Long before the opening of Verulam to settlement, an Indian trader named Billy McKeough had located on the site of Bobcaygeon Village, to carry on barter with the Mississauga Indians, remnants of which tribe still remain in the locality. The Smiths of Port Hope also traded along these waters; and it is related that in buying beaver skins, for which they paid $10 a pound in highly-rated goods (and "bads"), they placed a hand in the scale to represent one pound, and a foot for two pounds. It is probable that long experience had taught the exact amount of pressure necessary, and within the bounds of profit and prudence.
The first actual settlements on lands in Verulam were made in the year 1832, John Hunter locating in the southeast corner, about the same time that William Bell took up his abode, by building a shanty north of the lake, near the town line of Harvey, in which township had settled a number of Fermanagh families who had came to Canada with him in the same ship. In the fall of 1832 John McFeeters settled near the Emily boundary, and the Frasers and McAndrews located quite early near the Fenelon boundary. In 1833 some of the Fermanagh people moved from Harvey into Verulam, and located near Bell, at or adjacent to the present village of Bobcaygeon. Among these were the Greys, Murdochs, and McConnells. In the same year, William Junkin, John Stewart, and others settled further within the township, about the centre of the northern part; Matthew Ingram to the east of them; and a man called Darcas, on the south shore, in the 9th Concession.
Thomas Need built the first saw-mill at Bobcaygeon, rigging it with an upright saw. Other early settlers were Edward Attlo, on the shore of Sturgeon Lake, about 5 miles from Bobcaygeon; one Forrest, whose cabin was at the head of the island; and Campbell Sawyer, on the north side of the river. Boyd, in 1834, settled near Attlo, and another pioneer, Charles Bailey, made his home with Mr. Forrest on the island, on which at least one more cabin, that of a man named Long, before James McConnell built the first "house," which he opened as a tavern, and in which the first Divine Service was held by Rev. Mr. Edwards, from Peterborough.
The first child born in the township was a daughter of Matthew Ingram. She afterwards married John Junkin, and died in the 1870's. A son of William Junkin, also called William, was the first white child born in Harvey, on the 27th of October, before the family removed to Verulam. The first death was probably that of Robert Thomsom, killed in 1834 by a falling tree, on Lot 18, 9th concession.
The first school was opened in Forrest's little log cabin on the island, John Taylor, another pioneer, being the first teacher. A Sunday school was conducted in the same place. Need's mill had a pair of grinding stones added to its machinery; but for a time gristing was done under difficulties, as their was no bolt, and the miller was the same with the sawyer. James W., and Hartley Dunsford, who came into the township in 1837,established a shingle mill in the Junkin settlement. Of these brothers, Hartley became the Registrar and Police Magistrate at Lindsay. Thomas Need opened the first store at Bobcaygeon, and Edward Lyle the second. Need was also the first postmaster. He was described by one who knew him as a "general purpose" man. He left Verulam after an active career of a dozen years, selling his possessions to Mossom Boyd. Among these was the island, given to Need by J.S. Boulton, it is said, for support at an election. Before the transfer to Boyd, village lots had been laid out, the surveyor being John Read. Boyd subsequently bought the entire water power along the river.
But while the village was assuming shape, the township was improving very slowly owing to the amount of its lands locked up in the hands of speculators. One well-acquainted with Verulam says that this retarding effect left the township as late as 1860 with less than twenty miles of waggon road. A return for 1842, places the number of house-holders in both Harvey and Verulam at 68; their entire population at 371. There was then no schools in these townships, there being but 33 school-age children in them. Of the population nearly one-half were Irish; about one-third Canadians; and the rest Scotch and English. In 1850, Verulam had not more than 500 inhabitants, and 1,604 cultivated acres. Bobcaygeon then had both grist and saw-mills, and village lots had been laid out, on the mainland by the Government, and on the island by private enterprise.
About this time a school was established, and two years later there was a merchant in business. Shortly after the canal and lock was constructed, the stone for the masonry being got out on the spot, as was also that for the Lindsay Lock a little later. The village had begun to present a thriving appearance. In 1857 there were a number of new houses built and being built, and there were now two stores in the place. Besides Boyd's sawmill at the village, there were two others, on the south shore of Sturgeon Lake, in the south-western part of the Township. The shingle factory of the Dunsfords' was also in operation in the north side. The Bobcaygeon Road had some work done on it. The taxed acreage of the township was 31,851, valued at $97, 184; and the personalty was reckoned at $14,109. Rev. Daniel Wright was Superintendent of Schools for the four townships of Verulam, Somerville, Fenelon and Bexley; and H.Dunsford was Sub-Treasurer of school moneys for the first two named. J.W. Dunsford was the only Verulam magistrate on the list of that time. It was not till 1862, that the first church in the township was built by the Methodists at Bobcaygeon. The credit of its foundation was given to Thomas Taylor, one of the first local preachers, and the son of the pioneer school-teacher.
On the introduction of the municipal system in 1850, Verulam, Fenelon, and Bexley, were divided into wards for the election of local representatives. The first Council consisted of John Langton, reeve; J.W.Dunsford, Wm. Studdaby, Samuel Brock, and Jabez Thurston. W. Pawles, a Fenelon Falls man, was appointed Clerk. Mr. Dunsford subsequently held the Reeveship for nine years; then Mr.Thurston. The 1880 Council of Verulam consists of J.W.Dunsford, Reeve; John Junkin, Deputy-Reeve; John Bredin, John Kelly and William Thurston. Clerk, Irvine Junkin; Treasurer, W.B. Read. The 1880 population of the township, (exclusive of Bobcaygeon) is given as 2,230, and its assessed valuation at $573,912. It has a debenture debt of about $11,000, of which $7,000 was a bonus by the north-west part to the Victoria Railway, and for which payments to a sinking fund have been made since 1874.
Bobcaygeon's incorporation as a village took effect on 1st Jan. 1877. The first councillors were: W.B. Read, reeve; Charles Readfield, J.L. Read, E. Bottum, and John Kennedy. J.G. Edwards was appointed Clerk and Treasurer, and still holds the keys. The next reeve was George Bick, for two years; then George H. Howson who still held the position in 1881; the other members of the Council for 1881 being I. Junkin, Alex Orr, E. Bottum, and W.B. Read; Clerk, J.H. Thompson. The population of the village in 1881 was about 1,000, and its total assessed valuation , $150,530. It is 18 miles by water from Lindsay, and about 22 miles from Peterborough, via Bridgenorth. There is a village hall of red brick, which cost about $3000. Its principal manufacturies are of lumber and shingles; and there are also carding mill, tannery, grist mill &c. The postal, mercantile, educational, and religious facilities are good, and a live local paper is issued weekly. This Journal, the Bobcaygeon Independent, started by Mr. E.D. Hand, of Fenelon Falls, in 1870, is conducted in 1881 by Mr. C.E. Stewart, and his clever daughter. It is "Independent" in politics, as well as name. At Bobcaygeon is a canal, about half a mile in length, having one well-constructed lock. and making navigation connection between Sturgeon and Pigeon Lakes, in the route of the proposed Trent Valley canal. A fine bridge, lately constructed at a cost of $5,150, connects the insular with the other portion of the village. Good limestone abounds in the neighborhood, and lime is extensively manufactured, one kiln here being capable of producing one hundred barrels per day. Quarries of lithographic stone, about three miles from the village, were worked in 1880, but not fully developed. Bobcaygeon has many summer visitors, tourists through the back lakes, and it is also in the centre of a fine sporting district. There are in the place a Masonic Lodge, "Verulam 268," and a Young Men's Institute, with library and reading room.
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