The Art of Capturing Fenelon From Above
There is something special about seeing the world from a height unreachable by natural means. Looking down from a steep hill, a tall building, an aircraft, or even using your imagination, can reveal so much, so quickly about the world below. For over a century and a half, artists have been documenting Fenelon Falls from these elevated vantage points, affording us a “bird’s eye view” of how the community has developed.
Anne Langton Sketches a Bird's Eye View, 1837
Before tall buildings, airplanes and photography came to the Kawarthas, artists wanting to capture the surrounding landscape only had natural lookouts to work with—few and far between in the dense old-growth forests. Anne Langton overcame this reality by imagining what Fenelon Falls looked like from above, at a time when no one had actually been up to see it. The Road to Blythe, captures what the village might have looked like from a clearing high above the village that did not then exist. It is the only image available of many early Fenelon Falls buildings. Absent is the first Anglican Church, constructed a year later, instantly becoming landmark overlooking the village. Once the hill was cleared it became one of the best vantages for capturing the surrounding area.
The Advent of Photography
A generation after the first commercial camera was marketed in France, photography became common in the Kawarthas in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The first photographs of Fenelon Falls show the village still strewn with stumps sixty years after it was founded. Because animals still ran at large, fences were needed to keep them out of town lots (the word derives from “defence.”) The village was still comprised mostly of scattered wooden buildings, though brick blocks (outside this field of view) were starting to take over the main street, more so after Great Fire of 1884.
A Growing Village
Fenelon Falls came a long way in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. By 1900 fences were still common in the village, though roaming animals were becoming less of a menace. The village now started to assume its modern appearance… some of the buildings in this photograph survive to this day. The building near the centre, facing Bond Street is McDougall & Brandon’s North Star Roller Mill. Between it and the lake is the curling rink—since burnt and rebuilt.
Sandford Carriage Works and the Ancient Oak Grove
The grist mill, located right beside the falls, was another great vantage for seeing Fenelon Falls from above. It afforded interesting views in all directions. Looking out to the west, a visitor could see over Sandford Carriage Works towards the Ancient Oak Grove and Oak Street. The Manita steams down the Fenelon Canal, while a horse and carriage (could it be a Sandford Product?) leaves the factory. How long did the photographer have to wait to capture such an interesting shot?
The Fenelon Gorge
Looking in the opposite direction from the grist mill was just as interesting. In this postcard view, Captain Charlie Gray’s Lintonia (the last steamer to offer regular passenger service on the Upper Kawarthas) steams through the Fenelon Gorge. Peering east down the river, beyond the limestone cliffs with their persistent cedar trees, has long been a favourite local vista.
Lindsay Street South
Looking south from the grist mill afforded a view across the bridge and down the main street of town. A hydro-electric station to power Lindsay ran off the waterpower, behind it is the office of J.W. Howry & Sons (Heritage House, now RWH Construction), which was actually stone, mistakenly tinted as brick in this picture. The school (later Masonic Lodge) is visible right of centre, at the top. The gravel road to Lindsay was one of the best in the county, as this photograph was taken shortly after stone crushers became available locally.
The grist mill also afforded an excellent view of Colborne Street to the north. This image was captured as the Manita passed the swing bridge on its way through the Fenelon Lock, in the first years of the twentieth century. The Manita formed part of the Trent Valley Navigation Company’s network of coordinated steamboat service, carrying passengers between Coboconk and Lindsay, stopping at Sturgeon Point, Fenelon Falls, and Rosedale. The trip one way took 4 hours and 15 minutes.
The Fenelon Canal
This photographer had to be a little more ambitious to shoot the Fenelon Canal, scaling the windmill on Oak Street. Again, being a hand-tinted postcard, many of the buildings are not their actual colour—the McArthur House near the centre of the image was buff not red brick. Bird’s eye views such as this one, were a popular novelty—it was still unusual to see the world from above. They were popular souvenirs for visitors to Fenelon Falls, making the climb up a tower worthwhile.
Fenelon Falls from an Aeroplane
During the First World War, human flight went from being a daring adventure to a profession. Pilots returning from overseas service enjoyed second careers as commercial pilots, and as photographers they made almost any vantage possible. The Canadian Postcard Company of Toronto photographed many communities in 1919, providing the first truly aerial images of most villages they served. Overnight it became possible to see whole settlements from above. This photograph looks north up Colborne Street.
An Aerial View of the Falls
While Canadian Post Card Company sought to capture Fenelon Falls at it would like to be remembered, this early aerial image is fascinating because it captured things the way they really were. There are logs in the river, piles of lumber on the shore and the old wooden dam across the river. What project was underway on the Lindsay power station’s roof (foreground)?
Colborne Street from the North
So many images of Fenelon Falls focus on the picturesque falls and the waterfront. It was much more unusual to look at the other buildings in town. This mid-century image of Fenelon Falls provides a unique view of the Colborne Street shops and buildings between Francis and Bond Streets. In contrast to the photogenic buildings beside the falls, this image is a better depiction of what life was like for village residents.
Fenelon From the South by Harry Oakman
Until the Second World War, having an aerial photograph was special indeed. In the 1940s, H.R. Oakman began a remarkable career that made aerial photography commonplace, and established him as one of Canada’s best-selling photographers and postcard producers. Using a specially designed plane that allowed him to fly and take pictures at the same time, he photographed countless communities and tourist attractions. He captured Fenelon Falls just as its public face was being radically altered. This image is taken just as Parks Canada was clearing the island to create greenspace. Gone are Lyon’s Garage (formerly Sandford Carriage Works), Flett’s Cabins and the Cenotaph. For many years the island had been the heart of the village. In the decade the followed, the buildings east of the bridge on the island also disappeared.
One local attraction that Harry Oakman photographed was the Byrnell Manor Boys’ Camp. In 1961 Frank and Anna Stukus launched this popular camp, which soon offered a first-rate hockey development program. Frank had played football in the CFL. With NHL stars (including local resident Allan Stanley) acting as guest instructors, it was a dream come true for many of its participants. The blue waters of Cameron Lake create a beautiful background.
Fenelon Falls circa 1980
This aerial view that captured the village while fall colours were at their peak, was produced as Oakman’s career was winding down and other photographers took up the art. Harry had photographed basically everything from the air that he had thought was marketable. Perhaps he saturated the market—in the years that followed, aerial views became much less common. By the time this photograph was taken, the island was fully cleared of its old buildings, Cliffside Villa had replaced the landmark Hotel Kawartha (Alpine Inn, Anchorage House) at the bottom left. The Colborne Street shops are much as they remain today, while the arena is visible right of centre.
Fenelon Falls and Cameron Lake
This beautiful image of Fenelon Falls captured the village with Cameron and Balsam Lakes in the background, while the autumn colours were at their peak. The photographer obviously put a lot of effort into capturing the community at its best. This image was taken shortly before Tim Hortons was built (near the lower left) and later Sobeys was added to the east. Note the blue metal roof of the arena contrasting nicely with the surrounding reds, yellows, and oranges at the centre of the scene.
With the advent of drone photography, anyone can capture their community from above, and the potential locations are practically unlimited. In this image taken in the summer of 2021 boats are passing through the canal leading out into Cameron Lake, past the swing bridge. Diehl’s Point projects into Cameron Lake in the distance, while Garnet Graham Park, Lock 34 Condominiums, and Maryboro Lodge are right of centre.
Further up the Canal, boats motor past the Chamber of Commerce on their way to Cameron Lake. The colourful Summerland Cottages mark the far shore of the Fenelon River, to the left of the open swing railway bridge.
Colborne Street, shortly after the first phase of its reconstruction was completed in the summer of 2021.
Handley Lumber and its yard, with the river, swing bridge and Cameron Lake in the background.
Fenelon's Bridges and Island
Looking across the canal, island and falls to the Locker at the Falls restaurant, Sobeys and Handley Lumber.
Fenelon Falls from the East
The view up the Fenelon River towards Fenelon Falls and Cameron Lake. The Medical Centre’s Red Roof stands out at the bottom right.
Sunset over Cameron Lake
Maryboro Lodge and Garnet Graham Park have always been great places to watch sunsets over Cameron Lake. With drone photography, this beauty can now be seen from the downtown, with an interesting new vantage.