HISTORY of the COUNTY of VICTORIA - Part 4 - The Pioneer Era, Railway Era and Modern Era Forcefully and Vividly Summarized

By Watson Kirkconnell, M.A.

The Methodists were in the majority among the population, and to this denomination no gathering could compare in importance with the camp-meeting. Each summer all the adherents in a district would gather in some dry open grove for a week of prayer, singing and exhortation. Tents and shanties would be put up and fitted with rude tables and beds. A rostrum was built for the preacher and rows of logs set out before it as seats. The light of their evening bonfires flared and flickered over a strange scene-- the preacher shouting from his platform, the penitents groaning on the seats just below him, and the elders flitting about on the watch for symptoms of contrition amongst the remainder.

Then, even as today, there were many ill-balanced intellects eager to espouse fantastic doctrines. In 1842 a New Englander named Miller began to teach that the world would come to an end on February 15, 1843. The belief spread like wildfire among the weak-minded of the United States and Canada. Farmers burnt their rail fences as firewood, confident that their usefulness would soon be past. A convert near Port Perry gave away a 100-acre farm and all his equipment. Sarah Terwilligar of Oshawa made herself wings of silk and jumped off the front porch, expecting to be caught up to heaven. But the choicest anecdote comes from Port Hoover, Concession A, Mariposa, on the north shore of Lake Scugog. Here a man named Hoover brooded over the Millerite gospel until he gradually fancied himself superhuman and above natural laws. He therefore announced, in the autumn of 1842, that he would walk over the water from Port Hoover across Lake Scugog to Caesarea, a distance of about five miles. On the day appointed, hundreds of Mariposa pioneers gathered at the Port Hoover wharf to watch the performance. Hoover seems to have had a sudden weakening of faith, for he fastened a wooden box on each foot; but as even this failed to hold him up, he waded out and hid behind one of the piles of the wharf. The urgent demands of the crowd finally brought him back to shore , where, amid the hoots of small boys, he made this explanation:-- “ My friends, a cloud has risen before my eyes and I cannot see. I cannot walk upon the water today while this cloud is before my eyes. Soon it will be announced when the cloud has been removed, and then I will do it.” But his spectators never assembled again.

An Early Tragedy in Ops Township

Doctors were almost unknown in these times, and ailments were given home-made treatment by mothers and grandmothers, who prepared their simple remedies from such plants as the spikenard, blood-root, catnip, tansy, smartweed, plaintain, burdock, mandrake, elecampane, spearmint and mullein. But in the case of serious diseases and epidemics, as when cholera swept the country in 1832 and 1834, herbal remedies were of no avail.

When death entered the pioneer home, the situation was often exceedingly tragic. Conant tells of a man who moved into Ops Township in 1838, bringing with him his wife and two very little children. His tiny cabin and clearing were five miles from the nearest neighbor, but when he fell ill the very first summer, his friends followed his blazed trail in, harvested his crop for him, and then departed. Winter came. The cabin was snowed in. Wolves howled at the very door. At last the sick man died. His wife sought desperately to give him proper sepulture but the ground was frozen hard, and to cover him only with snow would merely feed the wolves. Finally she rolled away some backlogs that were piled beside the house, dug a shallow hole with a mattock in the softer ground beneath them, hid the cherished corpse, and rolled back the logs above it to keep it inviolate. Then she walked with her children to the nearest settlement.

How Grist Mills Grew to Villages

Villages grew up in time, and were almost always the direct consequence of the establishment of a grist mill. These mill sites comprise nearly all the important centres of today. In 1825, William Cottingham built a mill on Pigeon River and so founded modern Omemee. In 1828, William Purdy dammed a rapid on the Scugog River, and established Lindsay unawares. Bobcaygeon has grown up around the mill built by Thomas Need about 1833, and Fenelon Falls owes its origin to a mill erected there in 1841 by Messrs. Wallis and Jamieson. To such grist mills came the pioneers with their crops. Saw mills were soon added, and a growing trade in lumber succeeded the earlier indiscriminate destruction of the forest. Stores, taverns, and a few artisans settled about the mill. This little hamlet was then the natural location for churches and schools as they came. And so, unconsciously, the mill grew to a hamlet, the hamlet to a village, and perhaps the village to a town. But for the first beginnings we must look back to the mill and the water-power that made it possible.

The Beginnings of the Trent Canal

The beginnings of the Trent Valley Canal date from the early days of lumbering. This project has been subjected to much criticism and not a little ridicule; but while it was a pitiful failure in accomplishment and was completed half a century too late, the original conception was masterly. The inland townships were covered with magnificent white pine. Existing transportation to the great outside markets was exceedingly expensive, and as a result the timber was cut in a deplorably wasteful manner. A canal system connecting these forest resources with the outside world would have permitted more conservative logging and milling, and far larger profits both to lumbermen and to the government, and would have made it possible to manage the lumber business for perpetuity. Local canal traffic and trans-Ontario traffic would probably have been very limited. Certainly they will be so in the future. But the advantages accruing to the lumber trade would have been a full and permanent justification of the Trent Valley project. It is part of the constant tragedy of human incapacity that the canal was finally completed at a time when the timber had practically disappeared from our borders.

Surveys for the canal were made in 1833 and 1835, and the cost estimated at $933,789. Work was commenced in 1836 but soon languished. About 1850, locks were built at Lindsay and at Bobcaygeon, and local boats, such as the Woodman of Port Perry, and the Ogemah of Fenelon Falls were built to carry lumber to Port Perry, whence it was teamed to Whitby. The Woodman was the first boat to make the trip, and old settlers have said that when her steam siren first raised the echoes on Sturgeon Lake they ran to corral their stock, mistaking it for the howl of a wolf-pack. But with the construction of the Bobcaygeon and Lindsay locks, canal-building ceased for nearly four decades.

The First One-Third Century a Pioneer Era

The ancient Greeks often treated three generations as equivalent to a century. Such a division of the centenary under discussion is strikingly apt and felicitous. The periods 1821-1853, 1854-2887, and 1888- 1921, each roughly one-third of a century, have certain aspects of development which distinguish them clearly from another.

The year ending in 1853 is distinctively the period of pioneering. The thought and activity of the county had been almost entirely taken up with the struggle against the forest. Events in the outside world had, indeed, been momentus. An oligarchy at York had almost succeeded in ruining the province in spite of its remarkable natural resources. This pernicious misrule, which had driven 80,000 Canadians across the American boundary in the years 1830-1837, was at last revealed to the British government through a pitiful little revolt. Following the investigations and report to Lord Durham, the two provinces were united in 1841 and fully responsible government granted by 1848. But by these developments the little backwoods community was not greatly touched. Its attention was concentrated on the immediate tasks of settlement.

The Establishment of Municipal Institutions

Certain changes there were, however, which did enter into the lives of all. These were the successive steps by which our present system of municipal government was worked out. Prior to the Union of 1841, all local affairs were managed, or more often mismanaged, directly from the office of the lieutenant-governor. After the Union a system of District Councils composed of elected representatives from the different municipalities, was inaugurated. Then by the Baldwin Municipal Act of 1849, the municipal organization, which still exists ( with minor modifications) was set up. Under this Act each township and incorporated village elects annually by general vote a reeve, or head, and four councillors. If there are 500 electors in the municipality, it is entitled to a reeve, a deputy-reeve, and three councillor; and for each additional 500 electors another deputy-reeve is substituted for a councillor. Towns are governed by a mayor and three councillors from each ward, elected annually. The number of councillors may be reduced by bylaw.

Towns which have not separated from the county in which they are situated also elect a reeve and deputy-reeves proportionate to the number of their electors. The county council is composed of the reeves and deputy-reeves, elected for the year by the townships, villages and towns. These representatives, at their first meeting each year, elect one of their number as Warden or head of the county council.

Each county, and each subdivision within it, is legally a corporation, with a corporate seal and certain specific powers granted it by the laws of the Province. Connected with each such corporation are a number of officials. The clerk is the most important officer and preserves all the records, keeps all the books and promulgates all bylaws of the council. The treasurer receives all funds and makes all disbursements. These two appointments are usually permanent. Other officials, more commonly chosen from year to year, are auditors, a solicitor, assessors, tax-collectors, fire wardens and firemen, fence viewers, pound-keepers, pathmasters and health officers. All the enactments of municipal corporations are executed by means of bylaws issued under seal. The powers of all such bodies are, however, strictly specified by provincial statue, and any council exceeding its powers may be restrained by the courts , if legal, appeal be made.

The Second One-third Century a Railway Era.

The second one-third of the centenary, from 1854 to 1887, is chiefly characterized in Victoria County by the building of railways and by the attainment of municipal maturity.

In 1857 a railway was completed from Port Hope through Millbrook, Bethany and Omemee to Lindsay. The track did not cross the Scugog, but followed the east bank around the present Santiagoswitch to near the Flavelle grain elevators in the East Ward. This line was known until 1869 as the Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton Railway, and was then renamed the Midland Railway. It was not, however, extended to Beaverton until 1871 and did not reach Midland until 1878. In the seventies, it crossed the Scugog by a swing bridge just at the present Carew sawmill. A branch line from Millbrook to Peterboro was completed by 1858, but it was many years before the Missing Link from Peterborough to Omemee was filled in.

The first session of the Ontario Legislature, held in 1867, granted a charter for the construction of a narrow-gauge railway from Toronto to Coboconk. This Toronto and Nipissing Railway was completed as far as Uxbridge by 1871 and in 1872 the settlers of Bexley were given a free inaugural ride on a long train of flat-cars decorated with evergreens.

In that same year the Victoria Railway was projected to run north from Lindsay and through Haliburton County. There was an understanding that the road was to pierce through the granite highlands and join the transcontinental line of the C.P.R. ( then in the making) at Mattawa. This was to make the road the main route between Northern and Southern Ontario. Some dreamers even urged that it be extended further through the Temiskaming region and on to James Bay; but the politicians of that day did not see eye to eye with these seers, and Haliburton village, 55 miles from Lindsay, has been the terminus since 1876. It is interesting to know, in this connection, that the central girder of the Distillery Creek bridge on this road, just north of Lindsay, was originally part of the Victoria Bridge, Montreal, and was sent here to form part of the new Victoria Railway. The Irondale and Bancroft branch running east from Kinmount Junction, was begun in 1886.

The year 1877 saw still another railway joining the county system. An earlier road from Whitby to Port Perry was now brought through Lindsay by way of Manilla. The Lindsay station for theVictoria Railway and the Whitby and Port Perry Railway was on Victoria Avenue, where the present G.T.R. freight sheds stand.

The next sixteen years saw the construction of a connecting link between Manilla and the Whitby line and Blackwater on the Toronto and Nipissing, the building of the present bridge over theScugog, the establishment of a through service from Port Hope to Toronto, via Lindsay and Blackwater, and the absorption of all the county railways by the Grand Trunk Railway system.

The coming of the railways made great changes in the life of the county. Their first effect was great prosperity, because of the cheap, easy access furnished to outside markets. Then came reaction and great financial depression, for almost every municipality had bonused the railway-builders far beyond its means. Eldon, Somerville and Bexley alone had bestowed $74,000 on the Toronto and Nipissing Railway. And after prodigality came bitterness and the shadow of bankruptcy. However, the lean years did not consume the countryside indefinitely, and the natural wealth of the county gradually asserted itself through the fuller development made possible by the new channels of import and export. Lindsay and the villages served by rail now entered on a period of industrial development. The farm fields in the Southern Townships grew wider and more golden, and the pioneers who once jolted to a backwoods mill with a few sacks for gristing now shipped their thousands of bushels of grain by rail.

The Trent Canal had not shown like progress. For many years the original canal scheme was abandoned and in 1855 all existing works were handed over to a corporation, the Trent Slide Committee, who kept timber slides in repair and exacted tolls from the lumbermen. In 1870 a great flood destroyed much of the slide system and parts of it were abandoned. The largest construction work of the period was the building of the locks at Fenelon Falls in 1886.

The Development of the Northern Townships

Consequent on the development of rail and water facilities came the opening up of the Northern Townships. There had been a few earlier attempts to colonize Somerville and Bexley but the poverty of the soil and the remoteness of markets had kept settlement within narrow limits. Now came a shortcut to outside markets and a new outburst of activity. The Northern Townships were covered with magnificent forests of pine, and lumbering was soon undertaken on a large scale. The first timber license in Somerville was issued in the season of 1863-64 to one Samuel Dickson. By 1872, the mills at Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon alone had an annual output of twenty-eight million feet of pine. The lumberman’s axe echoed through the forests from the Kawartha Lakes north to Laxton and Longford and far beyond. And while this industry flourished and provided a local market for farm produce in summer and employment in the bush in the winter, the settlers who spread over this half-sterile country were able to make a living.

Victoria County Reaches Maturity in 1861

The same period, the second one-third of the centenary, witnesses the municipal coming of age of the county. In 1850, the Colborne District, of which its townships had for a decade formed a part, was given the new title of Peterborough County. In 1854 this same municipality became the United Counties of Peterborough and Victoria but Peterborough was the dominant partner. The wardens from 1841 to 1860 were as follows: 1842-46 G. A. Hill; 1847-50, John Langton of Fenelon Township; 1851, Thomas Short; 1852-58, William Cottingham, of Emily Township; 1859, W.S. Conger; 1860, Wm. Lang.

At last , in 1861, Victoria was granted provisional independence. William Cottingham, the founder of Omemee, was the Provisional Warden. Lindsay was chosen as the prospective county town; the present Court House Square in Lindsay was bought; and a start was made at the Court House and County Gaol. Neil McDougall, Reeve of Eldon, was the Provisional Warden in 1862.

In 1863 the County buildings were completed. The cost, including that of the Registry Office, added in 1874, was about $59,000 . The County was now accorded all the rights and privileges of an independent corporation, and the council held its inaugural meeting with great decorum in the new council chamber.

The first Warden of the independent county was Patrick McHugh, Reeve of Ops. His successors since that time have been as follows: 1866-68, 1870-72, John Staples, Reeve of Bexley; 1869, 1874, 1876, John Fell, Reeve of Somerville; 1873, John D. Naylor, Reeve of Fenelon ; 1875, Robt. E. Perry, Reeve of Bracebridge; 1877-78, Wm. L. Russell, Reeve of Lindsay; 1879, Chas. Fairbairn, Reeve of Verulam; 1880, Dr. Geo. E. Norris, Reeve of Omemee; 1881, Wm. Parkinson, Reeve of Mariposa; 1882, Jacob W. Dill, Reeve of Bracebridge; 1853,1886, Nelson Heaslip, Reeve of Bexley; 1884, Thos. Smithson, Reeve of Fenelon; 1885 W.H. Brown, Reeve of McLean and Ridout; 1887, E.D. MacEachern, Reeve of Eldon; 1888, John Bailey, Reeve of Laxton; 1889, Dr. V.C. Cornwall, Reeve of Omemee; 1890, Thos. H. McQuade, Reeve of Emily; 1891, 1905, Adam E. Stuback, Reeve of Eldon; 1892, Dr. E. A. Vrooman, Reeve of Mariposa; 1893, Eustace H. Hopkins, Reeve of Ops; 1894, Elijah Bottum, Reeve of Bobcaygeon; John Chambers, Reeve of Fenelon ; 1896, Wm. C. Switzer, Reeve of Emily; 1897, Dr. John W. Wood, 6th division; 1898, John Lithgow, 4th division; 1903, John Bailey, 5th division; 1904, Wm. Channon, 1st division; 1906, Frederick Shaver, 1st division; 1907 Taylor Parkin, Reeve of Fenelon; 1908, Dr. Robt. Mason, Reeve of Fenelon Falls; 1909, Geo. A Jordan, Reeve of Lindsay; 1910, Emerson Tiers, Reeve of Verulam; 1911, Robt. A Callan, Reeve of Somerville; 1912, James Steele, Reeve of Eldon; 1913, A.E. Bottum, Reeve of Bobcaygeon; 1914, Alfred E. Varcoe, Reeve of Mariposa; 1915, Robt. J. Mulligan, Reeve of Omemee; 1916, ,b>Jas. Robertson, Reeve of Ops; 1917, Alfred E. Tiers, Reeve of Fenelon Falls; 1918 Richard Howkins, Reeve of Eldon; 1919, Alex. Morrison, Reeve of Somerville; 1920, Robt. W. Wilson, Reeve of Emily; 1921, John Alton, Reeve of Carden.

The first County Clerk and Treasurer was Mr. S.C. Wood, of Taylor’s Corners, who fourteen years later, became Provincial Treasurer under Sir Oliver Mowat. He was succeeded in the Clerkship by Mr. Thomas Matchett. Mr. J.R. McNeillie, the present incumbent, took Mr. Matchett’s place in 1900, after twenty-five years of training as a subordinate in the same office.

Canada, Also, Reaches Higher Unity

This second one-third of the centennium witnessed the coming of age not only of Victoria County but of modern Canada as well. In 1867 a federal Dominion was organized with Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario as its provinces. One of the terms of union was the construction of the intercolonial Railway to connect the maritime provinces with those farther west. In 1869 the Northwest Territories were purchased from the Hudson Bay Company, and in 1870 Manitoba was organized as a province. The Pacific colony of British Columbia entered the federation in 1872 with the understanding that a transcontinental railway, the Canadian Pacific, should be constructed. The C.P.R. was completed in 1885 and the following year the Northwest Territories, now Saskatchewan and Alberta, were given representation in the Senate and House of Commons at Ottawa. Thus by 1887 the governmental scaffolding of modern Canada was practically complete.

Final One-third Century, a Modern Era.

The closing one-third of the centenary has witnessed the steady erection, within this scaffolding, of a strong and promising edifice. Canada’s population has increased from four and a half millions to nine millions. Alberta and Saskatchewan attained provincehood in 1905. Our material wealth has increased abundantly. A national self-consciousness has been awakened by our participation in a world war, and our representatives have upheld in the Assembly of the League of Nations our character of nationhood within the wider solidarity of British federation.

The history of Southern Ontario during these thirty-three years has taken a course different to that of the western provinces and to her own earlier tendencies. The outstanding features of this new development have been the incorporation into civilization of the achievements of scientific invention, the tremendous development of urban industrial life, and a concomitant decline in our rural population.

The changes in Victoria County have been typical of these wider transformations. The railway system has been still further extended by the addition of the Bobcaygeon-Burketon line of the C.P.R. in 1904 and the C.P.R. grain line from Port McNicholl to Bethany in 1912. The Trent Canal has at last been completed after half a century of shuffling and procrastination. A new policy of road construction entered upon in 1917 has entailed an expenditure of over two hundred thousand dollars on the roads of the county during 1919 and 1920 alone.

Conveniences have been distributed in great detail throughout the countryside. The farmer is seldom without his telephone. His mail is delivered at his gate. The automobile takes him to town at speeds once fabulous. Perhaps a tractor drags his plough untiringly. The urban dweller has water service, electric light and the cheap diversion of the cinematograph. Life is now one hundredfold easier than it was for our great grandparents.

Another notable phenomenon has been the urbanization of industry. Manufacture, no longer dependent on local water-power and seeking the most advantageous location with respect to labor and commercial markets, has developed in the large cities. Urban competition has stifled the little shops and factories that flourished forty years ago in each country village.

In North Victoria this decline has been further complicated by its practical disappearance of lumbering. The magnificent pine forests of earlier times were slaughtered with no thought for the future and the country was left in its naked sterility of scarred rock. The decline of lumbering meant also the decline of shipping. In 1881 thirty-three vessels plied on local waters; in 1920 there were scarcely three. Thus the economic functions of the county system were simplified to the agricultural production of farms, a little manufacturing and the retail distribution service of Lindsay and the larger villages.

Along with the amelioration of modern life and the urbanization of industry has come a rapid decrease in rural population. In 1886, the county, apart from Lindsay, reached its maximum of 25,133. In 1920 the total was 18,810, a decrease in one generation of 6,323 or 25 per cent. Lindsay stood at 7,880, an increase of forty-three per cent. All the villages have declined in recent times.

The county assessment, however, has increased from $4,341,960 in 1861 to $10,995,514 in 1886 and $20,714,099 in 1920. This appears to be a substantial advance, but if we stop to compare the actual values represented by one dollar in 1886 and in 1920 respectively, we shall find food for serious rumination.

We have thus sketched in outline the history of Victoria County over a period of one hundred years. We have followed the development of three distinct eras: the pioneer era which closed with the full development of municipal institutions; the railway era, in which the county attained municipal maturity and its maximum population and prosperity; and the modern era, in which certain radical changes have become manifest.

Next - History of the County of Victoria Part 5

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