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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“Ontario, Ontario,
Thy water rolls as blue
As in the flays thy bosom bore
The Indian’s birch canoe.”


JUTTING out into the blue waters of Lake Ontario is a sunny, fruitful “half-island"—to use the Nova Scotian phrase—which by cool breezes, excellent roads, and fine fishing attracts numerous summer visitors and pleasure-seekers. But, better than that, with its fertile fields, its rich orchards, and its sleek, well-nourished herds of cattle, it might seem that it had become a little paradise for the farmers were it not that it is so hard for them to obtain a sufficient number of men to carry on the "intensive” methods of cultivation now so much in favour in the district. With all but a small fraction of its area rated as arable land, with no great towns, but with several thriving smaller centres of population, it is emphatically a farmers’ county. Of the hundred automobiles owned in Prince Edward County, fifty belong to farmers. Of the several hundred motor-boats that give life to its many bays and inlets, farmers possess two hundred, whilst a large proportion of the twelve hundred telephones of the county serve the rural population. Moreover, in Prince Edward, the plan of rural mail delivery has passed the experimental stage, and there are nine rural mail routes, with 450 boxes.

Originally connected with the mainland at the old Indian “Carrying- Place” by a narrow isthmus, the county has been made into a second Prince Edward “island” (in many respects resembling its larger namesake in the Atlantic), by the cutting of the Murray Canal, five miles in length and deep enough to allow the passage of large boats. But, as if to make up for this interference with nature's plans, a bridge gives connection with Belleville. Without this, however, the county would be by no means devoid of easy communication with its neighbours, for no part of it is over six miles from navigable water, and several lines of steamboats ply from its ports to those of the mainland.

This pleasant farmers’ county, called “Presqu’ Isle de Ouinte  by the French, now bears a royal name. About the time of the division of Upper from Lower Canada, the Duke of Kent, on his return from a journey to Niagara, called at Marysburg, and in memory of that brief visit the county received its name of Prince Edward. Of the numerous sons of George III, Edward was the most popular. In many relations of life he is said to have been kind, courteous, and gracious, but, as a soldier, his notions of necessary discipline led him into harshness and severity. He had no special opportunity to win distinction, and much of the posthumous interest in his character has arisen from the fact that he was the father of the future Queen Victoria, though she was but an infant when he died.

The three original townships of the county, afterwards subdivided to make seven, were named after the Prince’s sisters, Mary, Sophia, and Amelia. The latter was the youngest child of King George, and was described by her eldest sister as “a sweet, amiable, pious, good little soul, patient (during a long illness) beyond all description.” Another writer (quoted in Mr. Gardiner's Nothing but Names) says!: ‘‘Amelia! Everyone who has read Thackeray remembers her-—the pretty little maiden, prattling and smiling in the arms of the fond old King, her father—and then her death in the bloom of womanhood and the shock to the father’s reason.”

It is said that Prince Edward County, or part of it, was included in the seigniory granted to La Salle. In the middle of the eighteenth century, Indians of different tribes were scattered along the shores from Gananoque to the Bay of Quinte, but they relinquished their claim to most of the land in consideration of the promise of an annual payment to each brave of two blankets, cloth for a coat, a gun and some other articles. To receive these things they used to go in their canoes to Fort Froutenac, and sometimes as many as a thousand men were afloat at one time on the bay. Many years later, the small island called Waupoos, about a mile from the coast of Prince Edward, was still the home of an Indian chief.

The settlement of Prince Edward County was begun by the Loyalists, many of whom were officers or soldiers. A number of Hessians settled in Marysburg, but the first house in the township was built by a Scot, Colonel Archibald Macdonald. This building, erected by ships’ carpenters instead of amateur joiners, was not of the usual pattern. The walls were built of hewn logs, nicely squared and dove-tailed at the corners. It stood for over a century, but was torn down in 1900.

Colonel Macdonald never married, but his niece, Frances, who kept house for him, married a French gentleman, Mr. Prinyer, and her descendants preserve as heirlooms the old “grandfather’s clock,” the despatch box, and mahogany chairs, desk, and table brought out by the Colonel from Scotland.

It is told in a paper read to the Women's Historical Society of Ottawa how during the War of 1812 a party of Americans landed at Macdonald’s Cove, intending to carry off the master of the old house, for colonels were esteemed "big game.” But Macdonald was too “canny” for them. Knowing the Americans’ dread of the Indians, he placed two or three men in the woods to whoop and yell like savages, then sent his nephew to demand the surrender of the interlopers, with the suggestion that otherwise their scalps might soon be adorning the belts of the ambushed warriors. In terror of such a fate his would-be captors surrendered, and were imprisoned in a blockhouse near the Colonel’s dwelling till he could find opportunity to send them to Kingston.

No land was taken up in Sophiaburgh till 1788, when it was settled by Loyalists, who had previously spent a few years in Nova Scotia or in the neighbouring township of Adolphustown, or were "late Loyalists," who before leaving their native land had tried the uncomfortable experiment of remaining there under the new Government. These did not receive grants on the same terms as the original Loyalists, but were able to buy lands at very small cost. For instance, one of the best farms in Sophiasburgh, valued a few years ago at seven or eight thousand dollars, was then purchased for an old horse.

The first man to set foot on the site of Picton (of which there is a most picturesque view from the water between the lofty shores of the bay) was Colonel Henry Young, with his two sons. That was in the year 1784, when a dense forest covered the spot; but it was over thirty years later when Mr. McAuley, the minister and builder of the first church in the settlement, bestowed upon it the name of Picton, in honour of a general who had fallen in the battle of Waterloo. The name did not appeal to everyone, and for some time the village to the south of the bay clung to its designation of Halliwell, still perpetuated in the name of the township. As early as 1798, by the way, “the town meeting” of HalliwelJ had shown its iuterest in agricultural matters by passing by-laws about fences, and ordering that any freeholder suffering "the Canadian thistle,” that bugbear of careful farmers in our own day, to go to seed on his premises should be fined twenty shillings.

For years the growth and progress of Picton was very slow, but 1830 saw the first issue of The Halliwell Free Press, and the formation of a company to run a steamer between Picton and Prescott. In the following year Prince Edward became a separate county, and a courthouse and jail were added to the buildings of Picton, which now has a population of about 4000 souls.

Ten miles away in a northerly direction is the village of Demorestville, near which was built “the first canning factory in Canada.” Ten miles southward of the county town are "the far-famed sandbanks,” or hills of white, shifting sand, which stretch for four and a half miles along the shore of^West Lake, and five miles to the east is the curious, clear, circular “Lake-on-the-Mountain,” 200 feet above the little village of Glenora. From this lake water was brought down the hill in iron pipes to turn the wheels of a grist mill which was once rented by the father of John A. Macdonald, then a lively little lad.

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