railway obviously remained central to John Hyland’s life.