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April 6, 2023

Haliburton From the Air

By Guy Scott

Haliburton, both the county and the village are named after Thomas Chandler Haliburton: a famous Canadian writer and humourist from Nova Scotia. The village is the centre of the municipality of Dysart et al, a block of 9 townships with an interesting history. In the 1860s, the Government of Canada West (now Ontario) was surveying and opening up the back townships of Peterborough County for settlement. At the time, Haliburton County did not exist; the area was an extension of Peterborough and Victoria Counties. Lots were being sold to prospective settlers one at a time. For some reason, the government sold 10 townships en mass to a company called the English Land and Emigration Company from London, England. The price was to be 50 cents per acre, 10% down, the rest in installments over a 20-year span. The townships contained 403,125 acres (more or less) but the kindly government allowed a 10% deduction for swamps and badlands. Nine of the townships were in a block, but the tenth township (Longford) was actually located to the west in Victoria County. It was quickly sold to a lumber company and today the entire township is still privately owned.

It was a disaster of monumental proportions. In reality, 90% of the block was ‘badlands,’ swamps or just plain under-water! The 9 townships were almost totally unsuited for agricultural settlement. The shareholders of the company quickly learned the only valuable ‘crop’ was timber, especially white pine. After a few futile years in which very few settlers arrived, and most departed immediately, the Company sold timber rights to Mossom Boyd of Bobcaygeon and declared bankruptcy. Most of the property in the 9 townships was gradually sold off piecemeal to lumbermen or let go for back taxes. One whole township was traded to the Ontario Government for a road, and 4 townships were incorporated into Algonquin Park. The last large block (the size of a township) eventually became the Haliburton County Forest and Wildlife Preserve.

In its heyday, the Company founded the village of Haliburton as its administrative centre. The village grew up at a junction between 2 lakes on the north branch (Drag River) of the Burnt River system. Early access was solely by water via the Bobcaygeon Road to Minden, then overland to Lake Kashagawigamog and then by boat to Haliburton Village. This difficult access led to constant attempts by the Company to acquire road and rail access. Eventually, colonization roads arrived via Minden, Kinmount (County Road 1) and Buckhorn. But the Company used its influence (and its chequebook) to lure the Victoria Railway north from Lindsay in the 1870s. The Company paid a bonus of several thousand dollars per mile to get the railway terminus in Haliburton Village. The Victoria Railway didn’t kick start the farm industry, but it did help the village grow.

Haliburton Village depended on the twin pillars of the lumber industry and tourism. The railway brought tourists in abundance to vacation on the myriad of beautiful lakes that adorned the area. The village adopted a very English atmosphere. Many of the residents were direct from England and a good number were actually bluebloods: members of the aristocracy. It is rumoured the town was home to several lords, dukes and a great many remittance men. A remittance man was a member of a rich family who was given a pension or remittance every year to stay away from the family back in England for any number of reasons. Cricket was the game of choice and the village celebrated all the English holidays, such as Guy Fawkes Day. The Company agent lived in an English Country Mansion, complete with suits of armour and servants. The Company built a town hall, Anglican Church and operated a store. Of all the villages in the area, Haliburton was considered the most literate, with many residents having university degrees.

The municipality of Dysart et al still exists today. Many of the lakes are now ringed with cottages and Haliburton Village acts as a prosperous shopping/administrative centre for the 9 townships. It contains a vibrant business sector, a hospital, central schools, museum and all the hallmarks of a local centre. Sir Sandford Fleming College operates a satellite college in the village. The area now attracts many retirees to the enjoy natural beauty of the Haliburton Highlands.

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