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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

"A crystal pavement, by the breath of Heaven
Cemented firm, till, seized from shore to shore,
The whole imprisoned river growls below.”


THIS county was not one of the nineteen created by Simcoe in 1792, but was set apart in 1798. It was called after Peter Russell, who had been military secretary to Sir Henry Clinton during the Revolutionary War, and came out with Governor Simcoe as Inspector-General of Upper Canada. lie had a seat in the first Assembly of the Province, also in the Legislative Council. When Simcoe left Canada he was senior member of the Council, and so it fell to him to administer the Government until the arrival of General Hunter in 1799.

In Dr. Scadding’s Toronto of Old there are numerous references to Russell, who had a place called Peters-field near “the Grange,” where Professor Gold win Smith lived for many years. Petersfield., in 1803, was practically in the country, and old advertisements show that Russell’s hen-roosts were sometimes robbed. Another advertisement betrays the fact that, like many of his aristocratic contemporaries in Canada, he kept slaves; for, in February 1800, he offered for sale a woman of forty, named Peggy, and a boy of fifteen, Jupiter— asking, for the former, Si 50, and, for the latter, $200, “payable in three years secured by bond; but one-fourth less would be taken for ready money.” Miss Elizabeth Russell, his sister, had a negress, “named Amy Pompadour,’’ who used to wait on her in a red turban.

Russell was one of the committee appointed to arrange for the building of St. James's Church in Toronto.

Above all else, however, Peter Russell is famous as a land-grabber. There are traditions that he gi anted lands to himself as well as to all his friends; and, though he made few personal enemies, his administration was not good for the country. He never married, and died at York in 1808, leaving a part of his estate to the Baldwin family.

Ore of the four townships of Russell County is also called Russell. The other three—Cambridge, Cumberland, and Clarence—were named after the same royal dukes whose Christian names are recalled in the townships of Ernestown, Adolphustown, and Williamsburg, in the counties of Lennox and Dundas.

In 1827 an agent of the “Canada Company” made a careful inspection of the townships in the Ottawa district, and found that in 1824 the two counties of Prescott and Russell had a population, all told, of 2560 —a number which could be housed easily in two small villages. These people were of mixed race—Americans, Scotch, Irish, Canadian—and the former having the benefit of experience were said to “show the others a good example in clearing their lands," while the Canadians who, “by their industry and perseverance,'' got on as well as the Americans were “much more economical in their way of living,” and saved “what the others would lay out in luxuries.” The farmers of this district found a good market for all they could raise in supplying the wants of the lumbermen and of those working on the “Grenville Canal” on the Quebec side of the Ottawa, obtaining “generally double the Montreal price, at least.”

In Clarence Township the concession fronting the Ottawa was granted to U. E. Loyalists, and very few settlers had, in the twenties, settled “back from the river.” There were then no roads in Clarence, but apparently the inhabitants managed Very well without them, as a steamboat passed and repassed their doors twice a week, and when the winter set in .the river made an excellent road. “The transport up the river on the ice is immense,” said the report. In fact, winter was the time preferred for travelling, and was looked forward to as the chief season for enjoyment.

All over the country, upon the first touch of frost, the sleighs were prepared for visits of pleasure and business, and Russell was in the region where a hard frost and a long winter might reasonably be expected. “It is generally conceived in England,” said M‘Taggart, who was surveyor for the Ririeau Canal, “that the long snowy winter acts against Canada—nothing can be farther wrong than this idea. The farmer requires it all, and the lover thinks it much too short, for it is only in the sleighing season that he lias a chance of seeing his mistress.” "A farm in a tract of country that has five months’ sleighing snow in the year is considered to be in a more favourable climate than that which has but three.”

Philemon Wright, the founder of Hull, travelled up the Ottawa on the ice in the year 1800, sixty-five miles from the head of the Long Sault, passing on his way the riverside settlements of Prescott and Russell. It was a patriarchal company of thirty men, women, and children, in coveted sleighs. At the head of the procession went the axemen—"trying every rod of the ice,” which was so covered with snow about a foot thick “that it was impossible to know whether it was good or not without sounding it with the axe.” Greatly dreading that in spite of all these precautions they might lose some of their "cattle,” they “travelled up the ice very slow”—doubtless to the scorn of the gay young people taking their pleasure in the lighter “carioles.” At the beginning of their journey on this ice road they fell in with “a savage and his wife drawing a child upon a little bark sleigh," and this Indian, promptly sending his wife to camp in the woods till his return, volunteered by signs to guide the party to its destination. He accomplished his self-appointed task most satisfactorily, and appealed delighted with the presents and thrice-repeated huzza given to him on his parting from Wright’s company.

Through the townships of Clarence and Cumberland runs a fine stream called Bear Brook, which served the lumberers in summer in bringing down their logs, and the settlers in winter for a road. “Back from the Ottawa” there was “little or no settlement,” and almost all the land was held by speculators and absentees. A great part of the land fronting on the river was owned, eighty-five years ago, by a Mr. M'Kindly, who had bought it from the “Loyalists,” to whom it had been granted. The township of Russell had, in 1827, "only one settler—Mr. Loucks, who built a mill on the Castere River"—but there was promise of more, for the township had “ lately been located by emigrants from Scotland and militiamen who served during the last war with the United States.” Fifteen years later it had 196 inhabitants, a number which was doubled by 1850. In the other back township of Cambridge, a family named Rankin, living in the United States, owned 5000 acres, while another family, named Kuylu, owned about as much. In 1827 only every second concession line had been surveyed, and even these were difficult to trace, as many of the corner posts had been destroyed by the lumber-men, who had been through the county and stripped it of almost all the oak and pine fit for market before the Crown Reserves were bought by the Canada Company.

Smith, writing about 1850, when the population of the county was still under 2000 souls, says the lack of roads had kept back settlement. Upon the whole, however, the slow progress of Russell has gone on steadily, decade after decade, and it is not amongst the counties which during the last few years have shown a falling off in their population, either rural or urban. Indeed, in the year 1900 it had between eight and nine times as many people as in 1850, and the increase has continued during the early years of the twentieth century.

In 1322 Russell was united with Prescott for Parliamentary representation, and though it has long had representatives of its own, both in the Dominion and Provincial Houses, it still is joined with Prescott in its judicial affairs, and looks to the village of L’Original as county town.

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