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June 2, 2024

An H.R. Oakman aerial of Beaverton

By Guy Scott

The village of Beaverton began life as a port at the mouth of the Beaver River, where it empties into Lake Simcoe. In the days before roads and railroads, water transport was key to settlement. Lake Simcoe was a major transportation highway with road access from Toronto to Holland Landing and hence by water as far north as the Severn River and the Trent Canal. The port of Beaverton was a shipping centre for many surrounding townships including Western Victoria County. Sailing schooners were the first type of transportation, but were later replaced by steam boats.

The village itself was founded a bit upstream on the Beaver River at an eligible mill site. The village was first called Milltown, Mill Town and Calder’s Mills after the first mill owner. Its name was later changed to Beaverton, literally town on the Beaver River. The village was located in Thorah Township, Ontario County and was surrounded by some excellent farmland. Grain was a popular crop in the 1800s and farmers would ship their crop either to Beaverton Harbour or to Whitby. The first settlers were Scottish. After the Napoleonic Wars, thousands of British soldiers were discharged from the army and encouraged to move to Canada with free land grants. Thorah, Brock and Eldon Townships were made available for these ex-soldiers. At the same time, the Highland Clearances back in Scotland saw many small farmers called ‘crofters’ evicted from their rented land by large landlords who were changing to sheep farming. Many of these evicted farmers moved to Canada to seek new lives.

The Beaverton area received many settlers from the Western Isles of Scotland. Some displaced crofters moved to North Carolina, but didn’t like the weather (too hot), the slavery system and still had a soft spot for the British Empire. The refugees also moved to the Beaverton area.

To facilitate settlement in the area, the government of Upper Canada hired Donald Cameron to handle immigration to this area. Cameron used his family connections to recruit among Scottish settlers, including some already settled in Glengarry County in Eastern Ontario, to move to Thorah. Cameron was later charge with perjury and treason for his land deals, but was never convicted and did do a good job of encouraging settlement in the area. Once the first settlers arrived in the 1820s, the area advertised itself. Thorah and surrounding townships became prosperous settlements thanks to its Scottish settlers. The Scots were notoriously thrifty and hard-working. A St. Andrew’s Society was set up in Beaverton to aid “indigent Scotsmen.” It disbanded almost immediately: there were no indigent Scotsmen!

The village of Beaverton flourished as a shopping centre, shipping centre and industrial centre for the surrounding area. This prosperity was further enhanced when railways came along in the 1850s. The Port Hope and Lindsay Railway agreed to extend its profitable line from Lindsay to Beaverton, but never delivered until 1870. Thorah Township agreed to loan the railway $50,000 if the railway agreed to make its terminus and go no further! The deal was broken shortly after when the railway was extended to Midland to get into the Western grain trade. But for the time Beaverton was the end of the line, the village prospered with all goods along the east side of Lake Simcoe came through Beaverton. The Toronto-Nipissing Railway from Uxbridge to Coboconk also ran through the area, but the nearest stations were at Blackwater and Woodville. After the railway was extended to Midland, business at Beaverton dropped off. Many of the first settlers only spoke Gaelic, and English translators were needed. Gradually Gaelic died out in the area. Beaverton was a typical pioneer town. To celebrate the village, the following poem was composed in 1860:

“At the Beaverton River, on Lake Simcoe shore

Post Office, two churches and also six stores,

One teacher, one doctor, one lawyer for all

One wharf at the harbour, town pound and town hall,

Steam boat and propeller, three schooners and sail,

And stages bring passengers, light freight and mail,

Shoemakers and bakers and carpenters build,

Bricklayers and painters, enamel and guild

Do turning, and planning and carding of wool,

Do grinding and sawing, they tan and they full,

Waggon makers and blacksmiths and tailors abound,

Coopers and butchers and farmers all round.

In summer it’s lovely to view the road lake

The groves and the islands and fishes they take.”

Beaverton contained a number of industries, mostly geared to wood products or local farm produce. One interesting factory was the foundry of Wm. G. Smith. It started off making farm machinery, but heavy competition from the larger centres caused a change of focus to a toy factory. With the slogan “A Beaverton toy bring each child joy,” the factory produced 119 different toys, including “Cuban Cart, Pacing Bob and Butterfly Push Toy.” Also a myriad of tin horses, iron piggy banks wagons and other toys; both medal and wooden were made over several decades. The Beaverton Toy Company went out of business during the Depression, but emerged later making metal products such as towel racks, refrigerator racks, shopping cars and milk crates.

Situated along the shores of Lake Simcoe, tourism became an important part of the local economy, replacing lumbering. Easy access was gained via the railways and both resorts and private cottages appeared. Fishing in the lake, both winter and summer are still big attractions. The lake boats have been replaced by recreational vessels, even more so after the Trent Canal was finished.

In 1974, the municipal structure of the area was reorganized and Beaverton and Thorah Township were amalgamated with Brock Township in the expanded Durham Region. Old Ontario County disappeared.

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