I believe this essay originally came from an old tourist guide circa 1983 – I do not recall the original source – it is an interesting read.
Fenelon Falls is home to Maryboro Lodge – The Fenelon Museum – visit their site and read about pioneer days in the area, and the men and women that shaped the development of Victoria County – The City of Kawartha Lakes
Just at the close of the last glacial epoch, this region assumed considerable importance. A great barrier of ice, slowly melting northward, lay across the granite highlands from the Adirondacks to North Bay and to Lake Superior. To the west of Fenelon Falls was Lake Algonquin, comprising an enlarged Lake Ontario known as Lake Iroquois.
Through Fenelon Falls, for a long time, passed all the waters of the upper lakes system, on its way to Lake Iroquois. But change came gradually and inevitably. As the great ice barrier to the north melted away and removed its weight, this whole region tilted up towards the south, so that Fenelon Falls, which was formerly lower than Sarnia, is now 260′ above it. As a result, lake Algonquin was poured back to the present Georgian Bay shore line and found a new, longer outlet by way of St. Clair, Erie and the Niagara River.
There is little doubt that this area has always been recognized for its natural beauty. As early as the seventeenth century a French Missionary, of noble descent, by the name of FENELON, visited the waters and being struck with the particular beauty of the Falls between lakes Sturgeon and Cameron, allowed his party to name the falls after him. Samuel de Champlain mentioned “THE FALLS” in his journals of 1615. At that time the falls was not the meek, tamed waterways of to-day, but a virgin wild cataract foaming down 23’x130′ into a rocky gorge.
Early settlers came to Fenelon Falls by way of Peterborough, then six miles by trail to Bridgenorth, on Chemong Lake and the rest of the way by rowboat or canoe across Chemong, Pigeon and Sturgeon Lakes and after viewing the Falls described it “horseshoe form, a very miniture Niagara”.
About the year 1841, Lord Montcastle, who owned the site of the present village, exchanged that property for a tract on Boyce’s Bay, Cameron lake. The exchange being made with Messrs. Wallis and Jamieson, who immediately commenced the construction of the first grist mill in the Township. This mill was fitted with stones brought from Toronto on sleighs, and stood on the bank of the river. In 1851 Wallis and Jamieson demolished the original mill building and erected in its stead separate gist and sall mills. The site of the village was still covered with forest with the exception indicated. As late as the 1850’s the only semblance of a road, being a tract cut along the main street.
In early years a log sluice over the Falls provided a runway for logs coming from the north; once over this sluice, the logs were run down the river to a sorting-jack at the mouth of the river and then on their way down Sturgeon lake. “At first, lumbering consisted of square-timber trade with most of the white pine and oak going to Britain for spars and masts. This required the establishment of large sawmills and elaborate means of transport.”
An 1854 map of our village shows the hamlet had only a small scattering of people. There was a gist mill, a tavern, a saw mill, an Anglican Church and some half dozen houses. However, in the early 1860’s R.C. Smith and Mr. Waddell purchased land (now Heritage House property) and constructed a new grist mill. Mr. Smith departed from the village in 1876 and our magnificent water-power was utilized only slightly and the business of the village fell off greatly.
The water-power was considered one of the finest in Ontario and was 3000h.p. strong. One fifth of the power rights were sold to Messrs. Brandon, McDougall and Austin, who utilized it for running of their flour mill, and also supplied the power for lighting our village with electricity. Another fifth was purchased by D. Sandford and by it the Sandford Flour Mill was operated; also the expensive works owned and operated by Sandford Furniture and Woodenware Co, Ltd. Three fifths of the power was procured by the Lindsay Light, Hear and Power Co. and from here electric power was transmitted over 16 miles of wire to the Town of Lindsay. To-day, 1983, the Fenelon Falls Board of Water, Light and Power Commission consisting of Fred Elder, Chairman, Ben Jowitt and Marina McLennan, are investigating the possibility of once more producing our own power. The Provincial Government is undertaking a study to ascertain the feasibility of reinstating a new micro hydro plant in our Village.
In 1874 the village entered upon an independent municipal existence. Mr. J.D. Smith was the first Reeve of Fenelon Falls, and the first council consisted of Messrs. J.W. Fitzgerald, J. McArthur, Wm. Jordan, and R Jackson. Present council: (Mrs.) M. McLennan, Reeve; G. Goddard, Deputy-Reeve; and council members, S. Carroll, W. Hutchinson, Dr. D. Warren.
Until the 1880’s steamboats travelled up the Fenelon River to our falls but were unable to travel the waterways further, due to the fact there was no canal and therefore, no way of travelling over the falls.
In 1882 specifications for the construction of two lift locks at Fenelon Falls were drawn up, with provision for placing a swing bridge on the chamber wall of the upper lock in line with Colborne Street. The contract was let to A.P. Mc Donald and his brother-in-law Alex Manning, and the work was completed in 1885, now providing a steamboat navigation through a chain of lakes.
Logs, steamboats and ice cutting (for refrigeration) were familiar sights on our waters in days gone by. The new steamboats in the 1890’s were much larger than before to accommodate more tourists and excursions. These steamboats were often aided by palace scows, which could hold 100-5400 people plus bands for dancing. Mr. Chas. Burgoyne of Fenelon Falls owned and operated two of these steamboats, the S.S. Kawartha, and the S.S. Wascouta. During the winter months, our waterways provided not only a shorter road system for settlers travelling by horse and sleigh, but a source of refrigeration was also provided in the name of “ice”. Large blocks of ice were cut locally by men using cross cut saws, with one handle removed.
Prior to the 1880’s drinking water was obtained from an open spring or dug wells. In 1894, Mr. R. Jackett took the matter of serving people in the village with piped water, into his own hands and piped water from a large spring source at the head of Colbourne Street. Four hundred tamarac logs, each ten feet long were delivered to the Fenelon Pump Factory, and Mr. S. Brokenshire fabricated the wooden pipes by boring each log with a four inch auger. To-day our safe drinking water is taken from Cameron lake and through a filtration system before reaching our homes.
Fenelon Falls in 1983 lies in Feneln Township in Victoria County, with rich agricultural and wooded areas, and provides excellent tourist accommodation and attractions. The beautiful Fenelon River, connects Sturgeon and Cameron lakes and runs directly through the center of our village. These lakes and the Fenelon River are part of the now famous Kawartha lakes forming a Water Highway for pleasure craft passing through the Trent Severn Waterway System. Clean water, excellent fishing, good boating and the beauty of the lakes spotted with islands, attracts visitors from all over the world.
Winter in Fenelon Falls and district provides an abundance of cross-country skiing, tobogganing, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and winter sports of all kinds. Autumn paints or woods and hills with colour, a picture of splendour.
Our village is concerned with the heritage of our area and the quality of live being preserved for future generations. Fenelon Falls is a beautiful bustling Village, with a superb Main Street Shopping Area, adjacent to the waterway, and although our existing manufacturing and industrial base is complimented by approximately 75 existing businesses, we wish to encourage more.
Our Falls of which we are justly proud, is a picture of unique beauty. The dam above the falls controls water rushing over the natural limestone and dropping over a falls of 7 metres in depth. Our man-made canal and natural limestone “Gorge” are also places of beauty. We are thankful to the Pioneers who have struggled through the years to provide us with a spot of Historical Beauty today.