Jameson & Wallis’ Tavern Opens, 1835
March 27, 2022
Fenelon Falls’ First Retail Establishment
Fenelon Falls, like many communities in Upper Canada, was privately owned by land speculators. Originally granted to the Provincial Secretary and a Toronto banker, Duncan Cameron in 1832, (in that era, the ways that the so-called ‘Family Compact’ manipulated the land system to their advantage was a major grievance) the next year, he flipped the property to Robert Jameson for £500.
Robert Jameson was the grandson of Dublin distiller John Jameson and soon partnered with James Wallis (original proprietor of Maryboro Lodge) to develop the community. Both were younger sons from wealthy families, who would not inherit the family fortune back home, so they were seeking a way to maintain the social standing they had grown up accustomed to. The Jamesons’ family business needed no introduction—Yes, that Jameson distillery. Jameson’s whiskey was already world famous.
Jameson and Wallis’ venture centred around land speculation. They had an interest in 22.7% of Fenelon Township and 9.3% of Verulam. Much of the land was purchased from the Crown, or children of United Empire Loyalists who were entitled to free land grants that they did not wish to occupy themselves. As they were buying land on an open market, they planned to make improvements in the community, then resell the land at a profit.
As was common in nascent communities of that era, their improvements included a tavern, along with saw and grist mills. Wallis was also active in constructing the first Anglican Church—which was practically a state church at that time. As in Britain, taverns served meals and provided accommodations. In this era, when people walked or paddled to travel, each community needed a place to stay. In 1835, N.H. Baird visited Fenelon Falls and noted the newly-constructed tavern was an “inn of unusual extent and accommodation for a new country.” That year, Thomas Need spent New Years Eve “warming Wallis’ new tavern and it did very well.” In 1839, Anne Langton noted that it was filled for the Sturgeon Point Regatta. It is thought that tavern was located near the future site of the McArthur House (Subway).
In the end, Jameson & Wallis’ venture at Fenelon Falls proved unprofitable—they had been throwing good money after bad. As long as there was no shortage of government land, why would anyone buy their lots at a premium? But their misguided investments did help to get the community started. Both had to move on to other ventures. Jameson sold his share of the venture to Wallis in 1842, who would be remembered as a founding figure of the community. Robert Jameson died before cameras became common and there is no known likeness of him. The only image of the tavern comes from an Anne Langton sketch.