MBC Lakes History
HISTORY. It’s a big word that suggests the vast sweep of human existence and development; tens of thousands of years – or at least a few centuries – of change.
In fact, history can be small, too. And not so long. And often not as accurate as it might be. Especially in an area like ours, where permanent settlement came late, resources and recreation are the industries and family histories dominate over the “bigger concerns” of the World At Large.
Below are a some very brief (and quite possibly not all that accurate) snippets of history for the lakes in the MBC area, some personal stories of Family History and, with any luck, some eventual corrections. It has been said that “history is written by the winners”, which might be true at the grand scale but around here, where things are smaller, history is written and re-written by whoever is around the dinner table or the camp-fire.
If you want to know a bit more – and a bit more reliable – history on our area the very best place to start is at the Stanhope Heritage Discovery Museum located next to the Township Offices on North Shore Road ( http://www.stanhopemuseum.on.ca/ ) and at least start with the facts.
BEFORE THERE WERE COTTAGES:
The earliest people in our area were, of course, the First Nations. Though there is no evidence of any permanent settlements in the immediate area, the Anishnaabeg (Algonquin, and other) people travelled, traded, fished and hunted using the lakes and river systems throughout the region.
Maple Lake was known as NINATIGO Lake, Beech was SAWAMISHI and Little Cameron was, as it remains to this day, without an official name.
Maple Lake History:
Some of the first European people to arrive in the area were trappers with names like Boice, Redner and Sawyer. Then the first settlers arrived with the extension of the Bobcaygeon and Peterson roads. Many of the early pioneers supplemented their income with work on these roads. In 1860, James J. Melville (who later became Maple Lake’s first Postmaster, Crown land agent and Stanhope’s first Reeve) settled between Grass and Maple Lakes. His wife, Catherine was one of the first European women to see eastern Stanhope. Other early settlers on Maple were Benjamin Clarke, (1861 – brother- in-law to Melville) Thomas Jones, (1861) Francis Jones, (1861) Richard Bailey, (1861) Thomas Sisson, (1873) and Paul Norman (1875). In 1883 the Fader Family purchased the Francis Jones farm and settled on the south side of Maple Lake.
Most homes from this era have been destroyed or renovated, however, the home of John and Charity Billing, from Blagdon Hill and Bishop’s Wood, (respectively) in Somerset, England, remains intact; The couple settled in the area in 1875 and began building their home on the high ground between Maple and Halls Lakes in 1880, and completed construction in 1885.. They named their home after John’s home town in England. John was a master mason by trade and his other, more famous and accessible project, St. Peter’s Church at the west end of Maple Lake remains as a testament to his skill. St Peter’s churchyard and cemetery were donated by M.R. Dawson, the son of Peter and Jane Dawson, Maple Lake Pioneers.
In the early 1900’s, Maple Lake boasted its’ own baseball team. They had a diamond at Melville’s field and travelled by wagon to games in Minden.
In the 1920’s, the Hamlet of Maple Lake (centred around the old Welch’s Store, now the Art Hive on Hwy 118) had the first telephone exchange system in the County. Miss Jean Scott was likely Stanhope’s first telephone operator.
Maple Lake is the largest of the lakes in our area and has more than 275 shoreline addresses plus over 100 more homes and cottages that fall within the MBC zone. Public access to the lake, for boats, is gained via a Township boat launch at the Airport Road bridge from which Grass and Pine Lakes, upriver in Dysart, can also be reached. Unless you don’t mind scratching your kayak or canoe, navigation from Maple to Beech lakes is not recommended!
Beech Lake History:
The first settlers at Beech Lake arrived with the extension of the Bobcaygeon and Peterson Roads from the south. Many of those early pioneers supplemented their incomes with work on the roads and in the logging camps in the region. Some even travelled west to help with the grain harvest in the prairies. Many of the original settlers had names that are still familiar to the area: Jane Grey Sisson (1875 &1869); William Cameron (1862); Jacob Ferguson (1862); Alfred Moore (1862); John Peck (1868) and James Fitzsimmonds (1875), left their names and, in some cases, their descendents here.
In 1863, James Ferguson purchased land on the Beech River (the Gull River section between Beech and Boshkung Lakes) and erected a saw-mill. Neddie Sisson and his wife, Anne Wyatt, ran the post office from their log cabin on Lots 18 and 19, Concession 2 on the south side of Beech Lake, just east of Mifflin Road. By the turn of the century, Reuben Winston was running the post office.
The first Stanhope Council Chambers, built in 1910, was located on Dominion Road at the west end of the lake. The building was also used as a dance hall and there are tales of loggers being warned not to wear their caulk boots inside to spare the pine floor! This remained the Council Chambers until 1959 when the Maple Lake School (S.S. #5) was renovated to serve as the Township offices and Library. That building still stands on the North Shore Road, across from the St. Peter’s Road Bridge, as a private residence, while the original 1910 Chamber building now stands as the Stanhope Museum, next to the current Algonquin Highlands Township offices, having been moved from its’ original site.
Beech Lake is the second largest lake in our area with more than 150 shore-front addresses and a further 65 or so back from the shore. Public boating access is from the Township maintained boat launch on the North Shore Road at the eastern end of the lake. Boats may also pass – carefully – from Beech Lake to Boshkung and beyond via the Beech River segment of the Gull River.
Rumour has it that Beech Lake has the best fishing of the three lakes in the MBC zone, but this is disputed in some quarters; most of the rumours seem to come from those on Maple Lake, so it might just be one of those fisherman things…
(Little) Cameron Lake History:
One of the first settlers in the area was a trapper named Johnny Archer, who built a cabin and raised a family on the north-east side of the lake in 1876. Land Patent records show settlement on the south side of the lake by William Demill (1874) and Hiram Sawyer in 1876. James Blott settled at the west end in 1876, as well. In about 1925, Charlie and Bertha Barry settled on lots 29 and 30 of Concession 7, including the west half of the lake. They lived, at first, in a log cabin, worked their own land and supplemented the family income with work in logging camps and other pursuits. They raised four sons who helped to support the family as Charlie sold off lots around the lake; often Harold, Earl, Ross and Val took care of construction for the purchasers. Some of these cabins, constructed from logs and lumber obtained in clearing the farm land, are still in use today. One of Charlie’s grandsons, Jeff, still lives on a portion of the original farmstead and other descendants and extended family remain, as well.At the east end of the lake, Orm Fader farmed and raised his family; descendants and the name are still there.
Jack and Jean Middleton first purchased land on the south- east side of the lake in 1936 and had one of the first lakeside cottages on the lake. Charlie Barry and his sons built the Middleton’s first, two bedroom log cabin, still being used today.
Ben Sawyer was another early “developer” who purchased lots on the north side of the lake, built log cabins and resold, two of these early 1900’s cabins are still in use.
Cameron Lake is known by most of those who are long time residents and cottagers as Little Cameron – it is hard to say why, exactly, as the lake has no official name on any map! Cameron may refer to the William Cameron Family which first settled in the Beech Lake area. On maps today, the only named lake in the area is a small “pond” just north of Little Cameron called Second Lake and existing largely because of beavers.
Lore has it that the trap line held by Johnny Archer ran from Little Cameron (First Lake?) up through Second to Third Lake further north and west, and beyond to Fourth Lake near Blagdon Hill, north of Maple Lake.
There is no public boating access to Little Cameron Lake and, unless you are very, very tiny, none of the creeks flowing in or out will get you anywhere at all.