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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“The air is still -the night is dark —
No ripple breaks the dusky tide;
From isle to isle the fisher’s bark,
Like fairy meteor, seems to glide.”

Susanna Moodie.

THE beginnings of the story of Peel County centre about the River Credit, famed once as a fine salmon river. That lively Welshwoman, Mrs. Simcoe, wife of the first Governor of Canada, tells, in her recently published Diary, how, on a June day in 1796, when coasting along the north shore of Lake Ontario from Burlington to York, she and her husband and little daughter Sophia were caught in a fierce storm. A continued east wind had raised a great swell, and when, after an interval of comparative calm, the wind “rose violently from the west, coming against the late swell,” it “formed a terrifying sea.” Mrs. Simcoe, who a year or two earlier had recorded the wreck of a boat carrying letters along this shore, adds: "My fears awoke also, till we landed at three o’clock at the River Credit, twelve miles from York. We were surprised to see how well the canoe made her way through this heavy sea. She rode like a duck on the waves. After dinner we walked by the River Credit. Numbers of Indians resort here at this season to fish fur salmon, and the Governor, wishing to go some way up it, which our boat was too large to do, made signs to some Indians to take us into their canoe, which they did; there were two men in her, which, with ourselves and Sophia, completely filled the canoe. They carried us about three miles, when we came to rapids and went on shore.”

Nearly a quarter of a century later the village of Streetsville was founded beside these rapids, which still exist; "but these,” says Mr. J. Ross Robertson, the editor of the Diary, “are greatly reduced in volume as compared with what they were even sixty years ago.” In early days “venturesome lumbermen” used to “run their timber rafts down them during the spring.” Mrs. Simcoe continues: "The banks were high, one side covered with pine, and a pretty piece of rocky country on the other.” Some time during the afternoon she made a sketch of a bend in the river, winding between high bluffs and shaded here and there by trees.

On returning to the boats, where they had neither provisions nor money left, the stately Governor was again forced to go through a pantomime to show the Indians “that they would be recompensed for their trouble if they came to York. About five, the weather being calm,” the voyagers adventured themselves again on the water, and arrived at York at nine.

The first house built at Port Credit was often called "Government House,” because it was erected by the Government as an hotel and residence for a ferryman to take travellers across the Credit. It was kept at first by Thomas Ingersoll. When he died, his widow, Sally, and his son, Charles, applied for a licence of the tavern. Charles, however, ultimately moved westward and founded the town of Ingersoll, in Oxford County. His successor at “Government House” was a man named George Cutter, who once had to pay the large fine of £10 for selling liquor to Indians. A few years later a ferryman was no longer needed, for in April 1820 a grant of .£50 was made to build bridges over the Humber, the Mimico, and the Credit.

For a time the ferryman and his family were, it is believed, the only white set tiers in the township of Toronto, but in 1806 what was afterwards called “the Old Survey” was made. A strip of land one mile wide on each side of the Credit was then reserved for the Mississauga Indians, with special privileges as to fishing. Without their consent no white man might fish in the river. Subsequently, alarmed perhaps by the advancing tide of civilisation, they sold their lands and removed to the Saugeen River, in Bruce County.

The real settlement of Toronto Township began about 1807, upon the completion of the survey. For five years new-comers continued to arrive. Then the progress, not only of Peel County, but of the whole country, received a severe check through the war of 1812. Soon after the return of peace "the New Survey” of Toronto Township was made, and in 1819 a colony of Irish folk, who had intended to settle in the United States, but found conditions not to their liking, arranged, through their agents, Beatty and Graham, for a portion of the township to be set apart for them.

About 1835 the town of Port Credit was laid out by the Government, and lots in it were put on sale. A few miles inland and eastward of this once flourishing little port lies the old village of Cooksville, which, in John Lynch’s sketch of the “History of Peel,” is said to have been ruined by the making of the railways to the north and south. It had perhaps the first vinery and winemaking establishment in the district.

The township of Chinguacousy—a word of Indian origin meaning a pinery, and akin to the name of the Chief after whom the Shingwauk Home for Indian Boys at Sault Ste. Marie was called—was settled in part by persons entitled to write after their name;; that title to honour, "U. E. Loyalist.” Brampton, now the county seat of Peel, was once a famous hunting-ground for deer and partridges, and it is told that a colony of beavers and its first human settlers arrived on the scene about the same time; but the former soon left their unfinished dam and retreated further into the wilderness. It seems almost a matter of course that Brampton's earl}' buildings should have included a store, a mill, an ashery, and a distillery!

In Caledon Township, about ninety-five years ago, a violent attack of “gold fever” seized the settlers in the neighbourhood of what is now the little village of Cataract. For some reason the idea went abroad that the Devil’s Pulpit and other hills along the Credit contained the precious metal, and for months many a settler neglected more profitable labours to give himself to prospecting. One young Scot, Grant by name, failing to discover geld, imagined he had found a mine of wealth in a spring of brackish water near the Credit Falls. He determined to make salt, but this venture ended, like his prospecting, in loss and waste of time.

Though for many years part of its population had agitated for municipal independence, Peel County was united with York until 1865. In very early days Toronto Township had, it is said, “more business with the 1 Court Book’ at York than any other outside township, excepting perhaps Scarborough.” This business largely took the form of actions for “assault and battery,” applications for tavern licenses (which appear to have been granted in abundance), and disputes about statute labour.

As early as the autumn of 1793 Port Credit was connected with York by Dundas Street, a highway ultimately extended westward to Amherstburg. At a later period the Hurontario road was cut through Peel County from Port Credit to Orangeville. In pre-railway days good roads were of even more vital importance than they are now, but some of the pioneers seem to have found road work so peculiarly distasteful that, rather than do it, they put the luckless “path-master’’ in “bodily fear” with threats and blows. In 1812 Philip Cody, then path-master, brought complaint against James McNabb for assault and battery, but, as both in that and the following year die defendant was found to be exercising his pugnacious instincts in a useful and patriotic fashion with the loyal forces on the Niagara frontier, the case against him was dismissed. At that date, by the way, the war took so many of the able-bodied men out of the district that it was hard to find constables.

Then, as now, attempts to evade the import duties were not infrequent, but on one occasion a Toronto Township man bad the good luck to reap the fruits of some other person’s adroit smuggling. One day he bought in York a barrel of American salt. On opening it he discovered within it "a keg of good tobacco,” worth £5 or more. The York merchant endeavoured to recover its value, but failed to do so.

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