Simcoe County: Now and Then … and Again
By Rochelle Burns, PhD, social historian
What is there about Alliston — population around 19,000 today, considered small by most standards — that draws people who become international notables in a variety of fields?
Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace is making a big splash on the big and little screens after its blockbuster success in book stores around the world. People know that today.
But, few know she was drawn to Alliston to live on a farm from 1973-1980, while raising her daughter with her partner, writer Graeme Gibson, and while writing away, of course.
Then there is the story of Frederick Banting that began its attachment to Alliston in 1853. The Fletcher family built a grist mill on the Boyne River, a tributary of the Nottawasaga River. The first child born in their new town was Margaret Grant. She would become the mother of Sir Frederick Banting, co-inventor of insulin, a recipient of a 1923 Nobel Prize for his work, and a 1934 knighthood as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. His insulin work is carried on through education at the Banting Homestead Heritage Park in Alliston.
In a completely different work area was Theodore Loblaw. He cited his occupation as ‘grocer’. The founder of the grocery chain was raised by his grandparents on a farm on the outskirts of Alliston.
Loblaw also founded Alliston’s Stevenson Memorial Hospital, named after his beloved grandparents. Upon his death in 1933, he would forever be a part of Alliston having chosen to be buried at Alliston Union Cemetery.
Whatever else it’s known for, Alliston can certainly brag about its disproportionately high number of notable Canadians who were drawn, one way or another, to this delightful town.