/Cottage Chat shares a look at early settler life 
The Government House, built in 1908, was originally built on Big Hawk Lake to house the house for the Damkeeper. / Photo: Stanhope Museum

Cottage Chat shares a look at early settler life 

By Sue Tiffin

A Cottage Chat session gave residents – both seasonal and permanent – a chance to ask historians questions about the origin of lake names, early life in Stanhope, and local legends. The virtual meeting was organized by the Halls and Hawk Lakes Property Owners Association and brought panelists Carol Moffatt, Adele Espina and Joan Hamilton together to share known, likely, and sometimes controversial stories – with plenty of fun facts added to share around the lake this summer. 

Moffatt spoke to the area known as “wastelands,” in the mid-1800s, where land in 100-acre tracts was given to those who had served the country, or their widows. In the 1840s and 1850s, surveyors established 13 colonization roads to generate settlements but the settlement did not occur quickly. The government then began giving away land to settlers who would maintain it, establishing the Free Grants and Homestead Act of 1868 with specific rules, including that to obtain ownership of land, settlers would have to clear 15 acres, cultivate it, build a small home and live continually in it for five years. Moffatt, who has a strong passion for local heritage, lives in one of those original log homes now.

“When the trees were gone after the logging, the farmers tried to farm but there was no farming – it was terrible here,” said Moffatt. “The bottom line is, people came here with this great promise of farming and free land and this great new life, and farming was terrible. For those who did stay and eke out a living, they are the people to whom we owe a debt of gratitude for having created the land we all love today.”

Hamilton, who wrote and edited the Lure of the Lakes book chronicling the history of Halls and Hawk Lakes, spoke to some of the settlers known at the time. These include James and Sarah Welch, who were married in 1883 and had 10 children, losing two in infancy and childhood, and two sons to the First World War. 

“It was a tough life for the Welches trying to raise a family,” she said. “They did whatever they had to do.”

The Welch homestead became a sort of headquarters for people travelling through the area, and the Welches sold meat to lumber camps – James ran a butcher shop in Minden for some time – and also ran the post office for 35 years.

Arthur Oliver came to the area in 1907. Moffatt said the Oliver farm is “just around the corner,” from her, and she was able to meet Mary Oliver in 1991.

“Her life was fascinating, and it was a real testament to the tenacity of people who we needed to form the land and live a life here,” she said. 

Mary came to the area as a war bride, and despite not knowing the area, the life, or “a single soul except her husband,” Moffatt said she lived her entire life – living to 104 years of age – in the area. A bay and a lane are named for Mary and her family.

Together, the panelists spoke to the logging industry – still a primary economic driver in Haliburton County – the Hawk Lake log chute, the old mill and deaths that occurred there, and the creation of Peterson Road, now Highway 118, – for $34,000 – and Bobcaygeon Road – for $28,296 – in 1862. 

HHLPOA president Peter Dadzis spoke to the success of the virtual event, which was attended by about two dozen people, and the rich heritage of the area shared by the panelists. 

For more information on the history of Algonquin Highlands visit heritagemapsalgonquin.com and algonquinhighlands.ca/genealogy

For more information on this chat or upcoming chats, visit www.hallshawklakes.ca.