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Heritage Tours

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

Tours on Your Smartphone

Tours on your Smartphone: These tours plus our cycling tours are available as a free MyTOURS App for any Android, Windows Phone or iOS (pending) 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.

Chaffeys Lock

Chaffeys Lock Heritage Walking Tour PDF

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 Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys Lock

The hamlet of Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys Women’s Institute in 1932, was a centennial project on the canals 100th birthday.

Until the Canadian Northern Rail Road came through Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys Heritage Protected and gave the Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys 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 Chaffeys 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.

Produced by:
Chaffeys Lock and Area Heritage Society
1724 Chaffeys Lock Road
Elgin, ON K0G 1E0


Delta Heritage Walking Tour PDF

12 = Hicock House
11 = Johnston House
10 = Old Town Hall
9 = Old Stone Mill
8 = Denaut House
7 = Delta Business Block
6 = Bell Store
5 = Bell House
4 = Copeland House
3 = Brown House
2 = Stevens House
1 = former St. Paul’s Anglican Church

A Brief History

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, Delta’s ‘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 1800’s 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, a newspaper and among others services, 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 this colourful community. 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.

1. former St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 1811

One of the oldest continuously-used churches in Ontario, this fine home of worship has served three denominations. The structure, erected by the Baptists in 1811, was used by them while the interior remained unfinished due to lack of funds. Legend has it that a bell, donated by a generous benefactor to call the devoted to worship was carried away by thieves. But the bell clanged its whereabouts to those in hot pursuit and it was retrieved, slightly cracked by this sinful experience. Hence it is off-key for eternity. In 1827, this building was purchased by the Anglicans and in a commendable example of early ecumenicalism, both congregations worshiped here for many Sundays over many years. Indeed, the Methodists too, congregated here from 1843 – 1862. In 1864, the Baptists left to worship in their new church in Philipsville. They later built their own church in Delta, as did the Methodists.

Constructed of field stone, now enhanced with stucco and paint, this fine  edifice is a typical example of early church architecture in Canada. Note the Gothic windows and the crenelations on the tower, a reflection of medieval tradition. This beautiful and legendary place of worship no longer serves as an Anglican Church. In lieu, a dedicated committee of local residents preserves this focus of community services for notable events such as weddings, recitals and reunions.

2. Stevens House, 1882

This substantial red brick residence is representative of a successful businessman’s home in the 1880’s.Alexander Stevens was the great-grandson of the founder of the community and he owned and operated the Delta Centennial Carriage Factory, a bustling business in pre-automobile decades.  A flat section on the roof is surrounded by attractive wrought iron trim. The segmental-headed windows were the latest thing in the 1870s and 80s shedding light into the residence of Alexander and Eliza Stevens.

3. Brown House, 1905

Another prominent businessman, Omer Brown was a general merchant with his store located in the Jubilee Block (see #7).  Omer and Leaffi Brown designed and 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, local factories were able to mass produce countless decorative designs in diverse media.  Look for its 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 façade textured with patterned shingles, decorative masonry and stained glass windows.

4. Copeland 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 by association as it was  once the residence and office of Dr. Joseph Kelly, a truly legendary country doctor, famous among renowned peers. The stories are myriad of dedicated hours, of late nights and of travels through harrowing conditions. Dr. Kelly, for several decades ministered to the physical and emotional well-being of his devoted patients. In days long before modern antibiotics and MRI’s, Dr. Joseph Kelly performed miracles with that greatest of all medicine, his renowned sense of humour.

5. Bell House, 1860

An Irish-born merchant, William Bell constructed this fine 2-storey red brick residence that manifests his business success in this thriving community during the mid-19th century. This elegant residence was formal, symmetrical and detailed in its Georgian style.  One wonders if he drew upon the graceful homes of his native Eire to plan the Bell home in the New World. Note the stone quoins of the front façade, 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 the cotillion at a fine gala hosted by the Bell family.

6. Bell Store, 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 façade above the large display windows. Incorporated into the cornice is a door leading to the living area above the store. Listen carefully and imagine the sounds and smells of goods being loaded and unloaded  at the back of the store. Treasures from the outer world, tea from India, fine porcelain from Britain came by steam boat to Mr. Bell’s emporium via the Rideau Canal, Morton and Lower Beverley Lake.

7. Delta Business Block, 1887

Built to replace an earlier‘shopping mall’ that was destroyed by fire the previous year, this“Jubilee Building” commemorated Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne. A century before malls became common fixtures in 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 that once hailed the latest in tin goods, fashions and Lifebuoy Soap. Notice the wooden cornice on the first façade 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 Building, you can see a red brick building that once served as a bank. To a skeptical populace, the massive semi-circular arched windows and door headings of the first floor façade manifest early 20th century ‘bank architecture’. Here was a secure haven for your hard-earned pennies. The community bank provided a leap-of-faith toward more security and reward for your spare cash than in a sock under your mattress. In our changing world, Delta’s Jubilee Building is seeking new identity in the 21st century.

8. Denaut House, 1849

Walter Denaut was a prosperous and widely- renowned mill owner (see #9), postmaster, general merchant and politician (first reeve of Bastard and S. Burgess Twsp.). Befitting his wealth and status, he built this impressive 2-storey mansion of rough-masoned stone, complete with a wing of brick containing the servants’ quarters. During an age and stage when much of the local forest had been cleared, the Denauts could look from their knoll-top residence over their mill, their village and their lake (Upper Beverley Lake / mill pond). An unusual feature of this magnificent home is the use of casement style of window in which the two frames or sashes holding the panes of glass open outward from hinged attachments along the sides, like twin doors. To retain symmetry, notice the two false windows to the left side of the south façade. Delta peers and Ottawa potentates were among the many guests who were welcomed by Walter and Julia at the threshold of their grand main entrance.

9. Old Stone Mill, circa 1810

In 1810,William Jones and Ira Schofield had construction start on a 3½-storey automatic grist mill based on the design of American inventor Oliver Evans. Masoned from local stone and wood, it was positioned in an artificial channel and had the unusual design of acting as its own dam. The mill is an excellent example of Georgian architecture, built for an industrial purpose.   It features 12-over-8 paned windows and the roof is supported by a 5-sided ridgepole hand-crafted from a single log. In 1817, this focal point of local industry was described as“unquestionably the best (building) of its kind  in Upper Canada.” Waterwheel power was replaced by turbine power in the 1860s, the turbines located in a stone addition to the original mill (the Turbine Shed). In 1960 the mill closed and in 1963 it was deeded to four trustees who later formed the non-profit Delta Mill Society. In 1970 it was designated a National Historic Site of Canada. It is the only surviving pre-1812 stone grist mill in Ontario. From 1999 to 2003, the Delta Mill Society had major restoration work done to the building and then added extensive interpretive signage and displays inside the mill.  Working millstones were added in 2010. Today the mill is open to the public from Victoria Day weekend to Labour Day and on special occasions throughout the year. In the 1850s, a building (today’s Drive Shed and Blacksmith’s Shop) was built just to the south of the Old Stone Mill. The first storey was used as a carriage shed and a brick second storey served as a town hall and general meeting place. The upper storey was removed in the 1960s and replaced with the current metal-clad upper storey.

Take a stroll along Court Street and visit Lower Beverley Lake Park and its excellent facilities for camping, picnicing, swimming, its areas for games and its trails for ambling or jogging. Savour the cool summer breeze from Lower Beverley Lake. So did weary travelers by the train-load who disembarked from the Sunday excursion of the B.W.& S.S.M.R.R. a century ago. The Brockville, Westport and Sault Ste. Marie Railway was a ribbon of steel that revolutionized travel and life in North Leeds back in 1888. But why was Sault Ste. Marie to be the end of the line? Ask a local citizen. Start a conversation.

10. Old Town Hall, 1879

The Old Town Hall was built in 1879/80 as a joint venture between the Municipality and the local Masonic Lodge. The bricks used for construction came from a brickyard in Delta run by Jasper Russel. The Lodge occupied the 2nd floor with the main floor serving many functions, including a courthouse and jail (in the basement), the municipal offices, a community theatre and as a general community hall. Panic ensued in February 1888 when the building caught fire. But the local citizens rallied. Men, women and children formed a bucket line to douse the flames and saved the building. In 1979, the building was vacated by the Municipality and the Masonic Lodge. In 1994, it was purchased by the Delta Mill Society for use as offices and archival storage. For a time the Old Town Hall served as a museum while the Old Stone Mill was undergoing restoration. With renovations to the hall completed in 2013, the first floor has been returned to its original purpose as a community hall for Delta and area.

11. Johnston House

This house is a fine example of a mid-19th century‘Ontario Cottage’ with its rectangular shape, 1½ storeys and balanced façade. Note the front gable casement window with semi-circular head on the second storey and the paneled entrance complete with rectangular transom and sidelights on the first floor. Transoms with sidelights were common during that period of time 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 in many mid- 19th century homes of the Township, are associated with the Georgian style. This fine home of Richard and Caroline Johnston reflected their place in the social and economic life of this thriving community.Without doubt, this was the home of another prosperous Delta merchant in Upper Canada.

12. Hicock House, circa 1845

Recently and meticulously renovated to its original elegance, this home is once again most impressive. Philo Hicock was  the prosperous owner of a foundry busily serving the  black metal needs of local industry and those farming the Delta hinterland. The front façade on the ground floor is graced by a central doorway with transom and sidelights. Providing an added touch of symmetry and grace are grand casement windows on each side. The second storey manifests 3 dormers, the centre one with elaborate wooden trim. Pause for a moment. Imagine the Hicock family enjoying the summer airs on their fine Regency porch while the local world beat a passing path to the Hicock Foundry and the myriad other services and functions of 19th century Delta.


Elgin Heritage Walking Tour PDF

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 fledgling 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 Whitefish 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 electrification. On the second floor one of Dargavel’s daughters sold fine chinaware and linen. On the ground floor 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 Chaffeys 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. Elgin 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. former 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


Newboro Heritage Walking Tour PDF


For millennia, hunters and fishers traversed the height-of-land between the Rideau and Mud (Newboro) Lakes. European explorers, missionaries, traders and pioneers followed. But without falling water for power, rumor and record has it that by the year 1820 only a few settlers had cleared forest and cropped land on this “band of bush” that divided the Rideau from the Cataraqui Basin. But that all changed. 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. This canal linked the navigable waters of the Rideau River System flowing northward to Bytown (now Ottawa) and the Cataraqui System flowing southward toward Kingston. Excavating this connective channel at the isthmus was one of the most difficult tasks undertaken. It demanded digging and blasting through a hard ridge of Canadian Shield granite lurking in the landscape. Many lives were lost to accidents and swamp fever (malaria). Private contractors went bankrupt. 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” faded away and a new community located on the east side of the channel took form. This place of people and commerce was formally named New Borough, then Newboro.

Throughout the 19th century, Newboro grew and prospered at the keystone of the Rideau arch. Built to defend British North America from American invasion, the Rideau Canal 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 south of the border. Cotton bag miners bartered their books of mica to General Electric.

Newboro developed as a thriving community. The bridge spanning the Rideau Canal became a busy link in the “Stone Road” to Westport. “Main Street” still hints of an era of travel and commerce, lodgings and shops, a bustling streetscape that paralleled the Canal. Warehouses and wharves, some owned by the renowned Tett family skirted the canal. A blast of the steam boat whistle announced the arrival of the Rideau King or Rideau Queen; travelers from far-off Smiths Falls and beyond; voyagers to far-off Kingston and beyond.  You can still find a cleat anchored in stone along the canal where barges tied up to load and unload their cargoes.

In 1888, the Brockville-Westport & Sault Ste. Marie Railway added a new dimension of travel, even in winter. Produce of local farm, forest and fur trapping entered wider markets through Newboro’s cannery, mills and merchants. From Newboro Station, local scholars went to and from high school in Athens and Brockville.

Straddling the“town line” boundary between North and South Crosby and feeling economically and politically distinct from both Crosbys, Newboro declared its independence in 1876 and for many decades it bragged of being an “incorporated village”; one of the smallest incorporated communities in Ontario. Now, Newboro is a vital part of North Crosby Ward of our Township of Rideau Lakes.

Surrounded by lakes including the Upper Rideau and Newboro Lake, Newboro has become a popular vacation center. Annually people come to enjoy our scenery and the diverse array of activities the lake offers. The ambiance of our fine historic inns continue to attract people from afar. Welcome aboard.

For more information on heritage life and architecturally significant buildings in the Township of Rideau Lakes, visit any branch of the Rideau Lakes Public 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 Secret” highlighting some of the folks and facets of our Rideau Lakes Township.

1. St. Mary’s Anglican Church, 1861

15 Brock Street

Anglicans first held their meetings in an“upper room” of Benjamin Tett’s home (built 1835). There at No.1, Main Street a saddlebag preacher, Rev. T. Tremayn proclaimed the Will of God from 1839 to 1857. In due time, the devout congregation of St. Mary’s built their permanent house of worship. Benjamin J. Tett purchased the land and paid the wages of the workmen who built this church. 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 of exquisite Tiffany. Inside, there is an elegant altar with a communion rail enclosing two sides. At the left front is a“rostrum pulpit”  and on the right front are the organ and choir stalls. There is still evidence of the“Boxed Pews”. Exquisite woodwork attests to the dedicated craftsmanship of the builders and the devoted care of its loyal congregation over the past fifteen decades.

2. The Court House, c 1840

10 Brock Street

Built in 1840, Newboro’s Court House retains its original exterior design. There was one addition, evidence of which can be seen along the west face. Once used  as Town Hall, Court House and jail, the door to the cell was recently located and has been re-hung in the back room of the building. Interestingly Newboro employed an executioner for years, although it is unclear if his services were ever required.

Paddy O’Rourke was one of the first persons to be tried in Newborough’s new Court House. On Thursday, November 10th, 1842, Paddy was angry with the magistrate for fining him“seven & sixpence” for being intoxicated while trying to board a steamboat without fare. During the night of Nov. 9th he stole what he thought was a keg of blasting powder from Tett’s warehouse and concealed it behind the courthouse. The next afternoon, Court was in session. The same despised magistrate was 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 planned 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 its contents to be not blasting powder but rum. This was too good to“pass up”. So sitting beside it, Paddy commenced to drink the rum; the fuse still sticking out of the barrel. Needless to say he was eventually found“passed out”, arrested and tried for theft. For many years afterwards the youth of Newboro made dummies to represent old Paddy.

Each November the 10th, they would wheel it 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”

Once used as a public school, separate entrances for boys and girls can still be seen on the front façade. One might surmise that some students found little distinction between the building’s role as a school and as a jail. This place of rhyme and reason is now our Library.

3. The Richard Blake House, c 1858

14 Main Street
The Blake House is just one of several fine examples of “Ontario Cottages” in Newboro. The Ontario Cottage is typical of many homes of the mid-1800’s; one- and-one-half stories in height and built by frugal owners. Tax laws from between 1807 and 1853 assessed houses as either one full storey or two full stories. 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 three sectional. The decorative bargeboard, often called gingerbread was usually added in the mid 1850’s when more delicate woodworking tools became available to local tradesmen. The verandah became an important feature of Ontario Cottages, generally being added in the latter half of the 19th century.

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, it is said that Sir John A. MacDonald stayed here overnight. George Bolton bought the building for his private residence in 1887 and it remained in the family until the 1990’s. Harken to the echo of horse and harness en route to where Main Street once turned and bridged the Rideau Canal. Imagine the whistle of the B. & W. arriving on the nearby railway track. Imagine the smell of wood-fired steamers on the Canal and the aroma of apples being processed in the cannery at the end of Main Street.

A century-and-a-half after construction, the“Dominion House” still contains an interesting and authentic example of a semi-elliptical 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 but only four such doorways are identical.

5. The R.O. Leggett House and Shop, c1870

4 Main Street
Mr. R.O. Leggett, following his father Henry, owned a furniture and undertaking business here. This L-shaped structure is typical of late nineteenth century commercial-residential structures. Note the intricate treillage work on the veranda posts.  As in most local villages during the 1800’s, the trades of furniture making and funerary were closely allied; the materials, tools and skills for making fine tables and chairs were the same as the fashion of fine coffins! Mr. Leggett also owned a livery from whence he provided the horse power to transport travelers from village to village and dearly departed from church to graveyard; a one-way trip, not to be rehearsed. For almost nine decades, the Leggett family served the Newboro community from this fine home and business on Main Street.

6. John Webster House, c 1860s

5 Main Street
William Bell had a house here that was destroyed by fire before 1860. Indeed, Newboro has lost many heritage structures to the ravages of flames. John Webster bought lots 3 and 4 and it is believed he built this elegant home and provided lodging to travelers. Built sometime around 1860, this frame house contains excellent examples of Classical Revival architecture. The entrance manifests a rectangular transom with sidelights, typical of revival architecture. These doorways were useful as well as decorative for they let natural light into the central hallway during times before Edison’s light bulb. 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 1903 George Wrathall purchased the home and operated a jewelry business from it.

7. The Col. John Kilborn Home

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. The stone component of this building is believed to be material recovered from the Ottawa Hotel.

There is a simple frieze that runs under the overhanging eaves. The frame structure was Col. Kilborn’s home. In 1828 while living in Brockville, Col. Kilborn was elected to Parliament. When his term expired he declined re-election and moved to Kilmarnock. In 1852 he was appointed postmaster of 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 on Drummond Street 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.

8. The Stagecoach 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 to“The Ontario Hotel”. The Landons then became the owners, changing its name to “Landon House”(1920-1966). In 1966 it became“The Stagecoach Inn”.  Its original design is Georgian. Although the front door has been replaced, it is reminiscent of the original entrance. The transom and sidelights are original and most attractive. In the dining room of The Stagecoach is a large painting of “The Ontario Hotel”(1869-1920) as it once graced Newboro. And still does.

9. The Block House, c 1832

The blockhouse was built in 1832-33 to defend this very strategic lock station. Located on this height-of-land and cleared of surrounding forest,   it was designed to withstand attack by Americans from any direction. The lower section, approx. 6m x 6m consists of stone walls 1m thick. The top section is constructed of squared timbers (now clapboarded), dovetailed at the corners and with an overhang of 0.6m.

This blockhouse is one of only four that were ever completed. Legend has it that only once was its militia called out for action, not to fend off a raid by feared foreign raiders but to quell a local riot at Bully’s Acre at the end of Main Street.

Newboro Lock is one of three on the Rideau that was modernized with hydraulically-operated steel gates. Community action demanded the preservation of historic aspects of the Rideau Canal and the other 40 locks of our World Heritage Site Rideau Canal remain in the original mechanical mode of 1832.

10. The John Poole Tett House, c 1896

14 By Street
Here Robert Leech’s furniture factory once hummed with activity. Robert was one of ten Leech sons who later founded the town of Gorrie, Ontario. Later, James Leggett’s tannery was located here. By the late 1800’s, change was coming to Newboro, from primary industry to business and to tourism. Reputedly completed in 1886, this majestic residence reflects styles of homes built in the early 1900’s. In contrast, it has brick trim characteristic of an earlier period. Note its tall windows, bays, and striking chimneys. From its uniquely styled front dormer on the 3rd storey, John Poole Tett and his wife Effie (nee Gallagher) enjoyed the view across a waterway of commerce and a land of resources.“The Manor” guests of Stirling Lodge now enjoy a more relaxed view of water, forest, and nature reincarnate.

11. The John Draffin House, c 1854

11 New Street
Walk around the bend of New Street where it joins Ledge Street and you will find the first stone home constructed in the village. At the rear of this residence is an original single-storey stone house. Built 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 emigrated to the Canada’s. Prospering  as a merchant, he added this magnificent residence to the original farmhouse c.1860. Elaborate detail of Italianate style on the main house includes wide, bracketed cornices and on the corners are larger ashlars of a pattern termed quoining. Decorative round-headed doors grace the upper storey. Once these opened onto a small balcony above a grand front porch. From this balcony, Mr. Draffin, wealthy citizen of Newboro and his wife, Margaret Bell of Perth, could enjoy a magnificent view over Newboro Lake at a time when intervening trees had been cleared. Between 1895 and 1945 this was the parsonage for St. Mary’s Church. (#1)

12. The J.T. Gallagher House, c 1885

7 Drummond Street
The Gallagher house was constructed with detail of 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 and the 3rd of three, with inner walls of lath and plaster. To offset this dramatic perception of height, a two-storey bay extends from the front wing. Extensive dripped bargeboard (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, a feature unique in the village. Local legend tells of a contest between J.T.Gallagher and John Poole Tett, who was building his home on By Street (# 10) at the same time. 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 some 0.4m. His son-in-law, Dr. Robert B. King purchased the home in 1916 and lived here until his death in 1942.

13. The Union Bank Building, c 1903

24 Drummond Street

Like many structures in the area, this was built of local brick. Constructed in 1905 by John F. Graham to house the Union Bank, the building remained in the Graham family for over a century.  This two-storey building provided banking hall and offices on the first floor. The interesting cornicing and the flat roof are characteristic of several contemporary banks erected in the area. Its massive front façade with large arched windows and door impose a sense of assurance and security on those entering with surplus shekels to save or loans to seek. 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 1900’s, Drummond Street had become the focus of commerce, road traffic and parallel to rail travel. For over a century this fine example of rural “bank architecture” served Newboro commerce  and community.

This page has been adapted from a brochure published by the Township of Rideau Lakes Municipal Heritage Advisory Committee (2020 Edition #3)


Portland Heritage Walking Tour PDF

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.