History of Victoria County - Part 11


(By Watson Kirkconnell, M.A.)

Fenelon Township reminds us, by it’s name of Francis Fenelon, the famous seventeenth-century Archbishop of Combral; France. Experts assure us, however, that the township was named after the Archbishop’s elder brother, who was a Sulpiean missionary and explorer in Canada and founded a mission on the day of Quinte in 1668.

The superficial area of the municipality is about 108 square miles, but which of this is made up of water surfaces of three lakes, Sturgeon, Cameron and Balsam. Sturgeon Lake is shaped roughly like a bent human arm, with the elbow pointing southwards towards, Ops, the long fore-arm stretching eastward through Verulam towards Bobcaygeon, and the shorter upper arm extending north through the eastern concessions of Fenelon towards Fenelon Falls. The Scugog River flows in at the point of the elbow, and is joined near its debouchure by McLaren’s Creek, a smaller stream that flows eastward through South Fenelon. Cameron Lake lies a mile north of Sturgeon Lake and twenty-three feet above it. It is shaped somewhat like a potato four miles from north to south and two from east to west. It is drained into Sturgeon Lake by the Fenelon River and is reinforced at its northwest end by the united waters of the Balsam and Burnt rivers. The former flows from Balsam Lake a mile to the west and the latter from far to the north and northeast in Haliburton County. The two rivers mingle their waters just before entering Cameron Lake. Balsam Lake may be compared to a wolf’s head, with the long muzzle pointing southward as South Bay, two long ears pricked up into Northwest Bay and the, Gull River estuary, and the neck half represented by West Bay. It is a large lake and only the wolf’s snout projects down into Fenelon township.

It is of interest to note that there are three small bodies of water each known as "Goose Lake," at or near the south west and north boundaries of Fenelon represectively. The first is near the mouth of McLaren’s Creek and about five miles north of Lindsay. This shallow pool was originally marsh-land but has been made partially navigable by the building of a dam at Bobcaygeon. The second Goose Lake lies two miles north-northwest of Cambray village in the deep moraine-blocked valley of an ancient preglacial river. The third is just north of the mouth of Burnt River, and is a small tract of flooded marsh.

The land surface of Fenelon is more uneven than in Ops and becomes increasingly hilly towards the north. The chief elevations are kames and eskars of morainie sand. The soil is best in the southeast and the whole southern half of the township is of fair average value. Towards the north, however, steepening hills and swampy depressions are more discouraging to agriculture.


Fenelon was surveyed about 1822 but general immigration did not commence until more than ten years later.

The earliest settler was Angus McLaren, who, many years before any formal locations were made, squatted just north of the creek which still bears his name. McLaren had a wife and four daughters and ultimately held some 1400 acres in this neighborhood. Much later than McLaren but still early in the settlement of the southern borders were the Edwards, Waldons and Tompkins. The heyday of McLaren’s Creek was in 1852 when Squire Kempt, of Lindsay, brought in a contingent of French-Canadian lumbermen and cleared out the stream and its banks so that the largest squared timber could be brought out and floated down the Trent System to the St. Lawrence and Quebec.

Most of the early settlers in Fenelon came in by way of Peterbourough, thence six miles by trail to Bridgenorth, on Chemong Lake, and the rest of the way by towboat or canoe across Chemong, Pigeon and Sturgeon Lakes.

About 1833 John Langton settled on the east shore of the north arm of Sturgeon Lake on the modern Graham farm. Langton was an MA of Cambridge University and a man of exceptional ability. It is therefore not surprising that he became District Councillor for Fenelon in 1842, Warden of Colborne District in 1847, member of parliament for Peterborough County in 1851 and Auditor General of Canada in 1855.

In the summer of 1834, William Jordan, with his mother, wife, and four children, became Langton’s neighbors in Fenelon township. Magistrate George A. Jordan of Minden is a grandson of this William Jordan. Other early settlers in this neighborhood were James Cook, John D. Naylor and G. Powell. Most of the pioneers in the Sturgeon Lake area were Protestant Irish, who had sought Canada after the passing of the Catholic Emancipation Bill in the Old Land. Hugh Crawford, William and Henry Downer, Joseph and Samuel McGee, Henry Perdue, and John Daniel were prominent Irish farmers in Fenelon a half century ago.

In the centre of the township, however, a different nationality was taking possession. About 1840, Isaac G. Moynes and Thos. Moynes struck east from the Scotch settlements in Eldon into the dense swamps and woods of Fenelon. Here, near Lot 29, Concession V, they built their log cabin. Other Scotchmen, the Selbys, Browns, Gilchrists, Murchisons, McNevins, and others, soon followed, and the central and western parts of Fenelon are dominated by Scotch Presbyterians to this day.

Later than Scotch and Irish, and much more numerous than either, came an immigration of English Nonconformists, who located chiefly in the neighborhood of Fenelon Falls.

The census for 1911 gives the following analysis of the township:--English, 1077; Irish 592; Scotch 528; Dutch and German, 55; all others, 52. The religious groupings were:--Methodists, 1,185; Presbyterians, 533; Anglicans, 214; Baptists, 106; Roman Catholics 74; Mormons, 72; all others, 121. The census did not state whether the seventy-one Mormons constituted a single household.

The land around Cameron Lake was granted in early times to John Cameron, a Toronto banker and Family Compact politician. From this circumstance the lake derives it’s present name. The actual pioneers, however, to whom the credit is due for the clearing and settlement of this locality were John Bellsford, John McIntyre, Hamilton and Samuel Boyce, James Humphrey, and Robert Dennistoun, who became County Judge of Peterborough in 1868.


At the southwest corner of Cameron Lake its waters issued in a considerable river, thundered down twenty-three feet over a limestone cliff, and then boiled and spumed through a rocky gorge to Sturgeon Lake, half a mile distant. The conditions of the day made the banks of this cataract an inevitable mill site and ultimately a village site, known first as "Cameron’s Falls," and later as "Fenelon Falls."

In 1841 Messrs, Wallis and Jamison secured the land around the falls from Lord Montcastle, its previous owner, and built a grist mill on the left bank almost at the modern road-bridge. The stones for this mill were brought all the way from Toronto on sleighs in the wintertime.

In 1851, this first establishment was demolished and separate grist and sawmills were built on the same site. In 1851 t he first steamboat of the Kawartha lakes, the "Woodman" of Port Perry, arrived in Fenelon Falls on her maiden trip. The following year, James Wallis had the "Ogemah" built at Fenelon Falls in order to carry his lumber to Port Perry, whence it was teamed to Port Whitby. At the launching of the "Ogemah" a great celebration was held and a free banquet furnished at Wallis’s expense to the population of the immediate neighborhood.

This feast was perhaps a minor undertaking, yet a real village was beginning to take form on the east bank of the river. The growth of the gristing and lumbering business called for more hands. The first blacksmith, Jeremiah Twomey, who was later a prominent citizen and a considerable landlord, arrived about 1850. In that year James Wallis opened up a store and a man named Comstock built a log tavern on the site of the later McArthur House near the modern locks. There was also a post office, in charge of William Powles, and an Anglican church and parsonage.

Next - History of the County of Victoria Part 12

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