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December 14, 2023

Talbot Creek Winds Its Way Through Bolsover, Fall 2023

By Guy Scott

The hamlet of Bolsover is located in North Eldon Township where the west Quarterline Road crosses the Talbot River. The name ‘Bolsover’ is rather unusual and is often the butt of crude jokes. However, the name has a very ancient and more dignified origin than often imagined. Bolsover is a spacious castle and village in Derbyshire, England. The name is old Saxon, Bols Ofer or Bull’s Ridge. The large castle dates from the Norman Conquest. In the 1840s several mills were built at Bolsover because it was one of the few hamlets in Eldon Township that actually had a water powered mill site. The Talbot River is tiny and has water flow issues, but in the late spring it could generate water power.

The site was also located on the Portage Road (now Highway #48). This route was an ancient portage between Lake Simcoe and Balsam Lake. The Talbot River was so shallow and choked by fallen trees that the natives found it easier to just carry their canoes the 12 miles between the two bodies of water that linked the Trent River system. Samuel de Champlain travelled the Portage Trail in his famous expedition of 1615.

The earliest pioneers simply cleared and widened the trail to handle wagon traffic. Since the trail already existed prior to settlement, the land surveyors left it as a road allowance and laid out long narrow lots on both sides so early settlers had some road frontage. The rest of Eldon Township was surveyed into standard rectangular 200 acre lots. In the middle 1800s, Bolsover vied with Woodville as the largest centre in the township. It had a sawmill, grist mill and other wood industries while Woodville was not located on a stream. But the advent of steam power and the arrival of the railway shifted economic opportunity east to the new hamlet of Kirkfield and gave Woodville an advantage. Bolsover’s mills closed and the hamlet became a sleepy backwater with the railway.

At its height, 1860s, Bolsover had a population of 150. It contained a general store, post office, school blacksmith, and of course, at least one hotel. The Bolsover Hotel was run by famous local character Julia ‘Biddy’ Young. A tough Irish barkeeper, Biddy acted as her own bouncer. Her establishment catered to lumbermen and travellers on the Portage Road. Biddy was not above ‘stretching’ the law, and a lack of a bar licence was no obstacle to Biddy Young, as she usually had a keg of whiskey hidden under a tree somewhere in the vicinity. In a dry township, Biddy was constantly up before the local magistrates on some liquor violation or another. She was no stranger to the Woodville Gaol and was not intimidated by the law. One judge accused her of having ‘enough brass in her head to make a huge kettle.’ Biddy’s reply: ‘And you have enough sap in yours to fill it!” That earned her a night in the gaol.

But Biddy’s foremost trait foremost trait was ‘putting down’ rich upstarts, especially the Mackenzies of Kirkfield. Sir William Mackenzie had risen from a poor farm boy to one of the richest men in Canada via the railway business. He built a huge mansion (still standing) in Kirkfield and lived the life of a country millionaire. Biddy would stand on a soap box (literally) on the main street of Kirkfield and preach about the evils of money and status (take that Mackenzies!) She would remind anyone who would listen that Lady Mackenzie once worked in her hotel as an upstairs maid. She predicted the upstart Mackenzies would be toppled from their perches and end in ruin. Oddly enough, she was correct! The Mackenzies actually tolerated Biddy’s rants, and it was rumoured Sir William used to frequent her establishment on a regular basis.

Gradually, the hamlet of Bolsover faded into a crossroads community, a suburb of Kirkfield. In the early 1900s, the Trent Canal was built between Gamebridge and Balsam Lake and following the Talbot River course, breathed some new life into Bolsover. Cottages and tourists clustered around the newly created Canal Lake and Bolsover even got its own lock!

Today Bolsover still has a general store on the Portage Road and its link to the past, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. The original church dated from the 1840s, and burned down. It was replaced by a modern structure.

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