Hyde Road

Dr. John Hyde, pioneer doctor, a man of firsts

Dr. John Hyde

Dr. John Hyde (1819-1889) in later years. Photo: Stratford Perth Archives. 

Hyde was born in Northern Ireland, studied medicine at Glasgow University in Scotland  with David Livingston, of African fame,  as a classmate, emigrated to Embro in Upper Canada (later Ontario),  1840, and arrived in Stratford in 1848. He was just 29 years old. 

However, Dr. Hyde was not the first doctor in the settlement that had been first known as Little Thames. Dr. J. H. Moore was already working in the hamlet in the mid 1830s with an office on the second storey of a small log shack on Downie Street. (see Downie Street).  Patients who could not pay would clear trees off another lot the doctor owned or could offer a little nip of whisky that could settle the bill. 

Dr. John Hyde (1819-1889) was a doctor in Stratford, but he was more than that, he was a man of many 'firsts' for the little settlement that had been known as Little Thames. 

Hyde was the first coroner for the village, its first medical officer of health and its first county jail surgeon.  He was later the first school superintendent and first chairman of the Mechanics Institute, the forerunner of the public library. He was the first president of the Perth Mutual Fire Insurance Company  formed in 1863, and instigated the formation of Stratford's first Medical Society around 1972, and helped draw up a schedule of fees. 

In 1860 Dr. Hyde (see Hyde Road) built his new brick home at 91 Brunswick Street which was on the south side very near Waterloo Street.  His house was very near the Congregational Church of which he was a founding member. The close proximity of the church was not by accident. It was built on Hyde's land.  

When he built his home, Hyde was already becoming a noted figure in Stratford's medical community and  and as noted he would play a prominent role in educational and business developments in the growing settlement.  He lived in Stratford  during a key part of its early history before it became a village in 1854 and after it became a town in 1859 and a city in 1885. 

He also immersed himself in leadership roles in the affairs of the community. He was a school superintendent and first chairman of the mechanics institute, the forerunner of the public library. He was also president of the Stratford Reading Room Association, a separate organization that eventually joined, under his presidency, with the mechanics institute in 1861.

Dr. Hyde’s role as chairman of the mechanics institute in Stratford was important. It was organized in 1846 in the log schoolhouse on the site of what is now the lawn of the Stratford Public Library (see St. Andrew Street). The institute was incorporated in 1853.

He also immersed himself in leadership roles in the affairs of the community. He was a school superintendent and first chairman of the mechanics institute, the forerunner of the public library. He was also president of the Stratford Reading Room Association, a separate organization that eventually joined, under his presidency, with the mechanics institute in 1861.

The institute had started in Scotland, to provide classes, lectures and books as education for working men, though anyone could join. The operation was financed by members’ fees which, after 1835, were augmented by government grants.

In 1846, in the Stratford Mechanics Institute had 90 volumes and 28 members. Many names we associate with leadership in the early days of Stratford were part of the institute and gave lectures: Alexander McGregor, the first teacher (see McGregor Street), Alexander Barrington Orr (civic leader not related to R. Thomas Orr), Rev. Thomas MacPherson (of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church), John James Edmonstoun Linton (see Linton Avenue), Charles Julius Mickle (Stratford-born lawyer and later a judge in Manitoba). James Street, longtime treasurer for the school board, was also the tireless secretary of the institute, which later occupied a small room cut off from the end of a hall in the Central Common School. By 1879, the institute had acquired 2,500 volumes and a membership of 100.

In 1871, the Grand Trunk Railway moved its equipment and mechanical personnel to Stratford from Brantford. With the machinery and men, came another literary institute. John Davis Barnett (see Douro Street) was president of the GTR Literary Institute and one of its biggest boosters. 

Before the end of the century, with nearly 300 mechanics institutes in Ontario, legislation was passed to convert them to public libraries.   

Dr. Hyde’s role as superintendent of education naturally brought him into contact with Stratford’s first teacher, Alexander McGregor (see McGregor Street). Adelaide Leitch retells the following story in Floodtides of Fortune.

The boys at the log school which, as I mentioned, was built on the lawn of what is now the Stratford Public Library (see St. Andrew Street) knew McGregor, their schoolmaster, as a fair and understanding man. In winter, he ignored their sport of coasting from the schoolhouse down to the river. However, when the master chose not to stop the sport, Dr. John Hyde, tried to end it. The boys dubbed the worthy doctor, “Old Mercury,” a name that stuck rather unfairly, for years afterward.

Note: In the 1800s, mercury was still used as a common elixir supposed to rejuvenate the body. It was also a popular “cure” for sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis. While mercury probably killed the infection, it generally killed the patient as well, most likely from kidney or liver damage. Dr. Hyde died in Stratford on March 4, 1889. Sources: Adelaide Leitch’s Floodtides of Fortune and Dean Robinson’s Overdue: Stratford Library Services 1846-2003.  

Despite his many accomplishments, Dr. John Hyde did not seek fame. In the Stratford Herald newspaper outlining a summary of the history of Stratford,  Dr. Hyde is mentioned only as " ...a truly good and guileless man  who has left behind him a name for beneficent deeds which will be long remembered." It was left to others to compile a record of his  list of 'firsts.'

Hyde was very seldom mentioned by his contemporaries though he is mentioned by the Lizar sisters, (see Hamilton Street), in their book, In the Days of the Canada Company. However, he is not mentioned for his accomplishments but for being the owner of an unreliable horse.  Apparently some Canada Company officials had been loaned the horse by Hyde for a trip to Goderich but it had to be returned because it was "no good."  

Sources: Adelaide Leitch, Floodtides of Fortune: Stratford Beacon Herald article, November 26, 1955 by Mary Ellen Burt;  John Hyde (1819-1889) - Find a Grave Memorial   Complied by Gord Conroy

History of 91 Brunswick Street, Dr. Hyde's home. 

John Hyde and his wife,  Jean Michie Hyde, (1820-1904), lived at 91 Brunswick  after building the house in 1860. Their twin daughters continued to live there until 1936 when it came into possession of the Murray family. 

The house was considered to be a reflection of Dr. Hyde's character. It was "...a simple dignified structure with little of the ornamentation common to houses built in the 1860s. ." The taste of Dr. Hyde was so good that the exterior of the house as seen in  the pictures remained virtually unchanged for more than 150 years. 

When Mrs. Suzanne Murray moved into the house in 1936, she found many letters and clothes from the past. She also discovered that the furnace was a very small hot-air one and  warmed only the downstairs.  The upstairs was heated by a wood stove in the large hall. The holes from the stovepipes were decorated with ornamental mouldings. There was extensive walnut paneling chosen by the Hydes throughout the house.  The windows sunk into the thickness of the walls were also cased in walnut.  The ceilings were 13' in height. 

The Murray family refurbished the house with new heating and new floors retaining the history and high ceilings until it was sold circa 1956 to become the McMane -Gilbart Funeral Home. The funeral home is listed in Vernon's Stratford City Directory in 1957 at 91 Brunswick  Later tenants before demolition in 2020 included upper level apartments, a credit union, a trading card business and a computer store. Sources: Stratford Beacon Herald, "Pioneer Doctor was a Leading Citizen" by Mary Ellen Burt, November 26, 1955: Adelaide Leitch, Floodtides of Fortune; City of Stratford Directories; If you grew up in Stratford FB.

91 Brunswick in the 1930s. Unchanged from the construction of the house by Dr. John Hyde in 1860. Photo: Susan Moffat. If you grew up in Stratford, FB. 

91 Brunswick in 2016 before demolition in 2020. At this point in its history, 91 Brunswick was McMane-Gilbart Funeral Home.