HISTORY of VICTORIA COUNTY - PART 12 - THE STORY OF FORGOTTEN REGATTAS AT STURGEON POINT

(BY WATSON KIRKCONNELL, M.A.)

The first Anglican incumbent, the Rev. Mr. Fidler, met a tragic death. He used to hold occasional services at Willockís Settlement, now Ownsford, south of Sturgeon Lake, and would be rowed thither, a distance on ten miles, by two of his parishioners. One Sunday, the little party had returned from such an expedition and had portaged above the falls on the south side, preparatory to crossing over to the parsonage which stood on the north shore a little farther up. The rowboat was set in the water and the rector and one of his oarsmen climbed into it. The current here, just above the falls, was very swift, but could be negotiated with care and hard rowing. While the rector was getting to his seat, his companion held the boat fast to shore by seizing some juniper branches. But, either through thoughtlessness or a misunderstanding of orders, he let go too soon, and the boat swung out into the current. Its occupants were confused and could not adjust the oars in the rowlocks before it was too late. With cries that could be faintly heard above the roar of tumbling waters, they were swept over the dam and then over the falls, where their boat was shattered into kindling wood. Their bodies were found next day in the pool just below the falls.

As late as 1851 there was only a narrow trail through the woods down the modern main street, but Wallis now had it cut out to full road width, floored it with slabs from his lumber mill, and covered the slabs over with gravel. He and Jamieson also had the left bank of the river surveyed and plotted into village lots. In 1854 Wm. Martin built the Clifton House, now the Kawartha Hotel. James Fitzgerald opened a store on Colborne Street and the village grew steadily by the arrival of tradesmen and mechanics until 1859, when the mill burned down.

The mill property was then bought by one Sutherland Stayner and lay idle for a long time, to the great detriment of the village. Then it was leased, and later bought, by R. C. Smith, of Port Hope and a Mr. Waddell, of Cobourg. The new mill built by Smith and Waddell brought immediate prosperity to Fenelon Falls. A growing trade in lumber centered here. In 1872 there were three large mills, those of J. D. Smith and Company, of Hilliard and Mowry, and of Green and Ellis, whose annual cut of pine alone totaled nine, four, and five million feet respectively.

In 1872 the Victoria Railway began to build north from Lindsay and its advent was a further stimulus to the growth of Fenelon Falls. In 1873 the late Mr. E. D. Hand, who had founded the "Lindsay Advocate" in 1855 and the "Bobcaygeon Independent" fifteen years later, now launched the "Fenelon Falls Gazette," a weekly newspaper of Liberal propensities. The "Gazette," after forty-eight years of existence, still carries on. Its present publishers are the Robson brothers, formerly of Lindsay.

Incorporation as a village came to Fenelon Falls in 1875. The first Village Council was composed of the following: - Reeve, J. D. Smith: Councillors, J. W. Fitzgerald, Joseph McArthur, William Jordan and Richard Jackson.

Fenelon Falls had long been the upper terminus for navigation on the Kawartha Lakes, but in 1882 the Federal Government at last agreed to build locks and a short stretch of canal by which to render the upper lakes accessible. The engineers did not attempt to lead the canal up the natural watercourse, but cut out their channel through the steep limestone bank to the north of the falls. Mr. A. P. McDonald, an American, made the lowest tender for construction and was awarded the contract. The first blow was struck on October 17, 1882, and the first rock blasted nine days later. Valor, rather than discretion, marked these operations and large masses of rock crashed into dwellings hundreds of yards away. The locks were to be two in number, thirty-three feet wide and three hundred feet in total length. The cut for the lower lock was to be thirty-six feet deep and for the upper lock twenty-two feet deep. The canal from the upper lock to Cameron Lake was to be sixty feet wide and twelve feet deep. Thi s new public work was opened for navigation in the summer of 1886.

That same year saw Fenelon Falls reach the peak of her prosperity. Her population was then 1312, and has since decreased steadily until in 1920 only 837 inhabitants remained. The wane of lumbering in the country to the north has meant the decline of Fenelon Falls, for it was chiefly on lumbering that she had grown. The completion of the Trent Canal has made her only a way port instead of a terminus for lade trade. Electricity has been developed here, but most of it is transmitted elsewhere, on the Hydro-Electric Commission's Central Ontario 44,000-volt circuit, instead of being utilized industrially in the immediate neighborhood. A recent directory credits the municipality with two flour mills, two sawmills, a wood-turning mill, a woolen mill, four hotels, six churches, and about twenty stores. The future of the village would now seem to dependent on summer tourist traffic and far more vitally, on the economic services that it may render to the country districts near by.

The chief racial constituents of the population in 1911 were:-- English, 422; Irish, 346; Scotch, 195; French, 45. The religious denominations at that time were made up thus: - Methodists, 435: Presbyterians, 204; Anglicans, 198; Baptists, 101; Roman Catholics, 69.

Farm Villages and Summer Villages

There are few other villages in Fenelon. Cambray, built chiefly on Lots 5 and 6, Concession I, on the main road from East Eldon to Lindsay, was so named because of the mistaken idea that the township had been named after Francis Fenelon, the Archbishop of Cambrai, France. Its population is largely made up of retired farmers among whom Scotch Presbyterians perhaps predominate. A small mill-stream, which runs through the village, was probably the deciding factor in the choice of its site, but its industries have never developed greatly and its population has seldom exceeded two hundred and fifty. In February 1866 oil was struck near here at a depth of 350 feet, but its development never prospered. In recent years business and occupation have been carried on locally by three general stores, a mill run by A.. E. and W. B. Feir, four masons, three carpenters, three blacksmiths, one cheesemaker, one thresher, one harnessmaker, and one doctor.

Cameron, four miles east by north from Cambray, is a much smaller village, with a station on the Haliburton Division of the Grand Truck Railway. Like Cameron Lake, it is named after John Cameron, an early Toronto banker. The neighborhood is chiefly noted for its recurrent epidemics of heterodoxy, under various forms, during the past eighty years.

Sturgeon Point and Pleasant Point are summer villages. The former is incorporated, with a tax-roll of 141 and an assessment of $87,373. In summer, these cottage communities on the opposite shores of Sturgeon Lake are thronged with urban residents: in winter, all is deserted. From the earliest times the hardwood groves at Sturgeon Point were a favorite rendezvous for picnics and excursions. The first regatta here was held in 1841, eighty years ago. All pleasure on that occasion was marred by the drowning of a Mr. Wetherup, who upset from his canoe while in the act of taking off his coat. He was a powerful swimmer, but with his arms thus pinioned behind him he was lost at once. Thirty-five years later, Captain George Crandell, of Lindsay, the chief promoter of navigation on local waters, realized the possibilities of Sturgeon Point as a summer village and spent some $25,000 in developing it towards that end. In 1876 he built a large summer hotel, the management of which was undertaken by W. H. S impson. Crandell also purchased an extensive tract adjacent to the hotel and plotted out lots for summer cottages. These were quickly bought up and built upon: and thus began the summer colony at the Point. The first regatta under the auspices of cottagers was held on September 18, 1878. The event of the day was a double canoe race in which two Rama Reserve Ojibwas named Yellowhead won by a narrow margin from Whetong and Toboco, two Mississagas from the Chemong Reserve. The winners paddled a birch bark canoe at seventy strokes to the minute. There were several white entrants in this open race, but all were left hopelessly behind by the two Indian crews. About this time a black bear was found roaming about near the hotel and was disposed of by excited huntsmen. The hotel was destroyed by fire in 1893, but the village about it had continued to flourish. Pleasant Point or Hayís Point is a more recent summer village on the lake front of the John Hay farm. Its ratepayers are even now seeking incorporation .

It is a somewhat effete existence that these large community summer resorts offer to anyone possessed of youth and vigor: but they are a true paradise for little children and a healthful week-end refuge for urban workers who have no vacation in which to sally by canoe into the magnificent wildernesses of North Victoria and Haliburton.

Population and Assessment

Fenelon township attained its maximum population in the eighties and has since declined rapidly. In 1886 the township, including Fenelon Falls, totaled 8969 inhabitants. In 1920 the county records showed a total of 2648, a decrease of over thirty-three per cent. The nominal assessed value of all property in the township and its villages was $1,059,894 in 1886, and in 1920 $2, 213,460, or a little more than twice the earlier estimate. However, Dunís price indexes for 1886 and 1920 are in the ratio of 96 to 250, so that this basis the present assessment amounts to only $849,973 in terms of 1886 values.


Next - History of the County of Victoria Part 13


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