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Picton harbour : early years

NOTE: In the following text, and to assist today's readers, we use the term "Picton harbour" in a generic, non-historical sense ("Picton" only came of being in 1837) to include the deep water wharves and docks (cement plant, Bethlehem Steel) in Picton Bay and the inner, more protected portion.

Prince Edward County was formed physically, from pre-existing geology, by the scouring of the Great Lakes area at the end of the last glacial period or "ice age" some twelve thousand years ago. Water levels in Lake Ontario over the last several centuries have probably been quasi-constant or seen minor lowering due to erosion of the St Lawrence River. What is now termed as Picton harbour is an approximately west-south-westerly facing inlet into the land mass, served by a limited watershed from a few Miles (kilometres) to the north and west. Recorded mapping or charting of this inlet prior to the mid-nineteenth century is unreliable, even non-existent as to depths and silting.

In September 1615, Samuel de Champlain passed close to, perhaps through Picton harbour (see this map.) [1]

MacDonnell’s Cove (later named Prinyer’s Cove) is normally accepted as being the preferred harbour at the eastern end of Prince Edward County in the 1780s. This protected anchorage is some fourteen miles east-north-east of today's Picton harbour (then known as Grand Bay), favourably positioned for access to Lake Ontario [2]. It is also reported that there was, in 1785, a 'carrying place' (but not a bridge) at the head of the bay with a portage (part marsh, part swaamp) leading to East Lake; the area had a reputation for "almost unbearably fierce" mosquitoes. Al Capon, in Community Spotlight (Mika, 1974) notes that Picton was, and still is, the finest natural harbour on the St Lawrence Seaway" and also that: "Here on a secure harbour, several roads converged during the 1790s, including a portage to Lake Ontario, and according to Dr William Caniff, early settlers took up residence at the head of Picton Bay in 1788."

On 16 July 1792, Prince Edward County was established by Proclamation with three townships - Ameliasburgh, Sophiasburgh and Marysburgh. Benjamin Hallowell was granted land, and on 7 July 1797 an act was passed to establish a new township, overlapping Marysburgh and Sophiasburgh, named Hallowell which held its "first annual meeting of the inhabitants" on 5 March 1798[3]. Some settler development is recorded. The "Hovenden[4] House at the bridge" is the most reliable and was probably the site of this first meeting.

What needs to be established is the site of this bridge. Figure 1 suggests the probable topology of the area prior to any immigrant influx in the 1780s. At this time waterborne transport was largely canoes, batteaux and Durham boats needing well less than two feet (61cm) of water depth to navigate.

The Picton Centennial Committee[5], wrote in 1937:

"[Hovenden] who for the accommodation of pioneers ... erected Hovenden House. Dr. Canniff [footnote2] says that the building was forty to fifty feet long and twenty feet wide and not very high, and that it was situated about sixty rods (990 feet or 302 metres) above the bridge. As he does not specify as to the bridge, there probably was only one at the time. Mrs Egerton, who has done a great deal of historical research, always has understood that Hovenden's Landing was siuated toward the upper end of what is now a marsh at Picton, and that Hovenden House was at or near the Landing, which would locate it above the the *upper* bridge. [emphasis added]"

which puts it above the bridge on York Street, implying strongly that today's "Bridge Street bridge" did not exist circa 1800.

Another indication is the placement of the first Masonic Lodge in 1811[6] which is suggested to have been close to the bridge. This older lodge was replaced in 1828 by a brick building 28 x 38 feet, shared with a school, that became known as the Mary Street School, now a parking lot.

Today's site of the "bridge on Bridge Street" is historically undated, but most probabaly dates to after the War of 1812, and possibly to as late as the early 1830's when the Rev Macauley was promoting the idea of "amalgamating his new Picton" with the older "Hallowell" (variously referred to as "Hallowell Bridge.") Eyre's Inn, not far from the current bridge dates to circa 1835[7] and exists to this day (despite being occasionally but erroneously referenced as "circa 1800.")

picton harbour
Masonic lodge, 1811; sketch by J.W. Thompson, date unknown. Credit: Al Capon fonds. Click image to enlarge.

[ Back ] Footnote 1: Huron (Wendat) canoe travel routes are subject to doubt as to whether 'West Lake - East Lake' and portage or 'Bay of Quinte' may have been used between the "Trent-Severn' and the 'Ducks' (all current topological terminology.)
[ Back ] Footnote 2: Canniff The Settlement of Upper Canada suggests Colonel Henry Young at p.477. This is corroborated in R. and J. Lunn The Countyat p. 25
[ Back ] Footnote 3: From D.W. Smyth, A Short Topographical Description of His Majesty's Province of Upper Canada in North America : to which is annexed a Provincial gazetteer.
[ Back ] Footnote 4: Lieutenant Moore Wolvende Hovenden (1751? - 1800?) of the Tailton's (Tarleton) Legion appears in the United Loyalist List of 1786. It is possible but unconfirmed, that he never came to Canada, dying in Jamaica; it is also reported that his land grant "was sold at a Sheriff's sale in 1790"; highly unlikely as the 1831 Survey of Hallowell by Deputy Provincial Surveyor P.V. Elmore still shows Hovenden's name for three lots totalling 500 acres.
[ Back ] Footnote 5: Prince Edward County old boys' centennial committee, Picton's 100 Years : 1837-1937 - A Historical Record of Achievement.
[ Back ] Footnote 6: A.R. Capon, Upon the Level, by the Square.
[ Back ] Footnote 7: Cruickshank, Stokes The Settler's Dream


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