The Early Settlement of Emily Township and Omemee Village

Emily, the southeastern township of Victoria County, exclusive of the Incorporated Village of Omemee within its territory, contains about one hundred square miles of territory. Pigeon Creek enters near the southwest, and runs in a general northeast direction to the opposite corner where it widens into Pigeon Lake. On the eastern boundary lies Chemong, or Mud Lake, and on the northern boundary Emily Lake, into which runs, from the south, Emily Creek, with branches principally from the west. The surface along the upper portion of Pigeon Creek is broken by a succession of low hills, the principal elevation being a considerable mound called Mount Nebo, on the right side of the stream, near Omemee. The chief stream, in its lower course through the township, divides a less hilly district. In the northwest the land is rolling, and in the southeast comparatively level. In the extreme south-west corner is an elevation called the Hog's Back.

The titles of 'king' and 'queen' of Emily were given to Mr. and Mrs. Humphrey Finlay, as being the first permanent settlers in the township. On their way in a child was born in Cavan, now (1881) Mrs McCormick, yet of Emily. Before the arrival of the Finlays, David Best had done some clearing on Lot 20, in the 2nd Concession, but had not yet taken up his residence there. In the following year a party of Irish immigrants came in to hunt land, guided by one Henderson, to whom they paid $1 per day. Among these was Maurice Cottingham, whose two sons, William and Samuel, accompanied by James Laidley, made a little clearing where the Village of Omemee now is. They were the first to bridge Pigeon Creek by felling two oak trees on opposite sides of the stream, so that their tops interlocked. After underbrushing and cutting for a space all but the largest trees, they went back to Cavan till the spring, they and the parent Cottinghams staying with Huston, the surveyor. In the spring, James Laidley and Samuel Cottingham built a 12' by 14' shanty on the lot, roofed with cedar slabs. It was built on the deep and crusted snow, which had to be shovelled out to lay a floor of split cedar. The family then moved in; but when a fire was lighted in the cabin, the snow melting allowed one side to settle, to the great alarm of the occupants. Soon the hut was levelled, when it was found too low to allow an upright position within it. Next day it was unroofed, built higher, and made very comfortable for its size. They planted corn and potatoes, also a little wheat (from which they raised six bushels), all the time proceeding with their clearing, and working harder than they had ever done in Ireland. The Laidley family came out in 1831, and other immigrants settled in Emily as well as Cavan. Among the earliest were the Allens, Armstrongs, Balfours, Collums, Englishes, Fees, Hughes, Jacksons, Joneses, Moores, Padgets, Rehills, Thorntons, and Trotters.

There were many Indians in the locality (Massasaugas), and from a numerous family of this tribe, called Pigeon ( or, in their tongue, Omemee), stream, lake, and village take their names. In 1824 the first district tax was levied on the township, and collected by Samuel Cottingham, who carried the amount (four dollars) to the district Treasurer at Cobourg, receiving as his percentage one shilling. He had paid several shillings of the amount out of his own pocket. The following year another collector had six dollars to account for, and he is said to have seized a woman's flat-irons for an amount due. It was now that a man named Myles searched through the woods and found material for a couple of mill-stones, which he dressed and set up with the necessary machinery, in a shanty-like structure built at the side of Pigeon creek by William Cottingham. Till then the settlers went to Deyell's mill in Cavan, by bush roads, and through a swamp where they had to unyoke the oxen, carry their bags, and draw the empty sleigh nearly a mile.

The advent of the Robinson emigrants, in 1825, at once settled the back part of the township, as well as portions of other townships in Peterborough County. The new-comers were sent out under the auspices of the British government, and were allowed rations for 18 months, the supplies consisting of a pound of flour and a pound of pork per day to each person over 14 years, and half the amount to children between five and eleven - an adult ration being also allowed to every four children under five. One hundred acres was allotted, on choice, to each family of five, to the head of which was given the deed to the property. In some instances grown-up sons also got 100 acres. Former settlers were employed as guides to the immigrants in their examination of the country and choice of lots; also in cutting roads, building shanties, and moving the new-comers and their baggage to their locations. When settled, each family was supplied with a cow, axe, auger, hand-saw, hammer, 100 nails, two gimlets, three hoes, a kettle, frying pan, iron pot, 5 bushels of seed potatoes, and eight quarts of Indian Corn. They were attacked by ague, as had been the earlier settlers; but most of them were able to support themselves after the rations were withheld. Their settlement was of material assistance, as well as an encouragement to those at the south. Cottingham's mill became a centre for supplies for the Robinson settlers, and a store was opened in 1826. A landing, still called the "King's Wharf," was established down the stream, later a floating bridge connected with Ennismore township. Settlement then became more general, up to 1832, when the chief emigration took place from Britain, and had its effect on Emily.

Somewhere about 1826 the first place of worship, confined to no denomination, was built on the northwest corner of Lot 13, Con.2. It does not now exist (1880). The first preachers to come in were Methodists. Rev. Mr. Thompson, Church of England, came from Cavan to preach at any house in which a service was arranged. Another preacher was Rev. James Norris, father of Dr.Norris, Warden of Victoria County. The first Presbyterian minister was Mr. Dick, then Mr. Ewing; and the present (1880) Dr. Ormiston used frequently to preach. Soon after the emigration into the north, a Roman Catholic church was built at Downey's Cross. In 1835 an Episcopal church was built on the site of that at Omemee, but at right angles to that of the present edifice. In 1836 a Methodist church was begun, but not finished till some years after. The Presbyterian church is among the old buildings of the locality.

In 1835 the Post Office, called Emily, was established, with Josiah L.Hughes as postmaster; and about the same time, or before, the first schoolhouse was built on the corner where now stands Bradburns Hotel. Among the first teachers were James Laidley and Capt. Hancock. The second regiment of Durham Militia was raised in Cavan, Cartwright, Emily and Manvers, and a number of officers resided in Emily.

At a meeting held in Williamstown,(now Omemee), Jan.2nd, 1843, Josiah L. Hughes and William Cottingham were, without opposition, elected District Councillors, they and Dennis Houlihan being Town Wardens. Christopher Knowlson was appointed Clerk; Hugh Collum, Collector; and James English, Assessor, a position he held for more than a quarter of a century. The new representatives had to arrange all matters in the township in accordance with its position as part of the newly-formed District of Colborne; but this was easily accomplished, as the change merely involved a transfer of district allegiance from Cobourg to Peterborough. A Township meeting was held each year, at which Councillors were elected; township officers, school commissioners, overseers of highways and pound-keepers, appointed; and simple ordinances passed as to fences and the care of livestock. Special sessions were held from time to time to regulate matters in regard to roadwork. The Township accounts for the time the time the Township continued part of the Colborne District appear ridiculously small, the total expenditure for the whole eight years being about 8 pounds currency. On the establishment of the Municipal system, the Colborne District became the County of Peterborough, and the poll-books in Emily showed the following elected as the first Township Council : William Buck, William Cottingham, Thomas Fee, Christopher Knowlson, and Michael Lehane. These made oath of office on the 21st of January, 1850, and elected William Cottingham as Reeve. The Council being organized, proceeded to arrange the affairs of the Township in conformity to its new status. This necessitated numerous meetings. Mr. Robert Grandy was appointed Clerk; Thomas Mitchell, Treasurer; James English, Assessor; Arthur McQuade, Collector; and Thomas Crawford and Henry Sherin, Auditors. Rev. Mr. Harding, refusing to act as Superintendent of Schools, the Council appointed Dr.Irons, referred to by his contemporaries as a "great man." Pathmasters and fence-viewers were also appointed, and the whole machinery of Township government, set in motion during the first six months. The chief work of the Council was in connection with roads and schools; and though the new body sometimes over-stepped its powers, it generally exercised its functions efficiently and well.

About this time the village was called Metcalfe, a name which it bore for a few years. That of Omemee, was suggested by Mr.Benson, at a meeting held to promote the railway from Port Hope, and the place has since been known by its musical Indian title. The opening of the railway, in 1857, helped the development of the County generally; but the station was placed at an inconvenient distance from the village, and it was not till Omemee was incorporated, in 1874, that the new railway station was built within its limits, for which work the village gave $2,000, and Mr. James Laidley the land. The first Village Council consisted of William Cottingham, Reeve, James Ivory, Wm. Neil, John English, and Copeland Laidley. Christopher Knowlson was appointed Clerk; W.S. Cottingham, Treasurer; S.English, Collector; and John Ritchie and W.H. Hill, Assessors. The village applied for, and received its share of the Municipal Loan Fund surplus ($1,100), which enabled it to start on a good financial basis. The chief municipal expenditure was for new sidewalks and other village improvements, and for schools. A new building for the High and Public schools was erected, debentures being issued to cover the cost. The High School, established in 1858, was under the direction of Mr.John Shaw, M.A., for nineteen years. It was united with the Public school, there being three subordinate teachers.

The village, beside this school and three churches, had in 1880, one grist mill and two saw mills, a large tannery, a complete foundry, shingle mill, cloth mill, four hotels, stores of various kinds, trades shops, and a weekly newspaper, the Herald. The dwellings are generally neat and substantial. The main street is the leading road which runs through the township toward Lindsay, and eastward into Ennismore, and called the Omemee Road. A good deal of grain was shipped from Omemee, and it was generally a good market. Travelling buyers purchased butter, pork, hay, &c. The village has a Division court headquarters, telegraph offices, and its Post office has Money Order and Savings Bank departments. Its population in 1881, as returned by the Assessor, was 774, a considerable reduction from the past few years; corporate area, 435 acres, total assessed valuation, $137,625. The municipal rate is 9.6, and the school rate, 4 mills to the dollar.

Logs to supply the saw-mills are brought up-stream when the water is high in the spring, there then being hardly a current from Pigeon Lake to near the village. Lumber and shingles are shipped by rail. The Village Council for 1881 consists of Dr. Norris (Reeve), John Kincaid, C.Laidley, James Balfour, and W.H.Hill; Clerk, George Balfour; Treasurer, Isaac McNeely. The Council meets in Bradburn's Hall. The Township Council also meets in the village, in a room in one of the hotels.

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