Hensall’s founders, George and James Petty, together with their elder brother John immigrated to Upper Canada from Yorkshire England in the early 1850’s. As Yorkshiremen, they were noted as a hardy breed and were celebrated for their “canny” way with a dollar.
In the early 1870’s the Petty brothers purchased the south half of Lot 21 in Hay Township amid rumour of a proposed Grand Trunk Railway to run from Wingham to London. While most settlements recognized the value of a railway yard and station, the Petty’s had the foresight to offer land valued at $8.00 an acre free to the railway with the stipulation that the railway run through their section of Land, known as Hensall.
With the terms of the agreement settled, work on the railway was undertaken and the first train ran from London to Wingham on January 10th, 1876. The “London Huron & Bruce Express” was officially born.
The London Huron & Bruce Line then brought four passenger and two freight trains past the Hensall station each day. Farm wives transported produce to Covent Garden Market each morning on the 8:22am train, leading to the railways nickname, “The Butter and Egg Express”.
The access to shipping by rail led to the opening of Hensall’s first industry. The Petty’s built the Yorkshire Packing House shortly after 1876. It was Ontario’s largest packing house at the time, handling over 12,000 pigs per year.
For the next few years it was a race to see who could erect homes and businesses in the developing settlement. According to a letter from a Hensall Resident in the June 16, 1876 edition of the Expositor – “There is scarcely a train from the north or south that does not bring potential land buyers, either for private residence or business purposes”. By the end of June 1876 the air was filled with the sound of hammers – 40 residences and businesses were under construction.
By the following summer, only a little more than a year after Hensall’s first home was built, there were between 300-400 people in the village.
The character of the Hensall settlement, still known today for its stockyard, mills and elevators, is attributed to the Petty brothers.