Village of Brussels—Honouring the Past, Shaping the Future
Authored by Carolyn Parks Mintz & Photography by Lynne Moreland, Westcoast Photography
Mural Graphics by Precision Print & Artist Nicole Griffin
The Village of Brussels has a colourful history. From its founding in 1852, growth was steady and diverse for over a century. Variously named Ainleyville and Dingle, it was officially incorporated as Brussels in 1872.
Its location on the banks of the Maitland River in the midst of rich agricultural land meant Brussels was poised to be successful. Flowing water and rich soil ensured that.
Between 1859 and 1885, the village grew to include a flourmill, a gristmill, a sawmill, two hotels, two tanning mills, a woolen mill, a custom foundry, a corset factory, a steam fire engine manufacturer, a tinsmith, a blacksmith, a wagon maker, a cabinetmaker, a milliner, a grain dealer, a Justice of the Peace, a lawyer, a physician, its own newspaper, The Post, telephones, a school, churches, a town hall, and various stores and shops. All that progress was not without setbacks. From 1860 onwards, Brussels experienced several disastrous fires. However, from the ashes rose more substantial buildings, impressive in design, larger in size, many of which exist to this day.
Brussels business district in the late 1800’s was remarkable in its architectural grandeur and consistency. It was a time of prosperity in the village, and its merchants richly embellished new commercial blocks to reflect their success. Streetscape composition exemplified late 19th century commercial architecture at its best—well built, well designed, restrained and yet with individuality, each block integrated rather than competing for attention.
Fine houses also sprang up within the village. Stately Leckie-Hoy House c.1877 was built in Queen Anne Revival style on Dunedin Drive. Constructed between 1886 and 1890, Ament House on Turnberry Street is modelled in fine Italianate detail, as is the Duncan McIntosh House (1885), with hip roofs and three bays comprising balanced façades.
Dunedin Manor from 1887 is designed after Dunedin Castle in Scotland and was once known as one of the great Victorian estates in southwestern Ontario. In the past, it was a residential home complete with a physician’s office and a maternity boardinghouse. Dunedin Manor still stands in noble grandeur today overlooking the Maitland River. Vanstone’s Old Mill House built in 1856 is a wonderful example of the Ontario Farmhouse with its central gable and detailed bargeboard. The MacRae-Trollope Ontario cottage on Turnberry Street was built in 1890 and features bay windows connected by a columned verandah with beautiful decorative woodwork. Brussels residential architecture rivaled commercial buildings in design and good looks. And nestled among the large residences were and are comfortable homes, some old, some newer, but each special in their own way. It’s all about location.
The town site of Brussels was well chosen, its urban environment notably enhanced by the natural environment of the beautiful Maitland River. Gracious neighbourhoods, the winding waterway, riverside parks, a butterfly garden, graceful shade trees, historical mill sites and picnic areas make for a quiet, bucolic setting in which to escape the work week and incessant activity of modern life.
Sports have long been part of living in and around Brussels. Baseball began in 1869, even before the village was incorporated.
Cricket, soccer, curling, and then hockey were soon part of fun within a pioneer community. Tennis, swimming, boating and snowmobiling have joined the cavalcade of sports that Brusselites enjoy. Mill Street is now called Sports Drive and leads to the Brussels, Morris & Grey Community Centre, the hub of recreation in Brussels. Hockey, skating, curling, community events, dances, aerobics and karate classes keep the Centre active and full.
From its auspicious beginnings through the first seven decades of the 20th century, Brussels in its attractive setting was a bustling and busy centre of industry, business, sports and social life for surrounding farm families and village residents alike.
A wide variety of businesses provided the creature comforts and convenience required by people who shopped locally, knew their trades people and suppliers, supported local enterprise and enjoyed the sense of familial community that only a village can engender. Its centennial year, arriving in 1972 during a vibrant time in Brussels, was a source of great civic pride for its citizens and the thousands of former Brusselites who came home to help mark the occasion.
However, the 1980’s brought a precipitous downturn in the fortunes of one important area of Brussels: its striking 19th century main street and business area, much of it now under-used, its urban form weakened by remodeling and new development.
How did this happen? Was it the passing of a generation who played, worked, and shopped where they lived and whose pride of place was exceeded only by their wish to make it better? Did parsimonious mindsets remain with civic leaders and residents after The Great Depression and 1970’s inflation? Were heritage buildings seen as liabilities rather than assets? Was it the low cost of automobile fuel, the advent of nearby big box stores with their massive inventories, the influence of the media advertisements promising happiness through the latest trendy thing? Or was it a need to keep one’s buying habits and spending anonymous, the decline in the number of local farm families as acreage size increased, or the development of the Brussels ‘bedroom community’ where people lived and slept but worked and shopped elsewhere? Likely all of this. Was the price of modernity the loss of the heart of Brussels? Probably, but not perpetually.
For while storefronts closed, Brussels’ agricultural industries thrived. Brussels Livestock, founded in 1958, has expanded its facilities in recent years and now offers three large sales each week marketing cattle, swine, lambs, and goats. Its expansive barns dominate local landscape.
And Brussels Agri Services has enjoyed continuous growth over the last fifteen years carrying an extensive inventory of farm implements, livestock supplies, equipment, fencing, seed, feed and work clothes. The opening of The Cowboy Loft at their location means they now stock a complete line of western wear, unique gifts and topline tack.
And “.com” has come to Brussels. iCLIPART, run by Charles and Alison Hoy, offers online access to 7.8 million royalty-free clipart images, photos, web graphics, animations, fonts and sounds—a subscription service that’s a boon to every editor, graphic designer and webmaster online.
Oldfield True Value Hardware, recently sold and renamed, Huron Country Hardware and McDonald’s Home Hardware, collectively in business for 148 years, continue to meet the needs of the area, carrying a wide inventory of household, hardware, renovation and building items—one-stop shopping for the home, the garden and the farm.
JR’s Family Restaurant and Gas Bar and McCutcheon Motors, now know as “Up to Par Automotive” have long been fixtures on Brussels main street. Their respective 40-year and 60-year histories within the community say much for the good products and good service they provide.
New businesses have arrived on Turnberry Street too. Cinnamon Jim’s Café is a popular new eatery and music venue located in Brussels’ distinctive Flatiron Building. The comforting and restful Solace on Turnberry Wellness Spa invites you to indulge yourself with self-care and a little pampering in a serene space.
Another innovative specialty outlet is The Rack & Roost Hunting Shop, carrying everything needed to make your hunting trip safe and successful.
KW PowerLogic Inc., located on the outskirts of Brussels, is part of a team of solar development professionals. Their extensive experience combined with reliable, high quality equipment optimizes solar project performance. From design to installation, KW PowerLogic offers state of the-art, eco-friendly energy solutions.
The business area of downtown Brussels is in recovery mode. A revitalization plan, both economic and architectural, is under way. The distinct advantages of living and doing business in a small town, rich in history and possibility, are being publicized on multiple fronts. Brussels is being promoted as a food destination, a centre of green energy, an event venue, an investment opportunity, a place to be experienced, not just visited.
Brussels isn’t far from anywhere, whether it be the wonderful, watery playground of Lake Huron, live theatre of Blyth and Goderich, Walton’s International Motocross Races, Shakespearean theatre at Stratford, London’s entertainment concerts or back-to-nature hikes in nearby Hullett Conservation Area.
It is a place where local businesses and service clubs generously support activities, individuals and events year after year—giving back to the community in which they operate. Brussels is a place where so many things are done so very well. It’s a place that’s good for the soul.
But most of all, Brussels is itself—unique, rural and urban, pastoral, friendly, hardworking, playful—and with much potential. Preserving the heritage within this village gem can be part of shaping its future, its past an integral part of the new Brussels.
 From Historic Streetscapes of Huron County, Nicholas Hill