Gore’s Landing: Shadows of the Pioneers

Gore's Landing early painting

This is a slightly edited and updated article about Gore’s Landing that I wrote for the inaugural issue of GO! magazine in 2000.

Gore’s Landing is a dot on the map on the southern shore of Rice Lake. The Oak Ridges Moraine meets the southern shore of Rice Lake at Gore’s Landing. Spear points have been found that are thought to be as old as 11,500 years. The lake and the surrounding plains had always been Aboriginal Peoples’ territory, but in 1818 Treaty No. 20 opened up 1,951,000 acres in the district to European settlement.

—————

Since the mid-1900s Gore’s Landing has been a quiet hamlet, its history almost forgotten by all but those who call it home. Still a summertime beacon, the opening of fishing season finds its municipal dock, resorts and camps full of happy anglers, boaters and campers oblivious of the heritage of their surroundings.

By the 1830s Gore’s Landing was an important link on the pioneer trail to the northern townships. In mid-century “Mr. Gore’s Landing” was a busy, rapidly developing settlement that attracted boaters, travellers and the new leisure class to its picturesque shores. Many writers and artists have called the village home, leaving behind rare early records.

The Boom Years

The "Stoney Lake" at the Gore's Landing dock
The “Stoney Lake” at the Gore’s Landing dock

Steamboating on Rice Lake started in 1832 with the launching of the ferry, Pemedash. It was not until the 1860s, however, that the great era of steamboating began in earnest… According to historians ‘steamboats did a brisk business carrying passengers, excursion parties and picnics, when nearly every club, society and Sunday School held an annual boat excursion’.” (Gore’s Landing and the Rice Lake Plains) The annual Rice Lake Regatta also ran from 1846 for almost 100 years, during the glory years of Gore’s Landing.

Thomas Gore, founder of Gore's Landing
Thomas Gore

Thomas Gore was a tall, burly man, a civil engineer who came to Canada in 1841 and purchased a large parcel of land at Rice Lake in 1844. He surveyed and supervised the construction of the Cobourg-to-Rice Lake Plank Road, now County Road 18 except for the short bit in the village, still called Plank Road. When the road was complete in 1848, the growing village was named Gore’s Landing.

The new road laid the groundwork for development: Gore’s Landing was now the main connection on the route to Peterborough from Cobourg, with stagecoaches and boats running daily.

In 1845, the intractable innkeeper John Bennett moved his small ferry house, built seven years earlier, two miles over the ice-covered lake to the terminus of the new Plank Road where he hoped to put up passengers fro the new stagecoach and ferry service. (The oldest building in the village, the Bennett ferry house remains today as part of Plank Road Cottages.)

The “Leisure Class”

Two new hotels followed: the Harris Inn in 1846 and William Weller’s Rice Lake House or Gabetis Inn (which still stands) in 1849. Both catered to the leisure class and to those travelling from Cobourg to Peterborough in Weller’s daily six-horse stagecoach to Gore’s Landing, then across Rice Lake on his steamboat. William Weller was also the first mayor of Cobourg. The Weller-Gabetis Inn closed in 1864 and remained unoccupied until 1867 when it became home for four years to Archibald Lampman, the well-known nature poet, and his family. In the 1870s the tavern became a general store, and today a hair salon is in the shop part of the residence.

Coach-&-Horses-Hotel-adThe Harris Inn (renamed the Coach and Horses Hotel when two new wings were added) was a typical English inn, reflecting Harris’ seaside resort home in Cornwall. It burned to the ground in 1889.

The White House, Gores Landing
The White House, Gores Landing, purchased in 2017 by a descendant of the original builder

The private residence referred to in this directory notice is known as The White House and is still one of Gore’s Landing’s most distinctive buildings. Alfred Harris built the imposing villa as his residence and guest house for retired gentlemen.

One “Character”

As one approached the village’s main intersection, you passed by William East’s small painted house and beside it on the southeast corner, his blacksmith shop. “Old East the blacksmith, whose wife was a great Methodist, had had several falls from grace…owing to too much ‘skitty wa wa boo’ (whiskey). He had an old tin flask which he kept at the forge and he used to send it down to the hotel to be filled too often to be good for him.” (Reginald Drayton Journals)

Boats and Coffins

Across the street from the blacksmith’s, where the General Store now stands was “The Yard,” William McBride’s boat and coffin-building shop. McBride arrived in the area in the early 1840s, and was the Landing’s first boat-builder, originating an industry that later brought great recognition to the name Rice Lake.

William & Matilda McBride
William & Matilda McBride

In 1853, when William McBride was 28, He married Matilda Harris, a daughter of “Uncle Joe” Harris (described in Susanna Moodie’s Roughing It in the Bush). For two years the stern, abstemious couple lived in the three front rooms of The Yard then moved next door into their simple new house [my house since 1998].

By mid-century you’d likely find a few of the locals gathered at The Yard debating the merits of McBride’s skiffs, sailing boats and canoes. Perhaps William East would deliver a few of the iron runners he made for McBride’s boat keels, and check on the box stove he fashioned to heat the water in which the oak boat ribs were bent.

In 1861, an apprentice of William McBride’s set up shop next door to McBride’s house in a partnership known as McBride & Herald. In 1854 Daniel Herald had built from basswood the first known non-native wooden canoe in the Kawartha region. He copied the design from the attractive Ojibwa bark canoe with its high-curving bow and graceful lines. In 1870 Herald built the two-storey Herald Canoe Factory on the site of what is now Pratt’s Landing where he designed and built the first planked double-cedar canoe. It became the international award-winning Herald’s Patent Cedar Canoe, the most famous of all those built at Rice Lake. Six Herald-built canoes are in the collection of the Canadian Canoe Museum in Peterborough.

Schooling

Daily life in the little village buzzed with activity. In early days most children were home schooled if they had educated parents. More affluent parents engaged private tutors or governesses and some sent their children to be educated abroad. Many small schools were started in private homes in the area. They offered a modest education by a teacher who was often a genteel woman pushed by circumstances to make her own living. Catharine Parr Traill, who at the time lived with her family at Oaklands, east of the Landing, sent two of her children the two miles to such a village school.

Before the Gore’s Landing Private School was built in 1889, classes were held in an unpainted cedar-siding house located behind William McBride’s boat shop. The new board-and-batten schoolhouse was finished in 1890 and deeded to the children of Gore’s Landing. It was under the jurisdiction of a committee of trustees made up of village men. Today the Building is the community hall and library, still under the jurisdiction of trustees.

Thomas Gore died in his 38th year in 1858, leaving his widow, Harriette, and eight children. Harriette later married Frederick W. Barron, a former Principal of Upper Canada College. In 1870 be began a boys’ private school at “Glenavy,” the second Gore home near the present-day St. George’s church. Barron supported the Pestalozzi method of education, stressing moral and physical as well as intellectual development. Pestalozzi believed pupils learned best by using their own senses and discovering things for themselves – an enlightened approach, even today.

Front Parlours and Churches

St.-George's-Anglican-Church,-Gore's-Landing
St. George’s Anglican Church, Gore’s Landing, Ontario

In the early days, spiritual needs were fulfilled by front parlour meetings. The original St. George’s Church was built in 1847 on the highest hill in the hamlet. Catharine Parr Traill wrote about the first service on January 1, 1848. Thomas Gore, the artist Gerald Hayward and other notables are buried in its cemetery. Beyond repair, the wooden church was demolished in 1908 and the current church, “one of the loveliest parish churches in Canada,” was completed in 1909. The Methodist Meeting House was built in 1859. It was where a dilapidated former restaurant now stands and was moved to its current site down the hill behind its original spot in 1930.

As early as 1847, near the point of the current Pioneer Park, Gore’s Landing had a post office and store run by kind-hearted William Brown. Brown was a gentleman unusual for a shopkeeper at the time but “stern necessity, to which many of the better class of emigrants are compelled to succumb, constrained him to follow a calling, his present occupation…” (Catharine Parr Traill, 1848)

Susanna Moodie & Catharine Parr Traill
Susanna Moodie & Catharine Parr Traill with a niece in 1880

“I recall a little scene which took place in the post-office at Gore’s Landing, at that time a general rendezvous for both busy folk and idlers. As is usual in country places, the office was also a store…The Indian hunters were his best customers, trading their furs and game for tobacco, groceries and other necessaries.” (Catharine Parr Traill, 1848)

1800s Commerce

Many villagers ran stores at various times: the homes from where Thomas Cheyne, John Gabetis and John Sherwin operated shops in the 1800s still survive. The current General Store and post office was built in 1946 [now a beer and liquor store as well].

The esteemed Judge William Falkner, the area’s first pioneer, established a water-powered sawmill in 1833 on the bay. His home, named Claverton, was on the same lot. James Fortune bought the property in 1851 and built a steam-powered sawmill, employing more than a dozen workers There were cottages for married workers, a two-storey bunkhouse for mill hands and a storehouse for lumber – 2,500,000 board feet per year were produced. Timber from the northern townships was floated down the Otonabee River and across Rice Lake on huge log rafts, some with bunkhouses and cooking facilities.

Building the Harwood to Peterborough bridge
Building the short-lived Harwood to Peterborough bridge

The 1850s were boom years for building and new sawmills were popping up throughout the young township. In Gore’s Landing another mill, the Ludgate, was built west of the ferry landing by two Cobourg businessmen. The Fortune and Legate mills lasted only until 1868 when the new railways from Cobourg to Peterborough was built, with the elevated Rice Lake portion beginning at Harwood. They could no longer compete with the Harwood mills.

The article ends here, rather abruptly. The original article isn’t on my computer, but I assume that I ended it a tad more gracefully. I copied this directly from the magazine. However, this post is already very long so I’ll leave it as is. I self-publish a Self-guided Walking Tour of Gore’s Landing if you’d like to see the buildings from this story that still remain.

7 Replies to “Gore’s Landing: Shadows of the Pioneers”

  1. Thanks Jane. Great information about the early days of the Landing.

  2. Jane, Is this the same family that the Gore Road was named for? Bit different location (runs parallel to Highway 50 in Caledon) but maybe a cousin or other family member was over this way?

    1. I have no idea, Karen. Nothing I’ve read has made reference to other parts of the family.

  3. Deb Weyrich-Cody says: Reply

    Great reading Jane, Thank You!
    Wondering if your link to the “Self-Guided Walking Tour of Gore’s Landing” is simply malfunctioning or truly unavailable as it says…? I would most definitely be interested!

    1. If it’s not one thing, it’s 25 others! Malfunctioning link wins the prize. I hope it’s working properly now. Thanks for letting me know, Deb.

  4. Stuart Shanker says: Reply

    What a wonderful piece Jane; thank you so much for writing this.

    P.S. There is a passage in The Backwoods of Canada where CPT describes her first glimpse of Rice Lake. It seems likely that she is describing the view from the top of what is now Traill Road.

    1. Thanks, Stuart! I’ve forgotten that bit – I’ll have to get the book out and look again. CPT had a lot of experience here and a lot of adversity.

Leave a Reply