Honouring our pioneers

Caledonia Street, one of Stratford's early streets, and appeared on the 1848 Map of Stratford. The name Caledonia is taken from the Scottish name which was used poetically to describe the whole of Scotland. 

Caledonia Street was undoubtedly named by the Canada Company

Many pioneers came from the Perthshire region of Scotland to North Easthope in the early 1800s. There is a 1832 Memorial to the Pioneers of North Easthope located on highway 8 miles north of Shakespeare.  Many of their descendants took up residence in Stratford and there names would be recognized today. There are over 200 names listed on the plaque.

Here is a story of one of them: Peter Crerar

Peter Crerar was born in 1795 Perthshire, Scotland. He married Janet Anderson on 25 May 1823. Thus Peter (presumably without his wife and children) became an original pioneer of the Huron Tract, coming to the North Easthope region in 1832.


They sailed during an epidemic of Asiatic cholera in northern England and Scotland. The disease was carried on board ship, and during the prolonged crossing (of three months) it claimed the lives of many of the immigrants. 

1832 Memorial to the Pioneers 

When the vessel that carried the Crerars arrived at Quebec, its passengers were not allowed to land. Fortunately the Crerars survived their detention and traveled by way of Montreal and Toronto to the Huron Tract arriving 1 Sept 1832.


His strategy for surviving the first harsh winter gave birth to an amusing incident and geographical immortality, as recounted by his great-grandson, James Crerar Reaney (see below) "coming to his land on the site of the present Brocksden School, had no shelter and, winter coming on, dug himself a cave under an up turned tree where he lived the first winter while chopping; other Glenquaichers discovered him in the spring and said he lived in a brock's den"  This brock-like existence ("brock" being the Scots word for badger) gave the town its name. His hard work evidently paid off, for from 1835 to 1838 he owned Con.l, Lots 31, 32 in South Easthope . By: Paul Wilker

James Reaney. Photo: Jeff Culvert in Canadian Encyclopedia

James Crerar Reaney: poet, playwright.

James Crerar Reaney, OC FRSC , (September 1, 1926 – June 11, 2008),  was born on a farm in South Easthope near Stratford. Reaney opted to remain living in southwestern Ontario most of his life, despite his early literary acclaim and status.    He was a Canadian poet, playwright, librettist, and professor, "whose works transform small-town Ontario life into the realm of dream and symbol." Reaney won Canada's highest literary award, the Governor General's Award, three times and received the Governor General's Award for Poetry or Drama for both his poetry and his drama. He also became an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1976. His plays Colours in the Dark  and Alice Through the Looking Glass are among those presented at Stratford in 1967 and 1994 respectively.   His "Twelve Letters to A Small Town" is a suite of poems about his home town , Stratford.  Source: wikipedia   *   He was honoured with a Stratford Bronze Star, July 1, 2008, located at the Avon Theatre. He has donated his manuscripts, correspondence and records to the University of Western Ontario. 

Reaney's Most Famous Works: The Donnelly Plays. Reaney's trilogy of plays about the Donnelly family — an Irish immigrant family involved in a violent battle with their southern Ontario neighbours in the 1870s — premiered at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre in the 1970s. The plays, Sticks and Stones, The St. Nicholas Hotel and Handcuffs, present a piece of Canadian history with "Reaney's unerring sense of the theatrical," according to the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia. 

In 1976, Reaney travelled with the NDWT theatre company across the country as it presented all three of the Donnelly plays. The trilogy is among a handful of Canadian works listed in the 1,000 most significant plays of all time by the Oxford Dictionary of Plays. The Blythe Festival will present all three plays in 2023.  Sources:   About – James Reaney  Canadian poet and playwright James Reaney dies at 81 | CBC NewsJames Reaney on writing and researching the Donnelly plays – James Reaney 

Addendum: A James Reaney connection to the Stratford Strike of 1933.  James Reaney who had witnessed the strike firsthand as a seven-year-old child, turned it into a play, entitled King Whistle!, in 1979; and is recorded as jokingly claiming in a seminar that "the reason that Tom Patterson started the Stratford Festival" was "to get rid of the shame".[9] The strike was one of several factors, including the rumours of the onset of what was to be World War Two and the end of the steam railway era causing a decline in the town's fortunes, that caused a sense of gloom in Stratford over the next couple of decades that Patterson sought to dispel.[10]  Source:  Stratford General Strike of 1933 - Wikipedia  See Streets of Stratford article, " A Treasured Reminder of the Stratford Strike of 1933.  https://www.streetsofstratford.ca/strike-spa 

For an article by daughter Susan Reaney, now living on Galliano island, about Reaney's early life, check  James Reaney: Reflections on Shelter, Food, and “When the Great Were Small” – James Reaney 

Extensive articles on James Reaney can be found here.  James Crerar Reaney | The Canadian Encyclopedia   Canadian poet and playwright James Reaney dies at 81 | CBC NewsJames Reaney - Wikipedia 

Len Wilson

Leonard Hardie Wilson: 

Leonard Wilson  was a  Veteran of WW2, Korea, RCAF instructor, teacher, and council member.

Len was born in 1923 and raised in Stratford.  He served as a fighter pilot with 442 Squadron during World War II, a flying instructor during the Korean War and a teacher, historian and council member later in his Stratford life.  

While finishing high school in 1941, he was working as an office boy at the CNR Station.  In 1942, after first applying for the navy, he signed up with an RCAF mobile recruiting office which had come to Stratford, quickly joining thousands of other like-minded young men at RCAF Manning Pool in Toronto.  

The next few months at British Commonwealth Air Training Plan bases at Dunnville, Goderich, Toronto and Uplands (Ottawa) were filled with the training and schooling required to become a proficient combat pilot. Lots of marching, lots of math, and lots of flying. Len flew DeHaviland Tiger Moths and North American Harvards and was posted to a home defense Eastern Air Command Hurricane squadron, No. 127,at Dartmouth NS in November 1943. By early 1944, he was in Britain undergoing operational training on Spitfires and Hurricanes. 

On July 13, 1944, D-Day plus 31, he boarded an Anson for the over-the-channel hop, joining No. 442 Squadron (RCAF) to fly Spitfires from the forward airfield at Ben-Sur-Mer.  Len's Spitfire squadron supported the allied invasion as it moved across northern France and into Holland. He was 21 years old. 

Two days later he flew his first four operational sorties patrolling the invasion area, beginning the long march to Germany. Flying patrols, armed recce’s, top cover on daylight raids and ground support missions, Len finished his tour on North American Mustang Mk. IVs with 1 damaged and a shared victory over a FW-190. 

Arriving on the continent in early July of 1944, In the final stages of the allied effort Len's squadron converted to Mustangs in support of Bomber Command and participated in the last RCAF operational sortie of the war when called upon to help liberate the Channel Islands on VE Day +1 (May 9, 1945). 

Immediately following the war, Len attended the University of Western Ontario and Teacher's College in Toronto.

Leonard Hardie Wilson

47 Caledonia  Street     

Len re-enlisted in the RCAF during the Korean War and served at RCAF Centralia as a flying instructor. He then moved on to subsequent postings in Greenwood NS and Summerside PEI with 404 and 415 Squadrons flying anti-submarine patrols along the Eastern Seaboard at the height of the Cold War. He ended his service with a final peacetime tour in Europe at 1 Wing (Marville France and Lahr Germany). 

In 1970, Len returned to Stratford  and taught business subjects at Northwestern retiring from teaching in 1985. Len served two terms as an Alderman on Stratford City Council in the 1970s and was a strong advocate for preserving the city's architectural heritage.  Mary and Len lived for many years at 47 Caledonia Street.

In full retirement Len became busier than ever driving for the Canadian Cancer Society, supporting the local Air Force Association, Air Cadets and Legion, and sharing his experiences of the war with youth in local schools. He became a good friend of artist, Rich Thistle. (see below).

Len's father Peter (1879-1943) had come to Canada about 1904 and married Mary Winlow Hardie in 1905.  Len also met his future wife, Mary Myers (1921-2019), while growing up in Stratford. Mary's parents and grandparents had strong Stratford connections. Her grandfather was Robert Myers, a prominent Stratford business man who arrived from Manchester in 1850. 

Len died in 2012, and his life of service was celebrated  May 5 2012 at St John's United Church. Sources:  Leonard Wilson | Obituary | Ottawa Citizen ; Canadian Artist Rich Thistle Original Paintings 

The painting 442 Scramble Beny-Sur-Mer  was published by Rich Thistle as his first limited -edition reproduction.  He was proud to say that each print was co-signed by F/O Len Wilson 

Margaret Dow Historic Property

Margaret Dow nee Stewart was born in Perthshire, Scotland about 1787. She married Alexander Dow sometime before 1822 as their daughter, Margaret, was born in 1824. It is not known if there were other children older than Margaret.


According to the land records in the book The Hills of Home: North Easthope Township 1827- 1997, Margaret Dow leased Lot 24 Concession 12 in 1845.

In 1846, Margaret, at age 59, her daughters, Margaret (Peggy) age 22, Catherine age 20, Christina age 15, and her son James age 8, arrived in their new home. Perhaps she was joining Stewart relations as there were a number of Stewart families near to her property. 

61 Caledonia Street       Photo: Fred Gonder

Margaret later sold the farm to Peter Doerr and in 1878 she and two of her three daughters, Margaret and Christina, moved to Stratford to 61 Caledonia Street. 

Margaret died in 1884 at the age of 97. Her daughters continued to live in the house until 1911. Margaret Jr. kept house but Christina went to work first as a trimmer at Gordon & Orr and later as a mantle maker. Margaret died in 1909 at the age of 85 and Christina two years later at 80. Margaret Stewart Dow and her daughters are buried in Hampstead Cemetery, North Easthope. Source: Historic Plaque Properties

68 Caledonia Street        Photo: Fred Gonder

John Buchan, Historic Place

The residence was built in 1853 for John Buchan, the first post master of nearby Fullarton Village. Buchan took up residence at 68 Caledonia Street in Stratford upon his retirement, and became very active in the Stratford community.

68 Caledonia Street is a one-and-a-half-storey brick cottage that combines elements of the late Regency style with an Ontario Cottage gable. Typical of the late-Regency style are the hip roof and generous fenestration. Of interest is the decorative round window set in the front gable, the decorative brackets at the eaves, and the ornate brickwork displaying base, corner and frieze detail around the windows. The original central doorway to the cottage has a camber top and decorative woodwork. Source: Canada's Historic Places