View all Stories

Lakefield: A Literary Hot Spot

March 22, 2024

Downtown Lakefield, looking North

By Guy Scott

The Peterborough area has been graced by famous writers from its pioneer beginnings. A group of very well educated English settlers were among the first pioneers along the Otonabee River. The Reid and Stewart Families recorded their pioneering experiences as early as the 1820s.

Thomas A. Stewart and his wife Frances arrived at Peterborough in 1823, making them the first settlers on the Duoro side of the Otonabee River. Thomas Stewart spent several decades in government service and was invaluable in the growth of Peterborough city. His wife Frances kept a diary of their trials and experiences and published these records in 1889 as “Our Forest Home.” Samuel Strickland was a member of a prominent family in England. He emigrated to Canada in 1824 and eventually ended up in Lakefield in 1831. He farmed, participated in the community life, was a business entrepreneur and above all else, recorded his experiences in his masterful life story: Twenty-Seven Years in Canada West. In his later years, he operated a private school that taught ‘backwoods farming’ to young English gentry who came to seek their fortunes in the colony. His school, based out of his Lakefield home, ‘graduated’ a large number of gentlemen over the years.

Catherine Parr Traill followed her brother Samuel to Lakefield in 1832. Her husband was a retired British army officer, made surplus after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. They were totally unfit to be pioneer farmers and often learned their lessons the hard way. Catherine decided to publish her experiences and lessons in book form for the benefit of later pioneers. The result were such books as “The Backwoods of Upper Canada,” “The Canadian Settlers Guide” & “Canadian Crusoes: A Tale of the Rice Lake Plains.” Finding pioneer Lakefield not to their liking, after 10 years the Traills moved to Rice Lake. After her husband died, Catherine Parr Traill moved back to Lakefield to be near her brother. In her retirement, she developed a keen interest in local nature, especially plants. Her later books and stories were published from a botanical view. From 1860 to her death in 1899, Catherine Parr Traill lived in a simple cottage in Lakefield and held court among her many guests and friends. She became the matriarch of Canadian writers. Her cottage still exists to this day.

Susannah Moodie was the third member of the Stirckland family to emigrate to Lakefield in the 1830s. Her husband was also a half-pay army officer made redundant by the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Like the Traills, the Moodies were not cut out to be backwoods farmers. For several years they attempted to find their niche in Upper Canada with no success. Susannah recorded her experiencesa in her most famous work: “Roughing It in the Bush.” An article she published in the Literary Garland (Montreal) netted her $20 and quickly persuaded her to pursue a career in writing. After a time, her husband was given a military position more to his liking, and the Moodies moved to Belleville.

© Copyright 2024 - Maryboro Lodge Museum