| Aug 27, 2009

Back to HomeFeature Article - August 27, 2009 Historic plaque unveiling at Mississippi River Heritage FestivalBy Julie Druker

Guided eco-tours of the Mississippi River were a popular enent on August 23 at the Mississippi River Heritage Festival in McDonald's Corners. Visitors enjoyed a number of entertaining and educational events inluding: a rivierside service, historic walks, displays and demonstrations, food & music.

On August 20 at the McDonalds Corners Agricultural Hall, representatives from the Ontario Heritage Trust and the McDonalds Corners-Elphin Recreation and Arts (MERA) welcomed visitors to the official unveiling of a provincial plaque commemorating the Rivers and Stream Act of 1884. The unveiling launched the Mississippi River Heritage Festival which was held last weekend in and around McDonalds Corners and celebrated the end of a feud between two families of early Lanark logging settlers, the Caldwells and McLarens, and the historical government legislation that resulted from that feud, and which enforced the freedom of navigation on Canadian waterways. 

Members of both the McClaren and Caldwell families were present for the presentation.

Beth Anne Mendes, plaque program coordinator for Ontario Heritage Trust, began the presentation with a historical overview of the events, which boiled down to a question of the rights of Boyd Caldwell to pass his timbers through the chutes that Peter McLaren had constructed on his land adjacent to High Falls on the Mississippi river. The feud quickly moved into the political realm.

The Rivers and Streams Act of 1884, which was passed by the British Privy Council, finally resolved the dispute and is the reason that today all Canadians have free access to all of our great waterways.

Before the plaque was unveiled, MPP Randy Hiller expressed his thoughts about its importance. He stated, “ The plaque gives testament to the fact that the navigable Rivers and Streams Act of 1884 helped define our country, little Lanark county and the people of Lanark county and the constitutional process. Each of these factors helped our country grow to prosperity through hard work and efforts and tenacious attitudes.”

Jean Dunning of MERA thanked all of the local community groups and individuals who came together to make the event happen.

MERA members Marilyn Barnett and Mary Vandenhoff were also thanked for their involvement and initiating the impetus for the plaque project and the Heritage Festival.

Mary Vandenhoff later explained to me the evolution of the plaque idea. “Back in August of last year when we were talking about doing the festival I called up the Heritage Trust and asked about the details to initiate the making of a plaque. The timing worked out really well.”

The historic feud has long since been resolved and has given way to friendly camaraderie between relatives of the two feuding families. Peter McLaren, whose great grandfather was a cousin of the original lumber baron, also named Peter McLaren, was present at the unveiling and said, “The families were reconciled very quickly afterwards and had a drink together.”

John Fowler, the great grandson of Boyd Caldwell was also present at the unveiling and was pleased to be involved with the event. He explained, “I think that history is one of the prime reasons why members of the community should get together and talk about things, and having grown up in Perth in a family that has been there for six generations, I grew up surrounded by family stories and information and felt it natural to be a part of this event and the festival.”

Asked if his ancestors realized the huge impact of the act that was passed as a result of the feud, John responded, “I don’t know. I suspect Boyd was thrilled with the Privy Council's decision but I know my grandmother who was at the time at school in Toronto had a holiday that day.”

What began as a feud has brought together members of a small community, all of whom have benefited from its final outcome.

The plaque will be installed at Centennial beach on Dalhousie Lake off of the Lavant Mill Road.

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