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The Farms of the Union Creek Valley

June 14, 2024

By Guy Scott

The Union Creek empties into the Burnt River at Lot 11 in the 7th concession of Somerville Township. The Union Creek stretches far east into Galway Township and drains a large section of that township. Along the valley of the Union Creek is some good farm land, and this area attracted early farmers to the area. The creek hugs the boundary between the 6th and 7th Concessions of Somerville all the way to the Galway border. To the north, the land is rugged and swampy in the 8th concession. To the south, the land elevates behind a limestone ridge and is shallow and rocky in the 5th concession. But in the valley of the Union Creek, it is suitable for farming. Today the concession road between the 6th and 7th concessions is part of County Road 121. The first lot south of the road (lot 10, concession 6) was homesteaded in the 1870s by David Steel Sr. He was a military veteran who was granted 200 acres as part of his pension. Like most lots in the 6th concession, some of the land (two-thirds) was on top of the limestone ledge, while the rest (and best) was in the Union Creek-Burnt River floodplain. The Steel family lived on the corner lot for over 100 years, finally selling in 1986.

The next lot to the east (lot 9) was originally pioneered by Richard Stewart. The lot was later occupied by Thomas Nelson, the Pocock family and the Dudman family. In 1959, Randy Welburn operated a garage from the site. After the garage closed, Ralph Mills used the site as a scrap metal depot. In 1988, the lot became part of the Burnt River Quarry.

Lot 8 was held by various speculators, lumbermen and local farmers (including the Fell and Hopkins families) until it was purchased by John and Minnie Jones in 1906. Their son Joe acquired the lot next door (Lot 7) and the family built a large brick house and barns and took up serious farming. Joe moved to Verulam and after John died, various members of the Jones family lived on the lot until 1969, when it was sold. The fine brick house is still standing along the road side.

The next lot east along the south side (6th concession) was settled by Rev. Francis Taylor. Rev. Taylor left the life of an itinerant minister for the more settled life of a farmer in the home community of his wife, Annie Pocock. The Taylors were industrious builders and soon constructed a large house and several barns. Some of their fields were on the east side of a branch of the Union Creek called “Back Creek.” The creek came out of Stewart’s Lake and joined the Union Creek on their lot. The municipal bridge over the Union Creek was rather “shoddy” and the Taylors built a solid bridge beside it to reach the east side. Travelers on the road often used the superior Taylor Bridge. The bridge can still be seen from the highway. The Taylors built a small dam at the bridge to control the water level and allow for logs to be floated down Back Creek to the Union Creek and on to the sawmills. The original buildings on the lot have all burned down, but the Taylor family still resides on the property.

Lot 5 in the 6th concession were settled by Thomas and Robert English. Thomas English had come to Canada to work as a bookkeeper for the famous Dunsford family on Sturgeon Lake. He traded his small lot on the lake for 400 acres on the East Line and created a farm. In 1919, Robert English sold lot 4 to Gordon Dudman. The Dudman family still farm this property. In 1941, the house burned down and the family was forced to live elsewhere until the current house was built.

Lot 4 was settled in 1976 by Henry Booth. He cleared land and built log buildings, but left the area in 1883, after selling to Henry Dudman. Henry had migrated from the Dutch Line near Kinmount and purchased his own operation and started a family on better land along the Union Creek. Over the next few years, the Dudmans built a larger (frame) house and a modern barn. The buildings, both old and new, are still standing although the old log barn just fell down [circa 2016]. The Dudman family still farms the lot.

One of the first families to settle in the area of Union Creek was the William Young family in 1856. William Sr. was a military veteran of the British Imperial Army and was entitled to 200 acres from the Crown. Several other army veterans also located along the road. The family accessed their property (lot 1, concession 7) via the newly built Bobcaygeon Colonization Road. This lot was the only lot still open on the Somerville side of the Road, the rest of the lots being acquired by speculators/lumbermen. William Sr. had 5 grown sons, and each of them was soon seeking properties of their own. Most of the lots were in the Union Creek area of Somerville:

William Jr.:  Lot 3, concession 6

George: Lot 2, concession 7

Richard: Lot 3, concession 7

John: Lot 2, concession 6

Robert: Lot 3, concession 8

The youngest daughter, Mary, married the famous Bill Dunbar. He had been a logging foreman for Mossom Boyd and had settled down to run an Inn across the Road from the Young homestead at Union Creek. A slight change in the Bobcaygeon Road’s course had left the Union Creek Inn isolated, so Bill Dunbar dismantled the structure and moved it across the Road and attached the new business to the rear of the Young house! The arrival of the railway to Kinmount decimated the hotel Business along the Bobcaygeon Road, so Bill Dunbar purchased a hotel in Kinmount and operated the famous “Victoria Hotel” on the main street of the village. The old hotel at Union Creek became a boarding house for miners employed at the local lead mines. Bill Dunbar was drowned in the winter of 1894 at Gannon’s Narrows and a famous ballad “The Drowning of Bill Dunbar” commemorates his loss.

Union Creek had a post office after 1904, but it was on the Galway side. Most of the Young family after this date recorded their addresses as Union Creek, Ont. There was also a school house on the Galway side of the hamlet until 1965. The dividing line between USS # 2 Somerville-Galway (Union Creek) and SS # 8 (Burnt River) was lot 3 in the 6th and 7th concessions of Somerville.

On the north side of the East Line Road, there were a number of farms in the 7th concession of Somerville. As stated George Young homesteaded lot 2 and Richard Young settled on lot 3 north of the East Line Road. Lot 4 was owned by Davis Steel Sr., who transferred title to his daughter who had married Herbert Barr Sr. The farm contained 40 acres of fields along the Union Creek. Four generations later, the Barr family still resides on this homestead. The next lot (5) was originally settled by Charles Stewart in 1869. The Stewarts remained on the farm until 1952, when Allan Dudman (from across the Road) purchased the property. The current owners are still the Dudman family who farm several holdings in the area. Lot 6 in the 7th concession was originally held by various speculators until Thomas Hunter purchased the 200 acre lot for $200 in 1889. The Hunters, like the Dudmans, emigrated from Galway for more fertile farmland. Thomas Hunter was an industrious farmer and shrewd businessman, who dabbled in the cattle business. His son Gordon, on returning from WWI moved to the village of Burnt River. The home farm was left to his daughter and son-in-law Tommy Armstrong, who died suddenly in 1944. The next owner of the farm was Gordon Dudman, and currently the farm is home to Dudman Construction, operated by the Dudman family.

Lot 8 was settled by a family named McDougall. The Union Creek’s course meant almost all the farm was north of the creek. Nevertheless, the McDougall family built a barn and cleared much land. They raised prize Hereford cattle.

Lot 9 also suffered from the course of the Union Creek, with most of the farm on the north side. A small bridge was built across the creek to allow access to the fields. This lot was owned by several groups, including the Lambert family, and later the Fell family. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was called the “Turnip Farm” because several acres of turnips were grown on the property. In the fall, local residents were hired to ‘cut’ the turnips and prepare them for market.

The last lot on the east side of the Burnt River along the East Line was the home of the Armstrong Family. The Armstrongs had originally settled in the 2nd concession of Somerville. James Armstrong Jr. purchased lot 10 from speculators after the timber was cut off. The homestead was built on a hill north of Union Creek, which was crossed by bridge. The spring floods always seem to overwhelm the little valley and every spring boats are needed to access the homestead. James was a barn framer, who never lacked for projects, while his sons Russell and Henry were noted blacksmiths. The Armstrong family still resides on the farm today.

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