Introduction – where road and river meet
Minden Hills is centred on Bobcaygeon Road and the Gull River. Two major forces of change, these transportation links brought immigration and industry to the area. Bobcaygeon Road was a ‘colonization’ road the government built in 1856-1859 to attract farmers and open this area up to European settlement. The Gull River was a major waterway lumberjacks used to transport millions of logs from forests to factories.
Farmers and loggers did not always see eye to eye, with plenty of conflicts over logging rights and road maintenance. But together they built tight-knit communities with fiery determination. A visitor to the area in the 1880s, author Pelham Mulvaney, described a dance at Daniel Buck’s hotel in Minden “which commenced on New Year’s Eve, 1864, and lasted, with slight intermissions, for four days and five nights.” Buck’s hotel, now called the Dominion Hotel Pub, still stands on Minden’s main street and continues to be a centre for community events today.
In 2001, Minden, Snowdon, Hindon, Lutterworth and Anson came together to form the present Township of Minden Hills. These communities share a history of surviving floods, fires and crop failures with gritty perseverance. Discover some of the history of this area by exploring Minden Hills Museum & Heritage Village at Minden Hills Cultural Centre. For more information and to find out what’s happening at the Cultural Centre, visit http://www.mindenhillsculturalcentre.blog
1. Bowron House (circa 1865)
This house is one of Minden’s oldest surviving buildings. It was originally located on a 111-acre homestead at the corner of Bobcaygeon Road and Highway 35, the same site where Minden Home Hardware is now. When the building was relocated to the museum in 1988, a kitchen extension was added to the back of the building for running cooking demonstrations on the real woodstove.
Fred Haultain was one of Minden’s earliest settlers. He built this house in the 1860s and obtained ownership of the land in 1864 through a free land grant, a government scheme enticing farmers to move here by giving away land. In 1872, Haultain sold the property to Francis and Mary Bowron for $95. The Bowron family moved here from England in 1860 and Francis Bowron became Minden’s first school teacher in 1861. The family had four children. The youngest, William, was born in Ontario – or ‘Canada West’ as it was known before the Confederation. The house was lived in until the 1980s and it was moved here through the hard work of volunteers and the community to preserve part of Minden’s history.
The logs used to build this house tell a story of their own. They were all forested locally and hewed by hand, then chinked with mud, sticks and other natural plasters. When European settlers came here in the late 1850s, the trees they cut down to build their homes were hundreds of years old. This area’s ancient forests were clear cut and have since been re-planted. Today’s log homes are built with much smaller and younger trees. You can tell a house is old by looking carefully at the logs. In most cases, the bigger the logs, the older the house!
2. The Cookhouse
The Cookhouse was built at the museum to recreate the look of a logging camp cookhouse. As early as the 1840s, lumber barons with logging rights in these forests were commissioning land surveys and mapping out riverways in a race to find and chop down trees by the millions. Early surveys used very imprecise landmarks to grant timber rights. Disputes over who owned what became common in the late 1850s when the government started parcelling off the land to farmers and settlers. Some settlers were not permitted to cut down trees in their own backyard because someone else held the logging rights.
When settlers started to trickle in, they weren’t always welcome. James Henry Burke, a lumberman, warned in 1855 that “settlement should be controlled and contained, and not allowed to endanger the timber stands”. Burke felt that settlers “spread fire and havoc through the pine forests” and that the Crown Lands Department was “wanton, foolish and insane” to create townships “where nothing by pine and rock exist”.
This animosity went both ways. Perhaps because teams of lumberjacks and their horses ruined the hard-won roads settlers had built by dragging tonnes of logs across them and yet settlers were on the hook for road maintenance. Historian Graeme Wynn notes that “lumberers were described as the very dregs of Europe, and dismissed as ‘the most depraved and dissipated set of villains on earth’”. In the end, the farmer and the lumber barons came to co-exist. Local farms meant lower transportation costs to source hay and food for the lumber camps. Farmers benefited from selling their crops to lumber barons and many farm hands spent their winters in the bush working in lumber camps.
3. The Bailey Barn
Built in the late 1800s, the Bailey Barn was relocated to the museum in 1999 from its original location at the corner of Deep Bay and Murdoch Road. It dates back to a time when farming was more common here. When Philip Vankoughnet became Minister of Agriculture in 1856 he boasted that this area would one day sustain a population of 8 million farmers. Politicians were desperate to find more farmland in order to attract and retain farmers who they viewed as vital to building a vibrant economy in pre-confederation Ontario. Negative reports about the quality of the soil were ignored and the government set about parcelling off the land to sell and give away in Land Grant schemes. Settlers who moved to a free plot of land needed to satisfy a number of requirements before the land was theirs. They needed to build a house, live on the land for 5 years and clear at least 12 acres of land for farming. At the time, this area was considered to be a vast, empty wilderness. Indigenous people had been pushed out through a series of treaties in the early 1800s, including Treaty No. 20, which ceded 1,951,000 acres of land to the Crown including all of present day Haliburton County in 1818. When settlers moved to the area, it spelled the end for traditional ways of life.
Though the land was undeniably beautiful, Europeans who traveled up Bobcaygeon Road were disappointed to find that the farmland they had travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles to reach was filled with rocks and wetlands. Joseph Dale wrote a warning to English immigrants in 1875, saying that when the plots of land given to immigrants were cleared of trees, their “desperate labour” revealed “nothing but rock, rock, rock”. He asked “Where now is gone that little capital which he [the immigrant] has so industriously saved and got together in England? Wasted upon a worthless block of rock.”
Many farmers left for flatter and less-rocky pastures out West in the 1880s. After Canada gained control of the prairies and built a railway across the newly formed country, politicians forgot about developing this area and focused on building an agricultural economy out West. Farmers who moved out West were met with different challenges, including irrigating dry lands and developing new winter-hardy strains of wheat. Farming on previously uncultivated land proved difficult no matter where you were. Those who remained here helped build communities that still exist today and survived by supplying horse feed to the logging trade, working in lumber camps in the winter or trapping furs to supplement their farming income.
4. The Schoolhouse
Hundreds of one-room schoolhouses just like this were built in the late 1800s to meet a growing demand for public education. In 1871, provincial legislation in Ontario made schooling compulsory and free for children up to the age of 12. With most children walking to school, one-room schoolhouses sprung up all over the province.
This school was built in Hindon in 1898 to replace a smaller structure that had fallen into disrepair. Stanhope Township councillors debated whether it would be more cost effective to repair the existing structure or build a new school. When you consider that the building continued to be used as a school until the 1930s and is still standing today, it seems their decision to build from scratch has more than paid off!
It was originally located on Brady Lake Road in Hindon Hills and was relocated to the museum in the 1990s, after being donated by Bill Branson in 1993. The S.S. stands for school section, meaning there were at least 9 school sections in Stanhope in the 1890s. The teacher taught all the academic basics to several grade levels in the same room, huddled around a crackling wood stove in the centre of the room. These schools often doubled as the chapel on Sundays and as a meeting place for local organizations.
5. Bethel Church
This building is a replica of the original Bethel Church, which still stands on Bethel Church Road in Minden Hills. Over 130 years ago, in 1889, a Crown deed was issued to the Methodist congregation. In early May (peak black-fly season!), workers gathered at the site and construction began.
When the first service was held it was standing room only, with people arriving by buggy, wagon, rowboat, and even canoe! With the opening of the church, it was noted that the families of the area considered their settlement was finally complete; now that it hosted both a school and a church.
Logs for this specific building were salvaged from an old cabin on Spring Valley Road. The chandelier and choir benches inside came from the original Presbyterian Church in Minden, and the glass windows were rescued from the dump. The replica is often lovingly referred to as the Wee Kirk (Scottish for “little chapel”) and was constructed by three volunteers with a passion for the past. It officially opened in our museum in 1993, and since has been used for multiple weddings, plays, and photo opportunities.
6. The Sterling Bank
This bank dates back to the early 1900s. Minden’s very first bank was established by J.H Delamere in 1895. In July 1907, the Sterling Bank of Canada purchased a property at the corner of Newcastle Street and Bobcaygeon Road, and built this iconic red building. Delamere was hired as the bank manager and would stay on until it closed in 1911. The Sterling Bank re-opened in 1919 and was sold in 1925 to the Standard Bank of Canada, which was eventually taken over by the Canadian Bank of Commerce.
By 1958, a larger bank building was needed. Solid as a rock, the original building was moved to Peck Street to house the public library. When the library was relocated to the new Minden Hills Cultural Centre, the Sterling Bank came with it and was donated to the Museum, becoming the first historic building on the Museum grounds. When it first opened, the Museum’s entire collection was housed and displayed in this one tiny space. Nowadays, the museum has expanded, but the original Sterling Bank still highlights many original features from 111 years ago, and is used to showcase highlights from the collection.