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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

"Poverty bought our little lot,
Flooded with daisy blooms;
Poverty built our little cot,
And furnished all its rooms."

Ethelwvn Wetherald.

ON a first glance at the map the provisional county of Haliburton forcibly suggests the title of a book (already mentioned) by Mr. H. F. Gardiner, which was published a few years ago, and deals from an interesting point of view with Ontario. This title is Nothing but Names; and on a recent official map of Ontario eleven of the twenty-three townships of Haliburton are represented, without a hint of the existence of a hamlet or any centre of population whatever. In fact, in the whole county there is neither city nor town nor even a large village, and much of it offers a fine field for the sportsman.

But, regarding it for a moment from the standpoint of names alone, Haliburton is worthy of special attention, for there is no part of Ontario where great names are clustered more thickly than in this county. It has its share of place-names, many of them Welsh, though the English county of Leicester has lent the name of Lutterworth (famous for its connection with John Wycliffe, “the Morning Star of the Reformation”) to the township in the extreme south-west. Striking diagonally across to the north-east and touching in passing at Havelock, named after one of the heroes of the Indian Mutiny, one reaches a township recalling the memory of one of the world’s great women, Florence Nightingale. Turning westward, one crosses the township of Lawrence, called after the Governor of the Punjab, who served his country so well during the Mutiny that lie won the title of “the saviour of India.” Next in order is the township of Livingstone, named in honour of the missionary traveller, who from his grave in Westminster Abbey still seems to raise a battle-cry of freedom for the enslaved Africans. Lastly, still “stepping westward,” the name of M'Clintock carries one in thought from the burning tropics to the regions of eternal frost, where Sir John Franklin and his men lost their lives, for it was M'Clintock, sent out by Lady Franklin, who in 1857 discovered the fate of the gallant explorers.

Across the whole county is written the name of a man who, though "cast in less heroic mould" than those mentioned above, certainly has claims to be remembered by his countrymen of the Dominion, for he was the first of Canadian writers to win recognition throughout the English-speaking world. Thomas Chandler Haliburton was a Nova Scotian by birth, and became in turn a member of the Assembly, a judge, and the historian of his native Province, but it was as a humorist that he won his fame. He so identified himself with the quaint character of his Yankee clockmaker, who went “on circuit” amongst the country folk and villagers "down by the sea,” that he used as a pseudonym the name of “Sam Slick.” Whilst selling his clocks "Sam” picked up many amazing “yarns,” in repeating which he loved to give sly hits at what he was pleased to consider the laziness and slowness of the “Blue-noses.”

Being a “Blue-nose” himself, Haliburton evidently felt criticism of their shortcomings a patriotic task, but, like good old John Bunyan, the Nova Scotian writer believed in wrapping up wholesome truths in parables, and in trying by gibes and jests to sting his countrymen into energy.

He described Nova Scotia as “the best location in ail America,” but at last went to live in England, where he married a second time and became member of Parliament for Launceston, though it is said that he regarded himself rather as a representative of England’s overseas dominions. lie died in 1865 and was buried at Islesworth on the Thames, in the churchyard where the explorer Vancouver had earlier found a resting-place.

His name was given to the village in Dysart Township, and was afterwards applied to the county, because he was director and first Chairman of the; “Canadian Land and Emigration Company,” which in 1861 bought ten townships, comprising about a million acres, in the future county. The object of the company was largely speculation, and, to cut a long story short, it may be said that those who took stock in it lost more than they gained.

Already there was a beginning of settlement along the colonisation road, which struck northward from Bobcaygeon deep into the beautiful wilderness of the hills and lakes and dense forests of maple, birch, hemlock and (before the advent of the lumber-men) pine. The oldest village in the county is Minden, situated at the point where the Bobcaygeon road crosses the Gull River. The first settlers arrived there about 1859, and by 1864 the village was able to boast of a saw-mill about a mile up the river, and of a store or two, a blacksmith’s shop, and a hotel. In those days (unless the early settlers have been sadly maligned) the arrival of a barrel of whisky at "Buck’s Hotel” (as at some other places) was an event which drew together the scattered population from far and wide, to indulge in wild and long-continued dances and merry-making. On New Year's Eve, 1864, a dance began at “Back’s” which, with slight intermissions, lasted four days and five nights.

This same year, 1864, saw the building of a saw-mill on the village plot of Haliburton, in Dysart Towrnship. The settlers here were of a higher type than the too zealous patrons of Buck’s Hotel at Minden, and soon a tiny church, 16 feet by 24 feet, was put up by Mr. Stewart, the Manager of the Land Company. The first services were read by a surveyor, whilst an English doctor “led the choir, with an accordion, mounted on a little frame and worked with a treadle.” Unfortunately, the doctor’s repertoire consisted only of two tunes, “The Evening Hymn” and “The March of the Men of Harlech.” Settlers of all denominations attended the services and sent their children to the Sunday school, and after a time the little church was replaced by a much better one, whilst the accordion was superseded by an organ, given by Haliburton, the widow’ of the Nova Scotia humorist.

At this time most of the Haliburton townships made part of Peterboro’ County, but, when the great project of a line to give a railway connection with Lindsay was mooted, the settlers in what are now the southern and central townships of Haliburton grew restive, for they desired that railway so earnestly that they were prepared to tax themselves to the utmost to get it; but the Peterboro’ County Council, like a prudent parent, refused to let them take up the burden of bonusing the railway.

Still the ambitious young townships, believing that they knew what was best for themselves, refused to give up the project. Their next demand was separation from Peterboro’, and they got it. In 1874 the new county of Haliburton, comprising twenty townships of Peterboro and three of Victoria County, came into being, with a Municipal Council, a Registrar, a Stipendiary Magistrate and a Division Court Judge of its own, though for the administration of justice and for the election of members of Parliament it was attached to Victoria County. The two villages of Minden and Haliburton were both eager for the honour of being the “chief town" of the new county.

The Government decided in favour of Minden, and there, in the summer of 1874, the Municipal Council immediately set to work to raise money—$55,000— to present to the Victoria Railway Company. For this sum only the townships likely to receive direct benefit from the line were made responsible. At first all went merrily, but soon the financiers of the county got into difficulties. Payments came due, and there was no money to meet them. The sheriff had much disagreeable duty to perform, and the credit of the county fell. At last, in desperation, the Council, accompanied by the clerk, the treasurer, and the constable, went up in a body to Toronto to seek relief. They received sympathy, but no promise of assistance, so they went back home manfully to face and conquer the difficulties of their position Ultimately the railway, which cost the county so dear, became a branch of the Grand Trunk System.

No doubt it did something to benefit the settlers, but the rush to the west, beginning very shortly after Haliburton County was organised, for a time actually lessened the population. Instead of new settlers coming in, men who owned farms became in some instances so anxious to remove that, being unable to find purchasers for their lands, they simply abandoned them. After these troublous times the population again began to increase, and a second railway line now crosses the southern townships.

The “Statistically Average”
Early Haliburton Farm, A Case Study from the Kennaway Settlement by Christopher S. Martinello (2015) (pdf)

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