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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“From the cedar swamp the gaunt wolves howl,
From the oak loud whoops the felon owl;
The snow storm sweeps in thunder past,
The forest creaks beneath the blast.”

Susanna Moodie.

“THE old Indian names along the Quinte shores were nearly trampled underfoot in the shameless tuft-hunting of our early Governors,” quotes Mr. Gardiner from Picturesque Canada. One instance will suffice. At Belleville, the ancient River Sagonaska was renamed to flatter the Earl of Moira, and even his baronies were detailed in the county of "Hastings” and the townships of "Rawdon” and "Hungerford.” In this case (though, by no means always), the names recall individuals of some note. In his younger days, as Lord Rawdon, this particular aristocrat served throughout the revolutionary war from Bunker’s Hill onward; as the Earl of Moira, he commanded a British force sent to Flanders, and, as Marquis of Hastings, was Governor of Bengal, acquitting himself so much to the satisfaction of the East India Company that they presented him on his retirement with £60,000. Green, by the way, gives him “credit for paving the way for the abolition of suttee”—that terrible custom which bound the widows of India to die in the flames consuming the bodies of their husbands.

Other names suggestive of interesting personalities are written on the map of this county—including those of the scientists Faraday and Herschel, and the Arctic explorer McClure, who in 1850 took a British vessel through the long-sought North-west Passage. But, with the exception of the last, who is said to have "served in the lake fleet during the rebellion of 1837,” their owners had no actual connection with the Province.

The settlement of Hastings County, which fronts for thirty miles on the Bay of Quinte, was begun by the Loyalists. The most easterly of Hastings’ front townships bears the Indian name of Chief Brant, “Tyendinaga,” and was granted at the close of the war to the Indian Loyalists of the Mohawk tribe. Portions of the township were afterwards surrendered, but there is still an Indian reserve of about 17,000 acres bordering on the bay. The greater part of this is good land, and part of it is well cultivated. Some of the farms are leased to white people, but there are Mohawk farmers who have good buildings and clean, productive fields. Nine or ten years ago an agricultural society was established, and a number of very successful “fairs” have been held in the “Council House” of the tribe. There are several schools and two fine churches on the Indian land.

The adjoining township of Thurlow (then called “Nuitte Town”) was surveyed in 1787, and in the spring of 1789 fifty Loyalists (many of them forced by persecution to leave their old homes in the United States) came to that township and its westerly neighbour, Sidney. They suffered many hardships, for they arrived after the Government had ceased to allow rations to the Loyalists. In the following year John Taylor settled near the mouth of the Moira (then called “Singleton’s Creek,” after an early settler who died very soon), and the spot where he built his log cabin is now one of the busiest parts of the city of Belleville. The energetic Captain John W. Meyers came next after Taylor, and from him the future county seat was called “ Meyers’ Creek" until 1816, when, according to Dr. Scadding, Governor Gore jocosely suggested the abbreviation of his wife’s name, Arabella, as a good name for the village. No doubt nine persons out of ten imagine that it is merely a tribute to the beauty of the town or its situation.

The Historical Atlas claims for Meyers that, after constructing a dam and erecting a mill, he built, in 1794, “the first brick house that Canada had ever seen.” This remarkable dwelling was set on a hill and stood for eighty years. Ten years later the first bridge —a covered one—was thrown across the narrowest part of the river. Belleville’s first church was built by the Methodists in 1810. Pulpit and seats were made of rough boards (in the latter case they were mounted on small blocks of wood), but twenty years went by before it w as superseded by a more commodious building. Meantime, in 1820, the Anglicans of Belleville had erected their first church in that district, west of Adolphustown.

At the time of its re-christening, the site of the village comprised two hundred acres. Now the city' of Belleville covers about nine times that area, and has a population of over 10,000 souls. Its “first flag-stone sidewalk” was laid down in 1836. Three years later the Court of Quarter Sessions was held for the first time in the Court House, which had been recently' erected, costing, with the jail, nearly $124,000. Belleville was incorporated as a town in 1850, a year memorable also for the commencement of the making of grave! roads. At first tolls were charged on them, but in 1859 they became toll-free.

Belleville’s first newspaper, published in 1831, had a brief existence, like many of its immediate successors. Amongst these was the Plain Speaker, which in 1836 essayed to give support to Mackenzie’s party. The editor, Hart, was put into the penitentiary for an attempted raid on a bank at Cobourg. A little later the paper appeared one morning with the British arms upon it, upside down, and, regarding this as a deliberate insult to the Government, a company of loyal volunteers marched to the office, upset the type-fonts and “trailed” the luckless manager through the snow and slush. In 1841, Mr. and Mrs. Moodie, who bad come to live in Belleville two years earlier, when the former was appointed Sheriff of Hastings County, became joint-editors of another unfortunate literary venture, The Victoria Magazine. The lines at the head of this chapter are by Mrs. Moodie, who was one of the notable Strickland family.

The first annual township meeting of Sidney was held in 1790, and in an early record of resolutions dealing with the height of fences and the running of animals on the roads, it is quaintly stated that “Hogs is to be free commons till they done damage”! At the extreme west of Sidney is the flourishing town of Trenton, which now has about 4000 inhabitants. Its first Loyalist settlers arrived in 1790. A few years later, Dr. Strachan, the future Bishop of Toronto, bought land on the broken front of Sidney. This he laid out in town lots, giving to the subdivision his wife’s maiden name of "Anuwood.” It has long ago been absorbed in Trenton, formerly a great lumbering centre, to which thousands of feet of lumber were ratted down every' year. One of the old type of covered bridges spanned the river at this place.

There was another bridge higher up the stream at Frankford, built some time after the spot was visited by that versatile Governor, Sir Francis Bond Head, for it was he who named the ford after himself. Another Hastings County name to which a suggestive little anecdote is attached is that of “Thrasher’s Corners.” It does not now appear, however, in the list of post-offices, so perhaps the name has been changed by the generation which knew not “old Mr. Thrasher,” and can no longer glory in his exploit of engaging single-handed, armed only with a club, in combat with two full-grown bears. With this primitive weapon he slew them both, so well earned the right to give his name to the “Corners” where the deed was done.

Such sturdy, valiant men were common amongst the pioneers. But very early the authorities decided that discipline and training are needful to make the best of courage, so, in 1799, the Hastings militia was organised, and every other Saturday, in pioneer days, the men were put through their drill. In 1812 Hastings men helped for weeks to garrison Kingston, and in 1838 they were hurried to Gananoque to look after filibusters threatening the border. For this they claimed a promised payment of three shillings per day, but the Adjutant-General " refused to certify their pay and allowances,” and, despite a great outcry, the money was not forthcoming.

Within more recent years it has been discovered that the county is rich in minerals, ranging from granite, limestone, marble, and beautiful blue bodalite, used for building purposes, to arsenic, corundum, talc, zinc, and iron pyrites, which are obtained in different townships. In the town of Deseronto the smelting of iron has been carried on since 1898. Hastings County, moreover, has had its attack of gold fever. Nearly half a century ago traces of the precious metal were discovered in Madoc and later in Marmora and other townships, and for a season people went wild with excitement. Thousands of dollars were wasted in speculation and in putting expensive machinery into mines which gave insufficient returns. The story is largely one of lawsuits and disappointments, but Hastings County, dowered with so much other wealth, can well afford to let go its dreams of being an Eldorado.

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