Pioneers of Penetanguishene Road
Oro Township showing lots located or occupied by Black Settlers

The following excerpt on the pioneers of Penetanguishene Road is taken from the Electric Scotland archives.


The Settlement on Penatanguishene Road

Quite a settlement had been formed along the Penetanguishene Road north of Barrie 10 years before settlement began even at the southern end of Innisfil, the township forming the west shore of the lower end of Lake Simcoe. There were two reasons for this. The first was due to comparative ease of communication; the second, to market facilities. The old military highway between Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay followed the line of Yonge Street to Holland Landing, thence up Lake Simcoe to Kempenfeldt Bay and then again overland to Penetanguishene. Hence it was a comparatively easy matter to reach the country about Crown Hill, Dalston, and Craighurst several years before the opening of the lower section of the Penetang’ Road between Holland Landing and Barrie provided for the settlement of Innisfil.

The principal reason for the earlier settlement in the more northerly section was based on market considerations. The naval and military post, first established at Nottawasaga, was transferred from that point to Penetanguishene in 1818 and somewhat later the post at Drummond Island was added. The presence of a military and naval station thus made this northern port a centre of commercial activity. It was a centre of Indian trade as well, “and there was,” as a grandson of one of the Crown Hill pioneers expressed it, “a general belief that Penetang’ was destined to be the metropolis of Upper Canada.”

Crown Hill Settlement, Oro

The Penetang’ dream of the pioneers has not come true, but Crown Hill, which owes its origin to the existence of the old naval station on Georgian Bay, has to its credit something that cannot be claimed for any other rural section of Ontario. It gave the province the first head of the provincial Department of Agriculture. In the son of that head, it gave the province the first farmer premier of the province. The Drurys, Partridges and Hicklings were among the first to come in along the upper end of the Penetang’ Road, settling in 1819 near where Crown Hill now is. The Luck family was another large connection, and came a year later. The Drury family came from England, and the Luck and Partridge families from Albany, New York.

“When Grandfather Partridge moved in, he brought his wife and two children with him as far as Holland Landing,” one of the third generation told me.”  From Holland Landing he walked alone all the way to Penetanguishene. His route around the west side of Lake Simcoe to Kempenfeldt (Kempenfelt) Bay being over a blazed trail. After satisfying himself as to the future of Penetang’ he started to walk back, digging into the soil at intervals by the way in order to learn its quality. He walked twenty-five miles before finding what suited him, and finally located near Crown Hill, taking up four hundred acres in all, half on the Oro and half on the Vespra side. Having built a log cabin he went back to Holland Landing for his wife and children and began life in their new home in the bush in October. Afterwards, when the road was fully opened out, he found that his cabin was almost in the middle of the King’s Highway. You can be the judge of general conditions at that time, as I relate one fact told me by my grandfather. He packed his first grist on his back from Crown Hill to the east end of what is now Barrie and then paddled it in a dugout the rest of the way, twenty miles, to the old Red Mill at Holland Landing.”

The School House

One of the first concerns of the settlement at Crown Hill was to make provision for the education of the children. Some time before 1837 a voluntary school was established with William Crae as the first teacher. Crown Hill pioneers were also among the first to take advantage of the Education Acts of 1841-1843, under which an annual provincial appropriation of £20,000 was made to assist in the work of primary education. In fact, a school was established as early as 1842 with Edward Luck as the first teacher, a position he filled for 22 years. The selection of Mr. Luck was peculiarly fitting in at least one respect as, from first to last, no fewer than 15 of his own children passed “under the rod” in that same school.

“The building was, of course, of log,” said a grandson of one of the pioneers, “and the benches were of plank with home-made legs supporting them. In the beginning the building was used for a church as well as a school, and there was a pulpit in one corner for the church services. Pastor Ardagh and Canon Morgan were the first to officiate. Marriage services were performed there, and on such occasions the benches were moved back and boys and girls lined up in front of the pulpit as witnesses.”

Pioneers of Penetanguishene Road
Log Schoolhouse Oro Where Edward G Luck taught

Financing a School

The old minute book of the section, dating back to 1844, is still in existence. This records that Thomas Ambler, George Caldwell, and Jonathan Sissons, the latter grandfather of Professor Sissons of Victoria College, were the trustees in 1845. The record further shows that the salary paid Mr. Luck in that year was £25 currency “over and above Government allowance and taxes.” In order to make tip the amount required to keep the school going, sixteen of the settlers agreed to pay £1 for each child sent to school by them, the largest single contributor being William Larkin, who paid £4. Among the other contributors were Jonathan Sissons, Thomas Mairs (one of the first. importers of “Durham” cattle), Charles Partridge, Charles Hickling, Thomas Drury and Richard Drury (the latter being the grandfather of Premier E. C. Drury).

The amounts contributed by these enlightened pioneers for the education of their children may seem small to those of the present generation, but they were in reality relatively larger than similar contributions to-day. Incomes were small. By that time local production had exceeded the requirements of the local market at Penetang’ and an outlet had to be found at Toronto, seventy miles away over rough roads. The prices obtained for farm produce in general at the provincial capital may be gauged by the fact that oats teamed there, reaped with a cradle and threshed with a flail, sold for 25-cents per bushel.

A Free School

Among the first purchases in the way of supplies for the new school, as an ancient record further informs us, were “two grammars, costing four shillings, two and one-half pence” and “three dictionaries costing five shillings, seven and one-half pence.” In 1852, eleven families raised sixteen pounds, fifteen shillings and nine-pence for the school, the largest contributor in that year being Richard Drury, who gave £2, 19 shillings and 3-pence. At the annual school meeting held on January 31st, 1853, with Jonathan Sissons in the chair, it was decided on motion of G. Hickling and E. Luck, that there “shall be a free school.” This resolution does not seem to have gone into effect at once as nine of those present voluntarily bound themselves to “raise any amount needed in excess of the legislative grant and municipal levy. Among the nine guarantors were J. Sissons, Charles Hickling, Charles Partridge, Thomas Drury, and Richard Drury. In 1855, a further forward step was taken when the trustees were empowered to buy maps of the world and of America as well as books to be distributed as prizes at the next examination of pupils.

Premier Ernest Charles Drury

The present Premier of Ontario was fortunate in the selection of his ancestors. In the arduous work of the pioneer days his grandfather and great-grandfather had their full share. in the midst of blackened stumps, and with the primeval forest still unconquered, as the old school record quoted from shows, they bore the heavy end of the burden in providing for the education of the children of the pioneer settlement. In establishing municipal government the Drury family also took part. Thomas Drury having been a member of one of the early councils of Oro, while Richard Drury served as Reeve on different occasions, and Charles Drury (father of the Premier) beginning as reeve of Oro ended his political career as Minister of Agriculture for the province. It is not by one of fortune’s freaks that E. C. Drury today holds the position of first citizen of the wealthiest and most populous province of Canada.

From Electric Scotland archives.

Read more here on the Pioneers of the Penatang Trail.