The Victoria Colonization Road
September 22, 2023
Looking south on the Victoria Colonization Road (now County Road 35), from Victoria Road
By Guy Scott
In the 1850s Colonization Roads were hot. In order to open up (for settlement) different parts of Ontario, the Government began to build a series of new roads into the unsettled parts of the Ottawa-Huron Tract between Lake Huron and the Ottawa River. Building roads at provincial government expense was a new idea—roads had been a municipal concern only. But the Government on Upper Canada took the plunge in 1856 and spent money on a series of colonization roads including the Bobcaygeon Road that led to the founding of Kinmount (1859). So successful was the Bobcaygeon Road that other groups began to clamour for more of these roads. Politicians were lobbied for more schemes and the County of Victoria was no exception. Eventually, Victoria County and other interest groups such as lumbermen succeeded in getting funding for two more colonization roads.
The Cameron Colonization Road ran from Fenelon Falls north to Minden through Rosedale, Coboconk and Norland. The road helped open up the Gull River watershed. It never extended beyond Minden because it joined the Bobcaygeon Road there. Today it follows the course of Highway #35.
The Victoria Colonization Road was designed to open up the west section of Victoria County. It actually started at Glenarm, but an extension was open to Cambray and Oakwood. It ran straight north along the township boundaries in Oakley Township (now part of Muskoka) where it met the Peterson Road. The Victoria Road was designed to bring settlement to the townships of Bexley, Laxton, Digby, Longford, Carden and eventually eastern Muskoka District. At the time, Oakley, Ryde and Ridout Townships were part of Victoria County. They were later transferred to Muskoka District simply because you could not access them from Victoria County!
To speed settlement, all lots along the Victoria Road were free to actual settlers who fulfilled the settlement duties. Dozens of settlers did come and live along the road, at least as far north as Uphill. The land was not good farmland, but the lumber industry was in full swing and there was a ready market for farm produce and timber. The villages of Victoria Road and Uphill flourished on the Road. Uphill was the point where the Victoria Road crossed the Monck Road and was the headquarters of the Longford Lumber Company. The Toronto-Nipissing Railway crossed the Road at Victoria Road, making this village the ‘metropolis’ of North Victoria County for several decades. In the section south of Uphill (roughly half of its 38 mile total length), the Victoria Colonization Road was a success.
North of Uphill, it was another story. The terrain gets much rougher and even free land could not entice settlement. The Road was built through the hilly terrain of the Canadian Shield to the Peterson Road Junction. Bridges and crossways through swamps were the biggest issue. While the Road never really crossed a major river, it had to cross numerous creeks, not to mention the swamps! Costly bridges were the rule. No sooner than the Victoria Road was completed, then a series of forest fires ravaged Longford in 1865 and many bridges were burned.
Under the Statute Labour Act, responsibility for road maintenance passed to the municipalities. Local settlers were required by law to keep up the roads in their vicinity. Between Uphill and the Peterson Road there were no settlers. Thus the road deteriorated under the travel of the lumber supply wagons and any wash outs remained wash outs. A reluctant County of Victoria was forced to make repairs, usually of the minimum variety. As long as the Longford Lumber Company used the north section of the Victoria Road, it was kept (mostly) passable. The north end through Ryde Township was abandoned. Forest fires became so destructive, that at peak danger times, men were hired to ‘baby sit’ the larger bridges. They filled barrels of water on the bridge and camped out. If the bridge caught fire, they used pails to douse the flames, or so the plan went! Not the safest or best plan!
By 1928 the Victoria Road through Longford Township was abandoned totally. Longford Township was privately owned, and there was no need of access via the Victoria Road. The southern section of the Victoria Road from Uphill to Glenarm was assumed by the Provincial Government as Highway #505. It was the only one lane highway I have ever seen—it didn’t need a centre line because it was too narrow! In the 1990s, the old Victoria Road was changed to a County Road. The section north of Victoria Road was always more heavily used than the northern section. Was the Victoria Colonization Road a success? Certainly the southern section was and still is, extensively used. But the northern section was never really well travelled.