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The Presbyterian Church
©Jeri Danyleyko

It’s impossible to imagine the perilous journey most pioneers took to arrive at their new land. Many didn’t even survive the crossing. Those who arrived had little alternative except to cut their way through bush and virgin land. Others, whose property was located near waterways, generally had to build crude rafts or scows, which ended up becoming their permanent homes while they navigated up the rivers, streams or creeks.

The water could be both turbulent and unpredictable. Accidents and shipwrecks were common, particularly for those unskilled in navigation. Many of Dunblane’s original settlers arrived in this manner, making their way up the Saugeen River on primitive crafts, struggling against the elements and hoping they would survive and eventually arrive at their intended destination.

Dunblane was first settled around 1851. Early settlers included the names of Wallace, Fraser, Scott, Rowand, Gowanlock and Bryce. In 1856 W. Wallace opened the community’s first post office, which also served residents in the small hamlet of Ebenezer, located in northwest Elderslie. Wallace resigned shortly afterwards and the post office moved to John Fraser’s home in Saugeen Township until 1872. At some point, the post office made an error on the stamp and printed the stamp as “Dumblane” instead of “Dunblane.” Both names stuck and remained in use for many years, although Dunblane was the correct name. The village crossed the township lines of Saugeen, Elderslie and Arran.

Once the post office was in place, the next institution was a small frame Presbyterian Church, built in 1859 on Lot 26, Concession B, Saugeen Township. Dunblane’s early businesses included an inn, owned by James Stark and a store, run by Mammy Brown on Lot 35, Concession A, Saugeen. Around 1868, Stark closed the inn and built a steam saw and grist mill on the Elderslie side, with John McKechnie as the millwright and Duncan Munro as the sawyer. By this time there was also a blacksmith, William Talford, a veterinary surgeon, G.W. Thomas and a weaver. Mrs. E. Jones eventually took over the store and ran it for many years.

Most of Dunblane’s residents, which in those days numbered about 100, listed their occupation as farming. One of those farmers was James Rowand, who also served as a justice of peace, and went on to serve as reeve of the township of Saugeen in 1864 and again from 1867 to 1870. Rowand continued to serve the township in a number of other official capacities until 1887, when he entered politics at the federal level. He served as the Liberal M.P. from Bruce West from 1887 to 1896 until his passing the following year.

In 1872 James Stark sold the mill to John McFarlane. That same year Donald Fraser took over the post office, followed by Archibald Armstrong in 1881. Armstrong resigned in 1882 and John McFarlane took over the post office, moving it over to the Lot 35, Concession A on the Elderslie side. It was now located right next to Bill Sergison’s blacksmith shop, just south of the mill. There was another smitty on Lot 24, Concession A on the Saugeen side.

Dunblane School, USS No. 1, Saugeen, Elderslie & Arran opened in 1882. Pupils from nearby Ebenezer also used the school. About 70 pupils were enrolled in the first year.

The village thrived for a number of years until the mill closed in 1890. From 1890 onwards the hamlet fell into a steep decline and was unable to attract any new industries. The post office closed at the same time as the mill but reopened in 1892. This time the post office was on the Saugeen side, with Mrs. Isabella McNeil serving as postmaster. That lasted until 1921, when it permanently closed.

By the early 1900s, Dunblane’s population had dropped to about 40 and it remained in a state of arrested development. After the school burnt in in 1902, a new brick structure replaced it. The second school remained in use until 1967 when it closed due to centralization of the school system. The Dunblane Presbyterian Church celebrated its centennial in 1959. It continued to hold services until 1968, when it finally closed for good.

Both the school and church still stand. The school is now as a private dwelling. The church, which is a designated historical structure, his beautifully preserved both inside and out. It is still used occasionally for special services.

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