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Hell's Half Acre,
Victoria County, Ontario Canada
Corson's Siding is a small railway village about six
miles northeast of Victoria Road. At one time the Toronto
distillers, Gooderham and Wort, owned a large timber limit adjacent
to the Siding. This timber they shipped to Toronto as cordwood. A
lake captain named Corson, after whom the village is named, was sent
up to take charge of their interests. For the winter's cut of
cordwood he would import a gang of lake sailors from Toronto .The
latter would bring with them an abundance of whiskey and an
auxiliary corps of prostitutes, and the limits were so aflame with
drunkenness and hot uncleanness that the Siding was known throughout
the north country as "Hell's half acre." The timber was all cleared
out by 1890; the scandalous visitors ceased to come; and the slashed
limits were sold as ranch land. Gooderham and Wort had also operated
lime kilns at Corson's Siding. These were carried on for a few years
longer and were then sold.
Raven Lake is a railway station beside the body of water so named.
Bexley is a rural post office on Lot 9, Concession III, serving the
"Peel Settlement" area.
Bexley township has developed very slowly owing to the poverty of
its soil. In 1871 its population was 489, and less than four square
miles were under cultivation. In recent years ranching has begun to
take the place of farming throughout much of the township.
The naming of Somerville township has been referred
to Sir W. Somerville, Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1846, and also,
with more probable accuracy, to Julia Somerville,' the wife of Sir
Francis Bond Head.
On south, east, and north, Somerville is bounded by
the rectangular limits of Fenelon township, Galway township
(Peterborough county), and Lutterworth township, (Haliburton
county). On the west it terminates on the irregular shores of the
Gull River, the Mud Turtle lakes, and Balsam Lake. The township is
crossed by three river systems and their valleys: The Gull River on
the west, Corben Creek and its expansion into Fourmile Lake, and
Burnt River. The northeastern one-third and the northwest corner of
Somerville are within the granite region. The remainder of the
township is a drift strewn limestone plateau separated from the
granite area by an abrupt escarpment. This escarpment follows down
the river valleys for some distance where they first enter the
limestone country. The soils in the north on both limestone and
granite are thin and sterile. They are deeper in the south but even
there farming is precarious apart from the broad river valleys.
Somerville was surveyed in the thirties, about the same time as
Bexley. As in that township, the land bordering on Balsam Lake and
the Gull River system was platted off into a range of deep, narrow
lots fronting on the water. The rest of the township was divided
into fourteen ordinary concessions, numbered from south to north.
The Bobcaygeon Road, a colonization highway begun in 1857, passes up
the eastern boundary on its long run north into Muskoka. The Monck
Road, built east from Orillia in the early days, crosses Somerville
along the 13th concession line.
Generation of Pioneers
The inhospitable aspect of the township repelled all
settlement 79 for a time, but with the growth of lumbering and the
clearing away of the forests in the early sixties, a number of
permanent residents, chiefly farmer descendents of pioneers in the
Lake Ontario counties, began to drift in. Amongst these settlers
occur the names of Badgerow, Butler, Cavanagh, Cookman, Crabbe, Ead,
Earl, Fell, Hannah, Hunt, Lyle, Mason ,McKay, McMahon, Powers,
Taggart, Watson, and Workman.
Kinmount is a village in the precipitous valley of
the Burnt River in the northeast corner of the township. It exists
because it was an eligible mill site at the junction of the
Bobcaygeon and Monck roads. These advantages were later confirmed by
the entry of the Victoria Railway in 1876. The first mill was built
by John Hunter about 1861. For many years there were several mills
along the river within two miles of the village. William Cluxton,
Wilson and Stephenson, Mansfield and O'Leary, and W. Caldwell were
among the millers prior to 1886.
Perhaps the most exciting incident in Kinmount's history was the
disastrous fire which destroyed almost the whole village on the
evening of Friday, September 26, 1890. While most of the villagers
and many outsiders had gathered in the Baptist church to hear Joe
Hess lecture on temperance, the fire broke out in William Dunbar's
stable and was soon beyond control. An appeal for help was sent by
telegraph to the Lindsay fire brigade, but though the men were
rushed out in fifty minutes by the Grand Trunk Railway they were too
late to save the village. Among the buildings lost by this
conflagration were the following: The Victoria Hotel, Wm. Dunbar,
proprietor; Jame Watson and Son's general store; Swanton, Brandon,
and Company's general store; A. Hopkins' general store; Mrs.
Jewett's dry goods store; Charles Wellstood's shoe store; Alex.
Moore's jewelery store; Richard Brown's confectionery shop; Curry
and Johnson's drug store; M. May's smithy; S. Henry's smithy and
home; and the Orange Hall. The chief survivals from the fire were
Bowie's brick hotel, Getchell's livery, Dundas, Sadler and Company's
flour and feed depot, and Robert Bryan's sawmill.
At the present day, Kinmount has a population of about three
hundred. It has two sawmills, ten stores, two churches, two hotels,
and two smithies.
Burnt River is a village of fifty people on the railway about ten
miles south of Kinmount. It has a stone quarry, two stores, and a
Rosedale is .a summer resort on the Balsam River at its outlet from
Balsam Lake. Its winter population is negligible but in summer an
increasing number of cottagers rusticate here.
Fell's Station and Bury Green are parts of the old "Fell Settlement"
established near the Fenelon boundary by John Fell and other Irish
Protestants from Cavan township, Durham county. Drilling for
petroleum is being carried on in this vicinity at the present time
but the promoters apparently do not realize that most of the
geological prerequisites for successful oil production are lacking..
Baddow, or "Ead's Settlement," which lies a few miles to the west
across the Burnt River Valley, was first colonized by Joseph Ead of
Scarborough, William Cookman of Cavan, William Mason of Otonabee,
and Isaac Watson of Whitby. A Baptist church was established here in
1865. Baddow has neither stores nor industries. Dongola is .a former
rural post office on the Monck Road northeast of Big Mud Turtle
Most of Somerville township is utterly. unsuited for farming and
areas eminently suitable for forest culture have been recklessly
slashked and wastefully burnt over. A survey of the township in 1911
showed that 61.7 per cent. of its area was covered by old burn, and
that there was practically no forest anywhere containing sawlogs.
Much of the waste land and slash land is fenced in as psture, but
reforestration would probably bring far greater remuneration in the
end. A movement is on foot around Kinmount at the present time to
arrange for a migration to the Great Clay Belt of New Ontario.
Even yet Somerville is the most populous of the
northern townships. The census of 1911 accorded it a total of 1870,
made up as follows:
German and Dutch, 80
all others, 7
The strengths of the various churches were as follows:
Roman Catholic, 147
all others, 32