One of the most rewarding aspects of working so closely with the Our Stories photo collection, and with history more broadly, is the feeling of familiarity you develop with certain people whose names you come across as you research. At some uncertain point while you probe the records and draw connections, he or she is no longer just a name but a real person with a real story and more like an old friend than a historical figure.
Investigating the past behind some of the properties in Cookstown led me to William and Dinah Miners - two individuals who had a significant impact on Cookstown’s appearance today.
Although I’ve been unable to uncover when and where William was born, Dinah Webb was born in 1853 in Probus, a small community in Cornwall, England. She came to Cookstown as a young woman, met William T. Miners, and they were married on 19 September 1874. The couple doesn’t re-enter the town’s records until either 1887 or 1888, when Henry Jones Dunning opened a blacksmith shop on the property of 3 King Street in Cookstown. Here William found employment as one of Mr. Dunning’s two assistants.
William must have proved himself a worthy blacksmith as he took over the shop in 1895. The original building was torn down and the shop relocated, but the Miners constructed a beautiful large brick home where the smithy had previously stood. While living here, William either purchased or acquired Cookstown’s first gramophone, which he would carry across the street to Wilcox’s Store in the evenings to share with friends and neighbours. The Miners did not have any children, so after William’s untimely death in 1908 the blacksmith business passed to Dinah’s nephew, Thomas Webb, who maintained the business until his retirement in 1938.
Dinah Miners was certainly not idle in the years following her husband’s death as she left something of a house building legacy in Cookstown. In 1907 the couple had already commissioned a second house to be built on 12 Church Street , where she lived from 1908 to 1911. They had paid $300 for the lot, and ended up selling to William R. Chantler for $2,000. In 1908, Dinah herself purchased a third property at 12 King Street South for $1,500 and began construction there. Part of that property ended up selling to the Township of Tecumseth to facilitate turning Selby Street into a through street. Meanwhile, the house at 12 King was sold almost immediately after construction to William Martin and his family.
Dinah had a fourth house built on 8 Church Street , which was sold to the Presbyterian Church in 1918 to become the manse for the church’s ministers. In 1912, she commissioned a fifth construction, this one located on 6 Church Street . It is unclear where Dinah lived following William’s death, though it seems likely the 6 Church Street home was sold to Mr. and Mrs. David Marwood soon after its construction.
Dinah passed away on 1 April 1932. She donated most or all of her estate towards the addition of a large window at the north end of the Cookstown United Church. This window and the five homes remain largely unchanged today, their timeless architecture standing as evidence that the Miners’ legacy is still very much alive in Cookstown.