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More County History, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

The coming of the pioneers calls for a prologue and a setting. In 1791, the British Parliament passed a Constitutional Act, by which the Canadian colony was divided into two provinces, Upper and Lower Canada, corresponding roughly to the Old Ontario and Quebec of today. The first governor of Upper Canada was Colonel John Graves Simcoe, who foresaw and provided for the future needs of the country with an enlightened disinterestedness unknown among his immediate successors. He explored the province diligently by canoe and forest trail. He built trunk roads, such as Yonge Street from York (now Toronto) to Lake Simcoe. He set aside tracts of good land for genuine settlers and encouraged the immigration of those who would guarantee to clear and occupy the country. In all this, however, he aroused the ill will of a clique of speculators, who were already strongly entrenched among the officialdom and so called aristocracy of the province. The intrigue of these enemies brought about his removal in 1796. Government officials and their friends then quietly secured possession of all the good land in the Lake Simcoe country and blocked settlement for another twenty years. After the war of 1812-14, however, a rising flood of immigration demanded the opening up. of fresh territory. Accordingly, in 1818, the government went through the formalities of buying from the Mississaga Indians a tract of some four thousand square miles, comprising the modern counties of Peterborough, and Victoria and a fringe of twenty-eight adjoining townships. It is with a limited portion of this Mississaga Tract that we have now to deal.

The work of survey began at once. Emily was the first of the townships of modern Victoria to be laid out. Mariposa came next, and then Fenelon, Ops and Eldon, in that order. Verulam, Somerville and Bexley were opened up later, and the more northerly townships of Carden, Laxton, Digby, Dalton and Longford much later still. These townships first came under the Newcastle District with headquarters at Cobourg, on Lake Ontario. Then, in 1841, along with some of the inland townships lying to the east, they became the Colborne District, which was reorganized in 1850 as Peterborough County and in 1854 as the "United Counties of Peterborough and Victoria." From 1841 to 1861 municipal authority was centered at Peterborough but in the latter year Victoria was given provisional and in 1863 complete independence.

A New Domain and a Virile Race

The area of Victoria County is about eleven hundred square miles. it is thus larger than Cheshire or Dorsetshire in England; larger, too, than Lanarkshire or Dumfriesshire in Scotland; and almost equal to the combined areas of Fermanagh and Monaghan in Ireland. In shape it is roughly rectangular, with a length from north to south of fifty-two miles and a breadth from east to west of twenty-six miles. The chief irregularities lie in the northeast and northwest corners, where three townships, Anson, Lutterworth and Ryde, each eight miles square, have been chopped out and allotted, the former two to Haliburton County and the latter one to Muskoka District. This rough rectangle is cut into approximate north and south halves by the Kawartha Lakes, Balsam, Cameron and Sturgeon, and their modern canal affiliations. Immediately north of this water system is a region of severely glaciated limestone, covered with thin, uncertain soil. This tract soon merges into a wilderness of crystalline limestone and Laurentian gneiss. South of the Kawartha system, however, the land is distinctly suited for agriculture, for the underlying limestone is covered with glacial clays which become rapidly deeper and more fertile in passing southward towards the morainic hills of Durham. But in 1821 the intrinsic character of rock and soil was not the most evident feature of the region. It was rather the towering forests of pine that spread away to the farthest horizon.

To the transformation of this wilderness came a virile race of white men from the far off islands of Great Britain and Ireland. The years that followed Waterloo and the close of Britain's continental wars were full of distress. The economic aftermath of war pressed hard. The population of Ireland was growing beyond the safety limits of the precarious potato. The introduction of weaving machinery brought tens of thousands of Scotch and English handloom weavers face to face with starvation. To cope with this distress the British government deliberately encouraged emigration to Canada. Once started, the human stream poured steadily across the Atlantic. The pressure of a straightened food supply, the oldest and most powerful cause of human migration, was once more in operation. In 1814, Upper Canada contained only 95,000 inhabitants. By 1849 the population had risen to 791,000, an increase of 732 per cent. In a single year 50,000 immigrants arrived at Quebec. The younger sons of the Celto-Saxon stock had struck their tents and were on the march. Their great campaign against the forests of Upper Canada is recorded today in the magnificent prosperity of Ontario.

The first settlers in what is now Victoria County were Protestant Irishmen from the County of Fermanagh. Humphrey Finlay and his family first established themselves in Emily Township, and were followed by James Laidley and William and Samuel Cottingham, who cleared and built on the site of modern Omemee. While South Emily was colonized by Irish Protestants, the northern concessions and part of Ops were taken up by Irish Catholics from County Cork, brought out under a British emigration scheme managed by the Hon. Peter Robinson. Mariposa was largely settled by pioneers of the second geaeration from the vicinity of Whitchurch and Markham. In Eldon the earliest colonists were Scotch Presbyterians from Argyllshire. Verulam was placed on the market in 1832 but was bought up and held by speculators. Fenelon Township was not settled until the mid-thirties and the more northerly townships remaining unoccupied until much later times.

As many misconceptions exist concerning the character of the population of the county, a few figures may be of interest. The chief racial stocks represented are:

Irish, 12,292
English, 10,663
Scotch, 5,080
French, 575
German, 339
Dutch, 304

That race is no index to religion will be evident from a further analysis:
Methodists, 12,283
Presbyterians, 6,814
Anglicans, 4,551
Roman Catholics, 4,344
Baptists, 1,151
Salvation Army, 210
Christians, 164
Mormons, 95

County History

Victoria County


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