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Spring of 1816 Route

Section Summary

A "large scow" was used to transport settlers and goods in the spring of 1816 from Old Landing, 22 kilometres down Rideau Lake, to a landing at the head of Beveridge Bay, a spot now underwater, about 300 metres from the present day shoreline. From there the settlers went overland to the Tay River, a location in the general vicinity (likely slightly downstream) of the present day canal dam. Then "by another scow" they went up the 1816 meandering course of the Tay River (today's Tay Canal cuts off most of the meanders they would have followed) to Perth.

It is uncertain how long this exact route was used. Lindsay's scow was likely used to transport settlers and goods for most of the spring and summer of 1816. It is speculated that the road from Rideau Ferry to Perth may have been opened up prior to the road south of Rideau Ferry (which was opened in the fall of 1816). This would have allowed the scow to offload on the north shore at Rideau Ferry rather than going to Beveridge Bay. However, factual evidence for this speculation has not been found.

By the fall of 1816, this route was mostly abandoned in favour of the new road, via Rideau Ferry, from Brockville. The scow from Portland to the Rideau Ferry landing may have seen some continued use as a shortcut for settlers and goods coming from the Kingston area.

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Detailed Discussion

We have no descriptions of the scow, no idea of its size other than Kilborn's statement that it was a "large scow". It would have had flat decking and apparently accommodated all the settlers at once since we have location tickets written for this first group all in one day and we have Kilborn's words that implies that the entire group was moved at once. The wagons and oxen that took them to Old Landing were likely left behind to be used again for more settlers. Kilborn states that wagons were used to get to the Bay, but at Beveridge Bay they used ox sleds.

The reason they used Old Landing instead of Lindsay's place on Murphys Bay is not known. Perhaps Lindsay found it a more sheltered (safer) location or perhaps it was simply to lessen the road travel (but it did entail cutting a new road to the spot). The most plausible explanation is that Lindsay overwintered his scow in this sheltered location. Knowing the location of the iced in scow, Kilborn led the group to this spot prior to the ice breaking in Big Rideau Lake so that they could travel down on the lake as soon as the ice broke.

An assumption, as previously noted, is that the group's arrival date in Perth was April 17, 1816, the day on which the first 40 settlement tickets were written. If this portion of the trip was done in one day, then the ice on Big Rideau Lake broke on April 17, 1816 (or late on April 16). For comparison, in 2015, after a very cold winter, the ice broke on Big Rideau Lake on April 19. An alternate view that the heads of the households were already in Perth (perhaps as March 25 if Sherwood's statement about settlers arriving refers to the Brockville settlers) and that the women and children went later, but even if that was so, it still makes sense that the scow trip would have been done as early as possible, heading out on the day the ice broke on Big Rideau Lake in 1816. So, although speculation, an arrival date of April 17, 1816 still makes sense.

Three Days Prior to "ice-out" on Big Rideau Lake in 2015
The settlers might have seen something similar in 1816: The edge of the bay ice-free with the main lake still ice-covered. The white in the background of the photo is ice cover on the main part of the lake. (photo by Ken W. Watson)

Kilborn clearly states "I forwarded all the families by wagons to the Bay (now the Village of Portland)." We also have Kilborn's statement as to their destination: "Thence [from the Bay], 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."

At the time the water level of Rideau Lake was six feet lower than it is today. The Tay River flowed into the headwaters of the Rideau River. The Tay River has a series of rapids at the lower end making it non-navigable in that area. So the spot for a landing was in the "deep bay" above the mouth of the Tay River – that bay was Beveridge Bay.

The landing spot was likely near where the entrance to Lower Beveridge Lock is today, but about 300 metres offshore due to the 6 feet of flooding caused by the Poonamalie dam. It is likely that oxen and sleds, perhaps kept from supply trips done to Perth a few weeks prior, were already in place in this spot anticipating the arrival of the settlers. This route was going to be used by hundreds of settlers over the coming weeks.

Landing Area on Beveridge Bay
A view of the northeast shore of Beveridge Bay just prior to ice-out in 2015. The landing area for the settlers is likely in the view of this photo, a spot about 300 metres offshore. (photo by Ken W. Watson)

The marsh through which the Beveridge canal cut travels to the Tay River today was present in 1816, although slightly smaller. The settlers would have avoided this, sticking to dry ground. It's possible that parts of today's road to the Beveridge dam (part of the Rideau Trail) are close to the original route those first settlers took.

A straight line distance from the presumed landing spot to the Tay River is almost 1.5 miles, exactly as Kilborn describes.

The falls in the lower section of the Tay River have been variously labelled. The Victor 1831 map (annotated section shown), the most detailed period map we have of that section of the Tay River shows three sets of rapids. It should be noted here that the term "falls" and "rapids" were used interchangeably back then, any fall of water was termed a "fall." The Victor 1831 map shows them all as "rapids" but a collective term for these was "Fishing Falls" as referenced by Mactaggart in 1827, "These rapids or Fishing Falls surmounted we come to M'Vittie's still water" (Welch, p.37). Mactaggart called them Fishing Falls "so named by the inhabitants from the fishing nets placed there."

1831 Map of the Tay River
The first detailed map of the Tay River done by Captain J. Victor, R.E. in early 1831. Location names have been added (i.e. rapids). Click on the map for a full sized version.

There was one actual waterfall on the Pike River, the location of Port Elmsley today. This is where Samuel Weatherhead set up a mill in 1829. The term "Pike Falls" appears to have sometimes been used for the collective rapids and sometimes to reference this specific waterfall. The location of Port Elmsley was known for a time as Pikes Falls.

The scow would have been in "M'Vittie's still water" above the lower sets of rapids. This places their likely Tay River destination as somewhere near (likely a bit downstream) of the present day dam.

Once on a scow on the Tay River they would have been poled upstream to Perth. The main navigation impediment along that route was the Upper Rapids, just above the confluence of Jebbs Creek and the Tay River. The Victor 1831 map shows that it had a fall of 1.5 feet over a distance of about 400 feet. MacTaggart described them as being about 550 yards long with a drop of 4 feet. Later, in 1834, this would become the location of Lock 5 of the first Tay Canal.

The first location tickets, specifying the location of their land grant, were given to the settlers on April 17, 1816. It is reported that the settlement started on April 18, 1816, the first day the settlers (who had already received their location tickets) went out to see their new properties. On April 18, more location tickets written, this time to ex-soldiers, and from then on there were a steady stream of settlers arriving in Perth, some settling in the town but most heading out to lots in the surrounding townships.

This route was presumably used until such time as a road from Oliver's Ferry to Perth was opened up, sometime prior to or by the fall of 1816. How many came by this first route? It's difficult to determine. In the fall of 1816 it was reported that there were 1,505 people in the area of Perth (Turner, p.19). Some of those would have arrived by overland routes (walking along trails through the woods), but the majority would presumably have travelled the Rideau Lake route.

Fall 1816: Background

Stone Mills to Old Landing Top Fall 1816: Background
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

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