The Stories of the Counties of Ontario
VICTORIA


“Her court was pure; her life serene,
God gave her peace; her land reposed;
A thousand claims to reverence closed
In her as Mother, Wife, and Queen.”

Alfred Tennyson.

THIS county—the only one in Ontario called after a sovereign of England—bears a truly noble name in that of the queen during whose long reign the Dominion, free and prosperous, began to be. But, as Mr. Gardiner recalls in his Nothing but Names, the great queen’s most familiar designation was given to her in an almost accidental fashion. Her father wished her, it is said, to figure in history as “Elizabeth II,” whilst her uncle, the Prince-Regent—afterwards George IV— desired that she should be called Georgiana or Georgina, after himself. He insisted, however, that this name should be put before that of Alexandrina—to be given to the child in honour of the Czar of Russia. This being thought impolitic, he declined to allow' the infant to be called after himself at all, so, at the last moment, her father added her mother’s name Victoria, and when in 1837 the young girl ascended the throne it was by this name that she preferred to be known.

Victoria County was once part of Durham, and later part of Peterboro'. It became a county in 1851, but continued to bn connected with Peterboro’ judicially till 1863. The old townships of Emily and Ops (the former surveyed in 1818 and the latter in 1825) were settled in part by some of the Irish emigrants brought out to Peterboro’ (as already related) by Peter Robinson, the son of a Loyalist and elder brother of the better-known Chief Justice of Upper Canada, Sir John Beverley Robinson. But Peter also was a notable man in his day-Physically he was remarkably strong, and he had a taste for athletic sports. In the war of 1812 he commanded a volunteer rifle company, which took part in the capture of Detroit. For several years he represented the East Riding of York in the Assembly of Upper Canada, and was afterwards a member of the Legislative Council. In 1827 he was appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands, but, it was before that, in 1825, that he was concerned in the great assisted emigration scheme, which led to the bestowal of his Christian name upon the town and county of Peterboro’.

lie was very popular with the impulsive Irish settlers, though, in spite of all the assistance they received, the new-comers did not escape the common troubles of the inexperienced in a strange country. Yet the Government certainty provided for them in a fashion at once liberal and paternal. Each head of a family received a grant of one hundred acres (this was, of course, wild land), and in addition a log-house was built for him, and lie was started on his farm with a cow and a variety of useful implements—from an axe and spade down to an iron pot and a frying-pan. Five bushels of seed potatoes and eight quarts of Indian corn were added, and blankets if the family was very well provided with comforts. The scheme was criticised at the time as ineffective, but in the first year (when 1878 persons were brought out, of whom considerably more than a third were children) 1386 acres were cleared.

Victoria’s share of these immigrants gave her her first start as “a white man’s country”; and by 1836 "the fine townships of Ops, Emily, Fenelon, Bexley, Somerville, and Verulani (surveyed between 1823 and 1835) were settling fast. The water-power of Fenelon Falls, a miniature “ Horse-shoe Falls/’ sixteen feet high, was soon taken advantage of for the working of mills, and amongst the settlers of this district were a number of young men of good family. The falls and township of Fenelon were named after a zealous Sulpician missionary who laboured amongst the Indians north of Lake Ontario from 1668 to 1670. He was stepbrother to the more famous Abbe Fenelon, who wrote Telemaque. The Canadian Abbe engaged in a heated quarrel with Frontenac, was sent as a prisoner to France, and was forbidden to return to Canada.

From the beginning of white settlement in Victoria, the problems of communication and transportation were, of course, vital questions, and in 1833 the scheme of the Trent Valley Canal, by which the navigable lakes and streams between the Georgian Bay and the Bay of Ouinte were to be connected with artificial waterways, was mooted. Governor Colborne appointed a civil engineer, named Baird, to make a survey and estimate the cost of the proposed canal. His estimate was half a million pounds, but he suggested that the expense could be cut down by using railway connections in places instead of canals, and recommended that long steamers should be built upon which trains of cars might be run.

The undertaking was begun, and some £90,000 was expended on the Trent and on works at Peterboro’, but the troubles of 1837-38 checked the enterprise, and to this day part of the canal is still under construction. The portion going through Victoria Count}’ is, however, in operation, and the township of Eden possesses a remarkable engineering work in the Lift-lock at Kirkfield. Its two chambers, into which the vessels enter, are even larger than those of the Lift-lock at Peterboro’; but the height of the lift at Kirkfield is only 48 feet 6 inches as against Peterboro’s 65 feet.

A branch of the canal, extending across the township of Ops, connects Lakes Sturgeon and Scugog, the latter of which was much increased in size by the building of the mill dam at Lindsay. This, indeed, did so much injury to the farms higher up the Scugog that the courts ordered that the dam should be lowered. The result was that the mill at Lindsay became unworkable, and this was of such great importance to the community that the dam had to be raised again regardless of the drowning of the lands along the Scugog River.

In the early fifties, Victoria and Peterboro’ Counties took stock to the extent of £100,000 in the Grand Junction Railway Company, but owing to the amalgamation of this company with the Grand Trunk, which had many irons in the fire, and to the stringency in the money market due to the Crimean War, there was long delay in the construction of the promised line. Meanwhile the Port Hope and Peterboro’ Railway Company offered to build a line through Victoria to the west boundary of Mariposa; but Peterboro’ declined to take stock in the scheme. £20,000 was subscribed in Ops, however, on condition that the line should be built to Lindsay, and in 1857 the first locomotive ran into the town, and, even before the line was completely ballasted, the railway did a good business. Now all the townships of Victoria, except the five most northerly, are served by branches of the Grand Trunk Railway, and a branch of the Canadian Pacific Railway runs through Lindsay to the picturesque village of Bobcaygeon. From this settlement, over half a century ago, a colonisation road was opened northwards, and the lots upon it were very quickly taken up by young farmers—no less than two hundred coming in in nine months. The town plot of Bobcaygeon was laid out on the mainland, but the individuals who actually founded the village preferred to build on the beautiful rocky island between Pigeon and Sturgeon Lakes.

In Mackenzie's time the neighbourhood of Lindsay was a stronghold of “Reform,” and upon the collapse of the attempt on Toronto, in December, 1837, it was imagined that some of the rebel leaders might seek refuge in this district, so it came to pass that a company of loyal Peterboro’ militiamen, who had vainly endeavoured to get transportation from Port Hope to the scene of the disturbances, was sent into Victoria. These valiant fellows did their duty with a zeal alarming to some unoffending citizens. For instance, they stopped a farmer driving home with a small load of hay, while they prodded it with their bayonets in the belief that William Lyon Mackenzie himself might be lying concealed within.

Lindsay was “the county town elect” of Victoria before separation from Peterboro’ was effected. The town site was surveyed in 1833, but “owing to bad roads and distance from the sea-board” its growth was slow; and at the close of its first quarter of a century, it had something less than two thousand inhabitants. In the next half-century, however, its population was multiplied by three, and now it is a town of between 7000 and 8000. It is at its liveliest when the summer season brings its crowds of sportsmen and tourists bound for the beautiful Kawartha Lakes. Of these, Sturgeon, Cameron and Balsam are within the bounds of Victoria, lying in a wild, sparsely-inhabited region of granite crags, forest-covered hills and clear limpid streams.

Lindsay is the home of Colonel Sam Hughes, the veteran Parliamentarian of twenty-one years standing, and at Kirkfield Sir William Mackenzie, President of the Canadian Northern Railway, whose connection with railway building began as a contractor for part of a line in Victoria County, was born. Ernest Thompson Seton, the author, artist and naturalist, made his first acquaintance with the denizens of the Canadian wilds in the woods about Scugog, near which his English parents made their home in his early childhood. But limitations of space forbid any attempt to chronicle the doings, at home and abroad, of these and other Victoria "Old Boys.”


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