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Hell's Half Acre, Victoria County, Ontario Canada

Corson's Siding is a small railway village about six miles northeast of Victoria Road. At one time the Toronto distillers, Gooderham and Wort, owned a large timber limit adjacent to the Siding. This timber they shipped to Toronto as cordwood. A lake captain named Corson, after whom the village is named, was sent up to take charge of their interests. For the winter's cut of cordwood he would import a gang of lake sailors from Toronto .The latter would bring with them an abundance of whiskey and an auxiliary corps of prostitutes, and the limits were so aflame with drunkenness and hot uncleanness that the Siding was known throughout the north country as "Hell's half acre." The timber was all cleared out by 1890; the scandalous visitors ceased to come; and the slashed limits were sold as ranch land. Gooderham and Wort had also operated lime kilns at Corson's Siding. These were carried on for a few years longer and were then sold.

Raven Lake is a railway station beside the body of water so named. Bexley is a rural post office on Lot 9, Concession III, serving the "Peel Settlement" area.

Bexley township has developed very slowly owing to the poverty of its soil. In 1871 its population was 489, and less than four square miles were under cultivation. In recent years ranching has begun to take the place of farming throughout much of the township.

Features of Somerville Township

The naming of Somerville township has been referred to Sir W. Somerville, Chief Secretary for Ireland in 1846, and also, with more probable accuracy, to Julia Somerville,' the wife of Sir Francis Bond Head.

On south, east, and north, Somerville is bounded by the rectangular limits of Fenelon township, Galway township (Peterborough county), and Lutterworth township, (Haliburton county). On the west it terminates on the irregular shores of the Gull River, the Mud Turtle lakes, and Balsam Lake. The township is crossed by three river systems and their valleys: The Gull River on the west, Corben Creek and its expansion into Fourmile Lake, and Burnt River. The northeastern one-third and the northwest corner of Somerville are within the granite region. The remainder of the township is a drift strewn limestone plateau separated from the granite area by an abrupt escarpment. This escarpment follows down the river valleys for some distance where they first enter the limestone country. The soils in the north on both limestone and granite are thin and sterile. They are deeper in the south but even there farming is precarious apart from the broad river valleys.

Somerville was surveyed in the thirties, about the same time as Bexley. As in that township, the land bordering on Balsam Lake and the Gull River system was platted off into a range of deep, narrow lots fronting on the water. The rest of the township was divided into fourteen ordinary concessions, numbered from south to north. The Bobcaygeon Road, a colonization highway begun in 1857, passes up the eastern boundary on its long run north into Muskoka. The Monck Road, built east from Orillia in the early days, crosses Somerville along the 13th concession line.

A Second Generation of Pioneers

The inhospitable aspect of the township repelled all settlement 79 for a time, but with the growth of lumbering and the clearing away of the forests in the early sixties, a number of permanent residents, chiefly farmer descendents of pioneers in the Lake Ontario counties, began to drift in. Amongst these settlers occur the names of Badgerow, Butler, Cavanagh, Cookman, Crabbe, Ead, Earl, Fell, Hannah, Hunt, Lyle, Mason ,McKay, McMahon, Powers, Taggart, Watson, and Workman.

Somerville's Villages

Kinmount is a village in the precipitous valley of the Burnt River in the northeast corner of the township. It exists because it was an eligible mill site at the junction of the Bobcaygeon and Monck roads. These advantages were later confirmed by the entry of the Victoria Railway in 1876. The first mill was built by John Hunter about 1861. For many years there were several mills along the river within two miles of the village. William Cluxton, Wilson and Stephenson, Mansfield and O'Leary, and W. Caldwell were among the millers prior to 1886.

Perhaps the most exciting incident in Kinmount's history was the disastrous fire which destroyed almost the whole village on the evening of Friday, September 26, 1890. While most of the villagers and many outsiders had gathered in the Baptist church to hear Joe Hess lecture on temperance, the fire broke out in William Dunbar's stable and was soon beyond control. An appeal for help was sent by telegraph to the Lindsay fire brigade, but though the men were rushed out in fifty minutes by the Grand Trunk Railway they were too late to save the village. Among the buildings lost by this conflagration were the following: The Victoria Hotel, Wm. Dunbar, proprietor; Jame Watson and Son's general store; Swanton, Brandon, and Company's general store; A. Hopkins' general store; Mrs. Jewett's dry goods store; Charles Wellstood's shoe store; Alex. Moore's jewelery store; Richard Brown's confectionery shop; Curry and Johnson's drug store; M. May's smithy; S. Henry's smithy and home; and the Orange Hall. The chief survivals from the fire were Bowie's brick hotel, Getchell's livery, Dundas, Sadler and Company's flour and feed depot, and Robert Bryan's sawmill.

At the present day, Kinmount has a population of about three hundred. It has two sawmills, ten stores, two churches, two hotels, and two smithies.

Burnt River is a village of fifty people on the railway about ten miles south of Kinmount. It has a stone quarry, two stores, and a smithy.

Rosedale is .a summer resort on the Balsam River at its outlet from Balsam Lake. Its winter population is negligible but in summer an increasing number of cottagers rusticate here.

Fell's Station and Bury Green are parts of the old "Fell Settlement" established near the Fenelon boundary by John Fell and other Irish Protestants from Cavan township, Durham county. Drilling for petroleum is being carried on in this vicinity at the present time but the promoters apparently do not realize that most of the geological prerequisites for successful oil production are lacking.. Baddow, or "Ead's Settlement," which lies a few miles to the west across the Burnt River Valley, was first colonized by Joseph Ead of Scarborough, William Cookman of Cavan, William Mason of Otonabee, and Isaac Watson of Whitby. A Baptist church was established here in 1865. Baddow has neither stores nor industries. Dongola is .a former rural post office on the Monck Road northeast of Big Mud Turtle Lake.

Most of Somerville township is utterly. unsuited for farming and areas eminently suitable for forest culture have been recklessly slashked and wastefully burnt over. A survey of the township in 1911 showed that 61.7 per cent. of its area was covered by old burn, and that there was practically no forest anywhere containing sawlogs. Much of the waste land and slash land is fenced in as psture, but reforestration would probably bring far greater remuneration in the end. A movement is on foot around Kinmount at the present time to arrange for a migration to the Great Clay Belt of New Ontario.

Even yet Somerville is the most populous of the northern townships. The census of 1911 accorded it a total of 1870, made up as follows:

English, 844
Irish, 659
Scotch, 187
French, 90
German and Dutch, 80
all others, 7

The strengths of the various churches were as follows:
Methodist, 735
Anglican, 535
Presbyterian, 279
Roman Catholic, 147
Baptist, 142
all others, 32

Northern Townships

Victoria County


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