A Past Remembered

Recently the town of Bobcaygeon Ontario was in the news with the sad happenings at the Pinecrest Nursing Home Covid-19 outbreak.

Here is a bit of history about the town:

Bobcaygeon’s nickname is The Hub of the Kawarthas and it is well named. The village is located at the rapids where Sturgeon Lake empties into Pigeon Lake on its way to Lake Ontario. The spot was an obvious site for native villages and was the spot of an early trading post run by a trader named McKeough. But the father of the village was an English entrepreneur named Thomas Need who set up shop in 1832. The local Mississauga Indians called the site: ‘bob-cajeon-unk’ which meant ‘shallow waters’ in their dialect. Need liked the name.

Need was granted 400 acres including the 3 islands that were part of the new village. Need built a sawmill & grist mill on the big island and a community began to grow up. In 1834 the government of Upper Canada commissioned the first lock for the Trent Waterway at Bobcaygeon. The lock was finished by 1840. The site was truly the Hub of the Kawartha Lakes

In 1844 Need sold his interests to a local farmer named Mossom Boyd and the village really began to prosper under its most famous family. Boyd’s main enterprise in the early years was his sawmill business. Ideally located on the Trent Waterway , Boyd floated the massive white pine logs to his mill at the foot of the lock. The dam at Buckhorn (completed in 1844) raised the water levels and forced several re-organizing of the locks & sawmills to the point where Boyd moved his sawmill to a new (and much larger site) on the south-east end of the island In 1855, the government commissioned a series of colonization roads to open up the Ottawa-Huron Tract north of the Kawartha Lakes . The Bobcaygeon Road was to be a key piece of this scheme and Bobcaygeon Village was to be the start point for the new road. It had regular steam boat connections with both Peterborough (via Bridgenorth) and Lindsay. All the settlers for Haliburton County flowed through Bobcaygeon until the Victoria Railway diverted the flow in 1876. The village prospered and became the largest community in the area. The village contained several large hotels and numerous stores to service travelers on the Road, local farmers & the lumber industry, then approaching its zenith

The village grew up on the 3 islands and on the north shore where a separate village called Rokeby was surveyed by the government. In 1876 the rival villages amalgamated so they could boast 1,000 residents & qualify for incorporated village status. The name Rokeby disappeared

The Boyds branched out and formed the Kawartha Navigation Company with numerous steam boats that plied the Kawartha Lakes for several decades until the age of steam passed by World War I. They also dabbled in livestock breeding. But the Boyds really wanted a railway for their businesses and when the Victoria Railway was planned in the early 1870s, they tried desperately to get the line to cross the Kawartha Lakes at Bobcaygeon. Unfortunately their designs were stymied by Verulam Township Council who refused to grant a bonus to the company. Fenelon Falls was not so cheap and won the railway. Fenelon’s rise was Bobcaygeon’s demise and the population actually declined in Bobcaygeon as Fenelon’s grew. Bobcaygeon eventually got its railway in 1904, but by then it was too late. The Boyd Family closed their big sawmill in 1898 and the village languished even further

The prosperity brought by the mills and the Road led to a number of prominent industries in the village. The Boyd Family built a series of large, lavish houses along the canal. The only one that survives today is the Boyd office, now a museum/library. The numerous Boyds also had a private school in the office. The Teachers, a Mr. & Mrs. Comer started a private school for boys called Hillcroft in town. This large structure was converted to a hospital (with 18 beds) in 1958. The small hospital operated until closed by the Ontario Government in the 1970s

Bobcaygeon also contained all the DNA structures of an established village: 4 churches, high school, newspaper, sawmill, grist mill, Orange Lodge, agricultural fair and numerous businesses. The Trent Canal also contributed to its prosperity, particularly in later years when tourism climbed to the number one industry in the area. Today the village has become a retirement destination, with both condominiums and estates gracing the local lakes. Today probably known for shopping at the Bigley Shoes & Clothings store.

Info from see http://www.kinmount.ca/friends_vol4_iss_3.php

The sorrowful bit of news at the Pinecrest Nursing Home with the Covid-19 outbreak surely must have rocked their families and everyone in this small community. It brought back some of the memories of what we experienced when I was married in 1965 and we settled into the village until 1967. Here are some of them.

The Bank of Montreal where I worked at their Burlington Branch had at that time a unique program where young men (not many women) were trained on the job in order to gain experience at BMO banking. They were often promoted by a move from branch to branch to enhance their banking expertise.

BMO in 1964

In April 1964 I was promoted Assistant to the Manager in the small 7 person branch in Bobcaygeon. My annual salary would rise to $2,700 per year. When I was told that my transfer was in, I had no idea where Bobcaygeon was, had never heard the name, and figured it was close to Wawa, ON. (this was a standard joke about that ‘infamous’ move you could ‘earn’ to the far – north lands of Canada)

So off I went from Burlington to Bobcaygeon in my 1956 Pontiac via QE, 401, Highway 115, 35 & 36 and arrived in the town with a population of approx. 600. The town was a renowned fishing and vacationing spot but more known to fishermen (even those from the USA) then the average ‘Joe Blow’ like myself. (I remember we had a well-to-do USA client at the bank who loved to hand out $2.00 bills for in the US the ‘deuce’ was no longer in circulation).

Arrangements had been made with a widow lady (Mrs. Clark) for me to board with and I would travel home every week-end. Room and board was set at $15.00 a week. Arriving at the branch, an old structure at the south-west side of the locks on Bolton Street I could see on the front above the door that it had formerly, before 1925, been a Molson Bank[1] branch.

In 1965 I got married and had my suit measured at Featherstone Menwear. ($100) My wife and I settled into the upstairs apartment in a mansion of a house (rent was $75.00 a month) on the Bobcaygeon Bolton Street beside the then IGA (now Foodland) store. Dr. Moran [5] had his office on the main floor of the house and we lived upstairs. We had bought our furniture at Knob Hill Furniture and Appliances in Scarborough, ON (owned by Jerry & Janine Lock) $1700 got us a kitchen table and chairs, stove, frig, bedroom set (bed, mattress & cabinets) and living room chesterfield, table and two chairs. On Sundays we drove to Lindsay to attend Lindsay Christian Reformed Church for worship services. Life here was slower and quieter. Nellie applied to the local hospital run by a Mrs. Stewart and she took a job at $13.00 a day.

Apt on Bolton St beside the IGA

        There were two other dutch families in town. There was the Walhout family and the other Harry VanOudenaaren, a mechanic, who with his family attended the United Church in town.

        At the Bank of Montreal branch I did the accounting and was in charge of the office at the SW corner of Bolton Street by the swing bridge for the boating (lock) canal (Trent Waterway system) between Pigeon Lake and Sturgeon Lake opposite the local hotel.

        Our participation in the life of the town was limited to the Curling Club of which I was appointed secretary immediately as we joined. I had no idea what to do and received all poster events mail addressed to the club by hanging it up in the locker room of the local arena where we practiced the game. I remember I was terribly sore in my arms and shoulders from doing all the sweeping for our team’s stones.

        We would try to go home at least once a month to visit with family and to keep in touch.

        That summer of 1966, the 1956 Pontiac needed almost monthly repairs so a patient at Hillcroft hospital had a 1961 Chevy for sale for $1,100.00 which we bought. This car lasted us till 1968 when we purchase a 1965 red Pontiac from a Dutchman in Belleville.

        In the Fall (November 1966) the hotel caught fire. We had been at home but most of the town was at the arena watching a hockey game between Buckhorn & Bobcaygeon. As the fire took hold the fire department was called but there was no answer (it was a volunteer fire department) because the fire chief and most volunteers were at the hockey game.

        It was told that the person who first saw the fire ran across the two bridges and arriving at the fire hall sounded the alarm and started back with the fire engine.

Nellie suddenly said: ‘I smell smoke’. We checked the apartment but did not see anything and then decided to look outside and ‘Wow’ the whole hotel was on fire. People were shouting in the street and the building next to the hotel was threatening to burn. More fire engines were called in from Lindsay & Fenelon Falls to fight the blaze. At one point we started to move [4] our furniture and other stuff into our car as the cinders from the fire came down in huge volume onto the apartment roof and it looked like it also may go up in flame.

        After some hours the fire was contained and we spent the night at the Walhout’s home.

        The next morning we moved the furniture back into the house and I filed a claim with the insurance. We got $70.00 for cleaning and damage. The hotel was a mess through the winter and was finally cleared up in March of 1967.

Hotel after the fire Nov 1966

        Shortly thereafter I received a transfer to BMO Stirling, ON, a small town near Belleville, a promotion.


      Names I remember: Bobcaygeon Independent; IGA store; Devitt store; Purdy; Junkin; Need; Read; Nichols; Thompson; Poole; Clark; Jermyn; Mr. Daniels, Bank Manager; Jean & Eddie; Mr. James, the local cop; Dr. Thomas; Jack Featherstone; Bob Jokinen, the pharmacist; Mr. Strickland; Gladys Thorne; Mr. Ross; Purdy’s Garage; Chinese restaurant; Clark barbershop.

Kawartha Diaries (now famous for its ice cream) was established by Jack & Ila Crowe in 1937, its head-office is still in Bobcaygeon. http://kawarthadairy.com/about-us/

[1] See BMO history: https://www.bmo.com/bmo/files/images/4/1/BMOHistoryEng.pdf

Bank of Montreal’s branch network was strengthened yet again in 1925 by a merger with Montreal-based Molsons Bank, founded in 1853, whose 125 branches were mostly in rural Ontario and Quebec. The ties between Bank of Montreal and the Molsons were close. The Molson family had been shareholders of Bank of Montreal since 1823. John Molson, founder of Canada’s oldest brewery, was President of Bank of Montreal in 1826, and family members had always served on the bank’s board. When the Molsons Bank recorded a severe decline in profits in the early 1920s, its then President, Fred Molson, initiated negotiations with his cousin, Col. Herbert Molson, a director of Bank of Montreal. All Molsons employees were given either employment or life pensions

[4] We were about 4 buildings up the street from the fire.

[5] I recall an unfortunate accident occurred in the 1966-67 winter, Dr. Moran, Ross Poole and one other person were in the habit of ‘ski-dooing’ on Pigeon Lake. Although they were well acquainted with the region, one night all 3 of them skidooed into the open channel and drowned.