Durham Ontario Influenced by the Saugeen River 

Durham Ontario Influenced by the Saugeen River. This river provided a means to create new industries, but especially in the spring it can also pose a menace to the community.

In previous columns, I have described how many early entrepreneurs established inns to tend to the needs of the early travellers on the Garafraxa Road. Sometimes other enterprises were established alongside these pioneer lodges. This often resulted in the growth of a community. 

As the Garafraxa Road improved and modes of transportation became more efficient, there was less need for many of the roadside rest spots. However, the ones located alongside other entrepreneurial endeavours continued to exist. 

The Grey County town of Durham began as a stop for weary travellers along the Garafraxa Road. Archibald Hunter, who arrived in the area on May 1, 1842, soon established the British Hotel at the junction of the Garafraxa and Durham roads. 

However, it was not until 1846 that a second industry arrived in the area to enhance the possibility of the growth of a community. 

In that year, John Edge of Clonbrook, Ireland, arrived and took up 22 acres of land a short distance east of the Garafraxa Road on Lot 25, Concession. 1. Here he built a grist mill. The cost of the plot of land was 250 pounds. 

Within three years, Edge had expanded his holdings to include a saw mill and large acreages in both Glenelg and Bentinck townships. It is not known if Edge was a particularly wealthy man, but it is known that he had lots of labour to assist him in his ventures. 

When he first arrived in the region, he brought with him 30 friends and relatives. During the next few years, many more of his family and friends came from Ireland to join him in the area. 

Ironically, it is the very water which, in the winter of 1996-97 has played havoc with the homes and lives of those who live in Durham that provided the impetus for the development of the community. It was the Saugeen River which provided the power to run Edge's mills! 

In 1848, another event occurred which ensured Durham's growth. In that year, the Crown Land Office was established in the community. The land agent was George Jackson. It was his responsibility to issue location tickets to any settlers who wished to settle in either Grey or Bruce counties.

The settlement continued to grow throughout the decade of the 1850s. It became the market centre for the sale of goods and the purchase of produce from the farms in the neighbouring townships

In the early 1860s, the mill expanded to include the processing of woolens. 

Durham's importance as a stop for transit on the Garafraxa Road is illustrated by the fact that it was not long before many other hotels arose to compete with the British Hotel to provide accommodation for pioneering travellers. 

James Koiley built a stone structure named Koiley's Hotel at the north end of the village on the hill. In the south end, Henry Cole established the Royal Exchange Hotel. 

The post office was originally called Bentinck. Although it was renamed Durham in 1853, it was not until 1865 that the name Durham was more commonly used. 

The pioneering settlement of Durham seemed to have a golden touch! Its entrepreneurial base was growing and prospering. However, the community did suffer a setback. When Grey became a separate county, it was assumed that, due to the presence of the land office, Durham would be the logical choice for the location of the county seat. 

Its lobbyists pointed out that it was located in a central location. On the north-south axis, it was approximately halfway between Owen Sound and Guelph and on an east-west plane it was nearly mid-way between the Georgian Bay port of Collingwood and the Lake Huron port of Kincardine. 

Although these were strong and valid points, Owen Sound, due to its larger population and position on Georgian Bay, was named the centre of local government. 

In 1872, Durham received its incorporation as a town. Like so many other communities in the Grey and Bruce region, Durham was established by hardworking and determined pioneers who had a strong sense of pride in their community.

The recent disastrous flood illustrates that drive, determination, and co-operative nature still exists where Archibald Hunter built his hotel in 1842.

NOTE: Some of the research for this article came from a wonderful book, The History of Glenelg Township, which was compiled by the Glenelg Township Historical Committee.

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