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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“Where health and wealth and hope abound,
Where gold waves in the breeze;
Where rivers hasten with sweet sound
To join the inland seas.”


PROBABLY the first white man to settle in what is now Durham County was the trader Peter Smith, after whom Port Hope's little river was long called Smith’s Creek. He was succeeded by another trader named Herchimer, but the first permanent settler, according to the Historical Atlas, was a United Empire Loyalist, Myndert Harris, who had come from Nova Scotia by a roundabout route through New York State. Crossing into British territory at Newark, he and his family were treated most courteously by Governor Simcoe himself, who helped the new-comers over the last stage of their journey by sending a gunboat to carry them to Smith’s Creek. There they landed on June 8, 1792, but they were alarmed by the number of Indians who, on their part, took them for Yankees! Captain Walton, of the gunboat, and the trader Herchimer kindly did their utmost to persuade the red men that the new arrivals were good British Loyalists, and the Indians did not prove bad neighbours ; but no doubt the Harrises were extremely thankful when before winter two other families arrived from Nova Scotia.

Fish and game were plentiful, but flour was hard to obtain. At first there was no mill nearer than Kingston, but within two years a grist-mill was in operation at Belleville, and that shortened tbe journey for flour by forty miles. The next improvement, three years later, was the erection of mills at Smith’s Creek itself.

Meanwhile other little settlements had been begun. In the autumn of 1794 the three families of John Burk, John W. Trull, and Roger Conat settled in Darlington Township, on Barber’s Creek, later called Port Darlington. These families were from the Susquehanna River, and some of the party had coasted in large bateaux round the head of Lake Ontario, whilst others had driven their stock—one horse and two cows—along the shore. When the bateaux reached Newark, these newcomers also received from Governor Simcoe not only a kindly welcome, but some practical assistance, for he sent back a man to help them in driving their animals to Niagara and as far as York.

Arriving at the beginning of October, these settlers had barely time to build their log shanties, roof them with bark, and plaster them with mud before winter. In their case the journey to the nearest mill and back took two weeks, so they economised flour in every way possible. Sometimes they contrived to make a coarse wheat meal by grinding the kernels in a coffee-mill, or, taking pattern by the Indians, they pounded Indian corn in a stump hollowed out by burning, and so made “samp,” or they gathered wild rice, parched, and pounded, and made it into cakes.

The Indians, though not dangerous, were rather troublesome neighbours. Generally the settlers were careful not to anger them, but one of their number, John Burke, must have caused his friends a good deal of anxiety, for on the least provocation he was always ready to administer a thrashing to the red men. One of the Trull family, who was a boy when the incident occurred, used to tell how a squaw came with four “papooses” to his mother’s house and demanded flour. It was scarce, and the white woman ventured to refuse it. This was of no avail. The squaw searched the house, and found some of the coveted luxury >a a kneading-trough, hidden away. But the Indian woman had her own standards of justice. Taking the flour “in double handfuls,” she proceeded to divide it amongst all the company, beginning with the mistress of the house, taking next a portion for herself, then giving some to each white child and “papoose” in order, till all was distributed. Finally, carrying off her own and her children's shares, she decamped.

About 1796, an Irishman, Richard Lovekin, came from Cork to Clarke, the middle one of Durham’s three lakeside townships. He nad left his family behind, but brought with him two hired men. On one occasion these men, going up the creek to cut grass, heard wolves snarling and yelping, and began to mock them. The wolves appeared to resent the impertinence, and the whole pack gathered together. Thoroughly frightened, the men rowed down the creek towards their shanty as it they were pulling in a great boat-race, but the wolves kept up with them along each bank, and, so long as one of the fierce brutes remained in sight, they dared not land. At last, however, they reached the shanty in safety, and all night long kept up a great roaring fire.

After building a house, Lovekin prepared to go back to old Ireland to bring out his family. Having one hundred and fifty dollars in silver more than he expected to need, he wrapped it in paper, tied it up in an old stocking, and hung it inside the trunk of a hollow tree. But he had not reckoned on the needs and the doings of the “ kindled of the wild.” On his return he found a bear in possession of his house. It had made a bed for itself of dry leaves, and when he entered—so the story is told—came rushing wildly down the stairs. Going next to the tree, Lovekin found nothing of his treasure but the string that had held it. Later he cut down the tree, and discovered his money mixed up with the moss and grass of a field-mouse’s nest. In after years, Lovekin, going to Smith’s Creek on a "Training Day” (June 4), and lacking money, carried w:th him a pack of furs. It was a very hot day, and this form of currency was most burdensome; but furs were amongst the very few things for which cash could then be obtained. As part of the price he received, it is said, a gold doubloon (of the value of about $16), and this he kept for six or eight 3’ears before he found anyone in his own neighbourhood able and willing to change it.

Before 1812 Lovekin had become a magistrate, and during the war time administered the oath of allegiance to many patriotic folk. In 1815 he invited his friends to a “corn-husking bee,” but after their arrival discovered an old bear busily husking on his own account. There were several dogs with the company, and these attacked Bruin. The creature escaped, but the “bee” was a failure. A day or two later, however, the farmer had his revenge. Following the animal’s tracks, he found and shot him on the bow of the hill, where was afterwards Bowmanville cemetery, and had the skin made into an overcoat.

Much ot the land on which Bowmanville (once Darlington Mills) stands was drawn by John Burke. After building saw-mills and grist-mills, he sold out to a man named Purdy, but the property came again into Burke’s possession, and he sold it a second time to Lewis Lewis, who opened the first store in Darlington about 1820. Already, however, there had been a post-office for some years—the mail being brought in once a week in a sleigh or on the back of a mule. By the way, the postmule is said to have lived well on into the sixties!

Bowmanville got its name from a Scot from Arbroath. One of his employees in the early days was John Simpson, also a Scotchman, and akin to the famous Sir George Simpson of the Hudson Bay Company. He lived for fifty-two years in Bowmanville. In 1837 many men in Darlington and Manvers sympathised with Mackenzie, but Simpson was on the side of the established government and order. The stores at Darlington Mills were used as barracks for the loyal troops. Half a dozen years later, at a bitterly contested election at Newton-ville, when stones flew freely and one luckless voter was killed, Simpson put himself at the head of “forty good men and true" and prevented the roughs of the opposing party demolishing the polling booth. At Confederation Simpson was appointed a Senator of the Dominion. An incident in connection with the mills which gave Bowmanville its earlier name is the grinding from wheat grown in Clarke Township of two barrels of flour, which were sent to London and received a prize at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

During these years the future county seat of Durham had also been growing and improving, though very slowly at first. For twenty years after the mills were built on Smith’s Creek there was no store in the village, and it depended for supplies on the vessels which came in from time to time. About 1820, "when wheat was a drug in the market at 25 cents the bushel,” the settlers who wished to trade their grain for groceries were met by the discouraging intimation that “tea was a cash article!” And it was the same with other groceries. Gradually the name of Smith’s Creek fell into disuse, and for a time the village was known as Toronto! When a post-office was opened, the old name was officially revived ; but there was such confusion between the two names that a public meeting was called to settle the difficulty, and this decided upon the pleasantly-suggestive name of Port Hope. In 1857 the town obtained good railway connection by means of the Grand Trunk, and also a line to Lindsay. Two years later the town was of sufficient importance to separate from the county, and now it is a flourishing place of 5000 inhabitants. Since 1868 Port Hope has been the seat of Trinity College School, which was moved thither from Weston, near Toronto.

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