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February 23, 2023

A bird's eye view of Norland, Autumn 2022

By Guy Scott

Norland is located on the Gull River, one township west of Kinmount. The Gull River system drains the western half of Haliburton County and is a major waterway. Norland is historically tied closely to Coboconk and Fenelon Falls, two downstream communities. Like most village sites in our area, Norland was the site of a waterfall and thus a site for the first pioneer entrepreneurs. Coboconk had a sawmill by 1855, and A.A. McLauchlin began a mill at Norland by 1858. The Gull River was a major log-driving route, and made water access practical from both Cameron Lake and points north.

McLauchlin’s mill was ready by 1861, but he had to await the arrival of the Cameron Colonization Road, which reached Norland in 1861 to cadge in his machinery. The first sawmill effectively blocked log drives on the Gull River, a big mistake!. After legal wrangling, McLachlin was forced to move his mill from its position right over the river to the west bank and install a timber slide for itinerant log drives. The post office was officially opened on July 1, 1859. Originally called “McLauchlin’s Mills,” the first postmaster (McLauchlin himself!)  chose the name “Nordland” for the new community. A copy error by an anonymous postal clerk led to the ‘d’ being left out, and Norland was born. The name came from the fact it was so far ‘north’ of the other settlements.

In the pioneer era, Norland had a rival for township centre status. Elliott Falls, a mile north on the same Gull River, also had an excellent mill site, access on the Cameron Road and a small business community. It was a toss-up until the arrival of the Monck Road (Highway #503/County Road 45) passed through Norland. The Elliott Falls community eventually vanished and Norland became the ‘centre’ for the area.

While Norland had 2 or 3 key ingredients for a successful pioneer community (major waterway + road junction) it lacked the third key ingredient: a railway. For a town relying heavily on lumber mills, this was fatal for prosperity. The big Norland sawmill was in constant financial difficulties. From 1861 to 1873, each year saw a different ‘manager’ running the mill. In 1873, S.E. Pettigrew tried his hand. In 1876 a Toronto Law firm bought the mill after loan default. The mill changed hands 7 times until it was simply dismantled in 1892! Every owner/leaser lost money! The reason was simple: Norland lacked access to outside markets, i.e. a railway. Smaller mills came and went over the years, with the last mill (a subsidiary of J. Austin & Son of Kinmount) ceasing operation in 1954.

Despite the sporadic nature of the lumber business, Norland did develop as a major centre. It contained a grist mill, township office, business sector, blacksmith, agricultural society, school, two churches and other trappings of urban backwoods life such as an Orange Lodge, Order of Foresters Lodge, Horticultural Society, Women’s Institute, library, telephone company, waterworks and even a militia company! The village served as a shopping centre for a larger area, especially along the Monck Road to the west.

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