Once A Ribald River Town, Ferguson’s Falls May Be Dying



Photo from the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum.. Do you know any of these  Ferguson Falls ladies?


Perth Courier, September 13, 1962


Ferguson’s Falls is a dying community.

It has lost its businesses, industries and much of its history.  The first to admit the hard truth are the thirty happy residents of Ferguson’s Falls.  The town is kept alive by the lazy Mississippi River, a river which gave birth to the village, converted it into a boom town, destroyed it, but with sympathy bred of long years of association keeps the town living today as a quiet and friendly tourist retreat.

Ferguson’s Falls was once the centre of a great timber war which involved the highest courts of the Empire.  It also has a ghost but nobody has seen her recently.

Ferguson’s own “California” John Pool initiated Lanark’s first and only trek to California in 1849 to stake a claim in the gold rush.

Ferguson’s Falls was once a thriving village of 500 persons with three mills, three hotels, a post office, a tannery, a meat processing firm, wagon maker and a law authority.  The town slowly decayed following the collapse of the timber trade.

The area was first settled by two families each of (word obliterated) and Douglas and one each family of Scanlon, Powers, and Carberry, Irishmen all, who homesteaded on RR1 and RR5, Lanark township.  The families had worked in Perth after walking from Brockville in 1816.

A village was eventually erected around several primitive mills at the ford and called “Millford”.  The name was changed when a Captain George Ferguson was deeded 70 acres at the ford and water rights.  He sold out to Ebeneezer Woodward in 1838 who first divided the area into two lots.

The; names of Blair, Lee, Code, McVicar and Harvey figure prominently in property rights up to 1872 when friction between loggers and farmers culminated in flooded lands and burned mills.

The “Ford” was one of the toughest places on the river.  Men fought for love, money, business and just for the love of brawling.  They fought in taverns, yard, village, street and even on floating rafts, old accounts say.

It was during these hard times that Lanark County’s famous song “The Ballad of Jimmy Whalen” was first put together by a Ferguson’s Falls bard.

But the biggest and bloodiest fight of all was the Caldwell and McLaren feud.  The entire countryside became embroiled.  Signs of trouble began in 1850 and broke into open hostility in 1878 when the powerful lumber baron McLaren of Perth declared “No man but me has any right on this river.”

Caldwell, of Lanark, another lumber baron, protested.  On March 6, 1884, the Privy Council in London sustained Caldwell’s counter claim  which established throughout the Empire the right of river usage via improvements of another party.  The judgment had far reaching consequences in gaining certain common rights of navigable streams for public and industrial use.

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church was built in 1856, the first church in town.  The parish priest today is Father Healey of Lanark.  Protestant churches never built in the town but located on rural routes several miles away to serve a scattered population.  Anglican, Free Methodist, United and Baptist exist today serving a rural population of about 300.

The first Anglican service in town was held some time previous to 1850.  The second floor of a two storey log cabin (about 300 yards from the ford) sheltered the worshippers.  Then owned by the Gummersal family, the same cabin is today owned and occupied by A.L. Badour, his wife and family.  Behind the Badour house is the first public school, now a garage.  It was built in 1872.  James Ferguson was the first teacher.  His classes averaged about 25 students.

Mrs. Badour, an Ottawa school teacher, keeps notes on the town.  From a copy of the “Canadian Business Directory”, she uncovered the following long lost business leaders of 1857-58, many of whose descendents still reside in the vicinity today:  Hicks (post master), Gummersal (tanner), Hollinger (meat inspector), Blair (mill), Doroway (cooper), Doyle (innkeeper), “Ireton’ and ‘Stafford’ (cobblers-Thanks to Arlene Stafford Wilson). John Stafford, son of pioneer Tobias Stafford, was a shoemaker in Ferguson Falls and later expanded his business into Perth. Ireton was a fairly common name in Drummond Township.(cobblers), McCaffrey (wagons),John and M. McCaffrey (blacksmiths), Nouseau (cabinet maker) and Tennant (justice).

Ferguson’s Falls is a pioneer village with a proud history.  It has its own ghost.  Many will remember the vain-glorious poems and songs of Wilfred Lawrence Command

About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s