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Feature Article - October13, 2005

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Feature Article

October 13, 2005

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Excursion of Historic Flinton and area

by Carol Morrow

On October 1, 27 passengers embarked for a day trip to historic Flinton and area on an ideal sunny fall day, autumn’s muted golds and oranges a canvas to their travels. Much historic background was imparted to the group by this year’s tour guide, President Margaret Axford, and our skilled bus driver, John Bolton, provided humourous commentaries along the route. And he is skilled, for John was required to muscle out a route over an old Indian trail skirting the Skootamata River, scarcely more than a twisting country laneway not meant for bus travel.


We learned how important a character Billa Flint was to the settlement and planning of the community of Flinton: how, in 1858 Elzevir township came into being and Mr Flint was its first reeve, a position which he held for 21 years; that in 1859, the village of Flinton was laid out in 98 lots on seven different streets; and that Billa donated the land for the first school, town hall, church and cemetery. Now, Billa was a teetotaler of grand proportions and no liquor would be served in his village! This meant that the Stewart Hotel had to be built “just beyond the fringe” of the village limits. That hotel operated under several ownerships – Lessards early on, and later Yanches, to mention a couple - until it burned down in 1991; today the land lies vacant. After 1859, a buggy-maker, shoemaker, a casket-maker, a milliner and a blacksmith all set up shop in addition to other businesses. There was even a doctor in town, a Dr Tindle. Billa Flint was an enterprising sort, and had interests in the village of Troy (which we know as Actinolite) just across the marshes and through the woods towards Tweed, as the crow flies. At some time, Troy was named Bridgewater. To make it easier for Billa to go back and forth between his enterprises, a road was built between the two communities, and so, that is how the Bridgewater Road came to be. In 1879 Bridgewater burned, all except the marble church and one house. The loss of his business there took the stuffing out of “Senator” Flint, and he subsequently retired to Belleville, discouraged, and died in 1886.

Carol Lessard passed around old photos, some of which identified the original blacksmith shop and the Joe Pete Lessard house, as we traveled through some farming country along the Clark Line where the Bryden Settlements were located, with the Spicer and Andrew farms further along, both well over 100 years old. Flinton was first settled by the lumbermen, and this eventually gave over to agriculture which reached its peak in the 1890s. After the land became depleted, reforestation started in the early 1900s, or alternative farming in beef cattle sprung up. Some farmers also left for the West.

We passed the former site of the old mill which powered the Golden Fleece Mine. The middle part of the trip centred on a walk around the falls and the historic bridge over the Skootamatta River which flows into the Moira River and out to the Bay of Quinte at Belleville. This had been the timber route for lumbering businesses “shooting their logs” down river. In the Conservation Park, one of our bus passengers who had grown up in the village observed that “some things never change – the picnic table is covered with beer bottles.”

Billa Flint's old ox barn (click image for larger view)

It is an amusing fact that the casket-making business, which Joshua Stone started, was combined with grain and flour sales in the front of the shop when his son Halley took over. Halley did not believe in “putting all his eggs in one basket” but operated a general store as well, selling vinegar and coal oil out the back. In addition, he was also a drover; that is, he was in the cattle business, and drove them from Flinton to Kaladar, to be loaded on the train for Toronto. He was not an embalmer, but he owned the only hearse in town until he died. After that, the hearse went into “cold storage” for a few years in Billa Flint’s old ox barn (the shed beside the former Davidson’s Garage), until it was sold to V. Bryden for $40, who converted it into a half-ton truck.

There was more fascinating information; for instance, the establishment of three village churches as mission churches in the beginning; these form a kind of trinity in Flinton. They are the Community Club, a symbol of three different faiths – Anglican, Roman Catholic and United (Methodist) - all working together in fellowship to serve the greater good, their community. Space does not allow for the writer to go into all the details of the interesting talk that Ms Axford gave on the early history and municipal events of the new townships of Elzevir, Kaladar, Anglesea and Effingham.

We took a moment to reflect at the cenotaph which commemorates all of Flinton’s soldiers who died in various conflicts. The cenotaph in settlement times had been the site of the milliner’s shop; across the road had been a bank, and Magistrate Carscallen lived nearby. Next door, the librarian was waiting for us and we had a peek at this facility which was established after WW2. A ladies’ group called the Soldiers’ Comfort Club had formed to remember soldiers in the war by sending letters overseas. They continued as the Flinton Community Club in 1948 and established the library. Today the library is mainly funded from local efforts of the club and administrated by a local Library Board. Recent innovations have been a wheelchair ramp with the support of the Trillium Foundation and a computer terminal with high speed access for the public’s use. Plans are in the works for washroom expansion, work on the roof rafters, a new paint job outside and carpeting inside as well as large print books, videos and DVDs. With lots of community support and the triumvirate of churches working towards that goal, these plans are sure to become a reality. We wish them every success.

The tour of the village would not be complete without mentioning the Continuation School. It was built in 1945 from plans which came from Iceland, strangely enough, and operated until June of 1971.The structure is in the form of a V, and contained a science lab, a nurse’s office to the left of the main front door, a lunch room with a long bench and seating so students wouldn’t have to eat at the desks in the classroom, a phys ed room replete with mats plus other exercise and gymnastic equipment – sorry, no basketball or volley court, and a principal’s office strategically placed in the middle between the elementary and the secondary wings. Community dances were often held in the School, and one Hallowe’en – so the story goes – one old gentleman left the shenanigans to go home and couldn’t find his cart or his horse! Some enterprising young rascals had shinnied the cart up onto the roof, and led the horse down to the dam and tied it there for the night. In 1963 the High School in Cloyne opened, and the secondary wing of the Continuation School closed, and the whole facility shut down when the Education Centre in Cloyne opened in full swing in 1971 – in the name of progress, I suppose. Plans for making the old school into a facility for disadvantaged children were considered once, but “red tape” discouraged that idea.

After lunch our bus driver John plied his skill on the 5th Concession Road, better known at the Flinton end as the River Road, or at the 41 Highway end, as the O’Donnell Road. Originally called the Skootamata Trail, it was an Indian trail that followed the river and became a logging route to complement the riverway. Twenty seven families once lived along it; now there are three. John informed us this was “Lessard Country”, one of the families along the way being that of Louie and Dolly Lessard who lived there until the late 1950s. All that remains are a few foundation stones from the farmstead, an asparagus patch, and a clump of lilacs. Close by was the rubble from an old school house. Two walls of that early pioneer school (1830-1941) have been re-assembled and housed as a display in the Pioneer Museum in Cloyne. A hotel that served as an overnight stopping-off point for loggers once overlooked the road, but no more. There were some nice clearings in the woods, and stands of lilac bushes, evidence perhaps of other farmsteads belonging to families such as the Stones, Sedgewicks, Bradshaws, and others that once lined the road. The road is not kept open through the winter. Although the way is twisty and narrow, the branches of some large trees almost forming a canopy overhead, parts of it have seen some work in the last two years. Some of the roadway has been raised at the Flinton end, and at the upper end a new bridge over the River was constructed.

After passing some barely visible hunting camps and mobile homes, the back-end of Bosley’s farm and lumber mill, we crossed the sluiceway and came to the power house that in the 1920s provided energy for the Ore Chimney Mine on the east side of Highway 41. The Skootamata River used to be dammed to form a reservoir called Slave Lake. The water then travelled along the sluiceway through 5-foot diameter pipes about 150 metres to the powerhouse which housed the turbines needed to generate energy for the Mine. Excess water would pool around the block foundation and empty out into the river further down. Our group trooped through the twisted roots and straggling undergrowth to stand in wonder at the precipice of the ruins. The structure was awesome in its simplicity: made of concrete blocks, its twin circular openings like huge mouths gulping in water, the rusted iron grates above thundering dynamos that churned the waters of the river in usable energy. Our resident engineer, Ian Brumell, explained the operation details of the plant. Pretty amazing that this connection to our not-so-distant past remains hidden in the bush, and unknown by the “modern” generation!

The trip concluded with a drive past Sacha’s Legacy which is the Blackwell home, the O’Donnell place and the Miller homestead, the home of Arnold and Florence Miller and their 17 children. This property first had been settled in 1892 by Michael Walsh who built the log end, still part of the house. The Millers came in 1939 from Saskatchewan and bought from Roy Reid in 1942, adding on to the house as their family grew. They had no electrical power until the 1960s, and the children walked 2 miles to the Bishop Lake school. For the first few years Mr. Miller made the long trip back west on the harvest excursions, returning to work winters locally in logging; later he would work at Bon Echo Park and on the highways. Also evidence of a past era, the Millers kept their own animals for dairy products and meat, while cultivating a large vegetable garden.

Winner of the door prize – a wicker basket full of donated goodies – was Georgina Hughes. A special thanks from the Cloyne and District Historical Society is extended to Henry Hogg for donating the use of his bus. Everyone appreciated the excellent lunch served by the ladies of the Flinton Community Club – a big Hurrah! Also, the passengers applauded Margaret and John for their fine preparation and interpretive remarks; everyone enjoyed another successful trip!

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