Article taken from the Orillia Packet & Times
By J.R. HALE
March 26, 1936
Last week I wrote of Lumbermen and lumbering in the Georgian Bay district. This is to be about early lumbering operations, more especially around Orillia waters. It is probable that few in Orillia realize that there is still a citizen living in town who can remember the earliest days in the Township of Rama and in the lumbering industry. That he is believed to be the first white baby boy born in the Township of Rama, and his sister, Mrs. John Adams, was the first white child born there. That he is still active in business every day at his office. But that is the case. His memories are interesting, and I shall try to tell of the days when he was a lad and later as he gradually took on the responsibilities of manhood.
I refer to Mr. Allan McPherson, a quiet, unobtrusive man who takes a sincere and deep interest in the welfare of his town and fellow citizens. Few men in these days give such regular and consistent support to such a wide range of work for the betterment of mankind. By his presence and in other substantial ways he gives aid to his church and all activities within its sphere. He does not confine himself to that boundary. He delights to hear of all movements which mean better conditions for the town and the nation.
The first church in Rama was built on the Indian Reserve, near where the stone church still stands on the lake front. It was a frame structure. Mr. McPherson well remembers the Rev. George McDougall who was the missionary at Rama. He went west through Chicago in the early sixties, to minister to Canadian Indians on the plains. His son John was a clerk for a time in the store of Black Tom Moffatt, almost on the site of the present Dominion Bank building in Orillia. John became one of the best known men in the West and understood the Indians and could speak all the dialects of the plains. He served as a Methodist Missionary.
A well known character in the early days was Peter Jacobs, an Indian, who kept the first store in the township, near the church. He had native ability, had some education, and acted as interpreter and public speaker, and if I am not mistaken as local preacher. He acted as interpreter to missionaries in various parts of Canada, and attended the Methodist annual mission meeting in Exeter Hall, London, England, on two occasions. While in England the people there treated him with too much hospitality, and he learned to drink, which spoiled his latter days. While supposed to be under the influence of liquor, he was struck by a train and was crippled from then on. He had two sons, Andrew and John, who became missionaries to the Indians. Of these John was very proud.
The McPhersons went into the Township of Rama in 1835, when Captain Allan McPherson took up land. A number of British officers took land there as grants from the Imperial government for services. In 1836 Captain Garnett, who served under Wellington in Spain in the 82nd regiment took his land. About the same time Captains Pass, Rooke, Cottinger, Fry, and Yarnold went into the township and John McKinnon settled on the front-range, near Longford, which was the center of the first settlement. In 1838, the Indians living in Orillia bought the land of Yarnold, Rooke, Cottinger, and Fry, and moved across the lake. Captain Pass died on his holdings, and when his son was killed by a falling tree the family moved away. Captain Allan McPherson moved to Orillia in 1845 and built a cottage on the site of Longford Villa at the corner of Peter and Neywash Streets. This was bought afterwards by John McCosh, a one time Mayor of Orillia, and a leading barrister. He erected the present building which was purchased by the Thomsons of Longford, on of the best known families in the district. Mrs. A. E. Ardagh is the last member residing in town. Captain Allan McPherson is said to have been in His Majesty’s Sicilian Regiment, and with the 78th Highlanders, and received his commission for bravery at the Battle of Maidar, and had served with the Army for 20 years. He died in Orillia in 1858, aged 86 years.
When the Indians moved from Orillia to Rama in 1838 or 39 the McPhersons and Garnetts were the only white settlers in Rama. In 1837 when the Rebellion broke out, the Indians offered their services and Squire James McPherson took command. From the first the Garnetts and McPhersons took an interest in municipal affairs and Captain Garnett represented the Township of Mara and Rama in the Home District Council. Mara and Rama were at first United and Squire James McPherson was Reeve of the United Townships for fourteen years, and was Warden of the County of Ontario in 1880. The first township meeting after the passing of the municipal act was held in 1869 at Thomas Lawrence’s Inn on Lot 12, Front Range. The Reeve was Thomas McDermott, and Messrs. John M. Trenouth, Patrick Mahoney, James Tahaney, and William McDonald as Councilmen. Dennis O’Brien was appointed as clerk, Duncan McKinnon as Assessor, Michael McNulty as Collector, and Edward Lawrence as Treasurer. The second meeting was held in the Rama schoolhouse, but at noon adjourned for an hour to meet at the Travellor’s Rest. Amongst the earlier Reeves were Jas. McDermott, James McPherson, W. J. Trenouth, George Cleavely, John Carrie, and John Adams, a brother-in-law of Mr. Allan McPherson.
While Mr. Allan McPherson was a lad he saw a great deal of the Indians. He attended their church and school on the Reserve, several miles from his home, and Indians worked for his father. In fact when white visitors called he was afraid of them and hid behind the barn. Squire McPherson’s first home was built by himself of logs on the lake shore on the McPherson homestead near where the cottages now are often referred to as the Dudley Camp. Later Squire McPherson built the substantial stone hours farther inland on the road between Longford and Washago. There were six daughters and two sons in the family. Today the two boys are living and three girls, Mrs. Cecil Wright, who lives with her brother Allan, and two sisters, on Cedar Street. James McPherson is at present in Toronto. In the earlier days he was Captain of the Steamer Enterprise, and later served the government for years at Arnprior and Parry Sound as Timber Inspector.
In the earlier days there was no road to Orillia, and all traffic was across Lake Couchiching to Orillia, both summer and winter. At the Narrows there was no bridge and a crossing was made on a scow which was pulled back and forth. One of the early postmasters of Orillia was a man named Slee and Squire McPherson and Warden Drinkwater’s grandfather were his sureties for some time. A member of the O’Brien family from Shanty Bay came into Rama and had land near the McPhersons. A man named Carlyle had the land which is known today as Geneva Park.
Mr. Allan McPherson first went into the lime business. There was a demand for the limestone around Longford to make lime for plaster. At first the stone was obtained at a quarry at what is now known as Quarry Point on Lake Couchiching, and Carlyle sold a small quantity from Geneva Park. Squire McPherson had a sailing schooner called the Couchiching, which took lime to points on Lake Simcoe. Mr. Allan McPherson had quite a business in Barrie.
Lumbering began to thrive around the lakes. The first mill in the Township of Rama is said to have been on the Black River in 1867, and was known as Trenouth’s mill. About 1870 the big mills of the Longford Lumber Co., which made Longford Mills a thriving place for years was built by John Thomson, the founder. He was a man of great energy and business capacity and was most successful. From about this time on, mills sprang up all over. Hamilton and Cousins had a mill at Washago. Mr. Hamilton was grandfather of Mr. A. B. Thompson, K.C., of Orillia. From this mill, Mr. Allan McPherson poled lumber up to his father’s place on the lake in a row boat. This mill was sold to Mr. Marshall, father of Robert Marshall. There are now quite a number of this family in Washago. The erection of lumber mills brought into existence numbers of steamers and tugs on lakes Couchiching and Simcoe. One of the earliest was a tug, the Victoria, owned by Beecher & Sullivan. Others were the Simcoe, Isabella, Conqueror, and Ida Burton. The Couchiching became a steamer when the railway came through and carried excursions for years on these waters. She had twin screws and was of shallow draft, but made a good boat. There was a schooner, St. John, called after Captain St. John who lived near Captain Wood at Ardtrea. Lake St. John, at Longford also was called after him. Another schooner was named St. George. These schooners took lumber out of Washago. Roger McPherson, now over 90 years of age, and residing at Rathburn, who calls to see me every time he is in Orillia, and was here only a few days ago, worked on the Couchiching. Once he fell 40 or 50 feet from the cross trees to the deck of the Couchiching. The fall might easily have killed him, but soon he was back on duty. Another member of the crew of the Couchiching was Lachlan Johnson, so well known by the public, who traveled on the Longford and Geneva.
Many well known figures in railway circles in this division of the railway worked on these trains in the early days. Malcolm McLeod was a conductor, William Little, Johnny Lee and Pat Tiffin were amongst them.
A man named Raney had a mill at Severn Bridge, and Christy, Kerr & Co. of Toronto had the big mill which was bought by the Dyment Co. This company also had a mill at Barrie. Thomson Smith and Sons had mills at Bradford, and went later to Bay City, Michigan. Gravenhurst was known as the sawdust city and had, it is said, 13 mills at one time. A small canal was built to help handle logs near where the Black river runs out of Lake St. John, and a portage to convey logs from Lake St. John to Lake Couchiching was built just north of Longford Mills. These were acquired by the late William Thomson and carried on as long as the lumbering lasted. The dues at the canal were 25 cents per thousand feet, and over the portage 50 cents per thousand. Mickle Dyment Co., it is said really acquired the mill at Severn Bridge to get away from these dues, as they could then take their logs down the Black River direct to the mill.
In the spring the water in Lake St. John would rise 12 and 14 feet, while in Lake Couchiching the rise was only 2 or 3 feet. This had a peculiar effect on the Black River at the lake. In the spring the water ran into Lake St. John, while later in the season when the floods subsided the water flowed out of the lake and down the river. In an especially wet spring the water would run across from Lake St. John to Lake Couchiching just south of the Memorial church and near where an Indian named Joe lived. Joe was known for many years as Squire Joe, and his family is still well known.
When the railway reached Longford Mills, there became some demand for limestone for building purposes and Mr. McPherson soon was shipping too many points. One of his first big orders was for stone for the foundation for a grain elevator at Collingwood erected by the Northern Railway. At that time Barlow Cumberland was manager and his son trail manager. In 1886 Mr. McPherson started a shingle mill at Longford Mills, with a staff on one man and himself. Later he entered the lumber trade with a mill in the village. He was just a little afraid to start out on his own, so he formed the firm of A. McPherson & Co. The silent partner was Robert Laidlaw of the R. A. Laidlaw Lumber Co., of Toronto. They worked together for 26 years and did a big business. Robert Laidlaw had two sons, Walter and R. A. who are still carrying on in Toronto. The Laidlaw Co. had big interests in Sarnia, London, Tonawanda, Buffalo, and other places. In Toronto they had four planing mills, but now confined their activities to one good plant. Walter was a director of the Imperial Bank.
Longford Mills was at one time a great shipping point and the Northern railway got an immense amount of freight at the village. A train of 20 to 25 cars a day left for the south and was known as the Longford Special. The largest shipment was 64 cars, or two trains in one day. The cars, of course, were only 20 ton cars, and when the 30 ton cars came they were not so very popular. Sometimes a car could not be filled to capacity, but charges for a full car were made.
Another company which operated in lumbering was the Rathburn Co., and Robert Weir, who afterwards died in Vancouver, and Robert Thomson, of Hamilton, had a mill at Hampshire Mills in North Orillia. The lime business in Rama disappeared when lime from Georgetown came into northern markets. The Georgetown lime was much more easily burned and slacked easily. While in the lime business, Mr. McPherson frequently anchored scows in Kempenfeldt Bay, and the crew noticed how deep the waters were. The theory was that the bay was fed by great springs, which made a current. When there could not be a breath of wind a scow anchored off the home of Mr. Powers of Shanty Bay, would head one way, while a scow anchored on the Big Bay Point side would lie with its head the other way.
Mr. McPherson has traveled a fair amount and has had a great deal of pleasure from his jaunts. Nearly 40 years ago he and the late William Tisdale, who had a private bank in Orillia, went to the Mediterranean, Egypt, and the Holy Land. Later he went to England, Belgium, and France, with a side trip to Scotland. He has been to the coast and the prairies and through the Southern States. When the C.P.R. had reached only as far as Brandon, and there were only two houses in that place most of the population were in tents, he stopped there. He was accompanied on this trip by the late William Carss.