From History of Perth County 1825-1902
by William Johnston, published in 1903
During that period between 1866 (when local government was assumed with a population of 800) and 1874, a very short period in the life of a municipality, material progress was greater in Listowel than at any other time in its history.
A by-law was passed in 1874 providing for a census being taken preparatory to its elevation to the dignity of a town.
On completion of this enumeration by Mr. Thos. E. Hay, it was found that the population amounted to 2,054, or a sufficient number to entitle Listowel to incorporation.
The Governor-General, on application being made, issued his proclamation carrying out the wishes of the people.
Thomas E Hay
By comparing her population in 1866 with that found by Mr. Hay in 1874, so large an increase in a period of eight years certainly indicates that an impetus must have been received from some extraneous circumstance beyond that natural increase likely to occur in a country town.
An explanation will be found, we think, in the action of her public men.
To effect railway connection with the main trunk lines in Canada was a prudent policy.
It was, therefore, by a wise disposition of municipal finances she secured means of communication which gave at once a marvellous impetus to her development.
Prior to 1871 there was no railroad connection. Without this Listowel must have remained a pleasant country village.
It is true that through Mr. D. D. Hay's efforts gravel roads had been constructed.
These extended in several directions.
They were of little use, however, in centralizing surplus produce at this point without means of removing it to market.
Gravel roads extended through Logan to Mitchell, and through Mornington to Stratford, in either case a distance of thirty miles.
These were doubtless far in advance of the old crossway, but were still short of those requirements in a progressive country.
In 1871, therefore, a by-law was submitted granting $15,000 to aid in extending the W., G. & B. railroad* to Listowel.
This was an excellent stroke of policy, creating and giving an impetus to that raped progress so apparent for ten years subsequent to its passing.
Without this connection their interests would have suffered very seriously, and a great portion of trade from Mornington, Elma, and Wallace must have been diverted to Palmerston, then fast growing into importance.
The idea of a Stratford & Huron railroad was so far inchoate, and the movement effectually offset all possibility of trade being concentrated in this northern railway centre.
Not only did Listowel retain her former importance, but trade was further augmented by establishing new industries. In 1873 construction of the Stratford & Huron railroad had become a fact, and a further sum of $15,000 was granted to this enterprise.
Accommodation was thus afforded by having connection with Stratford and the north.
Although these roads were afterwards absorbed in the G. T. system, destroying competition in rates, better facilities and means of communication was now afforded Listowel than has fallen to the lot of many important sections in this country.
When these lines were completed the town became a great shipping point.
Thus has arisen her commercial supremacy.
By the activity of her people these she still retains in a constantly increasing volume.