Walter Kidd – Haliburton’s Robin Hood
April 16, 2023
By Guy Scott
Everyone knows the legend of Robin Hood and his hiding out in Sherwood Forest from the authorities. Well, Cardiff Township had such a character, and his name was Walter Kidd. Kidd was trained to be a lawyer back in merry-old England, but chose to live in the backwoods of Haliburton County instead. He settled along the Burleigh Road at a spot later called Kidd’s Corners. His first mission was to build a school so his family and neighbours could enjoy the higher path of learning. Kidd’s School still exists today, in Highland Grove as a museum to pioneer times. Walter Kidd soon became an avid bushman: trapping, hunting and generally enjoying the unspoiled wilderness. In the 1800s, there was basically no game laws: it was laissez faire or let it be. There was a ‘hunting season,’ but there were no game wardens, just a municipal ‘game-keeper.’ This unheard of official wisely stayed clear of the local hunters and likely was one himself. But the attitude changed abruptly in the 1890s with the formation of Algonquin Park. County Game Wardens were hired to enforce the game laws and ruin the fun of such men as Walter Kidd.
In 1900, deer licences were introduced: two deer per licence. It cost 25 cents for a ‘home consumption licence,’ $2 to sell venison. At first the new regulations were regarded with amusement by the local ‘Merry Men,’ but when several were fined $10 and had their guns confiscated, the whole licence idea ceased to be a laughing matter.
Walter Kidd, ex-lawyer, would be called today a ‘civil libertarian.’ The rights of the individual (to hunt whenever he wanted) should trump the power of government to interfere in his business. The game wardens thought otherwise. Kidd hunted for commercial reasons: selling ‘saddles’ of venison in Peterborough, and making mitts and moccasins from the hides. A bill of sale sets the price as $15 per dozen for moccasins! Obviously Kidd came to the attention of the game wardens and two were dispatched to explain the game laws to Walter Kidd. If he refused to listen, they had a warrant for his arrest.
The game wardens camped out at the Kidd gate until Water appeared from a hunting trip. Forewarned, he was not in a good mood. When the wardens produced the warrant, Walter produced a rifle, ordered the wardens to tear the warrant in half and held the gun to their heads while they ate the warrant. After such a ‘Robin Hoodesque’ act, it was game on. Walter Kidd became a fugitive from the forces of the law. A dozen wardens were sent in pursuit, but failed to snare the outlaw in Sherwood…. er… Haliburton Forest. For decades, Kidd led the life of a fugitive: often living at home, but frequently fleeing the approach of the law. It is doubtful the pursuit was constant; likely it was an outstanding warrant that was infrequently followed up. Nevertheless, Walter was often in hiding and was only allowed home when the family rang a dinner bell signalling the all clear.
Walter Kidd originally revelled in his Robin Hood lifestyle. Sometimes he blazed trees to taunt his pursuers with the slogan: “Kidd’s in the bush; catch him if you can!” To shake off the pursuit one year, Kidd moved to Northern Ontario to run a trap-line. But even Robin Hoods have to give up sometime, and the onset of old age, with a tiring of the fugitive lifestyle, led to Walter Kidd negotiating a deal with the hated government officials. He pled guilty, paid a fine and lived out the rest of his days at home. Thus endeth the saga of Haliburton’s Robin Hood.