Kawartha Lakes Public Library Digital Archive
Pro History Project: History by Design
The Heartland in Perspective
Victoria County covers an area fifty-two miles in length and twenty-six miles in width in Central Ontario. Historically, it has been made up of twelve townships spread out in an almost even physiographic transition from productive southern soils to limestone and granite outcroppings in its geographic centre and north. The area encompasses as well a broad network of rivers and lakes; most of which now make up a portion of the Trent navigational system.

Originally the six southernmost townships (ie. Mariposa, Ops, Emily, Eldon, Fenelon and Verulam) marked the northern boundary of Durham County, then the western half of the Newcastle District. Its capital was Cobourg where the District’s Quarter Sessions were held (ie. the appointed municipal government) and where much of the earliest trade in forwarding settlers and receiving timber was carried on. Few recognize now the links and dominance such lake towns as Whitby, Oshawa, Belleville, Cobourg and Port Hope once exercised over extensive hinterlands that reached far to the north. They were only checked by the rise of such local centres as Lindsay and by the meteoric expansion of Toronto into South-Central Ontario’s hinterland through such railway projects as the Toronto and Nippissing Railroad which tapped the lumber and cordwood trade of North Victoria. But the local patterns of government administration and subsequent economic development, begun in the 1850s, were to be in response to external events that substantially shifted control away from the lakefront to the heartland itself.

With the removal of the British preferential tariff in 1847 and in conjunction with the reforms put forward by Baldwin and Lafontaine in the recently united government of Upper and Lower Canada, a system of municipal government was begun in 1849 (the one we are familiar with today) so as to broaden each community’s fiscal abilities to finance developments such as roads, canals and railroads. This was done through the granting of bond-issuing powers, which had to be approved by the provincial government, to what had been formerly purely administrative divisions known as townships. These townships in turn were to be run by a mixture of elected and appointed officials. Though the elective principle was seriously compromised by strict property qualifications as to voting and seating, the independence granted by such a limited reform was a significant and divisive break from a half century’s policy of attempting to reproduce and aristocratic landowning society allied to an appointive government; as best exemplified in the municipal rule of Justices of the Peace in Quarter Session. The ideals and political practices of an English landowning society in alliance with commercial mercantile wealth were not to be reproduced in Canada without serious adaptation. Rather, the yeoman farmer and the local mercantile, professional and financial elite were to initiate the expansion and development of the area’s resources without operating under the restrictions of preconceived ideas about the value, and social acceptability, of such developments as a wide ownership of land and a relatively open franchise.

The Baldwin Acts, therefore, created in Central Ontario the joint county of Peterborough and Victoria with township government by local councils. As a consequence of Victoria’s rapid economic expansion during the 1850s, due mainly to Lindsay’s rail connection to Port Hope in 1857, the grain and lumber trade with Port Perry, the burgeoning lumber trade in the east, initiated by Omemee and promising much from the new mills at Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon, and the whole area’s rapid agricultural settlement, Victoria was formally separated from Peterborough in 1863 with Lindsay as the new county’s seat.

If one examines the graphs on population and economic growth, the reader can trace out and compare Victoria’s subsequent growth as both a producer and exporter of natural products and, by the end of the century, a manufacturer of finished goods.

Graph III: Production
Graph III: Production Details
Victoria’s population growth showed a rapid increase from 1851 to 1861 as settlers filled up the empty space available, though agriculture itself was in a primitive toiler state. From 1861 to 1881 population growth was steady but less sharply inclined which is reflected in the steady expansion of agriculture for the same period (see Graph III). However, population growth levels off in 1881 and actually declines by 1901. Interestingly, agricultural and manufacturing production jump forward significantly despite this population erosion. To explain this apparent anomaly we must turn to a description and analysis of the main economic components of the county’s growth.

There were three main areas of economic activity: 1) Agriculture 2) Forestry exploitation 3) Manufacturing and Retailing of goods. It must also be kept in mind that, besides the actual patterns and fluctuations of the interrelated growth of economics and population, there are the qualitative changes in the content of the economics of agriculture, forest products, and manufacturing that can point to decisive transformations in each field. These, in turn, can cause profound changes in people’s social, political and religious relationships. One illuminating example is the case of the Salvation Army which arrived in the urban centres of the county in the 1880s. though ridiculed and persecuted at first, the Army came to be accepted as a positive agent for the reform of such urban ills as alcoholism, unwed mothers and the care of the propertyless poor; an urban phenomenon in a countryside often land-rich though capital-poor.

Agriculture, of course, was to a majority of the population the prime economic activity. There were two basic stages agricultural production went through: 1) a primitive ‘toiler’ stage when the land was first being settled (in the case of North Victoria this lasted right into the 1870s and 1880s) and 2) a mature agricultural economy tied to a cash market regardless of the content of produce.

These two divisions were expressed in farmers’ adaptation and skill in technology. Farming methods were in a crude state during the first stage of settlement because the division of labour was crude. Thus the farmer had to master a number of tasks without really being proficient in any one. With a more mature agricultural economy, the farmer could rely on the more sophisticated services of a local blacksmith, builder, etc. a concomitant of better agricultural services from neighbouring hamlets and craftsmen was the mechanical transformation of farm labour. As a result of investing in machinery, the farmer was able to vastly increase productivity while lessening manual labour. Thus while agricultural production was leaping ahead, rural depopulation was also occurring.

In agriculture it was clearly Mariposa that held the lead in production and therefore in rural riches and problems. While Mariposa has probably some of the finest rural architecture as evidence of its prosperity, it also serves to effectively demonstrate the changes in production of crops that occurred over time in the commercial agricultural portion of the county (ie. Eldon, Emily, Ops, Mariposa and parts of Fenelon and Verulam townships).

In the 1850s and 1860s wheat was the important cash crop. This was due to the shortages brought on by the Crimean war and then by the American Civil war. This world wheat shortage worked greatly to Canadian farmers’ advantage especially since Canada had reciprocity in natural products with the United States for much of the 1850s and 60s. Many of our low English grain barns date back to this early period of production. But with the end to these wars and the lapsing of reciprocity, the wheat market collapsed by the late 1860s.

In response commercial agriculturalists turned to three new outlets attuned to the cash market. The first, though stretching from about 1871 to 1891, was the switch from wheat to mixed grain production. This had come about with the discovery that oats and barley grew far better together than apart. A further advantage of mixed grains was that they could be easily converted to whiskey or used in the brewing of beer and, as these, their transportation was made far more convenient since their bulk had been greatly reduced. Part of Purdy’s Mills, then were converted to a distillery by the late nineteenth century. The transition to mixed grains began in Mariposa and Ops and eventually extended to Eldon, Emily and parts of Fenelon. Mixed grain production was also associated with increased numbers of livestock. But this cash outlet was a later twentieth century development in response to growing urban markets.

The second outlet was in dairy products. First came the Cheese Factory and later, with the perfected invention of the cream separator, the Creamery. Each was dependent on the advent of the railroad with its ability to open up distant markets. This dairy outlet was often supplemented with eggs and poultry that could be sold for cash or traded for goods as well.

The third outlet was root crops, especially the turnip which could be manufactured into feed or sold waxed to Toronto markets. At the end of the century, however, the expansion of mixed grains worked to diminish root crop production while dairy products suffered later from the effects of concentration of production, thus eliminated many of the creameries and chees factories. But, in the nineteenth century, it was the Cheese Factory, Creamery, grain elevator and root warehouse that shaped the heartland’s rural landscape.

Though the commercial agriculture of the southern townships was overwhelmingly predominant in terms of production and value, a very different kind of agriculture emerged in North and East Victoria as a supplementary provision base for the lumbering trade. Here in Carden, Dalton, Digby, Longford, Laxton, Bexley and Somerville such crops as turnips, potatoes and hay made up the majority of agriculture production. In contrast, potatoes had disappeared as a significant crop in South Victoria by 1911, though meat curing in the South was probably stimulated by the winter provision market offered by the shanties. Thus in the North a particular kind of subsistence agriculture emerged based on production of provisions and seasonal labour in the winter lumber camps.

The main economic activity of North Victoria was forest exploitation; especially the rafting of hundreds of thousands of pine logs to British markets down the Trent navigational system. This emphasis on a labour intensive and seasonal industry geared to Imperial markets created a very different society in the North as opposed to the commercial agricultural patterns of the South.

For example, one important exception in the trend of population growth was the impact lumbering had on North Victoria in the period o1871 – 1881. During these ten years population sharply increased in the North due to the labour intensive demands of the lumber trade, while in South Victoria population continued only to increase gradually in conjunction with the slower expansion of agriculture.

The period 1871 – 1881 was the peak of forest exploitation and lumbering’s labour intensive methods demanded a large number of unskilled workers. These often proved to be transient but one can trace such labour practices through ethnic distribution. Take the case of French Canadians. They only appear as a significant group in such lumbering areas as Bexley and Somerville and later as laborers in Lindsay. Similar patterns for Irish Catholics and Germans appear also to exist. The decline of lumbering led to a switch from forest products to resort and fishing tours by such mill owners as the Boyds who attempted to reuse their steamboats and hotels built originally to service the lumber trade. This decline also apparently led to an immigration of Irish, French Canadian and German laborers into Lindsay as a comparison of the 1881 and 1911 ethnic distribution maps would seem to demonstrate.

These economic and social distinctions between the North and South also appeared in men’s political relationships. In nineteenth century Victoria, Eldon, Ops and Mariposa were traditionally held to be Liberal (this observation of W. Kirkconnell’s would appear to be borne out as well by the greater support accorded to the patron of Industry candidate in West Victoria as contrasted to East Victoria in 1893), while the North and lumbering villages such as Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon tended to be Conservative. This is not surprising if one views the commercial and religious attachments of the lumbering elite to England and the establish churches (ie. Anglican and Church of Scotland), their workers attachment to Roman Catholicism, and contrast that to the numerous dissenting Protestant sects of the Southwest (especially the evangelical and American related sects in Mariposa) and their commercial links to Toronto, the lakefront and their commercial and professional allies in Lindsay. Though the economic patterns laid down by lumbering were to collapse with the exhaustion of logging, the social patterns laid down through men’s labour, religious and ethnic experiences were to continue ways of thought adapted to a particular way of life that would contrast sharply with the commercial agriculturalists of the Southwest.

For Manufacturing, there were two basic stages through which the county passed. The first was the ‘processing’ stage when industries were limited to such agricultural and handicraft concerns as burning lime, making potash, grinding flour, carding and fulling wool and tanning leather (see 1851 Map). Industry was limited to the primitive productive relationships of a toiler agriculture economy. Only with a more diversified agriculture and extensive transportation links with external markets was the area able to move into more complex productive relationships. These were the result of greater division, and therefore specialization, of labour; such as in the manufacture of Agricultural Implements (Sylvester Bros., 1882), foundries, Clothing (Horn Bros., 1881), boot and shoes, and such finished wood products as cabinet making and sash, door and window factories. This second stage of manufacturing can be traced to the rapid increase in value of products, diversity of products and occupations between 1891 and 1901 (see Graph III and Manufacturing maps). The continuous growth of agriculture and the fluctuating expansion of industry goes far to explain the continuous expansion of Lindsay while population growth for the county remained stagnant or actually declined.

Built in response to the developmental needs of these economies were the towns, villages and hamlets that processed, serviced and ministered to each local area’s particular needs, whether to saw lumber or to sell dry goods and repair farm machinery.

The two demands that determined where concentrations of population took place were 1) power, which meant in mid-nineteenth century Victoria the height of water fall and volume, and 2) the administrative, retail of processing function each community would have to serve in relation to the local economy in which it was placed. Other factors that determined growth were distance from local and export markets, and the presence or absence of serious local competitors within the available hinterland.

Thus, while Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon grew rapidly to become small towns with their own factories, newspaper and mercantile elite, because each was isolated from a rich agricultural hinterland, where they could sell goods, and had also remained isolated because of the lateness with which the railroad arrived (not till the 1870s in Fenelon Falls and after the turn of the century in Bobcaygeon), they both only grew to a certain size. While far larger than such agricultural villages as Little Britain and Oakwood, they failed to seriously compete with Lindsay.

Lindsay, on the other hand, was blessed with abundant water power and an early rail link to the lakefront with Port Hope in 1857. It was also centred in the rich commercial agricultural hinterland of South Victoria without any serious competitor, since in Mariposa, Ops and Eldon there was no other significant source of water power; though such places as Little Britain, Cambray, Bolsover and Kirkfield managed to run a remarkable number of small mills on very limited rivers. Omemee with its water power and timber resources had originally been a serious competitor but exhaustion of the forest, competition from Peterborough, and the inability to build railroads because of surrounding swamps eventually slowed its initial growth with the result that by the mid-1870s the newspaper and many of the retailers left for Lindsay. Woodville was another small competitor. But its dependence on steam power and inability to compete with Beaverton led to a similar exodus of its newspaper and businessmen.

In the agricultural hinterland numerous small villages and hamlets sprang up often with a small resource of water power. But their essential purpose was to serve as administrative (especially as post offices) and retail centres to service the immediate needs of a mature agricultural economy with blacksmith and harness shops and dry goods stores. These small communities also served as convenient locations for schools, meeting halls and churches. The overall size of these villages and hamlets are usually, as well, good indicators of the prosperity of the surrounding countryside. Thus while in Mariposa there are two large villages close together (Oakwood and Little Britain) and other hamlets such as Manilla, Cresswell, Valentia and Sonya, and in Eldon, villages such as Woodville and Kirkfield, and hamlets like Bolsover, Argyle and Lorneville, in North Emily, Verulam and Somerville, there are only post office hamlets with an occasional school or church such as Fairbairn in Verulam or Baddow in Sommerville.

Abandoned house, unknown location
Abandoned house, unknown location Details
In North Victoria, a slightly different pattern emerged. Though the soils were marginal and the water power scarce, much larger concentrations of population had once existed, first in response to the lumber trade and then to the building of the Trent Canal. Thus such places in Uphill, Victoria Road, Coboconk, Norland and Kinmount were once more populous than at present. If like Coboconk, Norland and Kinmount they are fortunate enough to have found a new economic base in servicing tourism and recreation then they have maintained their integrity, and population, as communities. But, if relatively isolated like Victoria Road or Uphill, then desertion and eventual depression occurs in what were once thriving communities. Having lost their economic base, stores and houses are abandoned and are eventually torn down or boarded up (see Plate ).

These two spatially complementary economies, agriculture in the Southwest and lumbering in the North and East, demonstrated their essential differences in building as well. The farmers’ love for richly decorated brick farmhouses in the South and West contrasts sharply with the more utilitarian frame house of the lumbering villages (though often aesthetically pleasing) and the sumptuous estates and houses of the leading lumber barons (or the rarer railroad speculator); which in terms of opulence outshone the more numerous merchants’ and professionals’ houses in Lindsay and in the surrounding agricultural hamlets and villages. Thus men’s material relationships are expressed aesthetically as well.

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