August 24, 2023
SS #2 Bexley, the French Settlement School (Paul Zaborowski, Shedden Historical Society)
By Jenni Moffett
Originally Published in Summer Times, June 17, 1986
Located along the French Settlement Road off Highway 48, the small gathering of homes was once a very strong and busy farming community. It was settled in the mid-1800s by the Bradamore, Demoe, Ham, Pearce, Powell, and Grozelle families.
To establish their homesteads, the earliest pioneers in the French settlement came up through the Trent-Severn Waterway to the North Bay of Balsam Lake. Cutting a trail as they went, they hiked north to a small clearing of land which later developed into the farming community. Surviving in this wilderness was a challenge won only by the strongest, who learned to persevere.
Fresh water was taken up from nearby streams or hauled up from the lake. In the summer, deer and other game were killed and the meat was preserved for the winter. Berries were a staple food for the settlers in the summer and winter.
Both strawberries and raspberries were picked in the summer and either eaten fresh or put into baskets to be dried. Filled baskets were set on the roofs of the log cabins and the berries were dried by the sun until they were as hard as corn kernels. The small nuggets were then stored in the cabin until winter. In the winter, the dried berries were boiled in melted snow where they swelled back to almost their original size and could be eaten. The food supply also included milk and cream, which were milked from dairy cattle morning and night.
After being separated from the milk, the cream was put into a wooden churn and churned by hand into butter. Buttermilk was drained from the butter as well. Extra butter, which was not needed, was traded for other groceries and goods which could not be taken right from the land.
In the spring, sap was tapped from maple trees and then turned into maple syrup, after having boiled all the water out of it. Some of syrup was crystallized and was able to be used as sugar. Wheat was also grown and taken to Fenelon Falls to be ground into flour.
The French Settlement consisted of a group of farms, from which many of the present and former residents of the area recall the closeness and sense of community which existed. Mrs. Mary Wilksinon, who was born and raised in the French Settlement’s heyday, commented that all its residents were just like “one big family, always sharing the work that had to be done.”
Two or three times a week all the farmers pulled together and worked at each farm for a day during the busy seasons. These were known as ‘working bees’ and they made the work go faster and more enjoyable.
In the fall the land was ploughed, and in the spring a seed driller was used to sow the grain. In July, the hay was mature enough to be cut and bailed. After the haying was finished, a horse-pulled grain binder was used to cut the grain. The hay and grain, after it had been threshed, were used to feed the cattle.
Electricity was not brought into some of the farms until as late as the 1960s. Coal oil lamps provided light and cookstoves were used for cooking, baking, and heating the house. Trees were cut down from the surrounding forests and the wood was split into logs for fuelling the stove.
All of the homes were made out of wood. The earlier ones were log homes, but later, logs were cut down and processed into scantlings to be used in frame houses.
The trees were cut down with a five-and-a-half foot long crosscut saw, and then taken by horse and wagon over to one of the mills in Coboconk to be cut. Most of these homes were rebuilt or destroyed by fire.
Today, the French Settlement is still a small farming community, but most of the original land owners have moved away. Some of the Powells, however, still own farms in the Settlement.
Although it never grew to be as large as Coboconk or Victoria Road, the French Settlement was prosperous and contributed to the development of Bexley Township.