Situated in the district of Muskoka, Cardwell Township is bounded by Stisted Township to the east; Watt Township to the south; Humphrey Township to the west and Monteith Township to the north. The two latter townships are in the District of Parry Sound. There were a total of 46,275 acres in the township available for settlement. Some of the first settlers may have come to Cardwell Township by way of the Parry Sound Road, opened in the mid-1 860s, (Certainly the opening of a steamship service on Lake Rosseau would have been a more attractive alternative to the always-questionable condition of the roads). This road passed through the southwestern part of Cardwell and lots were surveyed perpendicular to the line of the road. (see insert). T. A Baldwin completed the survey of Cardwell Township into lots and concessions in 1866. He noted that only a small part of the township had been located at that time. It should be noted that the townsite of Helmsley (now Rosseau) located in Humphrey Township on the north east comer of Lake Rosseau and near the Parry Sound Road and adjacent to Cardwell Township was surveyed in 1866. Located in Humphrey Township a short distance west of Helmsley, the earlier settlement of Ashdown Comers at the junction of the Parry Sound Road and the Nipissing Road would soon decline in preference to Helmsley, accessible by steamship. By 1879 it was noted in the Muskoka and Parry Sound Atlas that still only a small part of Cardwell Township had been located.
The Rosseau River which flows through the township, emptying into Lake Rosseau, offered possible mill sites according to Mr. Baldwin. In the early years there were 2 mills near the mouth of this river where it emptied into Lake Rosseau. The fint settlers were a group families from Iceland who arrived in about 1873 to settle in the sixth concession. They named their community Hekkla after a volcano in their homeland. The largest family was the Helgasons, who cleared some land and built a house on Lot 20 Con 7. There were four brothers, Oscar, Baldwin, Walter and Peter, and two sisters. The Tomson family lived on Lot 2 Con 8. Their two daughters married Oscar and Baldwin Helgason. Baldwin and Walter went to Manitoba and Oscar lived on Lot 18 Con 7 where he kept the Hekkla post office for a time. All the Helgason family went west before 1900. Bjarni Snaebjornson lived alone in a house on lot 16. His brother Pall and three daughters came from Iceland in 1887. One daughter, Jorunn married Jakob Einarson. After a short time in Hekkla, the Lindals and the Thorkelsons went to Manitoba and North Dakota. The Asgiersons arrived in 1883. One son, Noah, was Police Chief in Huntsville in the 1940’s while his brother, Oliver, operated Oliver’s Taxi in Huntsville. The first non-Icelander was Charles Robertson who settled on Lots 31 and 32 in the second concession, then Matthew Wilson arrived in the spring of 1875 and. located Lots 20 and 21 in concession 6. Later that summer Mr. E. Case settled Lots 61 and 62 in Concession A. (on Crawford’s Road), later moving to Lots 20 and 21 in Concession 5, the old Middlebrook farm.
Cardwell Township was incorporated in 1878 in union with Watt Township. Charles Robertson was the first Reeve; H.J. Coate was the Clerk and Treasurer, Councillors were William Lawranson , S. Cressweller, Robert Spratt and Matthew Wilson. Mr. Robertson remained Reeve until about 1887 when James Wilson succeeded him and carried on without a break until 1918. Mr. Coate served as Clerk and Treasurer until 1884 when James Ruxton was appointed. James would not act so Matthew Wilson resigned as councillor and became the second Clerk and Treasurer from 1884 until 1930 when he retired. Matthew Wilson’s home burned in 1908 and the early Cardwell Township records went with it.
There was plenty of virgin timber on the township so lumbering became a thriving business. The first timber to be taken out were board or square timber. The very best pine was used. It had to be clear. The pine logs were left as long as possible. They were hewn with a broad axe and drawn by horses to Rosseau Lake. Hewing required skill and a hewer always received top wages. These logs were made into rafts and towed down the lakes to Gravenhurst to be loaded on flatcars and taken to the east coast where they were loaded onto ships and taken to England to be used for masts for sailing ships. Following the square timber trade, logs were cut and floated to Gravenhurst where they were sawn up at the many sawmills in Gravenhurst or floated down the Musquash River to Georgian Bay and taken to Penatanguishine or Midland. The logging camps created a good market for the farmers who supplied the camps with butter, eggs and meat as well as hay and grain for their horses. Raising beef and dairy cattle had always been one of Cardwell’s farmers chief industries and they took great pride in exhibiting them at local fairs.
The first telephone line was installed in the township in 1916 by Mr. Bell and Mr. Campbell who later sold out to a company formed by the subscribers and called the Humphrey Municipal Telephone Company. In the fall of 1938 the Hydro Electric Power Co., built a line through the township as far as the Hekkla settlement making life more comfortable for those who still lived in the community.
The development of settlement followed the pattern of all new settlements with the establishment of post offices. The establishment and closure of the post offices often indicate the life span of individual communities. (See insert for information about the post offices in Cardwell Township.) Schools were often established before churches and used for church services. The following school sections were established in Cardwell Township.
SS # 1: Rosseau Falls: The first school in this section was located on Charles Robertson’s property, Lot 29 Con 2, west of the Rosseau River, and not far from one of the large mills that operated at the mouth of the Rosseau River in the early years. The board and batten structure was apparently opened in 1888 and closed in 1915. This school remained closed until 1932, when a new brick school was built east of the river and remained in use until 1952. Teachers since 1911 were: Elvin Black, 1911; Bella Clements, 1912; Eva Ariss, 1913; Gladys Clements, 1915 - 15; Jean Ross, 1932-33; Ruth Fletcher, 1934 - 35; Jean Campbell, 1936-37; Muriel Crawford, 1938-39; Annie Robertson, 1940; Amy Beley, 1941; Helena Kime, 1945,47; Helena Kime, 1948-50; Mrs. P. Andrews, 1952.
S.S. # 2: Hekkla: This school was opened in 1882 when classes were held in the home of George Lambert in a small log building 20 feet x28 feet with a window on each side and a door at either end. A blackboard stood across one comer and crude wooden benches and desks along with a wood stove made up the furnishings. Mr. McEdwards was the first teacher and his pupils were from many families not all Icelandic; Johnson; Marr; Crowder; Wilson; Beirness; Einarson and young Peter Helgason who became a university professor. In 1886 a piece of property was purchased from A. Shuttleworth on Con 6 Lot 19 and a log schoolhouse was built by Gustave and Julius Greake. This log school was replaced in 1930 with a brick school that remained open until June 1963. The building was then used by Cardwell Council as the township office. Teachers since 1911: Michael Harker, 1911; Gladys Clements, 1912; Eva Hupfer, 1913; Eva Hall, 1914; Alice Weir, 1915-16; Nellie Henry, 1917; Bena Einarson, 1918; Marjory Coombs, 1919; Maude Shortt 1920; William Grimes, 1921 23; Grace Wood, 1924; Birdie Healey, 1925-27; Rebecca Thompson, 1928-29; Eleanor McMillan, 1930-3 1; Nora Bruce, 1932-36; Alma McBride, 1937; Ruth Fletcher, 193840; Mrs. R. Foreman, 1941; Fred K Elliot 1942; Martha Duke, 1943-44; Norma Higgins, 1945; Pat Divitcoff, 1946 - 47; Pat Buckerfield, 1948; Elizabeth Gailey, 1949; Ken Koehler, 1950; Agnes Haney, 1951-54; Mary Bayne, 1955; Silvana Rose, 1957; Pat Shepstone, 1957-58; William Shipman, 1959-61; Elizabeth Draper, 1962.
S.S. # 3: Kentes; At one time the road that passed through Hekkla branched northeast and continued to Long Lake (now called Cardwell Lake). The community that deve * loped was known for a few years as Keatsville before the name change to Shannon Hall in 1883. Although there was a post office, no school was ever built according to the records.
S.S. # 4: Burwash: Located on what is now the Aspdin Road there was a school built on Lot 6 in the 4' Concession in 1896 by Harper Middlebrook Sr.. It was used as a school until 1920. The building has been well preserved and is currently used as private summer retreat Some of the early family names were Grenke; Stroud; Middlebrook and Turner. When the school closed the pupils were transported to Hekkla. Burwash teachers from 1911: Bell Clements, 1911 -, Marion Clarke, 1912; Bena Einarson, 1913; Florence Howell, 1914; Gertrude Lakeman, 1915; Mary Cronyn, 1916-17; Ella Draycott, 1918; Jessie Snyder, 1919.
S.S. # 5: Bear Cave: The ratepayers met at the home of James Foreman for the first meeting of S.S. # 5 early in 1888. A log schoolhouse was built on Lot 28 Con 13 across from the log Anglican Church and was ready for classes by January 28h 1889. A box was obtained in which the teacher kept books, papers, etc. Other equipment was soon acquired: 2 blackboards; maps at the cost of $11.70, a Bible, a dictionary and other necessities. The pupil’s lessons were done on slates. Miss L. Harvie was the first teacher. In 1949, Neil Brodie, (the last teacher before the school was closed) expressed some of his feelings: “ when I turned from the paved road to Parry Sound onto a dirt road towards Bear Cave, I felt less and less jubilant. The road became narrow fast, hydro disappeared and we were left with one simple means of communication with the outside world - a party line. Being young and fresh of spirit and out of grade 13 1 had not the maturity to realize the beauty, the space, the realism and simplicity of life that was there. That comes later, with age.”
The school was later dismantled and trucked to southern Ontario for some other use. Teachers at Bear Cave from 1911: Adelaide Sirette, 1911 12; Ernest Draycott, 1913-14; Eileen Ward, 1915-16; Jane McCanns, 1917; Mrs. J.A Beal, 1918; Annie Campbell, 1919-22; Bessie Cook, 1923-24; Ruth Eurig, 1925-26; Florence Dickieson, 1927; Helen M. Pfohl, 1928; Elva Jefferson, 1929; Mary E. Treemer, 1930; Majorie Lyons, 1931-32; ?; Jeannie McEwen, 1934: ? ; Charles Nott, 193 8; Emily McFarland, 1930-40; Mrs. M. Fitcher, 1941-42; Marion Netherly, 1943; May Lord, 1944; Pat Divitcoff, 1945; Fred Gould, 1946-47; Bert Woodhouse, 1948; Neil Brodie, 1949.
The following churches in Cardwell Township are listed in Places of Worship before 1900 in Muskoka District.7
Christ Church, Bear Cave: The sign above the door reads “1880 - Christ Church -Anglican - North Cardwell”. Gary Denniss says it is located on Lot 27 Con 12. Built as a non-denominational church it was later taken over by the Anglicans. From “A History of the Church of the Redeemer, Rosseau, Ontario 1871 - 1893. “1891: Mr. John Foreman gave a lot in North Cardwell for the building of a church. He gave no deed and the log church was used as a Union Meeting house and a place of worship. nis little church served the people of Bear Cave and all those who farmed or logged in the area. Timbering was a very flourishing business and brought in many families. The log church was the scene of marriages and christenings and the centre of all activities. A school house was built across the road so the children could receive their schooling. This church became one of the points of the Parish of the Church of the Redeemer, along with the Bent Riverdale Mission, Ufford: and St. 7homas in Ullswater. This represented quite an area especially when one takes in to consideration the state of the roads and the “means of conveyance’. The 1901 census indicates that Presbyterian and Anglican were using the same building. The building seated 25 - 15 were Presbyterian.
Methodist Church, Shannon Hall: This church was located on Lot 6 Con 12. The census for 1901 recorded that this church seated 50 persons. It was started before 1901. Methodist Church, Hekkla: Although the Icelandic settlers had arrived in 1873 it wasn’t until 1897 that Trustees of the Cardwell United Church congregation, Samuel and Thomas Bierness; Julius and Gustav Grenke; George Wreggitt and Ambrose Shuttleworth, purchased a I acre lot from Jacob and Jorunn Einarson for $12.00. By 1900 the Ashdown Comers Church had been vacant for some time and the building was given to the Hekkla congregation. The men went with sleighs and horses to dismantle it and transport the material to the site prepared by Noah Wolfe. There was not enough material to finish the ceiling so a box social was held to raise money to complete and paint the new church. The first minister was Rev. W.J. Tribble. In 1904 a drive shed was built Rev. Harry Harker organized the “Ladies Aid” in 1910. Members were: Mrs. Gus Grenke; Mrs. Adolph Grenke; Mrs. George Cole; Mrs. Andrew Wilson; Mrs. George Lambert; Mrs. Thomas Beirness; Mrs. Agnes Lambert; Mrs. Richard Shortt; Mrs. Robert Beirness; Mrs. Joe Middlebrook and Mrs. E. Draycott. These ladies supported the church in many ways over the years. The church. was Methodist until 1915 when it was agreed that Rosseau and Hekkla have a United Church. The Rosseau Church was closed and the church seats and pulpit were moved to the Hekk1a Church. At that time the ladies put the carpet on the aisles and front platform and presented the church with a Bible. In 1946, Hekkla joined the Windermere Charge, making it a six- point charge. Finally in 1965 the church was closed This church continues to be maintained by descendants of the families who built and lovingly cared fore this center of their community. The earliest burial in the Hekkla Cemetery associated with this church as indicated on the monuments was that of Bjarni Snaebjornson who died March 20h, 1896 aged 66 years.