History of West Zorra

crest embroWhen the first territorial division of the province of Ontario was made in July of 1792, the township of West Zorra was unknown and not surveyed. The first allusion to it by Act of Parliament was in 1821, together with the township of Nissouri.  Both were added to the County of Oxford.

West Zorra Township was first named in 1819 by Lt. Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland after the Spanish word zorro ' female fox'.   The township was first surveyed by Shubal Parke in 1820 and organized in 1822 by Charles Ingersoll and Peter Teeples. The landowners at this time were mostly United Empire Loyalists who settled along the Fourth Concession that runs north and south through Embro.

Two of the earliest settlers from the highlands of Scotland were William and Angus MacKay who arrived in Zorra in 1820. William arrived first and settled on the 9th line and Angus joined his brother later. Around 1829 Angus returned to Scotland and induced many Sutherlandshire families to come to Zorra. Among them were his father George and mother Isobel from Relochan.

Those early settlers were compelled to leave their native land to escape the tyranny of the Scottish landlords who were converting the highlands into sheep farms. The journey could take from 12 to 14 weeks.

West Zorra was separated from East Zorra in 1845.  By 1861 ten schools had been built and the population was about 3,691.

The Township of West Zorra was incorporated effective Jan.12, 1850 under the terms of the Baldwin Act.

On July 24, 1858, the village of Embro became a separate municipality. The members of its first council were John Dent (reeve), John Fraser (clerk), D R. Matheson (treasurer), and councillors Robert S. Mann, John Short, John McDonald and Donald Matheson. Their first official council meeting was in the hall at the Albion Hotel on Nov. 8, 1858.

In 1919 the township councillors of West Zorra decided to move their meetings to Embro from the Youngsville hotel.  In 1920 they joined with the Embro council  to erect a Memorial in Embro to those who gave their lives in the first World War.  Additional names from the second World War were later added.

The early settlers of Zorra were prepared for any emergency, even to defending their country with their lives, if need be.  

Francis Hodgkins of Embro was a militiaman in the War of 1812. James Sutherland (about 1786-April 18, 1873) lived in West Zorra Township for about 37 years. A British soldier for 23 years, he served with the 79th (Cameronian Volunteers) Regiment. For fighting with the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo in the Napoleonic Wars, in 1815, he received a silver medal. He also received a medal, presented by Queen Victoria in 1848, for serving in six foreign battles.

Henry Vansittart, one of the early settlers of Eastwood, was one of the first volunteers during the uprising of 1837. He raised a company of soldiers of which a large number were from the Scottish settlement of Zorra, and soon brought it to a state of acknowledged proficiency. It was locally known as the “Scotch Company” and was among the last of the so-called “six-months men” to be disbanded.

The 22nd Battalion of the Oxford Rifles, based in Embro, was formed in January 1862 with George Duncan as captain and Hugh Ross as lieutenant.

In 1863 the Embro and West Zorra Highland Rifle Company was formed under the command of Lieut.-Col. W. S. Light. Subsequently, the command fell to Lieut-Col. J. B. Taylor. They became the No. 2 Company of the 22nd Battalion, Oxford Rifles.

Early in 1866, during the Fenian Raids, the Rifles were ordered out under Capt. Duncan. Fifty-five sons of Zorra marched to Beachville, then on to Woodstock, from where they were taken by train to Windsor and stationed at Sandwich. They remained there until late in June.

Perhaps it was the inspiring sight of these men which prompted an aged female resident of Zorra to utter: “The Fenians may tak’ Toronto, and they may tak’ Hamilton, and they may tak’ Woodstock, but they’ll no tak’ Zorra.”

In 1880, D. R. Ross became a 2nd lieutenant in the Embro Company of the Oxford Rifles. He later commanded the company. His son John Munro Ross was also an officer of the company.

John Munro Ross became a 2nd lieutenant in 1895. A year or so later he was made lieutenant. In 1899 he was made a captain and given command of No. 2 Company Embro.  When war was declared with South Africa, in 1899, John M. volunteered and saw service with the Royal Canadian Regiment.  According to a story in the London Free Press on Oct. 25, 1899: “Capt. J. M. Ross, the second in command of the London district company for the Canadian contingent is a clever young officer, thoroughly qualified to fill the position to which the militia department has seen fit to appoint him.  “Capt. Ross is 22 years of age, and has held a commission in the Embro Company of the Oxford Rifles. He was first gazetted as second lieutenant in 1895 and has taken two courses of instruction at Wolseley Barracks to qualify for his captaincy.”  Upon Capt. Ross’s return from South Africa, a civic reception was held in the Embro town hall in his honor.

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