In driving along the Hastings Road today, it is one long trail of abandoned farms, adversity, blasted hopes, broken hearts, and exhausted ambition,” wrote C. F. Aylsworth, O.L.S, in 1925. “And the mute evidence of it all is empty, dilapidated and abandoned houses and barns, orchards, wells, old broken down stone and wooden fences, root cellars and many other similar evidences of having given up the ghost.”
Charles Fraser Aylsworth Jnr., Ontario Land Surveyor, was describing in vivid and sad detail what had become of the Hastings Colonization Road: a road which his father had played a role in creating, which had being carved out of the rocky, tree-laden land of the northern part of Hastings County to “lay open the waste lands of the Crown . . . for settlement.”
In the 1850s the Front Lots, along the Bay of Quinte, had long since been filled, and the prime agricultural lands north of those, now Centre Hastings, were been settled and were actively being farmed. More land was needed for settlers from Canada and Europe who were being enticed to take advantage of the free land which was available.
Other than the indigenous people who were already there, a few loggers and trappers, and others, whom the government referred to as “squatters”, there were not many who were living north of Madoc. To facilitate settlement of this area, other similar sections of Ontario, the government created a network of Colonization Roads: Perry, Mississippi, Monck, Snow, Peterson, Opeongo, and Hastings.
A group of men, our own Lewis & Clark and Mason & Dixon, undertook the enviable task of making sense of the hundreds of thousands of acres which lay north of Madoc, a veritable terra incognita, and laying a road for expected thousands of settlers to travel.
Publius Virgilius Elmore is as known as much today for the uniqueness of his name as for the grueling, exacting surveying work he undertook. He, along with Charles Fraser Aylsworth Snr., Peter S. Gibson, David Gibson, D. P. Papineau, Robert Bird, George Neilson, Messrs. Cook and St. Charles, J. J. Haslett, John A. Snow, and many unnamed and forgotten labourers, all worked to create the road for the settlers to travel upon.
And come they did, by the thousands, to settlements along the Hastings Road to Glanmire, Mill Bridge, Thanet, Rathbun Station, Murphy’s Corners, Umphraville, York River, Bird’s Creek, and Doyle’s Corners. But within 40 years the majority of those settlers who had come to build new lives had left, giving up not only their land but also on their hopes and dreams.
The scene described by Aylsworth Jnr. is unrecognizable today, 90 years later. Most of the orchards, barns, root cellars, houses are all gone from sight. The lands have been reclaimed by nature. All that remain are the small cemeteries—maintained by dedicated volunteers—the fields of stone markers commemorating those who decided to stay and forge a life in the “waste lands,” and a few hidden vestiges of bustling communities filled with men, women and children who built and lived in shanties and cabins which became through hard work—homes. The schools, churches, hotels, businesses and homes—in which they lived, worked, prayed, ate, laughed, celebrated and mourned are mostly gone.
In this book the focus will be on the communities along the Hastings Road and the people who lived on it. It is not meant to be a complete history of each township and those who live upon the network of Concessions; that is for another time. The hope with this book is that we can bring these communities and people along The Trail of Broken Hearts back to life, albeit on paper, for a fleeting moment.
C. Paul Kirby 2014
Now on Sale