Mary HurdisRemember fishing of the bridge with my father… a big pike nearly pulled me in… so scary!
Stuart McIntoshMy mother recalled driving her parents car across the bridge with the side curtains flapping from winds off Taylor Lake. You needed a little bit of speed to make the big hill on the other side. I remember fishing with dad when there was just enough break in the old bridge to pass the rowboat through.
At the time in the history of Lanark County when travel of any sort was not easy, waterways and swamps were major obstacles to be overcome. The boggy narrows between Clayton and Taylor Lakes in Lanark Township were no exception.
Oxen splashed through the muck at a fording spot and the settlers themselves walked across on a wide plank at what was called Settlers’ Crossing. The planks were later replaced with three hewn logs chained together to make a wider bridge but it still could handle only pedestrian traffic.
In 1825, the crossing was “inundated by the backwater caused by a mill dam built by Edward Bellamy Sr.” The water level was raised by four feet and the “dry swamp” became a river.
Records show that there may once have been a ferry going across the narrows between the lakes. A Bennett family settled by the shoreline and may have operated a ferry for travelers. A local store receipt book shows that several fruit trees and garden seeds were sold to “Bennett at the ferry” in the early 1830s.
The ferry may have simply been a raft that was poled across the river carrying people and their goods. Perhaps it was a stronger, sided raft that was able to carry one horse or cow at a time. Shouts from one shore to the other may have been enough to hail the ferryman. A cord strung across the stream and attached to a bell set on a post might also have been the signal that a customer waited on the other side.
In 1858, the Lanark Township Council received a request from 69 petitioners arguing that a bridge across the river was “indispensably necessary for the convenience of the western section of the county, generally being several miles shorter by the route to the Catholic Church at Ferguson’s Falls, to Perth and to the railroad depot in Almonte.
in 1859, a contract was let to James Sullivan to build a bridge 340 yards long for 18 pounds, 10 shillings. Timber was cut, planks were sawn and thick pegs were driven into the wood of the stringers for a new bridge of an innovative design – it floated.
In August, the commissioners in charge of the project reported that “…the bridge is now finished and at present, horses and oxen with carts, waggons, buggyies, carriages of all description loaded or unloaded may pass safely and securely without impediments.” On Sundays and holidays people flocked to see “…the curiosity and construction of our mammoth bridge.”
Eighteen years later in 1877, wheels wind and waves had taken their toll on the bridge. Timothy Sullivan won the contract to build a new bridge on top of the old one as it had become impossible for horses to travel on. The old arch over the waterway and the 50-foot-long passing portion on the centre of the structure were to be kept as they were in the old bridge. A stout railing was bolted along each side.
This Floating Bridge was a “handy as a pocket on a short” in summer as well as in the winter. Countless horses, wagons, farm machines, funeral processions, and people on foot, as well as sows, cows, cattle and sheep were driven over the convenient shortcut.
A woman from Galbraith area north of the lake, tapped a maple bush on the south side of the lake. She walked across the bridge carrying heavy iron pots for boiling the sap. When the sugar season was over, she carried the many pounds of sweet harvest back to her home.
There was a social life at the bridge. On evenings when parents were assured that all the chores were properly done, children ran to the river to fish.
Joe Baye, a native trapper and hunter, lived near the bridge and he always had long fishing poles to lend the youngsters.
Men fished and hunted ducks from the bridge. Families ate their packet of sandwiches on Sunday afternoon.
The bridge caught the wind like a mast in stormy weather and rocked on the waves.
In high water, the logs tended to pile up and teams of horses had to climb the logs, as did cars in later years.
When the bridge logs were bumped over in high water, children crouched on the floor in the back seat of early model cars.
Summertime brought low water and the bridge stretched down, resulting in an easier surface for travelling.
Often nerves were taut when the bridge was being navigated, especially if the horses were young and inexperienced or the load unwieldy. The men of the Miller outfit breathed a sigh of relief each time they crossed safely with their heavy threshing machine pulled by two teams of horses.
One dark and very wind night, Arthur Bar (now deceased) was heading home to the Clayton area from a festival in Rosetta. He lead his reluctant horse across the rocking bridge, nervous that the horse and buggy might go over the side or that they might fall off the end of it.
Log drives were floated from Taylor’s Lake down to the mill in Clayton and had to pass under the arch of the bridge. The Almonte Gazette reported that Mr D J Thomson took a drive of saw logs to the mill in April 1838.
“Owing to the water being so high it took three men with pike poles to put them through under the Floating Bridge. However, the trip from there to the millpond in Clayton was made in eight hours and considered a fast trip by old river men.”
The old bridge was closed by the Government of Ontario in 1943 due to its unsafe condition. People built fires on it to boil water and one group did not make sure all the coals were out.
The last floating remnants of this historic landmark were blown out on Hurricane Hazel in 1954. Sunken timbers still stretch in parallel lines under the waters of the narrows, and in a very dry season a few bolt stick above the water from the old stringers. Claudia Smith
Taylor Lake is a small lake connected to Clayton Lake. To get there, go west from Union Hall (junction of County Roads 9&16) three kms to Lanark Conc. 12. Turn north to the end of this road (about 11/2 km) to the end of the road at the lake. Launch your canoe at the small boat launch and circumnavigate the lake. Watch out for stumps in the bays. This lake was raised considerably two decades ago, with the reconstruction of the dam at Clayton. On the first point to your left as you launch, you can see a path of downed, dead trees, which were felled by a tornado a few years ago. Directly in a line across the lake from the boat launch is a road leaving the shore. Connecting these two points was a famous floating bridge. It was wiped out by hurricane Connie in 1964 and many of the logs can be seen on the bottom on the lake.
Some books tell us this bridge was first built to get people from Halls Mills and Galbraith to Ferguson Falls. This is quite true, as it did separate Taylor’s Lake from Clayton Lake at the narrows, and is one mile west of Ramsay Township. It was used by many farmers as a short cut for hauling cord wood and grain to Almonte. Bill McIntosh of RR 6 Perth remembers crossing the bridge in a car when the water would squirt up through the flooring. Advanced transportation caused the demise of the bridge, which was also a popular fishing spot. The bridge before it was destroyed was almost 300 yards long. — Historical Notes
Photos by Lyall’s grandmother Bernice E. Willis McKay
Memories from Lyall McKay
The photos of the floating bridge are from Bernice McKay. She used to have a beauty parlour at Union Hall. My grandfather ran the garage (McKay Motors) in the original cheese factory for many years.
She wrote a book before she passed away used to live in the retirement home in Clayton. Believe there should be a copy of her book still in the library there. There are local stories if Union Hall in her book. Her husband was Elvin McKay. His father is in Rose Mary Sarfield’s Book- “Whispers From the Past” (email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 613-621-9300, or go to the Clayton Store) he used to drive the sawdust/slab wagon for the sawmill.
There used to be another floating bridge over Indian River above the command bridge on Galbraith rd. I remember my grandfather saying it was in use till the seventies until a oil delivery truck fell through. Many years ago one could see a fire tower in the distance at the head of Taylor lake. Many call the channel between Clayton Lake and Taylor Lake Watchhorn Lake. I am assuming if comes from previous land owner before the lake was flooded by the Clayton dam. ( Read more about the Watchhorn’s in : Rose Mary Sarfield’s Book- “Whispers From the Past” (email at email@example.com or call at 613-621-9300, or go to the Clayton Store.)
There is a story of a family being buried at the corner of I think the 10th line on Galbraith Rd. The corner is fenced off about 8 ft square where they are supposed to be were placed there after they died of a plague and the house was further up at the end of the road.
Have been told that many years ago the settlers used to walk the oxen across the lake by using the islands in Taylor Lake before the dam. ( see So Which Island did the River Drivers of Clayton get Marooned On?) My understanding is that Watchhorn area was wet but not deep. Even now in summer there is only about 8 ft of water in the channel between the lakes. The damn was built first and then they came upriver to cut all the trees on the flooded lands. That’s why there are many big stumps sand logs in channel area. In the centre of the channel is a clear stretch. My belief is that it was the original path of water between the lakes. Taylor and Watchhorn are both spring fed lakes. In first freeze up one can see where the water flow meanders from various sides the length of the channel.
My grandfather told me it was three layers deep with a arch in the centre at one time. But later have heard they used to have to drag boat’s across the bridge to get between the lakes. Was a story of a team of horses jumping off the bridge when spooked by fish laying on the bridge from a fisherman
I have heard that on the north east side of the floating bridge there was a gravel pit that they used to load/pull by horses. I have been told the Watchhorn house was on the Stewart side of the lake and the owner used to wade across the channel to work the fields on the west side. No one on my family can recall a building in the west side when the bought it other than a old barn.
Grandfather used to talk about skating parties at Thompson’s. They use to skate the length of the lake. They used the strap on blades to boots somewhere in the lake is one he lost in a ice ridge. Years ago my uncle used to have a two level swimming diving raft in the north end of the channel before it got busy like now.
May 27, 1943 Almonte Gazette
The following interesting story about the famous “floating bridge” across Clayton Lake, has been written for The Gazette by Mr. William W. Watchom, one of the old Clayton boys and for many years one of Almonte’s best known citizens: The floating bridge on the 12th line of Lanark, is closed to traffic and has slipped off the foundation or timbers which supported it in places.
It was built about 70 years ago by Timothy Sullivan of Ferguson Falls, who was successful in tendering for the contract; Lanark Township Council financed the building. In those days there was a number of families living in the Galbraith and Halls Mills districts that belonged to the R. C. parish church at Ferguson Falls and it saved them driving around by Clayton.They were able to cut across and come onto the old mail route at James’ School.
It was a substantial structure with heavy cedar timbers underneath. The top structure was of cedar covering spotted to be solid on the sleepers. The railing was two logs high, bolted down to the outside sleepers which kept the covering in place. The top of the railing was braced to the covering which was longer where a brace was required. There was one place about the centre of the bridge, built wider so two rigs could meet.
The structure is over five acres long and took a lot of timber and men to build it. After it was completed there was a dispute about paying for it as another who tendered claimed it was not built according to specifications. The late Mr. John Thompson who had a lot to do with having this bridge built, asked Mr. James Turner who now resides at Grand Forks, N. D., and at that time was following up the carpenter trade, to inspect the bridge. He found it was built according to the specifications.
It is to be hoped that it will be repaired as it is one of the old landmarks and would be very much missed by a lot of people. In the spring and summer it is quite a fishing resort and it is a good place for wing shooting during duck hunting season.
November 23, 1945— Almonte Gazette
A heavy gravel truck that crossed the Floating bridge recently caused some damage that had to be repaired this week.
Rose Mary Sarfield’s book about the history of Clayton- “Whispers From the Past” (email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at 613-621-9300, or go to the Clayton General Store)
With regards to an article in the book (Ramsay Reflections) recently published dating from 1836-1979 page 41, I beg a small space in your paper.
It concerns the late Joe Baye, his wife and family, Mrs. Baye who died October 5th, 1927, and Mr. Baye who died October 31, 1928. As the Baye’s nearest neighbour, for the first 20 years of my life, I was asked about three years ago for information as to the Baye’s way of life and home etc.
When I contacted Ramsay Residents I was very surprised to see that the Baye history refers to them as residents of Ramsay Township.
I made it clear at that time, that this was a mistake, and to my knowledge it was changed then.
I have absolutely no fault to finish with the ladies who have written the book I except they used the material as they received it.
However the truth is Joe Baye his wife and family never lived in Ramsay Township.
He may have camped along the river between Almonte and Appleton while trapping etc., but it never was a permanent place of abode.
His property comprised about one acre of land, more or less in the eleventh concession of Lanark Township.
He also had access to about half an acre in the twelfth concession, owned by a neighbour, on which he grew potatoes, corn and other vegetables.
It was known as the (Sand Hill) and he was never molested. This land was ploughed and worked by neighbours, and he was always ready to do a kind act in return.
His house, shop and other buildings were In the eleventh concession, and were always in A-1 condition.
Also the famous (Floating Bridge) which did form part of the twelfth concession just near his home is in Lanark Township.
Other books tell this bridge was first built to get people from Halls Mills and Galbraith to Ferguson Falls. This is quite true as it did separate Taylor’s Lake from Clayton Lake at the narrows, and is one mile west of Ramsay Township.
The bridge before it was destroyed was 300 yards long.
As I said before, I have no fault to find with the ladies, who no doubt have spent many hours preparing the book. I would say a job well done.
No doubt this article was printed as received, and was taken as a true story to a lot of people.
However like all my neighbours, who remember what fine people the Baye’s were that this part of the community, and especially the town of Almonte, join with me in remembering them as residents of Lanark Township.
Sincerely, Eldon Ireton, RR 2, Almonte.
ps. The following is in no way connected with the foregoing article.
I see pictures of the Floating Bridge in several places bearing a date of 1890.
While it is a good picture of the bridge, the date is absolutely wrong.
First it shows the telephone line. We didn’t have telephones in these parts in 1890. I think 1910 is closer to the correct date.
Also as to the railing on the bridge. My neighbours and myself, helped build the railing shown, and it could be the last one before the bridge was closed in 1944. It could be in the (thirties) with wages at 25 cents or 30 cents an hour/
Thank You. Eldon Ireton.
Picture of the Floating Bridge
The floating bridge at the narrows between Clayton and Taylor Lakes was actually constructed on the water adapting to the lake’s water levels. It was used by many farmers as a short cut for hauling cord wood and grain to Almonte. Bill McIntosh of RR 6 Perth remembers crossing the bridge in a car when the water would squirt up through the flooring. Advanced transportation caused the demise of the bridge, which was also a popular fishing spot. Joe Baye’s home appears in the far right. This week’s peek is courtesy of Bill Labron who also submitted a letter to the editor (see below) about Joe Baye.
Visiting with Joe Baye near Bridge
Although this story has been told before, I thought it might be suitable to go with the floating bridge on Clayton Lake.
Some time after I migrated to Paris, Ont. with the Penman Company, Mr. Long, Penman’s general superintendent, as me if I knew the Indian fellow Joe Baye who lived near the floating bridge.
I replied that I didn’t know him personally, but I knew of him.
“Well Bill.” said Mr. Long, “I can tell you a story involving Joe Baye.”
“As you probably know I make periodic inspections of all the Penman Mills. One time in Almonte, manager Herb Lundy asked me if I would like to go fishing.”
“I liked to fish so the next day about 1 pm Herb hired a horse and buggy from the local livery and some time later we arrived at the floating bridge.”
“Joe was going to be our fishing guide in his boat. After we returned from two or three hours of fishing Joe fried some fillets from the fish we caught and we sure enjoyed them.”
“Just about the time we were ready to return to Almonte, a terrible storm came up. As the wind and rain didn’t let up, Joe invited us to spend the night there.”
I wasn’t very keen on that, but Herb thought we should. Later we went up some steps, steep as a stepladder, to a room in the attic where there were two beds.”
“Although the bed was clean and comfortable I could not sleep with the lightning and rain pounding on the roof.”
“Just about daylight I heard someone come up the ladder. Then I could see this Joe Baye fellow’s head and shoulders and a large knife in his hand.”
“Gosh Bill, I was scared. I didn’t know whether to call Herb or what. However, this Joe Baye went over to a rafter and cut down a bundle which was tied there. He went back down the steps apparently carrying some smoked meat.”
“Afterwards I could smell ham and eggs frying and Bill, I don’t know when I enjoyed a breakfast like we had that morning.”
“Bill, I always wanted to go back there again for some fishing, but I never did make it.”
Joe Baye was a well-known Indian who trapped, worked for farmers during their busy season and acted as a fishing and hunting guide.
William Labron, Paris, Ontario.
To the Editor,
Congratulations on the new look of the Gazette which I have read with interest since James Muir was the publisher.
Recent correspondence re: Joe Baye evoked pleasant memories of him and of Mrs. Baye — his horse and buggy, his dog, his friendly home, his shop and his unique style of skill under construction. Rev. J. T. Blanchard a relative of Mrs. Baye told me that at the time of their marriage she was a very beautiful girl and he a very handsome man. In age they were still beautiful people to me.
Yours truly, Robert Martin, Penetang, Ontario
Thomas Tennant was born in 180 in Ireland and immigrated with his family to Upper Canada in 1820. They settled in Ramsay Township, Lanark County, where his application for land (Conc. 7, Lot 2) was turned down because he was too young (age 17). Eventually he did acquire land. The 1851 census records no longer exist for Ramsay Township, but Thomas, his wife Mary Ann, and his children lived in Lanark Township for more than twenty years. He died in Lanark in and was buried in the Tennant Cemetery.
Elaine Playfair Photo album- photo from Middleville historian Laurie Yuill
Originally written for the Lanark Era by Audrey Armstrong
There was once a bridge that floated in Clayton and maybe fragments are still afloat or lodged against a tree trunk or a riverbank somewhere forming a cool hideaway for the ever wary pike. The first crossing was made at ‘The Narrows” where the Clayton and Taylor Lakes meet. In the late 1850s when the people of the Catholic settlement on the north side of the lake were looking for shortcut to their church at Ferguson Falls. At that time folks were not adverse to walking, and walk they did, since this bridge was not one to accommodate vehicles.
Two large pine trees, so the story goes, some say they were elm, were stripped and flattened and laid on piers and place 20 feet apart over the narrowest part. If bridges could talk this one would have some pretty amazing stories. It was said the local women walked across this bridge with a child on each arm. The waters were sometimes known as Indian River because Joe Baye the beloved native of the area chose to live.
As a child Amanda can remember her father planning fishing trips to the old bridge where he would get a boat from Old Joe Baye. It became apparent by 1877 that a proper bridge to accommodate vehicles was needed. Built by free labour the Floating Bridge came into existence. It was supposedly 999 feet long and said the stringers were laid out and the cross coverings were pinned during the winter months with the men working on the solid ice. In the spring when the ice disappeared the new bridge floated and became popular not only because it was a novelty, but also because of the choice pike that lurked in the waters beneath the bridge.
Eventually the logs became loosened and were known to pile up in front or under a car and shoot water over the vehicles when crossing. When these issues occurred more logs would be added until at one point there were 5 layers of logs constructing that bridge. Not only that it just was not possible sometimes to get your boat from Clayton to Taylor Lake. The floating bridge was finally condemned in 1943 and officially closed.
Rumours persist of stubborn people still crossing that old rotten bridge and getting stuck and having to be rescued by farmers. D. Thompson took his fleet of horses and wagon across it. The colts bolted and the wagon went over the side while men rushed to the bridge to untie and rescue the young colts. In reality that bridge wasn’t a real joy with the jostling of the logs making passengers look like bobble heads crossing it.
Read the rest below…
Elaine Playfair Photo album- photo from Middleville historian Laurie Yuill