Early History of Douro Township


COPYRIGHT (c) 2007 Michael Stephenson

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Douro History - Pioneer Days In The Township of Douro

The first settlers in Douro arrived in the autumn of 1823- a date prior to the survey of the township, which was made the following year. The enterprising men, who, with their families, thus dared the perils of the bush, were the Hon. Thomas Alexander STEWART and Robert REID, both of whom not only triumphed over the difficulties of the situation, but also in after years found their toils rewarded by wealth and affluence.

Both were created Justices of the Peace, and filled many other important offices of trust and emolument in the settlement and amid the community they were the first to be found. Indeed, so high was the estimation in which Mr. STEWART was held, both for his personal qualities and the services he had rendered by example and influence, in furthering the interests of the country, by the promotion of actual settlement, that in the year 1833 he was elevated to a seat in the Legislative Council of Canada by appointment of the Crown- a position he continued to fill until his death in September, 1847.

These gentlemen, on leaving the land, were furnished with letters to the Governor of the Province, by whom land was assigned to them in Douro, then a wilderness, and as already stated, not even surveyed. Mr. STEWART received a grant of 1200 and Mr. REID of 2000 acres, on condition of actual settlement and the performance of settlement duties- terms, at the time, sufficiently arduous and trying even for the stoutest hearts and the bravest spirits. They also received permission to hold the entire township for a period of five years, with a view to promoting its settlement by their friends, acquaintances, or others who might be induced to emigrate and settle in so remote a situation- a right which they cheerfully and patriotically relinquished at the request of the Hon. Peter ROBINSON, in 1825, on his arrival at Peterborough with the immigrants under his charge.

We cannot better portray the difficulties and privations, as well as the heroism incident to the settlement of the township of Douro, at the period referred to, than by quoting the following touching narrative of the personal experiences of the wife of one of the first settlers:

"On the first day of June 1823, we sailed from Quebec, accompanied by my brother-in-law and his family, which consisted of his wife, six daughters and three sons. We came up the St. Lawrence from Lachine in bateaux, which was a very tedious mode of travelling. We reached Toronto (then called York) in August, and were detained there several weeks by illness. Meantime my husband and brother-in-law procured a grant of land in Douro and started to see it. "

"About the first of October we came to Cobourg, then a very small village. From thence, my brother-in-law, with some hired men, proceeded direct to Douro, to make an opening in the woods; my husband being prevented by illness from accompanying them. Two clearings were commenced about a mile from the boundary of the township of Otonabee."

"Early in November my sister-in-law and her children joined her husband in the backwoods. They took a large scow, or flat-bottomed boat, from Rice Lake, and on the second evening reached Little Lake. They landed on a point of land near where Ashburnham is situated, and from thence proceeded to their shanty, about three miles from the landing. "

"My husband, myself, and three little children, with a maid-servant and a boy, were to come up on the return of the boat; but we were detained at Cobourg by the illness of one of our children, and therefore were but few settlers in these townships, and on the second day we were obliged to wait for sleighing, to perform the journey by land through the townships of Hope, Cavan and Monaghan. At that time there were but few settlers in these townships; and on the second day we travelled nine or ten miles without seeing a house or clearing. At last we reached 'Scott's Mill', on the 12th of February 1823, at 1 pm."

"The 'Little Lake' not being safe for teams to cross on the ice, we were obliged to walk over, our children and luggage being carried by our servants and some men who kindly assisted. The snow was then about two feet deep. Out ox-team and sleigh were in waiting on the other side, but by the time we had all reached the place daylight began to fail, which made our progress through the woods much more difficult; and the sleigh being loaded, I was obliged to walk. Our lantern, unfortunately, got filled with snow, and our candle so wet it would not light. So we proceeded slowly and, at last, perceived a light before us and soon reached out log house. The light proceeded from a large wood fire, which rejoiced our hearts."

"We found our house in a very unfinished state: the door had not been hung, nor were there any partitions made. A large opening was left in the roof where the chimney was to have gone up, but the intense frost had stopped the mason work when about half completed. Finding this rather cooled us, and we felt puzzled where to lay our sleeping children, as the floor was coated with a thick layer of ice and mortar. However we soon discovered some shavings, left by the shingle-makers, which we spread on the ice, and laid on our mattresses, and on these made a temporary 'shade-down' on which we cheerfully lay down, after a supper of tea, bread, butter and pork. Being very weary we slept soundly, but in the morning on looking up, I saw the stars through the aperture left for the chimney."

"At this time, my brother-in-law and his family lived in an open shanty about half a mile north of us, and from having their fire outside, they were much annoyed by the smoke and sparks blowing in which at night often set fire to their bedding."

"By slow degrees these difficulties were surmounted; but we found new ones arising from the want of roads, or some means of conveying our provisions from Cobourg, which was the nearest town. Mr. BETHUNE was the only storekeeper there, and was also postmaster. We sent to him when a fresh supply of provisions or necessaries were required, and these were forwarded to us by way of Rice Lake, which proved a very tedious and expensive mode of conveyance, and the delay of our supplies drove us to most painful straits. In the autumn a sufficient store had to be procured in this way to last for five months, as our winters at that time set in about the end of October and seldom terminated until the middle or end of April. At one time before we had any shoemakers near us, we sent an order to Cobourg for boots and shoes, for both families, numbering about twenty persons of all ages, and after waiting a long time for them we learned they had been lost in Rice Lake and could not be recovered. This was a serious loss, as they could not be replaced for some months, and in the meantime many were obliged to go barefooted."

"Pea soup and pork was our principal food. Our bread was good when we could get flour, or when the yeast was not frozen. Very often we had only rye meal, which was not disagreeable, but one season not being to procure flour or meal of any kind we were obliged to use boiled wheat and corn, and were once reduced to bran cakes, which soon disagreed with us. As our first spring in the backwoods advanced I was delighted with the beauty and novelty of the scene around us. Our clearing was opened to the river, which in those days rushed along with great rapidity and noise, carrying down large masses of ice from the lakes and waters above us. Since then the numerous dams have marred the natural beauty of the river, while the fine hemlocks and cedars which grew so beautifully along the bank were since cut down and have disappeared."

"In the autumn of our first year in Douro our youngest child, a sweet little girl of not quite two years, was seized with dysentery. I was quite ignorant of the treatment of that disease, and there was no doctor within reach - the nearest being Dr. HUTCHINSON, who then resided in Cavan, a good many miles distant. We had as yet no canoes on the river, and were often depending on the chance visit of the Indians for a passage to the other side. One of our hired men, a faithful Highlander, seeing how very ill our darling was, volunteered to swim across the rapid stream and walk through the woods to the doctor, promising that if I wrote the particulars he would bring the necessary medicine. He started early in the morning on a cold October day, and returned about midnight with some powders and a message that the doctor would come up on the following day. But no improvement followed, and the day was passed in great anxiety, for the doctor did not arrive. On the third day he came, having left home at the promised time, but got lost in the woods and hence the delay. The next day she appeared more lively but refused to take the arrowroot and sage which I offered her. She asked for bread, and of this we had none that was fit to give her, having for some time been unable to procure good flour. It was a bitter trial not to have what she seemed to crave. The next day she fell into a stupor and towards midnight her angel spirit passed away to the immortal land. A few weeks after this sad event she was replaced by another dear little daughter-- the first white child born in Douro."

"Ague did not make its appearance for some years. Between 1823 and 1825 when the Hon. Peter ROBINSON arrived with a large immigration, we had many hardships and privations to endure, partly from a want of knowledge of the proper way of managing, and partly from the heavy expense incurred on our first starting, by the exorbitant charges, and the high price of every kind of provisions and clothing, besides the great difficulty of procuring even the most necessary articles. But after the establishment of Peterborough, all these difficulties gradually disappeared, and have now nearly faded from my memory."


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