November 11, 2015

Nodwells important in Hillsburgh history

As published in The Erin Advocate

Plans to preserve the Nodwell farmhouse in Hillsburgh have been in the news lately, so it is a good time to provide some background on the family and the homestead that has been part of the local landscape since before Confederation. Jeff Duncan of the Heritage Committee assembled the documentation.

A Family History written in 1936 by Robert D. Nodwell notes that the original family name had been Nedwill, but it was changed before they moved to Canada. William Nodwell’s family were Presbyterian Scots from the town of Anaghmore in County Londonderry, Ireland.

Loss of a valuable stock of horses due to anthrax influenced their decision to emigrate, and much of the family landed in Quebec in 1838. They travelled by oxen-drawn wagons and settled on 200 acres at Lot 24, Con 8 in Hillsburgh, including the current site of Ross R. MacKay School and Meadowview Place Seniors Apartments.

Within a year, their house and belongings were destroyed by fire. William sold the north-east half of his land to Angus McMurchy, and they built a new log house. Robert D. says his grandfather William was: “A Free Mason, and held strong views re Democratic forms of Govt., Free speech, Govt. by properly constituted authority, etc.”

William died in 1845, and the land was divided between his sons Robert and Thomas. Robert bought a farm in East Garafraxa, and then traded it for his brother’s share of the family farm. A new frame barn and shed were built in 1857. Some later sources say the red brick and limestone farmhouse was built in 1868, but architectural professionals said in 2004 it appears to be from about 1865. The 1936 history says:

“A new brick house was built in 1864 and is now occupied by Mungo Carrick Nodwell a great grandson who is now directing the business of the old farm.”

William’s son Andrew had moved from Ireland to Philadelphia in 1836, then to Hillsburgh three years later. They lived 27 years in a log cabin at Lot 22, Con 8. One of his nine children, Robert C. born in 1857, was 92 when interviewed in 1949 by the Guelph Mercury. He recalled working as a potato farmer, selling the farm and retiring in Hillsburgh in 1923.

“Mr. Nodwell has been for many years an ardent Christian gentleman, a forceful protagonist for the prohibition of intoxicating liquors and a Liberal of no mean calibre,” said the Mercury.

The Nodwells were known for breeding Short-Horn Cattle in the 1890s. Family members were leaders at St. Andrew’s Church, and Robert D. was President of the Hillsburgh Branch of the Upper Canada Bible Society. His son, Lieutenant William E. Nodwell of the 30th Wellington Rifles, was a recruiter during World War I. Robert C.’s wife was active with the Hillsburgh Women’s Institute.

Dr. R.J. Nodwell served in the Medical Corps in World War II, was appointed Deputy Director General of Medical Services for the Army in 1953 and Medical Director of Toronto Western Hospital in 1960.

In a 2009 collection called Shades of the Past, Hillsburgh native Francis Gray Currie wrote that Mungo and Lillian Nodwell created a social hub for the community at Homestead Farm. They grew seed potatoes, working the land with horses from 1926 into the 1950s, had a large dairy herd and delivered milk door-to-door by horse and wagon. Lillian was known for her art and her cooking.

The Great Room had a massive harvest plank table that could seat 12, a huge stone fireplace and almost floor-to-ceiling windows, making it “the heart and soul of the farm”.

Advocate columnist Joyce Graham wrote about the end of an era in 2004 when Mungo’s daughter Nina Nodwell and Les Richards moved to Markdale after selling the farm to Manuel Tavares. They had raised sheep since 1985 and operated Hillsburgh WoolWorks.

A lamb roast, with a campfire, games and fireworks, was held at Everdale Environmental Farm to bid them farewell.