In the early 1800s people started moving north from the more settled parts of the province. They were enticed into this unpopulated area by the offer of free grants of land. The first white man to locate in the township was a trapper by the name of Peter Leach. David Patterson came next. He built a little shanty by the rapids on the shores of McKellar Lake.
The road from Parry Sound to the rapids was blazed by Samuel Armstrong, John McKeown and Andrew Moore. They decided this would be an ideal spot for a settlement. The wagon road, called the Great North Road, was built soon after. William Beatty was awarded the contract. It was a twisty road which is said to have followed an old Indian trail. Beatty undertook to complete this road between April and November 1867 at a cost of $4275.
J.W. Fitzgerald surveyed McKellar Township in 1868-69. The township is named after the Honourable Archibald McKellar who held office in the first legislative assembly of Ontario from 1867 to 1875. Thomas McMurray, who served as land agent for Parry Sound, reported to the Honourable k. McKellar on immigration.
The township contained 44,755 acres. Of this, 40% was reported to be good land, and there were excellent stands of oak along the Manitawaba shores. Samuel Armstrong built a mill and shipped sawn planks to Parry Sound by oxen and wagon.
In 1872, a year before the township was incorporated, the first division court sat at Armstrong's store with Judge McCurry presiding. There was only one case on the docket. Henry Armstrong acted as clerk and William J. Moffat as bailiff. If the docket showed a clean sheet, the judge received the customary white gloves.
McKellar Township was incorporated in the spring of 1873 under a special act of the Ontario Legislature granting Municipal Institution in unorganized districts without connection with any County Council. Samuel Armstrong was appointed Reeve. He held this position until 1886. The first councillors were William Hurd, G.B. Lee, James McKeown and Samuel Oldfield. They received $11 a sitting and 5 cents per mile each way to the meetings. Willian Nixon acted as clerk at this first meeting. The second meeting was on 27 May 1873. David Patterson was elected clerk at a salary of $29 a year, and Charles Hoskins was assessor and collector at $25 per year.
The new council established roads and appointed path masters. A bonus was granted to anyone who would erect a grist mill. School sections were defined and numbered, and assessments levied. In 1874 the tax returns were $197.25 for township tax and $226.74 for school tax.
In 1870 a church was built on the hill where it still stands today. There was a store and post office in Samuel Armstrong's house. When Henry Moffat Sr. built on the far side of the rapids, the post office was moved over there. In the spring of 1872, Mrs. Charles Brown held school in her kitchen. McKellar Loyal Orange Lodge 546 was organized on September 28th, 1870. At one time there were over 90 members. 1872 also saw the opening of a boarding house by Samuel Armstrong. In early 1874, the McKellar House was completed. This was managed by William F. Thompson. At the council meeting on September 9, 1873, a tavern licence was issued. This cost $30 per year. Henry Watkins was appointed tavern inspector.
In 1878, 160 ratepayers were noted for the township. McKellar village was surveyed into village lots and the streets were given names. The village had two stores, a hotel, a temperance boarding house, a wagon shop, grist mill, sawmill, blacksmith shop, and two boot and shoe makers. There was a Methodist Church, Orange Hall, schoolhouse and post office. In 1880 a woollen and carding mill was erected. Shortly after, a cheese factory was also built.
The first fall fair was held in the village square in 1875. The exhibits were over Armstrong's store. It was not until 1893 that an agricultural hall was built.
It was a rainy December 4th, 1920 that the first meeting of the telephone commission was held. William F.Tait acted as president with Rev. Albert Bushell as secretary. After much planning and work the phones were ringing in late 1921.
By 1888 there were 172 resident ratepayers. McKellar township has been steadily growing and in 1987 has approximately 1800 ratepayers. Our paved Highway 124 is a big improvement over the twisty trail on which the oxen plodded to reach the virgin forest so many years ago.
This article first appeared in the April 1987 newsletter, Volume 3 - Number 1
Stephenson Township was first shown on the Crown Lands map in 1861. Robert Gilmour surveyed most of the township that same year. Ten years later lots 1 to 20 in Con. 12, 13 and 14 were also surveyed. Stephenson Township contains 42,973 acres of land and 3,262 acres of water. Mr. Gilmour reported land "generally of a good quality south of the Seventh Concession". The northwest part of the township along the shores of Skeleton Lake is very rugged with granite ridges and steeply cut valleys.
The survey of the Muskoka Road north of Bracebridge was done in 1860 and the road was built from Bracebridge to the north boundary of Stephenson Township in 1863. The settlers came as the road opened. The continuation of the road to Huntsville was not complete until 1871. over the years, roads were a continual source of aggravation and the Colonization Land Commission received many petitions pleading for more roads and improvements to existing roads.
With the arrival of large steamships on the lakes, the transportation dilemma was relieved to some degree. A settler travelling from Toronto to Stephenson Township in 1869 would take the train to Belle Ewart on Lake Simcoe, a steamer to Orillia and Washago. The journey from Washago to Gravenhurst by stage was followed by a steamer to Bracebridge and then by stage to Utterson from whence one proceeded on foot to his destination. By the end of 1867 there were enough inhabitants for Stephenson to have some measure of local government through the adjacent united townships of Draper, McCauley and Ryde. In 1868 this council appointed seven "pathmasters" or road overseers in Stephenson Township. In 1871 the township formed its own council.
By 1879 almost all the land was taken up. Settlement duties included residing on the land, clearing and cultivating at least 15 acres within five years and building a house. Locations could be taken up by either sex, eighteen years of age or over. Many a spinster achieved an instant dowry under these terms! There were families that acquired as many as 500 or more acres in the names of their sons and daughters. The Crown reserved the minerals and also the right to all pine trees on the lots; any remaining pine trees passed to the settler when he or she obtained full title at the end of five years.
Three villages developed in Stephenson Township. Utterson and Allanville on the Muskoka Road, and Port Sydney at the end of Mary Lake.
Utterson, for a short period in the very early years (cl868), was called Brunel Junction when the secondary colonization road to Brunel Township was surveyed from this location to the east. In 1879 there was a store, blacksmith shop, a large hotel "well conducted by Mr. Collins", a well-built Connexion Methodist Church with stained glass windows, a town hall three stages and mail delivery daily to Bracebridge.
Port Sydney, in the Guide Book and Atlas of Muskoka and Parry Sound 1879, was described as a "charmingly situated" village on Mary's Lake. Tourists were attracted to the well-kept hotel. Boat excursions along the picturesque shores of Mary Lake were a feature attraction. The village at that time boasted a public school, several good private residences, a large public hall in which amateur dramatic performances were given with great effect and got up regardless of expense", a grist mill, oatmeal mill, saw mill, some good stores and the Anglican Church, "a gothic edifice, furnished with stained glass windows, in lasting memory of Rev. Cooper, through whose exertions mainly the church was built." The guidebook said Port Sydney was reached from Huntsville in the summer by the steamer Northern and that it enjoyed a tri-weekly mail from Bracebridge, "with a daily stage in the summer".
In 1885 the railway reached Bracebridge and in 1886 it was extended to Utterson, in Stephenson Township, and on to Huntsville. Having the railway bypass their village was a blow to Port Sydney residents who'd hoped to see the town develop as a major distribution centre. The stage route to Utterson became the focus of Port Sydney until fifty years later when the automobile became commonplace releasing residents and tourists alike from their dependence on steamboats and railways.
From the earliest years, people came with great anticipation for a bright new future, whether it be to farm or work in the bush, or to provide a service to a newly developing community. Many left for the west, some to elsewhere in Ontario. Yet now, 125 years since the first settler came, there are still many descendants of these families living in Stephenson Township.
This article first appeared in the April 1987 newsletter, Volume 3 - Number 1