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Cheese and Agricultural Museum

The Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum was first opened on August 27, 1977, consisting of a re-creation of a 19th century cheese factory. A former barn had been dismantled and the pieces moved to Centennial Park, where they were re-assembled in the shape and design of a typical cheese factory in Oxford County.

Ingersoll 19th Century Cheese Factory

The museum was started as a way to pay tribute to the significant cheese making history of Oxford County and the town of Ingersoll. While the building is a replica, the contents are all from working factories.

As word of the new cheese factory museum spread, donors came forward to offer a variety of farm implements and other devices related to the production of milk and cheese. It wasn’t long before a second building, the North Barn, was moved to the site.

In 1983, Doug Harris, the mayor of Ingersoll, spearheaded the establishment of the Ingersoll Sports Hall of Fame. To house this collection of sports memorabilia, a new building was constructed on site, using the bricks from the former Waterworks Pumping Station on Hamilton Road. This building and the addition which was added to it ten years later is now the main office and exhibition space.

Over the next few years, other buildings were moved to the museum grounds, including a blacksmith shop, the large Sherbrooke Barn, and a newer building that currently houses the Oxford County Museum School.

Prior to 2012, the museum operated seasonally but in that year, Ingersoll Town Council approved the recommendation to operate year-round with a full time curator. Since then the museum was voted Top Small Museum in Ontario, received the Ingersoll Chamber of Commerce Business Award for Excellence in the category of agriculture, and is a co-winner with other museums in the county of the Dorothy Duncan Public History Award from the Ontario Historical Society for the Oxford Remembers Oxford’s Own project.

The Ingersoll Museum collection now numbers some 20,000 artifacts while the School collection contains more than 30,000 items related to education in Ontario.

Ingersoll Cheese Factory Exterior
Doug Harris, the mayor of Ingersoll, spearheaded the establishment of the Ingersoll Sports Hall of Fame
Ingersoll Museum Exterior

The museum is open year-round, Monday to Friday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, and 7 days a week during the summer months.

General admission is by donation.

Group tour fee is $3.00 / person;  Group Tour & Tasting is $5.00 / person

Educational Programming: Most school programs are $3.00 / student

See the Educational Programs page for additional information and pricing

Farm EquipmentEarly Settlement

In the early 1790s the Massachusetts born Thomas Ingersoll met with Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe and struck a deal to receive 66,000 acres of land. The one proviso was that Ingersoll had to bring at least 40 families with him from the United States as new settlers in this area. The result was the creation of a settlement along the Detroit Trail where it met the Thames River, known as Oxford-on-the-Thames.

The small village continued to grow, in spite of three separate attacks by invading American forces during the War of 1812, and by 1832 the name was changed to Ingersoll to reflect the efforts of the founding father.

James Ingersoll, son of Thomas Ingersoll, is considered the first child to be born in the fledgling community. In later life he would become Registrar for Oxford County. His oldest stepsister was Laura Secord. Laura was Thomas Ingersoll’s first-born child, from his first marriage to Elizabeth Dewey.  His second wife, Mercy Smith, bore him no children but his third wife Sarah Backus Whiting gave birth to another seven children including James in 1801.

James Ingersoll
Laura Secord

In many ways, Ingersoll is a town built on cheese.

In the 1850s Hiram and Lydia Ranney was milking a huge herd of cows on their farm outside of Salford. Young men and women were hired to help with the milking and then taught by Lydia how to turn it into cheese. Each week she manufactured cheese in her summer kitchen and Hiram peddled it in different towns and neighboring cities.

In 1864, the first cooperatively owned cheese factory in all of Canada was started just outside Norwich Ontario, south and east of Ingersoll. By 1866 there were six of these types of factories producing a cheddar style of cheese in the county. That spring, the Ranneys, their son-in-law James Harris and George Galloway identified an opportunity to sell their cheese in Great Britain. To introduce the English to this Oxford County cheese, they combined their efforts to manufacture a giant wheel of cheese weighing over 7,000 pounds! It inspired poets and toured the British countryside before being bought and consumed. The success of this marketing gimmick led to the development of the cheese industry with the end result of there being 98 factories operating in Oxford County by the year 1900. Ingersoll became the market town for all of those factories with every box of cheese being exported bearing the name Ingersoll on its side.

Mammoth Cheese on a horse and cart

Having captured the British market the cheese makers had to keep it, and this they did by ensuring quality control through the establishment of the Canadian Dairymen’s Association in Ingersoll in 1867. This annual convention of cheese makers, dairymen, farmer, scientists and professors shared the latest in manufacturing techniques every year.

As the dairy industry grew, so too did the town of Ingersoll. New industries and shops were enticed to move to the area and so the town grew.

“We have seen thee, queen of cheese,/Lying quietly at your ease,/Gently fanned by evening breeze,/
Thy fair form no flies dare seize.”

These four lines are the opening stanza of James McIntyre’s famed poem, “Ode on the Mammoth Cheese”. For these verses and many others which celebrated cheese and the dairy industry of Oxford County, McIntyre became known as ‘the cheese poet’.

Born in Scotland in 1827, James immigrated to Canada in 1841, first settling in the St. Catharines and Thorold areas of Ontario. Here he learned the cabinetmaking trade, and like so many other tradesmen of the day, also the undertaking business.

In 1854 he moved to Ingersoll and set up a furniture and undertaking business. He managed to stave off the fiery disaster which struck the town in 1872. “Twas on a pleasant eve in May,/Just as the sun shed its last ray,/ The bell it rang, citizens to warn,/ For lo! a fire appears in barn….Our once fair town is now in woe,/ And we have had our Chicago,/ but soon a noble town will rise,/ For our town is all enterprise.”

About four years later however bad luck befell him when first his son and then his wife both died. He also suffered financial hardships in this same decade when a partnership went sour. In 1891 he lost most of his inventory in a flood that raged through the town. He must have received some solace and assistance from certain members of the townsfolk. I have been loaned an 1889 published copy of his poems which he personally signed and presented to ex mayor Joseph Gibson “who proved to be my best friend in my hour of need” (dated December 3rd, 1891).

It appears that James had dabbled in poetry most of his life. This volume has poems written from the 1850s through to the late 1880s judging by the various topics. Subjects of his pen tend to reflect everyday life in and around Oxford County, while at the same time paying homage to other great poets and heroes of the day.

James McIntyreHe wrote of Shakespeare, Tennyson and Hawthorne; of horses, pigs and men. He composed lines on bear hunts, General Brock, field tiles and even a patriotic hen! Written from the point of view of the chicken who lays eggs that will spite the American trade tariff, McIntyre’s loyal hen woos her mate with such poetic words as “My love for you, my rooster, grows,/ There’s none can match your morning crow,/ You crow the hour Chronometer,/ You weather crow Barometer.”

For rhymes and verse such as these, McIntyre was posthumously included in a book entitled The Four Jamesespublished in 1927. Written by William Arthur Deacon it was a humorous and affectionate tribute to the four worst poets in English speaking Canada.

The “Dictionary of Canadian Biography” reveals that McIntyre remarried in 1887 to Mrs. Belinda Walker. Her two sons took over James’ furniture business in the 1890s. According to Harry Whitwell’s book on the history of Ingersoll, Alonzo and George Walker operated a funeral home on the corner of Church and King Streets and started the Walker Casket Company on Charles Street East following their step-father’s death in 1906. The businesses passed through a few other hands before eventually being taken over by P.T, Walker.

Whatever you may think of James McIntyre’s doggerel, you cannot deny that he was a staunch supporter and advocate for Oxford County in general and his adopted hometown of Ingersoll in particular. In 1859 he gave an address to mark the centennial of the birth of Scotland’s favourite son Robert Burns. His verse echoes some of Burns’ own feelings about the brotherhood of mankind. It ends: “So here we’ve met in distant land/ Poor honest Robin to extol,/ Though oft we differ let us stand/ United now in Ingersoll.”

The 1851 Canadian Census shows Abraham Brock as the sole Black living in Ingersoll at the time. He was listed as a servant of gentleman farmer Elisha Hall. ‘Servant’ was likely a fair description of his employment, rather than that of slave.

Little is known about Abraham but in all likelihood, he had been a slave as a boy, or at the very least, the son of one. Slavery had been practiced in Upper Canada from its first days, but was restrained or limited as far back as 1793 when Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe passed an Act of Parliament which would lead to the gradual abolition of slavery in the colony. It was the first such act in the British Empire. The formal act abolishing slavery throughout the Empire did not come into effect until 1833.

Between 1830 and 1850 a variety of factors led to a number of Blacks migrating to Canada from the United States; Britain’s abolition of the slave trade was one. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was another. This American law made it a Federal crime to give any aid to fugitive slaves.

While a few of the Blacks that crossed the border had been freed by their masters, the vast majority were men, women and children who had escaped the shackles of slavery. When they arrived, via the many connections of the “underground railroad”, they were destitute people in need of life’s basic necessities: food, clothing, shelter and employment.

Those same people who had assisted in their escape from bondage were generally able to find them jobs in this land of liberty. Typically, Black men worked as labourers and farmers, and some like Washington and Joshua Bryce found work as waiters in 1861 Ingersoll. Several, like Charles Carey and John Davis worked as barbers. Between the 1860s and 70s George Brice was employed as a blacksmith in town. Still others found work as cooks, teamsters, mechanics, plasterers, and innkeepers, and then there was Solomon Peter Hale who has been identified as one of the most colourful ministers of the local Black church.

Ingersoll Black Church

Black women on the other hand generally found domestic work as servants and nurses, or like mother and daughter Martha and Catherine DeGroat as housekeepers. Still others were able to establish successful careers as milliners, seamstresses and tailors. Female teachers on the other hand were usually more highly regarded in Black society than they were in white circles. This was because education held great symbolic as well as practical importance. It was considered the key to freedom because it provided a means to combat charges of racial inferiority, and it was hoped, would lead to self-reliant communities.

The Separate School Act of 1850 opened the way for Blacks to appeal to local magistrates for the right to build their own schools. The fact that the British law allowed for common schools for all children, it was not always the case. Discrimination continued and school trustees often dragged their heels when it came time to approve the construction of such segregated Black-only schools.

It cannot be denied that Whites in Canada exhibited hostilities towards their new Black neighbours. Name calling, the occasional riot, and school segregation reinforced this prejudice. There are even tales told in town of young hooligans pulling pranks on the congregation of the British Methodist Episcopal Church while they were engaged in worship.

Black churches, like the B.M.E. served not only the spiritual needs of its members, but also functioned as hubs of political and social activities. Here in Ingersoll the board and batten one-room structure was erected on Catherine Street in 1858. Three windows admitted light because there were no lamps inside and the plain benches served the needs of the local Black population until at least 1900. The building was eventually sold to a farmer and torn down in 1932.

A cursory glance at a map of Ingersoll reveals several street names that are derived from local flora. Trees have given their names to various streets: Hemlock, Tamarack, and Magnolia are on one side a throughway, while the alliterative Larch, Linden and Laurel are on the other. In the south end of town, you can find Pine, Elmand Cedar streets.

Interestingly, the latter was once called Oak Street. Perhaps that hardwood died off and was replaced by the evergreen.

Underwood Road was named for Josiah Underwood and his son Sidney; their family shoe store operated in town for a number of years.

Other storekeepers have been memorialized with street names. Gayfer Placeharkens back to John Gayfer who was a popular pharmacist located on Thames Street and it also pays tribute to his son John B. Gayfer who was killed in action during WW2.

John Boles was another local merchant; Boles Street runs north off of Charles.  Alexandra Hospital is situated on Noxon Street is named after that palindrome family of agricultural implement manufacturers who’s street name is the same no matter which direction you travel!

King Street does not appear to have any regal origins. Instead historian Harry Whitwell stated that this road is named after a family of millers who operated in the west end of town.

King Hiram and King Solomonecho the Masonic influence of our early settlers whileMason Drive on the other hand is named after early 20thcentury businessman George Mason.

Several of the downtown streets can trace their origins back to the early days of development; back to the days of Colonel Wonham who surveyed many of the streets. Three around St. James Anglican Church are named after Wonham’s children: Francis, Annand Albert. Another Colonel who distinguished himself as commander of the artillery regiment at Fort George during the War of 1812 later settled here. His name wasHolcroft.

Wellington Street and Nelson Avenueremind us of two other great British military and naval commanders, and Alma, Inkerman and Raglan are all connected to the Crimean War. Closer to home, local hero Constable Scott Rossiterwho was killed in the line of duty has a street named in his honour.

The town is named after Thomas Ingersoll. That honour was bestowed by his son Charles, for whom Charles Street is named. His mother, Thomas’ third wife Sarah Whiting, is the inspiration for Whiting Street. Likewise, Charles’ wife Anna Maria is remembered by her maiden name of Merritt and their marriage is represented by Bond Street. Charles’ younger brother James did not fare so well. James Street once ran between Canterbury and King but has since been renamed Wellington.

Likewise, Dufferin Streetwas changed from Catherine Street when the Governor-General Lord Dufferin visited Ingersoll in 1874.

The area north of the Thames River reflects at least two early families that settled here in the 1830s. John Carnegiewas granted property in 1834. When he died some twenty years later, his will laid out plans to recognize his children Catherine, Victoria, William, George and John and his wife Isobella should be remembered every time you drive up Bell Street. Nearby Union Street commemorates the union of Carnegie property with that of Henry Crotty in the west while Mutual Streetmarked an agreement struck between Carnegie and Mr. Carroll on the east.

Some roads like Skye, Jura and Brucerecall the Scottish origins of some of our town fathers.

More recently, street names in the newer subdivisions are being named after men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice during times of global conflict.

MacMillan Courtis named in honour of brothers Joseph and Jack MacMillan who both died during World War 2. McCreery Road is named after WW2 chaplain Albert McCreery who was killed by a sniper in the waning hours of the Second World War.

Norsworthy Lanecommemorates the four sons of J.C. Norsworthy and the sacrifice of his two sons during WW1.

Keith Mabee Blvdis named in honor of Keith Mabee who grew up on this hillside, and died on his 22ndbirthday while serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Owen Street pays tribute to the late Brock Owen, while Moffatt Ave is named after Howard Moffatt. Both were killed in WW2. Meanwhile Walker Roadcommemorates the young Robert Walker of Ingersoll who was killed in action during the Korean Conflict

Winders Trailmemorializes the late Bruce Winders, son of the couple who ran Winders Bakery. Note that this name is pronounced with a short “i” as in ‘window’.

In 1983 the Ingersoll Sports Hall of Fame was established, as a means of recognizing individuals and teams who have excelled in their different sports at the provincial, national and international levels. These include athletes, teams and builders. Click on the links below to read biographies of the different inductees.

Sports Hall of Fame Inductees

Chrissy AllinAlex GassonDick ParkerF.E. Scott
Ken ArmstrongAshley GerisTom PaveyBob Shelton
Ron ArmstrongPeter GriffinHad PetrieShelton Ford Foldens Midget Girls
John "Wacky" BartramDoug HarrisGord PittockDolph Staples
Ralph Beemer Sr.George HayesMax PooleReg Stone
Buck BillingsHenry HayesRon QuippElizabeth "Betty" Taylor
Gary BowmanHazen Masonry Ladies Slo-Pitch TeamAndrew RichensJoe Todd
Carol BraggJames "Nip" HendersonBev RileyFred Vale
Casey ChambersMeghan HendersonRun The TableHarry Vinkenvleugel
Al ClarkRobin HendersonMaria Vinkenvleugel
Wilfred "Red" ClarkeClarence "Chief" HenhawkeP.T. Walker
Beth ClementMark HominickRon Watling
Climate Control JuniorsBecky "Taz" Huntley-ElliottRalph Williams
Leonard ColesHurley's IGA TykesE.A. Wilson
Al CostelloIDCI Blue BombersHarold Wilson
Brent CoyleIngersoll BantamsKieran Mackenzie Wilson
Cecil CraneIngersoll Centennials Fastball ClubMac Wilson
Jack CrossIngersoll Intermediate Baseball Team - 1930Rick Witcombe
Cathy CussonsIngersoll Intermediate Baseball Team - 1937Doug Wituik
Thomas "Bud" CussonsIngersoll Lawn Bowling Trebles - 1954Shihan Isao Yabunaka
George CurrieIngersoll Legion Branch 119 Ladies Auxiliary Dart Team
Dave DanielsIngersoll Lions Novice Travel Team
Jeff DennisIngersoll Reems
Brenda EckhardtIngersoll Senior Trebles Lawn Bowling Champions
Garnet ElliottIngersoll Y's Girls Basketball Team
Les FelmarIngersoll Golf and Country Club Founders
Tom FilmoreByron Jenvey
Max FisherJunior B Mets
Jim FitzmorrisCharlie Kelly
Joe FosterMarlene Waters Kirwin
Roy "Goose" Land
George Law
Jack Lewis
Al Lockhart
Don Lord
Andrew Malcolm
Lorne Moon
Tony Mucha
Jim McCann
Penny Wilson McDougall
Tom McKee
Don & Jack McNiven
Jack McNiven

Most of the museum programs can be adapted to various age groups. (Click here to download a pdf version of our Educational Programs Handbook).  If you have an idea for a topic, please let us know – we love to prepare programs and are interested in finding the right one for you.

Art Through the Ages
This program introduces children to three areas of art using hands on activities. Children will learn about printmaking, portraiture, and modern art.

Black History
February is Black History Month but this program is informative any time of year. Oxford County was a terminus of the Underground Railway. Photographs and artifacts bring this history to life.

Children at Work and Play
This program explores some of the chores and games that occupied children in the 1800’s.

Christmas Time!
Children learn some of the many holiday customs of the past, and enjoy festive activities.

Classroom Curator
History in the classroom can take a new twist with this program. Children come to the museum to learn from the curator how museum exhibits are made, then return to the class to prepare their own.

Endangered Species
This program looks at the demise of the Passenger Pigeon and the threats to three local species at risk. Hands on activities help make the concept real.

First World War
Learn about the trials and tribulations of going off to war. Through the use of artifacts, photographs, and archival documents students will learn about the life of a Canadian soldier.

Maple Syrup Time
This is a seasonal outdoor program and children should be prepared for walking through the snow, watching a kettle of sap boil, and for eating maple taffy on the snow.

Schoolhouse Rocks!
Rocks have been a part of everyday life since the beginning of time. Using the rocks in the schoolhouse the three types of rocks are examined and discussed. Hands on activities include making their own metamorphic rock.

Simple Machines
Levers, pulleys, inclined planes. How do they interact to make work easier? This hands-on education program provides students with the chance to see, use and learn.

The Three R’s
Children experience the one room schoolhouse through role playing and activities using real artifacts. Sitting in period desks, they learn reading, writing, and arithmetic from the schoolmarm.

The Ingersoll Cheese & Agricultural Museum and the Oxford County Museum School are located at 290 Harris Street in Ingersoll, 1 km. north of Highway 401 at exit 218.

The museum complex is comprised of six buildings, two parking areas, and plenty of parkland to explore. There is a cheese themed children’s play area and a picnic pavilion. Washrooms are available.

The cost of most programs is $3 per child, with “Art Through the Ages” and “Endangered Species” being $5 per child. All accompanying adults are free.

To Book Your Next Visit, email us at:  [email protected]or call 519-485-5510

Old School class room

Contact Us

To speak to someone at the museum, call 519-485-5510

Email: [email protected]

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