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Township of Verulam,
Victoria County, Ontario Canada
Verulam township is named after James Walter
Grimston, Earl of Verulam, (1775-1845), who was brother-in-law of
Lord Liverpool, the nominal premier of England from 1812 to 1827.
This Canadian municipality seems to be Grimston's sole claim to
reputation, for one seeks in vain for mention of him in any
dictionary or encyclopedia.
Verulam is bounded on the south by Emily, on the east by Harvey
township, (in Peterborough County), on the north by Somerville, and
on the west by Fenelon. In plan, it is a rectangle, ten concessions,
or eight miles, from west to east, and some thirty-two lots, or
about twelve miles, from south to north. The east arm of Sturgeon
Lake runs completely across the township in an east northeasterly
direction. About two-fifths of the land area lies to the south of
the lake and the remainder to the north. On the eastern boundary,
Sturgeon Lake finds an outlet into Pigeon Lake by two channels, on
either side of a considerable island. The north or main channel is
known as North River, and the meager stream to the south as "Little
Bob," an abbreviation of the name Bobcaygeon, itself a corruption of
the Indian title for the "shallow rapids" in North River. The name
Bobcaygeon is now applied to the incorporated village which has been
built partly on the island and partly on the mainland to the north.
About the center of the southern boundary is Emily Lake, a mile and
a half in length and like a human stomach in outline. It is fed by
Emily Creek, which flows down from Emily township through a wide,
steep valley, and is drained into Sturgeon Lake by the same stream.
Other creeks flow into Sturgeon Lake from the north, and two small
streams, divided from the others by a watershed, actually run
northwest into the Fenelon and Burnt rivers respectively.
Most of the township north of Sturgeon Lake is broken and rocky,
with an interspersion of shallow swamps. The area south of the lake
is considered preferable for farming but there is much drowned land
along Emily Creek and a great cranberry marsh extending from Emily
Lake eastward to Pigeon Lake. The timber in early times was chiefly
pine, with an intermixture of hardwood.
by John Houston in 1831
The government survey of Verulam was conducted by
John Houston and completed by 1831. The township was placed on the
market in 1832, but so much of it was seized upon by speculators
that settlement was retarded for many years.
Long before the government survey, an Indian trader named Billy
McKeough had located on the site of Bobcaygeon village to do
business with the Mississaga Indians of the neighborhood. The Smiths
of Port Hope also traded with the Indians hereabouts, and tradition
states that in buying beaver skins at ten dollars a pound they would
place a hand on the scale to represent one pound and a foot to
repkresent two pounds.
First Settlers Hunter and
The first serious settlement of Verulam was in 1832
when John Hunter located in the southeast corner of the township and
Wm. Bell near the Harvey boundary, north of Bobcaygeon. In the fall
of that year John McFeeters settled near the Emily boundary and some
Frasers and McAndrews near the Fenelon boundary.
These pioneers, and almost all others who came to
Verulam for the next fifty years, entered from the east. They would
come on foot or by ox-cart from Peterborough northwest to
Bridgenorth over six miles of miry, log strewn trail. From
Bridgenorth they would proceed by punt, scow, bateau, or canoe up
Chemong or Mud Lake and through the narrows at Oak Orchard into
Pigeon Lake. At Bobcaygeon all luggage would be portaged, but before
the building of a dam the scows and punts would be poled up the
rapids. Sturgeon Lake was thereafter the trail for those proceeding
In 1833 some Fermanagh Irishmen who had located in Harvey in the
previous year moved across the boundary and took up land near
William Bell. Among these were the Grays, Murdochs and McConnells.
William Junkin, John Stewart, and others settled in the north center
of the township and Matthew Ingram east again from them.
Most of the land immediately adjacent to Sturgeon Lake was taken up
by retired army and navy officers and by English gentry. On the
north shore, the Vissirds, Wickams, and Edward Attlo entered in
1833, the Boyds in 1834 and the Dunsfords in 1837. The head of the
latter household was the Rev. James H. Dunsford, (1786-1852), who
was an M. A. of Oxford and rector of Tretherne, Gloucestershire. In
1844 he retired from Verulam to Peterborough, where he edited the
"Gazette" for several years. His sons,. James W. and Hartley
Dunsford, established a shingle mill. on the north shore near Red
Rock. The former was many times Reeve of Verulam; while the latter
was appointed Registrar of Victoria County in 1856 and died in
Lindsay in 1891.
Along the south shore of Sturgeon Lake were the Darcases, Frasers,
Johns and Thompsons.
"Scotch" and "Military" Lines.
The "Scotch Line," between Concessions V and VI, from Sturgeon 54
Lake south to Emily Lake, was first settled in 1833. Early in that
year Captain Andrew Fraser, a Scotch veteran of Waterloo, located
here on the lake shore. That same autumn brought a Highland Scotch
contingent of two single brothers named McDonald, a McPhail with a
grown up son and daughter, and Robert Robertson with his wife, four
little children and a nurse. The men had come in first to build log
shacks, leaving their families in Peterborough. When the rude
dwellings were ready, they brought in the remainder of the party by
ox-cart to Bridgenorth and thence through Chemong, Pigeon and
Sturgeon Lakes by scow. They camped on the open shore of Sturgeon
Lake on the night of October 29, 1833, and awoke next morning to
find the lake frozen solid. These three families settled on Lots 9
and 10, Concession V, and Lot 10, Concession VI. Robertson and the
McDonalds had brought whip saws with them from Scotland and by
rigging up sawpits soon prepared their own boards for walls, doors,
benches and bedsteads. Some years later, other Scotch families
located along the same road. Thomas Robertson, one son of the
pioneer Robert Robertson ,still survives on the old homestead.
The road between Concessions VI and VII was settled by pensioners,
the Lithgows, Murdochs, Grays, Hamiltons, and others, and was
therefore called "the Military Line." The next line to the east was
taken up by Irish Protestants, such as the Longs, Steeles, and
The area to the west of Emily Creek was taken up by four families of
Thurstons, three families of Bells, and the Kennedy's, McCollums,
Iretons, Flynns, and Sheriffs.
The first white child born in Verulam township north of Sturgeon
Lake was a daughter of Matthew Ingram. The first baby south of the
lake was John Robertson, a son of Robert Robertson.
The Mill Village of
The virtual founder of Bobcaygeon was Thomas Need,
who in 1832 was granted 400 acres of land on and adjacent to
Bobcaygeon Island as a bonus towards building a sawmill and a grist
mill for the new township. The sawmill, equipped with a single
upright saw, was built first and for a time all the settlers, both
north and south of Sturgeon Lake, had to take their grain by a trail
south from the "Scotch Line" to Wm. Cottingham's mill at Metcalfe.
Even when Need did add a pair of gristing stones to his equipment he
still went with out a bolt for 'a long time. He opened the first
store in Bobcaygeon, and was also the first postmaster. The
government had reserved and surveyed a townsite on the north bank of
the river, but the miller, with characteristic enterprise, had
streets laid out and lots platted on his island by John Read, and
the village of today occupies parts of both sites. He sold out his
interests in 1844 to Mossom Boyd, and left the neighborhood, never
Other citizens of Bobcaygeon in 1832 were Campbell Sawyer on the
north side of the river and two men, Forrest and Long by name, who
lived in log cabins at the head of the island. In 1834 John Henry
Taylor and Charles Bailey came in and lived with Forrest. Soon
afterward James McConnell built the first frame house of the village
(on the north side of the river) and opened it as the "Travelers'
Home." The raising of the Buckhorn dam in 1841 isolated this tavern
from the mainland, and a more satisfactory building was therefore
erected on the present Rockland House site.
Edward Lyle opened the second store in Bobcaygeon. Later business
men were E. T. Harlow, W. McCamus, W. B. Read, J. T. Robinson, and
J. H. Thompson.
A lock at Bobcaygeon was undertaken as early at 1834 by Messrs.
Pearse, Dumble and Hoar, contractors, for the prospective
remuneration of £1600. The unsettled state of the country and the
outbreak of 1837 kept the work in check but it was completed by
1840. Thomas Need was at this time one of five "Commissioners for
superintending the improvement of the navigation of the Newcastle
District." His successor, Mossom Boyd, also took an active interest
in the canalization of the Trent system and when, after decades of
apathy, the government began in the seventies to consider further
extensions, he had a voluminous report prepared at his own expense.
The Bobcaygeon lock has been rebuilt in 1857 and in 1921.
The first divine service at Bobcaygeon was a conventicle held in
McConnell's tavern by the Rev. Mr. Edwards, a Baptist minister from
Peterborough. Sunday school was carried on in Forrest's log cabin on
the island. The first Quarterly Board of the Methodist church met on
May 15, 1858, and consisted of George Bick, Thomas Taylor, James
Rayley, and James Thurston. The efforts of this Board anti of the
Rev. John Dowler, then pastor, succeeded in erecting a frame church,
which was opened in 1862. The seats were plank benches and the means
of illumination tallow candles. This church has since been
extensively remodelled in 1869, in 1879, and in 1918.
The Methodists are the strongest denomination in Bobcaygeon, but the
Anglicans and Presbyterians do not lag far behind. The religious
section of the 1911 census gave the following figures:
Roman Catholics, 55
Bobcaygeon became an incorporated village on January
1, 1877. The following citizens constituted the first
Reeve, W. B. Reid;
Councillors, Charles Readfield, J. L. Reid, E. Bottum and John
Clerk and Treasurer, J. G. Edwards was Clerk and Treasurer.
A Village Hall of red brick was erected at a cost of $3000.
The population at this time has been estimated at about one
thousand. Local industries were flourishing. There were sawmills, a
shingle mill, a carding mill, a grist mill, and a tannery. Lime was
prepared on an extensive scale, one kiln turning out one hundred
barrels of lime daily. There were also quarries of lithographic
stone about three miles from the village. Petroleum deposits had
been located in 1866 but a company formed locally for its
development was unsuccessful.
A weekly paper, the "Independent," had been begun in 1870 by E. D.
Hand, who had founded the "Advocate" in Lindsay in 1855. In 1873,
Hand removed to Fenelon Falls and there established the "Gazette."
The "Independent" was thereupon taken over by C. E. Stewart, who,
aided by his daughter, edited the paper for many years. Mr. A.
Warren has been a more recent publisher.
For many years Bobcaygeon's greatest handicap was isolation from the
outer world. The village was eighteen miles from Lindsay by road and
still more remote from Peterborough. Railroads were late in coming
in; and sister villages like Fenelon Falls and Coboconk had train
service thirty-five years before the first locomotive entered
Bobcaygeon. In summer, traffic used to come by steamer from Lindsay
or Bridgenorth but in winter the village was sealed away by the
frozen lakes. There had, indeed, been attempts at railway building.
In 1874 the Cobourg, Peterborough, and Marmora Railway planned to
extend their line to Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls; but the
corporation was already bankrupt and the proposal came to nothing.
Then in December 1889 twelve Victoria County men, Messrs. M. M.
Boyd, John Petro, John L. Reid, George Bick, and Wm. Needier, (all
of Bobcaygeon), and Messrs. J B. Knowlson, W. McDonnell, J. D.
Flavelle, D. J. McIntyre, John Dobson, John Kennedy, and John
Macdonald, (all of Lindsay), applied to the government at Ottawa for
a charter for a Bobcaygeon, Lindsay, and Pontypool Railway. This
charter was granted on the 26th of March, 1890, and a subsidy of
$51,200 voted two months later. A further grant of $88,800 at the
next session of parkliament was in prospect, but the deaths of Adam
Hudspeth, the member for South Victoria, and of Sir John A.
Macdonald, who had been acting Minister of Railways, and had
transacted all business with the new Company, disappointed the
directors. Then the township of Ops proceeded to reject a bonus
bylaw, and the railway project ultimately succumbed to dry rot. A
more ambitious enterprise was launched in Peterborough in 1891, when
a number of citizens, headed by John Burnham, Q. C., sought to
promote a Peterborough and Sault Ste Marie Railway, which was to
pass through Bobcaygeon on its long run northwestward. However, the
company could not secure even a charter from the Abbot
administration and the whole scheme evaporated. It was not until
1904, when the Canadian Pacific Railway completed a branch line from
Burketon through Lindsay to Bobcaygeon, that the Verulam village was
linked up with Ontario's rail transport system. The advent of the
railway was too late to establish prosperity in the face of depleted
forest resources and an adverse banking system. The population,
which long was stable at over one thousand, had dropped by 1920 to a
scant eight hundred and forty-four. Summer tourists, however, may
now enter freely, and will doubtless increase in numbers and
enthusiasm as the natural advantages of the village become more
The township proper developed very slowly because of
the number of land speculators and absentee land owners. In 1842,
ten years after settlement began, there were only 68 householders in
the combined area of Verulam and Harvey. Even 1860 found less than
twenty miles of waggon road in all Verulam. The land speculator was
the curse of the township, as, for that matter, of all other
townships in Victoria.
On the introduction of municipal institutions in 1850, Verulam was
associated with Fenelon and Bexley for administrative purposes. The
first Council comprised the following:
Reeve, John Langton;
Councillors, James W. Dunsford, William Studdaby, Samuel Brock, and
The Clerk was William Powles, the postmaster at Powles Corners.
The racial constituents of Verulam in 1911 were as follows:
all others, 43
As for churches, the Methodists were in the ascendent, the figures
being as follows:
Roman Catholics, 35
The peak of population was 2230, reached in 1881. The assessment
rolls of 1920 show a recession to 1630. The present valuation of the
township is $1,560,844, or almost equal to that of Fenelon.
Verulam has no other villages at all comparable to
Bobcaygeon in size.
Dunsford, on the C.P.R., on and adjacent to
Lot 5, Concession III, has a population of about forty. The locality
was once known as "Sheriff's Corners" and also as "Willock's
Settlement," but was later renamed in honor of the Dunsford family.
The first Methodist church here was built in 1860. This was replaced
in 1886, during the pastorate of the Rev. W. M. Pattyson, by a new
sanctuary of red brick. A recent directory credits the village with
two stores, two smithies, and a cheese factory. An Adventist hermit
lives deep in the penetralia of a huge swamp two miles east of
Fairbairn, Red Rock, Sandy Point, and
Thurstonia are rural post offices. Fairbairn is situated on Lot 25,
Concession VI, in the northeast of the township, and is named after
Charles W. Fairbairn, a Verulam farmer who represented South
Victoria in the House of Commons from 1890 to 1896. Red Rock post
office, on Lot 18, Concession V, a mile north of Sturgeon Lake,
derives its name from a massive and striking monadnock of red
granite which pushes up through the prevailing limestone strata on
Lot 19, Concession IV, a little to westward. Sandy Point is east of
Sturgeon Point on the north shore of the lake. Thurstonia is a
summer resort on the south shore and is called after the Thurstons,
who have been numerous and prominent in this part of the township.
Ancona Point is a station on the C.P.R.
half way between Dunsford and Bobcaygeon. It was built to serve
"Scotch Line" and was to have borne that name, but one or two local
men held stubbornly by conceptions of their own and the C.P.R.
finally settled the dispute by adopting the present Italian title,
which is utterly without relevance to any aspect of any part of the