Early Stories of Hamlets in Township of Ramsay, By Howard Morton Brown, Carleton Place Canadian, 29 June, 1961

When the northward push of the first settlements of Lanark County reached the township of Ramsay, the town of Almonte and the village of Clayton soon were founded as little frontier communities based on water power sites of the Mississippi and Indian Rivers.  The grist mill and sawmill of Daniel Shipman of Leeds County, built at Ramsay’s Great Falls of the Mississippi in 1823, was the nucleus of a village which grew to become the town of Almonte.  A story of some of Almonte’s nineteenth century citizens and industries will appear in a following number of the Canadian.

Clayton had its origin little more than a year later than Almonte when Edward Bellamy, who recently had come to Grenville County from Vermont, obtained the water privilege of the falls on the Indian River there and opened a sawmill and grist mill to serve a section of the new townships.  Among the other communities of Ramsay township, Blakeney, once the location of several  manufacturing concerns, came next in time of origin as Snedden’s Mills.  Not far from Snedden’s the small hamlet of Bennie’s Corners appeared on the scene of the eighteen thirties, adjoined on the Indian River by Toshack’s carding mill and Baird’s grist mill.  The Baird mill, now known as the Mill of Kintail, has been preserved by a private owner for public historical uses and as a residence.

At the township’s Apple Tree Falls, where young  Joseph Teskey drew land in 1824, the Teskey brothers later built their saw and grist mills, followed by a succession of woollen mill businesses which began about a century ago at Appleton.

On the Indian River in the north of Ramsay township, in a section where some of the last Indians of the township lived, sawmills have continued to run on a small scale since the eighteen twenties at the community of Clayton.  Edward Bellamy, who in 1824 bought the mill site of its falls, had come from Vergennes in Vermont with his three brothers in 1819 to the Brockville district.  They established the mills and village of North Augusta on the south branch of the Rideau River in Grenville County and mills at other points in Leeds County.

Bellamy’s Mills On The Indian River

At his Ramsay saw and grist mill Edward Bellamy added a distillery and a carding mill.  Around his mills a village grew to have a population of 250 persons.  It continued to be called Bellamy’s Mills until in the eighteen fifties its name was changed to Clifton and again changed in 1858 for postal reasons to Clayton.  It was on what was then the main road from Perth to Pembroke, and soon supported a tannery, a cooperage works, a medical doctor, James Coulter’s hotel, and shops of blacksmiths, wagon makers, shoemakers and general merchants.  When the political riding of North Lanark was separately established in 1854, its nomination meetings which led regularly to the reform party’s reelection of Robert Bell of Carleton Place were held at Clayton.

The village’s semi-annual market or fair days were held in mid-April and mid-November.  In an era when not uncommonly feuds and disputes were arbitrated by physical encounter, J. R. Gemmill, founder of the Sarnia Observer and a son of Lanark’s first minister, gave this report in his Lanark Observer on an exercise of political passions on Clayton’s 1851 spring fair day:

“Riot At Bellamy’s Mills.  We regret to learn that another of those disgraceful party rows, which are a blot on the character of any community wherever they occur, took place at Bellamy’s Mills on the evening of the Fair or Tryst at that place, namely Wednesday, the 16th instant.  It appears that it originated with some of the younger class, in which ultimately the other spectators interfered, and ended finally in a regular party riot, in which stones and other missiles were so freely used that several individuals have got themselves severely injured.

About twenty businesses were in operation at and near the bustling village of Clayton in 1871, including a grist mill, a cooperage plant, Coulter’s and Gemmill’s hotels, McNeil’s tannery, the sawmills of Timothy Foley, Daniel Drummond, and William Smith ; James McClary’s planning mill, Timothy Blair’s carding mill and J. & A. Hunter’s woollen cloth factory.  The Hunter woollen mill, destroyed with a fire loss of $10,000 in 1873, was located on the river near Clayton at the site then known as Hunterville.

The village of Appleton was settled and developed by members of the Teskey family who came to Ramsay township in the emigration of 1823 from southern Ireland.  Among less than a dozen families not of Roman Catholic religious persuasion in this government-sponsored emigration to Ramsay, Huntley and Pakenham townships were John Teskey, his wife and nine children from Rathkeale in Limerick.

Joseph, the eldest son, had obtained his hundred acre lot at the location then known as Apple Tree Falls on the Mississippi.  After the family had lived together for a few years on the father’s farm (conc. 11, lot 7) in Ramsay and the children had begun to marry, the second son Robert joined with Joseph in building a small saw and grist mill at the falls.  The land including the southern half of the present village was a 200 acre Crown reserve and south of it were the farms of Robert Baird and William Baird, Lanark society settlers of 1821.

Teskeyville At Apple Tree Falls

On the strength of attractive natural assets and the initial enterprise of three Teskey brothers, a small community developed in the next thirty years, known for a time as Teskeyville and as Appleton Falls.  With a population of about seventy five persons by the mid-fifties, it contained Joseph Teskey’s grist mill, Robert Teskey’s sawmill equipped with two upright saws and a public timber slide, Albert Teskey’s general store and post office, Peter and John F. Cram’s tannery, and two blacksmith shops, William Young’s tailor shop and a wagon shop.  A foundry and machine shop was added before 1860, when the village grew to have a population of three hundred.  Albert Teskey, a younger brother who lived to 1887, also engaged in lumbering and became reeve of Ramsay township.  A flour mill in a stone building erected in 1853 by Joseph Teskey below the east side of the Appleton Falls was operated after his death in 1865 by his son Milton.  It was sold in 1900 to H. Brown & Sons, Carleton Place flour millers and suppliers of electric power, and resold several years later to Thomas Boyd Caldwell (1856-1932) of Lanark, then Liberal member of Parliament for North Lanark, a son of the first Boyd Caldwell who had owned a large sawmill at Carleton Place.

Appleton Woollen Mills

Robert Teskey, a magistrate for over forty years, built in 1863 a four storey woollen mill of stone construction.  He retired a year later and lived until 1892.  The woollen mill, later doubled in size, was operated by his son John Adam Teskey (1837-1908), with the assistance for a time of his brother in law, William Bredin, later of Carleton Place, and his brother Rufus Teskey.  Before the depression of the eighteen seventies, when the Appleton mills had been leased for a period of years, the village had two firms manufacturing tweeds, flannels and blankets ; Charles T. Drinkwater & Son and Lancelot Routh & Company.  The Teskey woollen mills were owned from 1900 for over thirty years by Boyd Caldwell & Company and Donald Caldwell, who rebuilt the dams in 1903, and for over twenty years since by the Collie family and the present Collie Woollen Mills Limited.  The latest owners built the present mill before the old stone woollen mill buildings, chief landmark of a picturesque setting, were destroyed in the nineteen forties by fire.

At the head of Norway Pine Falls on the lower Mississippi in Ramsay township, James Snedden, one of the Lanark society settlers, received an 1821 location of one hundred acres of land which ran from the present Highway 29 to the village of Blakeney.  Alexander Snedden, who had emigrated two years earlier and had located with David Snedden in the eleventh concession of Beckwith, soon removed to the Pine Falls where he built grist and saw mills and a timber slide.  The family entered the square Timber trade, taking their timber down the Ottawa and the St. Lawrence to the Quebec City market.  James Snedden jr. (1821-1882), known as “Banker Snedden,” also engaged in lumbering and other enterprises.

Rosebank Inn and Norway Pine Falls

On the road to Pakenham and the Ottawa, Alexander Snedden’s Rosebank Inn provided travelers with accommodation of a high standard.  Here the Reform Association conventions of the old District of Bathurst and of the United Counties of Lanark and Renfrew of the eighteen forties and early fifties were held.  A discriminating traveler of 1846 wrote of “Snedden’s Hotel, which is kept in as good style as any country Inn in the Province.”  Another travelling newspaper contributor of fifteen years later added in confirmation: “Who in this portion of Victoria’s domain has not heard of Snedden’s as a stopping place?  Ask any teamster on the upper Ottawa and he will satisfy you as to its capabilities of rendering the traveler oblivious to the comforts of his home.”  Alexander Snedden became a militia officer and in 1855 gained the rank of Lieutenant colonel in command of the Ramsay battalion of Lanark Militia.  His adjutant was Captain J. B. Wylie,  Almonte mill owner.

Around the Snedden establishment a small community grew at Norway Fine Falls, known as Snedden’s Mills until in the eighteen fifties it was named Rosebank.  It was renamed Blakeney when the post office of the area was moved here in 1874 from Bennie’s Corners with Peter McDougall as postmaster.  The nearby railway station continued to be called Snedden, and the name Rosebank also persisted.  Other early industries at Blakeney included a woollen factory, a brewery at the Pine Isles, a second sawmill and a tannery.  A three storey woollen mill of stone construction operated by Peter McDougall, was built in the eighteen seventies.  The flour mill at Blakeney continued to be run for some years after the turn of the century by Robert Merilees.

Bennie’s Corners was a small village less than two miles from Blakeney.  It was at the junction of the eighth line of Ramsay and the road from Clayton north of the Indian River, on land where James Bennie located in the original settlement of the township in 1821.  The buildings of the hamlet were destroyed in the summer of 1851 by fire.  As rebuilt it had little more than a post office and general store, a few residences, a school and such tradesmen as blacksmiths and shoemakers, and claimed a population of about fifty persons.

Bairds Flour Mill Restored

Nearby were William and John Baird’s flour mill, Greville Toshack’s carding mill and Stephen Young’s barley mill, all on the Indian River ; and on the Mississippi the similar industries of Blakeney.  The Baird mill, restored as a century old structure in 1930 by Dr. R. Tait McKenzie, sculptor, surgeon and native son of the manse, is now well known as the Mill of Kintail, repository of examples of his works and local historical exhibits.  It was described by its owners in 1860 as:

“Woodside Mills, consisting of a Flour Mill with two runs of burr stones, a superior Smut Machine and an Oatmeal Mill with two runs of Stones, one of which is a Burr.  The Mill is three and a half stories high and most substantially built.  There are also on the premises a kiln capable of drying from 120 to 200 bushels of oats at a time, a frame House for a Miller, a Blacksmith Shop with tools complete, two Stone Buildings and outbuildings, with Stabling for eleven horses.”

Bennie’s Corners Squirrel Hunt

A Bennie’s Corners story of 1875 may be recalled as telling of a recognized sport in some circles of the Ottawa Valley of those times, known as a squirrel hunt and featuring a reckless slaughter of the birds and animals of the summer woods.  An Almonte newspaper report told of the hunt on this occasion:

On Friday the 25th instant a squirrel hunt took place at Bennie’s Corners.  Eighteen competitors were chosen on each side, with Messrs. John Snedden and Robert McKenzie acting as captains.  In squirrel hunts, squirrels are not the only animals killed, but every furred and feathered denizen of the forest, each having a certain value attached.  The count runs as follows : squirrel 1, chip munk 2, wood pecker 2, ground hog 3, crow 3, blackbird 1, skunk 5, fox 50, etc.  At the conclusion of the contest the game killed by both sides amounted to over 2,500.  Mr. James Cochrane bagged 164 squirrels, being the highest individual score, and Mr. Andrew Cochran came next.  The affair wound up with a dance at the residence of Mr. James Snedden.

Early Settlers Found Good Land in Ramsay Township, by Howard Morton Brown, Carleton Place Canadian, 11 May, 1961

One of the few letters which remain from those written by Ramsay settlers in the township’s first year gives the optimistic impressions of a Glasgow society emigrant, John Toshack.  He already had built his log cabin on land where later the village of Bennie’s Corners waxed and waned, and was back at Lanark preparing to bring his family from the district centre to the new home.  His letter tells of his hopes for his chosen lot and mentions two of the boats which served in the settlers’ use of the “water conveyance.”  Writing to a friend in Glasgow, Alexander Sinclair, on September 11, 1821, he said in part:

“I gladly embrace this opportunity of writing you by Mrs. Graham who has lost her husband and is returning to Scotland.  Our family is all well now, by the mercies of God, they are all recovered.  We had four of them in the fever since we came here, Margaret, Andrew, Helen and Eneas.  Many have died since arriving in Canada, some of the fever, others of the flux and others from the effects of fatigue.

We have got land in the township of Ramsay near the Mississippi River, which runs into the Ottawa about fifteen miles from our land.  We are only half a mile from it.  There are always plenty of good fish to be got in it, but especially in the spring, when I am informed they are caught in very great abundance.

William, John and James Bennie and I have each got 100 acres together, in a square.  It is most beautiful land, and resembles the Dalmarnock haughs (low rich land beside a river).  According to what I have seen of other land, it will produce abundantly of all which is necessary for the support of a family.  The land is by no means generally good, there is much rock and swamp on many lots.  Indeed I would not exchange the land that we have got for any other I see.  But it is a great distance from this (ie., from Lanark), about twenty miles by land and near forty by water.  Had it not been for the water conveyance we would not have attempted to go so far.  We have built two flat boats, of fir boards at one inch thick, which we got from the saw mill at 3s.6d. per 100 feet.

I have got up a house, 22 feet by 16, which will do to begin with.  Our land abounds with beautiful wood, of elm, maple, birch, beech, pine, and bass ; the latter is somewhat like your saugh (sallow or broad-leafed willow).  I often think if you had a few score of the trees that we cut down to burn you would turn them to better account.

Settlers Tools

“I hope to have all my luggage and family on the land in about ten days,….Government has been very honorable.  Besides conveyance from Quebec to Lanark and rations – the rations consist of one pound of bread and one of pork for a man, one half each for a wife, one third for a child above seven and one quarter for those under. – I have got a blanket for myself, one for my wife, one for every two children and one for the odd one ; also an axe, a hand saw, a bill hook, an iron wedge, two pair hinges, a thumb-neck (door latch), two files, a stock-lock, two gimlets, a pick axe, a hammer, a scythe and stone and among us four we have got a pit and cross-cut saw and we will get a grindstone when we want it.  There are also nails and other things still to be got.  (Note: Among other supplies issued were spades, hoes, harrow teeth, sickles, pitchforks, adzes, augers, kettles and frying pans.)

The gentlemen here and all the way from Quebec, who had the charge of forwarding us, seemed to vie with each other in discretion and kindness.  This is the most merciful act that I ever knew the British Government perform.  It affords many poor industrious families the means of obtaining the necessaries of life who had no such prospect before.  You will observe that I am writing only from information and observation, it will require another twelve months to come to enable me to write from experience.  I think the emigration is likely to be carried on at least another year.  There are three townships to be surveyed beyond Dalhousie, Lanark and Ramsay, near the grand river.  I will if spared write you more particularly afterwards and hope to give you more information.”

John Toshack, who came to Ramsay with his wife, seven sons and two daughters, was a man of strong religious tendencies.  He had been a deacon in the Congregational Church under the Rev. Mr. Ewing in Glasgow, and preached in the first shanties of settlers in Ramsay before there was an ordained clergyman in the township.  His younger daughter, eleven years old at the time of the 1821 migration, became the wife of the first Peter Cram of Carleton Place.  Surviving her husband on the Cram farm homestead on High Street which later was acquired in the eighteen eighties by her nephew Peter Cram (1831-1920) of Carleton Place, she died in 1890 at the home of her daughter, Mrs. James Thom in Ramsay.

A final installment of this series of Ramsay settlement stories will tell of the emigration adventures of one family of Ramsay pioneers.