October 12, 2023
Highland Grove from the Air
By Guy Scott
A few settlers trickled up the Burleigh Road in the 1880s and settled in the vicinity of Highland Grove. But the earliest hamlets were glued to the course of the road at Cheddar and South Wilberforce. The arrival of the Irondale, Bancroft and Ottawa railway in the 1890s led to the nucleus of Highland Grove taking shape. In 1897, a post office was granted to the hamlet and the name Highland Grove was chosen because it was the highest point of elevation in Haliburton County. A height of land was nearby where the waters drained in different watersheds: west into the Kawartha Lakes via the Irondale River and Eels Creek and east via the York and Madawaska Rivers into the Ottawa River Valley.
Lumbering was big in the area, but a number of rock farmers occupied marginal land in the area. Dairying was big and Highland Grove soon boasted a cheese factory. At its peak, the village contained 3 general stores, 2 churches, a blacksmith shop, a hotel and a school as well as the railway station. The railway meant many settlers relocated in Highland Grove, spelling the doom of such early settlements as Cheddar and Kidd’s Corner.
The rough nature of the area meant troubles for the IB&O railway builders. Steep grades were common: a safe grade being 3% or 3 feet rise per 100 feet of track. The grade at Baptiste Hill east of Highland Grove was 4%—steeper than many grades in the Rocky Mountains! A siding was built at the top of the hill so the IB&O engine would only have to pull have the train up the hill at once. The engine would then reverse back down the hill and tow the other half up! It took a bit of time, but then the IB&O ran by calendar, not by clock! Another legend concerns the name Pine Stump Curve, which was given to one curve where the track was laid around a huge pine stump too big to move.
Highland Grove contains stock pens and a loading chute because large numbers of cattle were shipped from here. The railway line between Highland Grove and Bird’s Creek is a most scenic county road today. It hugs the shores of numerous lakes and it features breathtaking scenery.
Today, Highland Grove is a sleepy little community: the chief features being the old General Store high on the hill, a community centre and the restored Kidd log schoolhouse.