By VICTOR LAURISTOX
LORD SELKIRK’S famous settlement in
1804 marked the beginning of pioneering along the
Sydenham in Kent. The settlement itself was
located on low land along the Chenal Ecarte; but after the War
of 1812 when the encroachments of the
rising water made the original locality uninhabitable, many of the
settlers and their descendants gradually found new homes elsewhere. Some
of these sought new homes on higher ground, at a point where the east and
north branches of the Sydenham joined; and this point, known as The Forks,
became the site of a considerable settlement.
Prominent among these migrants was
Hugh McCallum, son of a Selkirk settler, who moved to The Forks in 1832.
McCallum had served as an officer in the militia in 1812; and his military
prestige, his native abilities and his sound common sense made him from
the first the dominant figure in
the new community. His activities were many. Besides storekeeping, farming
and looking after the post-office, he taught school in the same building.
McCallum surveyed part of his land into lots: and this, still known as
McCallum’s Survey, is now a part
of South Wallaceburg.
McCallum was responsible for
rechristening the community. Its early name, The Forks, had been used for
many another like locality throughout Upper Canada; but this place,
peopled largely by Highland
Scots, demanded a better name. The best, in fact. And what better name
than that of the Scottish hero, William Wallace? So "The Forks" became
Through the years the
community grew till the advent of a man who, in a later day, exerted an
influence even more potent than that of the founder, Hugh McCallum. David
Alexander Gordon was a son of Wallaceburg, and,
like most of the community, of Scottish descent. As a
young man he engaged in a number of local business enterprises; till in
1895 a nearby discovery of silica sand led to investigations which
resulted in the organization of the Sydenham Glass Company.
— loyally backed by the citizenry of
Wallaceburg was in the forefront of a movement which converted Wallaceburg
from just another country village into an important industrial community.
His crowning industrial achievement was
the founding of the Wallace-burg (later the Canada and
Dominion) Sugar Company, and, with it, of the Canadian sugar beet
industry, one of the most important agricultural industries in Kent.
Settlement on the upper reaches of
the Sydenham in Kent began about the year 1820, through a curious
circumstance. Some settlers on
the old Talbot Road discovered the land they occupied had previously been
deeded to non-residents. Right then they were offered liberal land grants
on the Sydenham, and promptly abandoned their clearings to begin anew in
the north end of Camden township.
These pioneers, including John and William Tiffin, Job Hall and the
Boultons, settled between Florence and Dawn Mills; their settlement being
the first on the Sydenham southwest of Strathroy and east of Wallaceburg.
For many years, Dawn Mills, as a
result of its water power, was the most important settlement on the
Sydenham. The usual
pioneer industries came into existence
to serve the surrounding farming community.
Gradually settlement worked its
downstream. In 1844 Abram Devens located in what is now
the north end of Dresden, but was then a wilderness.
As far back as 1828, a settlement of
fugitive slaves had begun on the south bank of the Sydenham, a few miles
or more west of the Devens location. This was the celebrated Dawn
settlement, of which Rev. Josiah Henson, "the original Uncle Tom," was the
moving spirit. Encouraged and liberally financed by British and American
sympathizers, the Dawn settlement grew steadily for some years. Meanwhile,
William Van Allen and his son,
Henry, had begun in 1846 to clean a farm
on the south bank of the Sydenham opposite the
Devens clearing. Daniel R. Van Allen, another son of William, in 1852 had
the area between the present Main Street of Dresden
and the Sydenham surveyed into village lots.
Immediately south a rival village, laid out by William Wright in
1854, and extending close to the limits
of the Dawn settlement, received the name of Fairport.
The rivalry continued for some
years; but ultimately the two communities were merged into one under the
name of Dresden—bestowed by the Saxon Van AlIens—and the name of Fairport
vanished from the map.
The rivalry with Dawn Mills, farther
up the Sydenham, still remained. Dresden had, however, this advantage,
that it was located at the head of navigation on the Sydenham; and though
in the early days even ocean going
ascended thus far, they could go no farther. As a
result, Dawn Mills, the once dominant community of North Camden, gradually
dwindled; and after the coming of the railroad, it faded into a mere
shadow of its former self.