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Beginnings of Bexley, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

The township of Bexley is named after the Right Honorable Nicholas Vansittart, Baron Bexley (1766-1851), who was Chancellor of the Exchequer (and thus a colleague of Eldon) during the Liver pool administration.

Bexley is small in area and very irregular in outline. To the we and north it is bounded by straight survey lines separating it fro Eldon, Carden, and Laxton, but on the east and south it is delimited b the Gull River and by Balsam Lake, whose deep bays carve up its borders fantastically. The most salient feature of Balsam Lake is Indian Point, a long blunt tongue of land, a mile in width, which is mark out by Northwest Bay and the Gull River estuary. Just southeast o this point are several small islands, of which Ghost Island, fifteen acres in extent, is the most important. This long, narrow, forest clad island shrouded in legend. It has two Indian mound graves of unknown antiquity. Tradition has also endowed it with buried treasure. A cording to pioneer lore, certain Jesuit priests had been stationed among the Indians in this part of Ontario and farther west prior to the British conquest of Canada in 1759. When the armies from the south began to close in on Canada, these priests gathered all their church plate together and prepared to paddle with it to Quebec. However, in passing through Balsam Lake they buried it, for some reason, on Ghost Island. The tale is apocryphal .and hard to verify, but was given sue' local credence that several large excavations and dozens of smaller ones were to be found fifty years ago where optimists had been digging for the legendary treasure. The continual interference of Jesuitic ghosts (whence the name of the island) was supposed to have thwart all efforts to locate the buried silver.

Let us return, however, from legend to physiography. Two small 74 streams, Perch Creek and Talbot Creek, enter Bexley from the north and unite before passing out across the western boundary. Raven Lake is a small expansion of Talbot Creek about two miles above its junction with Perch Creek.

The township is still within the limestone region but not far from the frontier of the granite country. The land surface has been severely glaciated and the rocks are usually either exposed or covered with a layer of soil so thin that a forest fire destroys it. Even where the soil is deep, as in occasional pockets of drift, huge boulders are scattered throughout it.

The government survey was made in the early thirties. All land adjoining Balsam Lake and the Gull River was divided into lots with a narrow frontage on the water and a depth of about two miles. The area to the north and west behind these front ranges was divided into eight orthodox concessions, numbered from west to east, and a varying number of 200 acre lots, numbered from south to north.

The western boundary of the township was a colonization highway known as the "Victoria Road," built about 1863 and running from Goose Lake on the Mariposa boundary north to join the Peterson Road in the peak of Longford township. The Portage Road, which followed the line of the old Indian trail from Lake Simcoe to Balsam Lake, ran out its last four miles in Bexley. Here, as in Eldon, the land adjacent to the road was divided into deep, narrow lots. From the Balsam Lake terminus of the Portage Road, the "Lake Shore Road" runs up along Northwest Bay to Coboconk. This is a forced road. The regular road allowance lay at the rear of the thirty-eight deep lots along the bay; the settlers had their homes near the water front; and to have put through the road as surveyed would have meant the maintaining of thirty-eight private lanes, each two miles in length. Accordingly all agreed to cut through this Lake Shore Road from lot to lot. Still another prominent highway is the Cameron Road, which follows a winding course west of the Mud Turtle lakes from Coboconk to Norland.

An Admiral and Others

The first settler in Bexley was Admiral Vansittart, a cousin of Baron Bexley, who came to Canada in 1834 and was given a grant of one thousand acres on the shore of West Bay, Balsam Lake. He came in with ox-wagons over the old Indian trail from Lake Simcoe and often had to stop and chop out trees and logs from the path. His new property, at the head of the portage, had had an earlier history. Indian villages had flourished here in the sixteenth century; Champlain had traversed the spot in September of the year 1615; Jesuits, coureurs de bois, Huron, Iroquois and Mississaga, all passed and re-passed up to 1760; then came English fur traders, and towards the end of the eighteenth century a trading post, comprising three main buildings, was established near the shore. The stone chimneys of this post were still in existence in 1871, but were demolished not long after.

The old admiral was not without character. Even in his wilderness home he insisted on dressing for formal dinner every evening and was never without his champagne. He was twice married. His second wife was a Miss Stephenson, the daughter of one of his own servants, and to her he left the entire Balsam Lake estate. In later times, about 1871, the property passed into the hands of the late George Laidlaw, "the Laird of Bexley," who named it "The Fort Ranch." The name does not refer to any fort on the premises, but to the customary question of a frequent guest, the late Hon. Rupert Wells, who, as the times were hard and money tight, would ask his host on each visit if he were still "holding the fort." One of his sons, Colonel George E. Laidlaw, now occupies the estate.

At the time of the government survey, Indian Point was set aside as a reserve for a mixed band of Mississaga and Ojibway Indians, who were then in occupation. In 1836 Samuel Cottingham of Omemee received a government contract to build twelve houses here for those of the Indians who were Christians. Their pagan kinsfolk lived in wigwams on the islands near by. In 1847 the Indians put in a claim to the government for all islands, points, and broken points of land, but met with no success. At last. about 1860, a Peterborough lumberman named Denniston secured control of the forest on Indian Point and along the north shore of the lake and the Indians moved away, the Ojibways to the Rama reserve, north of Orillia, and the Mississagas to Scugog Island. After all timber had been removed from the point, small narrow lots were platted running from a central road survey to the water on each side. This road was never opened; only a winding lumber trail wandered up the point towards Coboconk.

As a result of these lumbering operations a number of French-Canadian lumber jacks, the Bradimores, Grozelles, Breauws, Demoes, and Angiers, settled in a body north of Balsam Lake near the Laxton boundary. Old Joe Demoe had been foreman of the square timber raft gangs who went in the old days from Bexley to Quebec with their rafts.

In the southwest corner of Bexley along the last four miles of the Portage Road, the old Indian trail, the earliest settlers were the Kings, Lytles, Ballams, Herons, and Drakes, all from the north of Ireland. Most of the pioneers along the west shore of Northwest Bay were Highland Scotch, whose only tongue was Gaelic. Amongst these were the families of Bell, Brown, Cameron, Gillespie, Graham, Macdonald, McFadyen, McLeod, McInnis, McMullen and Murchison. Several Irish-Canadian Protestants, Joseph and George Staples, Henry Southern, and Henry, George and William Peel, came from Cavan township, Durham county, in 1864-5, and settled in the north and northwest of Bexley. This area is still known as "The Peel Settlement." There are a few Irish Catholics near the Carden boundary.

While the earliest pioneering was largely done by Scotch and Irish, the predominant element in later immigration, especially in the villages, has been English. The census figures for 1911 are illustrative of this point:

English, 337
Irish, 257
Scotch, 117
Dutch and German 64
French, 42

The chief church affiliations are as follows:
Methodists, 317
Anglicans, 195
Presbyterians, 121
Roman Catholics, 110

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Victoria County


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