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Beginnings of Emily Township, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

Emily Township is named after Emily Charlotte, daughter of Lord George Lennox and sister of the fourth Duke of Richmond, Governor-General of Canada from 1817 to 1819.

The township is in the southeast corner of the county. It is approximately square and has an area of about one hundred square miles. In the south it is broken by low hills but becomes merely rolling in passing to the north. Pigeon Creek enters at the southwest corner and crosses diagonally towards the northeast, where it widens into Pigeon Lake. Chemong Lake is on the eastern boundary and the much smaller Emily Lake on the north. The basic subsoil is made up of glacial clays and is commendably fertile.

In 1819, some slashing was done on Lot 20, Concession 2, by David Best. He then went back to Cobourg, however, and before his return in 1820, Humphrey Finlay and his wife came in and located, thus earning their later title of "King and Queen of Emily." In the autumn of 1820 Maurice Cottingham, his sons, William and Samuel, and one James Laidley, pushed in further through the pathless forest to Pigeon Creek, which they bridged by felling two oak trees into it from opposite banks. Beside the stream, about where Omemee now stands, they did a little underbrushing and clearing, but retreated to Cavan, for the winter.

In March, 1821, the township was formally opened for sale and attached to Durham County, the western half of the Newcastle District. (See Annual Report, Ontario Bureau of Archives, 1913). Samuel Cotingham and James Laidley now returned in the early spring and built a log cabin, twelve feet by fourteen, in the deep snow. Wm. Cottingham and his father soon joined them. Clearing prospered, and in the early summer they planted corn, potatoes and wheat.

That same year a party of four hundred Protestant Irish from the County of Fermanagh set sail for Canada and settled in a body in South Emily and in Cavan Township, Durham County, which lies directly to the south of Emily. From this contingent come the modern family names of Adams, Allen, Armstrong, Balfour, Beatty, Bedford, Collum, Cornell, Curry, Davidson, Dixon, English, Evans, Fee, Grandy, Hanna, Hartley, Hughes, Irons, Ivory, Jackson, Johnson, Jones, Knowlson, Lamb, Matchett, Mitchell, Moore, Morrison, McCrae, McNeely, McQuade, Neal, Norris Padget, Redmond, Reel, Robinson, Sanderson, Sherwood, Stephenson, Thornton, Trotter and others.

The southern concessions were soon dotted with clearings, each with its cabin and its scanty crops among the stumps. At first the nearest mill was at Port Hope, thirty-five miles from Omemee, but a man named Deyell undertook to build one in Cavan, on the site of modem Millbrook, which is only ten miles from the Emily boundary. Here they took their sacks of grain by a narrow bush road, only one of whose drawbacks was a morass a mile wide which often threatened to engulf those who ventured through it. At last, in 1825, William Cottingham erected a rough mill building beside Pigeon Creek, and equipped it with two millstones, which an American named Myles had cut and dressed in the woods near by.

The Robinson Immigration

In this same year, when the Protestant Irish of South Emily were rapidly becoming a coherent community, the British government arranged for the immigration into Canada of a contingent of 2,024 Irish Catholics from County Cork. This enterprise was supervised by the Hon. Peter Robinson, a brother of John Beverley Robinson, the chief mandarin of the Family Compact. They sailed from Cork in May 1825, and reached Quebec after a voyage of thirty-one days. They then proceeded immediately to Kingston where they spent two weeks in tents. Dysentery and fever and ague worked havoc among them here, and there were as many as eleven funerals in a single day. From Kingston they travelled to Cobourg by lake steamer and thence on foot and by ox-cart over twelve miles of almost impassible trail to Gore's Landing on Rice Lake. A sixty-foot Durham boat then carried them in daily parties of thirty up twenty-five miles of the Otonabee River to a concentration camp at a, hamlet which was then called "Scott's Plains" (after one Adam Scott who had built a mill there early in 1825) but which was renamed "Peterborough" in 1827 as a compliment to the Hon. Peter Robinson. While the immigrants were gathering here, Mr. Robinson let many profitable contracts to earlier settlers to slash :bush roads into surrounding territory, to act as guides to the immigrants who went out to choose their respective 100 acre lots, to build log shanties on these lots at an average cost of ten dollars each, and to rent their carts and oxen for the transportation of the incoming; women, children and baggage.

Into Emily came 142 families, that is, about 700 persons or a little more than one-third of the entire immigration. These families were all located in a block in the north half of the township, and thus it came about that North Emily was as solidly Catholic as South Emily was solidly Protestant, while both were Irish.

Practically all of the new colonists were established on their lots in the autumn of 1825. The British government now issued them free rations for eighteen months on a basis of one pound of pork and one pound of flour per man per day. Each family was also given a cow, an axe, an auger, a hand-saw, a hammer, one hundred nails, two gimlets, three hoes, a kettle, a frying-pan, an iron pot, five bushels of seed potatoes, and eight quarts of Indian corn.

A tradition has been handed down in Protestant Emily that no work was done in the northern concessions until all the government rations had been eaten up. Official statistics, however, show this bitter tale to be born of prejudice and not of truth. During the first year, though fever and ague left every family to mourn its dead and touched the living with a constant palsy, these Catholic pioneers cleared away 351 acres of pine forest, raised 22,200 bushels of potatoes, 7,700 bushels of turnips and 3,442 bushels of Indian corn, sowed 44 bushels of fall wheat for the next season's crop, and made 22,880 pounds of maple sugar. They also purchased on their own account, 6 oxen, 10 cows, and 47 hogs. It is evident that they did not eat the bread of idleness. (See Third Report of Emigration Committee, British Parliament ,1827; page 431.)

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