Remembering When with Roy and Rotha Bryant
August 17, 2023
Roy and Rotha Bryant from the Summer Times, June 10, 1986
By Ernest Hills
Originally Published in the Summer Times, June 10, 1986
Roy Bryant has been a jack-of-all-trades, but principally a builder. Born south of Minden, in the Pine Flats of Lutterworth Township in Haliburton, Roy was thrust into a position of responsibility early, after the death of his father in 1920.
Left with 7 children, his mother undertook the struggle to provide for the family in the Village of Norland. Roy initially found himself in the lumber business with his uncle Sam Bryant. Sam founded the mill on the east side of the Gull River in Norland, later to be owned by the Austins.
Sam Bryant, Roy recalls, was a blacksmith, undertaker, and sawyer. For a period of three years, Roy Bryant also worked at the Coboconk mill. In 1935 the family established a Shell service station within the Village, just north of what is now the Horticultural Society Park and Cenotaph, on the northeast corner of Highways 35 and 503.
For Rotha Johnston, born in Fenelon Falls, her initial calling in life was to teach. For three years she taught at White School, east of Norland on Highway 503 at the intersection of Watson’s Siding. Today, Rotha notes, the same schoolhouse still stands; it has been converted to a home in Kinmount. However, at the time it was the epitome of the one-room schoolhouse, in which she taught all the primary grades.
By 1937, after a stint teaching in the Huntsville area, Rotha sought a station closer to home. She began teaching at the school on Silver Lake, which in addition to the primary grades included grades 9 and 10 students. During that time, she recalls boarding with the Brads, a local family noted for their musical talents. “In my opinion,” Rotha notes, “children growing up in the rural areas were well educated. We managed without all the facilities, including gyms. And the students didn’t lack for much.”
In 1939 Roy and Rotha were married and settled in Norland, where they were to raise a family, derive a living, and make a special contribution to the community through their volunteer activities. Roy was to leave his mark on several of the local structures, as he made his way in the building industry. He is particularly proud of his handiwork in both the Baptist and United Churches.
His renovations, additions and building ventures form a lasting pat of the village of Norland. Part of his good fortune, he notes, was the development of the area to tourists and cottagers. The cottage industry was a boom to builders during the early years. For a number of years Rotha served as secretary-treasurer of the local school board, following Jean Stewart, also of Norland, who served in that capacity before her. She held the position up until the County initiated the County school system, and the school administration was removed from the Municpality’s jurisdiction.
One of Roy’s favourite times of the year comes with the first hint of spring, and the arrival of the Maple Syrup season. For the past 50 years, Roy has run the evaporator at the Perry’s sugar bush operation north of Norland. The operation was established by Bert Perry, who owned the land located along the Cemetery Road. Today it has been taken over by his son Wayne Perry.
In 1946 the Bryants undertook some major changes to the little service station dropping the Shell name, as Shell was “getting out of Victoria County,” and setting up under the Texaco sign.
The small frame building which was home to the original service station yielded to a larger, cement block structure, in expectation of Roy’s brother, Frank Bryant, setting up shop as a mechanic. Things didn’t quite work out as anticipated, when in 1960 the Byants began a year of changes. Rotha was hired to be the Village’s postmaster. As part of the arrangements, the Bryants had to provide a post office, so a portion of the service station was assumed and renovated into the community post office. Rotha was to continue in her capacity as Postmaster for 20 years, retiring in 1980.
In those early days, she recalls, she was paid $99 every two weeks, out of which the Bryants were also to provide heat, lighting and cleaning for the post office area. Over her 20 years of service the Postal Corporation upgraded the Norland office five times, finally culminating in the building of the new post office. Upgrading, Rotha, explained, was based upon increasing volumes of mail.
Also in 1960 they commenced the building of their current home, while Roy was engaged in the construction of the new hall for the Eastern Star in Beaverton. By the early 60s the service station closed its doors for the final time and the gas pumps were removed.
Over the years both Roy and Rotha have been involved in many organizations throughout the area, including the Norland Horticultural Society, for which Rotha has served as secretary-treasurer since 1957 up to the present day. Both are extremely proud of the establishment and maintenance of the village park, on the shore of the Gull River, where most recently, a cenotaph to the veterans of both World Wars was erected.
Roy is a life member of the masons, while Rotha has served in many capacities within the Eastern Star, including District Deputy Grand Matron, and Grand Representative of the State of Washington in Ontario, something of a diplomatic posting within the Eastern Star hierarchy.
Just as Roy Bryant has left his mark as a builder, pointing to the new Masonic Hall in Coboconk, which he constructed, so have the Bryants together built an important legacy to the people and organizations of Norland.