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Then and Now: Wyebridge once a bustling commercial centre

Home of McRae family, North Simcoe’s prominent 1800s merchant family, remains a historic landmark alongside iconic Wyebridge crossing

(Editor's note: This is a new montly feature in MidlandToday. The series examines a prominent North Simcoe landmark and looks at how it has changed over the years. If you have an idea for an entry, please send it along to [email protected]. We hope you enjoy Then and Now.)

Although Wyebridge has a storied history of being North Simcoe’s earliest and most prominent commercial hub prior to the population explosion of Midland a few kilometres to the north, its bridge crossing over the Wye River remains the current landmark and incarnation which most people recognize upon passage.

8222 Highway 93 in the Township of Tiny rests evenly on historic Lots 93 & 94, Concession 1, West of Penetanguishene Road. Currently, it is the location of the North Simcoe Therapy Network, but formerly, its history was associated with the merchant McRae family.

Macville was renamed as Wyebridge in 1814 upon construction of its primary bridge. In the mid-1800s, hamlet-resident Nelson McRae married Cevila (née Ekins) and moved into their home, seen centred in the 1910 photo. Shortly thereafter, they opened a general store before relocating that same business across the street a short time later.

The 1910 photo shows the McRae house; the small light building in the foreground is described as an engineer’s office, presumably associated with the village’s telegraph equipment. In the background to the right can be seen the Dominion Hotel, one of the several Wyebridge hotels to accommodate visitors. Neither the Dominion nor the engineer’s office exist nowadays.

Poet A.G. Churchill wrote this of the McRae’s in 1876:

His grand supply on River Wye,

Is truly very splendid -

On shelves in store, from floor to floor,

And is politely tended;

Goods, every kind that are designed

for clothing men and women;

Keeps glass and delf upon his shelf,

All kinds of table trimmings;

Keep pork and flour that men devour,

Eggs, butter, cheese and fishes;

Keeps pepper, spice, salt, soda, rice.

Mugs, jugs and earthen dishes;

Keeps boot and shoe made clothing too,

For Tay and Tiny border;

Without fail, will handle mail

and telegraph to order.

As seen on the 1910 photo, the waters of the Wye River were high, reaching just shy of the bridge’s lower structure. Several landowners within Wyebridge’s history were granted the rights to flood the Wye River throughout Lots 93 & 94 as high as the mill would require, thanks to the dam located just northwest between the village’s saw and grist mills. Years after the 1910 photo was taken, heavy flooding destroyed the pictured bridge as well as the dam.

Sarah Durant, a registered psychotherapist, is the current owner and resident of 8222 Hwy 93. She is also the founder and clinical director of the North Simcoe Therapy Network which operates out of the building.

“We love it here now, and love the history of the region,” said Durant in an email exchange, adding that her daughter had discovered the history of both the property and the village upon purchase.

The 2021 photo was taken from across the street, on the edge of what is currently the Fresh Cut Fries takeout restaurant at 8199 Hwy 93.

(With assistance from the Midland Public Library and the Tiny Township Heritage Committee)

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Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Derek Howard covers Midland and Penetanguishene area civic issues under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada.
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