Search just our sites by using our customised site search engine

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Click here to learn more about MyHeritage and get free genealogy resources

The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“Hurrah for the Rapid I that merrily, merrily
Gambols and leaps un its tortuous way;
Soon we will enter it, cheerily, cheerily.
Pleased with its freshness and wet with its spray.”

Charles Sangster.

THIS district gets its name from the town and harbour of Parry Sound—on the Georgian Ray—called after the famous Arctic explorer, Sir William Edward Parry. The Indians called the inlet "Shining Light,” but its present name was bestowed upon it by Captain Bayfield, who was employed surveying the Georgian Bay and Lake Huron from 1822 to 1825.

A little over two centuries earlier, Champlam, in his own less formal fashion, had also surveyed the coasts of Parry Sound and Muskoka Districts, when, in 1615, he made his way by the Ottawa River, Lake Nipissing, and French River and along the Georgian Bay to the country of the Hurons. By the same route, a few years later, those gallant soldiers of the Cross--Breboeuf and his brother-Jesuits—went to their work amongst the Hurons; and after the tragedy of the Iroquois invasion, which annihilated the flourishing missions for ever, several of the black-robed fathers who had escaped martyrdom led; the broken remnants of their flock back by this way to seek safety nearer to the settlements of the French.

It was on a June day in the year 1650 that the fleet of canoes—bearing a melancholy, half-starved company of three hundred Hurons, men, women, and children, all told, with a few French priests and laymen—took their way northwards through the countless islands which guard the land from the onslaught of the furious surges. At last they reached Champlain’s old water-way eastward, and so, skirting the region which is now Parry Sound District, passed to less lonely scenes. The Jesuit fathers knew the excellent harbour of Parry Sound, and a few years ago there was found there some ancient relic (of what description I do not know) bearing date, moulded in the metal, “1636.”

In 1837, this famous old canoe-route was surveyed by David Thompson, the great explorer and map-maker of the North-West, whose name has been bestowed on one of the swift rivers which hurry westward down the gorges of the British Columbian mountains. But though the old water-way which forms the boundary of Parry Sound District was so well known for generations, the land itself was left to the Indians, as a hunting-ground, for another quarter of a century. After x86i, however, a few settlers were sent in the winter from time to time into Parry Sound District from Bracebridge, and about 1865 the settlement of Parry Sound village began, when the steamer Waubuno was built to run between that harbour and Collingwood, and the lumbering firm of J. & W. Beatty established themselves there. The resident partner, belonging to the Methodist church, helped to establish a Sunday School, and soon the little village had no less than three churches, and was annually the scene of camp-meetings attended by hundreds of Indians and whites.

In 1870, when the Parry Sound region became a separate district, the village of Parry Sound became chief town, and a court-house, a jail, and a registry office were added to its few buildings. Now it has a population of about 3500, and, being the point of supply and departure for numerous tourists and sportsmen, is especially lively in summer. Its steamer connection extends not only to Collingwood but to Chicago, Duluth, Port Arthur, and other places, and it is served by no less than three railways.

The whole district is dotted with lakes—eight hundred, it is said, if all, small and large, are counted—and still it is a sportsman’s paradise, though probably it would be difficult now to rival the fish and game stories of the pioneers of thirty years ago. Then deer were extraordinarily abundant in M'Murrich, one of the most southerly townships, now crossed by the Grand Trunk Railway—but they were being rapidly destroyed by the depredations of wolves and of u rapacious pot-hunters! A settler, in 1879, saw a herd of deer at Whitestone Lake (so named from its good limestone) which he estimated at three thousand head. One winter, in the early seventies, a traveller came upon an Indian camp near this lake surrounded with deerskins hung on poles, whilst in the snow lay several deers’ heads at which the well-fed dogs "sniffed contemptuously,” and on the following day he saw a young, athletic-looking Indian cloaked in a kind of harness attached to a load of deer meat. He had no sleigh, but the meat was packed in the skins of the slaughtered animals, with the hair so arranged as not to catch on the snow. The winter of 1874-5 was one of remarkably deep snow, and in some cases numbers of the deer, herded in "yards,” were wantonly destroyed, for mere inexcusable love of slaughter, though they were too lean to be good food, and their skins were not marketable.

But the chance to get wild meat was (and no doubt is) a great boon to the settlers, who at first often had a terrible struggle to make a livelihood. Pickerel used to be so plentiful in May that people caught them with their hands at the foot of rapids, and, in November 1877, one man in fourteen days caught 2200 lbs. of herrings m the narrows between the two arms of Whitestone Lake. Some of these weighed, it is said, no less than 2 lbs., whilst the largest of the pickcrel weighed 20 lbs. Moose were plentiful in those days, and bears also. These latter animals, though usually inoffensive, and only anxious to get out of the way of human beings, occasionally behaved in a somewhat alarming fashion. In M'Murrich Township an agent for a commercial house was “treed” by a bear; and, the story goes, so frightened Bruin by his wild shouting that the animal sought refuge in another tree. On another occasion two young men in Croft Township were going to look for their cows, accompanied by a small dog. This little creature startled a bear and gave chase to it. The bear, instead of turning on the dog, chased the boys, who by means of a cedar “lodged in an ash tree” climbed into the latter. The bear, in unabated rage, came to the tree, and in spite of vigorous kicks tore the boots off the feet of the younger boy and severely wounded him. He got a branch, however, and with that managed to keep the angry brute at bay; but from eight in the morning till two in the afternoon the pair were held prisoners in the tree.

In September 1869, the village of Parry Sound held a gala day in honour of the visit of a number of officials of the Northern Railway, and its people were delighted, no doubt, at the promise of improved means of communication with the outside world. In 1874 Lord Dufferin, after visiting Bracebridge, arrived at Port Cockburn on Lake Joseph, and came on by land to Parry Sound. The same year saw a rush of settlers to the free lands of Parry Sound as well as to those of Muskoka, and as many as sixty farmers from Haldimand County came into Ryerson, which was the first township to send a consignment of wheat and oats to the outside world. North of Parry Sound village, Hagerman was the first township to send grain to market; and it also had the distinction of being represented in the Paris Exhibition by an English settler’s “Early Rose” potatoes.

Parry Sound District was the field for various experiments in colonisation. In 1874 M'Murrich Township was selected for the establishment of a "Temperance Colony" but after roads had been cut and mills built the township was thrown open to all comers. About the same time a plan of “ready-made farms’’ was tried in Ryerson Township long before the experiment was made in the west. It was known as the Donaldson Colonisation Scheme. The Government, after having five acres cleared and a small house built on certain farms, offered them for sale for $200 each, cash, the title to be given after the settler had cleared an additional ten acres. The money received was to be used in extending the scheme, but the “cash” stipulation was not insisted on and the plan failed. A colony of Swiss was settled by the Baroness von Koerber on the Magnetawan River, which the pioneers crossed by “a free-and-easy bridge of floating logs” that sank beneath the water under the weight of a team.

Foreigners were numerous in many townships, and often different nationalities were strangely mixed. Twenty years ago, for instance, a young man sent to teach a school in Mills Township found himself in a settlement where nearly all the men were Italians and the women Germans, for the former, working as navvies on a German railroad, had taken German helpmeets, and had afterwards emigrated to Canada. On the whole the speech of "the Fatherland” had triumphed over that of Italy, and, to all intents and purposes, it was “thirty smiling German ‘kinder’” who gathered in the primitive log schoolhouse to take their first lessons in "the three R’s.” These had to be given in the unfamiliar English language, but, before long, that also began to make some showing in the strife of tongues.

Return to Book Index Page

This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus