I have lived all my seventy-one
years in this community, about which many strange and interesting stories
are interwoven in the history of Cedar Springs. Our attractive village is
located on the Kingís Highway No. 3, the centre of a fine orchard
district, and reached from Chatham by the straight Raleigh-Harwich town
line; but those stories go back to the days when it bore the unpretentious
name of Buckhorn which will still be remembered by some of the older
residents of Kent.
Located on the ridge at one of the
higher points in Kent, our village today is noted for its neat, attractive
homes, its places of business being garages, service stations, and general
stores of the type which are to be found in any small community.
Several decades ago, however, it was
known as Buckhorn, a popular place on the Talbot Road, for its post
office, and the two hotels which gave shelter to travellers, and provided
a place of sociability for men who were not averse to strong drink.
I will now relate some of these
stories to you which I personally know to be true.
I am the son of Hugh McPherson, who
was a dry goods salesman in Glasgow, Scotland, before he came to Canada in
1854 to try his luck. He spent his first winter on the Sixteenth
Concession, and then opened a general store in the village. It was in this
store that the first post office was established.
While much of Kent County, at that
time, was bushlands, quite a lot of ground had been cleared in the
vicinity of the ridge. It was natural that the pioneers would settle on
the high ground, and near the Talbot road which was an important link on
the peninsula, for over it travelled the stage coaches and mail couriers,
on horse back, who rode over it twice a week, the nearest community on the
west being Kingsville.
Until a second hotel was built the
village had no name, "Buckhorn" being given the new hostelry. Prior to that
time the only hotel was the Erie House on the corner of the crossroads.
The naming of the hotel resulted
from an amusing incident. When the structure was finished, a pole was
raised for the purpose of supporting a sign. On this pole some men nailed
a sprig of buckhorn, and from that time the hostelry was called Buckhorn
and from which the village subsequently named its post office.
Years afterwards, Judge Robert S.
Woods of Chatham, when he erected a summer home on the lake side, started
the agitation which eventually resulted in the village being known by the
more dignified name of Cedar Springs. Henry Smith (Smyth) of Chatham was
M. P. at the time, and he succeeded in his application to the government
for the name of the post office and village to be changed. That was in the
The road to Chatham at the time was
little more than a trail. There was a good road leading to the lake, where
there was a big dock for the use of schooners which hauled away lumber and
cord wood cleared from the land. Two hotels also flourished at that busy
point, and were known as the White Pigeons.
I recall the amusing incident of the
Fenian spy. I was about six years old at the time and I remember the
details as clearly as if it had occurred yesterday.
After the Civil War, the people
became aroused on account of Fenians coming to Canada. Reports reached
Buckhorn that some of the Fenians had landed at Point Pelee and various
places along the lake shore. Everybody in the district was excited. The
citizens formed a guard to protect themselves and their property.
One night a man brought word to the
people gathered at the hotels that a party of Fenians was landing on the
lake shore. There was great excitement. They went out with their guns
prepared for battle, but nothing serious happened. They found a stranger,
however, whom they believed to be a spy, and he was escorted to the hotel.
There was no proper place to imprison anybody, so this man was locked up
in a box stall. The men went back to their drinking in the hotel. In some
way, the stranger managed to pen the lock, and I happened to be there when
he made a successful break for liberty. There was a hunt but the stranger
The amusing part of this incident
was that the so-called spy was only a common tramp, and the report of the
landing of Fenians was entirely without foundation. It was subsequently
learned that the heaving of the ground due to the frost had caused a pile
of logs on the shore of the lake to collapse. Some of these rested on end,
so that in the dark of the night they appeared to take human forms to the
man who first saw them, and who hurried to the hotel to give an
alarm about the landing of Fenians.
The destruction by fire of the Hotel
Buckhorn was an incident which is vividly impressed on my memory. I can
quite clearly remember the big blaze although incidents before and after
the fire were related to me later in life.
I can remember getting out of my bed
and watching the blaze. I was only scantily clad, when my folks saw me,
they hustled me back into the room. Leading up to the fire, it appears
that quite a lot of rivalry had developed between the two hotels located
at Buckhorn. The Buckhorn, however, became noted for reveries. One night
some of the high spirits staged a raid on the place and helped themselves
to free drinks. It was a few nights after that the hotel was set on fire.
This was in 1863. There was a big scandal about it, and some of the
parties decided to leave the district. Others were prosecuted and fined.
Speaking of those days, little money
exchanged hands. Business was done in trade. Talk about rock bottom
prices, conditions now (the Great Depression) are nothing to what they
used to be. I can tell you of how my father took a big chance on disposing
of a large supply of eggs in Buffalo. He shipped his supply on the urgings
of Captain Taylor, owner of an old schooner, but on arrival at Buffalo, he
found it was impossible to sell them. Captain Taylor could not pay his
harbour dues, and the boat had to leave surreptitiously and my father
being compelled to leave his eggs on the dock.
The days of the "open vote" are
still fresh in my mind. No man could be on the fence at that time, for a
voterís views were known to everybody within earshot. Under the system an
elector stood before a returning officer and announced to him how he
wished his vote recorded. Incidentally, the system was one which was open
to many abuses, and I recall stories of "bought voters" being taken to the
polls in wagon loads. I have been a staunch Liberal in politics since my
youth and I attribute my allegiance to that party from hero-worship I had
for W. S. Stripp, who was the opponent of Rufus Stephenson.
That was the hottest election Kent
County ever had. Stephenson was the winner with a majority of
seventy-three votes. Everybody loved Mr. Stripp. I remember one political
meeting in Blenheim when I was just a boy. I wanted to go to that meeting,
but I was put to bed. I dressed and stole out of the house through a
window and went to it. I was only twelve years old at the time. I wonder
how many boys of today would be as eager to attend political meetings?