Hope Township History -- Part I

 Indian Settlement and Origins of Township:

In Hope Township, the town of Port Hope, has borne that name for more than half a century. Its history extends over a period of about ninety years. A trading post flourished there at least as long ago as 1778, at which time the site was occupied by a small Indian village. The name of the village, which consisted of a number of wigwams inhabited by Mississauga Indians, was Cochingomink. The first white man who left an enduring monument of his presence there was one, Peter SMITH, a trader who dwelt in a log hut on the bank of the creek which empties into Lake Ontario at this point. The hut stood on the east side of the creek, about two hundred yards from the latter's mouth, and disappeared before the advent of the present century. Peter SMITH in his day achieved some fame throughout this region as a hunter and trapper, but his ostensible calling was that of a fur trader. He enjoyed an enviable reputation among the Indians for truthfulness and fair dealing, and was resorted to by them from far distant points. For some time the Indians of the neighborhood would sell their furs to no one else along the entire north shore of the lake. Consequently he enjoyed a monopoly of the trade. The creek that flowed past his door was named after him, and the village itself came in process of time, to be called, Smith's Creek. The date of Peter SMITH's arrival at Cochingomink cannot definitely be ascertained, but a man named HERCHIMER, who took possession of the hut and carried on the fur trade established by his predecessor, succeeded him about 1790. Neither of these traders, however, can in strictness be called permanent settlers. The first white man who took up his abode on the site of Port Hope, with a view to permanent residence there, was a Mr. Myndert HARRIS, a U.E.Loyalist, who removed thither from Port Royal [now called Annapolis], in Nova Scotia, in the year 1792. He made the journey from Nova Scotia to Upper Canada through the State of New York, and upon his arrival at Newark [Niagara] he was entertained for some days by Governor Simcoe, who had not then removed to Little York. By the Governor's advice, Mr. HARRIS determined to settle at Smith's Creek, whither he was dispatched in a gunboat commanded by Capt. Jonathan WALTON, a gentleman whose name is familiar to all old residents of Port Hope. His surname is perpetuated in the designation of the principal street of the place. The boat reached its destination on the 8th day of June and Mr. HARRIS and his family at once disembarked. They were not without certain misgivings as to the manner of their reception by the Indians. These misgivings proved to be not altogether fanciful. The village then contained about 200 Indians and only one white man, Mr. HERCHIMER already mentioned. The former regarded the fresh arrivals as "Yankee intruders" and was by no means disposed to welcome them with open arms. It required all the eloquence of HERCHIMER and Capt. WALTON to convince the Indians that the emigrants were not Yankees, but loyal subjects of the Great Father -- The King of England. The assurances of those gentlemen finally prevailed and the newcomers were permitted to settle in the village without molestation. Before the setting in of winter, several other families arrived from Nova Scotia and elsewhere. The smoke of half a dozen log cabins mingled with the curling wreaths that ascended from the wigwams of the Mississagas. The aborigines were upon the whole not unfriendly and the whites set themselves diligently to work to clear the land. The latter accommodated themselves to circumstances and though they did not regard the immediate proximity of a numerous body of Indians in the light of an advantage, they were free from many of the hindrance incidental to pioneer life in other parts of the Province.

The situation of the village, clustered at the foot of the gently sloping hills, was charming. The woods abounded with deer, rabbits, partridge, pigeons and other varieties of choice game, while the sparkling stream, which wound its devious course through their midst, was full almost to overflowing with salmon and speckled trout. The greatest difficulty was to obtain flour, but even in this respect, the settlers of Smith's Creek were privileged far beyond many primitive communities in Upper Canada. The lake was at their door and a boat enabled them to reach Kingston. --the site of the nearest gristmill--by water. The erection in 1794 of a gristmill at Belleville by a Mr. MEYERS, shortened the distance to be traversed by about forty miles. By this time the land in and the adjoining the village of Smith's Creek had been partially cleared and had begun to produce grain and as the settlers had increased in number, the demand for a local gristmill became imperative. In 1795 an attempt was made to construct one on the side of what has since been called Mill Street, but for some reason the attempt did not succeed and it was not until three years afterwards that a mill was completed. On the 26th of August 1797, a Crown Patent of the land on which the present town of Port Hope stands was granted to Elias SMITH and Jonathan WALTON, subject to the condition that the patentees should, with all reasonable diligence erect a gristmill and a sawmill on the site. The condition was fulfilled and not long afterwards both mills were in full operation. Salter's Flouring Mill on the west side of Mill Street on the site now occupied the gristmill then erected. The sawmill was on the east side of the creek, not far from its confluence with the lake. About the same time Messrs. Smith and Walton laid out a village plot which continued to be held by them under their patent until the 25th of July 1815, when they divided the land between them, each giving a quit claim deed to the other for the portion relinquished.

Notwithstanding the beauty of its situation, the progress of Port Hope has at no time been very rapid. For more than twenty years after Mr. HARRIS's arrival, as previously mentioned, there was no regular store in the village. Supplies as a general rule were obtained by means of the different vessels arriving at the port. It was not until 1815 that anyone thought proper to open a store. In that year Mr. Jeremiah BRITTON opened out a stock of goods in a small wooden building on Walton Street. It is not generally known, even by the inhabitants that the name of Smith's Creek had by this time nearly fallen into disuse and the name of Toronto substituted therefor. The latter name prevailed for several years, and was generally employed in conveyances of the period. In 1817, however, a Post Office was established by the former name of Smith's Creek. The duality of names gave rise to some confusion and in the spring of 1819 a public meeting was held for the purpose of fixing upon a permanent and definite name for the village. The late G. S. BOLTON who was then a resident of the place, suggested the name of Port Hope. This suggestion was unanimously assented to and the place has been so designated ever since. The name was confirmed by the Legislature of Upper Canada on March the 6th 1834, when an act was passed to define the limits of the town and to establish a police therein. The population at this time was 1,517. Since the date of its incorporation the only two events of great importance in the history of Port Hope have been the construction of the Grand Trunk and the Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton [now called the Midland] Railways. By the former of these enterprises, which was opened through Port Hope in 1857, the town enjoys communication with all point's east and west. By the latter, opened to traffic in December 1857, the fine country to the north and northwest is placed in direct railway communication with Lake Ontario. Facilities are afforded for the shipment of lumber and grain, which are the chief commodities exported from this point. A great deal of money has at various times been spent on the Port Hope harbour and most of the capital required for its construction has been contributed locally. Of late years the harbour has been very must improved and it is now one of the best, if not the best on the north shore of the lake. The local shipping interest is of considerable magnitude. The other principal branches of industry consist of the manufacture of flour, woolen goods, plaster, leather, buttons, iron, engines, machinery etc. The town also maintains two breweries. There were formerly five or six large distilleries in operation here and the whiskey of Port Hope had a high reputation from one end of the country to the other. Its fame indeed was not confined to Canada, if the following story published in an old number of a local newspaper, to be true: A well known resident of the town during a trip to England, paid a visit to the tower of London. Upon entering his name and place of abode in a registry book kept for the purpose, he was at once accosted by the venerable beef-eater acting as a cicerone on the occasion, who explained: "Do you really come from Port Hope in Upper Canada? I know that place well by reputation, and have often drank the famous whiskey made there." This notoriety, however has long since passed away, and the places where the numerous distilleries flourished now know them no more. For years past, all the liquor consumed in Port Hope has been imported from other towns. The commercial part of the town lies in a pleasant valley, situated between two eminencies, which from an early period, have been colloquially known as English Town and Protestant Hill. The former name is applied to the westward eminence, the latter to the one on the east.

 The Town View--1878

The principal street is called Walton Street, in honor of Capt. Jonathan WALTON, one of the original patentees of the village plot. It run east and west through the center of the town and nearly all the retail stores are situated upon it. A few, however are to be found on John Street, which begins at a point near the railway station and terminates at Walton Street. An eminence to the north-east is known as Ward's Hill, upon which is the fine building of Trinity College School, the situation of which is just without the corporate limits of the town.

The Town Hall and Market House, a massive red brick building, surmounted by a bell tower and clock, is situated at the intersection of Dorset and Queen Streets. The town also contains a large battalion drill shed, built in 1867 at a cost of $2,200. On Mill Street a few yards east of Walton Street is the Registry Office of East Durham. Gull Island is a small island in the lake about three miles distant from the town, upon which is erected a conspicuous lighthouse and is situated midway between Port Hope and Cobourg. The harbour has capacity for holding nearly the entire fleet of the lake. The viaduct of the Grand Trunk Railway, which, exclusive of Victoria Bridge in Montreal, is probably the most costly enterprise of the kind along the entire route. On what is called English Town some handsome residence are built.

The new Methodist Church is incomparably the finest ecclesiastical edifice in Port Hope. It is situated on the corner of Brown and South Streets, fronting on the latter. It was opened in March 1876 and its entire cost was not much under $50.000. It has seating capacity for 1,500 people. Both externally and internally it reflects credit upon the taste and enterprise of the body who worship within its walls. The smaller church edifice situated further down the slope of the hill is the Baptist church, a neat and unpretending structure of white brick. The town also contains six other churches, two Episcopalian, two Presbyterian, one Catholic and one Bible Christian. Next in architectural importance, to that of the Methodists, is St Johns [Episcopal] church. The other churches are all in the same neighborhood.

More on Hope Township: Next wave of Settlers

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