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The Clearing of Fenelon Island

March 13, 2023

Entrance to Lower Lock Fenelon Falls, Canal

From the Post, Lindsay, March 3, 1972

The old stone mill in Fenelon Falls, which housed many industries over the past 120 years, a structure which survived serious fires in 1918 and 1970, succumbed at last to what many people call progress, when this past week a one-ton ball at the end of a crane reduced the stone walls to a pile of rubble, writing finis to an era of Fenelon Falls history.

Other old buildings on the site to disappear as a result of a beautification program are the bell tower erected between 1914 and 1918, the power, light and water commission building, erected in 1903. When the demolition and beautification program are completed, a hoped for promontory will be cleared from which to view the falls. The site will become a beauty spot, as it was once was prior to 1841, when the first grist mill was erected.

From the site of the original grist mill one could view the majesty and power of the falls as the Fenelon River plunged 23 feet with a thundering roar over a limestone cliff and quietly wended its way through a gorge, connecting Cameron Lake with Sturgeon Lake. Also from what better spot to harness all that water power to run a grist mill, which was erected in 1841 by James Wallis and Robert Jameson.

The grinding stones for the mill were brought all the way from Toronto on sleighs in the wintertime. The grist mill operated for 10 years until it was demolished in 1851 and separate grist and sawmills were built on the same side. The increased activity incident to the completion of the mills soon attracted a number of tradesmen, mechanics and others, and the area formerly surrounded by the forest began to take shape as a village.

Information for this article was provided by Alec Northey, who served as treasurer of Fenelon Falls for a number of years, and who incidentally did a fair amount of survey work in the Kawartha Lakes area; by Harry Littleton, Mr. Northey’s father-in-law, who by his own information is 94 years young; by H. Milburn Kelly, who loaned a book called Souvenir of Fenelon Falls, printed in 1904; by Mrs. Albert Jackett who serves in the clerk’s office, who opened up a number of the old commission books to view; and Fenelon Falls Reeve Harry Moore.  Mrs. A. Snedden, Fenelon Falls Librarian, and Mrs. E.C. Bigley the possessor at the moment of Mr. Littleton’s scrap book and pictures of the history of Fenelon Falls, also assisted.

The growth of Fenelon Falls continued steadily until the sawmill fire of 1859, which brought all mill operations to a halt, and stymied economic growth in the village for a considerable period of time. Nothing was done to bring the mill back into operation until it was acquired by R.C. Smith of Port Hope, at which time it was returned to full operation, the effects of which showed in the economic growth of Fenelon Falls. The location of this mill, according to Alec Northey was below the stone building which housed the grist mill.

The grist mill operations continued to roll smoothly under the guidance of Messrs. Austin, McDougall and Brandon until the partnership broke up, with Mr. Brandon continuing to operate the grist mill. Tragedy struck in 1917 [note above the same incident is recorded in 1918], when the interior of the mill was gutted by fire. In the years since that fire, a number of industries have occupied the stone premises.

The bathtubs manufactured sometime around the 1920s, were made of a quality, as one old time resident put it, that left much to be desired. A leather goods plant, a chopping mill, a woollen mill and finally Rosedale Furniture occupied the building when it was gutted by fire in April 1970.

The power house building, and the commission building were built in 1903. The powerhouse continued to serve Fenelon Falls until July 1971, when it was struck by lightning and the machinery rendered useless. The commission building housed not only the offices of the water, light and power commission, but for a time the meeting place of the village council. The commissioners at the time of the erection of the power house were: Charles Edwards, William McArthur, and George Martin.

It was interesting to view some of the old commission records, which are presently housed in the municipal office. The meetings of the commission were held every Friday night at 8:00 pm. No wonder, as Mrs. Albert Jackett put it, some of the written records were very short. A letter dated January 11, 1904, which was sent from the commission to an industry interested in settling in Fenelon Falls, assured the industry of the guarantee of enough power to run their plant by the time the industry would locate in Fenelon Falls.

Another letter was written to a local businessman Frank Sandford who operated the Sandford Wooden Ware Company, re: the installation of a power transformer. An entry made in the commission ledger of 1903 showed a householder being charged with a current monthly billing of 84 cents. One old timer commented, “you should have seen the amount of light power that the 84 cent billing provided.

The fire bell tower erected sometime during the First World War, and the fire hall erected in 1922 were also demolished in the current beautification program. The old jail, which was the last building to be demolished has not been used as a place of incarceration since 1940.

Vacant now, the one-time power generating station [south shore—later Fallsview Restaurant] could rise again as a restaurant as the area around the falls at Fenelon Falls is redeveloped. The plant, on the south side of the river, at one time produced electricity for Lindsay.

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