Early settlement of Victoria County


The first visit of the white man to the territory now comprising the County of Victoria was during the journey of exploration by Samuel de Champlain in 1615, and when on his way with his Huron and Algonquin allies to attack the Iroquois in their own cantons to the south of Lake Ontario. The war-party of the savages, accompanied by a few Frenchmen, crossed by lakes, streams, and portages from Lake Simcoe, and down the Trent waters to the Bay of Quinte. From that time forth for many years, the only white visitors to the Indians, of Algic, or algonquin stock, inhabiting this part of canada were the Coureurs de Bois who came to trade with them for peltries, in defiance of the regulations of fur monopolists, of royal and governmental edicts, and of the threats of the Church. It was not till early in the present century that these townships began to attract settlement; for though many United Empire loyalists, who came to Canada immediately after the peace of Versailles, 1783, settled in them, it was not till after some years' residence at the front. Previous to, and for some time after the separation of the Provinces, in 1791, no surveys had been made so far back as the present day Victoria; but the removal of the seat of Government from Newark (Niagara), to York (Toronto), and the construction of a main road (Yonge Street) from the capital to Lake Simcoe (so called after the then Governor), were largely favorable to the opening of settlement in this district some twenty years later. In the interval a considerable amount of exploration was done by Government officials, as well as by Indian traders, hunters and trappers, who from the posts on the outer lines of communication made occasional expeditions into the interior. So well was the value of certain lands known that on the departure of Simcoe, they were seized on by speculators; else the wise schemes of the first Lieutenant-Governor of Upper canada for the settlement of the country would have been better and sooner realized. Thus a "party of gentlemen" leagued with an irresponsible executive, and arrogating to themselves preposterous privileges and perquisites, roused the indignant opposition of the advocates of honesty, civil equality, and constitutional liberty, and gave rise to a division of the people into political parties which exist, with similar marks of difference to the present day. It was not till after the War of 1812-15, that a general survey of the Province was entered upon, and colonization roads were extended and improved. Immigration largely increased, owing to trade depression in britain, and new settlers were aided by Government by gifts of rations and implements. The peaceful invasion soon came within the bounds of the county now under consideration.

The first township surveyed of the present County of Victoria was Emily, said to be named after a daughter of the Lieut. Governor. The work, commenced in 1818, and finished the following year, was done by a Mr.Wilmot, one of the government surveyors. The next township laid out was Mariposa, in 1820; then Fenelon, and next Ops in 1824; and Eldon in 1826. Bexley, Somerville and Verulam were next surveyed, and the townships further north at considerably later dates. These townships were originally part of the Newcastle District, and so continued till the formation, in 1841, of the Colborne district, which in 1850 became the County of Peterborough. In 1854 Victoria became a Parlimentary District; but remained united to Peterborough for municipal purposes till 1861, in which year it became a separate and independent County with the Town of Lindsay as its chef-lieu. Since then, as for some years previously, its progress has been steady.

The earliest pioneer work in Emily was done in 1819 by David Best, who then went back to Cobourg. Before his return, Humphrey Finlay came in with his wife and family and located, thus attaining the title "King of Emily." In the fall of 1820 the Cottingham's and James Laidley made a clearance on Pigeon Creek, where is now Omemee Village, went back to Cavan for the winter, and the following spring built a shanty and brought in their old people. There was then no road from the 10th Concession of Cavan, and bands of Indians roved the woods. These settlers had left Fermanagh, Ireland, because their rents had been raised. A man named Jackson, a settler in Cavan, who went to Ireland to bring his family, had arranged with a ship captain to carry a party at reduced fares; and gathered as many as he could, advising them to come and settle in the newly opened Township of Emily. Nearly 400 sailed from Belfast. Some went among friends in the Perth Settlement; but the greater number came to the Newcastle District.

The settlement thus begun was augmented from time to time with fresh arrivals from the north of Ireland. These located at the south, the north of the Township not being taken up till a few years later. At first the nearest mill was at Port Hope; but soon one was built in Cavan, where is now Millbrook, and was resorted to until a mill was put up on Pigeon Creek by William Cottingham. Afterwards settlement became somewhat retarded here, as elsewhere, by locatees merely doing the settlement duties (clearing two rods and slashing four in front of lots, for a road), then holding the land as speculation - residence not being compulsory.

In 1825 occurred the Hon. Peter Robinson settlement of Irish immigrants, whereby the northern part of Emily was taken up. The new-comers were Roman Catholic, whereas the former settlers in the township were nearly all Protestant Irish. The surveyor, John Huston, of Cavan, who ran the lines for the Robinson settlers reserved lots towards the already settled parts for Protestants, while the Roman Catholics were settled at the rear of the township. Thus arose the creed-marked division of Emily. Many of the earlier settlers made money in locating the new ones, building houses for them and acting as agents for supplies, for which services they were paid by the Government. It was not long till their were churches and schools of a primitive kind, and Emily already began to take its place as a rising township. A return to the British parliament shows that in 1826, of the 397 Robinson emigrants then located, 142 were in Emily, with 351 1/2 acres cleared; and seven in Ops, with 12 acres cleared.

The claim of first settler in Ops is held by John Connell, who located in the south-west, being speedily followed by other Irish families, who came in by way of Rice Lake, Peterboro', and through Emily. The next townships to receive settlers were Eldon and Mariposa, about 1827, a number of Scotch immigrants being sent in from Toronto, by way of Yonge Street and Lake Simcoe, and located, by Squire Donald Cameron, who had received grants of land in Thorah and Eldon. They were speedily followed by families of U.E. Loyalists who had settled first near the Lake Ontario shore, and by many pensioners who took up land in these two townships. Much of the land in Mariposa was in the grasp of the Canada Company. The first settlements were about Big Creek, and toward the northern boundary. Verulam lands were put in the market in 1832, but were bought by speculators. Settlements were made in the neighborhood of Bobcaygeon, the credit of having built the first house being claimed by William Bell. John Hunter, who settled at the south, also lays claim to being the first. A few others followed within the next five years. The Township had not 90 householders in 1842. At that date settlement was only beginning in Fenelon, though quite a lumbering trade was done at the Falls, where there was also a grist-mill, an Episcopal Church, and a parsonage, occupied by the Rev. Mr. Fidler.'to be cont'


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