By: Watson Kirkconnell, M.A.

Municipal institutions as we now know them were set up in 1859. The first township council included the following: -- Reeve Israel Ferguson: Councilors: Archibald McFadyen, James McPherson, William McCredie and Neil Smith. The officials appointed were as follows: Clerk Angus Ray; Treasurer Donald Smith; Assessor Duncan McEachern; Collector John McLauglin; Superintendent of School Rev. John McMurchy: Auditors F. W. Stevenson and James McLaughlin. It is said that in signing his declaration every pathmaster, fence-viewer and pound-keeper down to the humblest subscribed his own signature in full, an uncommon record in these pioneer times.

At first, council meetings were itinerant. For several years the home of James McPherson was a favorite rendezvous. In 1854 business was transacted in the schoolhouse of Section Number One; and the following year a room was rented for One Pound at the home of Archibald Currie Lot 5 concession 11. In 1856 the earlier nomad system was resumed. After 1858, Woodville became the council’s regular headquarters.

The population was 641 in 1838 and 951 in 1842. By 1886 the township including Woodville totaled 3482 and by 1920 had decreased to 2485, a shrinkage similar to that in the sister townships. In 1880, the assessment was $22,943.60 and the taxes for all purposes $2,633.16. The assessment of Eldon and Woodville was $1,096,667 in 1886 and $2,063,697 in 1920.

The Early Kirk in Eldon

Long before any churches were built, the early settlers held religious meetings in the houses. The first to organize these conventicles was Archibald Sinclair. A man named Gunn, who came from Thorah also took an active part in these early meetings.

After a few years independent missionaries began to come in. One of these was a Rev. Mr. McPhail, of Sunderland. The first regular minister was the Rev. John McMurchy of the Established Church of Scotland. For some time he had to preach in houses and barns, until a church was built on a lot of two hundred acres near Lorneville, which was donated by Squire Cameron. McMurchy soon married and his parishioners then built a manse. He died twenty years later. By the eighties his old church stood empty, a bone of bitter contention between the Established Church and the Canada Presbyterian Church.

Village Centers of the Townships

Eldon has a number of small villages but here as in Mariposa the elements of growth have been lacking. Woodville, Lorneville, Argyle and Kirkfield are all on the railroad but all are entirely without water- power, or even sufficient water for ordinary urban needs. Bolsover, which once secured limited waterpower from the Talbot River, is four miles from the nearest railway station. Glenarm and Hartley have neither rivers nor contiguous railways. It is through no accident that the village crop has been meager.

Woodville on the Mariposa boundary and partially within that township is an incorporated village with a population of 400 in 1920, according to assessment rolls. In early days the locality was known as Irish’s Corners. The first store here was kept by John Campbell, who was known from his religious persuasion as "John the Baptist." The first blacksmith was Alexander Stewart, who lived on the Mariposa side of the boundary. Campbell’s store was later rented by two Morrison brothers who added the manufacture of potash to their activities. Artisans, other stores and the inevitable tavern grew up around the "Corners." At first the nearest Post Office, known as "Eldon" was located a mile to the east, but in the fifties it was moved west to Irish’s Corners. The name of the latter hamlet was now changed to "Woodville." John Morrison became the first postmaster in the village proper, and retained the office until his election in 1867 to the first Dominion parliament as Liberal member for North Victoria.

In 1828, a party of immigrants from Argyleshire, Scotland arrived in Toronto and were offered land at a dollar an acre by "Squire" James Cameron, who had already secured grants in Eldon. They were assured that they would find plenty of provisions at Beaverton and set out without supplies for that place by way of Yonge Street and Lake Simcoe. Beaverton they found almost destitute of stores, and here they had to live for several days on maple sugar. Shelter was equally lacking, and the women and children had to live in flimsy tents made of blankets, while the men, under the guidance of Kenneth Campbell went deeper into the forest to locate their lots and build log shacks. In August, the families were transferred to "Big Peter" Cameron’s settlement, where they found some small new potatoes. Finally, in early autumn, flour and pork were brought in from Newmarket at considerable expense, and the new settlers moved in upon their respective holdings. The members of th e contingent were two families of McAlpines, the McIntyres, Campbells and McCorqudales and one McFadyen, who had come from Mull by way of Glengarry.

At first they suffered great privations from the scarcity of food. Their flour had to be carried on a man’s back from Sunderland, fifteen miles away, where a settler named McFadyen had a small mill. Sometimes thy poured lye on their corn and wheat to soften it and take off the hard shell. Fathers and mothers would chew grain into a pulp and then give it, like parent robins, to their children, John McAlpine brought in the first cow during the winter, and others followed next year. In the spring, leeks were gathered in the woods and used in soup.

In 1829, a man named Calder put up a mill at Beaverton, which according to one early customer, "cracked corn and squeezed wheat." There was no way of cleaning the wheat of the smut, which grew thick upon it on these new farms, and the bread made was quite black, though not unpalatable.

In 1829 and 1830, a few more settlers entered Eldon. These were the Fergusons, Finns, McEacherns, Rosses, Smiths and others. Then in 1831-33, a great many pensioners took up land in the township and moved in. Amongst those in the south were the Ashmans, Bradys, Birminghams, Driscolls, Dunns, Keefes, Lyons, Makins, Malones, McCullas, McDonoughs, McGuires, McIntyres, Pettys, Rileys, Thornburys, Thorntons and Uncles. Further north were the Campbells, McKenzies, McCredies, McReas, Merrys, and Munros. Alexander Munro was the first settler on the site of Kirkfield.

A little later, several families who had migrated from the island of Islay, Scotland, to North Carolina, removed in a body to Canada and settled in Thorah and Eldon. Among those locating in Eldon were the McLaughlins and Angus Ray, who later became the first township clerk.

The early settlers, as we have seen, were predominantly Scotch. Later immigrations of English and Irish have tended to disrupt that homogeneity, yet, the Scotch have still a clear plurality over all others. The census of 1911 gave the following figures: - Scotch 1360, English 613; Irish 517. Their denominational groupings were as follows: - Presbyterians 1629; Methodists 645; Roman Catholics 270; Anglicans 108.

Roads and Railroads

The earliest roads were blazed trails and wagon tracks that wriggled towards their destination along the higher ground. It took a whole day to drive with an ox-cart from Lorneville to Beaverton, where today a railway train covers the intervening eight miles in a few minutes. At first, supplies were secured from Cameron’s store in Beaverton, but preferences soon turned to Purdy’s Mills, now Lindsay, which began to develop about 1830. The main route lay east to Cambray and then south to the old Fenelon Road. The village of Cambray sprang into existence chiefly through its being an eligible, though diminutive, mill-site on the main highway from Eldon to Lindsay.

The first railway in Eldon came in 1871, when the line from Port Hope, already completed to Lindsay in 1857, was carried through to Beaverton. This road cut across the southwest corner of Eldon, passing about two miles north of Woodville. In the following year another line, the Toronto and Nipissing, running from Toronto to Coboconk, in Bexley, passed through Eldon, entering just west of Woodville, passing north through the limestone escarpment, by way of an old river valley opening at Argyle and leaving the township at the northeast corner. Eldon gave this latter railway a bonus of $44,000. The gift was beyond municipal means, yet, the development brought about by the new facilities for transportation ultimately justified the gratuity. A third railway, the Canadian Pacific grain line from Port McNicholl, on Georgian bay to Bethany Junction, in Durham County, was built through Eldon in 1912. Entering from the west on Lot 17, Concession I, it parallels the great escarpment as far e ast as Balsam Lake Station, then slips south through another valley gap in the cliff and passes out into Mariposa southwest of Hartley.

Record of Municipal Institutions

In the early days Mariposa and Eldon were linked together as a single magisterial and militia division, but each held separate township meetings. In Eldon, these meetings were called once a year by Henry Ewing, who had been made a magistrate. The first taxes were collected by John McAlpine, and amounted to thirty dollars. The first assessors were Colin Campbell and Donald Gunn. Alexander Campbell represented Eldon on the first council of the Colborne District, which gathered in Peterboro in 1842.

In 1878, Woodville was made a police village, administered by elective commissioners. The commissioners in 1881 were Peter McSweyn, William White and Roderick Campbell. Its chief industries at this time were a gristmill, two foundries, a cheese factory, a planing mill, a sash and door factory. Steam was the sole motive power. The village had also a Town Hall, a lock-up, three hotels and a number of stores and mechanics shops. A weekly paper, the Woodville Advocate," which is still active, had been established in August 1877 by Messrs. Henderson and Cave. There were also two churches, a frame Methodist church, accommodating 250 and a brick Presbyterian Church, built for $12,000 in 1877, with a seating capacity of one thousand. Woodville reached its peal of population at 556 in 1886, and has since declined.

Lorneville is a village of 100 persons at the junction of the old Midland and Toronto and Nipissing railways, two miles north of Woodville. It owes its existence to the railroad and some of its population consists of railway men and heir families. As there have been no other stimuli to growth the village has remained static for half a century. A recent directory lists a general store, a hotel, two masons, and a buttermaker. The name is doubtless a compliment to the Marquis of Lorne, son of the 8th Duke of Argyll, who was governor-general of Canada from 1878 to 1883.

Argyle is on the Grand Trunk railway about two miles north of Lorneville, its name commemorates the Scottish shire from which more than any other, the pioneers of Eldon came. An earlier appellation was "Scotsville." The present population is somewhat less than fifty. The business roster comprises a general store, a blacksmith and two carpenters.

Bolsover is a hamlet of about one hundred inhabitants situated on the Talbot River some four miles west of the railway. The village was founded by D. McRae, M.P. who built mills here in the fifties. In 1881, it had a grist mill, a sawmill, a carding-mill and a ?????? mill as well as several taverns, (including the famous hostel of "Biddy Young"), stores and a Presbyterian church. The decline of lumbering and the aloofness of the railroad have, however, brought about its speedy decline, and its former industries have passed into oblivion.

Kirkfield has a population of about three hundred. It lies in a valley, at the intersection of the Portage Road with the main road from Palestine to Carden. A station on the Coboconk division of the G.T.R. is situated a little further to the north. Alexander Munro was the first settler on the village site but it is to John McKenzies and his sons William, Alexander, Ewen, Duncan and John that chief credit for material progress is due. A generation ago the McKenzies operated flour mills, Woolen mills, and a sash, door and planing mill. All these plants were dependent on steam power. The McKenzie brothers were also large grain buyers and dealers in telegraph poles, posts, and railroad ties. William McKenzie later Sir William of Canadian Northern fame, was one of these brothers and served his apprenticeship in railroad contracting on the local construction work on the Toronto and Nipissing Railway.

Other businesses in the eighties were the general stores of A.C. Mackenzie, M. Perry, J.W. Shields, and M. O’Neil, the waggon shops of Alex Munro and Wm. King, the tinshop of N. Emsuler and the butcher shop of Robert Boynton, the smithy of Alexander Fraser and the hotels of A. Gusty and Hector Campbell.

The disappearance of the northern forests and the consequent lack of cheap fuel made steam-power mills impracticable and these industries in Kirkfield faded away. A business directory of recent date gives the following analysis of the village as it now remains: -Two stone-crushers, five carpenters, three merchants, two butchers, two bankers, one tailor, one harnessmaker, one blacksmith, one painter, one barber, one grain-buyer, one veterinary surgeon, one doctor and one druggist.

Hartley is an Irish Methodist hamlet in the southeast corner of Eldon and Glenarm, or "Hardscrabble," a Scotch Presbyterian village half way up the Fenelon boundary. Neither has ever exceeded fifty in population.

Eldon Township has thus no fewer than seven villages, but in every case factors necessary for expansion have been lacking. The advent of Hydro-Electric power to centres like Woodville will doubtless suggest possibilities, but the cost of power transmission, the freightage to markets beyond a limited neighborhood, the competition of immense urban corporations, and our unfavorable banking system, will all render problematical any great industrial development. Whether such growth is always desirable is a matter for debate. It is sufficient here to note that the development of human communities depends far less on chance or local enthusiasm, than on definite scientific laws.

Next - History of the County of Victoria Part 11

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