Tag Archives: 1870

Lanark County Hand Typed Notes –Burnt Lands

Lanark County Hand Typed Notes –Burnt Lands


The Burnt Lands are more than a local curiosity. They are a textbook example of an alvar, a mosaic of open forests, meadows and boggy patches on a limestone plain. The variety of ecosystems is maintained by drought because what little soil forms on the rock flats tends to burn off in the summer heat. There aren’t many alvars on the planet. They exist in Norway, a few American states and Ontario.
The Burnt Lands alvar is the province’s largest. It is also home to a variety of rare significant plants and insects, including owlet moths. Most of the land in the alvar is owned by private citizens, many of whom have built houses. Other landowners include the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources, the Department of National Defence and two quarries. Several years ago, the Ministry of Natural Resources designated the Burnt Lands an area of natural and scientific interest. In an effort to protect it, ministry officials want development limits on alvar property incorporated into Ramsay Township’s revised official plan.

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Christine Macfarlane—This is a pic of Hal Kirkland before he left for war.

The Big Fire That Created

The Burnt Lands in Huntley

(Written by Hal Kirkland in 1964) Hal Kirkland –A Machine for Making Money

            We all know what the Burnt Lands look like now; we see the  barren, desolate stretches, bare  rock and stunted trees when we travel over Highway 44. Time has healed the dreadful burning of the land, but the scars still remain – after more than ninety years.

            Ninety years is a long time to go back for first hand knowledge of an event-too long-as this writer well realizes now. He should have started asking about the Big Fire sooner-forty or fifty years sooner. It was on the 17th of August, 1870, that the fire swept across Huntley Township. Even with the evidence on both sides as we drive on Highway 44, it is impossible to picture the devastation that would strike the eye of a traveller crossing  Huntley in the fall of 1870. Only from the faded pages of old newspapers can we get any idea of the loss and suffering caused by that terrible fire. There are no eye witnesses now.

            About a year ago I visited a dear old lady, but old lady in the sense that the years of her age were many. She had just celebrated her 100th birthday. She was born on St. Patrick’s Day in the year 1863. The fire crossed Fitzroy Township where her parents farmed and probably passed not far from her home. Yes, she had heard them talk about the fire. “But I guess I wasn’t much interested,” she said. “You see, I was only a small girl of six or seven then. I was too busy playing and going to school, to be bothered about the fire.” Had she, by chance, any old pictures? “Yes, I have. I’ll get them and show them to you.” She went to another room found them and brought them back in a minute. They were pictures taken on her wedding day. Ah, Mrs. Green had not dwelt on fires and disasters.

            There was never a drought in Ontario like that of 1870, and thank goodness, never since. For many weeks before harvest not a drop of rain had fallen. The fields were parched: the woods were tinder-dry and the leaves were withering on the trees; the swamps were drained of moisture. The cedar log fences were hot with the sun, and also the barns and stables. People felt that even the air was filled with combustible gases. The smallest spark could in a few seconds start a raging blaze. The summer days passed and no rain came.

            It was the same all over Eastern Ontario. In every issue of The Almonte Gazette during these months there were reports of the dire distress caused by wide-spread fires. In the issue of July 30 there was this item: the long spell of dry weather has proved disastrous to many farmers in Ramsay and neighboring townships by the prevalence of fire in the woods, which already has done incalculable damage. Near Bennie’s Corners, a fire has raged for several days and destroyed valuable timber, fences and growing crops. The heaviest, sufferer is Mr. William Philip whose buildings at the Corners were threatened. We have heard of these and other fires, but could not ascertain extent of damage in any particular instance; it must, however, be considerable.”

            Mr. Templeman, the editor of The Gazette at that time, did not give the fires a very big play in his paper. There was more about the Franco-Prussian war (the Prussians were crossing the frontier and advancing on Paris, and about Louis Riel in Manitoba). Also there was a serial running in these issues – A Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Of course Mr. Templeman did not have the instant communications of our day, and his readers were more dependent on their local paper for news of the outside world.

            In the Aug. 20 issue, there was a paragraph headed “Fire at Stittsville,” with this story: “It is reported in Almonte that Stittsville, a small place about 12 miles below Ashton was completely burned up on Thursday not a house having been left standing.”

            In the same issue there appeared another story of the fire which was titled “Bell’s Corners Burned.” It reads: “We learn that the village of Bell’s Corners, near Ottawa, has been wholly consumed by fire, and that several people were burned to death. The new depot of the Canada Central Railway was also destroyed. We can give no  further particulars in this issue.”

            The editor must have been hampered considerably in getting news from distant and out-of-the-way places like Bell’s Corners and Stittsville, because in the same issue we read: “The high wind on Wednesday, assisted we suppose by the fires in our country, interrupted our telegraphic communication with Ottawa for a time.”

            Incidentally, the whole front page of these issues was taken up by the weekly instalment of “A Woman in White.”

            But to get closer to home. In the next issue The Gazette reports: “At Clayton the people were in great alarm, owing to the close proximity of fire in the woods, many of them having removed their furniture to be ready for instant flight. One man near Clayton, named Hogan, had his house and barns burned and lost everything.” This was serious enough, but it was not nearly as bad as the fire that raged over the concessions north-east of our town.

            This was the fire that passed perilously close to Almonte, and is still spoken of by the people in Huntley as The Big Fire. It is now no more than the name of an event that happened a long time ago; the grim details have been lost over the years. But this much we know: that there was still smouldering moss on the floor of swamps and that there were still live embers in partially burned logs in the woods; in a wind a spark could start a conflagration.

            The fire started somewhere to the north-west, around Pakenham. On that 17th day of August a wind came up. It increased in velocity; it apparently rose to hurricane proportion. The smouldering top-soil and charred logs remaining from previous small fires were soon fanned to flames; the windstorm swept the flames across Fitzroy, Huntley and Goulbourn townships. On the afternoon of the 17th the country over which Highway 44 crosses was a charred desert covered with a pall of dense smoke. It swept eastward toward Stittsville and the next morning had burned the dwelling and buildings of Mr. Graham at Graham’s Bay. It was reported that the fire advanced at a speed of more than two miles an hour.

            The loss was terrible. Most deplorable and sad was the loss of human life. It is believed twelve human ‘beings perished in the fire. A mother and her children sought safety in a swamp and became separated, the mother and one child perished, the other children survived.

            Mrs. Patrick Egan, who lived on the 9th concession line of Huntley, took her year-old twins up on a bare hill to escape the fire. Providentially, the wind changed direction, the fire bypassed the Egan farm, and the mother and children were unharmed. This mother was Father Egan’s grandmother.

            Here and there some houses and outbuildings were saved, but the destruction was, in most places, complete. Homes and barns were burned to the ground; the crops were either consumed by the flames or rendered useless; the scorched carcasses of horses, sheep and cattle lay where they perished from suffocation and heat. Those that survived wandered aimlessly over the black land. A cow could be purchased for four dollars. The owners had no food for them. The log fences were obliterated.

            On August 27th, The Gazette carried a story of the fire, with a credit to the “Times,, (which I presume was an Ottawa paper) which concluded with this helpful note: “On account of the sweeping destruction of fencing and building material in some localities it would appear as if the farmers shall have to carry on their farming operations on the joint principle adopted by the earliest Puritan Settlers in the New England States.”

            About a month after the fire, on September 24th, there was this short item: “The Ottawa Free Press says that fires are again blazing up throughout different parts of the country and although, as a general thing, is no danger to be apprehended, still there are some places that are not yet safe, until there is another heavy fall of rain.”

            In the September number of “The Country Gentleman” there was a letter from a Mr. Conner of Rowlandville, situated near the left bank of the Susquehanna, eleven miles above the head of Chesapeake Bay. He wrote: “The smoke was so thick here for some days after August 20 that the sun was partially obscured and objects at a mile distant almost entirely so. The burnt smoke smell was quite strong.

            Ottawa, around which the great fire raged is 300 miles from here.  Looking over the papers last week I find that fires 50 by 12 miles in extent were raging were around Ottawa. On this day a terrific gale occurred – direction not given. Smoke appeared here at dawn on August 21.” So the Big Fire was noted by a man living 360 miles away.

            How was fire noted in Almonte, only a few miles away? No one ever chronicled it, as far as this writer knows. Perhaps it was too close.

            But at least there was one man in Almonte who was concerned. He was Mr. Pat Reilly, the proprietor of the British Hotel, who later built the Windsor House, now occupied by the North Lanark Co-op. Mr. Reilly hired a team of driving horses and a carriage which could accommodate 10 to 12 men. He gathered up spades and shovels filled the carriage with men from town and set out for the scene of the fire, by the Long Swamp road. They arrived at the farm house of Hugh Kennedy between the twelfth and eleventh lines of Huntley, which appeared to be threatened by fire. They dug a fire-guard west of the buildings, but fortunately the fire passed on the far side of the 11th line.

            The foregoing was told to me by Mr. Edward Kennedy. Of course, this all happened before Mr. Kennedy was born, but he remembers his older brother Hugh telling him about being posted on the roof of the stable with a churn full of water to extinguish flying embers and sparks which might alight on the roof.

            Truly, any information that can be gleaned about that fire is meager indeed. To the people of Fitzroy, Huntley and Goulbourn Townships that disastrous conflagration is still spoken of as The Big Fire…


Fires in the Woods
Considerable damage has been done to woods, fences and pastures in the eastern part of the Township of Drummond by fires. Scores of men were out fighting the devouring element until the late shower stemmed the progress of the fire, and prevented any serious damage being done. The only wonder is that with such dry weather as this, there are not more and greater fires in the woods and swamps.


What Do You Know About the Burnt Lands?

Hand Typed Notes Ramsay Township

Sutherland Genealogy– Ramsay Township Looking for GEORGINA

PATERSON Families of Ramsay Township

The Moir Family of Ramsay Township

Almonte and Ramsay Pioneers – Rafted Down to Their Locations

Tidbits About Ramsay S.S. #9 The Tannery School

Women of Ramsay – Spindles and Flyers–Sarah Ann

Ramsay 1927 — The Depression

  1. The McArton’s of Ramsay

  2. Some Cold Hard Facts- First Tailor in Ramsay and a Cow Without a Bell

  3. Ramsay Settlers 101

  4. What is the Biggest Change in Your Lifetime? Ramsay 1979

  5. Hand Typed Almonte History Notations Part 2

  6. Hand Typed Almonte History Notations Part 1





One of the Most Baffling Mysteries of Eastern Canada


This is a story of the tragic and mysterious fate of the 8-year-old son of Thomas McGilton, of Ottawa, who was supposed to have been lost in the stoney swamp west of Bell’s Corners in the year 1870.  Thomas McGilton was a bootmaker, whose store  was on Mosgrove street, a well known and respected citizen.  One day in the early summer of 1870, during some sort of a celebration in Ottawa, his eight-year-old son disappeared.

A search began in Ottawa and as it proved fruitless and was widened to take in the roads out of the city. The only clue was found at Bell’s Corners, where the toll-gate keeper distinctly remembered seeing a few days previously: a boy of his age and appearance pass through the gate and turn up the road toward Richmond. At once a searching party of sympathetic villagers was organized. They travelled as far as Richmond, but neither sight nor sign of the boy could be had.

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It occurred to some that the McGilton boy might have wandered into the great stoney swamp a couple of miles southwest of the village. It was decided to scour the swamp, and volunteers were called for. The whole male part of the village and scores of farmers turned out and the searchers kept growing till some fifty men and many boys were in the hunt. The search was kept up for days but without avail. Every bit of the dreary swamp was ransacked, but the boy was not found, nor was there the slightest indication that he had fallen a victim to wild animals of any sort of natives.

As a last resort, someone came to Ottawa and engaged a native woodsman who had a reputation as a guide and trapper. But he was not able to throw any light on the disappearance.  Sadly the searchers returned to their homes and confessed that they were beaten. Then a theory gained credence that the boy bad been picked up by some passing farmer and that he would be later returned to his home.

But whatever the facts of the disappearance were, the boy was never found. This became one of the most mysterious of the unexplained mysteries of Eastern Canada. It should be told that this happening  was just a couple of months prior to the great fire of 1870 which swept Bell’s Corners.




1872 Deaths - from the Ottawa Free Press Thomas McGilton
Oct 19, John George, and on Oct 21, Arthur, the 2 youngest sons of Thomas MCGILTON(?) 
of Mosgrove Street.
Dec 7,  Mary Jane, 24, wife of William John JOYCE and daughter of Thomas MCGILTON.




Clipped from

  1. Memphis Daily Appeal,
  2. 19 Aug 1870, Fri,
  3. First Edition,
  4. Page 1



The great fire of 1870– Leona Kidd
Ten died as flames swept 60-mile swath through Valley
By Kathy McPerson-Fox, Murphy’s Point Provincial Park
Kathy McPerson-Fox, who worked for the Ministry of Natural Resources at Murphy’s Point Park last summer, did a great deal of research through old Perth Couriers to dig out old stories of “The Great Fire”.
The following is an introduction by Kathy as well as stories about the fire written in 1870. During the summer of 1870, as a result of dry weather and high winds, a great fire swept through this region destroying land and property from Westport to Ottawa, a distance of approximately 60 miles.
Bells Corners and Ironsides, near Ottawa were completely devastated. An estimated ten people lost their lives.

The fire travelled along fences, corduroy roads and railway lines. During the peak of the fire in August, 1870, the great portion of the Canada Central Railway Line was on fire, with many station houses lost. North Burgess Township in which Murphy’s Point is situated, was one of the areas hardest hit by the fire. The absence of many softwoods throughout the hardwood stands is one loss that is evident today.


The Stony Swamp Conservation Area offers the greatest diversity of trails and activities, including: interpretive exhibits on geology and natural history; wetland boardwalks; a winter bird-feeding station; historic sites such as the Lime Kiln; and portions of the Rideau and Trans Canada trails.
Trails in the area include:
Bell Park, Bruce Pit, Jack Pine, Lime Kiln and Old Quarry trails.