The Country Connection The Pinecone Forest Country Roads Maps Country Cabin Books
Country Roads Maps Haliburton Highlands Information

Facebook link
AddThis Feed Button

Haliburton Highlands

The winding roads of Haliburton Highlands take us through some of central Ontario’s most picturesque countryside - a rugged and beautiful paradise of forested hills, bejewelled with over 600 lakes, ribboned with streams and waterfalls. Explore the history and local lore of first inhabitants, colonization roads, early European settlements, lumbering prosperity, wilderness and nature preserves, and the amenities introduced in recent years through tourism development. The four season roads lead to festivals and fairs, quiet retreats and nature outings, sporting havens and arts events, following the calendar as the forests change from green to flame to crystal.

Visiting the Highlands

Visitors to the Haliburton Highlands will find no shortage of accommodations. Take your wilderness untamed, or softened with all the modern comforts. From cosy bed-and-breakfasts to luxury inns and motels, from rustic forest cottages to tent or trailer camps, the area features a whole range of excellent facilities for singles, groups, and families. Fine resorts cater to business, providing conference, leisure and sports facilities. After meetings there is time for fine dining and dancing, evening entertainment, saunas and fitness gyms, excellent tennis and golf.

Enjoy the sports of every season: summer pool and lake swimming, canoeing and kayaking, sailing and windsurfing, mountain biking and hiking; winter cross-country and downhill skiing; springtime hikes to photograph the woodland wildflowers; or autumn canoe trips on placid waters.

Activities for all ages fill the calendar year-round. For thrills and spills, or pure fun and nonsense, there are races of every conceivable kind: from kayak white water races, crazy raft races, rubber ducky races, foot races, and mud bogs in summer, to car races on ice in winter. According to the season, enjoy concerts, midways, and truck pulls; agricultural fairs and artists’ studio tours; parades and tournaments; maple syrup festivals and pancake breakfasts; or browse at any time through art galleries and museums to savour local talent and history. Nature talks and walks, craft sales and fleamarkets, dinners and dances may be found throughout the year. All these are just outside your door, or a short drive away down a Highland country road.

First Inhabitants

The region we now call Haliburton Highlands was inhabited by Algonquin tribes long before European contact in the 1600s. These tribes based their livelihood on the area’s abundance of fish, wildlife, fruit and maple sap. The Algonquin were a nomadic people, moving their wigwam villages by birch bark canoe to favoured seasonal locations. They lived lightly off the land, using the rivers and streams as their roads.

Early years of stable and often prosperous relations between Natives and Europeans were followed by tragedy, as competition increased for resources and land. The common trading unit of beaver skins became scarce, and land usage rights were violently contested between Algonkian, Iroquois, Huron and European. In 1649, the Hurons forced northwards were virtually annihilated by the Iroquois, and the Haliburton Highlands area became hunting grounds for roving tribes. Ill-conceived and badly executed treaty agreements created a series of reserves, but aboriginal culture was overshadowed by European colonization. Still, early records indicate a charming kindness between Native and European individuals. Many early settlers credited their very survival to the help of friendly first peoples.

Colonization Roads through Wilderness

Following the Land Act of 1853, colonization grants provided financing for the development of roads in Upper Canada. Administered by the Department of Agriculture, funds were given through public tender to survey and build the new roads. Priority was given to roadways leading to, or encompassing, prime agricultural land.

The Bobcaygeon Road

A government grant was made in 1856 for a new north-south road, which eventually ran from Bobcaygeon to the Oxtongue River north of Dorset by way of Kinmount and Minden. This was the first of the area’s many colonization roads. Construction began in 1857 and was plagued by problems including the challenge of rugged granite terrain, obstacles formed by numerous lakes and streams, and labour shortages during harvest time. It took five years, under the supervision of James W. Bridgeland, to complete the road.

Early travellers complained that “if any road was ever made purposely to upset the passengers, the Bobcaygeon must be the one.” Prominent historian George S. Thompson writes that he “thought his toenails would be shaken off,” and surveyor Alex Niven walked long distances between Kinmount and Minden rather than risk travel by wagon. However primitive, the Bobcaygeon Road did provide access to the developing country, principally to the holdings of the Canadian Land and Emigration Company and to settlement lands.

The Burleigh Road

Now replaced by Highway 28 and Highway 648, the early route called “Burleigh Road” was once a mere rough trail. While the Bobcaygeon Road was invaluable for settling Haliburton’s western townships, an entirely different route was needed for developing those in the east. Surveyor James W. Fitzgerald was assigned in 1860 to strike a line through the townships of Burleigh, Anstruther, Chandos, Cardiff, Monmouth and Dudley, intersecting the east-west Peterson Road. Construction began the following year and continued for 43 miles. Maps dated 1884 show the Burleigh Road extended all the way to the Peterson Road north of Wilberforce.

The usual problems of early road construction were compounded by the sheer size of what came to be called “Burleigh Rocks,” immense granite boulders deposited by ancient glaciers. Notes by some of the early surveyors and labourers read like modern day tourist guides, extolling the beauty of “uncommonly fine country.” But others expressed fears that the marginal farm land and desolate countryside would forever impede settlement.

The Peterson Road

Remnants of the early Peterson Colonization Road branch out east and west from Carnarvon, today serving as township roads feeding into snowmobile trails. A few sections of modern Highway 118 cross the old Peterson route on the way to Muskoka Falls, and a section of modern Highway 62 (running beyond Haliburton from Maynooth to Combermere) was once part of the old Peterson Road. The Peterson Road was built to be the east-west link between the Opeongo Line and Muskoka Road. Named for surveyor Joseph S. Peterson, who planned the route, this was to be the area’s longest colonization road, measuring more than 101 miles.

Work started simultaneously from both ends of the road and was completed by 1863. By 1865, it was obvious that settlement was not occurring at the desired rate. Further road development was urged by road supervisor J. W. Bridgeland, who believed more expenditure was necessary to ensure that this colonization road would reach its full potential. However, the government of the day was loath to spend the needed money, and when fire struck the section west of the Hastings Road, the colonization road was devastated and became impassable. Within 20 years, wilderness had reclaimed large portions of the Peterson Road. Some sections were later incorporated into modern highways, but most remain forever ghosts of roads past.

The Monck Road

The Monck Road ran from Lake Couchiching near Orillia to the intersection of the Mississippi Road and the Hastings Road, at Bancroft. Traces of the old Monck Road may be found near the communities of Kinmount, Irondale, Gooderham, Tory Hill and Cardiff. Today Bancroft still has a “Monck Road” running from Highway 28 to Cardiff.

Begun in 1864, the Monck Road was originally intended to serve the dual purposes of colonization settlement and military support, by providing a road link between Lake Simcoe and Ottawa (through connection with the Mississippi Road). At the time of the proposed construction, tensions were high between Americans and Canadians. Following the war of 1812, the American Civil War of 1861, and the discovery that Confederate guerilla forces were working out of Montreal, some Canadians saw the United States as a dangerous and unstable southerly neighbour. In 1864, Governor General Charles Stanley, fourth Viscount Monck, for whom the road is named, expressed concern over a plot by 50,000 Irish veterans of the American Civil War (known as “Fenians”) to conquer Canada and hold it to ransom Ireland from England. The government of Canada was convinced that a road link from the Great Lakes to the capital was necessary.

However, road construction in the 1860s was tediously slow. Despite its projected use as a military route, by the time the Monck Road was completed in 1873, tensions between the United States and Canada were considerably reduced. The Monck Road saw occasional military convoys pass through, but it served Canada and the Haliburton Highlands primarily as a colonization route.

Selected bibliography for the early days of Haliburton Highlands: Cummings, H.R., Early Days in Haliburton (Toronto, 1960). Murray, Florence B., Muskoka and Haliburton 1615-1875 (Toronto, 1963). Reynolds, Nila, In Quest of Yesterday (Lindsay, 1968).
Rotary Club of Haliburton, Haliburton Village 1864-1964; County 1874-1974 (Peterborough, 1975).

Early Railroads

Colonization roads were not the only means of access for settlement. Important as road travel later became, equally significant in the Highlands early development was the building of a complex railway system. When the Grand Trunk Railway opened in 1856, providing rail travel between Montreal and Toronto, people throughout other parts of Ontario, including the Haliburton Highlands, began planning for their own rail lines.

In 1868, the Canada Land and Emigration Company began early development of a rail link between Haliburton and Lakefield and experimented with wooden rails covered in iron strapping. Far from ideal, these wooden rails led to improvements which eventually gained provincial approval for the Peterborough and Haliburton Railway Company. By 1882, rail development was well under way and many smaller lines were amalgamated to form the Midland Railway of Canada. This route of 452 miles offered lines from Toronto to Beaverton, Port Perry, Lindsay, and eventually Haliburton and rural Highlands settlements.

Two of the best known and most fondly remembered of the early rail lines are the Victoria Railway Company and the great I.B.&.O. or Irondale, Bancroft and Ottawa line. With tracks running up the east side of the Scugog River approaching Lindsay, and then along the west side of the river, the Victoria Railway line crossed log bridges, squeezed through rock cuts, manoeuvred around sink holes, traversed high trestles and finally completed its run to Haliburton by way of stops in Fenelon Falls, Burnt River, Kinmount, Gelert, and Gould’s Crossing, to name but a few. The Irondale, Bancroft and Ottawa Railway was named for the great expectations of the iron mines and the hope of a significant settlement at Irondale. The iron proved to be of poor quality, but the rail line opened access to forests and lumbering became the primary industry. The 54-mile line started at Howland Junction north of Kinmount, passed through Gooderham, Tory Hill, Wilberforce, Highland Grove and more than a dozen other stops, and ended in Bancroft.

Early train travel was not swift and speeds were often limited to 15 miles an hour. Nor was it without risk and the I. B. & O., especially, suffered frequent derailments. It was often, however, an improvement over the early roads and in many cases the preferred mode of travel. Mail service was improved, settlement was increased, lumber was transported and community life was enhanced by the railways and train services in the Haliburton Highlands. Today the old railbeds have gained new life through a transformation. Cleared of tracks and neatly groomed, they serve as four-season recreation trails for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, biking and hiking.

Highways and Byways

Highways to the Highlands

Main roads enter the Haliburton Highlands from the four directions: Highway 35 north from Lindsay; Highway 118 east from Bracebridge; Highway 60 south from Huntsville; Highway 60 west from Whitney; and Highway 118 west from Highway 28 (junction south of Bancroft). Some charming secondary routes also meander into the Highlands, including the 507 north from Buckhorn, the 117 east from Bracebridge and Baysville, or the Peterson Road east from Maynooth. Getting there can be fun, whether by auto or by snowmobile—following the old railway beds now groomed as four-season recreation trails—or by canoe, on the network of myriad connecting waterways.

Poking about the Backroads

Explore sideroads, backroads and country lanes for secret treasures. There is no off-season for catching nature’s unexpected moods. For example, if early spring forests look drab and uninviting, visit waterfalls and rapids; swollen by snowmelt and rain showers, crashing torrents fill the narrows and eddy deep and mysterious. Or try a cool day in May, or late November, for sleuthing through the Highlands’ priceless heritage of village churches, one-room schools, and old general stores; catch them now in little lost hamlets before they fade and disappear forever. The following four tours are a bit of whimsy. They can be done comfortably in an afternoon or drawn out for a day.

TOUR 1: Old Railroads, Relics and Rapids near Minden

From Minden, go south on Highway 121 to the Howland Junction Road, which runs east. A few minutes brings you to the railway junction of the old Victoria Railway and the I.B.& O. The tiny station totters near the empty railbed. Nearby is the ghost of a railway turntable. All that remains of past glory is a circular pit in the ground, the cement base of the centre pivot, and the curved rim made of heavy squared timber; small trees and shrubs are reforesting the interior. In its heyday, the turntable was pushed around by hand, easily done by a few men if the engine was correctly balanced. Just north of Howland Junction, the railroad crossed Kendricks Creek on a high trestle some 50 feet above the river and 500 feet long. Sadly, one foresees the disappearance of these landmarks unless heritage-minded folk make an immediate effort to save them.

Back on 121, go north and turn east onto County Road 1 towards Gelert. At Irondale Road, digress one minute east to the Burnt River and a picturesque little railway bridge from the old Victoria Line. Gelert has an old general store, old church, and two old schoolhouses all in a row. The general store, long defunct and boarded over, is identifiable by its wide loading door at the side. The schools have the standard three windows down each side; the newer one, with separate doors for boys and girls, bears a plaque as the present Town Hall for the Township of Snowdon, incorporated 1863. Turn into Station Street and pause among the charming old frame houses, yellow, forest green or brown, tidy and well-loved. Here the “main street” would have changed in the way that railway towns reoriented: first along the roads, then towards the railroad stations, and now towards the roads again.

Onward to Lochlin, which has an old general store and a handsome brick church. Ritchie Falls Road leads to a falls pooling in bowls of green rock, great cedar boughs sweeping the water. Leaving County Road 1 at Lochlin, take Church Road north, Lochlin Road west, and County Road 18 west around the end of Kashagawigamog Lake, with its many fine resorts. Jog east on Highway 121, then west on Bethel Church Road. The little log church built in 1891 is known as the “Church in the Wildwood.” Across Gull River, walk the viewing trail along the Minden White Water Reserve, a world class course for kayak and canoe competitions.

TOUR 2: Eagle Lake from West Guilford

West Guilford is the starting point for two scenic tours. County Road 7 north follows pretty Redstone River Valley, then turns through wilder country northward to Kennisis Lake and the Haliburton Forest and Wildlife Reserve. On the other hand, County Road 6 east goes to the village of Eagle Lake, the neat and pretty “Rhubarb Capital of Ontario.” A side trip down Sir Sam’s Road leads to the elegant old lodge and modern downhill ski resort. From the village of Eagle Lake take County Road 14 eastward. This stretch has striking scenery: ragged rock cuts, shimmering white birch stands, and views of Sir Sam’s ski hills across lake waters. Fort Irwin at Haliburton Lake is a major cottage centre. Northward views reveal glimpses of the high country towards Algonquin Park. With its high elevations, the Park forms watersheds in all four directions; hence the area is known as the “Algonquin Dome.”

At Fort Irwin, County Road 14 becomes number 19, rounding back south of Eagle Lake and passing through Harburn. This old townsite sits at the junction of the early Harburn settlement road and Peterson Colonization Road. Birch and poplar dominate these slopes, all second growth after the original pine was completely logged off in the 1800s. In autumn, the white trunks and flickering yellow leaves cast magic reflections on skyblue waters. Bent and twisted trees mark one ridge where a tornado once touched down and screwed the trees around in their sockets. The private resort of the Domain of Killian is nearby. Where County Road 19 ends at Highway 118, stop for the Haliburton Highlands Museum.

TOUR 3: “The Loop” and Silent Lake Provincial Park

“The Loop” is the name of the route joining the villages of Gooderham, Tory Hill, Wilberforce, Harcourt and Highland Grove in eastern Haliburton County.

Gooderham is a charming village, with a well-kept old general store still open for business; small houses and cottages line the rim of the lake. Just west of the village on Highway 503, a sign for Monck Road indicates a tiny surviving piece of the old colonization road. East along Highway 503 from Gooderham, part of the old railway bed for the I. B. & O. parallels the modern road before passing through Tory Hill to Wilberforce.

East of Tory Hill, Highway 503 runs into Highway 118 and then 648, which circles north to Wilberforce. A pretty village, its heritage buildings include the proud little grey and white house which was Ontario’s first Red Cross Outpost Hospital, 1922-1963. Agnews General Store is also a gem of its kind; still thriving in the original old building, the store has a post office, food and hardware. North of town, Burleigh Road is part of the old colonization road, now modern County Road 15.

The Loop on 648 leads next to Harcourt, where County Road 10 runs north to Elephant Lake. Further along 648 is Highland Grove, with another wonderful old general store in its original building, celebrating in 1995 100 years of continuous business. Ending the Loop, Highway 648 crosses Highway 118 southward to emerge at Highway 28, near the entrance of Silent Lake Provincial Park. This beautiful park offers quiet places to picnic and canoe, safe swimming beaches and family campgrounds.

TOUR 4: Tracing the old colonization roads

The Bobcaygeon and Peterson Roads. From Kinmount, the old Bobcaygeon and Peterson Colonization Roads may be traced by driving straight north on Highway 121 to Minden. This follows the route of the old Bobcaygeon Road north. (The old colonization roads were as straight as roman roads, passing over hills and swamps without deviation, except for impassable water or rock, so one may sometimes guess their probable routes between remaining visible remnants.) Minden’s main street is part of the old Bobcaygeon Road, as one can tell from the roadsigns where “Main Street” becomes “Bobcaygeon Road” north of town.

West of Carnarvon, the north-south Bobcaygeon Road intersected the old east-west Peterson colonization road, at this point the modern Highway 118. From the western edge of town, a roadsign for “W. Peterson Road” directs one on an enjoyable little loop along the shore of Little Boshkung Lake, returning to Highway 118. Take 118 through Carnarvon (crossing Highway 35) and then follow the sign east onto “E. Peterson Road.” This country lane is interesting in early spring when one glimpses the old corduroy roadbed heaved by winter frosts. One presumes the foundation cedar logs laid down across the swamps are very old, for cedar logs will last indefinitely submerged in water or under roads; in summer the road is graded and packed down again with gravel. Be cautioned that this short stretch of the Peterson Road peters out into dirt track beyond its junction with the 25th Line, so turn north on the line to Maple Lake and rejoin Highway 118.

The Monck and Burleigh Roads. From Kinmount, Highway 503 runs east and west along the route of the old Monck Road. (Its western end was at Lake Couchiching.) Follow Highway 503 east through Irondale to Gooderham. Here a sign labeled “Monck Road” points out a pleasant drive along the lake. Continue east on Highway 503 to Tory Hill, the junction with Highway 118. Go east on 118, and north on the 648 loop to Wilberforce. This is another quaint old village, with several heritage buildings. Just north of town, a sign indicates “Burleigh Road.” The old colonization road is modern County Road 15, which ends at Allen Lake; in the old days, Burleigh Road continued north to junction with the Peterson Road.

Continue east on the 648 to Harcourt. Turn north here on County Road 10 past scenic Elephant Lake and Benoir Lake. A sign indicates a canoe access into Algonquin Park. At the top of Benoir Lake, County Road 10 makes an abrupt turn due east. Here it becomes an excellent highgrade modern road through remote and glorious country on the southernmost border of Algonquin Park. This east-west stretch of modern road follows the track of the old Peterson Road. Still named “Peterson Road,” it is marked as such by a sign where it meets modern Highway 62 at Maynooth.

Nature in the Highlands

All of Haliburton Highlands is a nature setting, rich in forests, lakes and wildlife, but some areas are specifically set aside as nature preserves.

Algonquin Park is the Highlands’ best known nature area and is Ontario’s oldest provincial park. Highway 60 from Huntsville to Whitney passes directly through the southern reaches of the Park. There are many pull-overs for views of the lakes, and parking areas for trailheads. For more than 100 years, since its founding in 1893, Algonquin Provincial Park has endeavoured to fulfill its original mandate of six goals: to maintain the water supply; to preserve a primeval forest; to protect native wildlife and the abundance of birds and animals; to offer a field for experiments in forestry; to provide a place for recreation; and to produce a beneficial effect upon the climate. Over the years, the multiple use of the park to meet these goals has challenged management and park users alike, but the 7,600-square-kilometre parkland has survived and thrived. Limited accommodation within the park generally requires advance booking; canoe trips to the interior, camping and day hikes are the most common means of enjoyment.

Silent Lake Provincial Park offers peace and repose, and family camping. One of Ontario’s most beautiful small Provincial parks, it bans motorboats, keeping Silent Lake true to its name. A deep bay shelters the idyllic sandy beach from wind and waves, and the sandy bottom is so shallow that even small children may splash about safely if watched from the shore by careful but thoroughly relaxed parents. Drive-in or walk-in campsites are tucked into woods near the water, and there are picnic tables for day visitors. In winter the park is open for cross-country skiing. Located on Highway 28 south of Bancroft, in the southeast corner of Haliburton Highlands, the Park may be reached by Highway 648 south from Highway 118.

Preserving Highlands Heritage

The Haliburton Highlands Museum is situated in Glebe Park, overlooking Head Lake and the Village of Haliburton. Open year-round, its main gallery contains history exhibits on the region’s native peoples, settlement, the logging era, first railways and early tourism. Local artifacts enrich displays on children’s toys, printing and the role of general stores. The museum also has an excellent collection of over 100 bird specimens. In summer, the museum opens a relocated village home; a rural farmstead with simple log home furnishings; a barn with period agricultural implements; and a forge building.

The Minden County Town Museum, located in the village of Minden, is dedicated to preserving buildings, artifacts and audio/visual records of the region’s history. The museum is run by volunteer curators who receive and display pictures, maps, documents and family trees chronicling the history of Minden and surrounding areas. A project is underway to record the memories of still-living pioneers, providing a library of heritage videos on local residents. Original documents may be copied and returned, or accepted as donations for the permanent collection. Books on local history are available at the museum for research. Activities include a Heritage Walking Tour of Minden, demonstrations of pioneer crafts (such as soap making, baking, candle making, spinning, weaving), and a strawberry tea. Displays of early settlers’ artifacts include household and general store items, school mementos, and farm equipment. Exhibits are changed regularly.

The Arts

The Agnes Jamieson Gallery is located on Bobcaygeon Road in Minden. Open all year, it features works by Highland artists and artisans. Displays change monthly.

The Rails’ End Gallery, a project of the Haliburton Highlands Guild of Fine Arts, is located in Haliburton in a heritage railway station of the old Victoria Railway Line. Built between 1878 and 1881, it is one of the older surviving railway buildings in the county. About 18 exhibitions are held every year. Rails’ End Gallery draws on the talents of local, provincial and national artists. Demonstrations, workshops, lectures, films and receptions to meet the artists may complement the exhibitions.

The Haliburton County Studio Tour is a unique opportunity to meet local artists and artisans in their own creative environments. A variety of arts and crafts are represented: painting, sculpting, weaving, and woodworking; also included are pottery, jewellery, stained glass, and furniture. Follow the map in the studio tour brochure to the artists’ homes and studios and be delighted by their vision of rural living.

The Haliburton School of Fine Arts Summer School of Sir Sanford Fleming College has provided an inspiring program for over twenty years. Taught by Canada’s finest artists and craftspeople, the school offers over 200 week-long courses in all media. Students come to the village of Haliburton from everywhere and many enjoy their studies as part of a working vacation.

Winter in the Highlands

Cross-country skiing is one of this area’s most popular winter pastimes. The Haliburton Nordic Trail Association is a non-profit organization, founded in 1983. 160 kilometres of high-quality linked trail network is regularly groomed and maintained. Scenic routes penetrate forests and traverse frozen lakes, with graded trails for all skill levels available throughout the Haliburton and Minden areas. Resorts offer lodge to lodge packages, and nighttime skiing is also becoming popular.

Downhill skiing at Sir Sam’s offers big hills, big runs, and big modern lifts. Located on Eagle Lake, north of the Village of Haliburton, six lifts service twelve main runs, and state-of-the-art snowmaking and grooming equipment keep the slopes in top condition. There are runs to suit all levels of skill, from novice to expert. Qualified C.S.I.A. instructors are on hand for beginners and those wishing to advance, and the ski shop provides rental equipment. The cosy chalet provides food and comfort.

Copyright 1996 by Pinecone Publishing. All rights reserved.


The Pinecone Forest Cottage Rental and Adventures

Reach us at Pinecone or write 691 Pinecrest Road, Boulter ON K0L 1G0, Canada • Phone: 613-332-3651
Copyright 2015 Pinecone Publishing, all rights reserved. Web construction by Zylstra Design