Port Hope, Canada – Gradual Development

THE trader Herchimere moved off to Rice Lake in the Fall of 1793, carrying his goods thither on horseback. Before leaving he presented his log-cabin to Mr. Harris, who accepted it with much gratitude. A difficulty meanwhile confronted the settlers. Their supply of flour was very meagre and obviously was not sufficient to last out the rigours of a Canadian winter. The nearest point where this commodity could be procured was Kingston and the only available means of reaching there was to coast down the lake shore in the solitary skiff, which had been brought from Newark. Nothing daunted by the prospect of such a voyage a small party was organized, which performed the journey to Kingston and return before winter set in. In the Fall, Harris cut a supply of grass on the marshy island near the mouth of the creek to serve as fodder for the cattle. Man and beast being thus provided for, the winter-season could be faced with more confidence.

When the cold weather at length set in and wood-cutting could be more comfortably engaged in, the pioneers set to work to carve out clearings in the woods. Any spare moments were usually employed in the construction of household utensils and other implements and Harris, among other things, constructed a cart for Herchimere. This vehicle was necessarily but a very primitive specimen ; the wheels were made entirely of wood, there being no iron at hand wherewith to bind them.

With the advent of spring the clearing of the land was continued with renewed zeal and the smoke of bush fires floated far over the heavens. Surveyor Iredell and his men arrived early on the scene and completed the survey which had been left unfinished in the preceding summer. Myndert Harris had meanwhile taken possession of Lot 3 and Ashford of Lot of the 1st Concession, while Stevens took Lot 2 and Johnson Lot i of the 2nd Concession.

The next winter it is related that Harris built a second cart for Herchimere, this time having wheels bound with iron. In the spring of 1794 the cultivation of the cleared land was begun. In place of a plough, an instrument called a ‘ drag’ was employed. This was composed of a crotch’d stick with wooden teeth. For threshing either the primitive flail or what the settlers termed a ‘ fan ‘ was used. This was an instrument made of ash-boards in shape of a half-circle of radius two feet, with a rim about six inches wide bent round the circle and having holes cut at each side for handles—the whole resembling a large grain scoop. This was held in front of a person and shaken when filled with grain. The chaff was separated by the wind and the fell to the ground. With these crude implement pioneers succeeded in producing some wheat. The problem was to get it ground. This necessitated a jour Belleville, where a grist-mill had just been erected by Myers. This expedition was undertaken in winter, the grain being dragged through the pathless woods on rough sleds.

The same year the Government offered Elias Smith, Esq. six hundred acres of land, being Lots 5, 6, and 7, with all the water privileges for a mile up the creek and a chain of land on each side thereof, on condition that he speedily build a saw-mill and a grist-mill. Elias Smith was at that time in Montreal. In the spring of 1795 he sent his son, Peter, and some mill-wrights to commence work on the mills. In order to preserve the salmon with which the creek abounded, a mill-race was carried from about the position of the Ontario Street Bridge, along the side of the eastern hill to where the end of the viaduct now stands. Sickness put a stop to the work on the mill-race but the construction of the flour-mill was carried to completion. Captain John Burns was the master mill-wright and, with the assistance of Mr. Joseph Keeler of Colborne and a party of men who came up from there in a boat, the mill was finally erected. Next spring work on the mill-race was resumed but frost caused the banks to give and the whole enterprise proved a failure.

Meanwhile the Government had agreed to give Captain Walton and Elias Smith two hundred acres of land each and the remaining unoccupied land in the township by way of compensation, provided they brought in forty settlers from the United States. Failing to secure the requisite number within the time appointed, this agreement became null, but, by a Crown Patent issued August 26th, 1797, the land on which the present Town stands was granted to the same two men, subject to the condition that they should with all reasonable diligence erect a grist and saw mill on the site. call that had to be done to fulfil the condition was to move the old mill down to the creek. This was done in 1798 by an American mill-wright for the sum of one thousand dollars• A dam and slide for salmon was constructed where Helm’s dam is now built and the two mills were presently in operation on the east side of the stream.

The following year the Hon. D. W. Smythe, Surveyor General, writing on Canada, remarks on the excellence of these mills at Smith’s Creek, which were patronized by settlers from far and near.