October 6, 2023
Catchacoma with Mississauga Lake in the Background
By Guy Scott
Cavendish Township is the township in Peterborough County immediately to the east of Galway Township. Despite being Galway’s ‘twin,’ it has a completely different history. Galway was accessed from the Bobcaygeon Road and gravitated more to Victoria County and Kinmount than Peterborough County. Cavendish, on the other hand, was oriented towards Buckhorn and the rest of Peterborough County. Cavendish’s topography was totally unsuited to agricultural settlement and attracted only a handful of hardy settlers who made a living from the lumber industry; at least until tourism came along! Being virtually deserted, Cavendish was twinned with Galway for municipal government and until 1998 was part of the Township of Galway-Cavendish. Amalgamation witnessed this municipality join with its southern neighbour to create the township of Galway-Cavendish & Harvey.
The Bobcaygeon Colonization Road had worked wonders for settlement. It was so successful, the government of Canada West (future Ontario) decided to repeat this success in other areas and built two more colonization roads through norther Peterborough County: The Buckhorn Road and the Burleigh Road. The Burleigh Road crossed the Kawartha Lakes at Burleigh Falls and headed north to Wilberforce and Bancroft via Apsley. The Buckhorn Colonization Road crossed the lakes at Buckhorn and wound its way north to Gooderham and eventually Haliburton village. It was the Buckhorn Road (todays Road #507) that gave birth to Cavendish settlement and its only post office: Catchacoma.
Suitable farm land was available along the road between Buckhorn village and Rockcroft, the area in the vicinity of Flynn’s Turn. But north of Rockcroft the land turns rocky and totally unsuited to farming. In fact, southern Cavendish Township contained a maximum of only 6 farms, and very poor ones at that! A pocket of better farmland was found in the north-west corner of the township, but this settlement was tied to White Lake/Fortescue in Galway and Gooderham.
The Buckhorn Road was eventually completed all the way to Haliburton, but was rarely used. Both Gooderham and Haliburton gained easier access via the Bobcaygeon and Monck Roads and the arrival of the Victoria and IB&O Railways rendered the north end of the Buckhorn Road useless for travel. In fact, the Buckhorn Road north of Catchacoma was often abandoned for long stretches of time; becoming impassable and not being fixed because nobody cared! Even as late as the 1930s, a venturesome motor car traveller reported the Road ‘abandoned and impassable’ north of Catchacoma. His vehicle was actually stopped by weeds and brush 6 feet tall in the roadbed! The growth of tourism did lead to a reopening of the road, but for years it was famous for its winding road path through the rocks.
The main industry in the township was lumbering. A fine string of waterways, highlighted by Catchacoma and Mississauga Lakes and drained south by the Mississauga River were ideal for lumbermen. At first the companies floated their logs south to Peterborough. However, a mill was constructed at Scott’s Rapids, between Rockcroft and Buckhorn. When the road was improved in the 1930s, Peterborough Lumber built a huge mill on Catchacoma Lake (1943) and cut the lumber closer to the source. The mill closed in 1966 as the lumber supply was exhausted.
Tourism quickly replaced lumbering as a mainstay of Cavendish Township. The Buckhorn Road gave access to the larger lakes, and several tourist lodges sprang up in the early 1900s. Several families including the Westlakes, Cochranes and Windovers all opened tourist lodges over the early years. After World War II, private cottages came into fashion and the shores of the bigger lakes and the shores of the bigger lakes became dotted with cottages. Even today, there still seems to be room for more cottages along the shores of Cavedish’s many lakes and the tourism industry is still expanding.
In the early 1920s, Cavendish was granted its one and only post office. It was named Catchacoma after the lake it sat beside and gained fame as Ontario’s smallest post office. It was a summer-only post office run by the Cochrane family as part of their summer lodge. When the Cochranes retreated south in the fall, they closed the post office and literally abandoned the area! The post office was closed permanently in the 1940s. Today, Cavendish Township has a vibrant tourist economy and is home to many permanent and seasonal residents. The community has built a fine community centre with library and fire hall in the old Cathacoma settlement area. The old Buckhorn Road has been improved and is now quite passable throughout the length of the township. Cottages have spread to most of the smaller bodies of water such as Green’s, Pencil, Gold, Picard and Beaver Lakes. More recently, Cavendish has become the western edge of the Kawartha Highlands Signature Site, a new provincial park. Times have really changed for Cavendish Township.