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    Historical Sketch of Port Sydney

Historic Port Sydney is a growing community located some 12 km south of Huntsville on Highway 11. This picturesque town is situated on the shores of beautiful Mary Lake and the upper North Muskoka River. Visitors are attracted by the unspoiled scenery, the beach, the boating, the fishing, the golf, the biking, the fall colours, the local history, and the historic homes and churches. 
 
The dances, a fall turkey dinner and fireworks as well as a winter carnival are all part of the welcoming community spirit. Snowmobilers and skiers enjoy fine dining and accommodations set in some of the best trails in Ontario. Although Port Sydney area had been visited many times in the early 1800’s, it was not until Stephenson Township was surveyed in 1861 that settlers began to trickle into the area. Settlers had to come to the area up the arduous Muskoka Road that led northward from Bracebridge to Huntsville. They were encouraged by free (with some stipulations) land grants. Albert Sydney Smith, after whom the town was named, saw the possibilities of the area and took over an abandoned mill at the site of the present dam in 1871. He envisioned a community along the south end of the lake and by 1873 a plan was created for the village. 

The impetus for the growth of the village came from the lumber industry and the water transportation north from the village. The extensive pine and hardwood forest of the area sustained a large lumber industry. A lock on the Muskoka river north of Mary lake allowed the steamships to transport people and goods to and from Vernon, Fairy and Peninsula Lakes. Later a small railroad over the portage from Peninsula to The Lake of Bays extended the hinterland to Minden and Dorset. The village seemed destined to become a large trading centre and impressive homes churches and boarding houses sprang up.

In 1886 the railroad by- passed Port Sydney to the west at Utterson. Although the lumber industry and some farming continued to provide wealth, the future of the town seemed doomed. The beauty of the setting, however, began to draw people from Toronto. The homes that usually would have disappeared were turned into summer homes. The boarding house began to fill with tourists. The steamships carried visitors. Other hotels were built. A new future for the village began to develop.

Over the intervening years these visitors have developed roots in the town that have mingled with those of the original settlers. They have preserved the century old homes and now their great grandchildren enjoy the area throughout the four seasons. The village has thus developed a unique quality of history and beauty that is both cherished by those who have settled here and by the many who visit Port Sydney. 


Historical Sketch of Utterson

Acknowledgement and Credit: Permission is given for the use of the photographs shown here, as well as the information found in the Research Committee of Muskoka Pioneer Village (now Muskoka Heritage Place, Huntsville,Ontario) publication Pictures from the Past: Huntsville & Lake of Bays.

Prior to 1885, before the railway went through, Utterson was on the main road linking Bracebridge to Huntsville, Burk's Falls, Parry Sound and all the country in between. It was a natural stopover for those going on to other places. After the railway arrived, stages continued to come and go from the lumber camps for the weekends. The cattlemen used to bring their cattle to the railway two or three times a year. The drivers would stay over in Utterson until the cattle, yarded at the station, had been loaded.


The need for accommodation was met by The Commercial Hotel and the Central Hotel. The Commercial Hotel was located on the present parkette across from the Country Corner Store - now The Utterson General Store and The 141 Cafe. It was owned and operated originally by Patrick Clarke. At the time the Commercial was destroyed by fire in 1939 it was in the possession of Mr. James McKenzie.

There are residents of Utterson today who can still recall a number of the interior details of the Commercial. A centre hall plan, lounge on the right, complete with potbellied stove, captain's chairs and spittoons. Behind the lounge was the dining room. The kitchen was across the back. To the left on entering, prior to prohibition, there was a stand-up bar room, which later became a pool room. Tobaccos, both smoking and chewing, were sold. The second floor contained bedrooms, a parlour and a parlour bedroom. The third floor dormitory was occupied by permanent residents. The hotel had its own livery stable.

The earlier Central Hotel was built and run by Robert McNairney. It stood on the corner next to the present post office.

Three general stores also once flourished in Utterson. The G.W. Lankin Store was by far the largest and, after a succession of shop keepers, continues to operate today (presently The Utterson General Store and The 141 Cafe). Mr. Lankin carried a full line of goods. Food, flour, feed and furniture, hairpins to harness, bolts of cloth, boots to bedding were all sold there. Once the motor age arrived, Mr. Lankin wasted no time in setting up a truck with his merchandise. Each day of the week the driver would call on those who had settled in the northwest as far as Bent River and in the west as far as Ufford. News of recent happenings would be passed along and messages from one family to the other would also be passed along. The G.W. Lankin store housed at one time the switchboard of the Watt Municipal Telephone Co., and it remained there until they moved to their location on Old Muskoka Road. The company was taken over by Bell in the 1950's.

Creasor & Son, General Merchants, Utterson. This store stood on the west side of where Thatcher-Winger Associates once had their studio. The picture below offers a rare opportunity to see the interior of their store. The post office was, for some years, located in Creasor's store (1897/1898 - 1928).


The picture shows Mr. Leslie Creasor and John Brimstead standing proudly behind the counter. We assume the store had just been decorated for the Christmas season - note the decorations on the ceiling. The original photograph clearly shows wooden cases of bar soap on the floor in front of the counter. We also can see Sailor Boy table syrup, a crock of what could be pickled eggs, basket of fresh eggs at 35 cents a dozen, Quaker rolled white oats, Eddy wooden stove matches, Fray Bentos Bully Beef, Red Rose and Salada loose teas. Mr. Creasor stands behind the children's favourite - the cent candy case, with its set of beam scales.

Jack Clarke's Store, Utterson. This store was located alongside the Commercial Hotel and provided one thing the other's did not - gasoline from a pump. Livery service, horse-drawn in winter, Model T-Ford in summer. The barn held as many as 60 horses and was a great asset to hotel patrons as well as residents of the area. The barn was torn down in 1946. Jack's sister, Mary Appoloney, had an ice cream parlous and confectionery shop in her brother's store, with its own separate entrance. Within six months of Jack's son, Peter and his wife, Elsie, taking over the business, in 1948, the store burned. It was at this time that they purchased the G.W. Lankin store.

The busy railroad station in Utterson was built in 1886 and serviced both passengers and freight until it was dismantled in 1968. In 1886 the Northern and Pacific Junction Railway opened its line to Nipissing Junction from Gravenhurst. The Northern and Pacific became a part of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada in 1892 and later, in 1923, the Canadian National Railway.

With the even numbered trains running south and odd-numbered trains running north, the railway provided the villagers with a means of transportation. Communication was made possible by the availability of telegrams and night letters, with an agent being on duty both day and night. Freight would arrive from as near as Bracebridge, Orillia and Midland, and as far away as London, Goderich, Kingston, Morrisburg and Montreal. Cost for shipping freight from Bracebridge to Utterson cost as little as 35 cents for 100 pounds and from Midland to Utterson cost to ship three thousand pound the charge was four dollars and eight cents. In the picture above right the groups of uniformed men shown are volunteers in the 1911 Canada Militia 23rd Regiment, leaving on a special train for a two-week training course at Niagara Falls.

Unfortunately, Utterson Station, like so many others, is now no more than a whistle stop, a far cry from the hive of activity it once was.

 

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