Our Heritage Walking Tours of the villages of Rideau Lakes Township are designed to acquaint visitors and residents with our rich local history and to illustrate the variety of architectural features that appeared as our communities matured.
Heritage Walking Tours
- Chaffeys Walking Tour PDF
- Delta Walking Tour PDF
- Elgin Walking Tour PDF
- Newboro Walking Tour PDF
- Portland Walking Tour PDF
Tours on Your Smartphone
Tours on your Smartphone: These tours plus our cycling tours are available as a free MyTOURS App for any iOS, Android or Windows Phone device. For links to the app see: My Tours or do a search for “Rideau” in your app store. Once downloaded to your device the tours can be used offline.
The numbers on the map above relate directly to the numbered descriptions of the site described below. For further information ask at the Museum, open during July and August.
Throughout the 1800s Chaffey’s witnessed a continuous flow of steamships and barges that carried colonist, wood products, and minerals from South Shield mining. Cordwood for the steamers, cheese from the ice house and grain were loaded from warehouses beside where the present lockmaster’s office is located. The locks operated 24 hours per day 7 days a week. After 1900, the timber was gone and south shield mining was no longer profitable and shipping declined. Fortunately bass fishermen had discovered the teeming lakes. By the 1930s, over 40 guides operated from the Opinicon and Simmons Lodges. A new era of tourism began to develop.
Welcome to Historic Chaffey’s Lock
The hamlet of Chaffey’s Lock is nestled on a beautiful isthmus of land lying between Indian Lake and Opinicon Lake. In 1822, Samuel Chaffey and his wife Mary Ann built a Grist Mill, Saw Mill, Fulling and Carding and distillery on the rapids between the two lakes. When the Rideau Canal Construction began in 1828, the mills and Samuel’s dam had to be removed. Samuel never saw their removal as he had died of malaria the summer before.
John Haggart and John Sheriff were the contractors hired by Lieut. Colonel John By for the building of the Chaffey site. The lock and by-wash were completed by 1831. The first lockmaster was William Fleming, who had served as a corporal in the 7th Company of the Royal Sappers and Miners during the canal’s construction. The canal and locks were operated by the British Ordnance Department until 1853, at which time they were turned over to the Government of the Canadas. The only time that military troops garrisoned at the Lock Station was during the 1837 Rebellion of Upper Canada. The canal, built for military purposes, only saw soldiers when they changed British Garrison Regiments and they passed through to their postings at Kingston or Niagara.
The Lockmaster and his staff were the only inhabitants of Chaffey’s until 1870. In 1872, John Chaffey, nephew of the original founder, opened a grist mill and woolen mill on the Opinicon Lake side of the by-wash. Part of the house near the mill, Fernbrae, was built as the miller’s residence. During the first years of the mills operation no bridge existed for the farmers to take their grain to mill. It was ferried across until a swing bridge was built in 1884. Although the original Chaffey’s Mills had a bridge, it was too low to pass vessels and Col. By had it removed.
The hamlet became a fishing centre prior to 1900 when tent camps opened in two location near the locks. In 1899, William Henry Fleming, the third Lockmaster, bought property from the Crown and built what is the centre portion of the Opinicon Hotel. A year later, William Laishley purchased the house and added a wing calling it the Idylwild. In 1902, it boasted accommodation for 40 guests with a large dining room and cool verandahs. In 1904, Laishley sold out to a group principally from Youngstown, Ohio who called it the Opinicon Club. The hotel operated as a private club until 1921, when it was taken over by William Phillips a Pennsylvanian. It has remained with his descendants since then. The resort period continued to grow with Simmons’ Lodge which once boasted a fine dining room and Dorothy’s Lodge. From the early 1900s, the Alford’s boat building business grew into Alford’s Marina now Browns. An Alford’s mechanic opened Franklin Marina. The Community Hall, built by the Chaffey’s Women’s Institute in 1932, was a centennial project on the canals 100th birthday.
Until the Canadian Northern Rail Road came through Chaffey’s in 1912, the principle way for the fishermen and tourist to arrive was by the numerous passenger vessels such as the Rideau King and the Rideau Queen.
There were a few cottages built in the early 1900s, but the cottage era really began after 1950. After 1950, a setting of trees and lakes became a source of relaxation and rest from the stresses of city life. To catch the large mouth bass that Chaffey’s had become famous for and to have a shore dinner built the hamlet into what it is today. The map on the reverse side with it’s numbered sites are described here: Why not take the tour and see some of Chaffey’s of old.
1. Lockmaster’s House Museum
Built in 1844 as a substitute for a blockhouse to defend the canal against American-based raiders, the Lockmaster’s house was originally a one story sandstone structure. It had a tin roof, two stone porches and gun slits to provide defense in case of an attack.
The house was occupied continuously from 1844 to 1967, by only 5 lockmaster’s. In 1894, it was renovated and a clapboard second story and a kitchen addition were added. When William Henry Fleming was lockmaster the house had the only phone in Chaffey’s and also housed the local Post Office.
The house remained vacant during the 1970s and was renovated to become a museum as part of the 150th Anniversary Projects in 1982. The museum is operated by the Chaffey’s Lock & Area Heritage Society on donations by it’s members and visitors.
2. Marion Dunn Heritage Trail
The trail follows the route of the original road built to bring to the lock the stones from the Halladay Quarry at Elgin. The path goes from the old canalmen’s house to the Chaffey Grave Yard. The route passes among many old locus, black cherry, butternut and maple trees that have grown since Col. By had all of the land cleared. This was to prevent malaria which was thought to have been caused by bad air. The remains of one of Samuel Chaffey’s buildings, the lime kiln and blacksmith shop are located on this road.
The original Dunn Farm was located along Indian Lake Road and was developed in the 1970s into what was then the Two Doctors Sub-division. Marion Dunn, a grand daughter of the original settler wanted to see some of Chaffey’s Heritage Protected and gave the Chaffey’s Lock & Area Heritage Society funds for this trail and its upkeep.
3. Grave Yard & Memory Wall
The first internment in the Chaffey Cemetery was Joseph Poole, father of Mary Ann Chaffey. Samuel Chaffey, who died of malaria in 1827 is buried here as was Mary Ann who died in 1885. In August of 1828, malaria hit the construction workers at Chaffey’s and 11 labourers were quickly buried in the Chaffey Cemetery. The graves of 79 canal labourers, many who were Irish immigrants, died over the four year construction period and lie beneath the rows of unmarked stones. A few burials occurred during the 20th Century among who are the 2 Simmons Brothers. Both are descendants of James Simmons who was killed in a rock cut blast while building the canal.
The Memory Wall, built of lock stones, contain plaques that provide a social history of Chaffey’s in the 20th Century. Names of former residents and summer tourists who have helped shape the area are preserved with insights as to why they were here.
4. The Locks and By-wash
The canal, lock and by-wash at Chaffey’s were built over a four year period from 1828 to 1831 at a cost of just over £4000. The contractor, John Haggart, a Scotsman, employed between 70 and 100 men many with wives and children who lived in shanties along the canal. Trees in the area of the locks were all cut and cleared 2 to 300 meters in width on both sides of the canal to Indian Lake. The complete Chaffey Milling complex had to be dismantled and the old river bed widened. The sandstone blocks for the lock were quarried just east of Elgin and hauled to the site on wooden sleds called stone boats.
5. Cataraqui Trail
The trail passes over the canal on the old bed of the Canadian Northern Railway.
Chaffey’s Lock and Area Heritage Society
1724 Chaffey’s Lock Road
Elgin, ON K0G 1E0
11 = Philo Hicock House
10 = Richard Johnston House
9 = Delta Mill
8 = Walter Denaut House
7 = Delta Business Block
6 = William Bell Store and Residence
5 = William Bell House
4 = Joel Copland House
3 = Omer Brown House
2 = Alexander Stevens House
1 = Anglican Church
The year 1796 saw the first settlers in Stevenstown; settlers who came from Vermont with Elder Abel Stevens following the Revolutionary War. After several name changes, this community with destiny became Delta. On a rich and fertile delta beside Lower Beverley Lake, its ‘raison d’etre’ was the dam built on a local creek to power its mills. As a consequence, an artificial lake called Upper Beverley was created. By the early 1800s this community was a flourishing farming and industrial village. Over the decades, Delta became home to a growing number of pioneer trades and crafts including general stores, a variety of smiths, hotels, a tannery, distillery, brickyard, foundry, cheese factory, carriage works, newspaper and among others, even a hospital. Many of these early structures, the skills and talents they housed and the families they homed have been lost.
But fortunately a significant number of buildings remain to illustrate the life of a busy and prosperous community. As well, many customs remain. For example, the annual Delta Fair is a thriving tradition dating back to 1830. The 20th and 21st centuries have brought many changes to Delta as to other communities across Eastern Ontario; a shift from an agricultural to a tourist economy, from a rural to an urban way of life.
The Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee (M.H.A.C.) endeavours with this Heritage Tour of Delta to illustrate a variety of architectural influences reflected in the buildings of Delta. Amble casually with us on this tour. Imagine the ring of the mason’s hammer, the whripp of the carpenter’s saw, the humming of mills, the singing of choirs, the laughter and tears of family and village life as it was a century or two ago.
Stop #1 – Anglican Church, 1811
One of the oldest continuously used churches in Ontario, this fine house of worship has served three denominations. The shell, constructed by the Baptists in 1811, was used by them with the interior remaining unfinished due to lack of funds. In 1827 this structure was purchased by the Anglicans and in a rare example of early ecumenicalism, both congregations shared the building along with the Methodists (1843 – 1862). In 1864, the Baptists left to worship in their new church in Philipsville (they later built their own church in Delta). Constructed of fieldstone, now covered with stucco and painted, this fine edifice is a typical example of early church architecture in Canada. Note its Gothic windows and the crenellations on its tower, a reflection of medieval tradition. Ask any of the local residents about the legend of its bell.
Stop #2 – Alexander Stevens House, 1882
This substantial red brick residence is representative of a successful businessman’s home in the 1880s. Alexander Stevens was a great-grandson of the founder of the community and he owned and operated the Delta Centennial Carriage Factory, a bustling business in those pre-automobile decades. A flat section of the roof is surrounded by attractive wrought-iron trim. The segmental headed windows were the latest thing in the 1870s and 80s.
Stop # 3 – Omer Brown House, 1905
Another prominent businessman, Omer Brown was a general merchant with his store located in the Jubilee Block (see #7). He constructed this grand residence with a variety of features of Queen Anne style. This elegant home embodies the Victorian love of variety, industry and excess. By the end of the 19th century, factories were able to mass produce countless decorative details in diverse media. Look for its several unique features: the asymmetrical front door, the steeply-pitched roof broken by several cross gables of irregular shape and height, prominent bay windows, a single storey porch with second-storey balcony, spindle or turned railing posts and a facade textured with patterned shingles, decorative masonry and stained glass windows.
Stop #4 – Joel Copland House, 1862
This spacious home of grand size and symmetry and boasting a grand veranda was built by Joel Copeland and family who operated a pharmacy in the Jubilee Block (see #7). It might be called the House of the Three Gables, the outer ones featuring pointed Gothic-style windows. Its shiplap siding reflects a time when local forests were still abundant and local mills could make fine lumber. Perhaps even greater fame than its architecture is associated with this home as it was onee the residence and offices of Dr. Joseph Kelly, a truly legendary country doctor, famous among many legendary peers. The stories are myriad of long dedicated hours, of late nights and of travels through harrowing conditions as Dr. Kelly, for several decades ministered to the physical & emotional health of his devoted patients. In days long before modern antibiotics and MRIs, Dr. Joseph Kelly performed miracles with that greatest of all medicine, his splendid disposition and sense of humour.
Stop #5 – William Bell House, 1860
An Irish-born merchant, William Bell constructed this fine 2 storey red brick residence, manifesting his business success in this thriving community during the mid-19th century. This elegant residence is formal, symmetrical and detailed in its Georgian style. One wonders if he drew upon memories of graceful homes in his native Erin to plan the Bell home in the New World. Note the stone quoins of the front facade, the fine brackets, wooden trim on the porch and its central doorway with multi-light transom and sidelights. On soft summer evenings, one might imagine the lilt of cotillion at fine galas hosted by the Bell family.
Stop #6 – William Bell Store and Residence, late 1850s
Constructed of locally made brick, this building is typical of a mid-19th century combined store and residence. An elaborate wooden cornice stretches across the front facade above the large display windows. Incorporated into the cornice is a door leading to the living area above the store. The second floor windows show the original 6-over-6 pane arrangement. Listen carefully and imagine the sounds and smells of goods being unloaded at the back of the store. Treasures from the outer world once came by steamboat to Mr. Bell’s emporium via the Rideau Canal, Morton and Beverley Lake.
Stop #7 – Delta Business Block, 1887
Built to replace an earlier “shopping mall” that was destroyed by fire the previous year, the Jubilee Block commemorated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee – the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. A century before the mall became a common fixture of Canadian cities, Bill Birch’s one-stop shopping centre in Delta retains many of its original features. You can still see the original series of shops with their large display windows where the latest in tin goods, fashions and Lifebuoy soap were once displayed. Notice the wooden cornice on the first-floor facade and the wooden dentil work. The double doors and the interior tin ceilings also remain from an age of shopping basket instead of shopping cart. To the west of the Jubilee Block, you see a red brick building that originally served as a bank. To a doubting populace, the massive semi-circular arched windows and door heading on the first floor facade manifested early 20th century “bank architecture”. There was a secure haven for your hard-earned pennies; a leap of faith toward more security and reward for your spare cash than in a sock under your mattress.
Stop #8 – Walter Denaut House, 1849
Walter Denaut was a prosperous and widely renowned mill owner, (see #8), postmaster, general merchant and politician (first reeve of Bastard and South Burgess Township). Befitting his wealth and status, he built this impressive 2 storey mansion of stone complete with a wing of brick containing the servants’ quarters. An unusual feature of this magnificent home is the use of the casement style of window in which the two frames or sashes holding the panes of glass opens outward from hinged attachments along the sides, like twin doors. Delta peers and Ottawa potentates were among guests welcomed at the Denaut threshold. Rumour persists that under the correct conjunction of the ethers and imagination, the ghost of Mr. Denaut returns to haunt the halls of his magnificent home.
Stop #9 – Delta Mill, circa 1810
In those eras prior to steam and electricity, Abel Stevens, Loyalist and developer from Vermont, constructed a water-powered grist mill near this site in 1796. That prototype was replaced in 1810 with this magnificent stone mill. Now a National Historic Site (the only stone grist mill so designated in Canada), it has been restored as a museum. The Delta Mill is an excellent example of Georgian architecture of sturdy stonework and 12-over-8 paned windows. Its original “automatic” milling works were modelled on the latest in mill technology as defined by Oliver Evans (1796). In 1817, this focal point of local industry was described as “unquestionably the best (building) of its kind in Upper Canada.” Water wheel and grindstone once rumbled within its structure. Later, turbines hummed a tune of prosperity within the addition at the rear.
To the south of the mill itself, a building with a first storey of stone originally provided shelter for the horses of mill patrons. A second storey, once of brick, served as a meeting place for patrons to discuss the affairs of the day, local and global. The village of Delta grew up around its mill and its mill pond (Upper Beverley Lake). Visit the museum and also the displays of early industrial technology in the “Old Town Hall”.
Stop #10 – Richard Johnston House, 1850s
This is a fine example of a mid-19th century “Ontario Cottage” with its rectangular shape, 1 1/2 storeys, balanced facade, front gable casement window with semi-circular head on the second storey and with its paneled entrance complete with rectangular transom and sidelights on the first storey. Transom with sidelights were common during that time period because they were aesthetically pleasing and symmetrical. As well they were functional, allowing more natural light into a wide interior hallway in a pre-electric era. These architectural proportions, common to many mid-19th century homes in this township, are associated with the Georgian style. This was the home of another prosperous Delta merchant whose residence reflected his place in the thriving economic life of this rural community in Upper Canada.
Stop #11 – Philo Hicock House, circa 1845
Recently and meticulously restored to its original elegance, this home is once again most impressive. Philo Hicock was the prosperous owner of a foundry which was kept busy serving the black metal needs of local industry and of those farming the Delta hinterland. The front facade on the ground floor is graced by a central doorway with transom and sidelights and providing a further touch of symmetry and class, a casement window to each side. The second storey manifests 3 dormers; the centre one with particularly elaborate wooden trim. Pause for a moment. Imagine the Hicock family enjoying the summer airs on their fine Regency-style porch as the local world beat a passing path to the Hicock Foundry and to the myriad other services and functions of 19th century Delta.
This Heritage Walking Tour of Elgin starts with the earliest settler in the area and progresses through time. As you amble from building to building, learn of individuals and families that made significant contributions to the development of Elgin. Special credit must be given to Hub of the Rideau, A History of South Crosby Township by Sue Warren (1997), copies of which are available at the Elgin Branch of the Rideau Lakes Library and at the Township Office.
Name of Stop
1 = Ebenezer Halladay House
2 = Empire House
3 = Henry Laishley House
4 = Benjamin Halladay House
5 = Alman Newman Store
6 = John Dargavel General Store
7 = Santelle Dargavel Barn
8 = SS#5 School
9 = United Church
10 = St. Columbanus Roman Catholic Church
11 = St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Each community is unique in time and place. Among the people places in the Township of Rideau Lakes, Elgin is unique. Communities such as Delta and Lombardy were nurtured by falling water and rumbling mills. Portland and Newboro attracted early travellers with canoes and steamboats. But Elgin prospered without waterpower or waterside. Its pioneers of the early 1800’s found that nurtured by a benign mid-latitude climate there grew a luxurious mix of white pine and oak. This forest thrived on a deep sandy loam, almost boulder-free, gently sloping and easily drained, easily plowed and very fertile. This fl edgling community soon won the notice of the surveyors and builders of the Rideau Canal.
By coincidence of geology, this pioneer site became the source for much of the sandstone used to construct the great dam at Jones Falls and the locks there and nearby. Bustling work camps presented an insatiable demand for local teamsters and teams, a lucrative market for food and fodder. Families with names like Delong and Halladay prospered. They came to this emerging centre of commerce to trade their barrels of potash and salt pork for tea and fine tea cups, to have their horses shod and harnesses stitched, boots cobbled and buckets smithed. Even after the completion of the Rideau Canal in 1832, the community that was to become Elgin persevered and prospered on its foundation of rich soil and strategic location. Elgin has persevered through economic depressions across country and continent. It has prospered through wars fought near and far, a Civil War to the south and two World Wars. It has seen the rise and the fall of a century of cheddar cheese industry. It now thrives as a commercial hub for citizens and tourists here at the Keystone of the Rideau Corridor, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a National Geographic Destination.
The Development of Elgin
The village developed on Lots 12 and 13 on Concession 2 of the Township of South Crosby (Hub of the Rideau, p.200). Those lots were granted in 1801 to Leeds County women, Susannah Wiltse and Rebecca Wing, both daughters of United Empire Loyalists. Neither took occupancy and both parcels were eventually purchased by Samuel Halladay. In 1818, Ebenezer Halladay bought a 100 acre portion of Lot 12, Concession 2 from his brother and settled on that portion which now forms the south-east quarter of Elgin bounded by Main and Kingston Streets. As a young boy Ebenezer had been blinded in one eye when he tried to undo a knotted shoelace with a fork. The utensil flew out of his hand and struck his eye. His handicap did not prevent him from enlisting in the 2nd Leeds Militia during the War of 1812, nor did it hinder his many farming, business and civic activities. Within a decade Eben had cleared 25 acres, built a log house and was becoming a prosperous farmer. After the death of his first wife Jane Leggett, he married Parthena Olds and the couple raised a family of 11 children from his two marriages.
Ebenezer and his sons Benjamin and Phillip played significant roles in their hamlet, Halladay’s Corners. Along with selling lots along Main St., they donated land for the first two schools, the South Crosby Community Hall, the Evangelical Methodist Church and the Halladay Burial Ground. thodist Church (now United Church) and the village cemetery fittingly named the Halladay Burial Ground.
1. The Ebenezer and Parthena Halladay House
In 1844 when his youngest son Phillip was born, Ebenezer built a new stone house for his sizable family. The one-and-a-half storey, white stucco-over-stone house with a roofed verandah on two sides is the oldest surviving private stone house in the township. Stucco on stone was common in pioneer north Leeds. Traces of large bake ovens inside the building were discovered during recent renovations. Phillip continued to help his father run the farm. Later when mechanized farm equipment revolutionized local farming, he became a successful salesman travelling a wide territory with horse and buggy.
The 1840s was a period of rapid growth in the area. The population nearly doubled. The neighbouring centres of Newboro on the Rideau Canal and Delta with its industries were far away by horse and wagon. But by the 1850s, main roads linked Elgin to Kingston, Brockville and Perth. Local roads, dusty in summer, muddy in spring and fall and sleigh tracks in winter led to Jones Falls, Davis and Chaffey’s Locks. Eben’s land was located in the heart of the oldest settled part of the township where most of the second and third generation farmers lived and retired. During the 1850s Ebenezer Halladay promoted development by selling lots along the south side of Main Street. The stage was set for the growth of the village.
About 1845, Ira Mitchell leased a lot from Ebenezer Halladay on the south-east corner of Main St. at Kingston Rd. Here Ira built a house from which he marketed shoemaking services, sold whisky to a wide clientele and marketed lots from the Halladay farm. In 1848 Henry Laishley opened a store in a log building across from Ira Mitchell’s business. In 1851-52, Henry replaced his original store with a larger frame building called the Seven Dollar Store, the amount of capital he had invested in it. The Seven Dollar Store soon drove Mitchell out of business and it thrived under different names until 1989 when it was destroyed by fire.
In 1853, Benjamin Halladay purchased the land on the north side of Main Street and began selling lots. Soon there was a string of businesses as far as the Halladay Burial Ground. The growing village was officially named Elgin in 1850 to honour James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, Governor General of Canada (1847-54). With rapid growth and prosperity came architectural changes. Simple log and frame buildings were replaced with more spacious homes and businesses. Fine architectural styles and details appeared. In February 1887, Phillip Halladay petitioned to open two new streets in the southern section of the village; Halladay Street in honour of his father and Church Street.
2. The Phillip and Harriet Halladay House
When his father died in 1884, Philip inherited the family farm. In the following year, Phillip and Harriet built South Crosby’s only known two-and-a-half storey Second Empire House of brick across the street from the homestead. The wrought iron details, mansard roof and decorative roof urns distinguishes this building as Second Empire, a style popular in the last quarter of the 19th century. The front façade manifests a central projected core and symmetrical flanking wings. Each wing consists of a ground floor bay topped by a decorative roof dormer and a first floor window.
Each window is crowned with a low vertical brick arch. The dormers are extremely decorative with harp-like treillage sides and a touch of Classic Revival in the pediments over the arched windows. Decorative slate tiles fringe the dormers. The central entrance has a rectangular pediment around the porch with well-modeled details on the columns and the same iron cresting as on the side bays. The door is slightly inset and crowned with a low vertical brick arch. A second storey door leads onto the pediment with a small balcony. Originally the property had a perimeter fence of wrought iron with cresting that reflected that on the bays. Sales of farm machinery were good!
3. The Henry and Almeda Laishley House
Meanwhile Henry Laishley had become one of Elgin’s most prosperous entrepreneurs with a lucrative potash industry. Here Henry bought ashes from settlers who were clearing their lands, then refined and exported the leachate for the making of soap, glass, and baking soda. He owned and operated several farms near Chaffey’s Lock and was influential in local educational and municipal affairs. He acquired the lot on the north-west corner of Main and Perth St. and in 1886 hired carpenter John Stanton to erect a frame “mansion”, a fine example of “Queen Anne” architecture. Ornamental brackets, fine latticework and numerous bay windows made this one of the most imposing homes in the village. The summer kitchen facing Main St. was altered c1897 into the present two-storey addition with bay windows. Henry and Almeda Laishley died in the mid-1890s and the house was acquired by Augustus Coon, a local retired farmer. His son Dr. Darius Coon served as Elgin’s doctor until his death in 1941. Subsequently the Guthrie Bros. purchased it as a double residence. For several decades, Ron Guthrie operated a garage and machinery dealership across the street and Glynn was the local pharmacist. The house was declared a Heritage Building in 1986. The “Guthrie House” is now owned and operated by Country Roads Community Health Centre and provides a variety of essential social services for area residents.
4. The Stanton House
With income from his land sales, by 1858 Benjamin Halladay was able to invest in a new brick house and carriage shop on Perth Rd. The original brick is now covered with stucco. You may wonder about the “Stanton House” inset above the door. Benjamin’s daughter Isadora inherited the house. When she died, the house passed to her only daughter Belle who was married to Fred Stanton. It then passed to George Stanton and today the house remains with the fifth generation of Stantons.
Benjamin Halladay’s carriage shop prospered until the early 1870s when it was used as a drive shed until the early 1900s. Then it was converted into a honeymoon home where Belle and Fred Stanton lived until they moved into the ancestral home in 1936. You can still see traces of the large arch doorway of the carriage shop and a small inset above it where Benjamin Halladay once hung his business shingle. The Stanton family was renowned for their fine carpentry. John Stanton was hired to build Henry Laishley’s home. James Stanton was responsible for the exquisite woodwork inside the Anglican Church.
A common architectural feature of a Stanton-built home is the truncated pyramid roof, an architectural solution to the dilemma of excessive height of pyramid roof on a large house. It became known as the “Stanton Roof” and is seen on numerous homes in Elgin and area. A trap door accessed the fl at part of the roof. At times of neighbourhood fires, a few pails of water frantically poured over the shingles might save a Stanton house.
5. Alman Newman Store
Laishley had competition from two new merchants, Alman S. Newman and John R. Dargavel. Each saw potential in Elgin as a commercial mecca. Newman purchased a lot from Ira Mitchell and in 1867, the Year of Canada’s Confederation he constructed a brick store with a stylish false front. In this classic design, the living quarters and shop were combined in one structure. Notice the door to the original residence is framed by a multi-paned, rectangular transom and similar sidelights, half glass and half panel. All the original windows were 6-over-6 sashes topped by vertical brick trim. The window in the centre gable is crowned with a wooden arch and vertical brick.
Alman was an energetic entrepreneur. He built a cheese factory on Sand Lake Rd. and acquired businesses in Almonte, Carleton Place and Whitefi sh Lake. However, the Newmans had no children and when they died in the late 1880s, the store passed through a number of hands and in 1958, the building became a private residence.
6. The John R. Dargavel Store
Commercial competition increased in 1871 when John R. Dargavel opened another store on Main Street. In 1893 he expanded the business and built the largest general store in North Leeds right opposite Newman’s on Main St. Up two-and-one-half storeys, an attic tank provided internal water pressure. Many small dormers in the roof lighted the attic. The Dargavel Store boasted the latest in gas lighting in that era prior to local electrifi cation. On the second fl oor one of Dargavel’s daughters sold fi ne chinaware and linen. On the ground fl oor Dargavel displayed a wide selection of merchandise visible through grand front windows encased by wooden pillars and a moulded pediment. There was a telegraph office; “Facebook” of that era.
John R.’s general store was the most up-to-date establishment in Elgin, indeed in South Crosby. The eastern wing of the building served as the family home with one upstairs bedroom for the clerks who worked in the store. Downstairs, John R. had a private office where he carried out his duties as Township Clerk, Justice of the Peace and for 14 years, a Member of the Provincial Legislature.
7. The Santelle Dargavel Barn
Dargavel purchased the rival Newman store in 1903 and turned it into a plumbing shop and a gas station for horseless carriages. During the 1940s and 1950s it housed the Elgin Post Office. When John R. was elected to the legislature in 1905, his son James Santelle (pronounced “Sottle”) took over the family’s commercial empire. He added a cheese factory near California (west of Jones Falls), a grist mill at Chaffey’s Lock and helped found the South Crosby Rural Telephone Company.
Santelle Dargavel had a fine brick mansion built opposite the Stanton House. But, of interest to-day is his barn diagonally across Perth Street. The typical entrance doors at street level are flanked by large multipaned windows atypical of barns of that era. Through these windows, passers-by could feast their eyes on the finest of Dargavel’s conveyances. The horse power for those vehicles was stabled in the lower (and less visible) level. Legendary John R. died in 1930 at age 83; Santelle in 1937 at age 61. Dargavel’s impressive store is now an impressive antique shop. But few now need feast their eyes through Santelle’s barn windows.
The evolution of schools in Elgin reflects the growing prosperity and pride its citizens held in their community. In 1842 Ebenezer Halladay donated land near the corner of Main and Kingston Streets where a one-room school (20’x24′) was built. In 1865, a slightly larger school was built on Church St. This place of learning even boasted a blackboard. Now a private home much modified, it stands opposite the United Church. During the early 1880s, Ontario’s Department of Education surveyed rural schools and found them cramped, poorly lit, lacking ventilation and of drafty clapboard or log construction. To remedy these failings, the Department published a set of guidelines for the construction of rural schools including good natural lighting from one side of the room. Hence students would sit with light coming over their left shoulders. There must also be better ventilation plus greater attention to architectural style and landscaping. Schools had to be significant public buildings that reflected the importance of education in the community. In April 1887, Phillip Halladay sold a lot on Halladay St. for the construction of a new school. The Elgin column of the Brockville Weekly Recorder proclaimed “Preparations are being made for the erection of a fine school house in our village this coming summer.” and Frederick Tabor of Morton was contracted to build it. His skilled craftsmanship in brick was directed by John Power & Son, Architects of Kingston, a firm still in practice as Mill and Ross Architects Inc., possibly the oldest continuing architectural practice in Canada. Recent research suggests that this Red Brick School” may have been the first rural school in Ontario constructed according to the guidelines published by the Department of Education in 1886.
8. SS #5
SS #5 is of red brick on a stone foundation. It appears to be two storeys in height but, in reality it consists of two spacious rooms with very high ceilings. Facing Halladay St., the school features three very large multi-paned windows, each with a gable. The central gable is ornately curved with a stone insert, while the flanking gables are more traditionally triangular. Each window is ornately crowned with a slightly curved pattern of yellow bricks which are repeated in the quoining. The bell tower has been recently restored. The Red Brick School served the children of Elgin and area from 1887 to 1964. It was designated a Heritage Building in 1986. The Red Brick School is now honoured with a Historic Plaque, is owned by the Township of Rideau Lakes and is being meticulously restored by the Elgin and Area Heritage Society as a tribute to the economic strengths and educational priorities of this community, past and present.
One of the commendable aspects of the churches in Elgin is that considerable community volunteer effort was focused on the fund raising and construction for each one, regardless of religious adherence. As a result, Elgin boasts three elegant churches, each of unique and distinctive style.
9. United Church
In 1856 Ebenezer Halladay donated land and money for the construction in stone of an Evangelical Methodist Church beside the existing Halladay Burial Ground. Erected on the same deep sandy soil that proved so suitable for burying and so successful for farming, this structure soon proved unstable. It was eventually demolished and the present church arose on the same site in 1884. It became the United Church in 1925 and was declared a Heritage building in 1986. Obviously, Frederick Tabor of Morton established a firm foundation for this second raising. Its twin towers and interior gallery make it an attractive example of late Victorian church architecture.
10. St Columbanus Roman Catholic Church
St Columbanus Roman Catholic Church rose in 1897-98 on land purchased from Phillip Halladay. Enormous community effort was involved in its construction. At one point, canvassing for the purchase of a bell fell short. Phillip Halladay, a Methodist completed the fund-raising with a generous donation. He asked that the bell be rung at his funeral and legend has it that was the only occasion when the bell tolled for a member of another faith. The Church manifests a strong late Victorian Gothic influence with its narrow, arched windows enclosing beautiful stained glass. Its belfry is highlighted with four pointed towers in contrast to the tall single spire so typical of churches of that era.
11. St. Paul’s Anglican Church
In 1903, John R. Dargavel spearheaded the construction of St. Paul’s Anglican Church when he donated land on the north-east corner of Main and Perth Streets and engaged Frank T. Lent, architect of Gananoque. The square bell tower and low roofline of the Church give it an exquisite “Romanesque” appearance. The intricate interior woodwork is a beautiful testament to James Stanton’s workmanship. Eventide services were illuminated by state-of-the-art lamps fuelled through a gas main beneath Main Street from Dargavel’s store. The first service in St Paul’s was very fittingly on Christmas Eve, 1905. This elegant building is now a private residence.
Published by Township of Rideau Lakes MHAC June 2012.
Drawings by Julia Scotland
For millennia, the moccasined feet of hunters and fishers traversed the isthmus between the Rideau and Mud (Newboro) Lakes. European explorers and missionaries, traders and pioneers followed. But without falling water for power, only a few such as William Buck Stevens pioneered along the isthmus.
During the years 1826-32, the Rideau Canal was built under the direction of Lieutenant Colonel John By and the Royal Engineers as part of British defense strategy in North America. The canal linked the navigable waters of the Rideau River System flowing northward to Bytown (now Ottawa) and the Cataraqui flowing southward toward Kingston. Crossing the isthmus was one of the most difficult tasks undertaken on the canal. The route chosen demanded digging through a hard ridge of Canadian Shield granite lurking beneath the landscape. Many lives were lost to accidents and swamp fever (malaria). Private contractors were bankrupted. Ultimately the 7th Company of Royal Sappers and Miners completed this vital link between 1829 and 1832.
In time, the construction community called “The Isthmus” was superseded by New Borough, then Newboro. Throughout the 19th century Newboro grew and prospered from its location at the keystone of the Rideau arch. Built to defend British North America from American invasion, the Rideau Canal ironically transported vast amounts of produce from forest and farm to the United States, especially to the North during the Civil War. In the latter part of the 19th century, steam tugs towed barge loads of iron ore from local mines to smelters in the U.S.. Cottonbag miners sold their mica to General Electric. Returning barges loaded with coal stoked local railroads.
Newboro became a thriving community at the toll ferry (later bridge) spanning the Rideau. “Main Street” still hints of an era of travel and commerce, lodgings and shops, a bustling streetscape that paralleled the Canal. Warehouses and wharves lined the Newboro cut. There is still a cleat anchor beside the canal attesting to bygone boats and business.
In 1888, the Brockville – Westport & S.S.M. Railroad added a new dimension to Newboro life and commerce. Trade and travel were now year-round. Produce of local farm and forest entered wider markets through Newboro’s cannery and mills. From Newboro Station, local scholars went to and from high school in Athens and Brockville. Soldiers went to far-off Europe to fight in WW I and II. For some Newboro lads, this tragically was a one-way ticket.
Straddling the “town line” between North and South Crosby, feeling economically and politically distinct from both Crosbys, Newboro declared its independence in 1876 and became an “incorporated village”. As such it was one of the smallest incorporated communities in Ontario, small but with great potential and grand hopes. Surrounded by lakes including the Upper Rideau and many-faceted Newboro Lake, this hub of commerce became a popular vacation centre of the 20th century. From across the world, some come to fish and many come to relax at Newboro’s fine resorts including the Poplars, the Stagecoach, and Stirling Lodge. The ambiance of our fine historic inns continues to attract people from near and far for fishing in summer and dog sledding in the winter.
Like all local communities, Newboro has suffered devastating fires. In just one day of devastation in 1874, the community lost 17 buildings. But many heritage buildings have survived. Today they form the pride and character of this community. The Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee of Rideau Lakes Township endeavors with this Walking Tour to illustrate a selection of Newboro’s heritage buildings that represent a variety of architectural influences. Where possible, we have used the names of the original owners to identify buildings. Imagine the welcome chime of steam boat bell, the rumble and clang of stagecoach, the toot of railway whistle, the aromas of outer-world spices and local cheddar in grocer shops, business being done, bands playing, sermons being spoken, the laughter and tears of family and village life as it was ten and fifteen decades ago.
For more information on heritage life and architecturally significant buildings in: the Township of Rideau Lakes, visit any branch of the Rideau Lakes Union Library. Ask to peruse:
“Cranworth Chronicles” by Barbara Gibson (South Burgess)
“Hub of the Rideau” by Sue Warren (South Crosby Ward)
“My Own Four Walls” by Diane Haskins (Bastard & South Burgess)
“South Elmsley in the Making” by James Kennedy
“The Tweedsmuir Book of Newboro” in the Newboro Library
…and the many resources illustrating heritage life in North Crosby to be found in the Westport Library and the Westport Museum. Also ask about our video “Best Kept Secrets” highlighting some of the folks and facets of our Rideau Lakes Township.
Stop #1 – St. Mary’s Anglican Church, 1850
(15 Brock Street) – The devout of Anglican faith held their first meetings in an “upper room” of Benjamin Tett’s home, 1 Main Street. A saddlebag preacher, Rev. T. Tremayn, was their priest from 1839 to 1857. During the year 1849-50, the St. Mary’s congregation built their permanent home of worship. Benjamin J. Tett purchased of land and paid the wages of the workmen and when the last shingle was to be nailed to the roof, the carpenter called for John Poole Tett, Benjamin’s son to swing the hammer. Thus two generations of the Tett family worked on their church.
Built in simple Gothic Revival style, this church has high walls and a belfry with a short spire on a square tower. Beautiful stained glass adorns its windows; one a very unique Tiffany. Inside, there is a simple but beautiful altar with a communion rail circling two sides of it. To the left front is a “rostrum pulpit”; to the right, the organ and choir stalls. Beautiful woodwork attests to the dedicated craftsmanship of the builders and the devoted care of its loyal congregation over the past fifteen decades.
Stop #2 – The Court House, circa 1840
(10 Brock Street) – The Newboro Court House, built in 1840, retains its original exterior design. Once used as a school, separate entrances for boys and girls can still be seen on the front façade. Once used as Town Hall, Court House and jail, the door to the cell was recently located and rehung in the back room of the building. Interestingly enough, Newboro for many years employed an executioner, although it is unclear if his services were ever required. There was one addition to this building, evidence of which can be seen along the west face.
In Newboro on Thursday, November 10th, 1842 Paddy O’Rourke was one of the first persons to be tried in the newly-built Court House. Paddy was angry with the magistrate who had fined him “seven & sixpence” for being intoxicated while trying to board a steamboat without fare. During the night of Nov. 9th, Paddy stole what he thought was a keg of blasting powder from Tett’s Warehouse on the canal and hid it behind the courthouse. The next afternoon when court was in session and the same despised magistrate presiding, Paddy, keg under arm and ambitions of Guy Fox in mind, looked around the courthouse for a basement door. Finding none (for there was no basement), he decided to set the keg against the end of the building, light the fuse and run. When he knocked the bung from the keg, he found to his surprise that it was a keg of rum. This was too good to “pass up”. So sitting beside the keg, Paddy commenced drinking the demon spirits, the forgotten fuse still sticking out of the barrel. Needless to say he was eventually found “passed out” beside the keg, arrested and tried for theft. Each year for many afterwards the youth of Newboro made dummies to represent old Paddy. Each November the 10th, they would wheelbarrow his effigy through the streets shouting “a penny for old Paddy please”.
A popular rhyme of the day was:
Please to recall, the boozy downfall of Paddy O’ Rourke’s crazy plot.
We will remember the 10th of November. In Newboro, it won’t be forgot!
– Newboro Newsletter – Nov. 13, 1911
This site of rhyme and reason is now our Library.
Stop # 3 – The Richard Blake House, c1858
(14 Main Street) – The Blake House is just one of several excellent examples of “Ontario Cottages” in Newboro. The Ontario Cottage is typical of many homes of mid-1800s; oneand- one-half storeys in height and suggestive of frugal owners. Tax laws from between 1807 and 1853 assessed houses as either one full storey or two full storeys. Customarily, a gable window over the front doorway provided light to a central hallway on the upper floor. Window designs could be pointed Gothic, square-headed Tudor, round-headed, (usually shuttered), circular or large threesectional. The decorative bargeboard, often called gingerbread, was usually added in the mid 1850s when more delicate woodworking tools became available to local tradesmen. The verandah became an important feature of Ontario Cottage, generally being added in the latter half of the nineteenth century to provide for summer relaxation and to enhance the appearance.
Stop #4 – The “Dominion House” Hotel, c.1865)
(15 Main Street) – Thomas Kenny and his son, James, constructed this fine building along Main Street on property purchased from Benjamin Tett. Originally an inn on this busy thoroughfare, this site once echoed the sounds of horse and harness, the smoke of wood-fired steamers on the nearby canal, of apples being processed in the nearby cannery, the whistle of the B. & W. slowing to station. It is said that Sir John A. MacDonald stayed overnight here at the “Dominion House”. Now a fine home, it manifests an interesting and authentic example of a semielliptical or fan-tailed neo-classic (Loyalist) door. Such portals were popular in houses built during the latter half of the 19th century. But this Adamesque entrance is unique. Over one hundred similar designs have been recorded in the area. Only four such doorways are identical. George Bolton bought the building for his private residence in 1887 and it remained in the family until the 1990s.
Stop #5 – The R.O. Leggett House and Shop, c.1870
(4 Main Street) – Mr. R.O. Leggett, following his father, Henry, owned a furniture and undertaking establishment here. This L-shaped structure is very typical of late-nineteenth-century commercial-residential structures. Note the intricate treillage work on the verandah posts of home and the large windows of business. As in most local villages during the 1800s, the trades of furniture making and funerary were closely allied; the skills and tools for making fine tables, chairs and coffins were the same. Mr. Leggett also had a livery with which he taxied travelers from village to village and dearly departed from church to cemetery. For nine decades, the Leggett family served the Newboro community from this home and business on Main Street.
Stop #6 – John Webster House, c.1860s
(5 Main Street) – Prior to 1860, William Bell had a house that was destroyed by fire. Indeed, Newboro has lost many buildings to the ravages of fire. Sometime around 1860, John Webster is believed to have built this fine home and provided lodging to travelers. This frame structure contains excellent examples of Classical Revival architecture. The entrance manifests a rectangular transom with sidelights. This feature was useful as well as decorative for it let natural light into the central hallway in times before electricity. The bracketed shelf above the door was probably a later addition as were the Doric columns flanking the sidelights. The central window is of unusual interest. Of casement variety with a fanlight transom above it, its style is completely unconformable with the rest of the house. In times when masons and carpenters carried their plans in their heads, they were very clever at mixing and matching. In 1903, George Wrathall purchased the home and operated a jewelry business from it.
Stop #7 – The Col. John Kilborn Home, c.1835
(2 Drummond Street) – This building of mixed styles is believed to be a combination of John Kilborn’s home and George W. Preston’s “Ottawa Hotel” which burned in 1903. The stone component of the building is believed to be material recovered from that fire. The frame structure was Col. Kilborn’s home. A simple frieze runs under the eaves.
In 1828 while living in Brockville, Col. Kilborn was elected to Parliament and when his term expired he declined re-election and moved to Kilmarnock. In 1852 he was appointed postmaster for Brockville from which he later resigned and ran unsuccessfully for Parliament against Mr. Benjamin Tett. He then retired to Newboro. Colonel Kilborn donated the site for the first Wesleyan Presbyterian Church in Newboro in 1850 and he and the five Chamberlain brothers had the church erected. Col. Kilborn and his wife Elizabeth Sherwood had nine children – eight sons and one daughter. This eminent citizen of Newboro died in his 94th year.
Stop #8 – The Stage Coach Inn, c.1855
(4 Drummond Street) – James MacDonald, an early merchant in Newboro built this substantial home and business. In 1872 William O’Connor purchased the building and converted it into “The Ontario Hotel”. Landons then became the owners, changing its name to “Landon House” (1920-1966). In 1966 it became “The Stage Coach Inn”. Its original design was Georgian. Although the front door has been replaced, it is reminiscent of the original entrance. The transom and sidelights mimic the originals and are most attractive. In the dining room of the Inn is a large painting of “The Ontario Hotel” (1869-1920) as it once graced Newboro. The Stage Coach still does. Still very much a meeting place of many functions, it is now the community post office.
Stop #9 – The Block House, c.1832
The blockhouse was built in 1832-33 to defend this very strategic lock station. Located on this heightof- land, then cleared of forest, it was designed to withstand attack from any direction. The lower section, approx. 6m. x 6m., consists of stonewalls 1m. thick. The top section is constructed of squared timbers (now clapboarded), dovetailed at the corners and with an overhang of 0.6 m.
Twenty-two such defensive fortifications were planned, but this is one of only four completed. Only once was its militia called out for action, not to fend off a raid by feared and foreign rebels but to quell a local riot. Now in a very different time, peaceful boaters from near and far sail beneath this antique fort’s silent gun slots.
While here, stroll down to the Newboro Lock and watch the boats pass through this, the keystone lock of the Rideau Canal. The Newboro Lock is one of only three on the Rideau System that has hydraulically-operated steel gates. Concerned community action preserved the other locks in the heritage mode of the 1830s.
Stop #10 – The John Poole Tett House, c.1896
(14 By Street) – Here Robert Leech’s furniture factory once hummed with activity by the lakeshore. Robert was one of ten Leech sons who later were to found the town of Gorrie, Ontario. Later, James Leggett’s tannery was located here. By the late 1800s, change was coming to Newboro; from industry to business, to residences and to tourists. Reputedly completed in 1886, this majestic home predicts the style of the early 1900s. In contrast, it has brick trim characteristic of an earlier period. Note its tall imposing windows and bays and its striking chimneys. From its uniquely-styled front dormer on the 3rd storey, John Poole Tett and his wife Harriet (nee Hopkins) enjoyed a grand and busy view across a lake of commerce and a land of resources. “The Manor” guests of Stirling Lodge now enjoy a more relaxed view of blue water and green forest, of nature recovering.
Stop #11 – The John Draffin House, c.1860
(11 New Street) – Walk around the bend of New Street where it joins Ledge Street and you will find a handsome and imposing home, the first abode of stone constructed in the village. At the rear of this residence was the original home, once a single-storey farmhouse with ashlars of massive sandstone. It later served as a back kitchen. A fire in 1895 demanded extensive renovations and a second floor was added.
Born in Ireland in 1811, John Draffin came to the Canadas. Prospering as a merchant family, the Draffins added this magnificent 2 storey stone residence to the front of the original farmhouse. The corners of the building are quoined with large ashlars. Elaborate Italianate details on the main house include wide, bracketed cornices and decorative round-headed doors on the upper storey. Once these opened onto a small balcony above a grand front porch. From this balcony, recently rebuilt, Mr. Draffin, wealthy Newboro merchant and his wife, Margaret Bell of Perth, could enjoy a magnificent view over Newboro Lake at a time when intervening forest had succumbed to axe and saw. Grand pines and shrouding ivy now restore nature and privacy to this site. Between 1895 and 1945 this was the parsonage for St. Mary’s Church. (1)
Stop #12 – The J.T. Gallagher House, c.1885
(7 Drummond Street) – The Gallagher house was constructed in Gothic Revival style. It is an extraordinarily tall building, being some two-and-one-half storeys. The 1st storey was constructed of 5 courses of brick, the 2nd, four courses, the 3rd of three and with inner walls of lath and plaster. To offset this dramatic perception of height, a two-storey bay extends out from the front wing. Extensive dripped barge board (a popular addition to Gothic Revival buildings) serves to lower the roofline. Locally-quarried sandstone lintels break the vast brickwork. With stylized treillage, the verandah conceals the double-door entrance. Also of interest is the distinctive ornate roofing of slate, unique in the village. Local legend tells of an ostentatious contest between J.T.Gallagher and John Poole Tett, who at the same time was building his home on By Street (10). These two prominent citizens with family connections vied to see who could build the tallest house. Gallagher won when he extended the height of his chimneys by 0.4 m. His son-in-law, Dr. Robert B. King, purchased the home in 1916 and lived here until his death in 1942.
Stop #13 – The Union Bank Building, c.1903
(24 Drummond Street) – Like many structures in the area, this was built of local brick to house the Union Bank. Now it houses the Royal Bank of Canada. Constructed in 1905 by John F. Graham, the building remains in the Graham family. The interesting cornicing and the flat roof are characteristic of several contemporary banks erected in the surrounding area. Its massive front façade with large arched windows and door imposed a sense of assurance and security to those who enter with surplus shekels to save or loans to seek. This 2-storey building provides banking hall and offices on the first floor. The living quarters of the manager and his family were on the second floor where he could stay “on top of the money”. By the early 1900s, Drummond Street was replacing Main Street as the focus of road travel and parallel rail travel. For over a century this fine example of rural “bank architecture” has served Newboro commerce and community.
This page has been adapted from a brochure published by the Township of Rideau Lakes Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee (2009 Edition #2)
1 = Emmanuel Anglican Church
2 = John Grant House
3 = William Snider House
4 = Peter Bresee House
5 = Clare Dowsett House
6 = Peter Cole House
7 = Eliza Hartwell House
8 = Albert Gallagher Bank
9 = John Polk Store
10 = The Gingerbread House
11 = Harmon Toffey House
12 = Portland Public School
Undoubtedly First Canadians frequented the blue water, the shores and portages of Rideau Lake for millennia and it would seem that early European homesteaders were raising their cabins and crops in the vicinity of Portland in the 1790s. It is recorded that a saddlebag man of the cloth was arrested as a vagabond for visitations and sacraments that the authorities considered prolonged.
The original land grant for the site of Portland is dated 1801. But a community was not born until the early 1820s when “The Landing” became the major stepping-off point for those intending to homestead in the Perth area. Settlers, the eager, the anxious, arrived from Brockville by bush trail to The Landing, by barge to Oliver’s Ferry (Rideau Ferry) and thence to Perth. The completion of the Rideau Canal in 1832 opened the Rideau countryside and “Old Landing” to the world. With the establishment of a post office in 1842, Portland received its official name. Commercial traffic on the Rideau and the growth of agriculture across the hinterland nurtured numerous businesses catering to the needs of farm families and the export of raw materials. Steamers and barges departed from Portland laden with barrels of potash and cords of wood from the clearing of forest, bales of tanned hides and casks of salt beef from the bounty of field. Hence Portland became a thriving village of trade and transhipment.
But by 1900, the nature of commercial activity was changing. Advances in rail and road travel and the advent of tourism offset a gradual decline in the role of agriculture. Portland remains today with much of its economic and cultural life focused on Big Rideau Lake. The Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee endeavours with this Walking Tour to illustrate a variety of architectural influences reflected in the buildings of Portland. Amble casually with us. Imagine the welcome clang of steam boat bell, the aromas of outerworld spices and local cheddar in grocer shops, the humming of mills, business being done, the laughter and tears of family and village life as it was ten and fifteen decades ago.
Stop #1 – Emmanuel Anglican Church, 1861
Built upon the crest of Portland Hill, Emmanuel Anglican Church has watched over the scenery and the morality of the village and the Big Rideau through the symphony of many seasons. On land donated by the early farm family of William Sherwood, this lovely church was masoned of Cambrian sandstone. Its ashlars were shaped and set by some of the same artisans of stone who came to the wilderness of Upper Canada to help build the Rideau Canal. Finding their Eden, they then stayed and helped build a community and a culture. With its buttressed walls and beautiful windows of stained glass, Emmanuel is a charming example of a mid-nineteenth century rural church. It is a Portland landmark.
Stop #2 – John Grant House, c.1872
This sandstone house is a variation of the mid 19th century “Ontario Cottage” with a rectangular shape, 1 1/2 storey and transom and sidelights around the front door. However, instead of the main entrance on the front façade, it is on the gable end, likely because of the shape and slope of the lot. Built by John Grant, local blacksmith, its masons worked with massive and beautiful sandstone quarried from a nearby outcrop. The house was later sold to Stephen Chipman, a cooper whose shop was the board-and-batten barn still to be seen at the rear of the lot. There he crafted barrels and other products of his artistry in wood that were much in demand in rural life in times B.P. (before plastic, that is).
Next to the John Grant house is the Portland United Church. Note especially the sandstone foundation – ashlars that were originally part of the village school that was once located here. When the decision was made in the late 1800s to construct a new school, the Methodists purchased the building and lot and used it as their place of worship until 1890. Then they demolished it and used the sandstone for the foundations of their new church – from foundations of learning to foundations of faith. You will see the village school later in this tour, site #12.
Stop #3 – William Snider House, c.1850s
This pleasant home is typical of the third-stage residence of a successful pioneer artisan. William Snider, tanner and shoemaker, built this handsome one and one-half storey house framed with handhewn timbers. Initially clad with clapboard, it was later stuccoed in gray. Its medium pitched roof has projecting eaves and verges plus a moulded cornice and frieze. The main entrance is off-centre. Note the wooden transom and pilasters on the sides, typically to let abundant natural light into the interior hallway in those decades before electric lighting. An open and well-shaded verandah with closed railing provided the Snider family and later residents with a wonderful view of the Big Rideau on sultry summer’s eve. Also notice the typical carriage shed with wide double doors at the back of the residence. This tells of a time when many a village burgher boasted their own buggy for summer travel and a sleigh for winter. A resident steed provided horsepower.
Stop #4 – Peter Bresee House, mid 1840s
Peter Bresee, who had emigrated from Vermont, was an early farmer in the area and later a store owner. The brown building across the street once housed his business. A man of diverse talents and interests, Mr. Bresee was also involved in the smithing of black metal and the trading of timber. His successes are marked by his fine home of classical Georgian style with its symmetrical facade. Originally its windows were 12-over-12. But still of particular note are its fine return eaves and in its north gable, two eyebrow windows keeping an eye on the Big Rideau “from whence Peter’s wealth cometh”. Peter Bresee resided in his fine new home for only a few years until it became the residence of the Scovil family who for several generations have been legendary in local business and society.
Stop #5 – Clare Dowsett House, 1926
Once makers of fine wagons and carriages, the Dowsett family adapted their talents to the making of fine boats as summer cottages came to dot the shores and islands of the Big Rideau. Dowsett boats became renowned across the continent and the family continued in this business until the mid-1900’s. In 1926, Clare Dowsett and his father built this fine home as the wedding abode for Clare and his bride. Inside and out, this 1 ½ storey home reflects the meticulous care, craftsmanship and passion of renowned boat-wrights who broke with local architecture of their time. The naturally-dried butternut shiplap siding is still draft-free after three-quarters of a century. Europa-style shingles grace the gables. The wooden sashes of the 9 over 1 windows still rise and close freely for July breezes and seal against the January blasts. Long before energy and conservation were buzz words, the Dowsetts positioned most windows on the south and west sides, away from cold winter gales off the Big Rideau. But on the windward side, two small diamond quarry windows act as nautical port holes through which to view the lake. Another port looks out from the foyer beside the front entrance. The family colours of yellow and green have historic maritime significance and the concrete foundation was once painted blue to represent the sea, nurture and nature for all boats. Truly, love poetry in architecture!
Stop #6 – Peter Cole House, c.1850s
Peter Cole was responsible for establishing several enterprises along the Portland waterfront. His large wharf once bustled with shipping and receiving. By 1861, lumber from Peter Cole’s saw mill on a creek leading into the Big Rideau Lake was being loaded onto steamers and barges destined for the U.S. North and for Britain. The Cole house is another fine example of the “Ontario Cottage” design. Note its typical front gable window with a semi-circular head and its verandah across the front façade. This house was later purchased by William Gallagher whose family followed the Cole tradition of owning and managing many businesses in the village. Among these was a very prosperous general store located next door – the original building suffered fire in 1930 and was rebuilt of brick as you now see. Behind the store, beside the lake stands the Gallagher warehouse, now a home. This structure was originally built in the 1870’s to store commodities to be shipped such as barrels of maple syrup and boxes of cheddar cheese destined for the outer world. Goods received included barrels of biscuits (now cookies) from the near of Kingston and boxes of tea from the far of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).
Stop #7 – Eliza Hartwell House, c.1850
A house of mystery, this pretty, green-painted building is legendary through association. Nobody seems to know who built it. But it is known that in its early years, it was the home of Eliza Hartwell and several members of Dowsett name, a family later earning fame across the country and continent as boat wrights. From 1879 to 1924, it was home to a succession of Gallaghers, famous in Portland tradition for their entrepeneurship. And since 1924, it has been owned by the Southam family of newspaper fame. With extensive heritage properties elsewhere on the Big Rideau, the Hartwell House has provided residence for the Southam property managers and a land base for boat access to their other possessions. Note the adjacent storage shed and boathouse that facilitate this role. As such, the Hartwell House is representative of a time when Portland and much of its commerce and population provided service for a number of fine and legendary summer estates among nearby islands and bays. Once Viscounts of navies, executives of Ford Motor Co., senators from Ottawa and Washington, stars from Hollywood summered with many others of fame and fortune. With families and friends, they docked their fine boats at the Portland waterfront and reveled in the annual Portland Regatta. The Hartwell house, though modest in itself, is a nostalgic reminder of that magnificent era.
Stop #8 – Albert Gallagher Bank Building, 1903
Prior to 1903 and the construction of this first Portland bank, the more prosperous of the village had to take and make their financial arrangements afar and away. In the case of Mr. Gallagher, successful and prosperous burgher, this meant frequent trips to Smiths Falls, some twenty miles distant. He accordingly made an offer to the Union Bank to erect this structure, then lease it to them. Being a wise and shrewd businessman, Mr. Gallagher built his bank as a typical and fine example of rural “bank architecture”. Its imposing front façade with large arched windows and door imposed a sense of assurance and security on those with surplus shekels to save or loans to seek as they entered the bank offices on the first floor. The living quarters of the manager and his family were on the second floor, where he could stay “on top of the money”. The Union Bank and its successor, the Royal Bank of Canada continued to use this building until larger facilities were required. Still of legend in Portland was the day the Bank was robbed.
Stop #9 – John Polk Store, 1891
Constructed on the burnedout ruins of a previous store, this imposing structure of solid local sandstone was both home and enterprise of the Polk family for over 90 years. Customers ascended the stone steps and passed through the recessed entrance with its double doors into a classic general store. Behind the long hardwood counter, bins and shelves from floor to ceiling boasted the best from puffed rice to Rinso. The Polk family lived in fine quarters to the north of the store and on occasions of leisure must have enjoyed the airs and views from either level of their beautiful balconied verandah, now meticulously restored. After 1920, a twostorey wing was added to the south-west. This accommodated the Portland Post Office and upstairs, the home of the post master who was privileged with a separate and private entrance.
Stop #10 – The Gingerbread House
Likely dating from the 1880’s or 1890’s, this house features lively gingerbread trim under the eaves of its front gable. By the end of the 19th century, saw mills were a cornerstone to Portland’s prosperity. They were able to mass produce countless functional items and decorative details in wood. For over a century, Portland was a cradle for the craftsmanship of coopers and cartwrights; for products as diverse as fine boats to modern bungalows. The invention of the scroll saw teamed with the talent of a fine artisan made this decorative woodwork highlighting the eaves of this Gothic Revival home.
Stop #11 – Harmon Toffey House, 1892
Italianate in style with its exceptionally decorated porch and sixfoot- high double window above, projecting eaves with brackets, and attractive wooden trim, this home befitted a prosperous saw mill owner. Mr. and Mrs. Toffey lived elsewhere in the village for 2 decades prior to the building of this fine residence. It is said that he accumulated the best of lumber from his busy mill for several years in preparation for construction. Like the Dowcett House (and Rome), this fine home was not “built in a day”, or a year. The house situated to the east of the Toffey home was once a shed on the Toffey property. Where is Mr. Toffey’s sawmill now? Indeed where are the three hotels, several stores and a number of fine homes that once graced Portland, its economy, its culture? Fire was a frequent visitor here as in all villages in those years before modern fire-fighting equipment and well-trained firefighters. A series of several saw mills have bustled, then burned along Portland’s Mill Bay where now marinas and a seniors residence manifest a very different era.
Stop #12 – Portland Public School, 1888
Mention has already been made of the previous village school, as its sandstone was used in the foundation of the United Church. Built in 1888 to replace a single storey structure that had burned down, this new school of two rooms and storeys, was constructed of red brick. From its imposing location, it provided students especially with minds that wandered from the three R’s to that fourth “R”, namely Rideau Lake, its vista. And in the decades before Highway 15 interrupted their winter fun, Portland students could slide home for lunch by speedy toboggan. One might wonder if the one o’clock ringing from the high belfry brought them back to their books as speedily after lunch.