Zurich, Ontario ~ 1893
The first arrival on the site of the present village known as Zurich was Frederick K. Knell who laid it out as a townsite in 1854. He had originally settled on lot 21 of concession 11 of the Township of Hay. Mr. Knell was a Swiss of German descent and the early settlers who came into this district were predominantly from Germany. Although a scattered influx of “Pennsylvania Dutch” settlers had come into the country from its earliest days no real German settlement developed in Huron except at Zurich and most of its original population came directly from Germany rather than from Waterloo County or Pennsylvania.
One of the secrets of the early success of the development of Zurich was the fact that Mr. Knell quickly erected both a sawmill and gristmill. These were badly needed inasmuch as a very considerable area was without these services after Moses Johnston who had established the first mill gave up the enterprise and moved to the United States. The Knell mill was very much in demand and it was very natural that a settlement should develop around it. Further strength was given to the embryo village in December, 1856, when a post office was established with, of course, Mr. Knell the first Postmaster. From this point on, the village developed quickly and within a period of seven years it had a population of approximately 300 people.
The first public house is supposed to have been established by Henry Solden who was actually a shoemaker. He did not continue his role as landlord for the community for very long and two more substantial hostelries were soon erected. The first of these was the Zurich Hotel which was operated by Bernard Hofele who also operated a general store. The second was one of several enterprises of an early settler of French extraction-Louis Vautier-who was the proprietor of the Victoria Hotel. In addition Mr. Vautier was the first Justice of the Peace for Zurich and operated a successful glue factory-the first of its kind in Huron County.
Two of the earliest settlers were blacksmiths named Peter Deichardt and Frederick Axt. A village which was growing rapidly also attracted carpenters at an early stage of it’s development these were Henry Wohlnich and Henry Greb. An unusual feature in a newly established village was the presence of a bookshop which was operated by Andrew Schmidt. It is reasonable to conjecture that in a community which was predominantly German speaking there was a higher demand for literature in this language at an early date than was usually to be found in the first settlements of the county. Other early merchants in Zurich were Robert Brown who operated a general ‘store; Casper Hill, a shoe shop; Henry Zimmerman, a tailor shop; and Henry Kohler, a harness shop. The first wagon maker in the village was Charles Bauer.
The first church in Zurich was Reformed Lutheran and erected in 1859 with Rev. G. N. Munsinger as minister. For a village of this size the church was exceptionally well built; it cost $800 and boasted a public clock in the tower which was, and still is, a feature in the district. In I860 a substantial town hall was built of brick at a cost of $600. The school was also established by 1860 and had an average attendance of ninety pupils with Samuel Foster as principal. The first doctor in Zurich was Charles Toller.
The village inhabitants were remarkably thrifty and progressive in their thinking and twenty-five years after it had first been laid out as a townsite it had added several industries including a tannery, a woollen mill, a flour mill, and a flax mill. Three other churches were now established in Zurich-Methodist, Baptist and Roman Catholic. Three teachers were employed in the public school. In the fifteen years between 1860 and 1875 Zurich had doubled its population from 300 to 600.
Originally the mail came to the Zurich post office by stage from Bayfield but when the London, Huron and Bruce Railway line was put through and the station established at Hensall, Zurich’s mail was handled from this point. The fact that the railway missed the village of Zurich by a few miles would normally have been a serious blow to the settlement. Most of the other communities which were missed by the railroad degenerated into ghost towns in a matter of a few years. This fate, however, did not befall Zurich. In the first place it was much more firmly established than most of the other communities which were bypassed by the railway. Secondly, and perhaps more important, it had become a very homogeneous and tightly knit community. Its thrifty population was determined to survive and the fact that the village is surrounded by unusually rich agricultural country helped it to continue and prosper through the ensuing years. The spirit of independence is well illustrated by the fact that even after its population had exceeded the 600 mark the citizens did not seek the usual protection of municipal incorporation of any kind for many years. In fact it was not until 1898 that Zurich was incorporated as a police village.
Over the years Zurich has retained its reputation both for prosperity and independence. It has always been considered to be a thriving community and although most of its original industries no longer exist others have been developed to take their places. It is a village which is renowned throughout the county for its hospitality and its strong support of all forms of sports and athletics. It boasts a good fair grounds and arena. Although it has never been served by a railway the development of highway transportation has helped the village and it by no means exists in isolation.
Finally, in 1960, by order of the Ontario Municipal Board the police Zurich became incorporated and Lloyd O’Brien was elected its first reeve.
From “The Settlement of Huron County” by James Scott ~ 1966