An Article of Interest

Foley Township and Area History


When it comes to history, a township does not have borders and so it is with the story of Foley Township. It’s story is intertwined with the events that affected the development of McDougall Township and the Town of Parry Sound, immediately to the north, Cowper Township to the west, Christie Township to the east and to a lesser degree, Conger Township to the south.

In 1856 when William M.Gibson of Willowdale, Ontario came north as a surveyor, he saw the lumbering potential and made application for a timber license. He built a mill at the mouth of the Seguin River. William Beatty of Thorold, along with his sons William and James H. and his son-in-law Nathaniel Wakefield visited the Gibson Mill in 1863 and William and James purchased what was referred to in records as The Parry Sound Estate. In these very early years communications were by ship from Collingwood. Supplies were shipped in and lumber out. At the height of the lumbering 3 million board feet of lumber was shipped annually to markets from Parry Sound by barge. By 1870 there was a weekly steamer from Collingwood to Parry Sound. The fare was $2.00.

On May 14, 1867 the Beattys acquired 2,198 acres of land at the mouth of the Seguin River (the present Parry Sound town site) for the sum of $439.00. Two years later, in 1869, William Beatty, known as ”The Governor” had the town of Parry Sound surveyed. Each deed had the stipulation that no liquor was to be sold on the premises and if it were the owner would forfeit his deed! This was to be in effect for 20 years and 10 months after the death of the purchaser or the death of the last surviving grandchild of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. This covenant was declared void in1950 by a Private Members Bill in the Legislature of Ontario.

Both McDougall and Foley townships were surveyed in 1866 the same year the Parry Sound Colonization Road was completed. Built as an extension of the Muskoka Road which had been built to North Falls (Bracebridge) in 1861 and extended north to Stephenson Township by 1863, this road branched off the Muskoka Road just west of Falkenburg (north of Bracebridge) at a point called The Junction. The policy of surveying lots that fronted on the Muskoka colonization road in a concession A and B was continued through Foley Township suggesting the road was surveyed before the rest of the township. In 1868 the Free Grant Act was passed. The land was to be given away as Free Grants to any settlers wishing land. In 1870, the Territorial District of Parry Sound was established under the Territorial Divisions Act. Forty-five townships were surveyed into concessions and lots and opened for settlement between 1866 (Foley and McDougall), and 1880 (Conger and Cowper). With the opening of Foley Township for settlement there was a great influx of settlers to the area that reached a peak in 1874. The growing village of Carrington located in Foley Township across the Seguin River from the Village of Parry Sound (where there were no liquor restrictions) seems to have been considered the capital of Foley. When the town of Parry Sound was incorporated in 1887, the name Carrington disappeared and the community became known as Parry Harbour, perhaps after the post office that was established here in 1876.

The first post office in the area had opened in Parry Sound some 10 years earlier on September 1st 1865. N.P. Wakefield was the postmaster until his death in 1869. Letters and newspapers were the only communications the settlers had with the outside world and post offices were important. Most often a post office was located in the postmaster’s home. Along the Parry Sound Road in Foley there were two post offices in the early years of settlement. At Falding a post office was opened at Matthew Rankin’s store on Con B Lot 125 in 1873 and just 4 miles south of Parry Sound the Fetherston post office opened in 1875. Early settlers located here by 1871 who would have picked up their mail at Fetherston were William and Edith Scott; Thomas and Ellen McGown (Con B Lot 145); Stephen & Jane Richmond and Samuel and Mary Ann Peake.

In the early 1890s there was a flurry of exploration when several copper deposits were prospected and developed in Cowper and Foley Townships. Probably the most promising was the McGown Gold Mining Company located at Fetherston. A considerable quantity of gold was found. Later bornite, a very rich copper ore was discovered nearby and it is reported that Thomas McGown sold the rights to his mine to Robert Forbes’ Parry Sound Copper Company for $100,000. The Peake family also had rights to the mine and they too sold their rights. The Peakes used their windfall to build a rather handsome brick veneer home that can still be seen on Highway 69. Later post offices seem to have been located in association with railway stops or in a location convenient to the tourist trade.

The coming of the railroads to the area was an important development. During the 1890s John R. Booth, a prominent Ottawa lumberman built his Ottawa Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway from Ottawa to Parry Sound. (see story of Depot Harbour). It took 5 ½ years to build and the first train ran on January 7th, 1897. The line traversed Foley Township and there were stops at Falding and Rose Point before reaching the terminus at Depot Harbour. In January 1898, Foley Reeve William Wilcox was appointed delegate to the provincial government to point out advantages of constructing the James Bay Railway through western Parry Sound District to Sudbury. Parry Sound’s first rail service, the Canadian Northern, arrived in 1906. In 1907 the “Canadian Pacific Railway trestle” bridging the Seguin River was completed. At 1,950 feet, this is the longest trestle bridge in Ontario. New centres were created at stops on the railroads as they passed through Foley Township.

Over the years, Foley has proven to be a most progressive township and even today holds one of the largest rural fall fairs in the Parry Sound District. Many of the early families have left their mark in the naming of roads, hills, parks and lakes. Others still retain the pioneer homes belonging to their great-grandparents and carry on the traditions first established in this community founded on the principles of enterprise and industry. On May 8th, 1997 Foley Township was amalgamated with Christie and Humphrey townships and the western portion of the unorganized township of Monteith and the Village of Rosseau to create the Township of Seguin. Township of Seguin became a newly incorporated municipality, effective January 1st, 1998.


There were only two known early churches in Foley Township. A Methodist Church was built on land donated by John Brooks at Otter Lake where services are still held. The corner stone was laid in 1893. The second church, St. Thomas Anglican Church on the Christie Road at Haines Lake (Lot 14 Con 10) was built in 1904 on a ½ acre piece of land granted to the Algoma Diocese by John and Mary Vankoughnett. The church was named St. Thomas for the church of that name in Ireland where all the Haines family were baptized and confirmed. This church served the community until it was moved to Orrville in 1937. It is assumed that people of other faiths must have traveled to Parry Sound to attend church.


The only cemetery in Foley Township, sometimes referred to as the Otter Lake Cemetery, is officially called the Foley Memorial Cemetery. It is located on Rankin Lake Rd across from Foley Fire Station #1. The earliest burial seems to have been that of William James Armstrong who died September 23, 1875 aged 5 months. Hillcrest Cemetery in the Town of Parry Sound and the Christie Township Cemetery are the only other cemeteries in the immediate area.


The early records for the former townships that now make up Seguin Township are at the municipal office, R.R. # 2, 5 Humphrey Drive, Parry Sound, Ontario P2A 2W8 and may be seen by appointment. Fax: 705-732-6347 or contact Karen Ask Karen about the cemetery records for all the cemeteries in Seguin township.

An historical display of Foley Township and early voter’s lists can be seen at the Foley Township Library. Librarian Nadine Triemstra can be reached during library hours Tuesday 1-8 pm; Wednesday 2 – 5 pm; Saturday 10 am to noon at 705-378-0742. e-mail .


Foley Township was divided into 4 school sections.

S.S. # 1 was built at the junction of the Christie Road and Parry Sound Road on S.J. Peake’s lot at Fetherston – Con B Lot 144 – This school was soon moved to the corner of Forest Street and the Parry Sound Road in Parry Harbour. It became a two-room school and students from Foley and Parry Harbour attended this school. School Section # 1 did not exist after part of Foley and Parry Harbour were amalgamated with Parry Sound when it became a town school. Interesting tit bits from this school’s history are: “On May 20, 1910 the school was closed due to the funeral of King Edward VII. And On February 11, 1918 it was so cold the school was closed to save fuel and later that year in October and November the school was closed for 4 weeks due to an influenza epidemic.”

The S.S. # 2 school-house was built in 1873 on Lot 130 Con B on John Brook’s land. The first school board members were Alfred Badger, Zacharriah Watts and Andrew Oastler. In 1885 the trustees were Mr. Rankin, Mr. Zacharriah Watts and Mr. Woolman. Mr. Brook was chairman and Andrew Oastler secretary-treasurer. That year Mr. Brook supplied 22 cords of wood at 80 cents a cord and was engaged to light the fires during the winter months for $5.00 a year. A quantity of roofing felt was ordered, to be painted for a blackboard! Later a Mr. Sullivan used this log building as a residence. When this school was abandoned classes were held at S.J. Peake’s farm, Con B Lot 144 (again). In 1893 a new school site was chosen and a new school, shed and outbuildings were built by Ernest Crockford on Lot 135 Con A at a total cost of $386.06. Margaret Adams was the first teacher in the new school at an annual salary of $225.00. Andrew Oastler acted as secretary from 1885 to 1916. In 1917 his son William was appointed secretary and served till the Foley Township School Board was formed in 1940. In 1910 slate blackboards were purchased and chemical toilets installed. In 1944 the building was lengthened 20 feet and during the 1947 Christmas holidays made into 2 classrooms. This school was sold for $500 when the Foley Central School was built at Otter Lake and subsequently used as a Community Club building.

S.S. # 3 : The first log school in this section was built at the southerly tip of Windfall Lake on the lot of J.M. Ansley, Con B Lot 117. Robert Boyd, William Mathewson, John Ellis (Chair) and Robinson Jacklin were on the school board. William Matthewson was the teacher in 1878 at a salary of $17.50 per month. The school was open from January 14th to May 14th! Miss J. Steele was hired the next fall at $16.00 per month. Miss Annie Wilcox was teacher in 1883. In the school records the names of several original settlers are mentioned: James Chapman who was an elected trustee in 1880; George Spanhouse; F.J. Haystead and James S. Miller. In January 1885 it was decided to move the school to Lot 120 Con B. Classes were held in James Pender’s house while a new school was being built across the road. A one-acre lot was given to the school board and T. Willett cleared the land. The school cost $203.00. From 1885 to 1953, when the school closed, teachers were: Mr. William Mathewson 1885; Miss Hilliker; Miss Julia Duncan; Miss Pettibone 1893; Miss Clemenhagen 1894; Miss Crawford; Miss Alexander 1895; William Mathewson 1896;Miss Meger; Miss Bruce; Miss Annie Olsen 1900; Miss Minnie Gervais; Miss M Schultzther 1901; Miss Jessie Taylor 1903; Miss Myrtle Taylor 1903; Miss O’Dell 1904; Miss Kate Taylor (of Lindsay) 1905; Mr. Harvey Lennox 1906; Miss Lene Burthwick (of Orillia) 1906; Miss Annie Grunig 1907; Ellen McGown 1908; Miss Eagle 1908; Miss Lillian Quan. Miss H. Hayes; Miss R.M. Woods; Miss H. McDonald; Miss E. Wilkins; Mr. J. Liang; Miss Mae Nelson; Miss Fletcher (1925); Mr. Art Morgan (1925); Mr. Everett Taylor; Mr. Gordon Learn;Mr. Gordon Long (1933) and Mr. George Deyett (1934-1953).

S.S. # 4: There were 3 schools built in SS. # 4. All three were destroyed by fire. The first was built before 1878 on Lot 7 Con 10 on Highway 518, east of McNaught’s Road. Miss Jennie McRoberts was a teacher in the first school. In 1886 the trustees acquired a lot on Lot 10 Con 11. Jane Allen; Gladys Dunn and Doris Kirkham taught in the second school. Classes were held in the Anglican Church after this second school was burned and in July 1929 the trustees acquired pt lot 11 Con 11 where a third school was built. After the third school burned, the vacant home of William McRoberts (Lot 7 Con 11) across the road from the first school was used for classes and when this was no longer satisfactory, pupils were transported to S.S. # 2. Seven pupils were transported by Sydney Ransom and later by Charlie Scriver. In May 1967 a reunion of former pupils and teachers of Foley schools was held. Miss Julia Graham, formerly Julia Oastler was the oldest teacher. She was over 90 years of age. The oldest male student was JohnWoolman and lady pupil was Mrs. Eliza Deyette, 95 years old.

This article first appeared in the April 2002 newsletter, Volume 18 - Number 1