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Mara Township

May 28, 2024

Brechin from the South

By Guy Scott

Mara Township is on the east side of Lake Simcoe between Rama and Thorah. Access can be gained from Lake Simcoe and early settlement spread north in the 1820s. After a couple of decades of settlers trickling in from the Lake Simcoe front, the township received a big influx of settlers in 1846-7. These newcomers were from the Hebrides Islands off the west coast of Scotland, Argyllshire and Inverness. They were forced out by overpopulation, famine and enclosures by landowners, which displaced small farmers (called crofters) for more profitable sheep raising. They were joined by isolated groups of Irish Catholics. Many of the new arrivals were Roman Catholics and at least 2 Catholic Churches were set up in the township. There were so many McDonalds in the area, that they needed nicknames to tell them apart. The McKenzies and McKinnon clans also had the same issues!

Mara Township has 4 small communities in its borders: Gamebridge, Brechin, Udney and Uptergrove. None of these villages ever grew into sizeable communities; they were just too close to Orillia in the north and Beaverton and Cannington in the south. Mara derives from either the Spanish word for sea or from a biblical character from the Book of Exodus. The farmland along the shore of Lake Simcoe is quite fertile, but it declines into thin limestone the further away from the lake you go. But this did not stop the early settlers and later waves of pioneers who flooded east from the lake into Victoria County.

The largest hamlet was Brechin in the south of the township. The first business was set up by Pat Foley who called the community Brechin after his wife’s birthplace, the Scottish hamlet of Brechin near Edenborough. While Brechin was on an eligible mill site, it grew up along the Centre Road that ran from Whitby to Orillia. Today this road is the very busy Highway #12. Brechin was a shopping centre that supplied goods and services to the surrounding farm community. The Midland Railway arrived in Brechin in the 1860s and supplied access to the outside world for the community. This railway line is still in operation, unlike most other railways in the area. The railway quickly displaced the road and steamboat service as the main transportation device and Brechin flourished because it had a railway stop.

Brechin was not actually touching the shores of Lake Simcoe, but the area drew a number of tourists to vacation nearby. In later years, a large retirement town called Lagoon City was built along the shoreline near Brechin, and the population in this subdivision eventually out-numbered the village of Brechin. The earliest settlers had to haul their grist all the way to Holland Landing by boat. Later a mill at Beaverton shortened the trip until local grist mills were set up. But Mara did not have an abundance of water falls and steam was often used. In pioneer Brechin, the mail was only delivered 1 day a week until the Centre Road arrived. A stage carried passengers from Whitby to Orillia until replaced by the steam train in the 1870s.

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