Hunters, Bells, Junkins, Robertsons, Thurstons, Dunsfords, and Other Pioneers.

(By Watson Kirkconnell, M.A.)

Verulam township is named after James Walter Grimston, Earl of Verulam, (1775-1845), who was brother-in-law of Lord Liverpool, the nominal premier of England from 1812 to 1827. This Canadian municipality seems to be Grimston’s sole claim to reputation, for one seeks in vain for mention of him in any dictionary or encyclopedia.

Verulam is bounded on the south by Emily, on the east by Harvey township, (in Peterborough County), on the north by Somerville, and on the west by Fenelon. In plan, it is a rectangle, ten concessions, or eight miles, from west to east, and some thirty-two lots, or about twelve miles, from south to north. The east arm of Sturgeon Lake runs completely across the township in an east-northeasterly direction. About two-fifths of the land area lies to the south of the lake and the remainder to the north. On the eastern boundary, Sturgeon Lake finds an outlet into Pigeon Lake by two channels, on either side of a considerable island. The north or main channel is known as North River, and the meagre stream to the south as "Little Bob," an abbreviation of the name Bobcaygeon, itself a corruption of the Indian title for the "shallow rapids" in North River. The name Bobcaygeon is now applied to the incorporated village which has been built partly on the island and partly o n the mainland to the north. About the centre of the southern boundary is Emily Lake, a mile and a half in length and like a human stomach in outline. It is fed by Emily Creek, which flows down from Emily township through a wide, steep valley, and is drained into Sturgeon Lake by the same stream. Other creeks flow into Sturgeon Lake from the north, and two small streams, divided from the others by a watershed, actually run north-west into the Fenelon and Burnt rivers respectively.

Most of the township north of Sturgeon Lake is broken and rocky with an interspersion of shallow swamps. The area south of the lake is considered preferable for farming but there is much drowned land along Emily Creek and a great cranberry marsh extending from Emily Lake eastward to Pigeon Lake. The timber in early times was chiefly pine, with an intermixture of hardwood.

Survey by John Houston in 1831

The government survey of Verulam was conducted by John Houston and completed by 1831. The township was placed on the market in 1832 but so much of it was seized upon by speculators that settlement was retarded for many years.

Long before the government survey, an Indian trader named Billy McKeough had located on the site of Bobcaygeon village to do business with the Mississaga Indians of the neighbour-hood. The Smiths of Port Hope also traded with the Indians hereabouts, and tradition states that in buying beaver skins at ten dollars a pound they would place a hand on the scale to represent one pound and a foot to represent two pounds.

First Settlers Hunter and Bell

The first serious settlement of Verulam was in 1832 when John Hunter located in the southeast corner of the township and Wm. Bell near the Harvey boundary north of Bobcaygeon. In the fall of that year John McFeeters settled near the Emily boundary and some Frasers and McAndrews near the Fenelon boundary.

These pioneers, and almost all others who came to Verulam for the next fifty years, entered from the east. They would come on foot or by ox-cart from Peterborough northwest to Bridgenorth over six miles of miry, log-strewn trail. From Bridgenorth they would proceed by punt, scow, bateau, or canoe up Chemong or Mud Lake and through the narrows at Oak Orchard into Pigeon Lake. At Bobcaygeon all luggage would be portaged, but before the building of a dam the scows and punts would be poled up the rapids. Sturgeon Lake was thereafter the trail for those proceeding further west.

In 1833 some Fermanagh Irishmen who had located in Harvey in the previous year moved across the boundary and took up land near William Bell. Among these were the Grays, Murdochs and McConnells. William Junkin, John Stewart, and others settled in the north centre of the township and Matthew Ingram east again from them.

Most of the land immediately adjacent to Sturgeon Lake was taken up by retired army and navy officers and by English gentry. On the north shore, the Vissirds, Wickams, and Edward Attlo entered in 1833, the Boyds in 1834 and the Dunsfords in 1837. The head of the latter household was the Rev. James H. Dunsford, (1786-1852), who was an M. A. of Oxford and rector of Treherne, Gloucestershire. In 1844 he retired from Verulam to Peterborough, where he edited the "Gazette" for several years. His sons, James W. and Hartley Dunsford, established a shingle mill on the north shore near Red Rock. The former was many times Reeve of Verulam; while the latter was appointed Registrar of Victoria County in 1856 and died in Lindsay in 1891.

Along the south shore of Sturgeon Lake were the Darcases, Frasers, Johns and Thompsons.

"Scotch" and "Military" Lines

The "Scotch Line," between Concessions V and VI, from Sturgeon Lake south to Emily Lake, was first settled in 1833. Early in that year Captain Andrew Fraser, a Scotch veteran of Waterloo, located here on the lake shore. That same autumn brought a Highland Scotch contingent of two single brothers named McDonald, a McPhail with a grown-up son and daughter, and Robert Robertson with his wife, four little children and a nurse. The men had come in first to build log shacks, leaving their families in Peterborough. When the rude dwellings were ready, they brought in the remainder of the party by ox-cart to Bridgenorth and thence through Chemong, Pigeon and Sturgeon Lakes by scow. They camped on the open shore of Sturgeon Lake on the night of October 29, 1833 and awoke next morning to find the Lake frozen solid. These three families settled on Lots 9 and 10, Concession V and Lot 10, Concession VI. Robertson and the McDonalds had brought whip-saws with them from Scotland and by rigging up sawpits, soon prepared their own boards for walls, doors, benches and bedsteads. Some years later, other Scotch families located along the same road. Thomas Robertson, one son of the pioneer Robert Robertson, still survives on the old homestead.

The road between Concessions VI and VII was settled by pensioners, the Lithgows, Murdochs, Grays, Hamiltons, and others, and was therefore called "the Military Line." The next line to the east was taken up by Irish Protestants, such as the Longs, Steeles, and Middletons.

The area to the west of Emily Creek was taken up by four families of Thurstons, three families of Bells, and the Kennedys, McCollums, Iretons, Flynns, and Sheriffs.

The first white child born in Verulam township north of Sturgeon Lake was a daughter of Matthew Ingram. The first baby south of the lake was John Robertson, a son of Robert Robertson.

The Mill Village of Bobcaygeon

The virtual founder of Bobcaygeon was Thomas Need, who in 1832 was granted 400 acres of land on and adjacent to Bobcaygeon Island as a bonus towards building a sawmill and a gristmill for the new township. The sawmill, equipped with a single upright saw, was built first and for a time all the settlers, both north and south of Sturgeon Lake, had to take their grain by a trail south from the "Scotch Line" to Wm. Cottingham’s mill at Metcalfe. Even when Need did add a pair of gristing stones to his equipment, he still went without a bolt for a long time. He opened the first store in Bobcaygeon, and was also the postmaster. The government had reserved and surveyed a townsite on the north bank of the river, but the miller, with characteristic enterprise, had streets laid out and lots platted on his island by John Read, and the village of today occupies parts of both sites. He sold out his interests in 1844 to Mossom Boyd, and left the neighbourhood, never to return.

Other citizens of Bobcaygeon in 1832 were Campbell Sawyer on the north side of the river and two men, Forrest and Long by name, who lived in log cabins at the head of the island. In 1834 John Henry Taylor and Charles Bailey came in and lived with Forrest. Soon afterward James McConnell built the first frame house of the village and opened it as a tavern. Edward Lyle opened the second store in Bobcaygeon.

Next - History of the County of Victoria Part 14

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