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History of the County of Bruce, Ontario, Canada
Township of Saugeen


["Saugeen" is the corrupted form of an Indian word meaning the entrance or mouth of the river. 2 See Chapter II.]

Extract from the report of County Valuators, 1901.

"This township, in proportion to its acreage, has more inferior land, we think, than any township south of the peninsula. The shore range, while much better than that of Bruce, is far below the average. This range, together with the thousands of acres of drift sand in the north, and cut as the township is through its whole length by Mill Creek, the Saugeen River, and the railroad, combine to pull down the average value very much. However, there are a number of very fine farms in Saugeen that will compare favorably with any in the county. There are some sections of very stiff clay, and the land is very rough along the banks of the Saugeen River. The rate per acre for this township is $28.66. There is no village property in Saugeen.''

Men with keen eyes to perceive latent possibilities and who purposed settling in the Queen's Bush petitioned, as early as 1847, the government to have a survey made of the lands at the mouth of the Saugeen River and open the same for settlement. The locality was visited by Alex. Wilkinson, P.L.S., [Afterwards elevated to the Senate of the Dominion] in the fall of that year, but no lands were surveyed at that time. The survey of Saugeen Township into farm lots was conducted by A. Vidal, P.L.S. His commission to do this work was dated January 13th, 1851. Gathering his party of men and necessary supplies, he left Sarnia by boat and reached the mouth of the Saugeen River on April 18th following. Securing canoes the party proceeded up the river to near the point where they were to commence work. Mr. Vidal's instructions were: Commencing at the north-west corner of the township of Brant, to carry the Elora Road, as originally projected, through to some place near the mouth of the Saugeen River, and then survey the township into farm lots. The starting point was reached April 22nd, and work immediately commenced. The line thus laid was the base for the survey of the rest of the township, [A peculiarity about the survey of Saugeen is the ''Marine allowance'' along the edge of the river in this township, a feature not found elsewhere on the river Saugeen.] which was completed August 22nd, 1851.

In seeking to name the first settlers in Saugeen, the reader is asked to remember that at the first, and for some subsequent years, the present town of Southampton and the village of Port Elgin formed an integral part of the township. This it is necessary to bear in mind, as it was at these points the first settlements in Saugeen were made. It was in June, 1848, that Capt. John Spence and William Kennedy settled at Southampton, as is narrated in Chapter III. During the following year these pioneers were joined by James Orr and George Butchart. It was in the fall of 1849 that settlement was made at Port Elgin, the first settler being Lachlin (Loch Buie) McLean, who after a season spent at the Pishing Islands, landed at Port Elgin Bay and built a small log shanty in which he spent the first winter alone, and which as a tavern was at a later date known to all the settlers in Saugeen. In 1850 the first party of land-seekers entered the township. These were Peter Smith, Dugald Bell and Donald Mcintosh. As their home was in the county of Grey, on the Garafraxa Road, they in all probability descended the river on a raft or scow and made their way to the township in this manner. Satisfied with the prospects, they returned to make arrangements to settle in the following spring. The next party of prospectors were William [William Kennedy was for thirty years a resident if Saugeen. He then moved to the township of Derby, residing there for ten years, when he retired from farming and resided at Tara, where he died, July 31st, 1903. For twenty-five years he was an elder of the Presbyterian Church at Burgoyne and latterly at Tara also.] and David Kennedy. From their home near Guelph they, in January, 1851, drove to Owen Sound, then guided by an Indian they walked to Southampton and thence into the interior of the township. Thoroughly pleased with the outlook for settlement, they retraced their steps, to return in April following. David Kennedy, in his book entitled "Incidents of Pioneer Days," [A perusal of this little book is earnestly recommended to any one interested in the pioneer days of the county of Bruce.] describes the wearisome journey over the Garafraxa and Durham Roads to Hanover in March, 1851. The building of a large scow there (the lumber for which they cut with a whip-saw out of a large pine tree they had felled), then the tedious delay owing to high water in the Saugeen, the final start of the party of twelve in number, the narrow escapes from shipwreck, and at length, on reaching Saugeen Township, the gladsome welcome given them by the earliest settler, Alexander Wallace and James D. Cathay, the latter a teacher and missionary at the Indian village. As far as the author has been able to ascertain, Alexander Wallace is entitled to the credit of being the first settler in what is now the township of Saugeen. While the snow was still on the ground, in the spring of 1851, Mr. Wallace left Owen Sound for "the bush," drawing after him a toboggan on which was piled his household effects, his brave wife, ladened with bundles, accompanying him. Beaching the Indian village Mrs. Wallace remained as the guest of Mrs. Cathay, while her husband sought a desirable spot on which to locate. Having found one to his liking, he proceeded to erect a log shanty. It is related of Mrs. Wallace, that becoming anxious to assist her husband, she left her hospitable quarters and sought her husband's shanty, the walls only of which were erected. As neither door, window or roof had been made, she entered her new home by climbing over the top of the log wall. From that time she remained with her husband roughing it in the bush, [This estimable and much esteemed woman passed away, February 12th 1906, having survived her husband some thirteen years.] and nobly doing her part in making a home in the wilderness.

The following are the names of some of the pioneers of Saugeen who settled in the township in 1851: Alexander and John Wallace, William and David Kennedy, Thomas Burgess, Philip Strowger, John and Jacob Atkinson, William Gowanlock, James Rowand, Silas Puller, Peter, Thomas and John Smith, William, Joseph and John Stirton, Archibald Armstrong, Thomas Turner, Neil Bell, John King, Archibald Pollock and Robert Craig.

The majority of those above-mentioned found their way to their new homes in the bush by way of the river Saugeen, either on rafts or roughly constructed scows. To persons unaccustomed to handling such unwieldy crafts mishaps were a common occurrence. Some were shipwrecked on sunken snags, others had a portion of their cargo swept off into the turbulent waters by low-hanging branches of trees that bent over the stream. So dangerous to inexperienced sailors was the navigation that it was with feelings of thankfulness the passengers reached their destination and stepped ashore. Hardly any of these voyagers but could relate a tale of hairbreadth escapes during the course of their passage down the Saugeen.

The number of incoming settlers increased in the following years. Among those who entered the township in 1852-3 the following may be mentioned: "Donald Currie, Dugald Bell, Robert Leeder, Iden Goble, James Stewart, Clement Seiffert, Henry and Adam Hilker, John Stafford, John and Angus McPhee, Donald, Archibald and Angus Galbraith. These years also marked the beginning of a flow into the township of settlers of German nationality from Waterloo County, men who as a rule were pretty well-to-do. So satisfied were these first-comers in regard to the prospects of the settlement that a proposition was made to Mr. McNabb, the Crown Land Agent, to settle the rest of the township with Germans from the locality they came from. This proposition was not, however, entertained. Notwithstanding, the flow of German settlers continued. Prominent among them were Benjamin Shantz, Samuel Bricker, W. H. Ruby, John Goble, Peter Wagner and John Zant.

The following incident of the early settlers is worthy of being recorded. It is an extract from the Paisley Advocate. Late in December, 1851, two travellers seeking to cross the Saugeen were obligingly ferried across in a canoe by two of Mr. Gowanlock's daughters. On returning, the river, which had all morning been running snow, slush and ice, became so blocked thereby that the two young women found that it was impossible to force the canoe across the river. They certainly were in a perilous position, as no rope or pole could be got that would reach them from the shore. Sometimes the canoe with its surrounding of slush would remain immovable, then breaking loose would start swiftly down the river, and all the while little or no progress was made shoreward. It was bitterly cold, and only by incessant attempts at paddling could the young women keep themselves from freezing. It was not until about dusk that they were rescued from their dangerous situation, and then it was accomplished by felling a small tree into the river, which by the greatest good fortune they were able to grasp in passing. One of these young ladies afterwards became the wife of James Rowand, the member for West Bruce for the years 1887 to 1895.

The lands in Saugeen were among those classed as "School Lands," and as such were opened for sale [See Appendix J.] July 30th, 1852, at the price of ten shillings ($2.00) per acre. Pioneers who had located themselves on farm lots prior to this date were known as squatters, and they had, on the appearance of the notice offering the lands in the township for sale, to take immediate steps to have recognized their "squatter's rights" to the lots on which they were living.

Saugeen is the smallest township in Bruce. Nevertheless, in the early years of settlement up to 1856, owing to the rapid inflow of industrious settlers, it occupied a second or third place in regard to the amount of its equalized assessment among the townships in the county. [See Appendix M.] It was this fact that led the United Counties Council, when it dissolved the union of townships within the county of Bruce, [See Appendix F.] to make it a separate municipality, instead of uniting it with some other township, as was done in the case of all the other townships, Huron excepted. The first municipal election was held in January, 1854. The one polling place was at Belcher's tavern at Southampton, and the returning officer was Alex. McNabb. The members of Council then elected were Messrs. James Calder, John Valentine, Thomas Turner, Alexander McNabb and John Smith. The first meeting of the Township Council was held at the house of James D. Cathay, on January 16th, 1854, the first business of which was the election of a reeve, which honor was unanimously conferred on Alexander McNabb, and James D. Cathay was appointed township clerk. In a footnote the names of the various reeves of the township from the first to the time of writing are given, also of the township clerks and treasurers.

[Reeves of the township of Saugeen from 1854 to 1906, inclusive Alex. McNabb, 1854, '56, '57; Robert Reid, 1855; Donald Currie 1858; Thomas Brown, 1859, '60, '61; William H. Ruby, 1862, '63; James Rowand. 1864, '67, '68, '69, '70; John Wallace, 1865, '66; Henry Hilker, 1871 '72 '73; N. Cassidy, 1874, '75, '76; John Peirson, 1877 to 1888; P. Cummings. 1889 to 1894; A. E. Hutchison, 1895, '96; M. Cook, 1897, '98; Alex. McKinnon, 1899, 1900; Alex. McCannel, 1901, '02; Robert Smyth, 1903 to 1906.

Names of the township clerks of Saugeen from 1854 to 1906 James D. Cathay, 1854; Dr. H. Haynes, 1855; John Eastwood, 1856, '57, '58 and 1871 to 1876; Archibald Roy, 1859 to 1867; John C. Currie, 1868 '69 '70: E. B. Fleming, 1877 to 1904; Fred. W. Elliott, 1905, '06 '

Names of the township treasurers of Saugeen: In 1854 and 1855 the author has reason to believe that the township clerk was also township treasurer but has not been able to obtain conclusive evidence. John Eastwood, 1856, '57, '58; Archibald Roy, 1859 to 1869; W H Ruby, 1870 to his death, August 9th, 1892; N. E. Leeder, Sr., part of 1892 to 1906.]

In Chapter VI. are narrated the measures taken to relieve the destitution that existed throughout the county in 1859 ("Starvation Year"). Saugeen Township shared in the common calamity, but to its credit be it noted that it and the village of Southampton were the only municipalities within the county that declined to accept aid from the County Destitution Fund. The Township Council, at a meeting held April 14th, 1859, decided to use whatever funds were in the township treasury, and also whatever more that might be obtained by the sale of Non-Resident Loan Fund Debentures to purchase seed grain, which was to be sold to any resident of the township, for which an approved joint note, payable in October following, would be accepted. Councillors Joseph Schell and John Stafford were appointed a committee to receive and distribute the grain thus purchased.

The first expenditure made by the government towards opening roads in Saugeen was in 1852, when that part of the Elora Road which lies north of Burgoyne was opened as part of the Saugeen and Sydenham Road, the contract of which was let by Mr. McNabb, Crown Land Agent. After the appointment of David Gibson as Superintendent of Colonization Roads in September, 1853, contracts were let for making a good "Winter Road" [In a foot-note in Chapter V., referring to Mr. Gibson's work, the specifications of a "winter road" are to be found.] on what are known as the Elora and Goderich Roads. The principal contractor for work on the Elora Road was James Campbell, who was paid £270. On the Goderich Road the largest contracts were let to Joseph Gilbert and James Turner, who received respectively £250 and £180. The work in these several contracts was performed in 1854. Very little, if any, work was done under government direction in 1855 in Saugeen, but in 1856 Joseph Gilbert received a contract for work on the Elora Road that amounted to £1,020, which outlay was made in the endeavor to make of it a "summer road." The County Gravel Road By-law, passed in 1865, provided liberally for the township of Saugeen, both the Elora and Goderich Roads being gravelled, giving the east and west sides of the township excellent roads.

Saugeen and Brant are the two townships in the county that are the most burdened with the expense of constructing and maintaining large bridges. The Saugeen River is a noble and deservedly admired stream, but when its course lies through the full length of a township, as in Saugeen, and bridges have to be stretched across its waters and over good-sized tributaries as well, a large outlay is demanded, first to build the bridges and then an annual charge to keep them in repair. The township of Saugeen, the town of Southampton and the villages of Port Elgin and Paisley have reason to congratulate themselves upon the relief from this financial burden that has come from the county. In some instances this has come because of the liberal, broad-minded views held by members of the County Council. In other cases this has been because of statutory compulsion, as in the case of Stirton's bridge.[The oft-repeated refusal of the County Council to assume this bridge, which is 334 feet in length, led the member for North Bruce (C. M. Bowman), at the suggestion of some of his constituents, -to seek to have the Municipal Act amended so that counties be compelled to assume all bridges over 300 feet in length that are required for general traffic. The House of Assembly passed the Amendment (see 3 Edw. VII. Chap 18, Sec. 132) and Stirton's Bridge became a county bridge.] Upon the boundaries of these four minor municipalities above mentioned or within their limits, the county is responsible for sixteen bridges, about two-thirds of these being expensive structures, e.g., McCalder's bridge, the cost of which was over $9,000. Notwithstanding the help received from the county, Saugeen has eleven bridges over 75 feet in length to maintain, the names and length of which are given in a footnote. [List of some of the bridges in Saugeen, with their length: Over Mill Creek—McRae's (235 feet), Schwass' (231 feet), Zant's (174 feet), Keetle's (115 feet), Murkar's (114 feet), McEwen's (81 feet); over Snake Creek-Bell's (275 feet), Goldberg's (189 feet), Stewart's (119 feet), Gowanlock's (77 feet); over Beaver Creek, (115 feet).]

Saugeen, although the smallest township in the county Bruce, has been by no means the one of the least influence. At an early date in the history of the county it was of sufficient importance to be one of the first two townships to be created into a separate municipality. On two occasions have its reeves been elected to the wardenship of the county, in the persons of John Peirson and P. Cummings. From the ranks of its yeomanry, in the person of James Rowand, it has furnished the member for North Bruce to sit in the House of Commons, and in the person of Lieut.-Col. J. W. S. Biggar a representative to the House of Assembly at Toronto. The settlers who took up land in Saugeen were of good stock, and their descendants may be relied upon to maintain, as they of the past have done, the good name and reputation of the township.


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