The Rural Bretzes

By Christopher Bretz

 

While some members of Mennonite Preacher Jacob Strickler Bretz' (1800-1879) family began moving to the cities and towns in the 19th century, many remained on the farm continuing a traditional existence. Below is what we know of their story.

 


 

Gerhard's Family

Gerhard Bretz (1829-1905) was born on April 20th, 1829, and was the namesake of his grandfather Wieler. He was probably born on the family homestead near Fisher Mills, Ontario, and had a very rural upbringing. He was the eldest of the Bretz siblings.

If he had a traditional Mennonite baptism it would have occurred between 1845-1854.

The 1851 census recorded 23 year old Gerhard Britz in Waterloo as a wagonmaker. He might have been an apprentice at the time as there are 3 other young wagonmakers on the same census sheet, all around the same age.

Gerhard married Elizabeth Rebecca Jacobs around 1854 and appears to have moved to Blenheim township in Oxford county at this time. Interestingly, he would have been in the region of Plattsville and Washington ten years before his father and brothers would move here.

From land records we known that Gerhard purchased a 3/4 acre lot from Oliver Clemens on July 6th, 1854. It was located at Lot 7, Concession 12 in Blenheim. Soon after he seems to have lent out mortgages to others on the land, including his sister's father-in-law, Jessie Clemens for £250.

The 1861 census recorded Gerhard in Blenhiem township, of Oxford County. He had a young growing family of Ann, Eliza, and Robert. They lived in a single story frame house. Next door to them is the family of Gerhard's sister Polly, the Clemens.

The 1862-63 Gazetteer and Directory of the County of Oxford recorded Gerhard Bretz as an officer of the local Lodge in the Temperance Order in the nearby town of Washington. He was listed as: W. P. W. C. T., Garhard Bretze.

In 1865 his parents, Jacob and Nancy, and remaining brothers moved to the area from Waterloo. They settled a few kilometres down the road near Plattsville.

The 1871 census found the family still in Blenhiem township, but now also with young Bessie and William.

Gerhard is listed in the business directory of Blenhiem for 1874-5 living at Lot 7, Concession 12, near Washington. He might have lived here for all of his time in Blenheim township. It was a small lot, but perhaps suitable enough for wagon making.

Sometime in the 1860s S.S. No 6 (a school) was built across from Gerhard's land. His children certainly did not have far to go for their education. More on Gerhard Bretz' lot can be found here.

In 1879 his father died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville. 

The 1881 census found the family still in Blenhiem township in Oxford County.

Gerhard's daughter Eliza died in 1881 at just 22. She was buried in the Washington cemetery.

Gerhard moved his family to East Wawanosh in Huron County by 1882. They lived on at Lot 9, Concession 37, near Belgrave. His wife Rebecca died in 1888 at just age 55. She was buried in the Belgrave cemetery in Huron County.

Gerhard is listed in the directory of Farmers and Business Directory for the Counties of Bruce, Grey, Huron and Simcoe for 1890, living at Lot 9 Concession 37, near Belgrave. His son Robert is also listed there.

Around 1893 Gerhard Bretz decided to move to Oklahoma with several of his children including Robert, William, and Bessie. They settled in what would become known as Canadian county near El Reno. Canadian county was newly opened for settlers through three land openings which occurred in 1889, 1892, and 1901. In 1892 Cheyenne-Arapaho lands were opened to non-Indian settlement, and the western half of Canadian County was appended at that time. In local elections the first residents chose El Reno, over Reno City, Frisco, and Canadian City, as the county seat, and Canadian, after the Canadian River, was selected for the county name. A one-story, frame livery stable served as a the seat of county government until a new structure was built in 1901. More on it's history can be found here.

In 1894 his mother died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville. 

In 1937 Gerhard's son Robert Bretz (1860-1944) was featured a biographical sketch of early Oklahoma pioneers. In it he had this to say about his early life and the move to Oklahoma;

"My father was a carriage and wagon maker by trade and followed this vocation in the Province of Ontario for many years. My earlier years were spent in going to school and working in my father's Carriage factory which was operated by water power. At the age of twenty-one years I assumed the position of bookkeeper in a hardware establishment in the city of Detroit, Michigan. About this time the New South was being advertised by exhibit displayed in rail road cars. After working eighteen months in this hardware store, I resigned and joined a company of Canadian coloniate who went to Louisiana and settled on a sugar plantation known as the old Stephanie plantation in St. Martin's Pariah. In the purchase and operation of this plantation, we failed, and the property was finally sold to Kansas capitalists.

Shortly after we moved south the "Oklahoma Boomer" was being published, telling all about the opening of Oklahoma and the advantages it offered for a parson a coking a home. Therefore, after selling the sugar plantation, most of the colony moved to Oklahoma, but we arrived too late to secure claims in the run of 1889, and waited for the opening of the Cheyenne and Arapaho country."

The Eby book only noted about Gerhard's family: "Lives in one of the western states, residence unknown. Was married but nothing else is known."

Gerhard died March 19th, 1905 and was buried in the Buena Vista Cemetery.

 

Mary Ann's Family

Mary Ann Bretz (1831-1903) was Jacob Bretz' only daughter, and his second eldest child. She was known by her nickname Polly, as were many women named Mary at the time for reasons we are unsure of. She was likely born on the family farm near Fisher Mills.

She married Jacob Miller Clemens, a blacksmith, in 1854. Jacob was the nephew of her family neighbor Abraham Clemens. They would have seven children together.

The 1861 census recorded the family living in Blenheim township in Oxford county. They are found to be living right next to brother Gerhard Bretz and his family. They lived in a one and a half story wood frame house.

In 1865 her parents, Jacob and Nancy, and remaining brothers moved to the area from Waterloo. They settled a few kilometres down the road near Plattsville.

Mary and Jacob moved their family to Grey county sometime in the 1860s and were recorded living in Bentinck township. Their youngest daughter Angeline was born there in 1872.

Mary's family moved again to near Forest, in Bosanquet township of Lambton county in the mid 1870s. The only Clemens name found in the county before this is in the 1864 directory for an Abraham Clemens, one of Jacob's relations. Abraham's family lived on a lot near Ravenswood in Concession 56.

In 1879 her father died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville. 

The 1881 census found the family still in Bosanquet township in Lambton County.

Her brother Samuel moved to Forest around 1881 after the death of his first wife. Her brothers Abram and Benjamin would also appear to have spent some years in the area around the same time.

The Eby book noted about Polly Bretz: "is married to Jacob Clemens. They reside in Bosanquet Township, Lambton County, Ontario."

The 1891 census only found youngest daughter Angeline to still be living with her parents. They lived in the town of Forest.

In 1894 her mother died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville with her husband. 

Mary Ann died in 1903 and is buried in Beechwood cemetery in Forest. Her husband remarried the following year to Julia Simmons, and they lived happily until his death in 1923.

 

Benjamin

Benjamin Bretz (1835-1882) was likely born on the family farm near Fisher Mills. Although there is also a suggestion he was born near Breslau.

Ben married Nancy Gingerich in 1863. They never had any children as far as we know. They appear to have lived near Preston, not far from his father's farm.

He was recorded working as a booking agent in 1871.

In 1879 his father died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville. 

Benjamin spent some time near Forest in the early 1880s.

The Eby book noted about Benjamin: "is married to Nancy Gingerich. They live near Speedsville, Waterloo County."

Ben died March 11, 1882 of an inflammation of the stomach. Nancy would live on till 1920. They are both buried in the Wanner Mennonite cemetery.

 

John

John Bretz (1837-1908) was likely born on the family farm near Fisher Mills. He is the only one of his siblings to have identified as Mennonite his entire life.

John's father moved the family to near Plattsville in the late summer of 1865. The new farm was on the 13th line of Blenhiem about a half mile west of town. John appears to have lived here until the farm was sold, sometime in the 1880s.

John was living in a house on his brother Henry's farm, just down the road from their parents in 1876.

In 1879 his father died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville. 

In 1881 John was living with his mother and brother Aaron on the farm near Plattsville. His other brother Henry and his young family were living with them as well.

John shows up on the 1883 voter lists for the county of Oxford living in the southwest corner of Washington. He is a tenant of a house living with a Josiah Belden.

By 1885 the county directory shows John had moved to a house just west of Washington, on the north side of the road.

In 1894 his mother died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville with her husband. 

John was found still living just west of Washington by the 1895 Oxford county directory, but now on the south side of the road.

John worked as a housekeeper in his older years, near or in Blandford.

John never married.

He died in 1908 at age 70 from an abscess on his face and was buried in the Washington cemetery, although his grave has never been found.

 

Samuel's Family

Samuel Bretz (1839-1915) was likely born on the family farm near Fisher Mills.

Samuel's father moved the family to near Plattsville in the late summer of 1865. The new farm was on the 13th line of Blenhiem about a half mile west of town.

He worked as a wagon maker (1861,1871), and later as a painter (1881, 1891).

Samuel married Harriet Thompson around 1865. Harriet's family was from Lambton county, not far from where Samuel's sister Polly had moved with her family. Soon after they were married, their first child Nancy Jane was born. Through the 1870s they would go on to have nine children. One young child, Margaret died young in 1880. They appear to have lived in Plattsville, and not on his father's nearby farm, through these years.

Samuel was recorded on his own farm by the 1876 Oxford county directory. Is was located just down the road from his parents at Lot 22, Concession 12, towards Chesterfield.

In 1879 his father died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville. 

Tragically Harriet died in 1881 in Lambton county at just about age 36. Samuel appears to have moved the family to Lambton after that, perhaps to welcome the help his in-laws could offer him while raising his large family as a single parent. The 1881 census showed the family still living in the Plattsville area, so perhaps Harriet was visiting relatives when she died. The cause of her death is unknown. She is buried in the Plattsville cemetery with her daughter. By the 1891 census the family is living near Forest in Lambton county.

Samuel's brothers Abram and Benjamin would also appear to have spent some years in the Forest area around the this time.

Samuel remarried after the move to Sarah Laidlaw in 1882. However, and this is not clear, Samuel seems to have been remarried to a third wife the following year - Cathrerine Allen. He would remain with Catherine for many years.

The Eby book noted about Samuel: "is married and resides in Bosanquet, Lambton County."

In 1893 Samuel and his wife moved to Michigan. At least his youngest child Minnie appears to have gone with them. Many of his other children remained in Canada.

In 1894 his mother died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville with her husband. 

Samuel is recorded on the 1900 census of Port Huron with Catherine.

Samuel died of uraemia in Port Huron, Michigan in 1915.

In 1901 Samuel's son Oscar moved west to Saskatchewan where he went on to become a newspaper editor of the World Spectator. He married and had two daughters. He is pictured here to the right.

Two of Samuel's daughter married two brothers from the same family. Nancy Jane married George Cameron, and Mary Etta married John Cameron about six years apart.

Samuel's son Arthur became a dental surgeon and lived in San Diego, California.

 

Henry's Family

Henry Bretz (1846-1920) was likely born on the family farm near Fisher Mills.

Henry's father moved the family to near Plattsville in the late summer of 1865. The new farm was on the 13th line of Blenhiem about a half mile west of town.

Henry was recorded on his own farm by the 1874 Oxford county directory. Is was located just down the road from his parents at Lot 21, Concession 12, towards Chesterfield. Henry's brother John was living in a home on the lot in 1876, but it is not known if Henry still was.

Henry married Catherine Jane Johnston in 1876 at Blenheim. His brother Abram was a witness at the wedding. At the time Henry was recorded as working at farming. Henry and Catherine would have 2 sons together, Gilbert and George.

In 1879 Henry's father died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville. 

For the 1881 census Henry and his young family were living with his mother and brothers John and Aaron on the family farm near Plattsville. It is not known is this was a temporary arrangement.

Henry was recorded by the 1883 voter list for Oxford county on a farm near Washington. The new farm was located at Lot 12, Concession 12.

An 1887 local directory of Blenheim township shows Henry to be a seller of "books, stationary and fancy goods". For the rest of his days he would work as a merchant of some kind or another.

By 1891 Henry had moved the family to Shelburne and had a store in town.

In 1894 his mother died and was buried at the Blenheim Mennonite Cemetery north of Plattsville with her husband. 

Henry died in 1920 in Shelburne.

Henry's son George was a bit of an athlete. He joined a lacrosse team in London then later move to Winnipeg in 1902 to play with the Shamrock Lacrosse Club. He played for them when they won the 1903 Manitoba Provincial Championship and accompanied them when they ventured to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. The team earned itself Olympic gold medals by beating the St. Louis Amateur Athletic Association’s squad with a score of 8-2. At the time lacrosse was a demonstartion sport, but this event was actually the first official Gold medal that Canada had ever won at an Olympics. A record of the team can be found in the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame. The Winnipeg Free Press commented on George after the Shamrocks won the Provincials in 1903;

Winnipeg Free Press dated Friday, August 28, 1903

Geo. Bretz is one of those quiet, steady Players, who do such effectlve work on a team, without ever doing anything particularly brilliant. At second defence eo is a hard man to pass. He comes from Shelbourne, Ont.. and played with London before coming west test year. Weighs 165 and is a tailor.

Afterward he married Ellen McKay and moved to Toronto where they had a daughter, Jean.

George worked as a tailor and, for at least the years 1917-1920, worked downtown at 38 Toronto Arcade, at Younge and Temperance (pictured to the right). In the 1922 city directory he is listed working as a designer for Punchard & Birrell.

World War I saw an increase in acts of discrimination against Canadians of German descent out of fear and mistrust. Although we cannot know what exact incident prompted him, in 1919 George Bretz decided to change his family name to Brett.

Orangeville Banner dated 07-Aug-1919 Page 1, Column 4
George Bretz, of Toronto, formerly of Shelburne, has changed the spelling of his name to Brett. His great-grandfather Bretz was a Dutch U. E. Loyalist, who, coming to Canada in 1810, received a grant of land from the British government in the County of Waterloo. However, one cannot be explaining this to everybody and he has taken this step to avoid prejudice.

George and his family were living in East Toronto at 8 Brookmount Rd for the 1921 census.

According to voter lists, sometime before 1940 the family moved to 14 Brule Terrace in the western part of the city, overlooking the Humber river. It was a relatively new and rich part of town so he must have been doing quite well financially. Henry was still listed as a designer of clothing. He retired by 1953. His daughter Jean appears to have lived with her parents throughout all this time.

Henry's son Gilbert stayed in Shelburne most of his life and had 3 children with Beatrice McCracken. As a young man he volenteered for the Milita for the district of Peel and was in the regimental band between 1897-1907. Not much else is known of them. Their children ended up in the Ottawa area where daughter Catherine married into the Quebecois family of Roland Auger. Gilbert's son William would get into financial managment and live in Florida for many years. He would even publish a book called Juncture Recognition in the Stock Market, 1972, and develop his own technical indicators for stocks called the Bretz TRIN-5.