County of Victoria History - Part 5 THE STORY OF SOUTH VICTORIA


The six townships, Emily, Ops, Mariposa, Verulam, Fenelon, and Eldon, which lie in a double tier in the southern half of Victoria County, have a history somewhat different from that of the seven townships of the north. Not only were they opened up a generation earlier, but the natural conditions of land and soil have given them a past development and a future destiny dissimilar to that of Bexley, Somerville, Laxton, Carden, Digby, Dalton and Longford. The highest usefulness of the former will always be found in agriculture; the latter will serve coming generations best as a land of park and forest.

The story of the Southern Townships tells of steady progress from pioneer bardships through toil to prosperity. A general account of the changing social and economic life of the century has already been given in Article Number One. In passing now to a more intimate account of the early settlements in each township, we shall place against that background the actual men and women, still cherished in local memory, who bore the brunt of pioneer stress and sacrifice.


Emily Township is named after Emily Charlotte, daughter of Lord George Lennox and sister of the fourth Duke of Richmond, Governor-General of Canada from 1817 to 1819.

The township is in the southeast corner of the county. It is approximately square and has an area of about one hundred square miles. In the south it is broken by low hills but becomes merely rolling in passing to the north. Pigeon Creek enters at the southwest corner and crosses diagonally towards the northeast, where it widens into Pigeon Lake. Chemong Lake is on the eastern boundary and the much smaller Emily Lake on the north. The basic subsoil is made up of glacial clays and is commendably fertile.

In 1819, some slashing was done on Lot 20, Concession 2, by David Best. He then went back to Cobourg, however, and before his return in 1820, Humphrey Finlay and his wife came in and located, thus earning their later title of “King and Queen of Emily.” In the autumn of 1820 Maurice Cottingham, his sons, William and Samuel, and one James Laidley, pushed in further through the pathless forest to Pigeon Creek, which they bridged by felling two oak trees into it from opposite banks. Beside the stream, about where Omemee now stands, they did a little underbrushing and clearing, but retreated to Cavan for the winter.

In March, 1821, the township was formally opened for sale and attached to Durham County, the western half of the Newcastle District. (See Annual Report, Ontario Bureau of Archives, 1913). Samuel Cottingham and James Laidley now returned in the early spring and built a log cabin, twelve feet by fourteen, in the deep snow. William Cottingham and his father soon joined them. Clearing prospered, and in the early summer they planted corn, potatoes and wheat.

That same year a party of four hundred Protestant Irish from the County of Fermanagh set sail for Canada and settled in a body in South Emily and in Cavan Township, Durham County, which lies directly to the south of Emily. From this contingent come the modern family names of Adams, Allen, Armstrong, Balfour, Beatty, Bedford, Collum, Cornell, Curry, Davidson, Dixon, English, Evans, Fee, Grandy, Hanna, Hartley, Hughes, Irons, Ivory, Jackson, Johnson, Jones, Knowlson, Lamb, Matchett, Mitchell, Moore, Morrison, McCrae, McNeely, Mc Quade, Neal, Norris, Padget, Redmond, Reel, Robinson, Sanderson, Sherwood, Stephenson, Thornton, Trotter and others.

The southern concessions were soon dotted with clearings, each with its cabin and its scanty crops among the stumps. At first, the nearest mill was at Port Hope, thirty-five miles from Omemee, but a man namedJohn Deyell undertook to build one in Cavan, on the site of modern Millbrook, which is only ten miles from the Emily boundary. Here they took their sacks of grain by a narrow bush road, only one of whose drawbacks was a morass a mile wide which often threatened to engulf those who ventured through it. At last, in 1825, William Cottingham erected a rough mill building beside Pigeon Creek, and equipped it with two mill-stones, which an American named Myles had cut and dressed in the woods near by.


Practically all of the new colonists were established on their lots in the autumn of 1825. The British government now issued them free rations for eighteen months on a basis of one pound of pork and one pound of flour per man per day. Each family was also given a cow, an axe, an auger, a hand-saw, a hammer, one hundred nails, two gimlets, three hoes, a kettle, a frying-pan, an iron pot, five bushels of seed potatoes, and eight quarts of Indian corn.

A tradition has been handed down in Protestant Emily that no work was done in the northern concessions until all the government rations had been eaten up. Official statistics, however, show this bitter tale to be born of prejudice and not of truth. During the first year, though fever and ague left every family to mourn its dead and touched the living with a constant palsy, these Catholic pioneers cleared away 351 acres of pine forest, raised 22,200 bushels of Indian corn, sowed 44 bushels of fall wheat for the next season’s crop, and made 22,880 pounds of maple sugar. They also purchased on their own account 6 oxen, 10 cows, and 47 hogs. yes"> It is evident that they did not eat the bread of idleness. (See Third Report of Emigration Committee, British Parliament, 1827; page 431.)


The mill built by William Cottingham in 1825 became so important as a base of supplies during this Robinson immigration that a store was opened beside it in 1826. This was the nucleus around which the modern Omemee has grown.

In 1835 a post office was established here with Josiah L. Hughes as postmaster. yes"> This post office was called Emily, but the hamlet was known generally as Williamstown - - doubtless equivalent to “William Cottingham’s town.” In 1835, also, the first school was built on the site of the later Bradburn’s Hotel. yes"> James Laidley and Captain Hancock were amongst the earliest teachers.

The first preachers to come in had been Methodist pioneer missionaries or “saddlebags.” Prominent amongst these was the Rev. “Daddy” Sanderson, known irreverently throughout the township as “Little Peculiarities,” because his invariable reproof to those whom he heard criticizing others was: “You know we all have our little peculiarities.” yes"> In 1826 a church, used chiefly by the Methodists, was built on the northwest corner of Lot 13, Concession 2. An Anglican clergyman, the Rev. Mr. Thompson, famed locally as a classical scholar, used to come in from Cavan and hold services in private homes. In 1835 an Anglican church was built at Williamstown and the Rev. M. Street, of Cobourg, became the first resident clergyman. A Methodist church was begun in the village in 1836, but took several years to finish. The first Presbyterian minister was the Rev. Mr. Dick, who was succeeded by the Rev. Mr. John Ewing.

In the forties the name of the village was changed to Metcalf. A business directory of 1850 gives the following names: William Cottingham, miller, lumber merchant, carder and fuller; Robert Grandy, postmaster; Richard Galbraith, distiller; Willliam Kells, teamster; Christopher Knowlson, merchant; William Matchett, merchant; William. Beatty, merchant; Rev. John Burk, R. C. priest; Rev. Robert Harding, Anglican priest; Rev. John Ewing, Presbyterian minister.

The Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton Railway was built through the township in 1857, but the station was placed at an extraordinary distance from the village. yes"> This was apparently done by the railway company out of spite because the bonus paid them had fallen short of their demands.

The name of the village was now changed to Omemee, after the Omemee or “Pigeon” family of Mississaga Indians, who had long made this neighborhood their hunting-ground. The names of Pigeon Creek, Pigeon Lake, and Omemee have thus a common origin.

Incorporation as a village was secured in 1874. The first Village Council was constituted as follows: Reeve, William Cottingham; Councillors, James Ivory, William Neil, John English and Copeland Laidley. yes"> Its officials were: Clerk, Christopher Knowlson; Treasurer, William S. Cottingham; Collector, Samuel English; Assessors, J. Ritchie and W. H. Hill.

Omemee reached its maximum of prosperity and population in 1878, when it had 835 inhabitants. There were then three churches, a high school and a public school, a grist mill, two sawmills, a tannery, a foundry, a shingle mill, a cloth mill, four hotels and several stores. The “Warder,” now of Lindsay, had been published in Omemee from 1856 to 1867, but its successor in the seventies was the “Herald”, now defunct.

By 1920 the population had dwindled to 467. The industrial competition of the cities has had a blighting effect on local manufacturing and the general decline of the countyside has been reflected in village life. It still functions, however, as the natural economic focus of the township.

There has been no other considerable village in Emily. The quondam post office of King’s Wharf dates from the time of the Robinson immigration and a Roman Catholic church built soon afterwards at “Downey’s Cross” has been surrounded by the modern hamlet of Downeyville.


The municipal history of Emily may be said to commence in 1824 when Samuel Cottingham collected the first taxes, amounting to sixteen shillings, and carried them to the Treasurer of the Newcastle District at Cobourg. His commission as collector was one shilling, and his expenses in the undertaking, borne by himself, amounted to several shillings.

The Colborne District was formed in 1841 and allegiance transferred from Cobourg to Peterborough. A new system of local government was now inaugurated, whereby each township had local officials, wardens, and a clerk, a tax-collector and an assessor, and also elected representatives to a District Council at Peterborough. Josiah L. Hughes, the postmaster at Williamstown, and William Cottingham, the miller, were the first District Councillors from Emily. They, along with Dennis Houlihan, were also Township Wardens. The Township Clerk was Christopher Knowlson, the Collector, Hugh Collum, and the Assessor, James English. The chief work of the township officers lay in the extension of roads and schools. Economy seems to have been strictly observed, for the township accounts for the period 1843 – 49 shows a total expenditure of only thirty-two dollars.


The last Dominion Census, taken in 1911, shows that the racial strains and religious cleavages of early days still persist with great distinctness. The chief stocks represented in Emily, including Omemee, were as follows: Irish, 2,117; English, 353; Scotch, 114. The main denominational groupings were: Methodist, 979; Roman Catholics, 863; Anglicans, 493; Presbyterians, 242.

The total resident population of the township apart from Omemee was 2,554 in 1880. yes"> The assessment returns of 1920 show that this rural population has dropped to 1,656, a decrease of over thirty-five percent. The county assessment of Emily, however, stands now at $1,664,018, which is nominally twice that of 1880.

Next - History of the County of Victoria Part 6

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