Back to HomeFeature Article - May 14, 2009

August festival in honour of a historic logging feud

by Jeff Green


Actually it is the end of the feud that is being celebrated.

MERA (McDonalds Corners Elphin Recreation Association) will be presenting the Mississippi River Heritage Festival on August 22 and 23 to mark the end of the Lumberman's Feud between two lumber baron families of the Mississippi River, the McLarens and the Caldwells.

The story of the Lumberman's Feud is of political significance, because its resolution established the public's right to use waterways in this country. It is also of commercial significance for the lumber trade that ruled Frontenac and Lanark counties in the 19th Century. Its ultimate resolution came about because of, you guessed it, love and marriage in McDonalds Corners.

It all started in the 1870s when Peter Mclaren and Boyd Caldwell both owned lumber mills in Carleton Place, and ran logs from logging camps in north western Lanark and Frontenac County down the Mississippi River system.

McLaren invested in a log slide at High Falls, which is located on Dalhousie Lake between Snow Road and Watson's Corners, for his own use. He decided that because of his investment, only his logs could pass over the falls and down Dalhousie Lake to Mississippi River and Carleton Place.

Boyd Caldwell did not agree, and the dispute that started on the remote shores of Dalhousie between logging crews ended up being argued at Parliament Hill and in courtrooms in Ottawa, and ultimately, London, England.

After winning legal and political battles in Ontario (1881, 1882, and 1883) and promptly losing them due to federal rulings, Boyd Caldwell appealed to the Committee of the Privy Council in England, and won. A subsequent version of the Ontario Streams and Rivers Act was not challenged, and the federal Navigable Waters Protection Act followed, guaranteeing public use of Canadian waterways to this day.

The Caldwell-McLaren dispute did not end when the political issue was solved, however. It took a Christmas dance at McDonalds Corners to do that.

An account of those events was written by Harry Walker, a writer for the Ottawa Journal, and was reprinted in Hilda Geddes book, “The Canadian Mississippi River.”

Walker said the story came to him “as told by an unknown writer in an old clipping in a district paper”.

As the story goes, a dance was being held on Christmas Eve in “McDonald's 'stopping place' at McDonalds Corners.

Since McDonalds Corners was considered a Caldwell stronghold at the time, the foreman of the McLaren Shanty had forbidden his men to go near the dance.

We'll let Harry Walker tell the rest of the story.

“But Ronald Grant, a McLaren man, was in love with Jessie Mcllquham (or “Mucklewham” as the district Scots pronounced it), the best dancer in Drummond township. She was the daughter of stern Calvinistic David “Mucklewham”, an uncompromising Caldwell supporter. Jessie's father had refused his consent “to a McLaren man takin' bairn o' mine in wedlock”. In the black bitterness of his heart, young Grant brooded over that refusal, and became more of a '“McLaren” man than ever.

Jessie “Mucklewham” was to be at the dance, and Grant, tortured by visions of that lovely Highland girl with her dark, flashing eyes, determined to go. He taunted his foreman with the charge that if McLaren men did not put in an appearance they would be branded as cowards. Stung by such a suggestion, the grizzled old foreman declared: “McLaren men are afraid of nothing that walks, dances or fights on the Highland Line. Put a bundle of axe-handles in the sleigh and go”.

Down the moonlit road raced the sleigh with its McLaren cohorts, and Ronald arrived to claim his quota of dances. How Ronald won his bride right there at the dance while McLaren and Caldwell men applauded is a story that brightens the annals of Lanark County. There was no more warfare on the Mississippi.”

With a history like that, it's a wonder that a festival honouring the end of the “Lumberman's Feud” has never been held in McDonalds Corners before; but the wait is now over.

On the weekend of August 22 and 23, MERA, in conjunction with the McDonalds Corners Agricultural Society and the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority will be holding a two-day festival, with events being scheduled for Centennial Beach on Dalhousie Lake, as well as at MERA and the Agricultural Hall and grounds.

The festival committee has applied for a grant from Festivals Canada, but approvals have been delayed this year. A couple of weeks ago, the committee decided the festival would happen whether the funding comes through or not. Among events that are in the planning stages are dressing up the MERA schoolhouse as a 19th century Shanty town. There will be historical displays about the area, traditional logging demonstrations, music, discussions about the historical and current state of the forests, as well as a youth-based drama about the McLarens and the Caldwells.

The culmination of the Saturday portion of the festival will be a log drivers’ dance at the Ag. Hall to celebrate the dance that ended the feud.

The final itinerary is still being worked on, and some of the scale of the festival will depend on funding, but with such a rich history to work from, the Mississippi River Heritage Festival promises to be a highlight of the '09 summer season.

For further information, contact Marilyn Barnett at 613-259-2269 or Mary Vandenhoff at 613-259-5654.