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Beginning of Settlement on the Sydenham


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 Wallaceburg.

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.

Thereafter Gordon — 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 way 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 ships 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.

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