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COLUMN: How Fennell's Corners came to be

A successful farmer, Joseph Swain Fennell rose to prominence due to his character, columnist explains

Last weekend’s column explored the hotels that huddled in the hamlet of Croxon’s Corners, later Fennell’s Corners. I’ve since received several messages inquiring about the name Fennell: just who was the individual prominent enough to have a community’s name changed to honour him?

Joseph Swain Fennell was born in England to Nathaniel and Elizabeth (nee Rathwell) Fennell about 1807, one of 11 children.

On Feb. 9, 1830, he married Jane Meyer, born 1811. In the fall of 1832 (not 1831 as is often reported), with two small children in tow — three-year-old Susan and infant Robert — the couple immigrated to Canada and settled in West Gwillimbury township. Nine more children would follow.

Joseph proved to be a remarkably successful farmer but rose to local prominence because of his character. A natural leader, people respected and trusted him. He was a constable for West Gwillimbury and was elected to the township council. On several occasions he served as assistant reeve and reeve.  

A staunch Anglican, Joseph was also a leading figure in the local Anglican congregation and was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of St. Paul’s Anglican Church at Coulson’s Hill.

An aging Joseph withdrew from local politics around 1880 after four decades of public service. Upon his retirement, grateful ratepayers gifted him with a gold pocket watch. In further appreciation of his service, the hamlet of Croxon’s Corners was renamed Fennell’s Corners.

Jane died in 1886. After more than half a century together, Joseph was now alone. Though 80 years old, he stubbornly continued to work the farm, perhaps throwing himself into his work as a distraction from the sadness of having lost his wife.

It would prove to be his undoing.

In early January 1888, Joseph was working outdoors when he fell and shook himself up. The Bradford Witness wrote that "some days later ... he met with another fall, which was more serious, hurting him internally as to render him incapable of rising, and in this position, he was found after being thoroughly chilled.” Pneumonia set in.

Illness and internal injuries combined led to Joseph’s death on Jan. 17. “He was a man of upright character, strictly honest in all his dealings,” mourned the Witness. The Toronto Daily Mail reported that his death “cast a gloom” over West Gwillimbury.

Joesph Fennell was laid to rest in Coulson’s Hill Cemetery in the shadow of the church that he helped to establish.