A Brief History of Hensall
George and James Petty, two brothers from Yorkshire, England (locale of the original Hensall), are credited with founding Hensall in the 1870s. With incredible foresight, the Petty brothers gave property (then valued at $10/acre!) to the railroad, on the condition that the proposed rail line run through their Village. By 1876, the London-Huron-Bruce Rail Line was active and the Village of Hensall quickly grew around that busy transportation venue. After only one year, the settlement’s population already numbered between 300 and 400!
Rail access was instrumental in attracting the popular businesses of the day: various mills used the London-Huron-Bruce Line to ship large quantities of barley and other crops. The line acquired the moniker of ‘The Bread and Butter Express’ because farm wives transported produce to London’s Covent Garden Market each morning on the 8:22 a.m. train.
Hensall became a Police Village in 1884, and by 1888, the village was booming. Hensall’s market was known as the best west of Toronto. Numerous businesses became established to accommodate the growing population; by the late 1890s, Hensall boasted six grocery stores! In 1896, Hensall was incorporated as a Village and the early 1900s brought another distinction to this thriving hub: Hensall’s Jenny Smillie became Canada’s first female surgeon. Dr. Smillie conducted a practise in Toronto most of her life, living to celebrate her 100th birthday.
Dr. Jennie Smillie Robertson
Dr. Jennie Smillie Robertson, the first female surgeon in Canada, grew up on a farm near the village of Hensall, Ontario.
In 1903, Smillie enrolled in the Ontario Medical College for Women, which was later absorbed into the University of Toronto’s medical school. She graduated in 1909.
Smillie’s first operation in Canada was in a private home as no hospital would give operating privileges to a woman. Frustrated by this, she joined a group of female doctors and together they founded Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, where she was Chief of Gynaecology from 1912 to 1942.
In 2016, Dr. Smillie was nominated to be the first woman to be featured on a Canadian Bank Note.