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Union Creek and Galena Hill

December 2, 2023

Looking West at Union Creek

By Guy Scott

The very first settlers in the Kinmount area came up the Bobcaygeon Colonization Road in the late 1850s. The Burnt River was considered too turbulent to act as an access route to the area. The rough and muddy Bobcaygeon Road was the only practical route until the arrival of the railway in the 1870s. The first community in the Kinmount orbit was at Union Creek. There was never a designated ‘hamlet’ of Union Creek. The settlement sprawled along the Bobcaygeon Road from its junction at the Crystal Lake Road south to the Six Mile Turn, or Galena Hill.

Union Creek was the name of the major creek that crossed the Bobcaygeon Road in the heart of the settlement. It was a long creek that drained a large area of north-west Galway Township. The creek had several branches and sources: Connelly’s Lake and Cuckoo Lakes in the east and all the land west almost to the Bobcaygeon Road. It drained roughly one-quarter of the township, or approximately 16,000 acres. When it crossed the Bobcaygeon Road flowing west towards the Burnt River, it entered Victoria County. The Creek discharged into the Burnt River near the village of Burnt River, hugging the route of old Highway #121. Where the name Union Came from is unknown.

The creek itself is very twisty and crooked, but was wide enough in the spring freshet to be used to float logs along its lower stretches and is still considered a ‘navigable waterway,’ though I wouldn’t use anything bigger than a canoe. There are only a few minor rapids in the Creek and it never had a mill site or dam on its course.

Galena Hill is the name given to the ridge that ran east-west south of the Creek. Galena is a natural mineral, commonly a form of lead. It also contains zinc and silver. Deposits were discovered along the ridge as early as the 1860s. Mining speculators sank a number of pits and shafts on both sides of the Bobcaygeon Road. Small quantities of the ore were mined and shipped out by horse and wagon to Bobcaygeon and then to Burnt River after the railway arrived in 1876. But the mining ventures never really were profitable. Some reports said it contained too high a sulphur content. Others speculated the quantity of ore was never enough to justify the cost.

The ‘lead mines’ as they were called operated sporadically over several decades. There were two main mine sites: The East (Galway) Mine on Lot 20, concession A of Galway. The West (Somerville) Mine was lot 2, concession 5 of Somerville. The East Mine was abandoned by 1890. The West Mine wasn’t opened until 1900 and struggled along until 1920. Both mine sites are abandoned today and reduced to holes in the ground.

Galena Hill still exists as a ‘name’ on many maps. It was never a hamlet. It had no post office (the symbol of a community), school or businesses. Today the locals call the area the ‘Six Mile Turn.’ It refers to the junction of (former) highways 649 and 121. The current CR #49 (they cut out the ‘6’) is the old Bobcaygeon Road and leads on to Bobcaygeon Village. The CR 121 turns west and brushes by Burnt River before reaching Fenelon Falls. In pioneer days, the Bobcaygeon Road was the main route into Kinmount from the south. The 121 course was just a concession road, likely unopened until much later. The main route from Kinmount to Burnt River/Fenelon Falls ran west to the Pinery Road (on Monck Road) and ran west of the Burnt River to Burnt River village, south to Mitchell’s Bridge across the River, and into Fenelon Falls via the Boundary Road/Nelson’s Corners [later Aunt Molly’s, now junction of CRs 8 & 121]. Only in the 1930s was the present route #121 made the main access road to Fenelon.

Since the Bobcaygeon Road was to be the main access road in the area, the surveyors laid the route as straight as possible from a line in Port Hope to what became North Bay. The survey was laid out by compass, just as straight as possible. Geography did force a few deviations from the compass line, but from Bobcaygeon to Kinmount, the road runs very straight. There are two small deviations at Union Creek: one just north of the Creek where the original road moved a few feet west into Somerville to avoid a small hill, and the other just south of the creek where the road also jogged west to avoid the actual Galena Hill. Both deviations were abandoned at a later date. The north section was straightened in the 1930s and the south dog leg bypassed by improvements when 121 was built. Both deviations can still be seen today.

The Bobcaygeon Road is the boundary between Peterborough (east) and Victoria (west) Counties. In fact, the Bobcaygeon Road was a county boundary line along its entire route. The course was the key survey line in this entire region of central Ontario. The line of the road can be clearly seen if one examines the area in wall maps taken from space. The whole survey line jumps right off the map running from Lake Ontario to North Bay. All concession roads branch off this line.

Somerville and Galway Townships have different survey patterns. Somerville was surveyed in the 1830s and the lots were 200 acre rectangles. By the 1850s, when Galway was surveyed, the style had changed to 100 acre lots called ‘long hundreds.’ All the concession lots ran north-south, but the concession bordering the Bobcaygeon Road. These were rotated east-west to allow for more lots fronting on the Road. This concession was called concession A and this pattern ran along the whole route of the road to North Bay!

The Somerville lots were open for sale 20 years before the Road was built, and many were sold prior to the settlement on Union Creek in 1858. The only ‘buyers’ were timber speculators interested only in white pine logs. Abraham Farewell, a speculator from Whitby had purchased most of the Somerville lots along the Bobcaygeon Road between Union Creek and Kinmount for a small down payment of 10-20 percent. These lots remained in speculators’ hands for several decades until they were seized by the Township of Somerville for back taxes. The lots were then sold to honest pioneers in the 1870s. The lots on the Galway side did not exist until the 1850s and by then the rules had changed.

The Bobcaygeon Colonization Road was a government road designed to open up this area of central Ontario. The lots fronting on this road were to be free to ‘honest’ settlers on a first come, first settled basis. Free land was a powerful inducement and the available lots were soon all occupied by 1858. The settlers had to fulfill settlement duties within 5 years to get legal possession of their lot. These duties included living on the lot, building a log shanty and clearing at least 5 acres within the 5-year window. Failure to do so led to eviction. Sounds like a good deal, but actually several lots in the Union Creek area were never patented under this system: they were just too rough and desolate for actual farming. But that didn’t stop settlers from trying. The purpose behind this free land policy was to attract settlers along the road who were forced to do statutory road labour on the upkeep of the road. It only partially worked. Some lots never had settlers to do the upkeep. Others never did it to standard. In the end, the Government of Ontario was forced to do maintenance on a sporadic basis until the counties assumed the road.

The first two structures in Union Creek were a hotel/inn and a school: in that order. Travel on the Bobcaygeon Road was so difficult that hotels were built at regular 4-5 mile intervals along the road. A stage service was available when conditions permitted, but sometimes it didn’t make the trip to Minden in one day! But most people used personal wagons or simply walked. When darkness or conditions halted their progress, they stayed at the nearest inn or sometimes pioneer shanty!

The first inn was likely on the Galway side on lot 20 near the mines. The famous Bill Dunbar was rumoured to be an early proprietor. When the road was changed slightly, Bill Dunbar moved the hotel to Lot 1, Concession 7, on the Somerville side. It was called a ‘temperance hotel,’ which meant it was dry. Bill Dunbar later moved to Kinmount and the hotel became a boarding house.

The Union Creek school was opened in 1861 on Lot 25, concession A on the Galway side. It served students in both counties and was called USS#2 (Galway & Somerville). The school was closed in 1965 due to declining enrolment and the students were sent to Kinmount PS. It was the last operational school in Galway Township. The lot was sold and the schoolhouse torn down. South of Galena Hill the Galway lots were settled by retired soldiers from the British Army. The 1861 census lists the following in concession A:

Hugh Gough A-15

Peter McNulty A-16

James Maguire A-17

Ralph Byrne A-18

These lots are rough and/or swampy. By the 1871 census, all were gone. The Maguires, Byrnes and Daltons (from the Somerville side) all moved to better locations in the area. The next series of lots were settled as follows:

Paul Pierson A-19

Antoine Robert A-20

Elijah Pewleston A-21

Duncan Molyneau A-22

William Craig A-23

Pat Foley A-24

John Edgar A-25

With the exception of Foley & Edgar, none of these settlers stayed to receive a patent. All were gone by 1871. Antoine was a trapper who moved to Crystal Lake. His lot (20) became the mine site. Duncan Molyneau was more interested in lumbering and never did own a home, staying with brother John when necessary. William Craig moved to the Galway Road and sold his lot to Pat Foley. Foley had been a sergeant in the British Army and his family stayed on their farm for several generations, eventually selling to Robert Henderson, who was succeeded by Garfield Henderson. Paddy Gavigan ended up on Lot 24. The only lots to be actually farmed were lots 23, 24 and 25.

Lot 25 on the south side of Galway Road has an interesting history. First settled by John Edgar it changed hands many times. Frank Maguire occupied the lot for many years, and in 1908 when a post office was established he became the first post master and his house was the post office. The Union Creek Post Office was officially opened on October 10, 1908. This is a late date, the community being settled by 1860. At its peak population (1911), 54 families drew their mail from the Union Creek Post Office. This included settlers along the Crystal Lake Road to lot 12, the French Line, the 9th (Byrnes Line) and the 6-9 concessions of Somerville Township.

Frank Maguire held the office until he died in 1942. He was succeeded by Mary Josephine Hartnett (1943-1951). The final post master was Mary Wright, who dispensed the mail from her house until the office was officially closed in May 1952. The postal district was then divided between 2 rural routes. South of the Crystal Lake Road and the 9th Line became RR2 Burnt River. While north of this corner and along the Crystal Lake Road was RR1 Kinmount. The southern half of the Union Creek community was added to RR2 Burnt River because the Burnt River rural route needed more boxes to become a viable route.

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