Haliburton Scout Reserve hosts treasured stories
By Darren Lum
Published Oct. 10, 2017
Every place has a story to tell.
The Haliburton Scout Reserve is learning more about the stories of their property and sharing those with campers and visitors through a project to honour the past, as part of a 75th anniversary coming up in 2022.
The 5,000-acre property owned by the reserve off of Kennaway Road in Haliburton is tied to homesteading families and the lumber industry from before the turn of the last century.
Ken Wrigglesworth, a former reserve staff member and youth camper, has a fondness for the property and a passion for the past. For the past few months he has been researching the history of the homesteading families of Spiers, Hadley, Pollard and Nelus. He has acquired his information from relatives of the homesteading families, the Haliburton Highlands Land Registry Office in Minden, documents available on ancestry.ca and from the Canadian census.
According to Wrigglesworth, the first settlers on the reserve property were John Nelis and his family and William Spier and his family in the late-1860s. The Spier family lived there for more than 30 years until the Laking Lumber Company bought the farm in 1906 and replaced it with a depot camp for a lumber operation in Holland Creek Watershed until 1928. Mary Ann Spier, William’s daughter, married Isaac Hadley, who developed a farm on a lot neighbouring the Spier property.
Wrigglesworth said there were three farms owned by either Spiers (pronounced speers) or their relatives along Kennaway Road. Eventually, he said, all of the families moved to Wilberforce or the village of Haliburton and then on to other places. From his research, it looked like the Nelus family moved to Michigan. Some of the homestead foundations remain, he said.
He is seeking out more descendants of the homesteaders to broaden the historical understanding of the area and the families.
“Our hope in potential publication is that relatives of some of the other families may contact us with additional pictures and information about their pioneering ancestors,” he said.
Wrigglesworth discovered a few interesting bits of history when he looked at the land registry, which are related to families squatting and never actually owning the lots except when asked to sell.
In 1905, the Spier family did not own a lot when they were asked about selling it. William’s son, William Coombs Spier, subsequently bought the land for $100 in 1905 from the Canadian Land and Immigration Company. It was then sold a year later to the Laking Lumber Company for $545.
This service project by the reserve will include the construction of seven wooden kiosks that will include interpretative material, which will be similar to the kiosks at a trail head used at a provincial park. Each kiosk will be marking historical sites on the property, providing details and information related to the site. Artifacts found in the area are likely to be included and showcased at the kiosk.
The kiosks will mark such sites as the three homestead locations and one Laking Lumber depot camp and an area of a large log chute for the spring log drive – there is still timber with rusty spikes there, sitting in the water. Another notable site is in front of Holland Lake where fur trappers worked. Wrigglesworth said this is one of 12 lakes on the reserve property. The lake is named for James Holland, the first European to settle in the Haliburton area (ca. 1820). He built his cabin on the shore of nearby Lake of Two Islands, and trapped for furs through the Drag River/Holland Creek watershed.
Construction started on Sept. 30.The displays will be assembled over the winter and installed this summer.
“Our plan is to build the additional five kiosks and prepare the displays over the next few years leading up to the 75th anniversary of the camp in 2022, “ he said.
The kiosks will preserve history for the young campers who come in the summer. This could help the scouts offer programming, possibly history hikes and will provide another dimension to the property.
As a camper in the 1970s, Wrigglesworth remembers being taken around by a camp leader and told the history.
Back then there was more remnants of the homesteaders to see.
“When I was a kid it sparked my imagination: Wow, this looks like a forest. How could this be a farm?”
Wrigglesworth said Darlene Nugent Kirtley is the great-granddaughter of William Spier and Ann (nee Beamish). They started a bush farm in the late-1870s and raised nine children, who all survived to adulthood.
Kirtley made the trip to the area in the summer with her grandmother Eliza Nugent (nee Spiers), who married Haliburton lumberman David Nugent. Kirtley returned with her two sisters on Sunday, Oct. 1 when construction on the two kiosks began.
She said her grandparents met for the first time on a train, heading to Haliburton from Fenelon Falls.
They married in 1905, settling in Fenelon Falls and moved beside his parents, Joseph Nugent and Ellen Doogen. They had six children, including Kirtley’s father George, the youngest born in 1921.
“I think it is pretty neat love story that seems to have developed due to his work in the area,” she wrote in an email.
Her grandfather was working on a lumber camp just north of the Spier farm. He spent five years working there from 1895 to 1900. There are still black and white photos of him from that time. She has a pair of her grandfather’s two-man saws and a cant hook he used while riding the logs down the rivers (most notably the Gull River) to the mill.
Kirtley wrote an email thanking Wrigglesworth and the reserve following the initial visit.
“I appreciate all the work you have done digging into the history of the farms, going to land registry, searching for artifacts, etc.,” the great-granddaughter wrote to Wrigglesworth after the visit. “But I am especially grateful that you contacted me because I do the family history for the family and am keenly interested. I have a profound respect now for the pioneers who worked this inhospitable land.”
Kirtley appreciated being invited to the property with her mother.
“We indeed felt like honoured guests at the camp,” she wrote.
Reserve camp director and ranger since 2005, Kevin Bell has been coming to the camp since 1985.
Having these kiosks will take campers to see new areas of the property that are less frequented than areas close to Lake Kennabi and Moore Lake, he said.
“One of our main goals at this camp too is to get people hiking out in the woods and enjoying the other lakes and sites we have on the property,” he said.
Bell adds this is an opportunity for the generation of youth to engage, explore and to discover the natural world. He is helping with construction’s co-ordination at the property because of his knowledge of the geography.
Wrigglesworth has spent hours researching, but knows it’s only the beginning to a long-term effort.
“It’s a story that is still evolving from our point of view,” he said.
Wrigglesworth welcomes any information or photos related to the families of Isaac Hadley, David Pollard, John Nelis and William Spier. Contact him at Thunderbird@hsrsa.ca or call 905-330-1832.
With files from the HSR Alumni Thunderbird newsletter