*Other names used – South Westmeath and Beachburgh
With notes and excerpts from the Beachburg Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir Book and other sources.
Beachburg Village is the most central and largest village of Historic Westmeath Township in Renfrew County, Ontario.
In the 1871 Gazetteer it lists a healthy business sector of approximately 20 different occupations, as well as church and civic leaders.
Situated on the Canadian Northern Railway line, it had telegraph service by 1871 and still to this day is the headquarters of the local telephone company.
Mr. Surtees had the first telegraph system in Beachburg – the old reel style, long strips of paper rolled on the reels and the messages were dotted on these by needles. A Mr. Thaites operated this machine.
The first mail was delivered by horseback and the first post office was established in 1848. The village was known as “South Westmeath” but was later changed to Beachburgh in 1860. The Surtees family ran the Post Office from 1855 for many decades.
The name Beachburg, first spelled with an extra “h” on the end: “Beachburgh”, stems from the name of the first settler, David BEACH, Junior, a 3rd generation United Empire Loyalist who obtained a grant of 1,000 acres of land in 1835. He had served in the militia in the War of 1812-1814, and therefore qualified for a grant of land for his service to the Crown.
His father David Beach Sr., a United Empire Loyalist in Grenville County in the St. Lawrence River Valley arrived in 1835 in South Gower area, with his wife, five sons and four daughters. The Beach family consisted of sons Abel, David, Levi, John, Joseph and four daughters Sara, Ida, Caroline and Hannah. The first house was built beside the stream, the site of the present Anglican Church. Soon also a grist mill and saw mills were built nearby. Son Abel Beach’s name became well known during his years as a magistrate and justice of the peace.
“David Jr. and his family set out on a long trek up the Ottawa River to Portage du Fort, they sloughed through the countryside on foot. The land which greeted them was a country of pine trees as one of the grandsons was quoted. A mere trail lead to the settlement of Miramichi (Now Pembroke). It was where this trail crossed a little stream in Westmeath Township that David Beach decided to make a home for his family.
“He secured a land grant to one thousand acres from the government. Their first house was a log cabin in the caboose style with an open roof. It is said that the Beach children could count the tops of ninety green pine tress through the opening in the roof.”
–Beachburg Tweedsmuir Book
Soon other settlers arrived, among them James Condie, a Scot, who had also received a land grant of one thousand acres and also built a grist mill powered by water from the same stream, 500 yards upriver from the Beach mill. His seven sons were James, John, Malcolm, Andrew, Thomas, Robert and Alexander. They settled on land later owned by Thomas Scott. James Condie’s first wife died in 1860 and was the first person buried in the Presbyterian Cemetery – land donated by the Condie family.
Condie and Beach were both men of means who were in the enviable position of being able to subdivide the land into village lots and resell at a good profit.
The Beach family opened a hotel, a post office, a tannery, a grist mill and a sawmill. These early industries attracted more settlers, and a second hotel and a few general stores were opened. The growth of the hamlet was suddenly stopped by a disastrous fire which swept the entire settlement in 1851. However, a new village began to grow with stores, a blacksmith shop, new mills, churches and schools.
The Three Beachburg Village Fires
“Beachburg has been scourged by fire more times than its two neighbouring villages as in 1851 fire swept through the small community save the home of Henry Sherman which had been built a distance form the village. It was in the vicinity of the present public school. Fire again destroyed many buildings in 1931 when several of the larger structures of the North Renfrew Agricultural Society were totally destroyed.
“The last fire was in 1948 and following this disaster the Westmeath Municipal Council took steps to establish a means of combating these heavy losses. The fire hall was erected in 1950 with modern fire fighting equipment with benefits the whole township. ” – from the Beachburg Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir Book
Recent research has found that the Tweedsmuir Book date of 1851 is incorrect; the major fire occured in 1853 and accounts tell of it starting on Allumette Island, then sweeping across thousands of acres burning through major parts of the townships of Pembroke, Westmeath and Ross. The 1853 Fire is also described in Gould’s Line, and the 1948 Fire Ottawa Journal newspaper account set the damage costs at a quarter of a million dollars. 1948 Beachburg Fire1.
One night in 1875 Condie’s dam burst and the flood swept away Beach’s mill downstream. Beach did not rebuild.
The following year John Shaw built the Westmeath Flour Mill close by the current bridge in 1876 and also built a handsome stone boarding house for his men nearby – later used as the Anglican rectory. Shaw was a well-known valley millar and businessman with the Pontiac County town of Shawville taking his name. This mill later operated by the Weekmark family, is commemorated with a plaque and mill wheel beside the mill pond in the Village.
John Buchanan was one of the early settlers who came up the river on the Calumet side in 1837 as far as LaPasse, then turned downstream and landed at Roche Fendu where he had a tract of land. This man apparently brought everything with him by boats except for three oxen, his son and another man drove the oxen on the land route.
The village was home to 3 carriage and wagon shops owned by Robert Lavender, William Dusley and Parks Buchanan. Thomas Little in 1873 built a saw and planning mill at the lake east of the village. Peter McLaren was a shoe maker, George Surtees, an Englishman established a store “The London House 1857”. He had a tailor shop and a general store.
Beachburg Village was on the main road between Portage du Fort and Pembroke. That road was a busy haulage artery to service the lumbering and other commercial enterprises, even as far north as Mattawa, North Bay & Temiskaming. The horses and the teamsters all had to frequently stop for food and rest so many hospitality houses sprang up to meet the demand. Thomas Rollins kept a boarding house, this was later changed into a hotel conducted by the Sullivan’s. Johnson’s also had a hotel on the property, later owned by James Bennie. Morrison kept one of the first hotels. The road was very important to the village and kept in good repair.
Band Music: Live music was important to a small growing village and in the early 1900’s Beachburg had a band. This photo from the Beachburg Tweedsmuir Book shows the membership – unfortunately we don’t have all the names. Can you help?
Health Care: Dr. George Forbes came to Beachburg in 1855 being practically a pioneer in his profession for a large area covering townships of Westmeath, Ross, across the Ottawa and up into the Laurentian hills. He settled in Beachburg in 1865. He was later named as the Township’s Medical Officer. Prior to that a Dr. Purvis had come to the village on certain days.
In 1875 an epidemic of diphtheria swept through the village and six deaths were recorded among the children. Later in 1899 a smallpox epidemic was avoided by an action plan of providing vaccinations to all school children and others in the township, authorized by the township council of the day and implemented by the Medical Health Officer Dr. John Graham.
In 1899 the economy was in depression and unemployment high but the news was full of exciting stories about the Canadian Northwest. The famous Treaty Number 8 was being signed that year and in the aftermath of the Northwest Rebellion, peace had come to the Northwest. But the event that enticed young men from even far-away Beachburg was the Klondike Gold Rush.
The Beachburg Fair: The event began in 1858 as the Westmeath Township Fair, which was held at David Beach’s hotel in the village. This fair was carried on annually until 1867 when the North Renfrew Agricultural Society took it over.
The first county fair was held in the town hall which was built in 1862 by Newton Egleston. The renamed Beachburg Fair was a huge event for the whole Township each fall; in recent years it has been a summer fair each July, see Beachburg Fair.
Beachburg Train Station. Having a train passing through the village meant a huge boost to the economy. Farmers had a local means of transporting their produce to market so stockyards and holding sheds sprang up to meet the need. The station was of the design used throughout Ontario and quite attractive.
“Beachburg Station was the busiest between Ottawa and Pembroke. There was a siding approximately one mile in length and the second siding used for loading carloads of hay, grain and the cattle, horses and sheep that were ready for market.” – for more please read: The Day Gordon Johnston and I Stole the Train by Edgar Collins, M.D.
Set of Main Street Views. This collection of pictures from the Beachburg Tweedsmuir Book were probably taken in the 1920s, noting the cars in some pictures. In others, horses are pictured so they might have been taken earlier. Click on the photo to enlarge.
Original 1928 photo at top courtesy of Verla Collins Robinson and 1928 Cobden Sun newspaper clipping of same photograph courtesy of Herb & Sandra Jeffrey.
The Ottawa Journal, Wednesday, July 10, 1935
The Beachburg Village History has been recorded in these publications and available on this website:
The years between the wars were a very lean and trying period and left an imprint on the generation who experienced and witnessed the Great Depression. In this excerpt submitted by John D. Wright, one young Collins lad, growing up in Beachburg in those years, remembers his own family life in the 1920s and 30s. The writer’s father John T. Collins operated a General Store in the Village of Beachburg for many years with his wife Margaret Davis.
Their son Dr. W.E.(Edgar) Collins remembers his formative years in Beachburg:
“It was a general store carrying a full line of high-class dry goods, canned fruits and vegetables, cereals,
candies, clothing, school books and supplies, home hardware, vinegar, molasses and oils, nails, binder twine, haywire, -salt for cattle, gasoline, coal oil, glass, fruits in season, apples, etc., etc. The business was run on a barter basis and in exchange for store supplies, for which he had to pay cash on a 30 day basis, Father was forced to take the produce the farmers brought to him in exchange: butter, eggs, vegetables, potatoes, carrots, turnips, barley, potatoes, hay and oats in carload lots and a few years later alfalfa. He found a market for hay and oats in the lumber mills of northern Ontario and Quebec and the railway divisional points on both railroads across Northern Ontario. The remainder of the farm produce he put on the market in Ottawa and Montreal.
“The traveling salesman was an important person in that milieu. Maurice Woodcock made regular calls by horse or car from Cobden and through him hardware was ordered from Chown and Company in Kingston.
Arthur Garland represented his father John M. Garland, and Mr. Adair represented Greenshields of Montreal. Each in turn displayed their lines of high quality dry goods in a separate display room at the local hotel where all the merchants were able to examine and order. Joe Tucker came at intervals to display and take orders for a full line of boots and shoes. Harry Knox represented National Drugs, haywire and coarse salt came from Cochrane Dunlop in Pembroke. National Grocers in Pembroke supplied a wide range of groceries
“The Ottawa Valley was one of the great goiter geographic areas because it was mid-continental and far removed from the iodine of the sea. Patients were referred to Dr. Lorne Higginson of Pembroke or Dr. Stuart Evans in Ottawa. The patients had to have $100.00 for the operation. Since the Bank of Nova Scotia would never loan the patient this money they came to Father for it and many times it was never repaid.
“When I was about four years old, Father began to take me with him when he was collecting for the church or buying hay. One trip was memorable because of three visits on that day. The first man was all smiles and contributed nothing. As we left the yard father said quietly that I should never trust a man with a sweet tooth. At the next place a very old man was sitting on the verandah and we both sat and talked with him for more than half an hour. When we left I asked why he had not asked for a donation and father replied that I should always stop and talk to any old man because no one else would do so. In the third yard several small pigs were loose and the farmer said I could have any pig I could catch. When I caught one against the fence the farmer would not give it to me. Father said nothing but turned and drove home. He never spoke of that incident again to me or to anyone else but he never bought produce from that man again. Thus I learn to simply be quiet when someone cheats or hurts you, but simply do no more business with him. I have never forgotten those three lessons.
“Beachburg was completely English speaking and Protestant. When he hired Harry Tracey, an Irish Catholic and then gave him our horse and buggy to attend Mass at LaPasse every Sunday, he was widely criticized for having somehow hurt the village. But the parish priest joined the executive of the North Renfrew Agricultural Society that summer and stimulated his whole parish to take an Interest in the fair. Father never mentioned the association to me – he didn’t have to. That fall he and big Hector Gervais of LaPasse were both elected to the Westmeath Township Council where they worked for years and became close friends – he had shown me that the two founding peoples in Canada were really one. When big Hector retired and moved to Fort Coulonge his son Albert Gervais, a very worthy successor was elected to the township council and he in turn worked closely with and became friends with father.
“Some personal recollections of the changes that have occurred during my lifetime are recorded. It may seem maudlin to note that on rare unpredictable occasions I still feel the ache of poverty and with it a terrible sadness that I did not have an opportunity of telling my father before he died in 1945, nor have I been able to express adequately to my mother in later years an appreciation of the sacrifices that they made to sustain their family and their community through the depression of the 1930’s.
“During the first 50 years of my life I could not spend twenty-five cents without considering the effect on the budget, nor could I enjoy any pleasurable experience or thing without thinking that somehow it must be measured against future security. The sense of insecurity so firmly engrained during the 1930’s can never be forgotten nor completely suppressed. To others in our township my early life must have seemed especially blessed and even a bit affluent. The combined Collins and Wright family was large enough that at least some members from the first days of settlement, participated in some degree in all the mass migrations, the wars and the rapid technological and social changes.
“His relationship with Harry Cooper of Pembroke was another lesson. Farmers brought in pelts of foxes, raccoons, weasels as payment of their store accounts. Harry Cooper, a Jew, came at intervals to take the pelts and on many occasions I noticed that money was never discussed. Harry simply paid what they were worth and told Dad. Similarly when he ordered a fur coat It was always from Harry Cooper and I remember so well Harry bringing down a black seal fur coat and hat for Mother, all wrapped up for Christmas and bringing it down himself late on Christmas eve.
“The depression quickly ended this childhood security. During the summer of 1929 I was introduced to manual labor the first two weeks in July in the pit at the upper end of the village where the Medical Centre is now located when I shoveled gravel into wagons that were hauled by teams of horses. This gravel was spread on the town-line and on other township roads in the Roche Fondu area. From mid-July until almost Thanksgiving I worked for Archie Weedmark who did custom threshing, hauling supplies for the steam tractor. A wooden water tank hauled by a team of horses was filled easily by a hand pump from a nearby creek or pond and the water fed by gravity into rectangular tanks attached to the back of the tractor. Wood for the tractor came from any nearby stump or rail fence that had outlived its usefulness.
“With this experience, the depression which soon followed took on special significance and the response was to help Mother and Father by working as quietly and as hard as possible. Chores to be done were endless. Wood was needed for the furnaces in the store and in the home and for the stoves in the kitchen and the summer back-kitchen behind it. Blocks of ice cut from the village pond during the winter, piled in the icehouse at the back of the lot and then covered by sawdust, were needed for the Barnet Icebox in the back-kitchen and one became proficient in making ice cream in a small one quart freezer.
“The garden had to be tilled and planted, weeded, watered and harvested and these tasks were shared with Mother. We managed to maintain a few flowers and to keep the lawn cut, trimmed and raked. The wooden trim on the front veranda and about the windows required painting from time to time.
“The car was greased every weekend and the oil changed every second weekend. Maintenance of the Delco plant installed in 1928 to supply light to both store and home fell to me.
“Father’s business was a general store combined with marketing hay and grain and some other products produced by surrounding farmers. Summers and most weekends during the winter were spent as a worker on a tractor-trailer hauling hay or grain from different farms to the village where it was either put into a railway box car or in storage for later shipment. Bales of hay at that time were larger and heavier, and held together with three strands of haywire. One quickly became proficient at using a hayhook to load the bales on the truck and again into boxcars. A chauffeur’s license obtained on my 16th birthday made me eligible to drive the truck which I often loaded and unloaded without help. This was hard work but one was sustained by frequently counting up how much money Father did not have to pay out in wages since every dollar saved was vital to family survival.
“Because his hay operation was based on a “commission” of only one dollar a ton and from this commission came the cost of going to check the type and quality of the hay before it was bought, of hauling the hay either for local village storage or directly into boxcars and, as the depression worsened, losses incurred when some of those who purchased the hay themselves went bankrupt Father would have to find another purchaser or simply write-off the cost of the hay and the cost of the freight for hauling it to its destination. Since he sold hay to camps as far west as beyond Thunder Bay and all across Northern Ontario and Northern Quebec and throughout Algonquin Park, the freight rates often exceeded the cost of the hay, so at the end of some years profit was scant.
“Most of his hay customers were lumbermen who required horses for bush operations and for the operation of lumber mills and lumber yards. Others were operators of stockyards at railway divisional points across Ontario north of Lake Superior. In those days cattle, pigs, sheep and horses were slaughtered in Ontario and Quebec and most of them were brought from Western Canada in cattle cars. At specified divisional points the animals were unloaded into stockyards where they were fed and watered, the stock cars cleaned out and clean straw spread on the floors of the cars before the animals were loaded again and taken to the next stop. Both types of customer required oats to feed their animals.
“Because of the size of the operations, oats were ordered in carload lots often of 1200 or 1500 bushels and the oats were placed in ordinary 36 foot or 40 foot red box cars after grain doors were installed. These grain doors were made of boards nailed to the inside of the box car walls on either side of the door frames. The wall on one side was nailed on first and both ends of the car filled with oats. When the oats approached the loading door the lower boards of the second grain door were nailed on and added to as required until the car was filled. The farmers at our end and the purchasers each used their own bags.
“Loading oats was much easier work than loading hay because oats didn’t weigh much. On occasion father sent me out to buy produce in his name. In 1932 we bought oats for only 18¢ (eighteen cents) a bushel and I remember how embarrassed and ashamed father was to offer farmers such a low price. Buying potatoes and selling them in Montreal in carload lots was seasonal and not a large operation. I recall going to Waltham with the late Donald MacLean, who worked for father, to buy a carload of potatoes. We stayed in a small white clapboard hotel and loaded a boxcar sitting on a railway siding in front of the hotel. We took with us a pair of scales, purchased boards for grain doors in Waltham, emptied the potatoes into the car after they were weighed and returned the bags to the farmers. The operation took two days.
Not many farmers in Westmeath Township grew peas because at that time many fields were not well drained and either flooding or a period of drought would result in a crop of peas which remain hard after boiling and thus not satisfactory for making soup. Father’s cousin Nathanial Lindsay then a farmer in Loch Winnow developed an interest in soup peas and for a number of years my parents helped him find satisfactory soup peas in our area. He would bring samples from the farmers in our district who grew peas and Mother would boil each sample in a separate container for a specified time. He would buy those that were good soup peas but not the others. This was a lot of work and yielded them very little but was a service to the good producers in our area and it did help him. He later developed a large farm produce business with several centres throughout the Ottawa Valley.
“In the same way turkeys and foul, ducks and geese were marketed before Christmas and eggs and dairy butter throughout the whole year. Hides were usually sold through itinerant dealers or directly to tanneries.
“For the first 15 years father was in business this system worked well. He paid farmers cash for their produce and they bought their supplies either from him, one of the other merchants in our village or from others in surrounding villages. But the system broke down during the great depression and many merchants were forced out of business, but my Father survived only because he was able to find markets for farm produce.
“As the money supply in the community dried up, it was inevitable that the nature of his business changed to what was essentially a barter system. The farmer came to him for those supplies father carried, Father supplied him with credit until he himself was able to sell the farm produce after which any residual money went to the Farmer as cash. Payment for store supplies was on a 30-day bank draft basis and bank loans were often required. On occasion the railway required cash deposits for long hauls. Bank overdrafts varied constantly and on two occasions exceeded $40,000.00, but father was able to meet quickly payments suddenly demanded by the bank.
“Several years later he told me where he got the money to repay those bank demands but he steadfastly refused to tell the bank manager, feeling that this helped him to rebuild his line of credit, and perhaps it did. To the best of my knowledge the two sources are still not generally known.
“The main concern for all people in the 1930’s was simply survival to find enough food to eat and clothes to wear, and survival was possible only because everyone shared. Those without shelter were taken into individual homes and treated as family. Itinerants were taken in and fed with dignity, and food and clothing shared with those in greatest need and in a manner which was not demeaning to them.
Father’s Durant car, and after it wore out, the secondhand 1932 Chevrolet, were used every day to help his customers, and his relationship with Reverend Fr. Bourque, the parish priest at LaPasse something that I still marvel at. I recall seeing the two of them on different occasions discussing the number of bags of sugar or flour and the numbers of pairs of boots required by one of Fr. Bourque’s parishioners and watching them load his car with articles which were supplied at or close to wholesale prices. Looking back, I feel certain that people in the community were not generally aware of these activities.
“Firmly etched in my memory during Christmas vacation of 1935 or 1936 is Father, with tears running down his cheeks, saying that while I was away Fr. Bourque had died leaving an estate of only $2.75. This stressful situation was bound to take its toll and during the late fall of 1937 Father had his first coronary thrombosis, following which he remained a cardiac cripple, spending most of his time in bed until he finally died on July 15,1945.”
How wide-spread was the Great Depression? From Wikipedia:
“The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in 1930 and lasted until the late 1930s or middle 1940s. It was the longest, most widespread, and deepest depression of the 20th century.
“In the 21st century, the Great Depression is commonly used as an example of how far the world’s economy can decline. The depression originated in the U.S., after the fall in stock prices that began around September 4, 1929, and became worldwide news with the stock market crash of October 29, 1929 (known as Black Tuesday).
“The Great Depression had devastating effects in countries rich and poor. Personal income, tax revenue, profits and prices dropped, while international trade plunged by more than 50%. Unemployment in the U.S. rose to 25%, and in some countries rose as high as 33%.
“Cities all around the world were hit hard, especially those dependent on heavy industry. Construction was virtually halted in many countries. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by approximately 60%. Facing plummeting demand with few alternate sources of jobs, areas dependent on primary sector industries such as cash cropping, mining and logging suffered the most.”
Beachburg has always been a Hockey-Mad village:
For more current information on the Village of Beachburg: