HISTORY of VICTORIA COUNTY - PART 16


Somerville, Laxton, Carden, Digby, Dalton and Longford

(By Watson Kirkconnell, M.A.)

Longford township derives its name from a county in Leicester, Ireland

It is the most northerly of all the townships in Victoria, being adjacent to Oakley (in Muskoka) on the north, to Anson ( in Haliburton) on the east, to Digby on the south and to Ryde (in Muskoka) on the west.

The municpality is wholly within the granite area and is dotted with more than a score of small, nameless lakes, which are all drained to the southwest by the Black River system.

Longford has no inhabitants. It was first bought in 1865 by the Canada Land and Emigration Company and later sold by that corporation to John Thompson of Longford Mills, north of Orilla. Thompson stripped the township of all timber, driving the logs down the Black River to his mills. At the present day most of Longford belongs to William Thompson of the Longford Lumber Company, Orilla.

The sponym of Somerville township has been referred to Sir W. Somerville, Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1846, and also with more probable accuracy, to Julia Somerville, the wife of Sir Francis Bond Head.

On south, east, and north, Somerville in bounded the rectangular limits of Fenelon township, Galway township (Peterborough county) and Lutterworth township (Haliburton county). On the west it terminates on the irregular shores of the Gull river, the Mud Turtle lakes and Balsam lake. The township is crossed by three river systems and their valleys: The Gull river on the west, Coben creek and its expansion into Four Mile lake and Burnt River. The northeastern one third and the northwest corner of Somerville are within the granite region. The remainder of the township is a drift strewn limestone plateau separated from the granite area by an abrupt escarpment. This escarpment follows down the river valley for some distance where they first enter the limestone country. The soils in the north on both limestone and granite are thin and sterile. They are deeper in the south but even there farming is precarious apart from the broad river valleys.

Somerville was surveyed in the thirties about the same time as Bexley. As in that township the land bordering on Balsam Lake and the Gull River system was platted off into a range of deep, narrow lots fronting on the water. The rest of the township divided into fourteen ordinary concessions, numbered from south to north. The Bobcaygeon Road, a colonization begun in 1857 passes up the eastern boundary on its long run north into Muskoka. The Monck Road, built east from Orilla in the early days, crosses Somerville along the 13th concession line.

A Second Generation of Pioneers

The inhospitable aspect of the township repelled all settlement for a time, but with the growth of lumbering and the clearing away of the forests in the early sixties, a number of permanent residents, chiefly farmer descendents of pioneers in the Lake Ontario counties, began to drift in. Amongst these settlers occur the names of Badgerow, Butler, Cavanagh, Cookman, Crabbe, Ead, Earl, Fell, Hannah, Hunt, Lyle, Mason McKay McMahon, Powers, Taggart, Watson and Workman.

Somerville’s Villages

Kinmount is a village in the precipitous valley of the Burnt River in the northeast corner of the township. It exists because it was an eligible mill site at the junction of the Bobcaygeon and Monck roads. These advantages were later confirmed by the entry of the Victoria Railway in 1876. The first mill was built by John Hunter about 1861. For many years there were several mills along the river within two miles of the village. William Cluxton, Wilson and Stephenson, Mansfield and O’Leary, and W. Caldwell were among the millers prior to 1886.

Perhaps the most exciting incident in Kinmount’s history was the disastrous fire which destroyed almost the whole village on the evening of Friday, September 26, 1890. While most of the villagers and many outsiders had gathered in the Baptist church to hear Joe Hess lecture on temperance, the fire broke out in William Dunbar’s stable and was soon beyond control. An appeal for help was sent by telegraph to the Lindsay fire brigade, but though the men were rushed out in fifty minutes by the Grand Trunk Railway they were too late to save the village. Among the building lost to this conflagration were the following: The Victoria Hotel, Wm. Dunbar, proprietor; James Watson and Son’s general store; Swanson, Brandon and Company’s general store; A. Hopkins’ general store; Mrs. Jewett’s dry goods store; Charles Wellstood’s shoe store; Alex. Moore’s jewelry store; Richard Brown’s confectionery shop; Curry and Johnson’s drug store; M. May’s smithy; S. Henry’s smithy and home; and the Orange Hall. The chief surv ivals from the fire were Bowie’s brick hotel, Getchell’s livery, Dundas Sadler and Company’s flour and feed depot, and Robert Bryans’s sawmill.

At the present day Kinmount has a population of about three hundred. It has two sawmills, ten stores, two churches, two hotels, and two smithies.

Burnt River is a village of fifty people on the railway about ten miles south of Kinmount. It has a stone quarry, two stores, and a smithy.

Rosedale is a summer resort on the Balsam Rives at its outlet from Balsam Lake. Its winter population is negligible but in summer an increasing number of cottagers rusticate here.

Fell Station and Bury Green are parts of the old "Fell Settlement" established near the Fenelon boundary by John Fell and other Irish Protestants from Cavan township, Durham county. Drilling for petroleum is being carried on in this vicinity at the present time but the promoters apparently do not realize that most of the geological prerequisites for successful oil production are lacking. Baddow, or "Ead’s Settlement" which lies a few miles to the west across the Burnt River Valley was first colonized by Joseph Ead of Scarborough, William Cookman of Cavan, William Mason of Otonabee and Isaac Watson of Whitby. A Baptist church was established here in 1865. Baddow has neither stores nor industries. Dongola is a former rural post office.

Most of Somerville township is utterly unsuited for farming and on the Monck Road northeast of Big Mud Turtle Lake areas suitable for forest culture have been recklessly slashed and wastefully burnt over. A survey of the township in 1911 showed that 1.7 percent of the area was covered with old burn and that there was practically no forest anywhere containing sawlogs. Much of the waste land and slash land is fenced in as pasture, but reforestation would probably bring far greater remuneration in the end. A movement in on foot around Kinmount at the present time to arrange for a migration to the Great Clay Belt of New Ontario.

Even yet Somerville is the most populous of the northern townships. The census of 1911 accorded it a total of 1870, made up as follows: English, 844; Irish, 659; Scotch, 187; French, 90; German and Dutch, 80; and others 7. The strengths of the various churches were as follows: Methodist, 735; Anglican, 535; Presbyterian, 379; Roman Catholic, 147; Baptist;, 142 and all others 32.

Outline of Laxton township

Laxton township is the namesake of a village in Northamptonshire, England.

It is a small municipality, only five miles from north to south, and about nine from east to west. It is bounded by Bexley on the south, Carden on the west, Digby on the north, and the Gull River and Shadow Lake on the east. Most of its area lies within the battered outposts of the limestone country but there is a broad invasion of granite to the northeast. Its chief waters are Deer lake in the south, Duck lake in the southwest, and Head lake on the Digby boundary.

The earliest settler in Laxton was a Frenchman, Augustine Angiers, who located on the west shore of Shadow Lake in the early 1860's. Other pioneer families were the Courtemanches, Corbetts, Foleys, Potters, Russells, Ryans, and Staples.

Norland is Laxton's only village. It is situated at a fall in the Gull River about a mile above Shadow Lake. Early settlers at Norland were the Adairs, Pearsons, LeCraws, and Mclaughlins, the latter being the first mill owners in 1857-58. The LeCraws were a French Huguenot family from the Channel island of Guernsey, but the paternal strain has been almost completely submerged in a number of subsequent Highland Scotch marriages.

The Tamarack Plains of Carden

Carden and Digby Townships are named after two English captains whose heroic exertios were largely responsible for the successful embarkation of Sir John Moore's army at Corunna in the Peninsular War. Sir John Colborne, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada from 1830 to 1836, had been one of the other officers there and it is supposed that the two townships were named at his suggestion.

Carden is a rectangular municipality, ten concessions from west to east and twenty-five lots from north to south. It touches Eldon on the south, Bexley and Laxton on the east, Dalton on the north, and Mara, in Ontario County, on the west. It lies near the edge of the granite country and therefore has thin soil and frequent out-croppings of limestone. A large area in the centre of the township consists of tamarack and balsam plains unbroken by any road or trail. The assessor in 1911 classified 38,256 acres as swamp, marsh, or wasteland. Two shallow lakes, Upper Mud Turtle and Lower Mud Turtle Lake lie in the northwest corner of Carden.

The chief settlements have been in the northwest and southeast corners of the township. The Connors, Dexters, Gillespies, Murtaghs, Quigleys and Richmonds were among the earliest pioneers. Irish Roman Catholics are perhaps the dominant element in the population. The 1911 census gives the following racial classifications: Irish, 578; English, 148; Scotch, 69; German and Dutch, 90; all others, 19. The church adherents were as follows: Roman Catholic, 282; Methodist, 254; Presbyterian, 121; Anglican, 20; all others, 7.

Rohallion in the south, Horncastle in the east and Dalrymple in the west have been rural post offices. Near Dalrymple, between Upper and Lower Mud Lakes, the Dexters built the first mill in the Township. Carden has no villages apart from these four hamlets.

Lakes in the Digby Granite

Digby is bounded by Laxton on the south, Lutterworth (in Haliburton county) on the east, Longford on the north, and Dalton on the west. It is almost entirely in the granite region and is very rough and rugged. As is usual in the Laurentian rock country, lakes are very numerous. There are eighteen lakes in Digby alone and forty in Digby and Longford, as compared with nine in all South Victoria. The most important of the Digby lakes are Victoria in the northeast, Smudge in the center, Fishog in the southeast, and Head on the Laxton boundary.

The only arable land is in the southeast and southwest corners. The pioneers here were the Foleys, McFadyens, and Powers. The population today totals less than one hundred.

The Huckleberry Plains of Dalton

Dalton township is named after Dr. John Dalton (1766-1844), a famous English scientist, who did much to establish the Atomic theory of the constitution of matter.

Dalton’s municipal neighbors are Carden on the south, Digby on the east, Ryde (in Muskoka District) on north, and Rama (in Ontario County) on the west.

It is almost entirely made up of glaciated granite. Three streams, the Black River in the north, Cranberry River in the center and Head River in the south flow across it from east to west. At least two thirds of the township consists of huckleberry plains. Its scanty apportionment of arable soil lies chiefly near the Head River and the southern boundary, though small streaks of farming land may be found in the valleys of the other rivers. The Gardiners, Montgomerys and Thompsons were among the earliest settlers.

Scotch and Irish Presbyterians dominate the present day population. The latest census figures are as follows: Races: Irish, 184; English, 149; Scotch, 114. Denominations: Presbyterian, 225; Methodist, 183; Anglican, 22; Roman Catholic, 12.

Upmill in a village of half a hundred people near the south end of the Digby boundary. It was long made famous by its tavern keeper, John Calhoun of the North Star Hotel. Dartmoor in the south, Sadowa in the west and Ragged Rapids in the northeast have been rural post offices. Sebright is a village of about four score inhabitants scattered on both sides of the Rama-Dalton boundary where the Monck Road crosses it between the first and second concessions of Dalton.

It has been estimated that Dalton has 25,000 acres of non-agricultural lands that are well adapted for reforestation.

One of the most picturesque figures of the municipal history of the township is Joseph Thompson who was reeve for a quarter of a century. Thompson was a great hunter and many legends have been handed down concerning his prowess in the wilderness.


Next - History of the County of Victoria Part 17


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