Forgotten Families and a Forgotten Love Story

by Oct 8, 2023Turner Tales3 comments

Turner Tales Logo

by Lary Turner

A recent large donation to the Hespeler Heritage Centre from the Estate of John Dunnett drew my attention to a near-forgotten family and a real Hespeler love story. The donation consisted of many varied items connected to the Rife family; practically David Rife Jr. and Ophelia Rife, nee Lochhead.

Ophelia side-saddle

Ophelia Lochhead’s side-saddle – circa 1870

Prominent among the items was a lady’s side-saddle that I was informed dated to well before 1870. The story accompanying this saddle was that Jennifer “Ophelia” Lochhead, then age 17, had fallen off while riding in Hespeler. She was aided by a handsome young man, love blossomed and they were married on January 24, 1871. A sucker for a love story, I decided to learn more about this old Hespeler family whose name is honoured by Rife Avenue.

Ophelia and David Rife Jr.

David Rife, Jr. was born on April 30, 1848 on his father’s “Sunny Hill Farm” abutting  Hespeler. He was the third son of David Rife, Sr. and Mary (Pannabaker) Rife, grandson of Samuel Rife and Elizabeth (Hoke) Rife of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, who settled just north of Hespeler in 1823 (the first settlers in Wellington County).

“Sunny Hill Farm” was located on the south and east limits of the 1860s fledgling Village of  Hespeler. It consisted of over 418 acres and encompassed an area that later became Walker St., Hungerford Rd., Elizabeth St., Gerrard Ave., Renwick St., Cooper St., Rife Ave., Jardine St., Bella St., Henderson St., south end of Kribs St., south end of Adam St. and Woodland Park. (Part of this farm land had been purchased by Abraham Clemens from  Richard Beasley and was part of the “Indian Lands” sold by the Six Nations).

Sunny Hill Farm 1900

Sunny Hill Farm – early 1900’s

Sunny Hill Farm

Sunny Hill Farm – 1860

Following their marriage, David Jr. and Ophelia rented the “Sunny Hill Farm” from his father (David’s father, David Sr., operated Sunny View Dairy on Cooper Street. He had bought and moved to an adjoining farm). At the old homestead, the newlyweds prospered while raising their family of 4 boys and 5 girls; Anna Alzina, Mabel Naomi, Charles Herbert “Bud”, David Edward “Dave”, Lester Hungerford “Les”, Margaret Ophelia “Maggie”, William Arnold “Will”, Elizabeth Mary “Bessie” and Alzina “Walker”.

Rife Boys
Rife Girls
Rife Family

The Rife Family

In the Mennonite tradition, they were hard working honest people, well-respected in the Hespeler area. By 1887, they purchased the farm for $3,270.00. David Jr. specialized in Holstein cattle, raising a dairy herd that was known far and wide as one of the finest in the country. His cows won top prizes at most exhibits and fairs. In addition to their farm, they operated a milk and dairy business until poor health forced David to turn the operations over to his sons.

David and Ophelia were very active within the Hespeler community, taking a great interest in public service. David Jr. served several terms as a councilor and represented the Village at  the Waterloo County Council as Reeve. Retiring from politics for a time, he was once again encouraged to run and was reelected to the Town Council for several more years, while declining  numerous requests to run for Mayor. In addition to raising a large family and  caring for a large twelve room home, Ophelia was very involved with their church, including singing in the choir. She hosted the Sunshine Bible Class and was a founding member of the Hespeler Women’s Institute (founded in their home in 1906). Because of this involvement, the couple had a large circle of friends and acquaintances.

As their family reached adulthood, they began to leave and begin their own lives; some moving to Western Canada and also the U.S.A.  Tragedy struck in 1913, when at the age of sixty-five, David Rife, Jr. died from a heart attack leaving widow Ophelia, youngest son William, and daughters Margaret and Walker to run the large farming operation.

When William married and acquired his own farm; necessity required change, and Ophelia and daughters adapted by transitioning from dairy cattle to raising chickens and selling eggs and renting out a large part of the farm. As well, teachers from Hespeler Public School boarded at their home. In the summer guests from nearby communities would pay to stay at the farm to enjoy the restful and beautiful surroundings.

Rife sisters Margaret and Walker

Rife sisters Margaret & Walker walking in their extensive garden circa 1900s

As the years passed,  five parts of the farm were subdivided and sold for housing. Some of the new streets bore the Rife family’s names: Hungerford, Walker, Rife, Elizabeth, David, Edward, William (now Panabaker), etc.

On March 3 1958, Ophelia Rife, the oldest resident of Waterloo County passed to her reward. She was 104 years and nine months old. Her caregivers, daughters Margaret died in 1968 and Walker followed on Remembrance Day 1970. In July of 1972 the remaining property was sold to a developer and the Sunny Hill home was torn down.

Thus ended the Hespeler love story that began with a side-saddle that evidentially was donated to the Hespeler Heritage Centre.

Ophelia Rife at 104 years old

Ophelia Lochhead Rife – age 104 years, 9 months


  1. Sue Hayter

    Such a fascinating family saga. I enjoyed learning if the origins of the street names.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Denise Baker

    Such a great story. I now operate a Not For Profit store at 11 Queen Street. Was this building owned by someone in the Rife family? If so, I would like to speak to someone about this. I think the heritage of this building is important and would like people to know the history. Looking forward to speaking to someone about this.

    Kind Regards,
    Denise Baker
    CEO, Kindness in the Village

  3. DebI Cowgill

    After living on Walker St for almost 35 years and not knowing the history behind the street names. This has been a very rewarding experience to learn of the street origins and the history of the families. Thank you for sharing with us.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *