View all Stories


June 18, 2023

Bobcaygeon Locks with a Bathhouse, circa 1905

By Guy Scott

Bobcaygeon’s nickname is “The Hub of the Kawarthas” and it is well named. The village is located at the rapids where Sturgeon Lake empties into Pigeon Lake on its way to Lake Ontario. The spot was an obvious site a village. The father of the settlement was an English entrepreneur named Thomas Need who set up shop in 1832. The settlers at the time phoneticized the Misssissauga name as “bob-cajeon-unk” which was taken to mean “shallow waters” [bkijjwang is a Michi Saagiig (Ojibwa) verb, which means that the water flows around rocks, English speakers would use a noun instead.] Need liked the name.

Need acquired the 3 islands that were part of the new village. Need built a sawmill and grist mill on the big island and a community began to grow up. In 1833, the government of Upper Canada commissioned the first lock for the Trent Waterway at Bobcaygeon. The lock was finished by 1840. The site was truly the “Hub of the Kawartha Lakes.” In 1844, Need sold his interest to a local farmer named Mossom Boyd and the village really began to prosper under its most famous family. Boyd’s main enterprise in the early years was his sawmill business. Ideally located in the Trent Waterway, Boyd floated massive white pine logs to his mill at the foot of the lock.

In 1855, the government commissioned a series of colonization roads to open up the Ottawa-Huron Tract north of the Kawartha Lakes. The Bobcaygeon Road was to be a key piece of this scheme and Bobcaygeon Village was to be the start point for the new road. It had regular steamboat connections with Peterborough (via Bridgenorth) and Lindsay. All the settlers for Haliburton County flowed through Bobcaygeon until the Victoria Railway diverted the flow in 1876.

The village prospered and became the largest community in the area. The village contained several large hotels and numerous stores to service travellers on the Road, local farmers and the lumber industry, then approaching its zenith. The village grew up on the 3 islands and on the north shore, where a separate village called Rokeby was surveyed by the government. In 1876, the rival villages amalgamated so they could boast 1,000 residents and qualify for incorporated village status. The name Rokeby disappeared.

The Boyds branched out and formed the Trent Valley Navigation Company with numerous steam boats that plied the Kawartha Lakes for several decades until the age of steam passed by World War I. They also dabbled in livestock breeding. But the Boyds really wanted a railway for their business and when the Victoria Railway was planned in the early 1870s, they tried desperately to get the line to cross the Kawartha Lakes at Bobcaygeon. Unfortunately, their designs were stymied by Verulam Township Council, who refused to grant a bonus to the company. Fenelon Falls was not so cheap and won the railway. Fenelon’s rise was Bobcaygeon’s demise and the population actually declined in Bobcaygeon as Fenelon’s grew. Bobcaygeon eventually got its railway in 1904, but by then it was too late. The Boyd Family closed their big sawmill at around the same time and the village languished even further.

The prosperity brought by the mills and the road led to a number of prominent industries in the village. The Boyd Family built a series of large, lavish houses along the canal. The only one that survives today is the Boyd office, now a museum/library. The numerous Boyds also had a private school in the village. The teachers, Mr. and Mrs. Comber started a private school for boys called Hillcroft in town. The large structure was converted into a hospital (with 18 beds) in 1958. The small hospital operated until closed by the Ontario government in 1970.

Bobcaygeon also contained the DNA structure of an established village: 4 churches, high school, newspaper, sawmill, grist mill, Orange Lodge, agricultural fair, and numerous businesses. The Trent Canal also contributed to its prosperity, particularly in later years when tourism climbed to the number one industry in the area. Today the village has become a retirement destination, with both condominiums and estates gracing the local lakes.

© Copyright 2024 - Maryboro Lodge Museum