History Of The Area PDF Print E-mail

Archaeological digs have revealed that this area once supported a much larger Indian population than existed before the pioneers arrived in the area. Early in the 17th century, explorers, traders and missionaries to the area made contact with the Algonquin and Huron tribes, who had taken control of most of the area from Iroquois, who had displaced the Ojibwa (or Chippewa) peoples.

The area had become a meeting place of a loose group of first nation people who shared the Algonkian language. Known as the "Council of the Three Fires", this group included members of the Ojibwa, Ottawa and Potawatomi. The Mississaugas (a sub tribe of the Ojibwa) have now come to be treated as a distinct unit. Note of meeting this group was first made by the Jesuit Fathers near Lake Huron in 1634.

Oral tradition speaks of a long-term battle between the Mississaugas and Mohawks at Weslemkoon Lake in the mid 1600s. There are stories of horrendous slaughters and warring raids spear-headed by the Iroquois. However, it is considered to be the threat of Mohawk vengeance that made the North Hastings area sort of "no-man's" land until the Iroquois were assigned to reservations at Tyendewaga and Grand River (by the English) in the late 1700s. By the 1920's the British government had acquired treaties from all local bands to surrender their territorial rights.

In the early 1800's the river systems through the area became a major transportation-way for timber men, making camps along the York River, the Madawaska River and their tributaries. One lonely cabin was built where St. Hedwig's church is now situated- a man (by the name of James Barry) used it for his head-offices. Lumbermen called the camp "Barry's Camp on the Bay" and eventually it became known as Barry's Bay. By May 1 of 1861 there was a post office located in "York River" the town we now know as Bancroft.

In 1853, Senator Billa Flint (of Belleville) purchased lands near Actinolite and it became a milling center. He soon set eyes on the busy milling settlement that had gathered around James Cleak's mill which opened in 1864 in York River. A series of unfortunate events forced Cleak, in August of 1877; to hand his saw, grist and mill reserves over to Billa Flint.

Flint began improving facilities in the area and also made application to the Post Master General to change the name of their post office to "Bancroft", after his mother-in-law, Ann Bancroft Clement. It was changed October 15, 1879.

In his lifetime, Flint was Justice of the Peace in 1836, Mayor of Belleville in 1861, Reeve of Elzevir for 21 years, Warden of Hastings in 1873, Hastings representative in the Canadian Assembly, Senator from 1867 to 1894, Superintendent of the Bridge Street Methodist Sunday School, founding member of the Belleville Board of Trade Club and its Temperance Club- the Flint name died with his adopted son, J.J.B. Flint. In 1868 James Cleak was appointed Police Magistrate.

During the 1850's and 60s there was a rush of immigrants when Upper Canada's Legislature passed the 1853 Public Lands Act. Immigrants to the area were predominantly Irish and Polish peoples who garnered employment through the major "settlement roads" development (much of it military- but that's a whole other story) and the lumber boom. News of the coming railroad proved a great economic boost to the regions. It is about this time that Fabian's great-grandfather arrived into the Wilno area.

In theory, the colonization road program was that the roads were to be built at the government's expense but would become the responsibility of the settlers providing statute labour in return for their 100 acre grants. These grants were widely advertised. To acquire a grant, the settler must be 18 years of age, take possession within a month of allotment and be cultivating 12 acres within 4 years. Further, a house at least 20' X 23' must be built and inhabited until all the conditions were performed before title was granted. An exception was provided when several members of the same family located near each other, they were permitted to live on one lot during clearing.

Government brochures explained that five men could build a house in four days. Bark could be used for roofing and the spaces between logs could be plastered with clay and whitewashed. Families could plan to repay workers for the cost of clearing their land, with the proceeds from their first wheat crop. It is not difficult to understand why people who were unable to cope with frontier conditions abandoned many lots, but these were taken up immediately by more of the continuing flood of optimistic immigrants.

Schools, churches, shops and other services began popping up throughout the 1860s and 70s. The nearest medical aid was located in Madoc. The railroad arrived about 1894. The main industries stretched from lumber to farming, woolen milling and saw milling and soon, early mining operations began. The telegraph service handled most of the communication until it closed in 1894. A switchboard was soon installed at the Barry's Bay post office, where Chapeskie's gift shop is now located.

The Bancroft Times, in September of 1899, makes mention of plans for an electric light plant. In the fall of 1900, there are further mentions of electric light poles being installed and by January of 1901, there was electricity in the village. Electric service was introduced to Barry's Bay in the 1920s and 30s, but it wasn't until the 1950s that hydro spread outside the village of Barry's Bay.

There are a number of great books published about our local history; some are available in the Chamber of Commerce, the municipal offices, banks and shops around the area. Many of the stories contain names of ancestors of the families that remain in the area, today.

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