Perth & District Historical Society
  You are here: Home > Local History > The 1816 Routes to Perth > Spring 1816: Background

Spring of 1816 Route

During the winter of 1815/16, about 40 non-military immigrant families destined for the new settlement of Perth were put up in barracks in Brockville waiting for the new settlement of Perth to be made ready. At that time native land claims were still pending in the proposed settlement area as were full surveys of the northern townships such as Drummond and Bathurst. Even the location of Perth itself had yet to be determined.

Perth at the time was a pretty desolate place, a spot where the Pike River (re-named Tay River in 1816 by the first settlers) branched around an island, several kilometres up from where the river discharged into the headwaters of the Rideau River. The lower part of the Pike River, lots fronting Rideau Lake and the headwaters of the Rideau River, had been granted years previously to United Empire Loyalists most of whom were absentee landlords. In the area of the lower Tay, grants were made to the Arnold family, relatives of Benedict Arnold. These lands belonged to those absentee owners and couldn't be given to new settlers. That's the main reason that Perth had to be established so far inland.

The region around the proposed location of Perth had no previous land grants, those townships weren't even surveyed until 1815, so there was lots of room for new settlers. An initial proposal to set up a military depot in Oxford Township was abandoned in 1815 in favour of the Perth area since there wasn't enough available land. Alexander McDonell, a land agent for the Crown and Superintendent of Settlement (military and civilian) was tasked with finding the location for a military depot. He reported in late summer 1815 that, “I am strengthened in the opinion I already gave, that in the neighbourhood of Smith’s Falls, the best place for a final Depot would be found, but unfortunately the Lots in the vicinity of the Falls have all been granted as appears from the Schedules with which I have been furnished by the Surveyor General, yet I think a favourable spot may be procured” (Shanahan, pg.5).

The initial recommended location in early 1816 for the new military depot was on Jebb's Creek near Otty Lake. However the surveyor in charge of laying out the new town, Reuben Sherwood, decided that a spot further north, at an island on the Pike River, would be a better location. One reason is that there was a fall of water at that location that could power mills to serve the settlers. On March 25, 1816, the Sherwood wrote:

I have at last effected opening the communication to the new townships on Otty's Lake, and last evening received the first brigade of stores, say twenty double sleighs, loaded with 12 cwt. each. I have fixed upon a most beautiful site for the depot stores [Perth], nearly where the line between Nos. 1 [Bathurst Township] and 2 [Drummond Township] will cross the Pike River, and within the first mile out – a fall of about 2 1/2 feet in the River, sufficient for any mills we may require, and the quality of the land unexceptionally good. I shall probably be able to give you some idea of the source of the branch of the Rideau within ten days. I have been to the mouth of the Pike River, and sleighs at this moment might come up it over the rapids. I, therefore, conclude that boats may be brought up in the summer, and for about ten miles above the depot the stream comes from the west and is from forty to one hundred yards in breadth, without any rapids. The settlers have this moment arrived with their knapsacks and axes (Haydon, pp.40-41).

In late fall 1815, shortly after their arrival in Brockville, there is an anecdotal tale that a group of the settlers made a hike to the proposed general location for Perth and didn't like what they saw. Whether they made that hike or not, they (about 26 of them) did at that time petition the government to be moved further west, to the Bay of Quinte on Lake Ontario. Their request was turned down. By early 1816 the surveying of the new northern townships was completed, native land claim settlements had been made and the surveying of the actual location of Perth had been started. By late March, a depot to store goods for the new settlers had been erected and stocked with goods. Perth was now ready to accept the new settlers. In April 1816, with the ice ready to break on Rideau Lake, John Kilborn, a young (twenty-one year old) veteran of the War of 1812 led the first group of settlers from Brockville to Perth. We have his first hand account of this trip, written many years later, in 1878. It appears in Leavitt 1879:

Soon after my return [1815], I commenced trade at Unionville, ten miles in rear of Brockville, and was also employed by the Commissariat Department in the settlement of the emigrants who first settled in Perth and vicinity, in the year 1816. I forwarded all the families by wagons to the Bay (now the Village of Portland), and had to cut a road the last three miles, to reach the lake. Thence, in a large scow, they were taken down the Rideau Lake, below Oliver's Ferry, to a deep bay above the mouth of River Tay ; then down on ox sleds, through the woods about a mile and a-half, to the Tay, above (now) Pike Falls ; then, in another scow, up the River Tay, to the Depot, the present town of Perth. The same spring, I was employed by the Government to purchase wheat, oats, and potatoes for the emigrants, being sent to the settlement by the same route. I had sent forward provisions the winter previous by the ice and roads cut between the lakes.

The following autumn, a road was cut by Peter Howard, M. P., from the present site of Toledo to Oliver's Ferry and Perth, nearly on the line now [1878] traveled.

In the month of June, 1816, I was married, being then 21 years of age [b. June 27, 1794], by the late Rev. William Smart, to Elizabeth Baldwin (a sister of the wife of the late Sheriff Sherwood, and the wife of the late Roderick Easton), and the same year built a stone house, and settled at Unionville. (Leavitt, pg. 71).

One of the assumptions in this document is that even though Kilborn was 83 or 84 years old when he wrote the above, it is a correct account. That assumption may itself be incorrect, human memory is a tricky thing and verbal histories, even a first hand accounts, can, and often do, contain errors. However, since we have nothing else in terms of a first hand description (i.e. a letter written at the time by a settler that took this trip), this is all we have to go on. We know that Kilborn was 83 or 84 when he wrote the account of this first trip since he specifically states it in the article; "I am the only surviving officer of the regiment [Leeds Militia], being 84 years of age on the 27th of June, 1878" (Leavitt, p. 72).

At the time there were no roads to Perth. Supplies had been brought to Perth on sleighs over snow and ice in early spring of 1816, but no road into Perth had been cut (or at least no road suitable for non-winter travel). To bring the settlers and all their possessions, they needed a route that could most easily be travelled. That meant using water travel as much as possible with Rideau Lake providing the easiest way to get the settlers close to the Tay River. At the time the road from Toledo to Rideau Ferry did not exist, the closest they could get to Rideau Lake by road was a spot north of Delta, about 5 kilometres south of today's Portland.

Using a scow (essentially a flat bottomed barge, often with sails) on the lake meant that their timing depended on ice-out on Big Rideau Lake. The earliest they could leave was the day the lake was ice free. The first settlement tickets (name of the settler with the lot he'd been assigned to) were written on April 17, 1816. Forty location tickets were written on that day to the heads of households from the Brockville group with another 11 tickets issued to soldier-settlers the next day (Shaw, kp. 1315). Colonel Christopher Myers, a deputy quarter-master general, stated that the settlement of Perth began on 18 April 1816.

There are two schools of thought regarding the timing of the settlers' arrival in Perth. One interpretation is that Reuben Sherwood's March 25th quote "The settlers have this moment arrived with their knapsacks and axes" refers to the heads of the households from Brockville, meaning that they arrived much earlier than the wives and children. Another is that these were different settlers and that the families from Brockville travelled as a group. Either way we have the April 17 date for when the settlement tickets were written and April 18 for when they went out to their properties. If the Brockville settlers travelled as a group, then April 17 likely represents the date for their arrival in Perth. If they were already in Perth, it's a bit of a question as to why all 40 heads of households had settlement tickets written several weeks after their arrival, perhaps it marked the day of the arrival of the women and children. Either way, the scow trip was likely done on the day or soon after the ice broke on Big Rideau Lake in 1816.

Although Kilborn doesn't state it, later writings (i.e. Turner p. 17, McGill p.16) indicate that the route went through Stone Mills (Delta) on their way to the Bay. A route through Stone Mills appears to have been the main route at the time. In March 1816 we see that Lieutenant-Colonel William Cockburn using that route, travelling from Brockville to Stone Mills on his way to Lindsay's on Murphy Bay of Rideau Lake (quote provided in next section). We know the exact location of Stone Mills – today's Delta, but what about the Rideau Lake destination of that first settlement group, the Bay?

Spring 1816 - The Bay / Old Landing

What Is A Road? Top Spring 1816 - Old Landing
Perth, the Capital of the District of Dalhousie; from the N-East bank of the River Tay - painting by Thomas Burrowes, 1828, Archives of Ontario, I0002141

Home | About Us | Events | Latest News | Local History | 200th Anniversary | Photos | Tours | Links | Contact Us

© Perth & District Historical Society

Website design & maintenance donated by: Ken Watson