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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“Here’s to the Land of the axe and the hoe!
Here's to the hearties that give ‘hem their glory!
With stroke upon stroke, and with blow upon blow,
The might of the forest has passed into story . . . ”

William Wye Smith.

THIS county bears the name of the Liberal nobleman, Earl Grey, who was premier when the great Reform Bill of 1832 was passed by the Houses of Parliament. Grey is a huge county of sixteen townships, the western ones once forming part of Wellington and the others of Simcoe. It was set apart in 1852.

In 184O it had no white inhabitants, except twenty families in St. Vincent and Collingwood Townships, but the following year saw the beginning of settlement in Derby and Sydenham (named after the first Governor of the United Canadas). In 1842 a man named Stephens arrived from Toronto at what is now the important lake port of Owen Sound, in the 15-ton schooner Fly, and established a general store, a potashery, a grist-mill and a saw-mill at Inglis Falls. Two years later, the steamer plying between Sarnia and Sturgeon Falls in Simcoe County began to call at Owen Sound, which was destined in a few years to become one of the most important ports and shipbuilding centres on the great lakes. In 1875 was organised the company which constructed the great dry dock at Owen Sound; but already, twenty years earlier, the town had received an impetus to its growth in becoming county seat. The county buildings were erected in 1853, but the jail was remarkable for its insecurity.

From very early days Grey was fortunate enough to have some attempt at great roads through the county. Charles Rankin made a survey for the Garafraxa Road in 1837; but the outbreak of the Rebellion prevented the completion of the work till 1840, when the surveyor of the Canada Company laid out “a tier of lots on each side of the line,” and immediately many of these were taken up as "free grants.” In 1848 the Durham Road was laid out, leading east and west from the village of Durham, which vigorously contested the claim of Owen Sound to be county seat. Another great highway was the Toronto and Sydenham Road, running diagonally across the county in a south-easterly direction; and a fourth was the Northern Road, leading from Collingwood Harbour to Owen Sound and thence to Saugeen in Bruce County.' About 1861 these four roads, which reached every part of Grey, were gravelled at a cost of $300,000, and the people had a right to take pride (as they did) in the fact that there was not a toll-gate within the limits of the county.

From the roads, settlement gradually extended in every direction. Being "a hardwood county,” Grey had no lumber to export, and from the first the settlers depended on the cultivation of the soil; but the gravelling cf the roads gave the farmers much easier access to their markets. With its long coast-line, its numerous waterfalls, and the “Blue Mountains” of its north-eastern townships, which rise to 1500 feet above sea-level and goo feet above the lake, Grey has the attraction of picturesque and beautiful scenery, but to the pioneers of eighty years ago it must have seemed sadly "out of the world,” for the first comers reached it by travelling up Yonge Street to Lake Simcoe, thence they made their way to the Georgian Bay, to skirt its shores in bateaux or (later) in steamboats.

During the three decades after 1831, when there were practically no settlers in the county, the population of Grey rose gradually to over 37,000, who, in 1861, were chiefly Canadian-born, though both Scottish and Irish immigrants were numerous. In early days, speculators in land were very “persistent* and troublesome, pouncing on the townships as soon as surveyed and contriving somehow to evade “the actual settlement" clauses of the regulations. A great part of Collingwood Township was thus acquired, when first opened, by absentees; and when the town-plot of Sydenham (now Owen Sound) was laid out, its “park plots’’ were held so long unused by speculators, that the town seemed to lie surrounded by woods; the more so, because its site was so large (5000 acres) that it held the farmers at arm's length, as it were. Its great advantages of situation, on the beautiful sheltered inlet of Owen Sound (more accurately a “bay" than a “sound”) have, however, enabled the town to grow up to the large ideas of its promoters.

On the opposite side of the harbour was an Indian village, called Newash, after an old chief whose father and grandfather had lived there before him. It was inhabited by Ojibways and Pottawatamies, for whom, in 1842, Government cleared a few acres of land and put up sixteen log houses. It also gave the Indians a few oxen and cows, some of which were slaughtered for beef when winter came. In 1857 the Indians surrendered Newash and removed northwards to Cape Croker in Bruce County, where there is still a Reserve for their tribes.

When Collingwood Township was being surveyed an Indian chief interfered, and though the surveyor, Rankin, explained that the lands had been duly surrendered by the Indians, the old chief posted off to York to appeal to Government. But his faith in the officials must have received a rude shock, through the foolish jest of some clerk. In ten days he returned, and with all solemnity “served” Rankin with a paper, which proved to be actually only an advertisement of “Lands for Sale”! Happily when the old fellow found that his trouble had been of no avail, he took Rankin into his confidence, and explaining that he was hungry, was mollified with the gift of something to eat and drink.

This township, from its height, was first called “Alta,” whilst its neighbour was dubbed “Zero,” but they were re-christened—after two naval heroes—Collingwood and St. Vincent. Collingwood and Artemesia, in early days, had the distinction of possessing township libraries. That of the latter had nine branches, with seventy-five volumes, changed annually, in each division. In the last-mentioned township are situated the beautiful Eugenia Falls— seventy feet high—on the Beaver River. In a chasm near these falls, says Rev. William Wye Smith, once editor of the Owen Sound Times and author of an historical sketch of Grey (from which I have obtained much of the information embodied here), were found the antlers of an immense moose, which was supposed to have fallen in and been devoured by wolves.

About the year 1852 some of the settlers, according to Mr. Smith, imagined that they had made a much more valuable discovery—of nothing less, in fact, than gold, which could be chipped out of the rocks by the sackful! The find was made below the falls, and at first the secret was kept amongst half a dozen men, who “wrought like beavers to make their pile” before others found out. But rumours of gold, like murder, “will out.” One day, another prospecting party, from the commanding height of a precipice, perceived the gold-diggers hard at work below, and the latter, seeing that further concealment was impossible, stopped their work to discuss the situation.

The new-comers were doubtful whether it was “the real thing! ”Well," said an old man, wiping the sweat from his brow, and sitting down on a very respectable pile of the purest and most glittering rocks he had been able to find, "Well, if it’s gold, I’ve got enough; and if it isn’t gold I’ve got enough S’” A wagon-maker of York, who chanced to be in the neighbourhood, rushed to the diggings with the rest, and carried home a “back-breaking load” of the glittering treasure, solacing himself during the toil of his three or four days’ journey on foot through the woods with plans for the future. lie would buy a good farm, he determined, and on reaching home at once “kindled his forge fire to melt down a little of the precious stuff. The catastrophe was entirely unanticipated. The sulphurous fumes and horrible stench of the vile stuff choked him. . . . The harder he blew, the more horrible the stifling fumes, till in despair he pitched the whole lot into the street. He had carried home a backload of worthless iron pyrites,’’—sometimes unkindly called “Fool’s gold!”

But, if Grey was not destined to prove itself a great gold region, many of its people, in its fisheries and its good farms, have found a surer, though perhaps a slower, road to prosperity than that by way of gold mines. It has lost one of its townships, Melanrthon, to Dufferin County, but the population of Grey is now about 64,000.

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