Bretz Homesteads in Canada

By Christopher Bretz


Jacob Bretz' 1st Canadian Farm


Block 2, Grand River Tract
Lot 1 or 2, Concession 1 in South Waterloo Township, Waterloo County

Not much is known about this farm. From the deed agreement for his second farm (see below) with Richard Beasley, we know that in 1812 Jacob Bretz then lived at Block 2 of the Grand River tract, but does not narrow it down much more. The Eby book described him as living "a little below Preston, on the farm now occupied by John Clemens". Land ownership maps place long time Clemens owned lots on the east side of Lot 1 and 2 of the 1st Concession. This location would be below John Erb's farm, visible near the bottom right of this modern interpretation of an 1818 Waterloo map. It would be near Hespeler Road and Bishop Street in modern Cambridge.

Jacob and his family presumably lived here for about 6 years after their arrival from Pennsylvania.

Jacob Bretz' 2nd Farm


Lot 9,10,11,12,13 Concession 2 in South Waterloo Township, Waterloo County, 1024 acres. Map it.

Jacob Bretz purchased this large tract of land on December 20, 1812 from Richard Beasley, the largest land owner of the Waterloo area at the time. An approximation of its value can be calculated from the German Company figures of about 3 and a half shillings per acre, meaning Jacob might have paid as much as £180 (about $35,000 today - quite a deal!) for it. Today that same amount of land would be worth many millions. It is not known with certainty where the Bretz family got the resources to purchase so many lots, but a strong possibility is the money that his wife Maria was receiving yearly in accordance with her late father's will.

The land records, censuses, and early township assessments often spell the family name differently than Bretz is spelled today. The deed to Jacob's land from 1812 spells his name 'Jacob Pratt'. Early records from Waterloo through the 1820s spell it 'Jacob Pritz' or 'Jacob Pretz'. These variations might reflect how the individual clerk heard the name when it was spoken, particularly with a German accent.

Jacob's four children were teenagers by the time the family moved here from south of Preston in 1812-13. They would have helped run the farm and clear the land, which was much more forested at that time. On a tract of this size they also might have had to have hired local farm hands to manage the harvest.

This was the main Bretz family homestead for 53 years and three generations, and even when the children started leaving to start their own lives, they did not go far. Jacob's grandson Jacob Jr would move his family to a farm a few miles north near the county line (see below). His daughter Catherine would marry John Steen and they are reported by the Eby book to have lived "south of Tuck's Hill" (which is north of Jacob's Lot 13) until they later moved to Lambton county.

It is likely that many members of the Bretz family knew this farm well, given their proximity. The 1830s, 40s, and 50s would have seen many cousins all intermingling across each other's farms in the area of Waterloo. Our own ancestor Abram Bretz might have spent his first 15 years or so growing up here.

According to land records, Jacob quickly sold off parts of his original purchase. Almost half was sold within the first ten years to the Strome family, who were also Mennonites from Pennsylvania.

Lot 9 was sold to Christian Strome in June 16th, 1823. Lot 10 was bought by William Ellis on August 10th, 1815. Lot 11 was bought by David Strome on August 11th, 1815, along with a small 10 acre chunk of Lot 12.

Jacob sold Lot 9 around the same time his son John was first married and looking to start a farm of his own. John bought a lot in 1825, so it could be that the sale helped to fund this.

With Lot 13 there is a little confusion as to when exactely Jacob sold it. The Eby book mentions that Abraham C Clemens moved there soon after his marriage in 1824, however this is hard to confirm looking at the land records, as the next listed sale is to a Joseph Fisher in 1842, and the seller was not Jacob Bretz. The Clemens family officially bought Lot 13 in 1845. There are some older transcriptions of the land records which say that Jacob sold Lot 13 to Peter Witmer in 1810, but that makes little sense. It pretty clearly reads that Mr. Witmer bought the lot off of Richard Beasley in that year, before Jacob did. The question then is how Mr. Beasley seemingly resold the land to Jacob two years later. Perhaps there must be some missing transactions. From Gore district land assessments there appears to be a claim by Jacob that the lot was still his in 1827, but not in 1832 when he transfered all of his land to his son, Jacob Jr.

The bulk of Lot 12 remained in the Bretz family and was where the homestead was located, although as time went on an acre here or there was sold off at the western edge of the lot for new settler's homes in the budding hamlet of Fisher Mills. Other than the 10 acres sold to the Stromes in 1815, Lot 12 remained intact until 1838.

Jacob's son, Jacob Strickler Bretz, took ownership of this farm from his father on July 18th, 1832 and raised his own large family here. On them the Eby book mentions; "Jacob Bretz, son of Jacob and Maria (Strickler) Bretz, was married to Nancy Wiehler and resided on the old homestead where they had a family of eight children." At that time the size of the lot was 204 acres, 3 roods, 18 perches.

From data from the Ontario Archives:

Lot No. 9, Second Conn. 1024 acres, R. Beasley to Jacob Bretz (Pratts), December 20th, 1812. This consisted of Lots 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13, Second Conn., Lower Block.

Jacob Bretz disposed of his property as follows:

Lot No. 10, 200 acres to William Ellis, August 10th, 1815.
Lot No. 12, 10 acres, to David Strome, August 10th, 1815.
Lot No. 11, 200 acres, to David Strome, August 11th, 1815.
Lot No. 9, 200 acres, to Christian Strome, June 16th, 1823. 
Lot No. 13, 200 acres, to Joseph Fisher, 1842*. 
Several small parcels of Lot 12 between 1838-1858 to various people.
Lot No. 12, 172 acres, to Aaron Clemens, July 15th, 1865.

*unclear if Bretz owned this still

To the right is a portion of an excellant map of Waterloo from 1861 by the Tremaine brothers. On it you can clearly see Jacob Bretz' farm next to Fishers Pond. It also shows the local blacksmith (BSS), the Wanner Church and graveyard, and the mill owned by Thomas Stewart. As well, the owners of Jacob's former lots are all visible, such as the Clemens to the north, and the Ellis' to the south. The Seagrams are visible to the west.The original Bretz farm is the large vertical area in the center, right across from the Wanner church. Abraham Clemen's son John is shown in possession of the farm in Lot 13.

There are many surviving Waterloo township Assessments which record the Bretz family, and which date from 1818 to 1840. These provide a wonderful snapshot as they lived. From them, for instance, we learn that in 1818 the family lived in a single story log house somewhere on the property. This was the first time we have found them recorded by a census roll anywhere. Jacob cultivated only 50 of 200 acres available, and had 2 horses, 2 oxen, 5 cows, and 5 calves.

In 1822-23 we also find that the family built an additional home on the lot, this one of wood frame construction, and a single story. It would appear that the elderly Jacob and and Maria continued to live in the old log home (perhaps a Mennonite dawdy haus), while the younger family members moved into the new house.

In 1825 son John Bretz and his young family might have been living on the farm, as there are 13 people recorded. This total dropped the next year when it is known John purchased his own land and moved.

On the late 1820s Assessments, Jacob Sr and Jacob Jr are both recorded on the same farm, but listed seperately. Jacob Jr is the main farmer of the land and has 75 acres under cultivation, with 3 horses, 2 oxen, and 8-10 cows and calves. However his father is listed owning 2 cows and continued living in the old log home.

In 1831, the Assessment rolls found Jacob Bretz to own 200 acres, and had 75 acres under cultivation. The land's value was set at £211 (at least $240,000 today).

Sometime between 1834 and 1837 the old log home appears to have been replaced with a second wooden framed, single story house. Elderly Jacob and Maria continued to live there, apart from their son's family, but there also always is a young girl or two listed with them. Perhaps grandchildren.

By 1839 Jacob Jr was cultivating 100 acres of the property, the largest area ever. Perhaps this was becasue he had a large and growing family. He had 4 horses, 2 oxen, 4 cows, and 2 calves.

Sometime after 1840, but before 1861, both of the wooden frame homes on the property were replaced with a two story, stone structure. An example of Mennonite stone construction typical of the early settler period can be seen in the Brubacher house example, which was built in 1850.

For a better breakdown of the family's property and assets over time, as reported in the township assessments, see here.

Elizabeth Bloomfield of the Ontario Genealogical Society has produced some interesting information on how farms of this era typically used their land. From this we can imagine that about half of Jacob's total lot was kept as woodland or wild, nearly a quarter of the land was dedicated to winter wheat, and the rest had smaller portions of rye, oats, potatoes and peas, and some spring wheat. Farms like this also typically had as many as 50 chickens, 4 sheep, and 3 pigs, although these were not picked up on land assessments. Over time the balance of these crops would shift as the market needs shifted. By the 1860s barley and turnips started to be grown, and typically more sheep were kept.

The Wanner Mennonite Church was first built in 1829 as a simple meeting house, just opposite the Bretz family's original property line. It replaced the one used until then which was south towards Lot 9. Wanner was shared by both Mennonite and Tunker denominations, and also used as a school until 1848. This is likely where many of the elder Jacob's grandchildren first were educated. Jacob's son, Jacob Strickler Bretz was later ordained as a minister here on July 16th, 1837. He would preach here and go on to lead a congregation at the Blandford church out near Bright in Blenheim township. Jacob died in 1843 and was buried in the nearby Wanner Mennonite cemetery.

The area around the Bretz farm started to get more crowded in the 1840s. Christian Strome, had built a sawmill on the small creek which runs through the properties in 1835. One of Jacob's newer neighbors, Jacob Fisher, opened a grist mill downstream from him in 1848, but the operation was not initially a success. Thomas Stewart bought the mill in 1854 and this was soon attracting more settlement. In the 1864 township directory, the mill is referred to as being located on Lot 11, of the 2nd Concession, on Bretz creek. The growing hamlet become known as Fisher Mills. Chilligo creek is the original First Nation name for the creek but didn't come into use again until the 20th century. During the 19th century it was known as Bretz creek.

From the Waterloo Regional Museum website;

The hamlet of Fisher Mills was located on Chilligo Creek about 2 km. north west of Hespeler, where Jacob Fisher built a dam and established a grist mill in the 1840s. The mill produced flour until about 1890, when the building and equipment were dismantled and moved to Manitoba. A saw mill, a feed mill and a cider mill later operated on the site. Hydro-electric power from the dam was supplied to the nearby village of Hespeler in the late nineteenth century before the advent of hydro-electricity from Niagara Falls. In the nineteenth century, a hotel, a blacksmith shop and other small trades were located at Fisher Mills. In its early years, the hotel was owned by the Seagram family of distillery fame, who owned property at Fisher Mills, and where Joseph E. Seagram was born. In 1870 the village's estimated population was 100. It was not on a direct route between any of the main communities of the area, and never had railway or postal service; its population declined as other centers such as Hespeler gained in importance. The Fisher Mills dam was demolished in 2000. The historic settlement was situated near the present-day intersection of Chilligo Road and Beaverdale Road.

The small lake which is shown on the Bretz property on several maps probably dates from the building of the larger mills as they dammed the creek. In later years it was known as Fisher Mill's Pond or Chilligo Pond. One wonders about the conversations with Jacob Bretz to discuss this, as it was his land being flooded. Land records do show that in April 1858 there was a transaction between Jacob and Thomas Stewart, the owner of the mill at that time, for a 'water privilege'. The dam and pond would remain in place until the year 2000.

This photo comparison is of the area around the dam (mainly Lot 11 and 12) and shows it as it was in 1955 and 2005, or 50 years apart. Although the Bretz family left the land 90 years eariler, the 1955 image gives a closer picture of what it might have looked like back then. Note the signifigant changes to the Mill area and the flow of the creek since the new roadway was put in.

The records of 1861 also show Jacob in the list of landowners of Waterloo living on this farm. The land is listed as being 168 acres and worth $3,200 (at least $450,000 today) at the time.

The best candidate on Lot 12 to be the Bretz family homestead is the house to the right, at 355 Chilligo Road. It is of a similar style to early Mennonite homes, however it has been extensively renovated and added to over the years. The house is found on a list of Heritage buildings for the town of Cambridge, but its age has not been confirmed. The 1861 census also described the Bretz farmhouse as a two story, stone building like this, as opposed to brick or wood. One thing to note is that according to the township Assessments noted above, this home would have been the fourth home built on the Bretz farm. This house would date to the mid 19th century (1840s-50s). There are ruins of a low foundation in the front yard from another long gone structure.

The Bretz family left this land in July 1865. The census' of 1851 and 1861 records the names of similar neighbors seen on the later 1880 county ownership map, showing the Bretz family was still living here then. The 1864 township directory of Waterloo also specifically confirms Rev. Jacob Bretz to still be residing on Lot 12, and shows that Lot 13 was owned by the Clemens family by that time. In a newspaper interview with Abram in 1940, he recounts how his family moved to Blenheim during the late 1860s when he was a young man. The land records show the actual date as July 25th, 1865 and that he sold the property to Aaron Clemens, the very same man he then bought property from near Plattsville (see below). By then Jacob still retained 172 acres of the original 200 acres of Lot 12. The final sale price was listed as $2,930 (at least $400,000 today), less than its value just a few years before. Aaron Clemens also bought the nearby flour mill that same year, as well as several other pieces of property, and then raised the level of the dam. The Bretz family move therefore appears to be all part of a major real estate consolidation by the Clemens family.

Many years later, a small street in Hespeler would be named Bretz Avenue, and cross with Clemens Avenue to honour the early settlers. It also symbolizes the close relationship these two families had. The road is located in Lot 11 of Jacob Bretz' original purchase. You can see this intersection on this map.

Jacob Strickler Bretz' Farm


Lot 20 Concession 13 in Blenheim Township, Oxford County, 54 acres. Map it.

Reverend Jacob Strickler Bretz moved his remaining family to near Plattsville in the summer of 1865. While some of his older children had married gone off on their own, his younger sons John, Jacob, Henry, Abram, Aaron remained. What exactly prompted the move is unknown, but the area was already familiar to the family. Jacob's eldest son Gerhard was already living in the area just a few miles down the road (see below). As well, Jacob had been conducting worship at the nearby Blandford Mennonite Church for over twenty years, so had been coming out here regularly around once a month.

Jacob took possession of the property from Aaron Clemens on July 25th, 1865. The deal was registered on March 9th of that year, so the decision to move seems to have been made earlier in the year. Aaron was cousin to Jacob's daughter's husband, Jacob Miller Clemens, and he would have known him through his long time Clemens neighbors on his old farm near Hespeler. The earliest this lot was inhabited was 1802 when it was bought off the Crown.

Jacob's son Abram was soon be sent off to Toronto for schooling, while younger son Jacob would move out on his own. Upon his return Abram would live here again for perhaps 3-6 years, teaching school down the road at Blink Bonnie and other locations until his marriage in 1876.

Jacob died in 1879 and was buried in the nearby Blenheim Mennonite Church cemetery. It is likely that the family also worshipped here, as Jacob's old Blandford Church was starting to fall off in interest at this time. Jacob's Will is found here. The Executors of Jacob's Will were the Stauffers, who owned the neighboring farms to the west and whom Jacob cites as very good friends. His Will also indicates he gave the option for any of his sons to buy the farm from his Estate, but it appears none of them did.

From the land records we find that Jacob G Stauffer bought the Bretz farm himself on March 20th, 1880 for $3,149 (at least $450,000 today), although he had to take out a mortgage to do it. There must have been some kind of arragement between the Stauffers and the Bretz family as they are still found living here on the 1881 census.

By then only John and Aaron remained on the farm with their mother, running it themselves. Their brother Henry and his young family lived with them for a while before moving to Shelburne. Brother Samuel was close by with his family, but not seemingly on the farm. It appears likely he might have been living in Plattsville judging from the census neighbors. Nancy and some of her sons would shortly after move to around Washington to the east.

Nancy Wieler died in 1894 and was buried with her husband at the Blenheim. Mennonite cemetery

This map to the left shows the land ownership around the farm in 1878. The Blink Bonnie school is visible at the bottom. On this map left is north for clarity.

The farmhouse appears to be original red brick similar to Plattsville buildings which date from the 1860s (a brickyard opened in nearby Washington in 1859). It also bears a striking resemblance to the house on the original farm near Hespeler now known to have belonged to the Clemens family.

As this Bretz family was leaving the Plattsville area, John Bretz' family was arriving and settled just north of Washington (see below). It is not known how familiar they were with one another.

Gerhard Bretz' Farm


Lot 7, Concession 12 in Blenheim, ~15 acres. Map it.

Gerhard Bretz first obtained land on this lot on July 6th, 1854 from Oliver Clemens. It was just a 3/4 acre lot, but likely enough for his carriage business. He then mortgaged it for £250 to Jessie Clemens, the father-in-law of his sister Polly. Polly and her husband were found living next door to Gerhard on the 1861 census.

Interestingly, Gerhard would have been in the region of Plattsville and Washington ten years before his father and brothers would move here. The lot is not large, but is what one might expect of a wagon maker. There is no building on the lot today which dates from Gerhard's time.

The lot is across from the local school of the time, S.S. No 6. The building was erected while Gerhard lived here, probably in the 1860s and his children likely attended.

In the map to the right, north is to the left for clarity.

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 town of Washington. He was listed as: W. P. W. C. T., Garhard Bretze. His land lay just to the east of town about 3 miles.

Around 1882 Gerhard and his family moved to Huron county to the north, Lot 9 Concession 37 in East Wawanosh, near Belgrave.

Henry Bretz' Farm


Lot 21, Concession 12 in Blenheim

Not much is known about this farm. It was listed in a county directory under Henry's name in 1874, but he only appears to have remained here a few years. The family had moved back in with his mother by the 1881 census, and by 1883 Henry and his family moved to a farm near Washington.

The lot is located just down the road from his parent's farm (see above) towards Chesterfield.

It appears to have been bought by an A. Brown sometime before 1880 when it is shown in the township land ownership map from that year.

For at least a while his brother John Bretz lived in a house on this property in 1876.

Henry Bretz' 2nd Farm


Lot 12, Concession 12 in Blenheim

Not much is known about this farm. It was listed as belonging to Henry on the 1883 voter list for Oxford county, but the family moved away before the end of the decade to Shelburne.

The lot is located just east of Washington on its southeast corner. It is very near the Washington cemetery.

Samuel Bretz' Farm


Lot 22, Concession 12 in Blenheim, ~ 50 acres.

Not much is known about this farm. It was listed in a county directory under Samuel's name in 1876, however, the family appears to have moved into Plattsville by the time of the 1881 census.

The farm might have been sold to Jacob Stauffer sometime before 1880. It is shown belonging to him on the township land ownership map from that year.

The lot is located just down the road from his parent's farm (see above) towards Chesterfield.

John Strickler Bretz' Farm


East Lot 91 upper tract, Waterloo, 204 acres.

John Bretz bought this lot from Sam Bricker on June 3rd, 1825. At the time, he and his family appear to have been living with his father, the elder Jacob Bretz, on his farm to the south.

The farm was located just south of the farm of Henry Detweiller, his wife's brother, found in Lot 92.

John Bretz appears to have died around 1835 as there are no further records of him, or his children for some time.

According to Reta Toman's inquiries about the property, the current owner has found old foundations and bottles dating from 1825 on the site.

John Steen's Farm


Lot 93 upper tract, Waterloo, 448 acres.

Catherine Bretz' husband John Steen bought this lot around 1832, the first time it appears in the record. Before this it was likely wilderness. It was located directly south of what would become the farm of her nephew, John Detweiller Bretz, in later years. The Eby book records the family as having lived in the area thusly; "Catharine Bretz, 'youngest daughter of Jacob and Maria (Strickler) Bretz, was born November 7th, 1805. She was married to John, son of George and Margaret Steen, May 1st, 1828. He was born July 28th, 1802, and died January 27th, 1888. She died January 26th, 1888, a few hours before her husband. They resided a little south of Tuck's Hill, in the township of Waterloo. Their family consisted of eleven children, of whom the two eldest and two youngest died in infancy. Their names, but no dates were received."

The couple raised a large family here.

The Assessment of 1832 recorded the land had 448 acres with 0 under cultivation then, so it is supposed that the family just moved to the lot. John quickly sold part of it however, retaining approximately 200-250 acres. Part of the east side of Lot 93 would later be owned by Gerhard Wieler, of Catherine's sister-in-law's family.

This map to the right is from 1861 and shows many Bretz families intermingling.

While the couple is still found living on the land by the 1861, 1871, and 1881 censuses, they are living with other families, and might have sold the land by then.

Jacob Detweiller Bretz' Farm


Lot 94 upper tract, Waterloo, 100-150 acres. Map it.

Elder Jacob Bretz' grandson, Jacob Detweiller Bretz (Jacob Jr) was living here from at least 1861 onward. However comparing the neighbors names on the census records of 1861 and 1871, his family might have just moved that year, as they do not match. The family is also found in the 1864 township directory of Waterloo.

Where in the Waterloo area Jacob started his family is still unknown, and his father died young so there are few records. Jacob was likely raised on the farm just to the south on Lot 91 which his father bought in 1825 (see above).

The farm is shown to have grown slightly between the 1861 and 1880 maps, adding about 50 acres on its west side.

The 1861 census refers to Jacob and his family living in a log home. The land totaled 101 acres and was valued at $1,600 (at least $225,000 today).

The Eby book also notes this Bretz family farm saying, "This family resided on the township line between Waterloo and Guelph Townships", which is right where this lot is. By 1895 (when the Eby book was written), Jacob Jr and his wife were said to have lived in Breslau.

Jacob Jr's son Joseph owned the land until 1890. Another son John would move his own family to near Washington in Blenheim township in the 1890s.

The building shown to the right is S.H.D. No. 17, the local schoolhouse.

Interestingly, the 1861 map and the 1864 Waterloo directory show that the farm just to the south of this lot, u b 94, was then owned by Gerhard Wieler. Gerhard was Jacob Detweiller Bretz' uncle's wife's brother. This map to the left is a land ownership map from 1861.

John Bretz' Farm


Lot 12, Concession 14 in Blenheim, 200 acres.

John Bretz (son of Jacob Detweiller Bretz, Jacob Strickler Bretz' nephew's son) and his family came to Blenheim in the 1890s. He bought this farm from his wife's parents, the Gables, on January 23rd, 1899, who had lived there for 50 years. The lot is located north of Washington, where the modern Bretz Dairy Farms is still run by his descendants.

After farming here for 25 years, John and Martha retired. Gordon Bretz, their oldest son took over the farm, but in 1939 it was sold to his brother, Burley Bretz.

John and some of his children are also buried in the Blenheim Mennonite cemetery. Many of the Bretz family members living in the Kitchener area today are descended from John.

In an interview with Washington resident Clara Baer in 2009, she mentioned that the Bretz family of the area in the 1930s had the only local threshing machine.



Bretz Homestead Locations