October 23, 2023
Oakwood from the Air, October 2023
By Guy Scott
Mariposa Township lies in the southwest corner of the old County of Victoria. Its name means ‘butterfly’ in Spanish and was picked a British veteran of the Napoleonic Wars (1792-1815) to add a little variety to township names of the area. It is located in the third row or range of townships surveyed north of the front on Lake Ontario. As such, it was surveyed for settlement in 1821, but no real settlers arrived for 10 years: new settlement was absorbed by the two township ranges between Mariposa and Lake Ontario (Cartwright & Darlington Townships in Durham County). Much of the unoccupied township was granted to absentee owners, especially veterans of the recently ended War of 1812, descendants of Loyalists and ‘friends’ of the government of the day. True pioneer settlers were rare, and about half of the eventual settlers had to buy their lots from previous owners.
Still these lots were valuable because Mariposa Township contains some of the best farmland in Ontario. It was a ‘farmer’s township’ if there ever was one. Agriculture was the main industry and still is. The township bordered on the north shore of Lake Scugog, which provided the earliest and easiest access for the settlement. Almost all the settlers came via Port Perry or across the lake from ‘ports’ like Caesarea in Cartwright Township. Despite the fact Lindsay was only a few miles to the east, the early settlers looked to Port Perry, Beaverton and Manilla for supplies and communications.
Mariposa lacks rivers to supply water. The only major system is West Cross Creek or Mariposa Brook, which was small and barely suitable for a pioneer’s friends: the saw and grist mills. There were few, if any, suitable waterfalls or mill sites. Therefore, most of the mills in Mariposa relied on steam power. The lack of mills also meant the growth of villages was slow and sporadic. Most villages or hamlets grew up around mills in pioneer Ontario. There were numerous hamlets in the township, but most started as crossroads communities meant to service the local farmers. Mariposa, despite being the most populous township in Victoria County in the 1800s, never contained a true incorporated village or town. Woodville, on the northern border was such a village, but it was officially listed in Eldon Township, even if half the village was on the Mariposa side.
Little Britain and Oakwood were the main centres. Woodville to the north, Manilla to the west and Seagrave to the south were boundary villages, shared with other townships. Valentia, Fingerboard, Port Hoover and Sonya were hamlets. Linden Valley, Grass Hill, Cresswell and Taylor’s Corners all had post offices and were recognizable communities. But there was no ‘big town’ or village that dominated the township. Each township had a ‘township seat’ or lead centre. This usually meant the village or hamlet contained the trappings of local government: i.e. a town hall, library, municipal office, etc. Oakwood was designated as the seat for Mariposa as early as 1844. History does not explain why Oakwood won this honour. It was not the largest or most prosperous hamlet at the time. It was kind of isolated from the other centres and off the beaten path at the time. But a town hall was built in Oakwood and to this very day it is still the municipal centre for Mariposa.
Oakwood was originally called Tift’s Corners, after the earliest settler. The name was changed to Oakwood in 1848 when the hamlet was given a post office. A town plan was surveyed in 1853. The name Oakwood was selected because a grove of oak trees dominated the hill at the four corners. When the Mariposa Town Hall was built, it was the only building at the site. Gradually, the hall was joined by stores, mills, houses and businesses. Oakwood was a typical pioneer crossroads community: several general stores, a blacksmith or two, harness maker, carpenters, shoe/boot makers, a school, a couple of churches, and the ever present inn or tavern. As the agricultural sector flourished, Oakwood acquired more businesses geared to farming, such as a tannery, wagon factory and grain elevator. Mariposa was a grain growing township and there were several elevators in the township to hold grain. Mariposa became noted for its seed production, especially clover seed.
Mariposa, as a prosperous rural farm township, had more than its share of community organizations. In the late 1800s, our society was flooded by a plethora of groups, all designed to make the community a better place. The oldest society in Mariposa was the Mariposa Agricultural Society, which held its first fair at Oakwood in 1848, at the new town hall, naturally. The Oakwood Fair continued until 2009. There were many other farm organizations and clubs active in the area, including: the Grange, Patrons of Industry, Farmers Institutes, United Farmers of Ontario, Farmer’s Union and more recently Women’s Institutes, Junior Farmers and 4H. Mariposa had them all! Other organizations called Oakwood home as well, including: Freemasons (1858), Loyal Orange Lodge (1855), Ancient Order of United Workmen (1885), Canadian Order of Chosen Friends (1889), Independent Order of Foresters (1897) and Independent Order of Oddfellows (1876). Some of the obscure groups in the township included Knights of the Macabees, Knights of the Good Templars and Sons of Scotland.
Lindsay was a regional railway centre and several railways passed through Mariposa. However, the township council was notoriously ‘tight’ with railway bonuses, which led to some interesting station placements. None of the main settlements (Oakwood, Little Britain, Woodville, Manilla) actually had a railway station within the village! The Port Hope-Lindsay-Beaverton line deliberately planned its route away from Oakwood and Woodville. Oakwood residents journeyed 4 miles north to catch the train at Grass Hill, while Woodville station was actually at Lorneville Junction. The Toronto-Nipissing Railway avoided to township completely with Lorneville or Cannington the nearest stations.
The Whitby-Port Perry-Lindsay line had to pass directly through Mariposa, but picked a course that ran between Oakwood and Little Britain! Manilla Junction was a major junction, but it too was set a distance from the settlement as well. Thus, the railway stations were all at a distance from the major settlements. But the railways did mean prosperity and the isolated stations shipped large quantities of farm products. The prosperity of this trade can be seen in the fine homes that dot the countryside and grace the hamlet of Oakwood. Eventually, Oakwood acquired a larger town hall, skating rink and its own bank. It was home to the Mariposa municipal offices and the cenotaph, as well as a high school. It even had its own doctor and veterinarian: a sure sign of prosperity.
But in the 1900s, improved roads and the advent of the motor car ‘shrank’ distances. Lindsay was a mere 7 miles away and most of the services concentrated in the larger centre. Oakwood is even hooked onto the Lindsay water system. Eventually, most of the businesses were closed and Oakwood became a bedroom community. Several small subdivisions now surround the old village core.