Home-made Fireworks Used in Celebration at Cobourg

Bridging Rice Lake and the Construction of the Cobourg-Peterboro’ Railway

Pioneer Work in Otonabee Township

Illuminations were not spared in Cobourg on that notable day in the history of the Empire, when our late beloved Queen, “Victoria the Good,” was crowned. The town was brilliantly lighted especially the houses on King Street. There was no gas or electric lights in those days, but each window held as many lighted candles as there were panes of glass, which meant not a few, owing to the smallness of the panes. Out on the streets men and boys paraded up and down, setting off homemade fireworks, the “boughten” kind being considered too expensive. These fireworks were manufactured by making fireballs about four inches in diameter, and soaking them in turpentine. They were then stuck on long poles before being ignited. A large bonfire was built in an open space. An Irish piper played, and some of the most festively inclined danced around the bonfire. It is further told that a local brewer contributed a barrel of beer to treat the crowd. The head of the barrel was broken in and the beverage dealt out in tin cups.

The Old Stage Coach

Mrs. William Weller for many years carried Her Majesty’s mail by means of passenger coaches between Hamilton and Montreal, continuing the service until the Grand Trunk Railway was completed and opened for traffic in 1856. Some idea of the magnitude of such an undertaking as Mr. Weller assumed may be gathered when it is known that he had to keep up stables and relays of horses every ten miles over the entire route.

It may be a matter of surprise to many that what was afterwards the University town of Cobourg went for some years by the homely name of “Hardscrabble.” The origin of this name is said to have arisen from a contest among three early settlers to see which could erect his log cabin in the shortest length of time. Great interest was taken in the building race carried on upon that eventful day, long past, by these three families.

60 Cents for a Letter to London

A Mr. Matthews, whose father was an officer in the British army, in telling of the early history of this district, said that the latter came out to Canada with a large quantity of merchandise, which he readily disposed of in Montreal. He came on west, and reached Cobourg on the day this eventful building contest took place. He carried a letter of introduction to Captain Rubidge, who was doing pioneer work in what is now Otonabee Township. He remained for some time and invested in some land, but later returned to London, where he secured a position.

Deciding not to return to Canada he wrote to Lawyer Bethune of Cobourg advising him to sell his property. The lawyer’s reply was carried to London by Archdeacon, afterwards to Bishop Bethune of Toronto in order to save postage, which in those days was as high as sixty cents. Mr. Bethune proffered this advice in the letter: “Surely you would not remain in murky England after tasting the bright, bracing air of Canada.” Mr. Matthews returned to Cobourg, where he settled, but whether it was the bracing air that enticed him, or the charm of a young lady who later became his wife, will never be known at this date.

Cobourg’s First Bank

A retired factor of the Hudson Bay Company opened the first bank in Cobourg some time in the early thirties. A notable advantage to the adjacent farming community in connection with this was that Squire Henry, the banker, introduced the practice of paying cash for wheat, which proved a great drawing card in bringing the trade of farmers for miles around to the town, as hitherto this had not been done. The teller in this bank was not protected by an iron cage, and history does not record any attempted robbery.

Tall Teacher; Low Room

A veteran of the war of 1812, Captain Ward, who fought at Lundy’s Lane, opened the first school in Cobourg. In the attic of a one and a quarter storey house he expounded the mysteries of the three R’s to an assembly of rosy-cheeked girls and boys clad in sober homespun. Now Captain Ward must have been a tall man, and the ceiling of the room was so low that he could only stand upright in the centre, so that the sides of the room became the rendezvous of the more mischievous boys of his flock who desired to put as much space as possible between themselves and the teacher’s ruler. In those days during the winter young men, who could not be spared from farm work during the time of seeding and harvest would attend school for a few months, and many a “scrap” resulted between some of the incorrigibles and the teacher.

Old-Time Looms

The wool for the homespun, which was the common attire of men and boys, was just made into rolls at a carding mill, then spun into yarn in the home and the yarn woven on homemade looms. The cloth was then taken to the mills, where it was “pulled, sheared and pressed.” Unless the good lady of the house was especially capable of a tailoress, as many were, the services of a travelling tailor were secured. He measured the family for suits and made the clothes for the farmer and his sons.

At that time a farmer would take two calfskins to a tannery. The tanner kept one and returned the other made into leather. An itinerant shoemaker was the next artisan called in, who performed the useful service of making shoes for the family. The soles of the shoes were secured by wooden pegs, manufactured by the shoemaker in many instances.

Bridging Rice Lake

Among the great engineering feats of the present day, none or more gigantic than that undertaken in bridging Rice Lake. From the village of Harwood there runs out into the blue waters of the lake a long projecting strip of land, apparently, which is as far as Tick Island, but which in reality, extends all the way across the lake, terminating on the Hiawatha shore. This is the remains of an old bridge that formerly spanned the lake from Harwood to Hiawatha. When our Canadian network of railways was first contemplated, between 1840 and 1850, and the Cobourg-Peterborough Railway advocated, it was necessary to span Rice Lake at some point, and the spot chosen was, seemingly, about the widest point of crossing. But our sturdy forefathers laughed at difficulties and heroically began the work. For several years boats and scows were kept busy at the chosen point for crossing, depositing and sinking huge spiles, doing what is known as the cradle-work. Getting the foundation established on the bottom of the lake was no easy task, as at some places the water is said to have been so deep that it was almost impossible to proceed. When the spiles were deposited they were filled with stones and debris and the work was carried faithfully on until a three-mile stretch of railroad appeared above the surface of the lake, connecting Harwood, then a thriving place, and the scene of much lumbering activities, with the quaint Indian village of Hiawatha. Swing bridges were stationed at each end of the bridge so as not to interfere with the steamboat traffic up and down the lake.

The Prince of Wales Was There

Old residents, who have seen the old bridge across the lake in use, say that the trip across the three-mile stretch of quivering piles was something of an adventure, and the old bridge grew so unsteady beneath her heavy loads that when the late King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, made a visit to Harwood, going out from Cobourg, it was not considered advisable to risk the Princes life upon the unsteady old bridge. The Prince, accordingly, made the trip across the lake in a steamer and took the train again at Hiawatha.

After being fro a few years in operation the Cobourg-Peterborough line was discarded, and the old bridge gradually fell apart and was washed over by the waters of the lake, thus practically wiping out one of the greatest engineering feats of the past century.

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