Nelson: Less Than a Ghost Town

Andrew and I went to visit Morden during spring break, and this was a great opportunity for me to look a little more closely at the community and its genesis.

(Not TOO closely though. I’m no scholar, remember.)

As I studied the map, I appreciated how organized the city’s layout is. It’s main routes, Thornhill Street and Stephen Street, stretch nicely east-west, cross-hatched with its north-south streets numbered neatly 1st to 15th. But, there’s an interesting exception.

In the centre of town, between 8th and 9th streets, is a street named Nelson. What’s up with that?

I remembered from our walk exploring Morden’s most historic buildings, that we had encountered two that had been moved to Morden from Nelson in the mid-1880s. That could not have been an easy task.

The “Morden Mansions” PDF says this house was built in Nelson by William Bell in the early 1880s and moved to Morden “shortly thereafter”.
This is the St. Thomas Anglican Church in Morden. The plaque says it was built in Nelsonville in the 1880s and the building was moved to its present site in 1885. (There have been additions.)

Where was Nelson and why were these buildings moved?

Obviously, I was going to check out the former townsite of Nelson.

Six miles north and three miles west of Morden, we arrived at our destination.

Here it is!

Yep. A cairn by a windbreak in a field. Let’s read it!

Townsite of Nelson


In 1877, Adam Nelson built a grist mill on Silver Creek marking the beginning of Nelson. 1882 saw Nelson an incorporated town of over 1000 people. It had a land titles office, was a judicial county seat for North Dufferin, a newspaper was published from 1880-85, Nelson was on a regular stagecoach route. The railway bypassed Nelson in 1883 and the people gradually moved their business places and homes to other locations, the majority going to Morden. The last building was moved away in 1903. The community was later named Dunston. In 1958 this cairn was erected in memory of the pioneers under the auspices of the Dunston community.

“The railway bypassed Nelson in 1883.”

A common story across the Canadian prairies.

Andrew and I looked at each other. Well. That’s that, I guess.

But then Andrew spied something up ahead. A cute little church!

Dunston United Church! We went inside and found that it’s nicely maintained and is a bit of an area museum.

Inside, I read this tantalizing article… which sadly you will probably not be able to read here.

It’s from Western People, written by Ida E. Sanderson and was published on page 4, on February 4, 1988. In the article, she describes how Nelsonville became a boom town, which became Nelson, and then became a ghost town, whose area came to be known as Dunston. At the time this article was written, Sanderson notes all that remains of the past are empty basements. I cannot even see those today.

Although, I did feel led to investigate behind the church, where I found evidence of a past era.

With one last look at the little church that so captured our attention, we hurried off to the next site I wanted to see: Mount Nebo.

Of course, on our way back, we traveled by the abandoned townsite of Nelson once more, and this time something new caught Andrew’s eye:

He stopped the car and I went over for a closer look.

Apparently on this site many memories were made. Sanderson’s article says that the Nelson town hall was built in 1882, and this is where the judicial county seat, council chambers, and registry office was located. The second floor was the assembly hall. I’m assuming the Nelson town hall that Sanderson wrote about was the same building as the 1907 Dunston town hall? Does 1907 indicate the year it was torn down?

One last look at what remains of Nelsonville/Nelson/Dunston.

P.S. Typical me, I missed something important. THE CEMETERY. I had marked it on my map to visit but somehow overlooked it. I am determined to return.

Related posts: 

Help, I’m in Morden!

Climbing Mount Nebo