On Sunday June 5th, 2022, Bolton’s Bicentennial plaque was unveiled in the patio area at Mill Street and Queen Street North. The plaque is in honour of Bolton’s 200-year history, 1821 -2021, with a year’s delay for COVID-19.
The plaque, provided by the Town of Caledon, is the combined effort of Town staff and our Society members. It has been installed on land that once belonged to George Bolton, the village’s founder, part of his 200-acre purchase on June 5th, 1821.
The full text of the plaque follows:
Bolton Bicentennial 1821 – 2021
Bolton is nestled in the Humber River valley on land that has been occupied and used by Indigenous peoples for millennia, including the Huron-Wendat and the Haudenosaunee. It is the Treaty Lands and Territorial of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation, having been acquired from them by the British Crown through the Ajetance Purchase (Treaty 19) in October 1818.
In 1819, this area was surveyed as part of Albion Township by James Chewett, who was given 2,635 acres as payment for his services. On June 5, 1821, he sold Lot 9, Concession 7, a 200-acre lot in the river valley, to British immigrant George Bolton (age 22) who recognized the location’s potential for water-powered industry.
After building himself a house, George cleared a mill site on the riverbank at what is now the bend in Mill Street. He was guided by his older brother, James, a skilled millwright who had immigrated two years earlier, settling on 100 acres, seven kilometres northeast of George’s lot. Together, the brothers built a dam across the Humber and erected a grist mill, which was operating by 1824. As George’s property was surrounded by both absentee landholders and steep valley slopes, forced roads such as King Street and Glasgow Road provided access to his mill.
In 1830, when the hamlet’s population stood at fewer than a dozen, George provided the area’s first school. The following year, he opened the first store at the corner of what became King and Mill streets. In 1832, George was appointed postmaster of the Albion Post Office which he located in his store. The mill site gradually attracted other development as the settlement became known as Bolton’s Mill or Bolton Hollow. By 1840, the hamlet comprised 16 buildings including blacksmith shops, shoemaker shops, a cooperage, tannery, distillery, tavern and Samuel Sterne’s hotel.
Over the next decade, the mill’s business grew as settlement in Albion Township fueled demand for flour. In 1845, James Bolton Jr., George’s nephew and assistant, bought the mill and rebuilt it further downstream as a three-storey structure on a stone foundation. Other water-powered industries were built around the original mill site, including a saw mill, steam biscuit factory, cloth factory and planing mill.
As Charles Bolton, James Jr.’s brother, started selling residential lots along King Street, Samuel Sterne was selling commercial lots along Queen Street, establishing the hamlet’s commercial core. By 1851, the mill had re-doubled its capacity, four hotels were welcoming guests, a brickyard was in operation and the hamlet’s population had risen to nearly 400. Bolton’s success mirrored that of the surrounding agricultural community it served.
The Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway arrived in 1870, securing the hamlet’s economic fortunes and two years later the ‘Village of Bolton’ was incorporated. The 1870s were prosperous years with the launch of William Dick’s agricultural works, Albert Dodds’ carriage factory and three more hotels, one of which was adjacent to the train station. New residential neighbourhoods were laid out west of Queen Street, and the construction of large brick homes, commercial buildings and churches steadily changed the streetscapes. Laurel Hill opened as a public cemetery in 1894.
The early 20th century brought new advances: acetylene gas street lighting, telephone service, banking, automobiles, gas pumps and electricity. In 1935, the 7th Line was cut through Bolton’s steep south hill, creating a new entrance to the village. The alignment, which replaced the century-old switchback via Elizabeth and Nancy streets, became Queen Street South.
In the 1950s, Bolton began to expand beyond the confines of its river valley setting with housing developments emerging on the tableland south of the village. The 1961 relocation of a village grocery store to a new shopping plaza on the south hill started a gradual shift of business out of the valley. By 1963, the Humber River had been straightened near the Queen Street bridge to alleviate the ever-present threat of flooding and Queen Street North had been cut through the north hill, paving the way for a new residential neighbourhood on the tableland above.
With the advent of regional government in 1974, Bolton became part of the newly established Town of Caledon. While evidence of Bolton’s early water-powered industries has largely disappeared, the original village plan and street-layout remain generally intact, as do many of its late 19th century buildings. Despite rapid change in all directions, Bolton’s origins as a 19th century river valley town remain visible in its historic core.