Hesson Street

A pioneer

Samuel Hesson          Stratford-Perth Archives

Samuel Hesson

Though Hesson Street gives pedestrians access to Battershall Park, there is no vehicle exit. This street first appeared on the 1857 map of Stratford, but it was then called Daly Street and was in the middle of the Daly survey with lots on both sides. The name Daly referred to John Corry Wilson Daly and his son Thomas Mayne Daly, both of whom were mayors of Stratford, as well as prominent land developers in the town's early days.

The name of the street was changed from Daly to Hesson to avoid confusion with Daly Avenue. "Hesson" was chosen in honor of Samuel Rollin Hesson, an outstanding example in the Huron Tract of a self-made man. He was also a close friend of Thomas  M. Daly. Having been left fatherless as the youngest of seven children, Samuel Hesson must have decided early in his life that, with little education and no money, he would need a strong work ethic if he were to rise to a position of influence.

And rise he did, to become mayor of the Town of Stratford in 1875, and, as a Conservative, the North Perth member of the House of Commons for a decade (1878-1887).

Born in the parish of Kilray in County Antrim, Ireland, Samuel Hesson (1829-1915) was not yet two years old when he was taken by his family on a great sea voyage to America. They stayed at Ogdensburg, N.Y., for about a year, until Samuel's father became dissatisfied with the United States system of government and sought to return to life under the British flag. In Canada, the Hessons settled in the Gore of Downie Township.

In 1847, at age 18, Samuel helped to build the McEwan schoolhouse in Downie, and became its teacher for three years at a salary of $10 per month. To get a teaching certificate, he walked for four days to reach Goderich, where he sat for an exam before the district superintendent of school.

111 Church  St.   Photo Fred Gonder

In 1855, Hesson married Margaret Jane Polley (1831-1909) and they had five children. Their house in Stratford was the fine ivy-covered Victorian mansion at 111 Church St., where his extensive flower garden was a source of great pride. Always a public-spirited citizen, Hesson was acclaimed mayor of the Town of Stratford in 1875, a role in which he was followed by his friend Thomas Daly.

From the world of pedagogy, he moved to the world of business, as a clerk in Stratford's first general store, operated by U. C. Lee. It was on Huron Street, just over the bridge, which was a wooden structure in those days. He soon moved into a management position in the store, and in 1856 struck out on his own. John Sebring, the founder of Sebringville, was in failing health and Samuel Hesson took over his business in Sebringville, and soon became that village's postmaster a a justice of the peace. After about 10 years in Sebringville, he sold that enterprise and opened a general store at the intersection of Erie and Ontario streets in Stratford. After a quarter century he retired. 

In addition to his political roles, Hesson chaired the board of the Georgian Bay and Lake Erie Railway, and was president of the Stratford Gas Co. on Downie Street, whose business was electric power and lights. He was the first licence inspector when Stratford became a city in 1885, and he issued the first licence to the Albion Hotel, considered to be the ultimate in hotel construction. He was also president for five years of Stratford's first brass band, organized in 1851. He was a warden of St. James' Church and a member of the building committee for the present St. James' Church.

William Battershall, (see Battershall Court) the man who donated the land for the park into which Hesson Street leads, also made a bequest of $500 towards the building of a bell tower and the purchase of bells for St. James' Church. Samuel R. Hesson was on the church committee and donated one of the 11 bells in memory of his mother, Elizabeth (Dunbar)1783-1864. By Stanford Dingman