The winding roads of Haliburton Highlands
take us through some of central Ontarios 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
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.
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 areas
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 areas 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
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 Haliburtons 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 areas 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
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
Rotary Club of Haliburton, Haliburton Village 1864-1964; County
1874-1974 (Peterborough, 1975).
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
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
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 Goulds 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
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 snowmobilefollowing the old
railway beds now groomed as four-season recreation trailsor
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
natures 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
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 Sams 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 Sams 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 Ontarios 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
TOUR 4: Tracing the old colonization
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.) Mindens 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
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 Ontarios 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
Silent Lake Provincial Park offers peace
and repose, and family camping. One of Ontarios 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
Preserving Highlands Heritage
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 regions
native peoples, settlement, the logging era, first railways
and early tourism. Local artifacts enrich displays on childrens
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.
County Town Museum, located in the village of Minden,
is dedicated to preserving buildings, artifacts and audio/visual
records of the regions 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.
Jamieson Gallery is located on Bobcaygeon Road in Minden.
Open all year, it features works by Highland artists and artisans.
Displays change monthly.
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.
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.
School of Fine Arts Summer School of Sir Sanford Fleming
College has provided an inspiring program for over twenty
years. Taught by Canadas 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 areas
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
Downhill skiing at Sir Sams 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.
by Pinecone Publishing. All rights reserved.