Dunnville: 170 Years of History

Early History

The Township of Dunn was surrendered by the Six Nations Iroquois in 1833. Prior to that the land had belonged to the Six Nations, haven been given to them in the Haldimand Grant of 1784. A large portion of the land given in the Haldimand Grant to the Six Nations was ultimately surrendered to white settlers, and this territory now makes up most of Haldimand County.

The township was named after John Henry Dunn, who was Receiver-General of Upper Canada from 1820 to 1843. He was a strong supporter and participant of the building of the Dunnville Dam in 1829, the first dam on the Grand River and also the building of the Feeder Canal.

In the same year Dunn was surrendered by the Six Nations, a Scottish farmer traveling through Canada and the United States wrote on Dunnville. He said that it consisted of “about twenty small wooden houses, a grist and a sawmill.” He was not impressed.

A visitor who was impressed was Dr. Thomas Rolph, who visited Dunnville in the 1840’s. At this time the Grand River was beginning to flourish into a major trading way, with Dunnville as one of the most important ports, between the Grand River and the Feeder Canal. It was also the location of the first bridge on the Grand River, built in 1835.

Rolph, upon seeing Dunnville, wrote that it was “flourishing like a ‘green bay tree'” and prophesied a great future for the town of Dunnville. Although history did not follow the course that Rolph envisioned, Dunville would flourish , and is today a town consisting of about 12,000 people.

The Village of Dunnville

In 1860 the Township of Dunn became the Village of Dunnville. The first council was elected the same year. The early councils of Dunnville sought to modernize the town, and make it a prosperous centre of culture.

In this they succeeded. Dunnville was one of the first places in Canada to have electricity. In the first half of the 20th Century, Dunnville was a flourishing centre of culture and industry along the Grand River. The largest town in Haldimand County, many companies made their home here, and culture flourished with several musical and dramatic companies, an opera house and even a movie theatre.

RCAF Training School No. 6

During World War II, Dunnville became an important part of the training effort. In 1839, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain worked with Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King to develop Canada into the central point of training for commonwealths. Canada would be the central point of training for Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and would host 58 training schools.

RCAF Training School #6 was located in Dunnville, a single-engine school designed to train fighter pilots. It was the third such school in Canada. Pilots from Canada, Australia and New Zealand trained here before heading off to fight in the war. The training school is now a museum at the Dunnville Airport, the RCAF base having closed in 1964.

Modern Dunnville

The latter half of the 20th Century saw Dunnville plagued by disasters. On December 4th, 1950 Griggs’ Flour Mill, which had been a major part of Dunnville business for decades, blew up violently. Not only was the flour mill destroyed, but the force of the blast knocked out 75% of the plate glass windows in the entire Dunnville business district.

On January 26th, 1969, a fire razed the historic Victoria Hotel, which had been a central point of the community of Dunnville. It was eventually rebuilt, and the Victoria Hotel, known colloquially as “the Vic” remains a central gathering point of locals today.

Fire was a major problem in Dunnville into the 1970’s. Major fires in downtown Dunnville in 1970 and 1971 greatly damaged Dunnville downtown business.

Today Dunnville is home to 12,000 residents. During the summer months, Dunnville hosts between 8 and 10,000 tourists a year, who come to see the natural beauty of Dunnville and the Grand River. Its greatest attraction is the Mudcat Festival, held during the first week of June, which has been a major part of Dunnville life since 1973. It is a growing town, attracting new residents from across southern Ontario.

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