News and events pertaining to the Hastings County Historical Society.
07 May 2011
HCHS Bus Tour Goes to Northumberland County
Story courtesy of Jack Evans, pictures by Jack Evans and Elizabeth Mitchell.
Susanna Moodie has been dead for more than 100 years, but she still did her bit Saturday for the Hastings County Historical Society’s fund drive toward the new archives project.
The well-known pioneer era writer and her sister, Catherine Parr Trail, another writer, and the years they spent in Northumberland County were the focal point of a day-long bus tour Saturday arranged by the historical society. The tour drew several dozen society members plus other fans of the Strickland sisters (their maiden name) including some from as far as Toronto.
Belleville author William C. Hunt played a key role in arranging the tour as a fund raising event for the society’s share of the joint Belleville-Hastings County archives project. That included arranging for a specialist guide, Peter Brotherhood of Cobourg, an expert on Cobourg and area history and especially the Strickland sisters.
With a naturally sheltered cove and a lengthy dock built by community effort, Cobourg had become a major port on Lake Ontario in the early 1800s It was here where Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Trail landed, following grueling sea voyages of several weeks from their native England in 1833.
As the tour rolled around routes and sites the two women and their husbands would have seen in their day, Brotherhood explained how the two came from a large, genteel family from rural England who sought new wealth as their established family fortunes failed. Thus, from lives of comfort and culture, they entered a new world fraught with hardship, harsh climate, drudgery and isolation.
Susanna, for instance, amused her scornful neighbours when she confessed to being terrified of cattle, even though she was expected to milk them.
In historic St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Cobourg, Brotherhood reviewed the historic setting. The church’s first minister was an Archdeacon Bethune, a player in the notorious “Family Compact” which in essence ran the province in the early 1800s and sparked the William Lyon MacKenzie rebellion in 1837. (And yes, the famous Canadian medical missionary in China, Dr. Norman Bethune, was a great grandson.)
The next stop was the modern concrete dock in Cobourg harbour, which replaced the original wooden dock. The popular sandy beach and the rising hills to the north would have looked the same to the Strickland sisters, said the guide.
Hunt, an expert on the early 20th century rum running years, contributed a talk about hugely successful Cobourg-based rum runners, the Staub brothers and others. The senior Staub used a large, powerful yacht with steel plating and mounting a 50 calibre machine gun, bigger than anything the Coastguard had, he said.
Brotherhood then took the bus along the route Moodie family would have followed on present day McClelland Road, called “Melsetter.” The original owner retained use of the existing house and put the Moodie family in what Susanna described as “more of a stable for cows or pigs.”
A lunch break at the Cobourg Legion Hall was followed by a return to surrounding Hamilton Township and places where Catherine lived including an unusual eight-sided, multi-storey building called “Wolf Tower,” long gone) also the area of a large ice-age boulder and a later Trail home, Mount Ararat overlooking the shores of Rice Lake, where Trail became deeply interested in the unusual variety and types of native wild flowers, and went on to write a book about them.
With selected readings plus volumes of historic information along the way, the tour ended with a stop at the Rice Lake shoreline at Harwood, the site of a washed-out bridge which once carried rail traffic between Cobourg and Peterborough.to view the landscape, it was easy to visualize the homes and people they knew.
A final stop was Railway Point in Harwood, where the Cobourg-Peterborough Railroad crossed Rice Lake. Today the only indication of the past is the small rocky spit of land which was the beginning of the railroad causeway.