Bruce County Historical Society logo

Bruce County Historical Society

Bruce County, Ontario, Canada

Incorporated 1901 - 1915       Re-incorporated 1957

Bruce County History

Settlement History


The Durham Road

(The Kincardine News, July 30, 1969)

 The Durham Road was surveyed in 1848-49 by Allan Park Brough and David Gibson. Intended as a “free-grant” settlement road (the term “colonization road” came into use a little later), it was laid out in much the same way as the nearly contemporary Toronto – Sydenham with concessions of narrow 50 acres lots on each side. The number of these concessions, or ranges, varies in places, but is normally three to the north and three to the south.

Except where the Durham Road and its ranges are interrupted by the Toronto – Sydenham Road and the Owen Sound (Garafraxa) Road with their concessions, the Durham Road runs nearly straight and nearly east and west from the eastern line of Grey County and Osprey Township, across Osprey, Artemesia, Glenelg and Bentinck Townships in Grey and Brant Township in Bruce County until it is interrupted by a range of lots fronting on the boundary road between Brant and Greenock Townships, some three miles west of Walkerton. This refers to the line separating the 1st concession south from the 1st concession north, for the actual road is diverted around obstacles in several places and is broken off altogether for a mile and a quarter near the center of Osprey Township east of Wareham. From Walkerton to Priceville, Queen’s Highway No. 4 follows the Durham Road, but at Priceville turns northeast to Flesherton on the Toronto – Sydenham Road. In this stretch the Durham Road runs parallel to the southern boundaries of the townships, far enough north to allow three ranges of lots between it and the boundary (usually about 2 miles), but the depth of the third range varies slightly and in Glenelg Township a narrow “gore” or “Con. IV South” is inserted.

Across Greenock Township the Durham Road continued 1¼ miles south of its original line, leaving barely room for one range of lots between the road and the southern town line. Only one range was laid out north of the road in this township. For about 6¼ miles the road runs parallel to the southern boundary, but about 1¼ miles west of Riversdale it turns northwest to connect with a stretch laid out parallel to the southern boundary of Kincardine Township across Kinloss and Kincardine Townships. Queen’s Highway No. 9 follows the Durham Road across Greenock, Kinloss and Kincardine Townships. The road was laid out less than 2 miles from the southern town line of Kincardine Township and the Third Concession South had to be curtailed in depth. The Third Concession North was made to conform to this narrower concession. In the triangular northern tip of Kinloss Township the concessions conform to those in Kincardine as far as is possible.

The Durham Road reaches Lake Huron near the mouth of the Penetangore River and here a town plot called “Penetangore” was surveyed for the government in 1849. The name was later changed to “Kincardine” – the name of the post office opened about 1850.

The part of the road across Bentinck Township, west from Durham, was “chopped” and “causewayed” by contract in 1849. Settlers soon began to use this section to reach “Buck’s Tavern” near the site of Hanover and a bridge farther west from which a rather dangerous navigation by scow and raft was possible down the Saugeen to its mouth. A portion of the road in Glenelg was opened during that year, but a diversion was required which had to be approved by local authorities, as well as the Commissioner of Crown Lands and this was delayed for a year. The section across Brant Township was opened in 1850 and bridged in 1851 and the road was carried through to “Penetangore” in 1851. This western part was under the superintendence of George Jackson, Crown Lands Agent at Durham. The part east of the Toronto – Sydenham Road in Artemesia and Osprey Townships was opened in 1850-51 under George Snider.

The settlement roads of 1836-1850 had two main purposes – to provide means of access for settlers to areas newly surveyed and opened for settlement and at the same time provide a number of 50-acre lots which might be granted free to settlers of small means, often with the privilege of having a second 50-acre lot reserved for them for a specified time, which they might purchase on easy terms. These reserved lots were usually in the second range behind the free grant. The system of “narrow fifties,” if successful, meant a compact line of settlement along the road, making it easier to maintain and assuring travelers of assistance in emergency.

Of the various settlement roads opened through the present counties of Dufferin, Grey and Bruce, the Durham Road west of the site of Priceville was perhaps the most successful. This was due largely to a high proportion of reasonably good farm land along the road, but partly to the fact that in Grey County it ran close to the Saugeen River with its good mill sites. Settlement was at first rapid. George Jackson was issuing locations south of the road in Bentinck and Glenelg by September, 1848, before the surveys farther east and west were completed and by 1849 had a number in Brant. In July, 1850, 255 locations were returned for Kincardine exclusive of “Penetangore.” Locations in Greenock and Kinloss had to be delayed until the course of the settlement road across those townships was settled, but this had been done by mid summer of 1851. George Snider seems to have begun his locations in 1850 and settlement in the eastern section was slower. The growth of “Penetangore” is surprising. In November 1851, when the census gives only 499 families in the whole of Bruce County. Lovell’s Canada Directory lists twenty-three names of trades and professions. In 1857 his estimate of the population is 1,000 and a directory for 1869 estimates 3,000 – slightly more than the official figure for Kincardine for 1967. Hanover and Priceville appear as rising mill villages in 1857. Walkerton is called “The chief town of the county” of Bruce, though with only an estimated 175 inhabitants. Durham on the Owen Sound Road is slightly older than the Durham Road, and, to some extent, gave the road its name, though a posthumous compliment to Lord Durham, father-in-law of the contemporary governor-general, Lord Elgin, and still a hero to the Canadian Reformers of 1848, was probably also intended.

The Durham Road certainly played a considerable part in the development of Grey and Bruce Counties and, with other settlement roads of that time, was a model for the ‘colonization roads” of the 1850’s and 1860’s, though more successful from the point of view of settlement than most of these later examples.


The Garafraxa Road

from Bruce County Historical Notes, Volume 44, No. 2, September 2002

(Note: The Garafraxa Road was an important colonization road for the Grey and Bruce area. The following article appeared in the London Free Press on Oct. 31, 1960.)

Let us make a journey up the Garafraxa Road through the Maitland Hills and Bentinck and Johntown to Sydenham. This pioneer expedition in the 1840s and 1850s occupied a full week.

Today the names are changed. Motor up Ontario Highway No. 6 through Mount Forest and Durham and Chatsworth to Owen Sound. The same 75 miles is now traversed in less than two hours.

The Garafraxa Road took its name from a township near Fergus where the survey was commenced in 1837. How the township got its name, no person is certain. Some say it is a corruption of sassafrax, a shrub that grew in the district; others believe it is from an Indian word meaning ‘the panther country’.

Charles Rankin surveyed the Garafraxa Road 123 years ago. It was opened to encourage settlement of the Queen’s Bush. This took in part of Wellington County and nearly all of Grey and Bruce Counties on Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.

In 1837 the Village of Fergus was on the northern fringe of civilization in this section of Upper Canada. Owen Sound, 75 miles to the north on Georgian Bay, had been discovered by water but was not yet settled by the white man.

Not until the 1850s was there much activity along this pioneer road. Wolves, bears, and even lynx were plentiful in the Queen’s Bush. However, families of hardy settlers with oxen plodded into the wilderness, spurred on by free grants of 50 acres.

Requirements for free land were that applicants be: 1st  — male; 2nd — over 18 years of age; 3rd — a subject of Queen Victoria.

After clearing 12 of the original 50 acres, settlers were entitled to buy the adjacent 50 acres at a nominal price.

When a family set out from the moderately advanced Village of Fergus in 1850 they had a narrow trail to guide them. The first overnight stop was at Wright’s Tavern in Arthur, 12 miles to the northwest.

Wright’s Tavern was a two-story log structure. In front a prominent sign featured a bottle and a glass with the slogan: ‘Here’s looking at you’!

Lodgers at Wright’s Tavern sat down to a dinner of roast wild duck, roast venison, fried potatoes, home made bread with butter, custard pie and steaming cups of hot coffee. Beer and whiskey were served at the bar.

After a night’s sleep at Arthur the settlers struggled northwest from Mount Forest across the ‘Long Swamp’. This boggy mile was built with logs to form a corduroy causeway. Time after time it sank out of sight and was labouriously rebuilt.

It was not uncommon for the corduroy road to be under a foot of water. Occasionally a struggling team of oxen slithered off the logs with their heavy wagon. The settlers, fighting to hold their own footing on the slippery causeway, could do little to save their beasts of burden or their possessions. Sometimes, unless ropes and help were available from other passing settlers, the oxen and wagon sank to their doom. Men who built the Garafraxa Road were paid 25 pounds (about $125) a mile to clear the right of way of logs and stumps. Through the Long Swamp the cost was from seven shillings and sixpence to 10 shillings per rod. A rod of causeway cost from $2 to $2.50. Thus it was six times as costly to build a corduroy road through a swamp as to clear a right of way over dry land.

One hundred and twenty years later the Province of Ontario spent $207,000 to rebuild seven miles from Mount Forest, plus $243,000 for an overpass at Bell’s Creek, plus another $150,000 for paving.

The seven miles that cost $1,375 to build in the 1840s cost $600,000 to rebuild in the 1950s.

However, to return to the settlers. After negotiating the dangerous Long Swamp the pioneers found rugged but solid ground to the next overnight stopping place — Bentinck, now the Town of Durham.

After fording the Saugine River (today spelled Saugeen), the oxen were goaded up a long steep hill to Hunter’s Inn. This frame structure was replaced in 1854 by a substantial stone building named the British Hotel.

During one particular week of a busy settlement summer the British Hotel in Durham provided food or accommodation to 2,000 travelers. In addition, the hotel served as a community-gathering place for quilting bees and dances.

Ten miles north of Durham was Dornoch, settled by John H. McIntosh, the Scot who introduced the first sheep and cattle into Grey County.

Another day’s journey carried the settlers to Johntown, now Chatsworth.

Oxen were more in demand than horses at that time. Before the day of the bulldozer and dynamite the most effective method of pulling out stumps was a team of oxen. Horses were too spirited for such work.

The demand for good teams of oxen led to cattle fairs. Each month these cattle sales were held on three successive days, the third Monday at Chatsworth, the third Tuesday at Durham, the third Wednesday at Mount Forest.

As the woods were cleared the slow-moving oxen were gradually replaced by horses. The cattle fairs declined and were replaced by fall fairs.

From Chatsworth it was another day’s journey by oxcart to Sydenham, now Owen Sound.

Opened as a settlement trail the Garafraxa Road was later taken into the county road system, the Grey section in 1858 and the Wellington County mileage in 1863.

In 1920 the 75 miles from Fergus to Owen Sound became part of Provincial Highway No 6.

Today, thousands of tourists speed along Highway 6. In summer the tourists are probably towing a motor boat to a cottage on Georgian Bay. In autumn a station wagon may be taking a party of hunters to the Bruce Peninsula or Manitoulin Island.

The vast majority of motorists today on Highway 6 are quite unaware they are travelling an historic road.

However, one motorist in a thousand may stop at a picturesque roadside picnic site three miles north of Durham at the Rocky Saugeen River. Here a plaque has been erected by the Ontario Historic Sites and Monuments Board. It commemorates the pioneers who plodded up the Garafraxa Road with a team of oxen and all their worldly possessions.