The area surrounding Eagle Lake was once freckled with several different settlements that have, for the most part, since gone the way of the DoDo. Logging and trapping drew small clusters of settlers and their families into the area along the Nipissing Road, the last of about twenty “colonization roads” built by the Ontario government to open the area between the Ottawa River and Georgian Bay to settlers and to the lumbermen of the province.
The Rosseau Nipissing Colonization Road as it was officially called was built the 110 km from Lake Rosseau (where hardy settlers could arrive by stagecoach, train or steamboat from the South) to the mouth of the South River near Nipissing village over 8 years beginning in 1864. The colonization road ran 20 km east of current Highway 11 (once the Muskoka Colonization Rd.)
While early settlers arrived by oxen loaded with their goods or horses pulling their items, later settlers arrived on other horse drawn transportation, including regular stage coach runs. The trip could take several days depending on the weather.
Entrepreneurs set up “stopping places” along the way, and several small communities serving the traveller and local settlements including general stores, post offices, blacksmith shops, churches developed.
The Russell House Hotel, known as Bummer’s Roost. One the
early stops on the old Nipissing Road.
Once the pine forests had all been used up, the farmland could no longer support these remote communities, and the train tracks which were intended to run through Lount Township ended up going through South River instead, leaving these settlements to fade away into the landscape. Several ghost towns and numerous abandoned farms followed, as people relocated. Gone, but not forgotten.
Bummer’s Roost was, at one time, called “Mecanoma.” It is said that the official name came from a homesteader by the name of Robert Galbraith, who encountered a traveling Ojibway that exclaimed “Afik-anah omah“ which meant ‘here is a path’ when he stumbled upon a newly chopped right-of-way for the Rosseau-Nipissing colonization road.
But the term ‘Bummer’s Roost’ came from some other early settlers. At the time that the road was being developed, Alfred Russel recognized the spot as an ideal midway stop between Magnetawan and Commanda. He came north with a friend, Richard Mannering.
Richard swiftly gained a reputation for being a bit of a lazy fellow and in turn earned the nickname of ‘Dick The Bummer.’ As a joke, one day, he tacked a sign that said ‘Bummer’s Roost’ to the cabin that him and Alfred had built at the location. The name quickly gained popularity and ‘Mecanoma’ just kind of faded away into history.
After noting the constant flow of overnight travelers along the new route, Alfred ended up building a log boarding house and log stables next to the cabin that he and Richard had built the year prior. It operated as a licensed hotel for many years, serving as a welcome stopover for many weary travelers. It had, at one point, a stable, blacksmith’s shop, a store for supplies and a post office. While the original hotel built by Alfred was lost in a fire in 1926, and a second was also lost to a fire, a third house built on the same foundation remains in place today.
Uplands Post office, South River (circa 1890)
A small farming community emerged in the southern end of Lount Township in the 1880s which was named ‘Wattenwyl.’ The story goes that “wait for me awhile” sounded like Wattenwyl when spoken by the Swiss and German settlers in the community.
The book, ‘Wait For Me Awhile,’ written by local historian Audrey Hicks, says that it may have gotten its name from Switzerland, where there is a village by the same name. But there is a much more romantic tale attached to it as well.
Residents of Wattenwyl would wait for the mail to arrive and be sorted at the post office, which was located within the home of a settler by the name of Frederick Egger. It is said that the young people of the area quite a liking to the concept as it was a perfect opportunity to get to know one another without knowing that romance was in the air. It proved to be quite the little underground setting for matchmaking where many would ‘wait for awhile’ in hopes that they would have another opportunity for their romance to continue to bud.
Picking Blueberries: front row left to right- Etta Rolston, Mabel McGurr, Mary Leslie, Jim Rolston, Ann Rolston, Leila Leslie, Tom Leslie. Back Row- Louis Leslie, Jack Rolston (1906)
Additional Notable Settlements
In addition to the more well-known settlements, there were also smatterings of additional small communities throughout the area. These included Uplands, Midford, Mandeville, Eagle Lake, Hamilton Lake and Five Mile Block. Some had a post office, school, church and occasionally a store.
Uplands was actually Machar Township’s largest community in the late 1800s, and was home to the township’s first post office and first school. It was also home to a Cheese Factory, built by a settler named John Armstrong. Since there were not many pioneers who had access to butter or cheese-making equipment, the factory became an important aspect of the community.
Five Mile Block – which you can still walk, run or bike today – is said to have been a favourite ‘courting route’ for young couples. If you start at the fire station in South River, head west along Ottawa Avenue, hook right on Municipal Road, and then right on Eagle Lake Road, by the time you make it back to the fire station, you will have travelled Five Mile Block!
1930 Ed Sohm in front of wagon the Sohm farm near Bunker Hill
NOTE: More information about the history of Machar Township and it’s original settlements can be found in the book ‘Journey Through Whispering Pines’ which can be purchased at the township office or South River Machar Union Public Library. All funds support the library!