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Little Britain

December 10, 2023

Little Britain from the Air, October 11, 2023

By Guy Scott

Mariposa Township has excellent farm land, but lacked major rivers for eligible mill sites. Thus the villages and hamlets, though numerous, grew in odd places. Mariposa Brook or West Cross Creek was the only true waterway, but it was small by area standards and lacked a steady flow of water in the summer. The first settlement in the Little Britain area was a hamlet just south of the present village named Plymouth. It was primarily an inn started by an enterprising pioneer on the corner of his farm lot. The inn was described in 1837 as a one storey log building with a small store in one end and 5 bedrooms in the other end. Very primitive indeed! The inn was a stopover for farmers drawing their grain from up north to Port Hoover on Lake Scugog. A blacksmith shop and a couple of houses comprised the rest of the village. By 1865, all were gone as settlement shifted a couple of concessions north to a spot where Mariposa Brook crossed the same road. Here the village of Little Britain grew up around the grist mill.

The earliest settlement was called Siloam and was a typical pioneer crossroads hamlet: grist and saw mill, tavern and blacksmith. As the economy grew, stores and professional services such as cooper, tailor, etc. were established. By 1855, the community was granted a post office and the name Little Britain was selected. One village elder suggested this name with the statement: “We, most of us, came from Great Britain as our native place. I propose the name Little Britain in memory of our mother country.”

The village prospered and became a shopping centre for the surrounding farms. Besides the mills, it soon contained 3 blacksmiths, farm equipment dealers, a foundry, a harness maker, a carriage maker (output per year: 37 buggies!) and other services related to the agricultural sector. But there was more than just a ‘business side’ to Little Britain. The current community bills itself as the “Sports Capital of the Kawarthas.” And this title is well rooted in the history of the village. In 1915, the Little Britain Civic Park Association was formed and promptly built a baseball diamond and an open air hockey arena in town. Both were lit by that new marvel: electric lights! In 1943 an indoor ice surface was built and artificial ice was added in 1965. By 1975, the old arena was condemned and a new one was promptly built to replace this valuable community spot. Hockey was always a big part of winter sports, and a Mariposa Township Hockey League existed for decades. Today Little Britain has a Junior C Hockey franchise: quite a feat for so small a community!

Music was also a part of the community. As early as 1876 the village had a brass band, which existed for many decades. The community also had a boys’ band and a string orchestra!

Like most villages, Little Britain was plagued by fire. In 1909, a huge fire threatened to engulf the entire business core. Pleas for assistance went out to neighbouring communities. Oakwood responded, but a crash disabled their pumper! Lindsay and Peterborough demanded a cash payment in advance so no help came from those towns. Believe it or not, the City of Toronto responded by loading equipment from its Yonge Street Hall on a special train. But before the relief could start out, the fire was under control. Twenty businesses and homes were destroyed. Obviously the next order of business was a fire department!

Little Britain at its heyday included at least 3 churches, a multi-room Continuation (High) School, a Mechanic’s Institute (library), a Women’s Institute, a bank and a doctor: All signs of a prosperous village. By 1900 the village had reached a population of 300 people. A friendly rivalry sprang up between Oakwood and Little Britain, over which centre was to be the largest village in Mariposa Township. Oakwood was still the official township seat (and had the Town Hall), but Little Britain contained more businesses and people. And the villages were only a few miles apart. The railway ran between the two villages with a stop called Mariposa Station servicing both centres. Little Britain also attained Police Village status in the early 1900s, and like Oakwood, surrendered the status in the 1970s. Today, Little Britain is a quaint crossroads village with a store and a credit union.

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