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Ghost Towns of Simcoe County – The rise and fall of Ballycroy

July 2021

Near the intersection of Highway 9 and County Road 50, on the border between Wellington and Simcoe Counties is a short road called Ballycroy Road. This road, along with the old General Store, attached house and barn, are all that remains of the former Town of Ballycroy.

Established in the 1820s, and geographically located at Lot 1, Concession 15, in the Township of Adjala, it was named after the Irish hometown of many of the area’s original settlers.

A chopping mill, a mill where grain is coarsely ground as feed for cattle, was built along the Humber River by a man named Mr. Beaty. He and his brothers later expanded this operation into a sawmill, shingle maker and flour mill, which operated until the 1930s.

While most of the residents of Ballycroy were Irish Catholic, there was a small population of Irish Protestants, a mix that led to predictably troublesome situations from time to time. The building of an Orange Lodge by the Protestants in the middle of the town likely didn’t help.

Over the years, more and more people moved to Ballycroy, along with the establishment of new businesses, leading to a very prosperous and vibrant town.

By 1870, Ballycroy featured two general stores and complementary businesses, a millinery shop, a post office, a doctor, a veterinarian, a blacksmith, a law office, Catholic and Protestant churches, a blacksmith, a small race track and fairgrounds. The town also had four hotels and a liquor store; a lot of alcohol for a population between 200-250 residents.

One of the more scandalous of the hotels was the Fehely Hotel, which was described as more of a flophouse for the patrons of the saloon on the main floor, whom were too drunk to make it home, than a proper hotel.

On the other end of the scale was the Small Hotel, owned by Peter Small, who also owned the race track. It was considered a more refined liquor establishment, known more for its fine dining and the “January Ball,” which had patrons coming from as far away as Toronto, than the drunken rowdiness of the other hotels. Several legendary drunken brawls are known to have occurred on the streets of Ballycroy.

John McClelland operated one of the town’s general stores, which also included the post office. His large home, which also doubled as a hotel, featured a dance hall and meeting room on the upper floor.

By the 1870s, Ballycroy was in decline. While many ghost towns come about due to the exhaustion of the resource that sustained it, like a mine or logging operation, the death of Ballycroy was due to several events, over the course of a decade or so.

The Small Hotel was destroyed by a fire on 29 April 1875. The destruction of the beloved hotel was a major blow to the small town. Peter Small and his family re-located to another building on the property, but it too was destroyed by a fire just two months later.

Small and his family remained in Ballycroy for another four years, then re-located to Toronto, where he operated another hotel, and later served as a Divisional Court Bailiff.

The next to go was the Beamish hotel, owned Richard Beamish, which was destroyed by a fire in 1878, one that was determined to be arson.

In 1879, the Hamilton and North-Western Railway opened their Hamilton to Allandale (now Barrie) line. Instead of including a station stop at Ballycroy, the line ran through Palgrave, 4 miles to the south, thus by-passing the town. In a time when railways provided better options for the transportation of goods and people, this decision was a devastating blow to Ballycroy, with many businesses and residents leaving the town as a result.

When Concession Road 6, the main road through Ballycroy, was re-aligned to by-pass the town, travellers who used to patronize the town’s businesses and hotels, no longer drove past their front doors.

Also around this time, the local Temperance movement succeeded in banning drinking at the hotel taverns, an action that not only reduced patronage of the hotels, but of the other business that remained, as well.

After around six decades, Ballycroy was no more.

Today, Ballycroy Road is a quiet, narrow, tree-lined road, unlike the new alignment of Concession 6, which is now known as Simcoe County Road 50, but it’s hardly an abandoned road. There are thirteen homes along the road, some older and some newer vintage.

As the years passed by, the town buildings and homes were abandoned and demolished. The Orange Lodge closed in 1943, and the post office in 1951.

The Fehely Hotel remained standing for over a hundred years after the demise of the town, but was ultimately demolished when it was beyond repair.

All that remains of the old Ballycroy, is John McClelland’s former general store and attached home, easily identified by its large frontier-style fa├žade. Some assorted stone foundations can also be found.

The current owners of McClelland’s former store and house, Mo Vikrant and Elle Patille, bought the buildings in May 2014, and have carefully renovated the buildings, keeping such features as the original fixtures, mouldings, flooring and design. While the 192 year old buildings had deteriorated somewhat over the preceding years, it had structurally held up quite well, with exterior walls that are around a foot thick. The dance/meeting hall is still on the upper floor, accessed by the original two staircases.

The interior of the old general store/post office retains the original shelves, with the original wood counters re-installed in their original spot.

Does the Small Hotel have a salacious past?

When the Small Hotel burned in 1875, three young women died in the fire: 32-year-old Mary Fanning, 28-year-old Bridget Burke, and 24-year-old Margaret Daly. The women, who were unmarried and childless, were milliners (hat makers), who lived at the hotel. Even for a woman of Margaret Daly’s age, this was unusual in a time when most women were married, with children, by the age of 20. Speculation ran for years as to why in a town of around 200 people, there were three, unmarried, childless hat makers, living in one of the town’s hotels.

The three women were buried a few miles away, just behind the church in St. James Cemetery in Colgan, along the Adjala-Tecumseth Townline.

Sources: Chasing ghosts: the lost town of Ballycroy | Orangeville Citizen, Hamilton and North-Western Railway – Wikipedia, Ballycroy (Ghost Town) – Ontario Abandoned Places,

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

Permanent link to this article: https://militarybruce.com/ghost-towns-of-simcoe-county-the-rise-and-fall-of-ballycroy/

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