Editor’s Note: This is the first instalment in a multi-part series of stories spotlighting the communities of the Rideau Canal.
By Ken Watson
What sets the Rideau apart from other lakes and river systems is its rich history. The oldest continuously operated canal in North America, the locks work today much as they did when first opened in 1832. The canal, built in a wild frontier of lakes, rivers and swamps is an engineering marvel and a testament to human genius, sacrifice, and perseverance.
For a number of years I’ve been compiling the histories of communities in the Rideau corridor for posting to several websites I operate. This information is a consolidation of those histories, with communities listed from south to north along the route.
About Seeleys Bay
Seeleys Bay is the first full-service community, north of Kingston, at the southern end of the Rideau Corridor. Located just off Highway 15, it sits on a bay a few hundred metres off the main navigation channel of the Rideau Canal. The visitor will find lots of accommodation choices within a few kilometres of Seeleys Bay.
Seeleys Bay offers extensive public docking, a boat launch ramp and even a special canoe/kayak launching area. Power is available at the docks and several marinas are located nearby. There is a community park with playground and picnic tables. Supplies, fishing and boating items are available in the village at Fisherman’s Hardware & Auto.
The flooding of Cranberry Marsh during the building of the Rideau Canal formed the geographic bay which was to become “Seeleys Bay.” The dam and locks at Upper Brewers, completed in 1832, and the control dam at Morton raised the water level, flooding the marsh, changing it into today’s Cranberry Lake. The lot on which Seeleys Bay sits was originally granted to Matilda Read. In 1825, her son, John Seeley, acquired the lot. However it was his father, Justus Seeley, with his second wife Anne and their youngest children who moved onto the land that would become the village of Seeleys Bay. After Justus died in 1830, Anne remained on the land. The site became a landing for steamboats plying the Rideau, and Anne and her children ran a store to serve visitors.
In 1841, the community that was growing in area became known as Seely’s Bay (sic). By the 1850s, Seely’s Bay was a regular stop for stagecoaches heading south to Kingston and north to Perth. In 1950 the spelling was changed to “Seeleys Bay.”
For detailed information about the history of Seeleys Bay, read “The Rear of Leeds & Lansdowne, The Making of Community on the Gananoque River Frontier – 1796-1996” by Glenn J Lockwood.
A quaint rural village, Lyndhurst is home to the oldest bridge in existence in Ontario. The village is located on the Rideau Heritage Route and is easily accessed from either Highway 15 or Country Road 42. It offers a small boat launch into Lyndhurst Creek which connects to Lower Beverley Lake.
Lyndhurst came into being with the building by Wallis Sunderlin, a Vermont founderer, in 1801, of Ontario’s first successful iron smelter. The village that grew up around the smelter became known as Furnace Falls. The iron works consisted of both a furnace for the production of cast iron and a forge for the manufacture of wrought iron.
The iron works were destroyed by fire in 1811 and attempts to revive the smelter failed, causing the population to dwindle. However the building of a grist mill by Charles and Jonas Jones in 1828 created a revival of the village. In 1851 the village was renamed Lyndhurst, after John Singleton Copley, Baron Lyndhurst.
Lyndhurst is home to the oldest bridge in existence in Ontario. The stone masonry constructed three span bridge, built in 1856-57, is still in regular use today. In 1986 it was structurally re-enforced with concrete with the exterior restored to its original appearance.
Delta is a quiet village situated on County Road 42. Services for the visitor include a grocery store, liquor store, post office and a gas station. The village also has a library and a recreation centre. Lower Beverley Lake Township Park offers lots of room for family camping, has cottages for rent, a beach and a boat launch ramp. Golf, sightseeing (Rideau locks, Athen’s murals) and gift shopping are located within easy driving distance.
The main attraction in Delta is the Old Stone Mill, built in 1810, now a museum and a designated National Historic Site of Canada. The Mill has been completely renovated and had working millstones installed on its 200th anniversary in 2010. It is open to the public from Victoria Day weekend to Labour Day and during special events.
Delta is the earliest settlement in this region, founded in 1796 by Abel Stevens, a Loyalist settler from Vermont. Stevens arrived with six families in early 1794, settling on the upper reaches of Plum Hollow Creek.
Stevens petitioned the government for land around present day Delta (he wanted the rapids in that spot for waterpower for a mill). The area was unsurveyed and it was not until 1796 that land was granted to Stevens, three lots over what is present day Delta. This grant of land allowed him to build his first mill (a wooden sawmill) which formed the nucleus of a new community that became known as Stevenstown.
After the building of the Old Stone Mill (1810-1811), by William Jones and Ira Schofield, it became known as Stone Mills. Then, in 1827, the name was changed to Beverley in honour of Sir John Beverley Robinson, a member of the Legislative Assembly.
However, in 1857, when an application was made for a post office it was discovered that a Beverley already existed, and the name was changed to Delta because the shapes of Upper and Lower Beverley lakes, and the village between them all form triangles, the shape of the Greek letter Delta.
The village hosts many historic buildings, the most dominant being the Old Stone Mill National Historic Site.
The Mill was built in 1810 by William Jones, likely in partnership with Ira Schofield, a bit to the north of Stevens’ original wooden mill (built c.1796).
A grist (wheat) mill, it operated until 1949 before becoming just a feed store. In 1963 it was deeded by the last owner, Hastings Steele, to four trustees who formed The Delta Mill Society (DMS) who currently own and operate the mill.
The DMS conducted rescue preservation of the mill in 1972-74 and then conducted a major restoration of the mill in 1999-2004. The “mill pond,” today’s Upper Beverley Lake was originally two smaller lakes prior to any mill damming. When the Old Stone Mill was built, the two original lakes were flooded to a level that formed one lake.
The “mill pond” level of Upper Beverley Lake is maintained today by a dam built by MNR, upstream of the Old Stone Mill, in 1962.
The village boasts many examples of beautiful 19th century architecture. St. Paul’s Anglican Church was built in 1811 and is one of the oldest churches in Leeds County. There is the Walter Denaut House, built in 1849, the Philo Hicock House, c.1845, the William Bell House, 1860, the Israel Stevens House, 1876 and many more.
A heritage walking tour of Delta is available on the Old Stone Mill website www.deltamill.org
Elgin is situated just off Highway 15 and offers many services for both the visitor and local resident. The main street features a post office, pharmacy, grocery store, bank, electronics store, and more. There is also a liquor store, laundromat, and a car wash in the village. There are three churches in town, a library, a public school and a regional high school. Although there is no doctor in town, an ambulance is stationed less than a kilometre from town. The local population is about 300 but in the summer Elgin serves as the hub for several thousand cottage residents.
Points of interest located nearby include the Rideau Canal locks at Jones Falls, Davis and Chaffeys, all within easy driving distance.
Visitors to the area will also want to check out the dairy store at Forfar, located just a few kilometres north of Elgin. In August, be sure to pick up some delicious fresh corn from local farmers.
Elgin is located in the heart of corn country. A golf course is located just a few kilometres south of town.
In 1801, the land on which the village of Elgin now sits was granted to Susannah Wiltse and Rebecca Wing, daughters of United Empire Loyalists. However, it was the Halladay family, who moved into the area in 1802, and acquired the lands granted to Wiltse and Wing, that were to be come the founders of Elgin. Ebenezer Halladay, who was just seven when the family moved into the area, would become the driving force behind the founding of Elgin. It was Ebenezer, who, in the 1820s, began clearing the land occupied by present-day Elgin.
The building of the Rideau Canal greatly improved commerce in the area, and by the 1830s a village known as Halladay’s Corners had built up. It was linked by road with Jones Falls. One of the most momentous events in Elgin’s history was when Mormon missionaries arrived in the region in the 1830s and recruited many families. In 1834, 135 covered wagons left Halladay’s Corners for Mormon settlements in the United States. It must have been quite a sight. For a brief time Elgin took on the Mormon name Nauvoo, meaning “beautiful.” The present name of Elgin (pronounced Elg in, NOT El gin) was given to the community in 1850 in honour of James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin, one time Governor-General of Canada.
There are many historic buildings in Elgin. The oldest structure is the Ebenezer Halladay House, located on Kingston Street, built in 1844. A stone house, it has stucco/plaster covering the stonework (as is common with many stone houses in the region). Guthrie House, across from the Anglican Church, was originally the Henry Laishley House, built in 1886. St. Paul’s Anglican Church, now a private residence, was built in 1905.
At the corner of Main Street and Kingston Street is the former Dargavel General Store, built in 1893. The United Church was built in 1894, replacing an earlier, structurally unsound church, built in 1857. The Halladay Cemetery, located just east of the church, predates both churches. The St. Columbanus Roman Catholic Church on Kingston Street was built in 1898. The old brick Public School on Halladay Street was built in 1867 and served Elgin children until 1964. It is now the home of the Elgin and District Historical Society.
For detailed information about the history of Elgin, including the full history of all the above noted buildings and several others see the Elgin Heritage Walking tour on the Township of Rideau Lakes website www.rideaulakes.ca.
Ken Watson is the author of four books about the history of the Rideau Canal and one all about paddling the Rideau Canal (which includes a lot of history). He also edited and produced the 1839 to 1850 journal of Lockmaster Peter Sweeney (The Sweeney Diary). To learn more about his publications visit Rideau-info.com/canal/books.html.