In 1803, Thomas Douglas, the
5th Earl of Selkirk, established a settlement at Belfast, P.E.I. That same
year Selkirk met with Alexander McDonell in York. McDonell would later
become Selkirk's manager and land agent for the settlers at Baldoon.
One Hundred and two brave
settlers left Kirkcudbright, Scotland in May 1804 to cross the Atlantic on
the vessel, Oughton. They arrived in Lachine, Lower Canada on July 19th. The
travellers had suffered casualties. Robert Buchanan, age 10, had died on the
Transatlantic journey and another child had fallen very ill by the time they
They continued their journey
inland aboard a batteaux and rowed up the St. Lawrence to Kingston arriving
August 5th. They travelled further on to Queenston and then continued "by
land, to a point beyond Niagara Falls." Traveling in open boats down the
Niagara River to Lake Erie and then landing at Amherstburg. The last part of
the journey took them down the Chenal Ecarte to their final destination of
Baldoon on September 5, 1804.
The Baldoon Settlement
Fifteen Scottish families
locate along Chenal Ecarte River in northern stretches of Dover Township,
Kent County. Most had agreed to work on Selkirk's farm for a number of years
in return for their free passage to the site and other benefits. They would
also receive 50 acre lots soon after their arrival.
The settlers were challenged
by remote, waterlogged and mosquito infested land. Many of them had fallen
ill with malaria and 16 had died by the time November came. Five of them
were heads of families.
In the mean time the settlers
had to cope with the dysfunctional, unreliable, Alexander McDonell,
Selkirk's site manager who was considerably lacking in the skills or desire
to assist the settlers. When the year 1804 ended, 22 settlers had died due
to poor conditions, relentless rains, mosquito infestations and other
challenges. McDonell continued to ignored the crisis.
Despite many hardships the
settlers remained steadfast in their mission and eventually grew to prosper
along the banks of the river. Many had also migrated further inland and
encouraged others from Scotland to join them in the New World. Eventually
the industrious community of Wallaceburg developed and has grown ever since.
Back in Britain, Selkirk
receives news of settlers' deaths where he then instructs McDonell to
relocate settlers to higher grounds. Again, McDonell ignores instructions.
McDonell is finally
dismissed by Selkirk in 1809.
War of 1812 caused great
devastation and again in 1814, invading American troops pillaged the
remained in the area. Because of mounting debt due mostly to McDonell's
ineptness, Selkirk was forced to sell his land. Selkirk, a disappointed
man, dies in 1820. By 1822, twenty-two families lived at the forks of the
Sydenham the site of present day Wallaceburg. Many of these were the
original fifteen families and their descendants. Wallaceburg's first
settler, Lauchlan MacDougald took up lot 13 and 2nd concession in 1822 and
was soon joined by others.
In the end, Selkirk suffered
huge losses on the Baldoon Farm much of it attributed to McDonell's
mismanagement. Selkirk realized his aim of locating Highlanders in an
important border area of Upper Canada and because of his foresight, enabled
the security of precious Canadian territory. Although Selkirk suffered huge
losses, his contribution to Canadian history is commendable and deserves to
be recognized in utmost honour.
Lord Selkirk first
established a settlement in Belfast, P.E.I. in 1803.
Baldoon was established in
1804, followed in 1811 by Red River Valley, which later developed into the
city of Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Campey, Lucille H.
The Silver Chief: Lord
Selkirk and the Scottish pioneers of Belfast, Baldoon and Red River
(Natural Heritage - 2003)
BALDOON: Lord Selkirk;s
Settlement In Upper Canada (Phelps - 1978)
can only hope that the shrinking of many decades of history to a few
pages of type will not offend those who lived that history.
Wallaceburg was originally settled by Scottish immigrants in 1804.
Problems forced the relocation of the settlement to its present
location at the forks of the North and East branches of the Sydenham
River. Early growth was due to a thriving Lumber Industry and where
trees fell, agricultural crops were planted realizing a shift in prime
industry to Agricultural trade and produce.
The settlement became a Village in
1875 and later a Town in 1890. Early industry included glass
manufacture and wood products, but today industrial concerns span a
wide variety of products in fields that demand a high degree of
expertise and technology.
Present developments in the
industrial, commercial and residential sectors bode well for the
Community and a prosperous future is certain.
To appreciate Wallaceburg’s history,
the reader is directed to Chapter 37 of Romantic Kent "The Story of a
County" written by Victor Lauriston and to " A History of Wallaceburg
and Vicinity, 1804 to the Present", written by Frank Mann. A later
edition entitled "Gathering at the Forks" by Alan and Frank Mann and a
soon to be published book entitled "Settlement on the Sydenham" by
Alan and Frank Mann are excellent preservations of an exciting
The Community continues to grow and
History continues to be written.
Wallaceburg is the second largest
urban center in the County. This is, no doubt, due to its advantageous
position on the Sydenham, an ideal spot for a townsite from the point
of view of boat traffic. Situated but a short distance inland from
Lake St. Clair, it has, therefore, facilities for transportation by
water second to no other town or village in the County.
Wallaceburg was founded by Selkirk
The inception of the town may be
said to be a by-product of the Selkirk Settlement. Its history cannot
be disassociated from that well meant but unfortunate venture. It was
a Baldoon settler who built the first log houses and started the first
clearance in its neighborhood. The
first store and hotel were opened by Laughlin McDougall, one of the
original ‘one hundred and eleven’, where soon after him was located
his two brothers, Archibald and Hector. It was a Baldoon
schoolteacher, Hugh MacCallum that became its first postmaster and
gave to the town its name, which he called after Scotland’s patriot
and soldier, Sir William Wallace. It was a Baldoon settler, Hector
McLean, who settled on the lot where now stands the major portion of
the town and it was a Baldoon settler, Lionel H. Johnson, who opened
the first blacksmith shop and store in the Northwest angle formed by
the junction of the two rivers.
Pioneer stores established on the
South side of the river.
The south bank of the river was the
first to take upon itself the aspect of a village. On four adjacent
lots, Twelve and Thirteen in the First Concession, and Twelve and
Thirteen in the first Concession, and Twelve and thirteen in the
Second Concession of the Township, then called Sombra but now Chatham
Gore, four families had settled and established on their farms, three
of them, stores, and the fourth a post office and school. These were
the McGregors, a family of grown up sons of John McGregor who
distinguished himself in the War of 1812 and to whom was given by the
government eight hundred and fifty acres of land for the services he
then rendered; James Baby who was a descendant of that honorable and
prominent French family of Detroit, one of whom was appointed by
governor Simcoe and Executive councilor for the Western district in
the first parliament of Upper Canada; and Laughlin Mcdougall and Hugh
McCallum, the above mentioned pioneers from the Baldoon Settlement. On
the North bank of the river, there was erected in 1833 a frame
building by one James Henderson in which he too kept a school. This
building passed into the hands of hector McDonald which he turned into
a tavern or boarding house and kept there a place of entertainment for
many years. This place, called then the ‘Gore’, has since become the
principal business section of Wallaceburg and that which was last
chosen as a business site has now become the first in importance and
the chief center for trade in the town.
Noticeable development did not
begin until 1850.
Although the Post Office was
established as early as 1834 and the first survey of town lots made in
1837, it was not until about 1850 that the place gave any indications
of developing into a center of trade and industry such as it has since
become. Like all other centers within the bounds of the County, the
first and most important influence impelling a noticeably forward
movement in its progress was that of the lumbering industry. The
district round about was covered with the best of timber, especially
oak and elm, and its good location as a vessel port gave to it an
opportunity for advance when the timber became marketable, which its
enterprising inhabitants were not slow to seize. For the next ten
years the lumbering industry was at its height, and, save for the lull
in the year 1857, when, owing to the financial heard times then
existing, there was considerable unemployment among its inhabitants,
Wallaceburg went forward with rapid strides. The lumber industry in
this decade brought much business and settlers to the town. As it was
with the Thames River, so also with the Sydenham, its banks were lined
every winter with timber sticks and staves and in the spring of the
year its waters were made hardly discernible because of the numerous
qualities of these floating down on its surface to find a market at
Detroit and elsewhere. But the prosperity came through the development
of the surrounding farmlands and the establishment of industries. The
next decade, 1860 to 1870, was a period of transition. As a source of
employment every year in this period the timber business was getting
more precarious. Every increase in the production and exportation of
square timber, staves, lumber and cordwood, lessened the quantity of
its agricultural productions increased, the village grew
proportionately. It was not so rapid a progress as the lumber industry
brought to it but it was permanent. Wallaceburg was saved from the
fate of many other equally thriving lumber centers by its position on
a navigable river and the rapid increase of settlement on the
surrounding lands of the district. In the transition from one source
of dependence to the other, progress lagged but did not entirely
Boat traffic on the Sydenham was
One of its first enterprises.
When the country all around was a
forest and the roads impassable owing to the low nature of the
surrounding district, the Sydenham River became in the early history
of the County the highway for lake sailing vessels and lumber barges.
The first of these was built by Laughlin McDougall. To men accustomed
to fishing and fishing boats, as were the Highlanders who composed the
Baldoon Settlement, it could not be supposed that they would leave so
a stream as this unutilized. Hardly had McDougall settled in the
neighborhood of 'The Forks' when he began to use the banks of the
river for boat building purposes. It was perhaps the remembrances and
experiences which he and his forebears went through on his native
Island of Null that suggested to him the sailing schooner as the means
of obtaining the goods wherewith to start a trading post at this
locality. Two vessels, which he named respectively Wallace and Selkirk
were constructed and set a float as early as to do duty for the
conveyance of the products of the hunter and trapper of his store to
Detroit and the bringing back with them the necessaries required for
the hunting and trapping trade, the household need of incoming
settlers, and, later, the requirements for the camps of lumbermen.
This first attempt at navigation was soon followed by the coming and
going of many vessels as soon as the lumber industry created a demand,
with the building of necessary docks and warehouses, until made a port
of entry and honored with a customs official, an event which is dated
in the calendar of the village as having taken place in the early
Captain Steinhoff, a noted
shipbuilder and prominent industrialist.
Next to McDougall, the name which
stands out most conspicuously in the shipbuilding enterprises of the
past history of the town, is without doubt that of Captain James W.
Steinhoff. He was born in 1834 of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestry, a class
of settlers prominently associated with the early history of this
County. His father moved from St. Thomas, where his son James was
born, and settled in Howard Township in 1836. There he remained until
1848, when, moving to the rest of his lifetime. At ten years of age,
the boy, who was destined to become so noted a citizen of industrial
Wallaceburg, began his life’s undertakings employed in carrying the
mail between Chatham and Stony Point, a distance of twenty-five miles
between them and driving both ways the same day. This was followed by
his becoming in turns a stage driver, a cook on a lake vessel, a
teamster in the lumber woods, finally ending his career as a laborer,
a sawyer in a lumber mill. At twenty, with what money he had up to
this time saved, he began business for himself, a purchaser of
cordwood, which he transported with his own scow to Detroit. This he
found a most profitable undertaking. His business rapidly expanded and
capital enabled him to add other barges which he had constructed at
Wallaceburg until he had a fleet of half a dozen employed steadily at
this work during the navigation season. To these he added a sailing
vessel, the Anna Steinhoff, in which he carried barley between Chatham
and Toledo. For a time, he was the master of a steamboat, The
Islander, which earned for him the title of "Captain". At Wallaceburg
he enjoyed the honor of being host to Lord and Lady Dufferin, the
Governor General, when on a travelling expedition through the
district, and he visited Detroit, Sarnia, Goderich, and other lake
ports. After long service, it was sold to the ‘McKenzie and Mann’
interests at Toronto and plied as a passenger vessel between that port
and Port Dalhousie under the name of Garden city, an old bottom under
a new title, where it rocked the removed off the route for safety’s
sake. In 1887, Captain Steinhoff retired from business though it was
not until 1902 that he sold his last vessel. In the meantime he had
been a promoter and a large contributor to the establishment of the
town’s best and largest industries, banking business and in farming,
owning, and operating not less than two thousand five hundred and
sixty acres of farm lands in the Counties of Kent and Lambton. He left
as monument to his enterprise and ability not only these industries
which he helped to call into existence but a beautiful park or play
ground, his gift to the town, and now comprising, with Government and
Library Park, and outstanding feature in the scenic attractions of the
Future enterprises must not
overlook the capabilities of the Sydenham.
In forecasting the future
development and industrial enterprises of the town, the capabilities
of the Sydenham to supply facilities for transportation should not be
overlooked. This same river which was used as the highway for
passenger and freight traffic in the days of the incoming of the first
settlers to the district, and the capabilities which McDougall and
Steinhoff saw in it for the building up of trade, is still looked upon
by the present day citizens of the town as one of the resources upon
which they build their expectations for additional progress and
development in its future entry for all vessels which have to make use
of our inland lakes and canals for the river can supply a channel of
water eighteen feet in depth and wide enough to provide a turning
basin for vessels three hundred and fifty feet long. It but requires
the enterprises of trade and industry to develop these capabilities
which Nature has supplied the town through the medium of this river.
Nor has the town been unmindful of its heritage. Although no local
navigation company exists today to take the place successfully held by
McDougall and Steinhoff, yet as navigation center it still holds an
important place. Its sugar refinery is visited by-weekly during its
season by vessels coming in from the tropical south with their
freightage of raw sugar and going out with the refined product to its
various destined markets. Passenger vessels look after the tourist
trade in the summer months and supply facilities for pleasure seekers
to pass to and fro between Wallaceburg and Detroit, Buffalo, Sarnia
and other lake ports. The prophet of tomorrow doubtless sees a boat
traffic, with Wallaceburg as its center, worthy of the river and the
fertility of the district of which it is the medium for drainage.
Activities of D.A. Gordon add new
industries to Wallaceburg.
Associated with Captain Steinhoff in
some of his industrial enterprises and surpassing him in the benefits
conferred through him to the town was his nephew, David Alexander
Gordon. He was born in Wallaceburg in 1858 and since 1883 until the
time of his death in 1919, on of the most prominent industrialists in
the County of Kent. His first venture was in the Cooperage business,
which he established in partnership with his uncle, becoming its
president and general manager. When the Sydenham Glass works were
established, he became the largest and most important enterprise of
its kind in the Province. Through his efforts, the Peet Sugar Company
also was located at Wallaceburg and he was made its president and
general manager. Without doubt the progress of the town during the
last forty years of its history, the years in which it has made the
largest strides forward in its prosperity and size, was due in large
measure to the industrial enterprises which his activities and
influence were instrumental in establishing. He took an active part in
the municipal affairs of the town and was Mayor for three consecutive
terms. He also represented West Kent in the House of Commons for
fourteen years, being elected as a Liberal, holding the seat
continuously from the time of his first election until his death.
The above is information compiled
by the late Rev. Hugh Cowan about the year 1926 and extracted by the
Kent Historical Society 1947.
The Baldoon Mystery by: Kristeena Natili
The events recorded in this strange
Mystery occurred between 1830 and 1840. This all happened within a few
kilometers of WALLACEBURG, Ontario.
A young man named Mr. John McDonald
had acquired a piece of land which was coveted by other people. These
"others", headed by an old woman, approached John many times with
offers to buy the land. He firmly refused their offers.
And so the mystery of the Baldoon
One day, as some young women of the
McDonald family were talking and working in the barn on the farm, they
were startled by a sudden fall of a pole from the ceiling. The
incident was attributed to a natural cause and ignored. Some time
later a second pole came crashing down. They looked around but could
find nothing to explain the occurrence. They went back to their work.
A short while later a third pole crashed down to the floor almost
hitting them. This time, very frightened, they ran out of the barn and
straight into the house.
From that time on it was total
misery for the McDonald family as strange things started happening on
The family began to hear strangers
marching through their kitchen in the middle of the night. Unseen
persons threw bullets and stones through windows daily until every
window in the house were broken and had to be boarded up. A man who
was visiting the McDonald's witnessed an occurrence. He was standing
in the kitchen and was hit in the chest by a stone. The visitor picked
up the stone and threw it into the river. Minutes later the same stone
mysteriously dropped at his feet in the kitchen. Fires would start
mysteriously all over the house, even on the roof.
A friend of the McDonald's told them
of a woman who was gifted, she had a power of stone reading. They
traveled many miles to see this woman.
They told the woman every detail of
their story. She asked if they had seen a strange bird around. They
said yes, they had seen a goose with a black head. The woman told them
to make a bullet out of silver and shoot the bird. If they wound the
bird their enemy would be wounded also. They went home and did exactly
what the woman told them to do.
One morning McDonald took a brisk
walk that brought him to the river bank. He spotted a flock of geese
and identified the one with the black head. He aimed. He shot! The
bird cried. McDonald had hit the bird in the wing and broken it.
Leaving the goose with the black
head, McDonald walked to the house of the old woman who wanted to buy
his land. She was sitting on her front porch in her rocking chair with
a broken arm!
From the time that the bird was shot
and the old woman was wounded, no spiritual manifestations were ever
heard of at the McDonald farm and peace again fell on the Baldoon.
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