In the Province of Ontario, Canada, approximately 3,600 miles to the West of Bognor Regis, UK, lays a small hamlet named Bognor.
It contains no school, no church, no shop and no pub. However it is situated in an idyllic setting amongst the hills a short distance from Own Sound on the shores of Georgian Bay leading into Lake Huron. The electoral register stands at 135 people living in this friendly hamlet, which consists of the following roads, namely:-
- John Street
- William Street
- Main Street
- Queen Street
- Frank Street
- Which are bordered top and bottom by 2nd Avenue East
- and King Street.
- By nature Canadian roads make it very easy to navigate Bognor without any difficulties.
I recently returned from a holiday in Canada, visiting to see the colours of the fall but also for the opportunity to revisit Bognor in Ontario, which we first visited in 2002. It is situated approx. 110 miles north of Toronto and approximately 3,500 miles from West Sussex. We thought it would be fun to see if the area has changed much in the ensuring period.
It is not quite the thriving community that we were expecting. In 2002 we found a small group of people, which included their local historian also their postmistress, who were only too eager to hear about Bognor Regis in England whilst they told us of their own story. Their electoral register stood at 135 in October 2002 and in 2008 there have been few changes, the number has risen to 145 and there are 52 house’s with two new constructions currently nearing completion. The obvious main question was, why is this community called Bognor?
The story starts back in the 1840’s when Mr. Mrs. Trotter bought an area of land near the Big Head River, which they farmed and then constructed a mill and a dam on the river. This area was purchased in 1871 by Peter Quance who established a flour and grist mill which was, renamed Sydenham Mills. On 5th January 1873 a post office was established with Peter as the first Post Master. Within 12 months in 1874 he was superseded by Mr.C.H. Heming who quickly realised that there was confusion between this area and another Sydenham in Frontenac County. The obvious solution was to change the name, but to what? His father had emigrated from Bognor, England and had the solution; he suggested the name of Bognor. Hence from 1st June 1879 the area became officially known as Bognor.
Since 2002 I have received several communiqués regarding both Bognor’s and one in particularly updated the story, as a couple contacted me who were descendants of Mr. Heming. The father Edward Heming lived with his wife at No. 2 Canada Villas here in Station Road, Bognor before he emigrated to Canada; he also constructed a home outside Guelph, Canada in 1896 which he named Bognor Lodge.
Whilst there I thought we should take a look at their church, only to find that this had been closed and demolished in 1981. The final service was held on September 27th 1981 and this was due to the serious decline in numbers over the years. The congregation at that time could not afford to financially support the church so it was decided to use the site for other purposes. It was interesting to find from the Grey County Archivist on this visit about the number of churches that have existed in this small township. I also found it interesting that a donation was made for the 1st Sunday School Christmas concert by a Mr. James Endicott, different spelling. He went on to become a Moderator of the United Church of Canada in 1928.
As you would expect from a small community, there are many flourishing activities one such was the Women’s Institute, which commenced in 1912. Not for these ladies a calendar to tell people who they are, but street signs! The streets of the area had for years been without clear street signs so in 1982 the Women’s Institute donated the funds to purchase 9 new street signs and 7 standards at a cost of 363 dollars. In the 1970s the Women’s Institute had begun catering facilities; they formed a Ladies Catering Group, which was able to provide the necessary catering services for weddings, events, clubs and societies. This lasted for over 10 years, but eventually closed due to increased legislation and the ageing membership. No difference to the problems encountered here.
As I mentioned earlier the postal service was established there in 1873 and has operated continuously to the present date. The present post office is in the centre of Bognor and is of course the centre for news from whatever source. The postmistress did say that sometimes they have received mail addressed to Bognor in England. From here we again sent a number of post cards home, with their Bognor postmark. One of the long term postal workers, or rural main couriers was a man who worked for over 61 years and obviously saw many changes, not least was the fact that he delivered the mail by horse and buggy in the summer and a horse and cutter in the winter because of the intense weather and lack of roads he literally had to cut his way to property. Apparently the mail would arrive in the evenings; he would sort it at home, and deliver the next day. He also remembered various activities from the 1920’s when he took over from his grandfather, and then the men would say to him, don’t forget the chewing tobacco as he also delivered groceries. In the early 1990’s the owner of the general store asked the Bell Company for a telephone connection. They were advised that the distance was too far and would not be economical, but they could have a party line, if there was one subscriber per mile. In 1909 enough subscribers were obtained and the Bognor Telephone Company was formed.
In recent years the Bognor Regis, Museum in the High Street received a donation of a plate which celebrated the anniversary of the Community centre, and we were able to confirm that this was in fact the Canadian Community centre. This year they have celebrated its 50th anniversary with events and a quilt being produced being made of oblongs for which paid a dollar with residents signatures.
Whilst there we visited the newly opened Grey County Museum and Archive, situated on the outskirts of Owen Sound, the major town in this part of the county. We took with us local books about Bognor Regis, West Sussex and also took the opportunity to search for more information on Bognor, Ontario. They have provided me with number of pictures of Bognor of the past, which I will be placing on my website in the coming months.
We also left a Bognor then and Now Calendar with the postmistress to hand in the post office so everyone will see it. The residents have to collect their mail there as there is no delivery service. We also took a photograph with our “Bognor in Bloom” bag by the Post Office. Each time we have visited Bognor Canada, we have been met with such kindness and information that we hope to continue our link with this small interesting town 3,600 miles away.
All archive pictures have been received and used by kind permission of The Grey Roots Archival Collection held at the Grey County Archives, Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada.