A Pioneer Road Surveyor's Impact on Local History

A pioneer road surveyor's impact on the local history of Grey and Bruce counties could have been dramatic, if it had not been changed by another surveyor.


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The Great Lakes Raconteur

The intersection of Highways #6 and #10 at the north end of the village of Chatsworth has long been a sign to road-weary travellers heading to Owen Sound that their trip is almost complete. 

This junction in Chatsworth marks the diversion of the two major routes in to, and out of, the area. Highway #10, formerly the Toronto-Sydenham Road, leads to Orangeville, Brampton, and finally Toronto. 

Highway #6, originally the Garafraxa Road, connects this area with the Guelph, Kitchener, and Hamilton region. However, if an 1843, a pioneer road surveyor's for the region had been accepted, the future of this area, especially the village of Chatsworth, and possibly Owen Sound, might have been very different.

In 1843, the Commissioner of Crown Lands assigned John S. Dennis, deputy provincial surveyor, the task of surveying a township south of the Sydenham settlement. The new township was to be called Sullivan in honour of Robert Baldwin Sullivan, who just happened to also be the current Commissioner of Crown Lands. 

When the surveyor submitted his plans for Sullivan Township to the Commissioner of Crown Lands in the autumn of 1843, he included a noteworthy proposal. 

Whether his assignment called for Dennis to also survey a road through the area is not clear. Dennis marked the northern boundary of the new township with a road which he called "Mr. Hawkins' Line". 

A road as a township boundary is not a unique concept. But it was Dennis' idea that "Mr. Hawkins' Line" was more than a simple boundary road. This section of road was part of a greater plan to build a road connecting Toronto with the mouth of the Saugeen River, totally bypassing the new community of Sydenham (Owen Sound). This proposed road would intersect with the Garafraxa Road about half-way between the present-day communities of Chatsworth and Williamsford. However, this plan never was implemented.

Before Dennis had even completed his survey, John Telfer, the land agent for the area, wrote to the Commissioner of Crown Lands, requesting further directions concerning where he should locate settlers. The land agent envisioned in his letter a tier of townships extending southward from Sydenham (Owen Sound). It seems that his conception of a township extended to the idea of 30 lots of 200 acres each on either side of the road. 

It seems that at the time of Telfer's correspondence with the Commissioner of Crown Lands he was in the process of issuing land lots to settlers in the second tier of townships, Holland and Sullivan. To meet these demands for land, in the fall of 1845, Charles Rankin was ordered to survey two more concessions in Sullivan Township. 

During the process of surveying Sullivan Township, Rankin made a dramatic change to the original survey by Dennis which had been completed two years earlier. Dennis had determined that the boundary between Sullivan and Derby should be "Mr. Hawkins' Road". Because of the angle of this route, which would ultimately connect Toronto with the mouth the Saugeen River, the township had an uneven shape. Rankin's survey ignored the possibility of such a route and moved the north-eastern boundary of Sullivan northward to give the township a more constant shape. 

The Commissioner of Crown Lands accepted Rankin's proposed survey, and Dennis' dream of a road connecting Toronto with the mouth of the Saugeen River disappeared. 

One has to wonder whether Telfer wrote his letter to the Commissioner of Crown Lands with a motive which extended far beyond the idea of receiving instruction with regard to placing settlers on plots of land.  

The question has to be asked whether Telfer, seeing that the pioneer road surveyor, Dennis's proposed road between Toronto and the mouth of the Saugeen did not provide a direct access route for the community of Sydenham to Toronto, hoped to circumvent this plan. 

After all, if "Mr. Hawkins' Road" was built the dreams of the Sydenham settlement would have been dealt a serious blow to its aspirations for growth and development. 

If Rankin had not changed the boundaries of Sullivan Township the future might have been entirely different in the Grey and Bruce region. 

The information used in this article came from many different sources. However, of primary importance was The History of Sullivan Township, 1850-1975. 

A version of "A Pioneer Road Surveyor's Impact on Local History," originally appeared in my Local History column in the January 14, 2000 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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