Norfolk County, est. 600 residents
Vittoria, Ontario, is a small village and a precious gem in Norfolk County that prides itself on its community spirit. The area is known for being one of the most historic communities in the county, dating back to the early 1800s.
John Gustin received a recommendation for a lot in the Vittoria area in 1796 and moved his family to his land two years later. Between 1805 and 1810, Gustin built a saw and grist mill on this property to provide for the growing community.
Walter Anderson first began severing lots for the village of Vittoria in 1814. The community was first called Tisdale’s Mills after Matthew H. Tisdale, the man that operated the grist mill on Young’s Creek. Along with saw and grist mills, the main street boasted two hotels, several stores, a bake shop, a school, as well as one of the first post offices in Upper Canada, which opened in 1816.
The town’s name was changed to Vittoria in 1818 and refers to Vittoria, Spain, the location the Duke of Wellington was victorious over Napoleon’s forces in 1813.
Vittoria was a vital hub in Upper Canada, serving as the capital of the London District from 1815 to 1825 and host of the Registry Offices. This era of distinction came to an end when the Court House burned down in 1825. Instead of rebuilding the courthouse, the courts were removed to London, and the Registry Offices relocated to Simcoe to serve Upper Canada’s growing population.
The Historic Buildings of Vittoria
Vittoria is known as a historic village with a number of old buildings still intact today. The Vittoria & District Foundation Inc. created a handy self-guided walking tour of notable sites throughout Vittoria, which takes you on a journey back in time. Many of the area’s oldest buildings still remain, and more information about them can be found on the town’s website.
Architecturally, the Christ Church Anglican is one of the most important church buildings left in Canada. Constructed in 1844, the stone-like building is actually made entirely of wood, which is what makes it so unique. The exterior is crafted with flush-boarding, bevelled and grooved to replicate ashlar masonry. The addition of a dashing of fine sand against the freshly painted walls enhances the textural illusion of stone. Since its construction, the church has remained largely unchanged.
The Baptist Society of Charlotteville was established in 1803 by Elder Titus Finch. The first church building was located in the present-day Vittoria Baptist Cemetery. Over time, the area needed a larger structure, which gave way to the brick building constructed in 1852. The Greek temple-style church was in continuous operation before closing in 2012.
The Vittoria Town Hall was built in 1863 on land donated by Thomas Lamport. The frame building was destroyed by a fire and was eventually replaced in 1870 by the brick structure that stands today. By 1915, the Vittoria Lecture Room Company started to lease the hall for public purposes to the Trustees of the Police Village of Vittoria for $1 a year for 999 years.
The exterior features of the building, including round-arched windows, multiple mouldings at the eaves and a fan transom above the door, have remained intact, but the town hall has some work ahead of it. The building is currently in a state of uncertainty after a license agreement between Norfolk County and an independent business fell through because of the lengthy list of renovations needed. The community believes that the restoration of the Vittoria Town Hall will help them continue to explore the town’s heritage and celebrate its historic achievements for years to come.
The Vittoria Conservation Area is located on the site of one of Vittoria’s first and longest operating mill sites. The Smith family sold the mill, the mill pond, and the adjacent property to the Big Creek Conservation Authority in 1957. The outdoor area now serves as a great place for fishing and watching wildlife.
The Cider Keg Farm Market offers fresh seasonal produce and local food items that everyone can enjoy. The business was founded in 1990 by Tom Haskett and his wife, Joan. In 2020, the property was purchased by the couple’s daughter, Tracy Haskett, and her partner Clark Hoskin, who continue to sell fresh apple cider, freshly baked pies, ice cream, and many other goodies.
The Catherwood and the Kiln is a pizzeria that serves tasty pizzas, wings, subs and much more. Jennifer VanGroenigen Hutchings opened the business in 2013 after her father purchased and renovated the 1835 building. It was once the site of the Catherwood Hotel and, over the years, has been home to other businesses, including several general stores.
The Good Bread Company bakes up delicious sourdough bread fresh daily. The bakery was founded in 2012 by Daniel Pruden and Richard Posavad and relocated to its current location in the former Vittoria Baptist Church in 2019.
The village of Vittoria has become a treasure trove for history lovers. The incredible love for community led by motivated organizations has created a town that is a glimpse into what rural Upper Canada was once like.
A big thank you to Helen Bingleman, James Christison and other members of the Vittoria Ontario Facebook group for providing me with information and pictures of the area.