This is a very early (circa 1830-1850) description of the Lake System which now makes a good part of the Trent water system where I used to go on an annual fishing trip. It is by an early settler, Samuel Strickland, whose farm was near the present-day town of Lakefield. Anyone familiar with the Kawartha’s or the Trent-Severn waterway will probably recognize the names and some of the description of the lakes here although the water level and other environmental details have significantly changed. The fauna (especially the fish) have certainly changed and the ease of catching them (Strickland used some bizarre bait as you will see).
I found this book in the public library here while doing some reading on the history of Guelph. The author lived in Guelph when it was only a year old. I scanned in the following pages and used some free software to change it to text for you. This is pages 223 to 246 from Chapter XIV of Volume II of Twenty-seven Years in Canada West or The Experience of an Early Settler by Samuel Strickland and Edited by Agnes Strickland. M. G. Hurtig Ltd., Edmonton. 1970 (Originally published in 1853). The software wasn’t perfect and you may find some mistakes below. The language is rather old and some of the names have changed (like Ottowa and Bobcadgeon) but I think you’ll find the subject matter interesting. Strickland came from quite the literary family including his famous sisters Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill and his other sisters, Eliza and Agnes, back in England who were very well known there.
I enjoyed the entire book but the following description from 150 years ago is very telling on how much we’ve changed the landscape. These maps may help.
Here it goes:
The navigation of the upper lakes commences here, interrupted only by a few short portages. Since it may be interesting to my readers I shall attempt a short description of this chain of lakes, and the resources of the country through which they flow.
Peterborough is situated at the foot of the first rapids which interrupt the navigation of the Otonabee river. Its future size and prosperity depend not so much on the immediate surrounding country, as upon the timber, mineral and agricultural resources of the valley of the Otonabee, which is as yet only partially settled. The Otonabee takes its rise out of a small lake, the Indian name of which is Kaskquashibioh. This lake is on the dividing ridge between the waters flowing eastward into the Ottowa, westward into the Huron and Simcoe, and southward into Lake Ontario. For the first hundred miles from its source to Balsam Lake, it flows through an unsurveyed country. Little, therefore is known of the quality of the lands or its mineral productions, except what can be gathered from the report of Indian traders, who seldom or ever leave the course of the river. From diligent inquiry among these people, and from the report of a friend of mine who had been many miles above Balsam Lake on a trapping expedition, understand that fine groves of red and white pine are abundant, and that some tracts of good land are to be found near Gull and Lune Lakes. It is generally believed that mineral wealth abounds in this district. I have seen some fine specimens of silver and copper ore, said to have been found in this part of the country.
The river enters the surveyed lands between the townships of Sommerville and Bexley, lying on either side of Balsam Lakes, a fine sheet of water abounding in fish. The lands of these townships are not generally good, though some portions of them might be settled: there is however, a great deal of valuable timber which will be available in a few years. Bexley is the smallest and most remote township in the County of Peterborough. Following the course of the lake downwards, the next township on the western shore is Fenelon, the land of which, in the immediate vicinity of the lake, is of an indifferent quality, with the exception of South Bay. This township, however is considered tolerably good, and these parts of it are well settled. Near the east shore of Balsam Lake there is a large island containing upwards of a thousand acres which is the site of a small Indian village of the Mississauga tribe. The Indians do not, however, appear to like their location, for many have deserted it for the more prosperous villages of Chemong and Rice Lake.
From the head of balsam lake to the foot of Kawchewahnoonk Lake, a distance of upwards of eighty miles, the river spreads into a surface, forming a number of beautiful lakes, varying from one mile to six in breadth, connected together by narrow straits, called portages, the principal of which are Cameron or Fenelon falls between Cameron and Sturgeon Lakes, Bobcadgeon between Sturgeon and Pigeon Lakes, Buckhorn and Deer Bay Rapids and the Burleigh Falls. These lakes, or expansions of the Otonabee, water the townships of Verulam, Harvey, Ennismore, Smith, Burleigh, Methuen, Dummer and Douro. The land of several of these townships is of excellent quality, and all are rich in timber and building-stone. Those townships lying on the granite range, viz., Methuen, Burleigh, Harvey, and Sommerville, are known to contain iron ore: fine specimens of copper, silver, and plumbago have also been found. Little of these latter townships is known; for, with the exception of the settlement on Sandy Lake, in the township of Harvey, which I alluded to in a former chapter, no emigrant has as yet ventured to locate himself in these, comparatively speaking, unknown regions.
This, however, will soon cease to be the case; for already the lumbermen, the hardy pioneers of the more remote townships, are making preparations to commence the work of destruction upon the noble pine forests of Burleigh and Methuen, Messrs. Gilmour and Co. having purchased large tracts of these lands from government solely for the sake of the timber. In another year the sound of three hundred axes will waken the slumbering echoes of the rocky glen and wood-crowned height, where the foot of the white man never trod before.
The first portage, as I before mentioned, occurs between Cameron and Sturgeon Lakes. The river, which is here about eighty yards in width, is precipitated over a lime-stone rock, nearly in the form of a horse-shoe, twenty-six feet in height. Before the construction of the locks and dam at Bobcadgeon, it was said that a person could walk across the river behind the curtain of the falls. Raising the water has destroyed this curious and natural bridge, and taken some feet from the perpendicular height of the falls.
That enterprising and much esteemed gentleman, James Wallis, Esq., of Peterborough, laid out a village, and built grist and saw-mills at this beautiful and romantic spot, where a small church of the Establishment has also been erected, principally owing to the exertions of Messrs. Wallis, Langton, and Dansford, aided by a number of old country gentlemen, settled along the beautiful shores of Sturgeon Lake.
The sad fate of their first minister, the Rev. Fiddler, threw a sad gloom over the settlement. It appears that the reverend gentleman with two other persons were endeavouring to bring a large boat into the mill-race above the falls, when from bad management and the height of the river at the time, they missed the mouth of the race, and were precipitated over a dam six feet in height, and then over the main fall into the raging abyss below, where their boat was dashed to pieces, and all three perished.
Sturgeon Lake is a fine sheet of water twelve or thirteen miles in length. Its name is not derived from the quantity of fish of that species it contains — for it has none — but from a supposed resemblance in form to the sturgeon. The river Scugog empties its waters into this lake and several minor streams. The land is of an average quality: the shores are pretty, and rise gradually from the water’s edge to a considerable elevation. This section of the country is at present but thinly settled.
A narrow strait connects Sturgeon with Pigeon Lake. On an island between these lakes, a dam and locks have been constructed at a considerable cost; but like several other government jobs of the same kind, they have been badly planned and worse executed.
As a proof of this, I need only mention that in excavating the canal and lock at Bobcadgeon Rapids, the best of building-stone was thrown on one side, and the lock built of timber; and it is so ill-constructed that the gates will neither open nor shut, consequently it is useless to the public. The best constructed lock and dam in the county is that at Whitlow’s Rapids, a mile below Peterborough. But though no fault can be found with the workmanship and material, yet the entrance to the lock is planned so badly that during high water even steamers run the greatest risk of being swept over the dam by the force of the current, a misfortune that actually occurred twice to the Forester steamboat, which on the last occasion sustained considerable damage.
Pigeon lake is a considerable expanse of water, though less picturesque than any other of the chain. The small township of Ennismore, chiefly settled by southern Irish, located by the late Hon. Peter Robinson, lies to the south, and the uninhabited township of Harvey on the north. I say uninhabited township; for there are at present only two families residing in it, one at Buckhorn Mills, and the other near Sandy Lake, about five miles apart. This township abounds in valuable groves of pine timber, and, judging from the face of the country, is no doubt rich in mineral wealth. The shores of Pigeon Lake are for the most part swampy, especially at the mouth of Pigeon Creek. The drowned land has been caused mostly by the construction of the government dam at Buckhorn Rapids, which has flooded some thousand acres of the low lands, on the borders of the lake.
Buckhorn lake is a mere continuation of Mud or Chemong Lake, being one of the prongs — as the Indians say of the horn — Deer Bay being the opposite one. The populous and excellent township of Smith forms a long peninsula between the waters of Chemong lake and the river Otonabee. The Buckhorn saw mills and the Government dam are constructed nearly in the centre of the buckhorn Lake, where the waters are suddenly contracted within rocky banks scarcely a hundred paces from shore to shore. Over this spot an excellent bridge has been built, connecting the townships of Harvey and Smith. The Government dam at this place raises the water of Upper Buckhorn, Chemong and Pigeon Lakes to the lock at Bobcadgeon sufficiently for the purposes of navigation.
Below the Buckhorn mills the real beauty of this chain of lakes begins. Rapids, waterfalls, islands, rocky promontories and many other fine features make them and Stony Lake the resort of the lovers of the picturesque, and picnic parties in these localities are very frequent.
Lower Buckhorn, Deer Bay, and Love-sick Lake resemble each other in scenery. In fact, for several miles the limestone and granite formations range side by side, as clearly defined as if a line were drawn to separate them.
To the right bold cliffs of limestone rise, having their summits crowned with hard-wood and pine, which lift their umbrageous heads, tree above tree, in almost endless succession. To the left, rough pinnacles of moss-covered granite are seen above the pine-covered heights. The surface of the lake is thickly dotted with islands of red granite, some of which are bare red rock mixed with veins of pure quartz, with here and there a red cedar growing in their deep fissures. Others again are richly clothed to their summits with oak, pine, and maple.
In the autumn the scene is varied by the prospect of fine fields of wild rice, over which clouds of wild fowl are continually hovering. The entrance of Deer Bay, a fine sheet of clear water, is about a mile in width, where it joins Buckhorn Lake, from which it is separated merely by a range of small rocky islands, some of which are well-wooded, whilst others are bare. On either side the entrance of Deer Bay, a bold promontory stands boldly out into the waters of the Buckhorn. These promontories are beautifully adorned with various descriptions of timber from the water’s edge. Cliffs, nearly three hundred feet in almost perpendicular height, fairly encircle Deer Bay, excepting at the upper end, where a small stream enters the lake. This precipitous range of limestone continues on the right shore to a short portage called the Deer Bay Rapid, when the limestone formation ceases, and is superseded by granite.
The foot of the upper promontory at the entrance of Deer Bay is the favourite camping-ground of the various hunting and fishing parties who, every fall, resort to these beautiful lakes to enjoy a few days’ good sport, or to roam at will over the delightful islands which everywhere attract the lover of natural scenery. Directly across the lake opposite to the camping-ground. a fine stream of water debouches into the lake. This little river is called Deer Bay creek. About half a mile up this river there is a singular pool surrounded on every side by high granite rocks covered with moss, and clothed with red pines and cedars. On the north side of this basin the river forces its way through a narrow chasm in the rock, plunging its impetuous waters over a ledge of black-looking granite into the pool below, whose surface is continually agitated by the descending torrent. A corresponding fissure on the opposite side releases the imprisoned waters which for several hundred yards flow down the rocky descent into the more placid waters of the Buckhorn.
One of my most favourite places of resort was the rocky moss-covered height, directly above the dark eddying pool I have just described, where, hid from observation, I used to ensconce myself, book in hand, with my trusty double-barrelled gun by my side. Here I have watched for hours flock after flock of the bright-plumed wood-ducks, as they swam up and down the eddy, perfectly unconscious of their danger. Waiting till a sufficient number had collected, I then gave them the contents of both barrels, one while sitting, and the other as they rose from the pool: in this manner I used to kill great numbers. This spot is a favourite haunt of the wood-ducks, who love the solitudes of the quiet pool and wood-embowered stream.
The portage of the Deer Bay Rapids connects the foot of the Buckhorn with Love-sick Lake. I think I hear my female readers exclaim, “Oh! what a strange name! surely there must be some story connected with it.” And so there is; and the tale shall be related for the benefit of my fair readers, just as I have heard it.
Some few years ago (for the name is of modern origin) a handsome black-eyed Indian, Richard Fawn, fell desperately in love with a blue-eyed maiden from the Emerald Isle. But Katharine O’Donohue smiled not upon the passion of the red man, the true lord of the soil. It was in vain that he sought her love in the most approved form of Indian courtship. She had no mind to be the inmate of his wigwam, or the manufacturess of mocassins, baskets and brooms. Poor Richard was disconsolate, and retired from the presence of his hard-hearted love — his Irish Barbara Allen -in despair.
Nothing more was heard of our love-sick swain for several days when at last he was discovered by some of his friends on an island in this lake, nearly dead from hunger and grief. Poor Richard, finding his Irish love remained insensible, gave up his resolution of dying for her, and allowed himself to be comforted by his friends, who, to commemorate his despairing sojourn on the island, called the lake on which it was situated, Love-sick Lake, which name it has ever since retained.
The portage at Deer Bay Rapid is very pretty, and one of the best places for duck-shooting on the lakes. In the fall of the year, and on a windy day, the ducks fly through this pass continually. The sportsman may load and fire quickly as he pleases. In the evening, when the night-flight commences, it is astonishing to see the number of wild fowl passing this spot on their way from Stony Lake to the great rice-beds at the entrance of Deer Bay and the Buckhorn Lake.
Some sportsmen use mock decoy-ducks made of wood, hollowed out and painted to represent different kinds of wild fowl. The proper way to manage the decoys is to fasten a short piece of cord from one to the other, and a long string from the foremost decoy with a stone tied to the end by way of an anchor. The decoys should be anchored in the stream either at the head or foot of a rapid where flocks of ducks are in the habit of alighting. When the decoys are moved, they should swim about afoot apart from each other, and the agitation of the water will make them bob up and down as naturally as possible, so that any person, unless previously told, would mistake them for real ducks.
Flocks of wild fowl dying over these decoys are deceived, and alight beside them when the sportsman, who is hid opposite, is generally able to get a double shot. This is a very good plan where fowl are plentiful particularly late in the autumn, when the fall and winter ducks remake their appearance in immense flocks. The township of Harvey and part of Burleigh lie on the north side of Buckhorn, and Love-sick Lake and Smith Town on the south. Love-sick Lake is a small sheet of water about two miles square; there are probably from twenty to thirty small islands scattered on its bosom. In Deer Bay and Buckhorn there must be upwards of a hundred, some of which contain several acres of land on their surface, whilst others are composed of masses of granite in every imaginable shape and form. I forgot to mention that a mile or so above our old camping-ground on the south shore of Buckhorn there is a curious petrifying spring, now called the Victoria spring. It is very copious and rushes out of the limestone rock at least a hundred feet above the lake. Every substance it touches in its course is covered with a coat of lime: branches of trees, sticks and moss are speedily converted into stone, or rather thickly encased in lime. The water is the coldest I ever drank, even in the heat of summer. Under the cedars which border the stream, the air is quite chilling, and not a mosquito or black fly is to be seen within some yards of the brook. Where the creek runs into the lake, and for some distance from the shore, the bottom is white with the lime deposits. As soon as Love-sick Lake is crossed, you enter a wide river-channel full of granite islands. Following the course of the stream, you come to the Upper Stony Lake portage, where a fall of five or six feet occurs across both channels of the river, which is here divided by a small island, over which the canoes must be carried for a distance of about thirty yards. Two hundred yards below this portage a second perpendicular fall and portage similar to the last occurs — with this difference, that the island is much higher and the portage much longer. The third and final portage is about the same distance as the last: here the canoes must be again carried over a high granite rock to the shores of Stony Lake to avoid the Burleigh Falls, twenty-six feet in height. From the summit of this portage rock a delightful view is obtained of Stony Lake, with its thousand islands, wooded hills and rugged rocks. To the west are the rapids and cascades you have just passed. On the left you hear the roar of the great Burleigh or Peninsula Falls; to the right, the Little Burleigh plunges its broken waters into the deep lake beneath.
The Burleigh falls are well worth seeing. The Otonabee here forces a passage by four narrow channels through a barrier of granite, which skirts the western shores of Stony or Salmon-Trout Lake. Two thirds of the waters of the Otonabee are forced through the narrow chasm of the Great Burleigh by a descent of twenty-six feet into the deep blue waters of the bay, which during the spring and fall floods, cause a heavy swell on the lake in the immediate vicinity of the falls. So many eddies and whirlpools are formed in the bay, by the descending torrent, as to make the navigation dangerous for the passing canoe without a skilful steersman.
Viewed from Stony Lake, the landscape is one of remarkable beauty. The four cascades foaming and tumbling into the bay through the lofty walls of granite, overarched by the rich foliage of the dwarf oak, the more lofty pine, and the gnarled branches of the red cedar, whose roots are seen firmly fixed in the deep fissures of the overhanging rocks, present a picture whose varied features are not easily described.
The best fishing in Stony lake is to be found at the foot of these water-falls, especially in the month of October, when vast quantities of fine salmon-trout are caught by the trolling-line, and bass-bait, maskonongé, black-bass, and white-fish also abound, besides many other varieties.
I encamped on an island near the great Burleigh for a few days in October 1849, when, one morning, between breakfast- and dinner-time, my two eldest sons and myself caught, with our trolling-lines, thirty-five salmon-trout, eight maskinongé, and several large lake bass, the total weight of which amounted to 473 pounds.
The black-bass, which is a very delicious fish, not unlike the sole in flavour, can be taken readily with the rod and line or by trolling. The best kinds of ground-bait are worms, crawfish, gallinippers, a small green frog, or a minnow; for trolling, a mouse made of musk rat-fur, a red and white rag, or the skin of the head and neck of the red-headed woodpecker. The black-bass bites freely, and weighs from one pound to four; the lake bass from three to seven.
Stony Lake, including Clear Lake, which is only separated from it by a range of lofty granite islands is, from east to west, twenty miles in length, by an average breadth of two miles and a half. Besides several deep bays, it indents the shores of Burleigh, and one of large extent on the Dummer side, called Gilchrist’s Bay, from the upper end of which a short canal has been cut through a ridge of rocks, into White Lake, to increase the waters of the Indian River, for the benefit of mill-owners in Dummer, Douro, and Otonabee.
About a mile and a quarter from Burleigh Rapids, is a precipitous rock, upwards of two hundred feet above the lake. Nearly at the foot of this rock, and elevated between sixty and seventy feet above Stony Lake, is a small sheet of water, containing about fifty acres, called by the Indians Deer Lake. Three years ago a pic-nic party encamped on the borders of this lake, when the ladies delighted with its lovely situation and singular beauty, gave it the name of Fairy Lake, which it has ever since retained.
From the circumstance of its level being so much higher than the waters of Stony Lake, from which it is only separated by a granite cliff not more than one hundred and fifty paces broad, and from its being surrounded on every side by high rocks of the most fantastic shapes, I conclude it to be of plutonic origin. It resembles, indeed, the crater of some extinct volcano, only that I have not detected lava or scoriae in its vicinity. Indeed, I am inclined to think that the whole granite formation of the shores and islands of Lower Buckhorn, Love-sick, and Stony Lakes, has been under the influence of subterranean fires, and has been torn and scattered by tremendous earthquakes. My reason for supposing this is, that I observed, when sailing through some of the narrow channels between the islands of these lakes, the formation was so exact, that had it been possible to have brought the opposite cliffs together, they would have fitted each other, which makes me conclude that they must, some time or another, have been rent asunder by the agency of some terrific convulsion of nature.
Stony Lake is seen to the best advantage from the top of Hurricane Point, and Eagle Mount: -it is difficult to say which is the more beautiful. Eagle Mount is the highest point of an island nearly be the centre of the lake, containing, probably, an area of thirty acres. The landing-place is on the north side, where the rock slopes gently to the water’s edge. Some parts of this island are finely wooded, whilst others display bare rock, only covered in places with moss. The south side of the island is very precipitous, and, I should think, nearly four hundred feet above the lake. From the highest pinnacle, called Eagle Mount, the view is, beyond all comparison, the finest I ever saw. The whole expanse of Stony Lake, with its many hundred islands, the bold richly wooded shores of Burleigh, Methuen, and Dummer, and the glittering waters of Clear Lake, are all spread, like a map, before you. In the fall of the year, when the woods have assumed their gorgeous livery, nothing can exceed the magnificence of the scenery.
I have now described the main western waters of the Otonabee. From the eastward, Stony Lake receives two considerable streams, Eel’s Creek and Jack’s Creek. The former rises in the unsurveyed lands, nearly one hundred miles to the north of Stony Lake. It is an impetuous stream, full of rapids and waterfalls, and half a mile from its mouth the navigation is interrupted by a succession of cascades. A mile further up, Jack’s Creek empties its waters into the lake by a splendid fall of at least twenty feet in descent. This creek takes its rise out of a large sheet of water, called Jack’s Lake. The Indians have a portage ten miles long, from the waters of Stony Lake to Jack’s. About midway between the two, there is a very high hill, supposed to be the loftiest land in the county, being little less than a thousand feet above the waters of the lake. From the summit of this mountain nine lakes can be seen, and a sea of woods, only bounded by the horizon. All this part of the country is still unsettled, and little is known of its capabilities for settlement.
Report speaks indifferently of the lands in this section of the county; however, extensive groves of red and white pine, are known to exist, and vast quantities of iron ore, particularly in Marmora and Belmont. I have seen some fine specimens of copper from the latter township. My brother-in-law, Mr. John Reid, the county engineer, assured me, that when running lines in Belmont, he often was obliged to use pickets instead of his compass on account of the local attraction of vast masses of subterranean iron, which he almost everywhere met with.
Gentlemen who are travelling through Canada, either for pleasure or information, should certainly visit this chain of lakes, and I will venture to say they will be highly gratified, particularly if they select the latter end of September for their excursion, for at that season of the year the weather is generally fine, the foliage of the trees being dressed in their brightest hues. Fish and game are plentiful, and the temperature is delightful.
Clear Lake, as I before observed, is only parted from Stony Lake by a line of granite islands, after passing which the limestone recommences, and with it the good land and the settlements. Smith bounds Clear Lake to the south-west, and Douro to the north-east, for a distance of five miles. This is a fine sheet of water, without an island or rice-bed on its surface. The shores are bold and thickly wooded, the only natural curiosity being the battery, a high limestone terrace, or indeed a succession of natural terraces, on the Douro side and near the foot of the lake. Viewed from the water, it presents the appearance of a well-laid wall of masonry, composed of layers of stone varying from ten inches to thirty, which are as straight as if they had been cut with the chisel. I should think this vast quarry of grey limestone exceeds eighty feet in perpendicular height, and better building-stone cannot be found.
A river, or strait, half a mile in length, connects Clear Lake with Kawchewahnoonk Lake. The first dam across the river since leaving Buckhorn Mills occurs here, which has raised the waters of Clear and Stony Lakes at least five feet above their ordinary level. A saw and grist mill has been built on this spot by Messrs. Patrick and Matthew Young.
Below the Mills the river again spreads its waters into a narrow lake, seldom exceeding three quarters of a mile in width, studded here and there with pretty islands richly wooded. The settlements become more frequent as you advance: rafts of timber destined for Quebec, sawn lumber for New York, the skiff and the canoe, enliven the scene, and prove that you are once more within the pale of civilization and the haunts of the white man. This lake, or expansion of the river, is called by the Indians Kawchewahnoonk. At the foot of this lake, and just where the Nine Mile rapids commence, my farm is situated.
Seven years ago, immediately below my farm, my brother-in-law and myself constructed a dam across the Otonabee river, opposite the village of Lakefeld. We built it on a new principle, and were our own engineers. The work has stood the spring-floods well, although the river is subject to a perpendicular rise of six feet. A few yards below the dam, we erected a saw-mill, which is in full operation, and is calculated to cut logs from one foot to four in diameter, and up to twenty-six feet in length.
The river from Lakefield is only navigable for rafts and lumber, though sometimes a bark canoe, or skiff, ventures to run the rapids; but no person should attempt it, unless he is acquainted with the river, and a good canoeman. The distance to Peterborough is about nine miles, and the fall in the river, according to Beard and Rubidge’s survey, one hundred and forty-seven feet. There are dams across the Otonabee, within half a mile of one another above Peterborough, for mill purposes. At Peterborough the rapids cease, and two steamers ply daily from thence to Gore’s Landing on Rice Lake.
I have endeavoured to show, by tracing the waters of the Otonabee from their source to the Rice Lake, that the town of Peterborough from its situation must be the outlet of all the produce of this vast rear-country, and that the lumbering trade alone must add greatly to its prosperity. Last year, upwards of one million feet of square timber passed through Peterborough on its way to Quebec. The principal lumber men on these waters are Messrs. Gilmour and Co., Charles Perry and John Gilchrist, Esqs.
Peterborough already exports, yearly, a great quantity of picked boards and deals to the state of New York, and some thousand barrels of super-fine flour to Montreal, and these branches of commerce are daily increasing. A railroad alone is wanting to ensure the prosperity of this thriving town, but which will doubtless follow the march of civilization in due order.