| Aug 06, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - August 6, 2009 Mississippi River Festival:the loggers’ feud at High Falls In the mid 1870s, High Falls on the Mississippi just above Dalhousie Lake was the centre of a major controversy over the freedom of navigation on Ontario’s waterways. During these years there was a private dispute between the Lanark logging firms of Peter McLaren and Boyd Caldwell over the right of Caldwell to pass his timber through the log slides constructed by McLaren on his land adjacent to High Falls. This was only resolved with the decision on March 6, 1884, by the British Privy Council, Caldwell v McLaren 9 AC 392 (1884) supporting the claim by Boyd Caldwell to public navigation rights. This became a landmark event of major economic importance locally, provincially and nationally.

The key to success in the logging industry was the ability to move timber down the rivers from the stands inland to mills downstream and markets abroad. In the mid-1870s, Peter McLaren purchased land adjacent to High Falls, constructed a dam across the river, directing the water through a chute on his property. McLaren claimed that his dam and the expensive slide improvements gave him exclusive rights to use that portion of the river and conversely to deny passage to Caldwell and other logging firms. Boyd Caldwell felt entitled to move his timber past the “unlawful” obstacles, either by breaking the dam or using the McLaren chute. Thus began years of legal action between the rival loggers (including the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Canadian Supreme Court) moving quickly into the political realm as a full-blown federal/provincial dispute, the provincial and federal governments supporting Caldwell and McLaren respectively. Tension was high throughout the region, dividing families and settlements along Caldwell/McLaren lines, seriously affecting the socio-economic fabric of the local settlements centred on logging.

The court decision definitively ended the decade of intermittent blockage of timber movement on the Mississippi River. It settled an on-going Federal/Provincial constitutional dispute pitting free navigation rights against private property rights. More importantly, the decision led ultimately to the 1884 Ontario Streams and Rivers Act and that, to this day, guarantees freedom of passage on Canada’s navigable waterways.

Shortly after the judicial resolution, the personal feud faded and the families and followers reconciled upon the romance (ignited at a McDonalds Corners dance) and subsequent marriage between a fiercely loyal McLaren man and the daughter of a similarly fiercely loyal Caldwell man. Caldwell and McLaren became close friends and moved on to wider interests and illustrious careers.

On August 22 and 23 in McDonalds Corners, you are invited to the Mississippi River Heritage Festival to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the British Privy Council decision, the historical events that culminated with that decision, and the central role of logging in the rich heritage of the Mississippi River.

Visit www.mississippiriverheritagefestival.ca for details of the festival, or call 613-259-5654.

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