Bruce Road 3: A Colonization Road linked prospective settlers to undeveloped Crown Lands and a new life.
In this column, much has been written about the impact of roads, especially the Garafraxa Road, on the settlement of this area. However, another road was equally important as a link between the Grey-Bruce area and the southern parts of the Canadian colony.
The next time you are out for a drive, head to Southampton. Follow Highway 21 towards Port Elgin. About halfway between these two resort communities, turn left on Bruce County Road 3, heading towards Paisley.
You are now on an extension of the Elora Road.
This road was a major access route for settlers wishing to colonize the Saugeen area.
The Garafraxa Road and other earlier colonization roads in Upper Canada had been built under the supervision of the Crown Lands Department and were financed through annual grants from the Colonial Parliament. However, this scenario changed in 1852 with the creation of the Bureau of Agriculture. Recognizing the need to develop the hinterlands of the colony as farm land, the newly created bureau quickly got involved in road building projects throughout the colony.
On Sept. 14, 1853, the minister of agriculture submitted to the governor-in-council a plan to build two roads which would connect the County of Bruce to the rest of the colony. One of these proposed routes was the Elora Road.
Upon the adoption of the scheme, David Gibson, public land surveyor, was appointed to supervise the building of the Elora Road. Gibson was a highly regarded surveyor. However, he had an interesting past. In 1837, he had been a prominent supporter of William Lyon Mackenzie's rebellion. Gibson served as comptroller in Mackenzie's provisional revolutionary government.
After the rebellion was quashed, Gibson was indicted for high treason. Ironically, 15 years later, he was a prominent civil servant in the colonial government of the day.
To finance the Elora Road as well as the other colonization roads, the government enacted a bill which gave a percentage of the sale of school and Crown lands towards road construction in the same counties. This was an important action by the government as road building was an expensive and time-consuming endeavour.
Two years after the plans for the Elora Road had been initially approved, the financial statement from the government revealed that, as of Dec. 31, 1855, the expenditures made on the Elora and Saugeen roads totalled 5,001 pounds, 18 s., and 7 d.
Colonization of the area coincided with construction of the road. Some settlers had squatted on the unsurveyed land since 1851 and these original inhabitants played a large role in the early formation of the communities along the road. In late 1853, the first settlers formally laid claim to land around the present-day site of Mildmay.
Today, when one drives north on the Elora Road, a sign arching over the road as you enter Mildmay proudly states, "Mildmay: Gateway to the Bruce."
There are many other communities along the Elora Road (Bruce Road 3). Each boasts architecture reflecting various eras of almost a century and a half of settlement in the area.
The Elora Road has provided a communication and transportation link to the larger markets in the area. One community is the site of one of the first area post offices. Burgoyne's post office was established in 1853.
September 1854 marked an important date in Bruce County history. On that date, between 2,000 and 3,000 would-be settlers crowded into the small port community of Southampton. Accommodations were so scarce many of the newcomers slept on the beach.
Their mission was to buy the Crown lands available in southern Bruce County, and any inconvenience was overlooked because of the desire to claim the prized farm land which was being offered.
Today, as you drive on Bruce road No. 3, the scenery of rolling farmland and crossing rivers and streams such as the Saugeen River, provides a truly pastoral setting to enjoy.
The well-kept farms, the large herds of beef cattle are a testament to the reputation Bruce County has achieved as one of the foremost beef producing counties in the province of Ontario.
I suggest that if you are looking for a nice drive on a Sunday afternoon, check out Bruce Road 3.
A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times in 2002.
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