“Brighter hopes shall
Amidst the pathles wild,
Than e’r on Britain’s cultured soil
For British peasants smiled.”
THE fifteen townships
of Peterboro’ County, which takes its name from its chief town, are
somewhat sparsely settled. It is a country of lakes and woods, and in
some districts the camps of the aboriginal red men are still
occasionally to be seen. The county seat is, how ever, a flourishing
city of about 16,000 inhabitants; and in the agricultural country
surrounding it are many pleasant farms and a few villages. Some sixty
years ago the present county was known as the North Riding of
Northumberland, and for a time after its separation from its southern
neighbour it comprised what is now Victoria County.
Before the beginning of
its history as a white man’s town, the place where Peterboro’ now stands
was known as Indian Plain. In the earlier decades of last century, a
chief, remarkable for his great stature, claimed a kind of ownership of
Stony' and other lakes, and though he permitted the white men to fish
and to shoot deer and partridges, he jealously guarded the privilege of
trapping fur-bearing animals. He was called "Handsome Jack,” a name
commemorated in those of Jack’s Lake and Jack’s Creek, whilst the Polly
Cow Islands in Clear Lake dimly' recall the traditionary account of his
daughter, a lovely Indian girl, who died of fever at the age of sixteen,
and was buried by his heart-broken father under a balsam tree on one of
the islands. So that the spirit of his child might be able to wander at
will down to the water’s edge, the chief cleared the forest trees from
the shore. He could not tear himself away from his darling’s grave, and
was still watching over it when death came at last to release him from
his sad task.
The first settlers in
this Canadian Lake District came in 1818 from the more famous English
"Lake District,” and in the same year a little party of young men.
headed by one Adam Scott, crossed the treacherous Rice Lake, and made
its way up the Otonabee River to the site of the future city. Arriving
late on a day in May, one of them struck a spark from his gun flint into
a heap of dry leaves, and so kindled the precursor of all Petcrboro’s
"household fires.” After cooking and eating their supper, the young
fellows lay down to sleep under the oaks and chestnuts.. On the morrow
some of the party went by the "blazed” trails to seek out earlier
settlers, and Scott explored the neighbourhood to find a suitable site
for a mill he was planning.
He was successful in
finding a creek which answered his purpose, and before two years had
gone by he had erected a combined grist and saw-mill. For years this was
the most important building in the neighbourhood, serving as a kind of
social centre, where the settlers exchanged the news of the day in
addition to obtaining supplies of flour and lumber. Soon after it was
built something went wrong with the crank of the mill, and Scott set off
on a March day to trudge through the snow, all the way to Smith's Creek
(now Port Hope), with the broken crank upon his shoulders. It weighed
250 pounds, and, though the round trip took several days, Scott returned
home in triumph with the crank again in working order.
Some little time later,
when a state-aided band of over two thousand immigrants arrived from
Ireland, Scott displayed his customary enterprise in less commendable
fashion. Having a superfluity of Government rations, the new arrivals
turned an honest penny by selling the food they could not eat. They had,
however, a craving for whisky, which was difficult to satisfy till Scott
contrived a rude still, in which he made a quantity of a coarse spirit
to sell at the rate of ten or fifteen cents a gallon!
Meanwhile, the Hon.
Peter Robinson (a member of the well-known Loyalist family), who had
undertaken to settle the immigrants near Peterboro’, had a difficult
task. On the voyage from Ireland fifteen of the emigrants had died, and
before a twelvemonth in the new land had rolled its course eighty-seven
more found graves in the forest, dying chiefly of malarial fevers.
The task of marshalling
the host of new-comers to their destination had cost their leader
endless toil and thought. On the way they had had to camp at Kingston,
from which place they were brought up in detachments by boat to Cobourg.
Before they could proceed farther Robinson had had to make passable a
twelve-mile road to Rice Lake, and to carry the settlers and their goods
up the Otonabee he had built a huge flat-bottomed boat sixty feet long
by eight feet wide. When at last they reached Scott’s Landing (as
Peterboro’ was then called) there were neither houses to shelter them
nor roads by which they could proceed to their destined homes.
Happily, Robinson found
an able second in a naval officer named Charles Rubidge, who had had the
experience of settling with his wife and child in a log-house without
doors or windows, and knew what it was to be almost eaten by mosquitoes
and blackflies. Afterwards he was able to boast that he had “ made ” a
farm in the country and had worked hard on it for twent-y-two years. It
was he who cut the road, now called Keene road, from Peterboro’ to Rice
Lake, and was rewarded for this service by Governor Maitland with the
grant of a town and park lot. Later he was the first postmaster of
Otonabee, and, for convenience of distributing the letters to people
whom he might chance to meet, was accustomed, it is said, to carry “the
mail” about with him in his hat. Under his directions the older settlers
were employed to put up cabins for the newcomers at the price of ten
dollars a house.
The name of Peterboro’
was chosen at a dinner, given by Robinson in his tent, in honour of the
host. In the following year, when the village of log cabins, “sown
broadcast,” with blackened stumps sticking up in its streets, was in the
roughest condition imaginable, the lieutenant-governor, Sir Peregrine
Maitland, visited the settlement. Not popular with some of the people,
here he won golden opinions. cedar-boughs were strewn in his honour
along the sleigh-track, and a triumphal arch of evergreens was erected.
He held a reception in the biggest log-house in the place, which was,
perhaps, that used by the Roman Catholic father for service in days when
the present cathedral was undreamed of.
In 1831 a second large
body of immigrants was sent by the British Government to the
neighbourhood of Peterboro'. Meantime a few colonists of a higher class
were struggling with the hardships of "Roughing it in the Bush.’ as Mrs.
Moodie, one of the Strickland family —almost all of whom seem to have
wielded the pen of the ready-writer—phrased it. Her brother, Major
Strickland, gives a graphic account of a journey through eleven miles of
bush to seek land he had bought at Lakefield, and also to find the free
grant of a poor English blacksmith who had been sent out to him from his
home village in Suffolk. The man, on reaching his journey’s end, with a
wife and child, had one halfpenny in his pocket. But he lived to own a
comfortable little homestead. lie was at first so dismayed, however, by
the trackless woods that he positively shed tears. The Major describes
with zest his own achievements as a joiner, stone-mason, and
wagon-builder, but some English gentlemen, after wasting money in "fancy
log-houses,” speedily disappeared from the scene.
It was the lumber trade
which gave to Peterboro’ its first impetus towards prosperity. Now many
of its people find employment in factories, some of which make the noted
“Peterboro' canoe.” Peterboro’s great claim to distinction, however,
rests on its "Lift Lock,” in connection with the Trent Valley Canal.
This is the largest lock of its type in the world. It was designed bj7
Mr. R. B. Rogers, and the engineer in immediate charge of the work was
Mr. W. J. Francis. The lock was formally opened on July 9, 1901.