Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources


Pioneer Days in Muskoka


In the year 1869 (58 years ago) the steamship “Prussian” brought from England on three successive voyages, passengers who finally arrived at what is now known as Port Sydney. The previous year the Free Grant Act had been passed. Before the passing of this Act, the people had to buy the land at 70c cash, or $1.00 credit per acre. To advertise the Free Grant Land in Canada, the Grand Trunk office in London, England, gave “out pamphlets, with directions for reaching Toronto In Toronto Mr. Donaldson had an office for immigrants and gave directions and introductions to Mr. Cockburn, M. P., who owned the first boats on the Muskoka Lakes.

The first passengers to arrive in the summer of 1869, were Mr. and Mrs. James Jenner. After spending some weeks in Toronto, they came by railway to Bell Ewart, which was as far north as the railway came. They then went by the steamer “Ida Burton” across Lake Simcoe to Orillia and then took a smaller steamer to Washago. The next part of the journey was made by stage to Graven-hurst, and from there to Bracebridge by steamer, where they stayed two days with Mr. and Mrs. Lount, coming on from there to Utters on by stage. The passengers usually walked from Utterson to the Lake, but the stage when paid extra would bring the trunks and camping outfits, which included a 15 lb cast iron bake kettle.

Mr. and Mrs. Jenner arrived in June and located 200 acres on the shore of Mary Lake. At that time the land was covered with trees. The dense forest stood untouched by the hand of man, except where a few men were employed by the government in hewing out the right of way for a Government Road. One of these men laying out and cutting the timber was Mr. Hiram Fetterly, who had settled six years before, near Huntsville, then a mere trading post.

The early settlers hewed out for themselves sites for log cabins, which contained at least, one cheering comfort, an “open fire place,” serving at first for heating and sometimes baking purposes. Bread was 'baked: in large bake-kettles with tight fitting covers, and afterwards in stone ovens, which bread was delicious, far surpassing in flavor, the bread baked in modern ovens.

When Mr. and Mrs. Jenner arrived, they found a Mr. McAlphine, a bachelor, living in a one-roomed shanty near where now stands the present house of the late Mr. iSydney Smith. There was no bridge or dam across the river, but the water was low and it was possible, in one place, to cross on the stones, jumping over the deep places, but usually when the settler came to the river a shout went across for Mr. McAlphine, who was a good-hearted man, and would leave his work and take his log canoe and bring the people safely across, often keeping them as guests for the night.

The next summer of 1869 brought Mr. and Mrs. William Thoms, Messrs Tom and Ernest Smith, Mr. and Mrs. Kay, Mr. and Mrs. Kneeshaw, and Mr. and Mrs. Brown. Others soon followed, Mr. and Mrs. Rumball, Mr. and Mrs. Theobald and Mr. and Mrs. Rook. The previous summer (1868) Mr. and Mrs. Brennan, and Mr. and Mrs. Ladell had arrived.

Two young men, Charleston and Reed, located on the farms later known as the Lever and Graham farms. They killed a large black bear, and generously shared it with all the settlers, giving them their first taste of bear meat.

Later came a Mr. Poole, who accidently shot himself, when taking his rifle out of his canoe. He was the first to be buried in the Anglican burying ground, which at that time was being cleared of trees and stumps.

Mr. and Mrs. Ladell located land on the Utterson Road and had men cut the trees and clear the land. They built a log house and commenced store-keeping. The first church services were held there, the Anglican clergyman, Rev. Ball from Brace-bridge came every second Sunday. As there was no organ, Mr. Tom Smith started the singing with his concertina.

Rev. Cooper was the next clergyman to come. A building was made for him to live in until the parsonage could be built. This building was afterwards turned into the present stable at the parsonage. Rev. Cooper collected money and got the plans for the present Anglican Church. Mr. Morgan, a Welshman and a very fine carpenter, built the church, which was built on posts or pine logs. It was some task digging the holes for the large pine posts. In 1878 a stone foundation was put under the church. A mission fund in England sent a donation of one hudred dollars, which was used toward the foundation.

Mr. Morgan also built the first hotel, where the settlers often had, some lively times, in dancing, concerts and other amusements.

The early settlers furnished themselves with canoes iby cutting down trees,, shaping them, and cutting out the centre. Mr. Jerry Hanes and his four sons of Utterson made a number of the canoes for the settlers for which he charged $10.00 and it required 3 days to have the tree taken from the bush and ready to use. It is worthy of note how well the women as well as the men managed in these log canoes. Mr. Jerry Hanes and his sons also helped the settlers to build their log cabins. The logs were cut the required length and the four walls built, until a door could be cut, the settlers climbed over the walls. As soon as a door was cut a roof was put on, a good tree to make clap-boards was selected, cut down, cut into lengths and split. Those who possessed draw-knives made the clap-boards smooth. First logs were put on for a roof and then the clap-boards which was called a cob roof a very primitive kind of roof. The shavings made by the draw-knife in smoothing the calp-boards were used for beds, also brush was used. Tables and stools were made out of split logs.

Mr. and Mrs. Jenner had many thrilling adventures. One was being completely lost on the lake in a heavy snow-storm, the evening of October 4th, 1869. They had spent the day with Mr. and Mrs. Thoms, leaving for home in a little log canoe, about 7 p. m. Soon after leaving shore, the snow came down so fast, no hill or island could be discerned. Finally when having paddled for hours, they arrived back where they had started from, so remained the rest of the night. This snow-storm was the commencement of winter, which was very cold with very deep snow.

The day following the experience on the lake, Mr. and Mrs. Jenner accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Thoms, paddled down the lake to a “raising” of the sawmill. All the settlers had gathered together to help. Mr. Jenner advanced $80.00 to Mr. McAlphine to buy the first saw for the new mill, for which loan he was to receive the first lumber cut, for a floor for his log cabin. Soon afterwards Mr. McAlphine sold his mill and land to Mr. Sydney Smith.

In the early days the lake was often full of wild geese, and numerous bear, deer, wild pidgeons and flying squirrels were seen, and the cry of the wild-cat or lynx was frequently heard, often causing the lone settler to think it some one in distress. One settler, when hearing it the first time bravely took his shot-gun and started through the dense woods. As the night was very dark, the man after walking through the woods for some time returned home and was surprised when told the next day that he had been following a wild cat.

In the early days a number of Indians were camped around the lakes. Canoe loads were often seen and a feeling of fright was experienced when one or more suddenly appeared at a settler’s door. The children were brought to sudden obedience when told the Indians would get them if their conduct was otherwise than good. .

A Mr. Debellenhardt and his mother built a house on what is now called Crown Island, but later moved to where the present Muskoka Lodge is situated. Also a Capt. Cox who married Miss Ladell lived for some years on the Island still known as Cox or Dead Man's Island. He afterwards moved to the mainland to the farm later owned by Mr. and Mrs. Parker.

The early settlers endured many hardships. To cut trees and: clear land enough to plant was no easy task. The logging was done by oxen, which were slow and awkward. One of a good yoke oxen, owned by Mr. McAlphine was drowned, when going too far out on the river ice in getting a drink. The other one was sold for a stack of hay.

Many of the beautiful pine trees were cut down and burned by the settlers who were anxious to clear the land for planting.

Before Mr. Ladell started a small store on the Utterson Road, the nearest store was at Utterson, near where now stands the school, which was owned by Messrs Bob and John Scarlet. The settlers walked many miles to this store, usually carrying home their flour, groceries and coal oil.

An amusing story is told< of the first political meeting—Notice was posted up announcing the meeting to be held at the foot of Mary Lake for Mr. Cockiburn, M.P., and at the meeting Mr. Ladell was appointed chairman and! when asked to take the chair, all had a good laugh, at the chair which was part of a pine log.

Another story is told of a settler living near a frog pond and when hearing grandfather frog for the first time, was so terrified, he sat up all night with his shot-gun ready to protect his family.

In the early days there was only a weekly mail to Utterson. ^ When Mr. Ladell started store-keeping on the Utterson Road one of his sons walked to Utterson for the mail and carried it to their store. After several years on the Utterson Road Mr. Ladell built the present store and Post Office in Port Sydney. The walls and partitions of the house were built of scantling 2x5 laid flat and spiked together. Thirty thousand feet of lumber was used, which was cut from logs at the mill.

When Messrs Tom and Ernest Smith arrived in 1869 they lived on the farm later owned by Mr. William Esson. After three years Mr. Ernest Smith floated enough lumber down the river, from the sawmill to build a room 12 ft. x 16 ft., this being the length of the boards which were nailed on posts. This was used for the first school, during the summer months. The first teacher, Mrs. Roberts, lived in the house which was later occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Forest.

Mr. Ernest Smith lent Mrs. Roberts his canoe to come down the river in. She would take with her two of her pupils, Joe and Annie Marshall, who were then living in Mr. Sydney Smith’s house. Her other scholars were four of the McDonald children and two McPhees, ten or twelve pupils. The next year the McDonald or Kay school was built and the following year, after much discussion the school section was divided and the old Port Sydney school was built, Mr. Sydney Smith agreeing to pay a school tax of about $12.00 to the Kay School Section.

Near the Kay School is a large, round stone about 6 or 8 feet high, known as Sarah’s Pebble. The name originated! by a scare Mrs. McDonald (Sarah) received from a large black dog owned by Mr. McPhee. When passing the stone a huge, fierce-look-ing dog appeared. Mrs. McDonald lost no time in getting to the top of the stone, where she remained, the dog keeping watch, until Mr. McPhee came to her rescue.

The first log cabin of Mr. McAlphine was pulled down, and the present house of the late Sydney Smith was built. Then Mr. Fawcett built the house which was later owned by Mr. D. Jones, and Mr. Gael built and! lived in the house for a number of years which at present is owned by Mrs. Butcher. The house later occupied for years by Mr. Forest; also one on the hill by Mr. Goodwin were built by Mr. Roberts and other carpenters. These were the first houses built in Port Sydney.

This summer thousands of people will travel to the District of Muskoka to take-in the authentic cottage country experience. But how did Muskoka's environment turn it into a tourist destination? And how has cottaging changed Muskoka's environment? Agenda producer Mark Brosens talks to York University PhD candidate Andrew Watson about the the environmental history of Muskoka.

Steamboats of Muskoka Ontario


During the World War the 122nd Battalion of Muskoka camped in Port Sydney, on the Utterson road and I wonder how many knew that in 1868 this was dense bush and! cleared by the Ladells, who located there. It was to the Ladell cabin that in 1871, three sturdy Canadian-born youths arrived and, tired after a journey of many days, gladly accepted the hospitality extended there, and rolled up in their blankets on the floor for the much needed sleep and rest. The three referred to were Richard, William and Joseph Clarke, ages respectively twenty-two, twenty and eighteen years. They having heard of the free grant land of Muskoka, left their home in Udora, coming first across Lake Simcoe by canoe, then portaged into Lake Couchiching, landing at Washago and from there travelled by foot until they reached Port Sydney. They stayed a few days at Ladell’s and found the end of the road was Mary Lake. To proceed meant another water trip, &o they surveyed the surrounding de*isse bush and finally located, and cleared the land known now as lots 23, 24, 25 on the 9th concession in the township of Stephenson.

After building their houses and barns and clearing some land, they returned to their home in Udora for cattle. This meant they walked and! drove the cattle all the way back. Walking from daylight until dark they made this trip in 3 days, which is one hundred miles. It was necessary for them to rub their feet each evening with boiled oil to prevent them from blistering. They made several such trips, but the first was in 1872. On their farms they prospered in the ways of days gone by using oxen for tilling and plowing. But in 1873 William married Emma Ladell, and as is recorded, were the first married in the Anglican Church at Port Sydney, which at that time did not even have the floor laid, it being only partly finished. Richard and Joseph sold their farm and moved away to Aspdin, while William and his wife, in the early spring of 1874, moved to Ladell’s farm on the Utterson road, which is the present store and postoffice building. Their way of moving their possessions would indeed seem novel to-day. Mr. Clarke made a “jumper.” To this he hitched his yoke of oxen and on the jumper he placed their household goods, most of which were made by his own hands, from the timber of the forest. Starting from his farm, which is now owned by Mr. iSummerset, and used for pasture and wood, they went up the hill and down again, landing on the ice on Mary Lake, and up the road. Seeing this place today one would say it impossible to do such a thing.

Mr. Clarke soon began doing carpenter work for the new settlers as they arrived, as Port Sydney was quite a place by this time. One reason for this was a boat built here, on the land where the late Sydney Smith had his garden. This boat was called “The Northern.” It was built by the company running the stages in these parts, and was a side wheeler. It could run in 4 feet of water and could carry 200 passengers. It was launched in 1876, and used between Port Sydney and Hoodstown, navigating through Mary Lake, Mary River, Fairy Lake, Fairy River and Vernon Lake, making the round trip in a day.

Mr. Clarke finally built himself a house. This was in 1879 and it still stands next to the Post Office. In 1881 a great bush fire went through this part of Muskoka, and the people here took their few possesions and made for the lake where they remained for many hours. Mr. Ciarke lost his work-shop, which was behind his Port Sydney home, and his old house and barn on the farm were also gone.

Today in the workshop of his son, stands the mortise machine, that went through, the fire and shows the signs by being badly warped, but nevertheless is still useful.

It made many a door and window-frame in the earlier days, before this work was done in factories.

In telling the story of experiences of this pioneer, it would not be complete without relating here his experience with the (bears. This-happened one time when he was on the lake in a log canoe, watching for deer. Instead he saw three bears some dis-? tance from the shore. He therefore loaded and went after them. He shot at one up .a tree. It fell, and being a cub the old bear took after Mr. Clarke. As you know in those days the “repeater” was unknown and his weapon was a muzzle loader, .which fired only one shot, and it was then necessary to reload. - It was impossible for Mr. Clarke to stop there, so he ran for his life to the canoe, and got out on the lake. He reloaded and charged again, making the same retreat, this time wounding the old bear. However, by the time he reloaded his gun and got back to the spot, the cub was dead, but the old bear and the other one had gone.

It is certainly evident that one needed the pioneer spirit to meet the adventures they met in those days. We left our other two pioneers by the way side. Their lives were no doubt equally ‘as thrilling. Today Joseph is the sole survivor, Richard andl William passing on some long years ago. Joseph still has a home in Aspdin and although he lives in Toronto now, he spends the summers in Aspdin, because “there’s no place like home.”


In the year 1858 it was decided by the Dominion legislators tnat Muskoka should be opened for settlement. Muskoka received its name from the Indian Chief Mesqua Ukee, who had fought with the English in the war of 1812. Little was known of Muskoka, except as a big hunting ground, until a year or two before the passing of the Free Grant Act in 1868. Then the rush commenced; Some came seeking homes, others adventure. Among those to arrive at Mary Lake in the Autumn of 1869 was Mr. Ernest Smith, who is still enjoying the natural charm of Port Sydney.

The previous year Mr. Smith had spent some time in Montreal, and when he returned to England, he found business very dull. Several banks had broken about that time, and the people were induced to come to Muskoka.

In 1866 Mr. A. P. Cockbum built the first steamer the “Wenonah” on the Muskoka Lakes. In 1869 he had the “Waubamick,” and in 1871 the “Simcoe.”

Mr. Smith received1 directions from Mr. John A. Donaldson, the Dominion Agent in Toronto, for reaching Mary Lake, which was to go by rail to Bell Ewart, then take the steamer to Orillia, and from there in a small boat to Washago. Here the first part of the :stage journey commenced; Arriving at Gravenhurst by stage, the /steamer “Waubamick” was taken to Bracebridge and here the stage was taken over the hilly and rutty trail- to Utter son. Mr. Smith paid the stage driver extra fare to take his baggage to the lake, which consisted of two trunks, a camping outfit and a cast iron bake-kettle weighing 15 lbs; also a grindstone.

The grindstone became a very important possession, as the other settlers were not provided with one, and all from far and near went to sharpen their axes. Mr. Smith not only generously gave the use of the grind-stone but obligingly turned the handle.

Mr. Smith had sent word to Mr. Jerry Hanes and his four sons of Utterson, to build him a log canoe, which was ready in the required three days and for which $10.00 was paid, also Mr. Smith asked Mr. Hanes who had a team of horses, to cut the logs and build the four walls of a log cabin.

When Mr. Smith reached Mary Lake he packed his canoe full, and paddled down to the river. Here he portaged the canoe over the falls, and then started down the river. When running the rapids he was going swiftly, and not noticing an overhanging branch of a tree, was struck in the face and nearly sent into the water. When he landed at his destination with his brother Tom, he found the four log walls of his cabin, but no door, so climbed over the logs to get inside, and the first night looked at the stars from a bed of brush. The first task was to cut a door space through the logs and to make a door of split logs.

As soon as the door was^ finished the roof was the next consideration. A suitable tree was selected for cutting and splitting into clap-boards. Mr. Smith fortunately had a draw-knife, so smoothed the clap-boards and used the shavings for beds. First logs were put on for a roof and then covered with the clap-boards. As soon as this operation was complete, the next task was to build a stone fire place but ibv this time the ground was covered with snow so Mr. Smith went to the river and got out stones enough to build an open fireplace. The cabin was becoming quite comfortable but lacked table and chairs, so these were made out of trees split and made smooth with the draw-knife.

At first Mr. Smith was doubtful if the arduous task of clearing bush land would suit him so was advised: to work for a month on the government road, which was then being hewn out of the dense forest. Mr. Smith well remembers that month of hard work—the blistered hands—and declares he never worked so strenuously before or since.

After living three years with his brother Tom on the farm, which was later owned by Mr. William Esson, his brother was married, and Mr. Smith floated lumber down the river to his present farm and had Mr. McPhee build him a cabin 12 ft. x 16 ft. the length of the lumber. By this time the need of a school was felt, so Mr. Smith kindly let the house be used for the teaching of the 10 or 12 children, until a school could be built.

In 1872 the first election was held, Mr. A. P. Cockburn was the first Dominion representative of Muskoka.

In 1874 an event of interest was the coming of Lord Dufferin, Governor General of Canada, to Brace-bridge.

In 1869 as the settler canoed around the lake, it seemed like a dense wilderness. Forests of stately pine reared their giant forms, the destruction of which was a future loss to Muskoka. Only the best pine was bought by the men in the lumber business.

Piles of good pine trees were burned by the settlers, who were eager to clear land for planting. Many hardships were experienced but the people were mostly happy. Those who had food divided with those who had none. Both men and women walked long distances to get supplies. Mrs. Moore walked from Falkenburg to Toronto and returned; Mr. Kirby walked from Falkenburg to Orillia and carried home a bag of flour and a side of pork; Mrs. MacDonald walked from three miles below Mary Lake to Gravenhurst, and carried a baby, and Mrs. Theobald carried three very large pumpkins in a sack for several miles.

Food for men and cattle, as well as other goods—for the settlers at Huntsville, and for those who had made the difficult journey through dense unbroken bush to Peninsula Lake, with only a compass as guide —was often brought by stage to Mary Lake and taken in canoes up the lake and river. In 1877 the steamer “Northern” was launched for Mary, Fairy and Peninsula Lakes.

In the early fifties when trappers and hunters came to Muskoka they found only traces of the big Indian bands.

In 1859 Indians of Peace came to the district, among them were the Yellowheads, Norsnakes, Joes, Blackbirds and the Bigwins.


Some interesting facts of the people and their ways in the early seventies in our village I learned the other day conversing with a man who had come here in November, 1871, with his parents, as a small boy. This family was the Mclnnis family. They came here from Toronto and Mr. Allen Mclnnis was the boy. He tells me he remembers well them making a few purchases before leaving from a tiny store. It was none other than T. Eaton’s and at that time little bigger than Mr. Hoth’s store here.

After their long tiresome journey from Toronto made by train, boat and stage they finally arrived and stopped over night with the Magans, who at that time lived in a house of Sydney Smith’s. It was a terribly cold November and the ne^t day these people had to continue their journey through three feet of snow, six miles on toward Brunei. They had arranged for their shack to be built and so at last they came to it. Besides the Mclnnis family consisting of parents and four children, an uncle and a family of seven made up this party and all lived in a place fourteen feet by sixteen feet, slept on the floor and as there was no room for a table, they used stumps. Mr. Mclnnis says many a morning his mother’s hair was frozen to the pillow and yet through all this they lived and thrived. He tells me that they used a wooden fire place built with green hemlock and it worked fine. One of Mr. Mclnnis’ duties was to come to Port every two weeks for supplies and mail. This trip was 16 miles in all, quite a trip for a lad nine years old and one winter it snowed so constant and so deep it took six weeks to break a road through to the village. I asked Mr. Mclnnis how far he was from a school. He replied, “there was no school” and as for ready made clothing it was unheard of. So the pioneer mother without pattern and many other difficulties was called upon to do her best, with the result that the iboys’ trousers were generally made so they could be worn either way and shoes would fit either foot. There were no rubbers in those days and they wore heavy cowhide boots or moccasins. The children did not have underwear as today but the clothing made would be lined so as to give some warmth. There apparently was little rivalry as to the style of dress or material among the women as wincey cloth was used for the dresses and the women made knitted hoods for their heads. Everyone looked alike when they came out, but one lady, it is related, wore a swell hat when she came out named the Pork Pie hat. However, this was worn by her for at least twelve years, so she got service out of it. Another woman considered it no feat to carry sixty pounds from here to Brunei, but she always walked barefoot, putting on her boots only through the village. Speaking of women of those days, Mr. Mclnnis’ own mother went nine months without even seeing a woman; and they claim this was nothing; the women with small families away off were practically isolated. Port Sydney had many things we have not today it seems, for instance, in 1875 or ’76 a resident doctor appeared but did not stay long and moved on to probably an unhealthier climate. Then when the old hotel was in full sway a market was started and one day each week was market day tnere. Another thing Port boasted of in those days was their Fife and Drum band, which played at the launching of the “Northern.” Bandmaster Nickel headed this and among others, there were Alf. Rumball, Bob Brown, Joe Marshall and Will Morgan. How about these old timers getting together again says we. In 1877 the members of Parliament held a banquet at Huntsville, by way of seeing Muskoka. Mr. Mclnnis was among those present at this memorable event and he says a Mr. Cann claimed to be the first white man to cross Muskoka Lakes, was there too.

A voting day of old is worth recording here from all accounts. It seems the vote was not by ballot as today but it was necessary for one to go up and declare^ which way he cared to vote. It ibeing permissible for the opposing side to hold you back if possible and so many a good fight was fought over it, they say. By way of comparing the change of time Mr. Mclnnis tells me he witnessed a funeral that the expenses all told were $1.50, the coffin being made from boards out of the ceiling and it cost the $1.50 to have it made. Another funeral he witnessed, was eleven men pulling the corpse on a handsleigh, the wife of the deceased riding on the coffin and they came all the way from Lake of Bays to the Anglican cemetery at (Port Sydney, it being the fourth burial in this cemetery.

But I’ve saved the most interesting event for the last and it took place in February 1885 when Mr. Mclnnis married Miss R. Watson, who as Mrs. Mclnnis, was known for her Institute work and loved by those who knew her. The day previous to the wedding Mr. Mclnnis had to walk to Bracebridge for the ring and jt Was so cold he froze his hands. This marriage was the first performed in the Presbyterian church and the minister, a Rev. Jas. Sieveright, found it no task to walk from Huntsville to perform this ceremony which took place at 8 a.m. with the bride on one side of the stove and the groom on the other joining hands across the stove. 'The bitter cold made this necessary. Mr. Mclnnis and his bride left afterwards driving to Graven-hurst, the nearest railway station, to board a train.


After the several interesting accounts we have had of pioneer life in Muskoka I wonder what is left for me to tell. What I write will be mostly reminiscences of my husband who came to Muskoka as a boy of twelve with his parents in the winter of 1869 or ’70.

Most of the historians are agreed that John McAlphine who came straight from Scotland was the first settler at Port Sydney. He built a log shanty and also a sawmill. He must have been an explorer as well as a pioneer. Of what brought him to Muskoka, or how he traversed the then pathless solitudes or brought in machinery for his mill little is known.

Through his representations, Robert Brown, Minto, Wellington County, whose wife, was a first cousin of Mr. McAlphine, came to Muskoka and took up some free grant and also bought some land on the Utterson road, on which some of the Browns are still living. He put up a block of a house and left McAlphine to finish it giving in payment money for machinery in his mill.

He Started back to Minto, June, 1869, going as far as Falkenburg with Mr. Jenner who had left his wife there. The railroad then was as far as Barrie. In the following January the Brown family,, consisting of'five boys and four girls, with their parents, moved to Muskoka. They .came in two sleighs drawn by horses. One covered sleigh held the smaller children. The two oldest boys led a cow. There was four feet of snow on the ground.

When they arrived they found their house had no roof so they stayed in James Haines’ house, south of Utterson.

In March James of twelve, walked out to Minto and bought a yoke of oxen, secured a jumper and brought up a fanning mill and .two bags of seed peas. A heavy fall of snow came and he was storm-bound for three days until roadsk could be shovelled.

The first work they did with the oxen in the spring was drawing rails for Allen Shay on the McCoy place, north of Utterson. Wages then were $1.50' to $2.00 a day including one meal and team. He then went up to . Brunei with Alex Trainer to log on the Hawk place. Charles and Percy.

Lawrence were two of the rollers. They crossed the river with oxen. There was no bridge, so they drove the oxen in and they swam across below the falls while the men crossed in a canoe.

Log canoes made by Hanes, and birch-'bark canoes were in use then. That summer they helped Mr. Ladell cut hay and timothy so he must have been in some time previously. In July he went back to Minto and drove in three heifers.

The house had been finished with a board roof in the spring and the family had moved in. In the fall of 1870 Robert Goodwin came and put on a shingle roof. Except for Mc-Alphine’s shanty, the first building was a store built by Mr. Hoagaboam. It burnt down one night,-but he built & larger one.

The first death was Caroline Ladell. She was buried on Hanes place.

At a citizens’ meeting in 1874, Mr. Fawcett moved that the little village be called Port Sydney.

The first one buried in the Anglican cemetery was Mr. Hall (a clerk in Hoagaboam’s store). John Wingfield was the first settler at Utterson. At the raising of his log barn he was one of the corner-men and the sides were racing which would have their end up first. A log going up caught and jarred the building, and: nearly sent the upper rows of logs down. The jar sent Mr. Wingfield astride the top log and when he recovered from the excitement, he said, “it was a good job I was sitting down.”

A Mr. Fraser was the first school teacher at Utterson. Erastus Hanes kept the first post office in his house at Utterson, and Robt. Scarlett kept the first store in the same building in 1870. He had a larger store built by Wm. and J. Clarke at Port Sydney. In 1876 Mary Brown died, and shortly afterwards her father gave the land for a township cemetery. Mrs. Price was the second burial there. Mail came in once a week by stage from Bracebridge.

Tea was from $1.00 to $1.75 a lb, and 50 cents was the wage for a man for an eight hour day at that time.

A Fife and Drum band was organized with Mr. Nichol as bandmaster. They played: on the “Northern” in 1877 on its first trip. t Members of this band were: Alf ' Rumball, N. Mainhood, W. Morgan, Frank and Herb Ladell, James, Hugh, Robert and Wm. Brown.

Port Sydney also had a Cricket Club that was hard to beat with Coleridge Roper as captain. The team had as players Wm. Clarke, Tooke, Barker, Salthouse, Bailey, Crampton, Alex Smith as wicket keeper, and four Browns. They played against Huntsville, Stisted and Bracebridge and as Jas. Brown recalls it to-day he says: “I never remember of losing a game. We would leave early in the morning in a lumber wagon when playing away from home.” The Bracebridge Gazette in giving an account of the match played there, said they had been “done brown,” at least there were four Browns.

David Hoagaboam was the first Reeve of Stephenson. He and his son Charles carried seed potatoes on their shoulders from Washago and crossed the river at Bracebridge on the historic “pine tree.” In the fall of 1878 Wm. Addison and family came to Muskoka from Burlington for Mr. Addison’s health, bought land from Ladell and settled across the road from the Brown home. In 1879 John put up a house and barn for Addison’s also barn for Browns. The barns were the largest of their kind at that time in Muskoka. One stick in the Brown barn, a swing beam, was 29 by 12 inches. Nearly every raising or wood bee was the occasion for a dance. There would be one hundred men at the raising. Grandma Brown as she was known by all, far and near, was the only nurse in Stephenson for many a year, and as good as any doctor. Roads were poor and doctors hard to get, and often she walked ten miles or more to a sick-bed.

All honor to our pioneer forefathers.

(Written by Ada M. Clarke)

In the year 1867 Thos. H. C. Osborne with his wife and four small children, J. H., Harriet, Annie and James came from the County of Bloomfield, Ohio, to Toronto. They remained there six months and then came north to locate land. The trip from Toronto to Orillia was made by train, this being the end! of the Railway then, they came from Orillia to Gravenhurst by stage then by boat to Bracebridge. Here the family remained six weeks at McDonald's hotel, a building built of hewn logs, which stood across the bridge at the falls, (Bracebridge).

Father came north and located lot 13, concession 2, Township of Stephenson, on October 10th, 1869. At the same time Thos. Murphy located lot 12, concession 2, selling out in 1872 to Wm. Parker. Father built a log house 16 by 20 and Wm. Hewitt moved the family up from Bracebridge with a yoke of oxen and a wagon as far as the .Price property, lot 11, concession 2, Township of Stephenson, on the Muskoka Road where all remained for the night. From there on the family belongings were carried in through the bush to their home, there being only a blazed trail until the summer of 1870. On the same boat that brought the Osborne family was Dr. Bridgland who came to Bracebridge as a young man to practice medicine through this district.

I will always remember the kindness of the Captain to our mother. When at the entrance of the Muskoka River the boat ran aground on a sand-bar and the Captain gave his bed to mother. They were stranded there for a week before they got it afloat again. Mr. Cockburn afterward became M.P. for northern Muskoka. Father and Mr. Murphy went ashore on a raft made by some settler living on the river bank.

I have heard father say that there was not $100 worth of stock in the little store at Bracebridge in 1869, but surprising as it may seem there was plenty of whiskey, and the Murphys being Irish were used to having a little of the “Cratar” and secured a jug at Bracebridge on the occas-sion of our moving in. Mrs. Murphy being on top of the load of furniture and having imbibed a little too freely at the foot of Moore’s hill fell off the load and stuck head first in a brush pile and had to secure assistance to get out. At this time the nearest P.O. was at Falkenburg, kept by Tommy George.

An instance I have not forgotten took place when Maria Murphy and I were sent to get the mail. It was a long walk and feeling hungry we decided to get a turnip from a patch by the roadside. I was in the act of getting through the fence when I was caught by the owner of the place and soundly thrashed.

Some years after Mr. Quinton kept the hotel at Falkenburg when he reminded me of the thrashing he had given me.

In 1870 John Scarlett opened a store at Utterson bringing in supplies from Orillia.

In the spring of 1870 Mr. Grant located lot 14, concession 3, Stephenson and'it is after him Grant’s Hill at Parkersville is named.

The following winter while chopping in the bush he fell on an axe and cut his throat. Father was sent for and stopped the bleeding. Grant was taken to the General Hospital, Toronto. He was there from March until July when the doctors told him he could not live long being in decline and to go home and die with his family. He came to Bracebridge and John Scarlett brought him as far as the 2nd concession. The road turning off the Muskoka road into what is now Parkersville. Grant refused to have Scarlett take him home and started off alone.

The next day Mother was up at Scarlett’s store and he inquired if Grant had reached home alright. She on her return found that he had not so the men went in search of him. They found him just over a little hill near where Mr. Scarlett left him, sitting against a tree dead. It was a dreadful sight as his face was completely covered with dead black flies. That night Murphy and Father made a coffin for the body of boards taken from the floors of our house and Murphy’s. He was buried on Lot 14, concession 6, the farm of Jeremiah Hanes. This was, I believe, the first death in the Township of Stephenson.  Some few years ago his son, who is President of a Railway Co. in Washington, U.S.A., wrote and wished me to purchase the piece of ground where his father was buried and erect a monument but I was unable to put the deal through as the then owner objected to sell the land.

In the winter of 1869 father and Murphy hired James McCamus, who owned the only horses in the Township, to go to Orillia and buy them each 20 bags of flour. This was a year’s supply.

There were sixteen persons lived in our shanty the first winter besides our own family. Each one supplied their own bedding and provisions. One of these was Mr. Fleming of Clearwater Lake, (father of John Fleming, Port Sydney).

The first school was started on the McPhail property, lot 11, concession 4. In 1876 a new school house was erected and Mr. Wright was the teacher. He was the son of Rev. John Knox Wright, Presbyterian minister at Severn Bridge and also School Inspector at the time.

In those days we would see a Methodist or Presbyterian Minister once in two months who came on horse back and preached at someone’s house. The first regular service was Anglican, held in the log schoolhouse. Rev. Cooper was the Minister. Rev. Leech from Bracebridge some years previous to this was one of the “Horseback Methodists,” who visited our section once a month and preached where he stayed1 over night.

Father taught school in the seventies for several years at S.S. No. 1, Stephenson, and for three years at Union S.S. No. 2, Stisted. In 1878 we moved from what is now Parkers-ville to Utterson and kept store on the same premises that the G. W. Lankin Co. now own and operate.

In 1882 mother died at Utterson and in August 1885 father having married again took the younger children of the family and moved to Toronto. The railway being under construction and father holding a pass on the line from Gravenhurst to North Bay, the family went on an open flat car of the construction train as far as Gravenhurst.

The first reeve of the Township was David Hoagaboam, and Clerk Archibald McFee. Mr. McFee held this office for two years then father was made clerk. The late Daniel Bain was Township Treasurer which office he held for 44 years and Clerk for 42 years. Fifty-three years ago the Stephenson Agricultural Society was begun. Father was Sec’y-Treas. of this Society. For several years then my own interests were taken up by it until a year ago when it passed to other hands.

Strange as it may seem our pioneer father spent the last few years of his life on the lots which he located in 1869 and is laid to rest in the Township Cemetery on the Utterson Road.


I spent an evening recently in the company of Mr. Alfred Kay and1 listened with great interest to his reminiscences of Port Sydney since his arrival here as a lad of eight in 1869. I will endeavor to relate a few of them, but I cannot tell them with the same charm as Mr. Kay did. I am sure Mr. Kay is too well known to need an introduction to any Muskoka folk. He is the Jack Miner of the Muskoka district being an authority on bird life, his opinions being constantly sought. His great fund of knowledge pertaining to bird life has been self taught and' acquired on his farm on the river. Since a boy he has been interested in wild life. This is his story:-

“In September 1869, my father and mother , with five children, Will 19, Annie 17, Nellie 15, Agnes 12, and myself 8, landed in Montreal from England. We came by train to Barrie which was the terminal of the railway then, and by boat from there to Washago. A stage took us from Washago to Gravenhurst where we boarded a boat once again, for Brace.-bridge. After arriving at Bracebridge father and my brother left us comfortably settled while they went on to locate the land for the -new home. Their choice was made and one month later, we set out for what are now lots 21, 22, 23, second concession, Stephenson Township, on the banks of the beautiful Muskoka river. Arrangements bad been made for our transportation by stage, but mother had had such a severe shaking up in the stage journey from Washago to Gravenhurst that she refused to be persuaded to make another trip that way, so we all set out on foot taking two days for the journey that I could make in 45 minutes by car to-day. The weather was beautiful, and we had with us an ample lunch which we ate while resting along the way. I had been given a kitten in Bracebridge and this I carried in a basket. (This kitten became a great net and lived to be 19 years of age when an accident cut short its life). One night was spent at Ealkenburg on this trip. When we reached Utterson we stocked up with provisions at Scarlett’s store and finally arrived at Mary Lake the end of the trail that is now the Utterson Road. The lake shore at this spot presents a different picture to-day than it did that day so long ago. On either side of the trail was the unbroken virgin forest, where the ring of the axe was yet to be heard. The only house was a hut occupied by John McAlphine. The only way for us to proceed was by water. A small dugout canoe called “The Man Killer,” conveyed us two by two along the lake and river to the rocks just above the present dam, from there the portage was made to the foot of the rapids where the journey was continued. I sat between my mother’s knees in the bottom of the canoe. My mother had never seen a canoe before in her life. Thus we landed at what is now the Fountaine farm. Just previous to our coming two young men from Scotland had claimed this land and had built a one-roomed shanty. They had invited father to bring us here to stay until our house was ready. In anticipation of the increased farm ily they had added an extra room to their shanty to serve as a bedroom for the ladies of the party. The men and boys slept on the- floor in the main room. Next morning October 22nd when father opened the door, there was a foot of snow on the ground and we had seen the last bare ground until the May following. In a months time our own little log home was ready down the river so we moved1 in. * It was a one-roomed cabin 16 x 20 and it boasted of a luxury-two small windows. Mr. McAlphine by this time had installed a little machinery in his mill, and on the day before Christmas cut his first boards, six in number. Father bought these, and they were put up on the rafters of our house, beds were placed on the rafters, and in'this way more room was made below. On Christmas day we had a fine dinner to celebrate the season. A roast of beef was secured from Utterson, and mother made a pudding, the recipe for which is still used every year for our Christmas pudding to this day. The First Winter.

We spent a very happy winter there, our first in Canada. We were very comfortable. Mother had brought feather beds and plenty of linen and blankets from England. These blankets had been packed in a large deal chest. This chest served as our table in the new home. Chairs were fashioned from slabs split out of logs, with holes bored and fitted with wooden pins for legs.

We had a stove too, which added to our comfort.- This stove as well as all the heavy freight had to be brought down the lake and river from the landing at the lake on poles which rested across two canoes.

That first winter was not a hard one. There were no long stretches of cold weather, but the snow was 6 feet deep. Father made us snow shoes from split pine with rope lacings. He and my brother spent most of their time cutting down the trees around the house.

You must bear in mind the fact that there were no roads from our place up to the trail that led to Utterson. Our only guide through the dense bush was a blazed trail. After a storm a fresh path would have to be made through the deep snow to enable us to get to Utterson for our supplies. My father and brother would go ahead to break the way, and the rest of us following, tramping down the snow, making it into a hard path. About twice a week we would go to Utterson to the store, carrying along bags for the groceries, etc. which we could sling over our shoulders. One hundred lbs of flour would be divided in half for father and my brother to carry. We had to go up the old Muskoka Road about half a mile for our mail until LadelPs opened their store on the Utterson Road. This store meant a big cut in the distance we had to go for our supplies. It was a lean-to built onto their log house. Gray and brown wincy, calico and flannel was usually the sole stock of cloth to be had. Nearly everything came in bulk packed in barrels and not in fancy packages as to-day. Sugar was the coarse, wet, almost black kind. One had to be careful carrying a package of it under one’s arm as it dripped almost like molasses. White sugar was very scarce and a great luxury. Other articles were often impossible to get. I remember one time that the two stores ran right out of provisions and it was weeks before they got restocked again. We got down to pancakes and maple syrup as the sole items of food, l ather killed deer in the fall which gave us a good supply of meat for the winter.

There were perch, chubb, and catfish to be had for the fishing in the river.

Mother made her own candles from deer fat at first but later when we had cattle beef fat was used.

The second year we had1 a cow. The small crop of hay which had been raised in the summer was gone by Christmas. For food for the cow we children cut the tender branches from the maple trees and on these she had to live until spring. She came through in fine condition too. Introduced to Black Flies.

I shall never forget the first spring the black flies and mosquitoes made life very miserable for us. We were absolutely unprepared for them as we had never had any experience with such tormentors before. They came in clouds, and as mosquito netting or screens were unknown articles we were at their mercy. Smudges were made around the house and proved of little benefit in driving them away. We were all bitten so badly about the face and neck that it was impossible for us to turn our heads, if we wished to do so we were forced to turn our whole bodies. These bites became infected and we certainly suffered. After a few years we seemed to develop an immunity to the stings and they bothered us less and less.

I remember my father making our first lantern, by taking a wooden frame and fitting it up with four panes of glass. Holes were punched in the top for ventilation and a candle inserted to furnish light.

Our first churn was a home-made one too, manufactured by my father from clean splitting cedar, planed to fit. Hoops were made from the strap-iron which had bound the boxes bringing our possessions from England.

The Sabbath-day was carefully observed in our home. The young men from Scotland, John Reed and Constance Charleton, Ernest and Tom Smith, our only neighbors, came to our home on Sundays, hymns were sung and the scriptures read.

I recall going out with my sisters to the woods and gathering moss from the trees. TTiis moss grew only on the trees in the original forest. It came off in great sheets 3 inches thick, and was very tough and ry. We brought home bags of it, pounded it into the clinks of our log cabin and plastered it over with clay from the river bed. This made the walls absolutely tight. No wind or cold could penetrate.

Each fall would see the Indians with their families from the Rama reserve canoeing past our place on the river making their way to their hunting and trapping grounds far up in the North. In the spring they came back laden with furs and pelts. Chief Bigwin and Menominee were among the tribes and I knew the latter quite well. He was a fine old man.

When I was twelve the first school was conducted. It was held in a shed which Ernest Smith had built the previous fall to house some oats for the winter. It was just four posts with a roof on it and boarded up about five feet, from there up it was open. These openings let in light and air, and through them also a driving rain would wash the work from our slates and force us to the opposite sides. Our seats were blocks of wood, and a plank sloping from the wall formed a long desk, at which we all sat. It had a little edge on it to prevent slates from slipping off. Our backs were, of course, to the teacher and we had to swing around on our blocks to face her. Her desk was built like ours, only smaller. We used any books we happened to have at home. These were usually old country readers and arithmetics of all kinds. Some of the pupils whom I recall were John Fleming and his sister (Mrs. Sherwood), John and Jennie McPhee, Joe Marshall and his sister the late Mrs. R. D. Brown, and the five McDonald children. Our teacher was Mrs. Roberts. She and her husband had come from England and were living near the mill. She was not a teacher but had had a good education and undertook to instruct us. Somehow the news that a little school was being held here reached the school inspector of the district at Lindsay. This inspector's district must have been a huge affair. It was bounded on the north by the North Pole. He paid an official visit and gave Mr.s. Roberts a permit to teach. In winter the school was closed, in fact it was open only for three months during the summer.

In some of the former pioneer stories mention has been made of John McAlpine, the first settler in Port Sydney. He lived in a little shanty where the house of the late A. Sydney Smith stands now. He operated the first mill, later selling out to Mr. Smith. 'Often as a little lad I watched him make his bread. He would open his bag of flour, fold back the edges of the bag, pour in some water, add soda, and mix it with his hands until the water had taken up as much flour as it could, then after molding it into a flat cake to fit his frying-pan he would cook it over the open fire in the fireplace. This was a hot job in the summer.

He made the first dam on the river. A large pine had fallen across the water and he drove stakes around it, banking it up with mud and stones. There was only a few feet of water running over it but it was quite an adventure to cross it. His canoe The Man-Killer was public property and was used by everyone to get to and from on the lake.

I remember the bee that was held to cut out a rough road from Indian Landing to the Utterson trail. This road was the foundation of the one that runs through the village to-day. I was a lad! of thirteen and had my small axe. My work was underbrush-ing. By noon we reached the big rocks on the crest of Town Hall hill. Here we built a big fire to make our tea and eat our dinner.

By the time I was eighteen years of age, there were settlers all around the lake and in the village. The Thoms, Galls, Goodwins, Morgans, LadelLs and many others. We were like one big family and had many jolly parties. We would go the round of the lake during the winter on these parties. We drove on sleighs, taking big loads of happy people. We danced, played games, and sang. I recall taking my mother to a party at Lawrences’. We walked up the lake on the ice. I danced all nigbt and then in the early dawn we set out on our long walk back.

It was a great event when the opening of the hall took place in 1876 or 78. I am not just certain as to the exact year. This hall had a most ambitious title, being called “The Music Hall.” The opening took the form of a ball on a bitter night in January with the thermometer at 30 below zero. When our present hall was opened July 1st, 1925, I considered it a coincidence when the late Sydney Smith with Mrs. Jenner led the grand march that opened the dance as he with his partner, Mrs. Ladell, had led the grand march on the opening night nearly fifty years before. .

Memory carried me back through the years on that night in 1925, and as I sat there, I closed my eyes and seemed to see the same scenes and faces that I had seen on that far away January night.

Every March we held our annual social in the hall, and people came from far and near. We would sit down to long tables laden with good things.

A great many concerts and amateur plays were held. Mr. Rumball was quite talented in a dramatic way and took prominent parts in these plays.

The hall was not built as substantially as our present one is. It had no foundation and was set up on posts. As a result the floors were very cold. .How often we have danced with the perspiration streaming down our faces, but with feet like blocks of ice. It might be interesting to tell how funds were raised to finance the building of this hall. Shares were bought by the people of the Community which they held. As time went on, people owning shares moved away, and Mr. Smith always bought their shares. He finally bought out all shareholders and the hall became his own property There were many lamentations when the hall was destroyed by fire in the early nineties.

We thought nothing of walking to Bracebridge and carrying back great loads on our backs. The worst load I ever carried was eight lengths of stove pipe. They gave me considerable trouble because of their ungain-liness. The shortest road we could take to Bracebridge meant a walk of 29 or 30 miles there and back.

The first Presbyterian Church services in Port Sydney were held by a student named Armstrong. His circuit was at Raymond and Dee Bank, with a fortnightly service at Aspdin. The latter service meant a walk of 25 miles around the north shore of Skeleton Lake through the wildest country. Mr. Armstrong heard of our little settlement and decided to include it in his circuit, walking over every two weeks and holding a service at the home of Mr. John McPhee. At these services the singing was very fervent. Mr. McPhee was an excellent fiddler, and could play hymn tunes as well as dance music. His wife, Ernest Smith and my sisters were all good singers and these voices, with the addition of the violin made fine harmony. All joined in and sang heartily. Those were the days when the preached word was appreciated.

The present Presbyterian Church (Union now) was built in 1885. My father and Mr. Wm. Clark were the first elders. For some years we had students, later having a regular pastor.

Mr. and Mrs. Allan Mclnnis were the first couple to be married in the new church and my sister and her husband were the next. Just previous to her marriage my sister was visiting in Toronto and while there collected $300.00 for the new church. An organ company gave an organ for use in the church.

I have seen some bad bush fires in my time. There was a terrific one in 1879 a*nd I helped to fight the one of 1881 which nearly wiped out the village.

I recall one bad storm which swept over Mary Lake. It cut a narrow path across the waters throwing them on either side as a gigantic plough would. It passed through the woods on the opposite side cutting a swath before it. When it had subsided this path resembled a government road just after the trees had been felled.

I have had very little experience with bears, but one time when coming home from Skeleton Lake with my brother-in-law we lost the path in the intense darkness. We were on our hands and knees feeling for the path and my brother-in-law lit a match. Imagine our surprise to see in the flicker of the match that a huge black bear was directly in front of us. A few more inches and we should have been upon him. Bruin decided that discretion was the better part of valor and beat a hasty retreat.

Once while a small lad alone in the woods near our house I came upon a bear. I was very frightened and so was the bear, and we both ran as fast as we could in opposite directions.

It was during my early boyhood days spent in the woods that I became interested in birds and their habits as I was able to observe them at close range. I had no books to help me find out the names and varieties of the birds I saw, and it was years before I did know the different kinds by name. It is a study which I have never lost interest in.

Return to our History of Ontario Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus