June 14, 2023
Ennismore with Chemong Lake in the Background
By Guy Scott
The settlement of Ennismore was part of the Peter Robinson migration in the 1820s. Ennismore was originally called the “Gore of Emily.” In old English, a “gore” was a piece of land attached to a larger piece but separate, like a peninsula. Ennismore was a large peninsula surrounded by Pigeon Lake to the west, Buckhorn Lake to the north & east and Chemong Lake to the south. The only land access was in the southwest from Emily Township. When Victoria and Peterborough Counties were separated in the 1850s, Emily went to Victoria while Ennismore was placed in Peterborough County. Ennismore is the second smallest township in Peterborough County and was truly limited in size due to geography. Ennismore residents gravitated to Peterborough City via Bridgenorth. Originally this required a dangerous lake crossing, first by boat and later by floating bridge, but that is another story.
The Peter Robinson settlers consisted of 68 families. Each was given a 100-acre lot. The rest of the township was divided among 3 groups: lots for sale by the government of Upper Canada, lots purchased for re-sale by the Canada Company and lots granted to Abraham Nelles, a surveyor, in lieu of cash payment for surveying the county. (Nelles actually received 12,000 acres for his survey duties: a substantial sum for his services!) This set up meant vacant farm land was available in Ennismore for several decades.
The earliest settlers decided the title Gore of Emily was a clumsy title for the Township, so a new name was necessary. Since they were almost exclusively Irish, several Irish names were suggested including ‘Dinglehole’ and Gallivanville,’ but in the end the more appropriate name Ennismore was selected. In Gaelic, Ennismore means ‘large meadow-island.’ Several of the Irish settlers had been tenant farmers of Viscount Ennismore back in southern Ireland. Over the next few decades, a smattering of new settlers arrived to purchase farm lots and fill-in the settlement gaps. Most of these newcomers were friends and relatives of the earlier Peter Robinson migrants. It certainly helped when these first settlers announced their township as ‘the Holy Land’ to their friends back in Ireland!
Among the early settlers, families were large and names seemed to be in short supply. In the 1861 census, there were 70 Sullivans listed with the following first names:
The census also included 35 Shanahans, 24 Collins, plus lots of Curtains, Hickson, Scollard, Galvin, Flood, Hickey, Conway, O’Connor, Young and many others. Needless to say, there were lots of nicknames used. Second generations of these families became settlers in the Kinmount area.
In 1846, the Great Potato Famine hit Ireland leading to millions of poor, desperate Irish settlers flooding North America. Oddly enough, the earlier Peter Robinson group did not accept these newcomers. The originals were 2 decades removed from Ireland and had become quite acclimatized to Canada. Many of the second wave were labourers or ‘garden Irish’ who didn’t know how to wield an axe, hitch a horse or plow ground: all necessary functions in pioneer Canada. They also brought diseases with them, including cholera and smallpox which established settlers wished to avoid.
The earliest settlers loved their ‘strong liquors,’ and the township soon supported 7 taverns. In the 1890s, a dry priest was appointed to Ennismore parish. He identified alcohol as a leading social blight on the township, so he quickly set about banishing the taverns. Under his influence, the township council voted to raise the tavern licence fee to $600, effectively pushing the taverns out of business. Now some disgruntled bar owners were tempted to ignore the licence and operate under the table. So the priest placed a curse on those who sold alcohol: their establishments would burn to the ground if they tried to ignore the law. After the first two transgressors did in fact have their businesses destroyed by fire, the curse was taken seriously! A century later, another lodge attempted to operate a bar room; it also burned down! Was the curse still in effect?
In true Irish tradition, there was never a proper village or town in Ennismore. The centre of the township was, and continues to be, a settlement first known as “the Cross” and now called simply Ennismore. It started off in true Irish style as a Church, to which were added a school, Post Office, blacksmith shop, several stores and a tavern; all grouped around a crossroads in the centre of the settlement. The church was for several decades administered first from Peterborough as a mission, then from Downeyville as a branch. The old log church was soon outgrown, and a new church St. Martin’s of Tours built for the large congregation. By 1890, Ennismore received a long overdue designation as an independent parish.
Today, the “Cross” is known as Ennismore Post Office, and still contains a Church, Community Centre/Arena, Post Office, School and a store. But the name Ennismore is still applied to the whole Township and not just the ‘Cross.’