A Brief History Of Our Village
Vienna is a cozy little village in the Otter Valley with only 566 residents (Statistics Canada 2001). As a small community many city folk often ridicule, it is surprising to learn that it once rivaled St. Thomas and London in size and prosperity.
In 1811, Colonel Mahlon Burwell divided the area into village lots and then proceeded to name this hamlet Shrewsbury. However, the citizens did not approve of this name and as such, they asked Captain Samuel Edison Sr. to rename the village. Captain Samuel called it Vienna said to be after an Austrian ancestor and because the hilly countryside reminded him of Austria. Its name has not changed since.
The 1850s saw Vienna as "The most flourishing place in Canada West," a Toronto reporter said in 1851. It had an unbelievable population of 1200. At this time, it was reported to be as large as St. Thomas. There were even ideas of Vienna becoming the capital of Upper Canada. This amazing growth and prosperity was largely due to the lumbering trade. The Otter Creek was well suited to this industry and was put to good use. In 1853, Vienna was incorporated as a municipal village.
The Village of Vienna suffered many ups and downs after the 1850s. One of the largest declines can be contributed to the lumber industry. After exhausting their resources, the village failed to reforest. In addition to this, a number of floods and fires arose continuously destroying the business area and residences. When natural gas was discovered, Vienna was given another chance for revival. Unfortunately, the gas was shipped out of the area.
The lumbering trade was mainly responsible for the phenomenal growth in Vienna. The Otter Creek was a natural highway for this industry that quickly grew to enormous importance. The development of the stave and lumber trade had caused such rapid growth that by 1850; the Otter Creek Watershed was one of the most stirring business places in Western Canada. It is estimated that Vienna once maintained a population up to 2500 individuals.
Unfortunately as the importance of the lumbering industry and resources of lumber in Vienna diminished the population size followed suit.
At the turn of the century a second flurry of excitement began in Vienna due to the discovery of natural gas. The first gas well was drilled in 1910 and soon there were 24 gas wells in the village limits. It was hoped the gas would attract more industries to the area but eventually the gas was piped to the industries instead of bringing industries to Vienna.
During the peak of prosperity several tragedies struck the booming Village of Vienna. The first was the great fire of 1855. It wiped out virtually every building on one side of the principal street. A large part of the business section as well as 25 or 26 residences had been ruined.
Tragedy struck again in 1859 when a second fire demolished almost the whole of the business section and several houses. By 1864 the population of Vienna had fallen to approximately 900.
Vienna's troubles were not yet over. A third fire began on the morning of December 9th 1866, destroying nearly the entire village. Although the origin of the fire was never discovered foul play was suspected.
A final blow occurred in March of 1868 when a large flood occurred. The water rose to levels of four feet at the lowest parts of town and both of the wooden bridges that crossed the Otter Creek were washed away. Unfortunately, Vienna was never able to overcome these tragedies and regain the population size it once had maintained.
Despite the fires and floods the Village of Vienna still exists. Thanks to the natural beauty of the surrounding area, Vienna still has a lot to offer. Laying between the hills of Bayham, with the Otter Creek running along slowly, it doesn't take one long to appreciate the sights to be seen and the peace and quiet that everyone needs during this time of hustle and bustle. Perhaps the future success of Vienna will be determined by the fact that it is one of the most restful villages in Ontario.
A small village with a big history !
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Above photo is our Edison Museum . Click on photos to enlarge !