Jeff Green | Mar 25, 2015
Alita Battey-Pratt moved to a historic home on Latimer Road in the 1960s, with her husband, who taught at Queen's University.
They were trying to “get back to the land, to use a phrase from the 60's, grow our own food and all that,” she recalls. After having twin daughters in 1969 and a son several years later, Alita still had had enough time to do some writing, and had taken an interest in the history of the area. She began writing for the Triangle newspaper, which served Storrington, Loughborough and Portland townships at the time.
When the project to create the book, County of 1000 Lakes, started up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Alita was approached by Ethel Beedell, who came from Battersea, and Jenny Cousineau from Sunbury to work on the Storrington chapter of the book. Alita also ended up writing the Architecture chapter as well. The book is a 550-page people's history of Frontenac County from 1673 - 1973 and was published in 1983,
“I was raising young children and couldn't take a full-time job. It was fun to do and having a group of people who were so committed coming from all over Frontenac County to do it was a great thing. We met probably once a month. Each district doing a chapter would send a representative, and we got to know each other pretty well. Of course there was no Internet or email, so we communicated by phone and even then it was long distance. Unfortunately the manuscripts are only on paper; there is no digital version of anything, and only a fraction of what was written ended up in the book,” she said, when interviewed from her immaculately restored Heritage Home on Latimer Road on a cold, clear, blustery February morning.
All the research for the Storrington chapter gave her an insight into the history, not only of the former village of Latimer, but also of Battersea, Inverary and Sunbury.
One of the many interesting stories of the development of the area in the mid 19th Century was the development of Perth Road and the bridge over Loughborough Lake, which was necessary in order to bring development to Loughborough and Storrington Townships.
Development in the 1830s in the area between Kingston and Loughborough Lake was hampered by a lack of good roads. In fact there are accounts of the requirement that landowners were required to put in a certain amount of time working on public roadways as a form of taxation.
“In 1853, every landowner in Storrington whose assessed property was less than £50 had to perform two days labour on the roads, and this increased to 12 days for wealthier landowners,” said Battey-Pratt in her manuscript.
When it came time to build the major north-south arterial roads, Perth Road through Inverary and Montreal Road through Battersea, the Province of Upper Canada was not interested in paying the entire cost, so “joint committees were formed from county councilors and citizen shareholders."
The Kingston and Storrington and Kingston Mills Road Company was formed in 1852. In 1854, the first 12 mile stretch of road from Kingston to Loughborough Lake was paved, and two toll booths were installed, which brought in £200 in revenue the first year. It cost £7,293 to build the road, including £615 for the bridge over the north shore of Loughborough Lake. By the winter of 1855, a winter road had been built all the way up to Big Rideau Lake, where Perth Road still ends today.
The rights to the road were sold in 1860 to “a triumvirate of three men, A.J. Macdonell, Samuel Smith and Sir J. A. MacDonald”
James Campbell built the first subdivision in what would become Frontenac County in 1855, subdividing his farm to form 2 acre lots along Perth Road in what was subsequently renamed Inverary from the original name, which was Storrington.
The toll on Perth Road remained in place for decades, much to the consternation of many people who made use of it on a regular basis.
Jabez Stoness, who carried the mail for 35 years over the Perth Road, paid $3,000 in tolls over that time.
In one celebrated case, “The wives of men working in the stone quarry north of Inverary refused to pay the toll because 'they were just taking lunches to their husbands'. They raced through the gate, [tollmaster] Charles Gibson went to get the bailiff ... and warrants were made out for the women's arrest. They were summoned to appear in court, held in Osborne's tavern, and the court fined them $16.50,” a hefty fine considering the toll was only 4 cents each way.
Even a toll road can deteriorate, however, and in 1890, Jabez Stoness, no doubt angered by a lifetime of paying fees, refused to pay any further tolls because of the condition of the road. Noting that the county engineer had deemed the road was “dangerous and impeding Her Majesty's travel” Stoness argued that tolls could not be charged until the road was improved and he won the case.
In 1907 the county offered R. H. Fair, who had purchased the road in 1899, $3,000 for the road. An arbitration board set the price at $7,000 and in June of 1907 the purchase was completed. The tolls were removed from Perth Road once and for all, and a steel bridge was constructed over Loughborough Lake, putting an end to decades of difficult crossings over rickety bridges (and ferries when the bridges would collapse every 10 years or so)
One of Alita's interests during the writing of the book was the history of Latimer and the history of her own property, which was originally granted in 1799.
During the research phase for County of 1000 Lakes, a neighbour who was living on the property that at one time had been John Woolf's store, found a sack full of papers which, when inspected, yielded a very clear picture of how the store and the Village of Latimer functioned in the mid 19th Century. At one time Latimer, which was the first settlement north of Kingston in what would become Storrington, had a post office, two cheese factories (including one that was turned into a fire station in the 1970s) a store and other amenities.
John Woolf came to Latimer from Thorold in 1820 or '21, settled and opened a black smith shop, which became a trading post.
Alita is still excited by what those old documents said about life in Latimer almost 200 years ago.
“What I found was that he kept scrupulous records of everybody who came and went from his trading post, because people didn't have cash. If you came in with homespun - the Campbell ladies made a lot of homespun, that has been documented - they would trade that for wheat or flour or scantling [small timbers].
“So you had a document that ran for 50 years, of everything that went on in the community, every family, every trade, recorded in pounds, shilling and pence, until it became dollars and cents after 1850.”
The documents also tell when houses were built and who built them
“Captain Everett, who was a wealthy man and an owner of the toll road, would buy flooring for a full house in one go, and you would get to know when he took on construction projects.
The Ansley family who lived on the farm where Alita lives, were in the lumber business, and most of their trading was done in terms of flooring, scantling and cedar shingles and they would trade for ground flour and ground peas, etc.
Her research also revealed details about the history of her own house and the families that owned and operated it and the surrounding 200 acres of farmland.
“It was built by Amos Ansley, who was a United Empire Loyalist and a well known master builder. It became interesting to me partly because when my husband and I purchased the house it was in a derelict state and we spent years restoring it so we learned a lot about how it was built in the process. But I also happen to be from a Loyalist family myself, and it occurs to me that a master builder such as Ansley would either have crossed paths with my family or at least they would have known about him.”
Amos Ansley Jr. ended up owning a mill in what would eventually become the Village of Battersea.
Ansley sold the mill in 1830 to another Loyalist who moved into the area, Henry Vanluven. Vanluven and his sons became an economic force in what became know as Vanluven's Mills until the name was changed to Battersea in 1857. He was also the first reeve of Storrington Township when it was incorporated in 1850.
“Battersea had a larger population in 1850 than it does now,” said Alita, “and it had a gristmill [which burned down] a number of sawmills in and around the village and a large tannery. It was a thriving industrial centre in its day.”