Yonge Street: Onward From Holland Landing To Penetanguishene
To render our narrative complete, we give in a few parting words some of
the early accounts of the route from the Landing, northward as far as
Penetanguishene, which, after the breaking up of the establishment on
Drummond's island, was for some years the most remote station in Upper
Canada where the naval and military power of England was visibly
"After leaving Gwillimbury [i. e., the Landing]," says the Gazetteer
of 1799, "you enter the Holland river and pass into Lake Simcoe, by the
head of Cook's bay, to the westward of which are oak-plains, where the
Indians cultivate corn; and on the east is a tract of good land. A few
small islands shew themselves as the lake opens, of which Darling's
island in the eastern part, is the most considerable. To the westward is
a large deep bay, called Kempenfelt's bay, from the head of which is a
short carrying-place to the river Nottawasaga, which empties itself into
the Iroquois bay, in Lake Huron. In the north end of the lake, near the
Narrows leading to a small lake is Francis island, between which and the
north shore vessels may lie in safety."
It will be proper to make one or two remarks in relation to the proper
names here used, which have not in every case been retained.
Cook's bay, it will be of interest to remember, had its name from the
great circumnavigator. Kempenfelt's bay recalls the name of the admiral
who went down in the Royal George "with twice four hundred men."
Darling's island was intended to preserve the name of Gen. Darling, a
friend and associate of the first governor; and Francis island bore the
name of the same governor's eldest son. Canise island retains its name.
The name of another island in this lake, "parallel to Darling's island,"
is elsewhere given in the Gazetteer as Pilkington's island--a
compliment to Gen. Pilkington, a distinguished engineer officer.
Darling's island, at the present day, is, we believe, known as Snake
island; and Francis island and Pilkington's island, by other names.
Iroquois bay is the same as Nottawasaga bay: the interpretation, in
fact, of the term "Nottawasaga," which is the "estuary of the
Nodoway"--the great indentation whence often issued on marauding
expeditions the canoes of the Nodoway--so the Ochibways called the
Lake Simcoe itself, the Gazetteer of 1799 informs us, was so named by
its first explorer, not with reference to himself, but to his father.
"Lake Simcoe," we read in a note at p. 138 of the work just named, was
"so named by Lieut.-Governor Simcoe in respect to his father, the late
Capt. Simcoe of the Royal Navy, who died in the River St. Lawrence on
the expedition to Quebec in 1759. In the year 1755, this able officer,"
the Gazetteer adds, "had furnished Government with the plan of
operations against Quebec, which then took place. At the time of his
death, Capt. Cook, the celebrated circumnavigator, was master of his
ship the Pembroke."
We here see the link of association which led to the application of the
great circumnavigator's name to the bay into which the Holland river
discharges itself. The Holland itself also, as we have already heard,
had its name from a companion of Gen. Wolfe.
We have on this continent no "old poetic mountains," no old poetic
objects of any description, natural or artificial, "to breathe
enchantment all around." It is all the more fitting, therefore, that we
should make the most of the historic memories which, even at second
hand, cling to our Canadian local names, here and there.
The old Gazetteer next goes on to inform us that "from the bay west of
Francis island there is a good path and a short portage into a small
lake. This is the nearest way to Lake Huron, the river which falls from
Lake Simcoe into Matchedash bay, called the Matchedash river, making a
more circuitous passage to the northward and westward;"--and Matchedash
bay "opens out," it afterwards states--"into a larger basin called
Gloucester or Sturgeon bay, in the chops of which lies Prince William
Henry's island, open to Lake Huron." It is noted also that on a
peninsula in this basin some French ruins are still extant: and then it
says, "between two larger promontories is the harbour of
Penetanguishene, around which is good land for settlement."
"Penetanguishene," it is finally added, "has been discovered to be a
very excellent harbour."
Again some annotations on names will not be out of place.
Matchedash bay is now Sturgeon bay, and Matchedash river, the river
Severn. Both bay and river have a peculiar interest for the people of
Toronto, as being respectively the Toronto bay and Toronto river of the
old French period. "To the north-east of the French river," Lahontan
says (ii. 19), "you see Toronto bay, in which a small lake of the same
name empties itself by a river not navigable on account of its rapids."
(He elsewhere says this river also bore the name of the lake--Toronto.)
The Duke of Gloucester was intended to be complimented in the name
Gloucester bay. Prince William Henry's island has not retained its name.
When it was imposed, the visit of that prince, afterwards the Duke of
Kent and father of the reigning Queen, to Upper Canada, was a recent
event.--The French ruins spoken of are the ruins of Fort Ste Marie near
the mouth of the river Wye--the chief mission-house of the Jesuits,
abandoned in 1649, still visible.
The "good path" and "nearest way to Lake Huron," from the bay west of
Francis island, indicates the well-known trail by Coldwater, which was
long the chief route to Penetanguishene; and the bay itself, west of
Francis island, is the bay known in later times as Shingle bay.
In 1834 an attempt was made to found a town at Shingle bay in connection
with the road to Penetanguishene. In a Courier of 1834, we have the
announcement: "New Town of Innisfallen. Shortly will be offered for sale
several building lots in the above new Town, beautifully situated on
Shingle Bay, Lake Simcoe. This being the landing-place for the trade to
Penetanguishene and the northern townships," the advertisement goes on
to say, "persons inclined to speculate in trade or business of any
description will find this a peculiarly valuable situation, as the
townships are settled with persons of respectability and capital. It
will command the trade to and from the lake. Further particulars can be
obtained by application to Wm. Proudfoot, Esq., or from P. Handy,
auctioneer, or Francis Hewson, Esq., Lake Simcoe. April 1st, 1834."
Innisfallen, however, did not mature into a town. Orillia, just within
the narrows, appears to have been a site more suited to the needs or
tastes of the public.
At p. 154, in the article on Yonge Street, the old Gazetteer of 1799
speaks again of the portage from Lake Simcoe to Lake Huron, via
Coldwater, and calls it "a continuation of Yonge Street." It then adds
the prediction, which we have once before quoted, that "the advantage
would certainly be felt in the future of transporting merchandize from
Oswego to York, and from thence across Yonge Street and down the waters
of Lake Simcoe into Lake Huron, in preference to sending it by Lake
Erie." And in the article on "Lac aux Claies," i.e., as we have
already said, Lake Simcoe, it is curiously stated--this is before the
year 1799--that "a vessel is now building for the purpose of
facilitating the communication by that route,"--but it is not said
A "continuation of Yonge Street" in a more perfect sense, was at a later
period surveyed and partially opened by the military authorities, from a
point on Kempenfelt bay, a little east of the modern Barrie, in a direct
line to Penetanguishene; but the natural growth of the forest had in a
great degree filled up the track.
In 1847, however, through the instrumentality of the Commissioner of
Public Works of the day, the Hon. W. B. Robinson, the highway in
question, sixty-six feet in width and thirty miles in length, was
thoroughly cleared out and made conveniently practicable for general
This grand avenue is almost in a direct line with Yonge Street, after
the traverse of Lake Simcoe from the Landing has been accomplished.
Penetanguishene, indeed, as a port, no longer requires such an approach
as this. The naval and military depot which existed there has been
abolished; and Collingwood, since it has been made the primary terminus
on Lake Huron of the Northern Railway of Canada, is the place of resort
for the steamers and shipping of the upper lakes. Nevertheless, the fine
highway referred to yields permanently to the inhabitants of Vespra and
Oro, Flos and Medonte, Tiny and Tay, the incalculable advantage of easy
communication with each other and markets to the south,--the same
advantage that Yonge Street yielded to the settlers of Vaughan and
Markham, King and Whitchurch, and the three townships of Gwillimbury, in
the primitive era of their local history.
It is, however, not improbable that Penetanguishene itself will again
acquire importance when hereafter properly connected with our railway
system, now so surely advancing to the north shore of Lake Huron: thence
to push on to the North-West.
Dr. Thomas Rolfe, in his Statistical Account of Upper Canada, appended
to his book on the West Indies and United States, spoke in 1836 of the
region which we have now reached, thus: "The country about
Penetanguishene on Lake Huron is remarkably healthy; the winter roads to
it, crossing Lake Simcoe, excellent. In the summer months," he says, "it
is delightful to persons who are pleased and entertained by the wild
grandeur and simplicity of nature. The pure and transparent waters of
the beautiful bay, and the verdant foliage of the vast woods on the east
side of the harbour, form a very picturesque scene."
Capt. Bonnycastle visited Penetanguishene in 1841. He was present at one
of the periodical distributions of government presents to the Indians. A
great concourse of the native people, from far and near, was assembled
on the occasion. Under such circumstances, Penetanguishene and its
surroundings must have presented a peculiarly interesting appearance.
"I happened to be at Penetanguishene," Capt. Bonnycastle says, "when the
unfortunate Pou-tah-wah-tamies and nearly two thousand other Indians
arrived there, the latter to receive their annual gifts, the former to
implore protection. [They had been recently removed from their lands in
the United States by the U. S. authorities.] I had never seen the wild
and heathen Indians before," the Captain observes, "and shall never
forget the impression their appearance, on an August evening, with
everything beautiful in the scene around, made upon me. To do honour to
the commandant of the British port and his guests, these warlike savages
selected for the conference a sloping green field in front of his house,
whose base was washed by the waters of the Huron, which exhibited the
lovely expanse of the basin, with its high and woody background, and the
single sparkling islet in the middle. No spot could have been imagined
more suitable. Behind it rose the high hill which, cleared of timber, is
dotted here and there with the neat dwellings of the military
residents." He then describes the dresses of the Indians, their painted
faces, their war-dances, &c.
"The garrison," he says, "is three miles from the village, and is always
called the Establishment; and in the forest between the two places is a
new church built of wood, very small, but sufficient for the Established
Church, as it is sometimes called, of that portion of Canada. A
clergyman is constantly stationed here for the army, navy, and
In regard to the provisions supplied to the soldiers and others, Capt
Bonnycastle has the following remarks: "A farmer [Mr. Mairs, as we
presume] on the Penetanguishene road has introduced English breeds of
cattle and sheep of the best kind. He was, and perhaps still is," he
says, "the contractor for the troops, and his stock is well worth
seeing. Thus the garrison is constantly supplied with finer meat than
any other station in Canada, although more out of the world and in the
wilderness, than any other; and, as fish is plentiful, the soldiers and
sailors of Queen Victoria in the Bay of the White Rolling Sand live
well." Penetanguishene means "the place of the falling sands;" the
reference being to a remarkable sandy cliff which has been crumbling
away from time immemorial, on the western side of the entrance to the
We have a notice of Penetanguishene in 1846, in a volume of Travels in
Canada, by the Rev. A. W. H. Rose, published in 1849. "Penetanguishene,"
the writer says, "is situated at the bottom of a bay extremely shallow
on one side, and is a small military and naval station, the latter force
consisting of two iron war-steamers, of about sixty-horse power each.
There is said to be a nice little society in this (until lately) out of
the way station of Upper Canada. The probability is, however," remarks
the same writer, "that it will, as a naval and military depot, have to
be eventually shifted to Owen Sound, where there is a military reserve
specially retained in the survey, as, from the number of shoals about
Penetanguishene, the island, &c., the harbour is said generally to close
up with the ice three weeks earlier, and to continue shut three weeks
later than at the Sound."
A diagram in the Canadian Journal (i. 225), illustrating a paper by
Mr. Sandford Fleming, shews the remarkable terraced character of the
high banks of the harbour at Penetanguishene. "There are appearances in
various parts of this region," Mr. Fleming says, "that lead us to infer
that the waters of Lake Huron, like those of Ontario, formerly stood at
higher levels than they at present occupy. Parallel terraces and ridges
of sand and gravel can be traced at different places winding round the
heads of bays and points of high land with perfect horizontality, and
resembling in every respect the present lake beaches. One of them
particularly strikes the attention in the bay of Penetanguishene, at a
height of about seventy feet above the level of the lake. It can be seen
distinctly on either side from the water, or by a spectator standing on
one bank while the sun shines obliquely on the other, so as to throw the
deeper parts of the terrace in shadow."
Mr. Fleming then gives a section "sketched from a cutting a little below
Jeffery's tavern in the village of Penetanguishene, serving to shew the
manner in which the soil has been removed from the side hill and
deposited in a position formerly under water by the continued mechanical
action of the waves. Not only does the peculiar stratification of the
lower part of the terrace confirm the supposition that it was deposited
on the shore of the ancient lake, but the fact that such excavations
have been made in this land-locked position, where the waves could never
have had much force, goes far to prove that the lake stood for a long
period at this high level." (From the successive subsidences here spoken
of by Mr. Fleming, the island known as the Giant's Tomb, in the entrance
to Georgian Bay, has its peculiar appearance, viz., that of a colossal
grave elevated on a high platform or pedestal.)
In 1827, John Galt, the well-known writer, had been at Penetanguishene.
He was on his way from York to make an exploration of the Lake Huron
west of the Canada Company's Huron tract, from Cabot's head in the north
to the Riviere aux Sables in the south. For this purpose, a Government
vessel, the Bee, lying in Penetanguishene harbour, had been placed at
In his Autobiography he gives the following incidents of his journey
from the shore of Kempenfelt bay. "About half-way to Penetanguishene,"
he says, "we were compelled by the weather to take shelter in a farm
house, and a thunderstorm coming on obliged us to remain all night. The
house itself was not inferior to a common Scottish cottage, but it was
rendered odious by the landlady, who was, all the time we stayed, 'drunk
as a sow, Huncamunca' (a snatch, probably, of some Christmas pantomime).
Next day we proceeded," he continues, "to the military station and
dockyard of Penetanguishene by a path through the woods, which, to the
honour of the late Mr. Wilberforce, bears his name. Along it are settled
several negro families. As I walked part of the way," Galt says, "I went
into a cottage pleasantly situated on a rising ground, and found it
inhabited by a crow-like flock of negro children. The mother was busy
with them, and the father, a good-natured looking fellow, told me that
they were very comfortable, but had not yet made any great progress in
clearing the land, as his children were still too young to assist."
"We reached Penetanguishene," Galt then says, "the remotest and most
inland dockyard that owns obedience to the 'meteor-flag of England,'
where, by orders of the Admiralty, his Majesty's gun-boat the Bee was
placed at my disposal. By the by," he adds, "the letter from the
Admiralty was a curious specimen of the geographical knowledge which
then prevailed there, inasmuch as it mentioned that the vessel was to go
with me on Lake Huron in Lower Canada. In the village of
Penetanguishene," he then informs us, "there is no tavern. We were
therefore obliged to billet ourselves on the officer stationed there, of
whose hospitality and endeavour to make the time pass pleasantly till he
had the Bee ready for the lake, I shall ever retain a pleasant
remembrance."--He then describes his voyage in the little gun-boat as
far as Detroit, and his examination of the river subsequently called the
Maitland, and the site where Goderich was afterwards built.
Since 1840, the Rev. George Hallen has been a resident clergyman at
Penetanguishene. From him have been obtained the following particulars
of detachments of military stationed from time to time at that post. In
1838 a detachment of the 34th regiment, Lieut. Hutton commanding. In
1838 also, there were some incorporated Militia there under Colonel
Davis. In 1840, a detachment of the 93rd Highlanders, under Lieut. Hay.
In 1844, a detachment of the 84th regiment, under Lieut West. In 1846, a
detachment of the Royal Canadian Rifles, under Lieut. Black. In 1850, a
detachment of the Royal Canadian Rifles, under Lieut. Fitzgerald. In
1851, a detachment of the Royal Canadian Rifles, under Lieut. Moffatt.
In 1851, some of the Enrolled Pensioners, under Captain Hodgetts.
In regard to the Navy. In 1843, June 8th, the Minos, a large gun-boat,
in charge of Mr. Hatch and three men, arrived to be laid up. In the same
year, the steamer Experiment, Lieut. Boxer, was stationed there. In
1847, the same steamer, but commanded by Lieut. Harper. In 1847 also,
the steamer Mohawk, commanded by Lieut. Tyssen. In 1850, the same
steamer, but commanded by Lieut. Herbert. The place was also visited by
Captain Ross, R.N., when on his way to the North Seas; and by Lord
Morpeth, Lord Prudhoe, and Sir Henry Harte, (the two latter Captains in
the Navy), on their way to or from the Manitoulin Islands.
From Poulett Scrope's Life of Lord Sydenham, we learn that
Penetanguishene was visited by that Governor of Canada in 1840. "From
Toronto across Lake Simcoe to Penetanguishene on Lake Huron again, and
back to Toronto, which I left again last night for the Bay of
Quinte."--Private Letter, p. 190.
The following account of the removal of the British post from Drummond's
island to Penetanguishene in 1828, has been also derived from the Rev.
Mr. Hallen, who gathered the particulars from the lips of Mr. John
Smith, aged 80, still living (1872) near Penetanguishene, formerly
employed in the Ordnance Department at Quebec, and then as Commissariat
Issuer at Drummond's island.
"Mr. John Smith and his wife remained on the island till the 14th of
November, 1828, when it was given up to the Americans. Lieut. Carson
commanding a detachment of the 68th regiment was there at the time; and
Mr. Smith well remembers Lieut. Carson giving up the keys to the
American officers, and that 'they shook hands quite friendly.' The
Government sent the brig Wellington to take away the British from the
island, but it was too small, and they were obliged in addition to hire
an American vessel. Mr. Keating was at that time Fort adjutant at the
island, and Mr. Rawson, barrack master. Smith arrived at Penetanguishene
as a Commissariat Issuer on the 20th or 21st November, 1828. He does not
remember any vessels at Drummond's island. He says that Commodore Barrie
came up in the Bullfrog, and that the gossip of the island was, that
he was the cause of its being given up to the Americans. Mr. Keating,
the Fort adjutant, was afterwards Fort adjutant at Penetanguishene,
where he arrived in the spring of 1829, having been detained at
Amherstburgh. He died in the year 1849."
"Mr. Smith said that, as far as he could recollect, the detachments
stationed on the island were, of the 71st Regiment, under Lieut. Impett;
of the 79th, under Lieut. Matthews; of the 24th, under Lieut. James; of
the 15th, under Lieut. Ingall. (The last-named officer lived afterwards
at Penetanguishene). In 1828, there were at Penetanguishene 20 or 30
Marines, under the command of Lieut. Woodin, R.N. In regard to the four
gun-boats which are sunk in the harbour, Mr. Smith said they were sunk
there before 1828. He remembers the name of only one of them, the
Mr. Hallen remarks: "The account I heard of these gun-boats when I came
to Penetanguishene was that they were brought here, I think, from
Nottawasaga bay after the American war and were sunk to prevent their
rotting. Vessels must have been built at Penetanguishene," Mr. H. adds,
"as I remember a place on the Lake Shore, about five miles N.W. of
Penetanguishene, being pointed out to me as the 'Navy Yard.' Many of the
logs were still there."
The Bee, which conveyed Mr. Galt when on his voyage of exploration
along the western coast of Lake Huron, was sold by public auction in
1832. In that year the first great reduction of the naval and military
establishment at Penetanguishene took place. Step by step the process
went on until the ancient depot was finally extinguished; and in 1859
the stone barracks were converted into a Public Reformatory.
The enumeration of the stores disposed of by public vendue, on Thursday,
the 15th of March, 1830, and six following days, at Penetanguishene,
will not be without pathos. At all events, those who have, at any time,
made boats and the appurtenances of boats one of their hobbies, will not
dislike to read the homely names of the articles then brought to the
(It will be observed that no mention is made of a certain memorable
anchor laboriously dragged from York as far as the Landing en route to
Penetanguishene, but taken no further, becoming, when half embedded in
the earth there, an object of perpetual wonderment to beholders: a thing
too ponderous to be conveniently handled and removed by an ordinary
purchaser, let the amount paid for it be ever so trifling.)
The following, then, were the miscellaneous articles belonging to the
Crown advertised to be sold to the highest bidder on the 15th and
following days of March, 1832, at Penetanguishene, and so, we may
conclude, disposed of accordingly:--The Tecumseh, schooner, 175 tons.
The Newash, brigantine, 175 tons. The Bee, gunboat, 41 tons. The
Mosquito, gunboat, 31 tons. The Wasp, gunboat, 41 tons. Batteaux,
three in number. Thirty-two feet cutter. Two thirty-two feet gigs and
their furniture. One whale boat One jolly boat. One nineteen feet gig.
Twenty-two pounds old bunting. Canvas, mildewed slightly, 366 yards.
Canvas, of all sorts, cut from frigate sails, 2170 yards. Old canvas,
491 yards. Packing cases, 23. Iron casks, 12. Iron bound casks, 8. Wood
bound casks, 24. Chests, common, 2. Chests, top, 2. Cordage, worn, 988
fathoms. Cordage, in rounding, 318 fathoms. Cordage, in junk, 28 cwt. 20
lbs. Cordage, in paper stuff, 1 cwt. 3 qrs. 1 lb. Covers, hammock, 5.
Iron, old wrought, 12 cwt. 3 qrs. 161/2 lbs. Rigging, brigantine,
standing, complete, 1 set. Running, in part, 1 set. Rigging, schooner,
standing and running, complete, 1 set. Rigging, Durham boats, standing
and running, in part, 2 sets.--Rigging, boats, standing, worn, 1 set.
Sails for a 32 gun ship, 1 set brigantine sails, 1 set schooner sails, 1
set Durham boat sails, 18 in number; boat sails 18 in number;
unserviceable stores. Axes, felling, 8. Bellows, camp forge, 2 pairs.
Blocks, single, 11 inch, 1. Blocks, double, 10 inch, 1. Brushes, tar,
15. Buckets, leather, 14. Chisels, of sorts, 12. Compass glasses, 1.
Cordage, 552 fathoms. Glass, broken, 16 panes. Hammocks, 16. Locks,
stock, 1. Mallet, caulking, 1. Oars, fir, 7. Paint, white, 1 qr. 2 lbs.
Paint, yellow, 2 qrs. 18 lbs. Planes, 10 in number. Punts, boats, 1.
Saws, crosscut, 5; Saws, hand, 6; Saws, dove-tail, 1; Saws, rip, 3.
Spout for pump, 1. Sweeps, 4. Shovels, 9. Twine, fine, 31/2 lbs. Twine,
ordinary, 171/4 lbs. Seines, 1.
The document which supplies us with the foregoing list announces that,
"the stores will be put up in convenient lots, and that a deposit of 25
per cent. will be required at the time of sale, and the remainder of the
purchase money previous to the removal of the articles, for which a
reasonable time will be allowed." The whole is signed--Wm. Henry Woodin,
Lieutenant commanding, June 18th, 1832.
We here bring to a close our Collections and Recollections in regard to
Yonge Street. That our narrative might be the more complete, we have
given a notice of the ancient terminus of that great thoroughfare, on
Lake Huron. It will be seen that in Penetanguishene and its environs,
Toronto has a place and a neighbourhood at the north abounding with
interesting memories almost as richly as Niagara itself and that
vicinity, at its south: memories intimately associated with its own
history, not alone before the present century began, but also before
even the preceding century began, that is, taking into view the local
history of this part of Canada prior to the acquisition of the country
by the English.
From remote Penetanguishene, dismantled and abolished in a naval and
military sense, our thoughts naturally turn to more conspicuous places
that have in our day successively undergone the same process: to
Kingston, to Niagara, to Montreal, to our own fort, here at Toronto, and
finally, in 1871, to Quebec. The 8th of November, 1871, will be a date
noted in future histories. On that day the Ehrenbreitstein of the St.
Lawrence, symbol for a hundred years and more, of British power on the
northern half of the North American continent, was voluntarily
evacuated, in accordance with a deliberate public policy.
The 60th Regiment, it is singular to add, which on the 8th of November,
1871, marched forth from the gates of the citadel of Quebec, was a
regiment that was present on the heights of Abraham in 1759, and helped
to capture the fortress which it now peacefully surrendered.
Is the day approaching when artistic tourists will be seen sketching, at
Point Levi, the bold Rock in front of them for the sake of the ruins at
its summit, not picturesque probably, but for ever famed in story?
Next: The Harbour: Its Marine 1793-99
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