| Aug 06, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - August 6, 2009 Cloyne after 150 years – looking back at pioneer daysBy Jeff Green

One hundred and fifty years ago the communities of Flinton and Kaladar were a few years old, but to the north it was more of a wilderness area.

In 1859, a post office was opened in Cloyne, which was named after a village in County Cork, Ireland, and members of the Cloyne and District Historical Society will be marking that event at a celebration this weekend.

The Cloyne 150 year celebration is as much about the enduring efforts of the historical society itself, which was founded in 1972 as the Pioneer Club.

It will also be marking the ongoing rehabilitation efforts at the Pioneer Cemetery in Cloyne by North Frontenac Township council, the Land O'Lakes Garden Club, the Historical Society, and some volunteer genealogists. A plaque will be dedicated on August 9 at 2 pm.

Settlers came to Cloyne as a result of the building of the Addington Road, which started at the Clare River in what was then Sheffield Township (now part of Stone Mills) and ended at Hydes Creek on the Madawaska River, 56 miles to the north.

Dense forests in the region were being heavily logged by companies that were sending as many red and white pines through the Madawaska and Mississippi River systems as possible, to be shipped to England for use in shipbuilding and large-scale factory construction. At that time it was illegal to sell the logs to buyers in the colonies; they all had to be shipped across the ocean. In addition, only logs big enough to be cut into 12-inch square timbers were suitable, leading to a massive amount of slag as the result of logging.

This was in spite of warnings that the net effect of this logging would be to provide an income to settlers for a short time, but once the trees were gone there would be nothing left but relatively poor farmland.

The Addington Road was built just after the townships of Abinger, Ashby, Barrie and Denbigh (a total of 205,000 acres) had been surveyed. The road was expected to encourage settlement, and records show that it had a measure of success.

Interior of Wickware's Store, c1900The conditions of settlement were rather onerous: “That the settler be 18 years of age or over; that he take possession of the land allotted to him within one month and put in a state of cultivation at least 12 acres of the land in the course of four years, build a house of at least 18 x 20 feet, ..., after which accomplishment being fulfilled, the settler has the right of obtaining title to the property.”

These were difficult conditions, particularly since the tools settlers had at their disposal were rather rudimentary from today’s perspective. In place of chainsaws, there were axes and hand saws, and in place of tractors and ATVs there were oxen and horses.

It must have been particularly disconcerting to the settlers when they came to realise that the very logging that opened up the region also destroyed the soil that was necessary to grow crops on the land.

Life was particularly difficult for the earliest settlers. An account in “The Oxen and the Axe”, a book of local history, describes the life of the Meeks family, one of the first families to settle, in 1858.

It took years for the settlers to develop the skills they needed to thrive under local conditions. “Deer were plentiful enough when the first settlers came in, but although short on food often enough, it seems that the settlers did not know enough to kill them, nor did they know how to trap the numerous fur bearing animals. As they lacked enough tools and livestock, they also in many cases, did not have firearms or trapping equipment,” (The Oxen and the Axe – page 14)

Denis Meeks, who brought his wife and nine children to Cloyne (five more were born afterwards), had to walk 80 miles to Newburgh and carry supplies home on his back. A typical meal at the Meeks' table in the first years consisted of potatoes and salt. Eventually, the Meeks obtained a cow and became less isolated as more settlers moved in and opened saw mills and stores, but the first few years must have been difficult.

Barrie Twp Council, 1925During the logging years, many of the men worked seasonally as loggers and the rest of the time establishing hardscrabble farms. Lumber barons controlled the logging industry, some sending logs to the Ottawa River, particularly McLaren and Caldwell, and Rathburn and Gilmour, based on Lake Ontario. Gilmour built a tramway to send logs from Mazinaw Lake to Pringle Lake, to Skootamatta and eventually to Trenton.

Over time churches were established and took hold; schools were opened and the economy became more diversified. The impact of the logging practices of the 1870s to the 1890s, when the logging companies moved out, are still being felt today. Clear-cut logging brought about a large number of slag fires in its wake, and also disturbed an ecological process that had created a reasonable amount of soil over the bedrock of the Canadian Shield. With the trees all gone, much of the soil went as well, leaving bare rock. This happened even though warnings were published in the 1840s that clear cutting on the Canadian Shield would inevitably have this effect.

TOURISM: Tourism has been a major part of life in the area for over 100 years. The Wickware Hotel in Cloyne, built by Libeous P. Wickware, was a going concern in the late 19th Century, and in 1903 Wickware’s store was opened. The hotel burnt down in the 1960s.

And of course, there is the rock. Bon Echo Rock, at the Mazinaw narrows, is the centrepiece of Bon Echo Park, which draws 200,000 visitors each summer. Aside from its dramatic presence in the landscape, Bon Echo Rock also has red ochre pictographs at its base.

Back in 1899, the Bon Echo Inn was built by Doctor Weston Price, a dentist from Cleveland who grew up in Newburgh, and whose wife had once taught school in Ardoch. The hotel was sold to Flora MacDonald Denison after several years, and it continued to be a haven for tourists who were intrigued by the dramatic visage of the rock, as well as the pleasures of Mazinaw Lake and the dozens of lakes in the region.

Flora MacDonald had a somewhat eccentric admiration for the America poet Walt Whitman, who died in 1892 in Camden, New Jersey. She formed a Walt Whitman Society with Horace Tauber, one of Whitman’s biographers, and published a series of magazines. In 1919 she had passages from “Leaves of Grass” engraved onto Mazinaw Rock, which she had nicknamed Old Walt’s Rock.

Flora died in 1921 and her son Merrill took over. Merrill Dennison was a well-known playwright, and a member of the Arts and Letters Club in Toronto, which put him in contact with painters from the Group of Seven. He invited some of the painters to the hotel, particularly A.Y. Jackson, and Bon Echo became included in some of the paintings that have become Canadian icons. The hotel burned down in 1936 and Merrill Dennison turned the land over to the province in 1955, precipitating the development of Bon Echo Provincial Park.

PIONEER CLUB - In the 1970s, the Pioneer Club began gathering stories about the lives of the settlers in an area that extends from Kaladar in the south to the shores of the Madawaska at Griffith in the north, west to Weslemkoon Lake and east to Plevna and Ardoch.

Many of these stories were gathered in The Oxen and the Axe, first published in 1974. Four more editions have since been published and the Pioneer Club has become the Cloyne and District Historical Society, which operates the Pioneer Museum. The museum has gathered artefacts that give a graphic picture of the kinds of activities that went into maintaining a community throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before gas-powered vehicles and electricity made life much easier.

Agriculture is not the mainstay that it was 50 years ago in the region, but logging remains a key industry, on a smaller scale than it was in the past, as do hunting and fishing as well as summer cottaging.

PIONEER CEMETERY - As part of this weekend’s celebrations, a plaque will be unveiled at the Pioneer Cemetery in Cloyne, containing the names of the people known to be interred there.

The ceremony will mark a decade of efforts to rehabilitate the cemetery. It was either discovered or re-discovered by the developer who created building lots on Little Pond Road. The ice storm of 1997 knocked trees down over the site, and the microburst of 2002 left it in shambles.

Since then staff and a succession of council members from North Frontenac Township have taken on clearing the small (0.2 acre) site. Then Barrie Ward councillor Will Cybulski organized the local cadets to clear some brush in the summer of 2004 and in 2005 and 2006 Councillors Dave Smith, Wayne Good, and Fred Perry were involved, as was Clerk Brenda DeFosse, along with a host of friends, relatives and neighbours, in a major effort to limb and remove trees and clear brush from the site.

In 2007 the township received a $4,800 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Kingston for landscaping materials. Councillor Lonnie Watkins brought his equipment to help the Land O'Lakes Garden Club, who took on the beautification end of the project in conjunction with the historical society.

The result is a peaceful, well-landscaped space that is a fitting tribute to the efforts of the community that worked on it and the pioneers who are interred there. 

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