History of Zorra

Casino Lucky BirdIn 1975 the provincial government’s restructuring of rural Ontario led to the union of Embro and the Townships of West Zorra, East Nissouri and North Oxford to create the Township of Zorra.  It wasn’t a silky smooth process, in that many of the rural municipalities in Oxford County initially opposed the idea.  Eventually, 18 Municipalities were reduced to eight.  Oxford County Council was reduced from 30 members to 20.

Robert C. Matheson, the last reeve of West Zorra became the first mayor of the new Township of Zorra.  Robert Blair was councillor-at-large.  The other councillors were Wallis Hammond and Harry Lovegove (Ward 1), Harvey Beaty and Ted Nancekivell (Ward 2), William Foley (Ward 3), David Slater (Ward 4), James Gibb (Ward 5), Barry Wallace (Ward 6) and Lorne Walton (Ward 7).  The Municipal officials were Gordon Gregory (clerk), Ward Harrington (deputy clerk), Donald Peach (tax collector), Eph Rout (drainage and building inspector), William Smith (road superintendent), Marg Harris (treasurer) and Grace Dunlop and Ruth Rout (office staff).

The offices of the former North Oxford Township were the only ones municipally owned, so they became the headquarters for Zorra Township.  The building in which they were housed was erected with house plans, so it was deemed readily saleable if and when it was no longer needed by the new municipality, whose population was pegged at 8,187.

Mayor Matheson, who was on the record opposing restructuring, quickly declared it was everyone’s responsibility to see that it worked.  More than 30 years after that declaration, he wrote in reflection:  “When I was elected mayor of Zorra Township, our first priority was to provide a fire hall for the north section.  We were pleased to be able to fulfill that priority, and the new fire hall was built in Uniondale.  Our next project was to build a new community centre in Embro.  When George Knox’s home burned, we decided to purchase a piece of that property from Jim Caddey.  We felt this would be an excellent location for a new arena and community centre.  It took two years of planning and meetings, and many visits to other area community centres by the building committee.”

In the mid 1980’s the Zorra councillors turned more than a little of their attention to the environment as cries of “reduce, reuse and recycle” drifted across their domain.  In 1984 they introduced a township-wide large item pickup in an effort to properly dispose of the likes of metals, glass, tires and batteries.  In 1986 the county councillors closed community landfills and replaced them with one in Salford designed to serve all of Oxford.  Soon after, they limited access to the Salford site to garbage packer trucks and large transports.  Individuals were no longer welcome.  In response, Zorra Township considered setting up a transfer station at Lakeside.  It was proposed residents take their garbage to that station, and from there it would be hauled by a large truck to Salford.  Then a citizens group petitioned the Zorra councillors for individual pickup.  When the cost of the recommendation was found to be little different than that of the transfer station idea, the citizens won the day.  At that same time, Councillor Jim Muterer fought hard for the introduction of a township recycling program, but that matter was deferred.

In January 1989, in a close vote, the Zorra councillors declared their township to be an “English only” municipality.  The move was in reaction to anti-anglophone sentiments in Quebec.  This decision generated a lot of controversy and in 1990 there was a motion to rescind the resolution.  The Councillors held firm and defeated the motion 8-2 in a recorded vote.  In 1992 the matter came up again, but before a new council.  This time the 1989 decision was rescinded, 9-1 in a recorded vote.

Also in 1989, when an addition to the Zorra Township offices was officially opened, the councillors were pleased to announce that the project came in about $50,000 under budget

In 1994 Zorra councillors revisited the issue of recycling and struck a committee to approach county council about an Oxford-wide program.  But the committee never fulfilled that mission.  Rather, through long discussion, members thought it would be better to discontinue Zorra’s large-item pickup and replace it with something called “depot days.”   On those days, residents were encouraged to take unwanted items to a central ‘depot.’  There, everyone had an opportunity to take home anything that caught their fancy, and recycle it.  That project led to the formation of the Zorra Waste Minimization committee, which included volunteers who actively sought items for recycling and then helped out on the days of exchange.  They talked “recycling” to students and groups; taught composting skills; and initiated a collection of farm plastics for recycling.  They also put in place a request-for-proposal method for selecting a waste and recycling company.  Then they persuaded the councillors to accept a company whose costs were $10,000 more than the lowest bidder, but whose level of service was in keeping with the ideals of the committee.  The Zorra Waste Management budget decreased significantly as residents bought into its recycling program.  As a leader in waste minimization, Zorra was recognized with gold-level awards by the Ontario Waste Management Association.  Township officials were contacted by groups from across Canada, and in the United States and Britain about their innovative projects.

In 1994 Zorra Township began renaming its roads in preparation for the 9-1-1 emergency telephone system.  So began the identification of all properties by six digit numbers.

In 1997 there was a proposal to create a walking trail on the rail bed long used by Canadian Pacific trains passing through Embro.  The idea was never approved and the property in question was eventually offered and sold to adjacent landowners.  At about the same time, there was considerable discussion about policing and ambulance service in the township.  As of 1998 there was a contract with the Ontario Provincial Police to provide the former. 

In 1998 council approved a water-sewage system for Embro.  Robert M. Matheson was pushing for a heated viewing area in the arena portion of the Embro and Zorra Community Centre.  A committee comprising of R.M. Matheson, Rhonda Shewan, Al Matheson and Dale Matheson was able to raise $30,000 for the project, and required no financial assistance from the municipality.

In 1999 the plans proposed for a sewage overhaul in Thamesford called for waste and storm water systems, and the necessary paving of streets, with new curbs and gutters.

In 2000 the councillors granted tax relief to the Royal Canadian Legion branches within its jurisdiction.  They also gave themselves laptop computers.

In 2001 the council size was reduced to the position of mayor and one councillor from each of four wards.  In the same year planning for a new library in Thamesford began, an emergency planning committee was formed, and Oxford County assumed responsibility for waste management services.

When Zorra’s first emergency plan was adopted m, in 2002, an ambulance base was proposed for the Embro area.  Also, as of 2002, the municipality could issue marriage licences and designated staff were authorized to perform wedding ceremonies.  It was the year, too, when Zorra received its first dividend payments from the Erie Thames Power Corporation.

In 2003, as part of a wave sweeping the province, Zorra banned smoking in municipal buildings, and then in all public buildings.

In 2004 the township bought land in the Harrington area for its own use as a gravel pit.

In 2005 concern about the distribution of water led to the creation of the Kintore Water Servicing Study.  Also in 2005, the library in Kintore was among five branches closed by the Oxford County Library Board.  But the board was persuaded to allow the Harrington branch to remain open.

In 2006, Thamesford bought the township’s first rescue truck and the inaugural vote-by-mail election resulted in an increase in voter participation.

Today in 2013 the municipality is governed by Mayor Margaret Lupton and councillors Ron Forbes (Ward 1), Marie Keasey (Ward 2), Jim Verwer (Ward 3) and Gordon MacKay (Ward 4).    

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