Having been asked to write a brief account of the early settlers and settlement of the town of Bowmanville, and as it may be published and thus may reach many outsiders who do not know the place, I would say there are very few, if any , more picturesque spots in the Province of Ontario. The principal part of the town is built upon a high ridge of land running north and south, overlooking Lake Ontario and the lovely valley that intervenes, There are two streams, one to the east and one to the west thus affording good natural drainage. In the olden time these creeks were quite large bodies of water giving power for several important industries that were of great benefit to the people. The springs from which they both originate, rise below the Pine Ridge in the 9th or 10th concession of Darlington. Many a time I have traced them up to the fountain head. Sixty years ago large volumes came pouring out and this added to by additional springs along their route, made quite a quantity of delicious, pure, cool water. At that time they were full of Trout, the millpond and all the stream down to the lake were teeming with this princeling of the finny tribe, and in the fall of the year beautiful large salmon came up from the lake. You chould throw them out of the water with an ordinary pitchfork. Between the bridge on the western stream and the lake it was a thick forest of large standing timber with a tangle of underbrush. It was quite a sight to see the fishermen with their Jack lanterns spearing them, hundreds of which were taken every Fall.
In the preceding three or four decades what a glorious country this must have been for the sportsman. Even in my recollection, the forests abounded in deer and all kinds of game. I cannot refrain, while on this topic, from putting in writing what I have often said to our intelligent, progressive farmers, that if every land holder in Darlington would plant say, five to ten acres of young maples on every 100 acres, it would not only be a source of unto'd wealth, and if reforesting were extended to the whole Province , would make it one of the most lovely and fertile countries on the face of the earth. This would give a more uniform rainfall and shelter us from the destructive winds, from which we now suffer so much. I was in Sweetsburg, Quebec Province some few years ago and was surprised to find it the centre of a large section of the country abounding in what they call sugar orchard. They told me that the second growth maple is not injured by tapping, as is the case with the nature grown. There are thousands of dollars worth of maple sugar and molasses shipped from there every year. A further inducement to plant is their rapid growth. Some put out around my premises thirty years ago, are fine stately trees. But this is a digression.
Coming back to town, it is surrounded on all sides except that lake front by hills and da'es at a higher elevation in all directions affording fine landscape views. In the summer season to one driving in from the east at Mr. W. S. Bragg's hill, a magnificent sight is obtained of the town and its environments, nestling as it does in a sea of green foliage, its public buildings, church spires with fine residential homes and gardens and the ever grand Lake Ontario in the distance, are distinctly seen. How this delights the eye and ministers to the asthetic taste of the beholder. The same remarks apply equally when coming in on the Scugog road from the north and indeed with greater force, when coming from the west. The scene of course is different, catching the eye at another angle. There is spread under your immediate gaze more of the business portion of the town, the mill and dam and the stream which runs like a ribbon through "banks and braes" if not equal yet nearly so to "Bonnie Doon," till it finds an outlet in the marsh.
Anyone wanting to get a complete and comprehensive outlook, taking in the whole town and portions of the township, with the hill lands of Clarke to the east, the old but ever new bright and sparkling waters of Ontario to the south, let him climb the height west of the electric light pond till he reaches the elevated land near Mr. Mark Munday's farm, then if he has any right conception of natural beauty, it will leave on the retina of his mental vision and scene of loveliness the memory of which will not soon be erased.
A gentleman who has travelled extensively in the old world and whose innate love of the beautiful in Nature as well as in Art had been cultivated by keen observation, in speaking of Bowmanville years ago, told me that he had seen no town of its size anywhere with which he was more charmed.
How the town was originally located where it is, is a question that has often been asked but I presume the correct answer is, that it was largely accidental. The original road cut out of the forest between Toronto and Kingston, opening up communication between the west and east of the Province and part of which constitutes our main street (King St.) led people to settle and take up farms on each side of it. The Dandord road as first surveyed ran farther south than where it was eventually located. The partial remains of a bridge, built of heavy timbers, was still in existence 40 years ago a short distance below Mr. J. B. Martyn's property. Why the change was made I never heard, but suppose there was an easier grade in overcoming the steepness of the hill on the west. It follows of course in all new settlements, the primary wants of the community must be met, hence the mill site became utilized, a dam was built and a small saw and grist mill erected. This must have been sometime about the beginning of the century.
It would be most interesting did one know the man or men, who struck the first blow in clearing the few trees around the stream on which the mill was built. I fancy if in the spiritual world, that unfathomable mystery to us mortal creatures, he has been permitted to see and know what has occurred in the wonderful transformation of men and things, since the sound of his axe first reverberated through the unbroken forest, in chopping that first tree down, he would express admiration of the men and women who by lives of toil and industry, helped to bring it about. It required grit, muscle and heroism of the highest kind, to battle with the almost insurmountable difficulties they met with, in the first small settlement of log huts.
Around this little neucleus of the mill, the place began to grow. The first extension was to the west. The only road opened leading to the lake was between the Bates farm and the one now occupied by Mr. Robert Beith, Ex-M. P. (Waverley Stock Farm) This side line, passing Mr. Isaac Tabb's farm, was opened at a very early period and as the business increased it became the highway to the lake. Goods in the summertime were brought in schooners from the States and points east and west, they being anchored out and the cargoes brought to the land in little boats. If the shore had been bolder and the water less shallow, the probabilities are that a wharf would have been built, and the growth of the town would have been still farther west than where it now stands. Smuggling was very extensively carried on at that time and if the truth were known thousands of dollars worth of valuable articles were annually imported without a knowledge of H. M. Customs House Officers.
I am speaking now of a later period after the place had grown considerably. One amusing escapade occurred in this connection worth relating. A merchant carrying on business some three miles east, had brought over a cargo of salt. The plan adopted was to have the goods landed during the night and buried out of sight in the sand and subsequently removed under night to a place of safety. The gentleman referred to having brought across the lake a schooner load which at that time bore a heavy duty, none being obtainable in the province, deposited it in the usual way. It so happened that a fellow smuggler in the village tot wind of it and he quietly stole the whole lot and salted the proceeds. No redress could be obtained by No. 1 as he dare not reveal the facts.
The late J. T. Coleman collected and published in pamphlet form a great many facts giving names and dates of the first settlers who came into Darlington from the States; that the first few arrived in 1794. I do not propose in this short paper to refer to any length to events occurring previous to my own personal knowledge, but must necessarily alude to a few persons and matter as connecting links in the narrative.
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