O Canada! President returns to his roots

Publication Date

For one weekend, the tiny village of Brussels in Huron County, Ontario, felt like Ainlayville again.

Union President Stephen C. Ainlay and his wife, Judith, joined with residents to help celebrate the 140th anniversary of the village’s official incorporation. Ainlay served as grand marshal of the homecoming parade on Saturday.

It was Ainlay’s great-great grandfather, William, who in 1854 purchased 200 acres of land near the Maitland River. An enterprising surveyor for the Canada Company, William Ainlay mapped out a plot that he called “Ainlayville.” Though a careless clerk mistakenly registered the name as “Ainleyville,” the new community, with its post office, flour mill, sawmill and hair salon, took off.

By the time the railroad arrived in 1872, William Ainlay’s dream had been incorporated as a village and renamed Brussels.

Event organizers were thrilled to have a descendant of William Ainlay in their midst for the anniversary celebration. Stephen’s father, Charles, served as grand marshal for the 125th anniversary.

All it took was a common bond of hockey – a sport big in Brussels and on Union’s campus.

During the men’s hockey team’s march to the Frozen Four in Tampa last April, Ainlay got to know the parents of Union’s star forward Jeremy Welsh (now with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes).

Welsh’s mother, Doreen, grew up in Brussels and she and the Ainlays shared stories of the village’s history. Her sister, Sharon, who still lives in Brussels, tipped event organizers to the Ainlay connection.

“It was very, very special for us to have Stephen and Judith accept our invitation to attend,” said Bob Richmond, co-chair of the homecoming committee. “We didn’t know if they would, because it’s not like we are just around the block. But we are so grateful they did. They were very well-received.”

The Ainlays made the eight-hour drive from Schenectady for the opening ceremonies Friday night. They dined with the locals and headed off to Brussels Ballpark, which was built on land donated by William Ainlay.

“It’s great to be home,” Ainlay told the crowd. He jokingly suggested the village consider changing its name back to ‘Ainlayville,” this time with the correct spelling.

On Saturday afternoon, the Ainlays (donning a few touches of Western apparel to match the theme of the festivities) climbed into a yellow Ford Mustang convertible to preside over the parade. Nearly all 1,000 villagers (less than half of Union’s student enrollment) and another 2,000 spectators, packed the parade route as the caravan of floats, tractors and horses traveled past the ballpark, an old mill (on the site of a saw mill and gristmill built by William Ainlay) and the Ainlay homestead.

Along the way, the Ainlays were greeted by members of the Welsh family, who donned Union T-shirts and hats to show their affection for the College.

That night, the Ainlays drove to the Welsh family farm in Bayfield for a picnic in their honor.

“The entire weekend was quite moving,” Ainlay said. “My great-great grandfather founded the town; my great-grandfather and grandfather lived there before moving to Nebraska. So it’s a village with deep Ainlay roots.

“And of course, spending time with the Welsh family was very special.”

The Ainlays made one final stop before driving back to Schenectady: the cemetery where William Ainlay and his wife, Eleanor, are buried.