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  • Ontario, Canada

Two “Lost” Roads

“Lost” Coulonge Lakeshore Road

It is easy to assume that the pattern of municipal arterial and side roads now in use; is where roads were, when first opened.  So it came as a surprise to read in the following piece that a mid to late 1800’s “lost to time” carriage road had run alongside the Ottawa River & Coulonge Lake;  from Spotswoods on the west- end to the current Lacroix Bay area in the east (LaPasse) end.

Settler homes and farms were initially closer to the riverbank because transportation was by either  water or iceroad.  That lost land road connected these settler’s clearings one with another.

This section of the 1863 H.F.Walling Map, found in the Maps section, clearly shows this Coulonge Lake Road which begins at the Cahill farm, on the Bromley Line & Nicolai Road corner, and heads north to Malloy Bay on the south shore of Lake Coulonge. It crosses Labine, Primeau and Flanagan land before heading south to meet the present day Wright Road. The road on the western shore of the peninsula running from the Spotswood farm, south to Westmeath Village, was first named Portage Road, then River Road and nowadays Rapid Road.

Now, that historic Coulonge Lake Road is lost to bush land; except for sporadic cottage development and no sign of a road exists.  From time to time locals have come upon, while walking in the bush of this area, remnants of log buildings; probably the only remaining artifacts of a settler’s home. Going farther downstream, sections of current municipal roads do follow the Ottawa River – such as from the end of the Bromley Line Road onto Lacroix Bay Road, onto LaPasse Road with a turn onto Grants Settlement Road.

Concessions in that waterfront area were all surveyed from Coulonge Lake south to the Gore Line. This is shown on maps, land patents and deeds with the designation of Coulonge Lake Front.

Place names remain long after the settler leaves: this is the case of the name Malloy used on both a side road leading to “White’s Beach” on  Lake Coulonge, and the well-known Malloy Bay on the south side of Lake Coulonge, west of the Lacroix Bay area.  Mr. McLean relates that Malloy left for North Dakota; – but he left his name behind.

The name Hennessy is also left behind in the naming of Hennessy Bay at the top of Coulonge Lake.

Notes by J. D. McLean, in Beachburg Centenary Booklet, writing in 1933.

On Concession 1, Coulonge Lake Road, in 1891 there were 14 families living between Spotswood’s Ferry and Cahill’s Creek, namely: Messrs. James Spotswood, J. Findlay, Martin Hennessy, C. Millar, J. Derosier, Laplain, Laderoute, J. Primeau, Jos. Primeau Sr., Jos. Primeau Jr. Alex Primeau, Frank Robichaud, Andrew Poupore, Nap. Meloncon – where now (1933) there are only 3 families.

“In 1891 Andrew Poupore came from Cardinal, on the St. Lawrence and settled on a farm on the Coulonge Lake.  At that time there was no good road system, no telephone.  There was no road out to Bromley Line until Slave(sic) Labor was abolished, and the Township Road System came into effect.  Then a road was cut through the swamp to meet the Dupuis Line, Concession 2, CLF. (Coulonge Lake Front)

“Across the Lake, on the Quebec side, about one mile above where Davidson’s Village is now, stands one of the main Forts of the Hudson Bay Company.  They also had a post on the Ontario side, on the banks of the Lake, on what was afterwards known as the Poupore Farm.  During the time the Hudson Bay Co. traded along the shores of the Ottawa River, they cleared quite a lot of land on this farm, and built storehouses – some of the foundations are still visible.

“There were several root houses belonging to the Indians, (or the remains of door frames and slab roofs covered with earth).  Indians had previously lived all along the River from Lapasse to Westmeath.  Indian graves have been found, and relics removed.

“The River Road was the first to be opened, – from Portage Du Fort to Pembroke, following the River via the Poupore farm, up to Spotswood, and then up the Portage Road to Westmeath. When Mr. Poupore and family moved off the farm, it became the property of the late John and William Anderson.  Their brother Peter Anderson is now the owner.  Mr. Patrick Malloy lived there at one time, and moved to North Dakota.

“On the East end of Bromley Line the late Rich Cahill owned 200 acres along with a broken front, which he willed to his nephews the late Richard, Harmel and Samuel Cahill.

“Other pioneers on the East end of Bromley Line were, John Wright Sr. who came from Aylmer, Quebec, Patrick Lawless, Louis Derwa, Sam McLeach, S. Marion, Mr. Labrasse.”

This initial important roadway for early settlers in Historic Westmeath Township is long forgotten and lost. 

1880 Map showing Churches and Schools in Westmeath Township also clearly shows the two “Lost Roads“. A schoolhouse is built on the Coulonge Lake Road at the Bromley Line corner at upper right. The Mast Road ran straight north from Beachburg to the shore of Lower Allumette. This 1880 map is taken from McGill University’s project: “The Canadian County Atlas Digital Project”.

The “Lost” Mast Road Used to Supply the Admiralty

The lands now set aside for the Westmeath Provincial Park on Bellows Bay of  Lower Allumette Lake, are some of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse in the area.  The area’s wetlands and shoreline  provide habitat to many seasonal migrating birds and sandhill cranes have been nesting in the area for some time. When hiking or birdwatching in the Park, it is now of great contrast with the lucrative commercial activity of the 1800’s  underway just downstream in that general area.

This following piece has no attribution – a good guess would have it to be Mr.  J.D. McLean, longtime Reeve of the township –  it is included here to bring to light the heavy work done at the shoreline of that section of the Ottawa Shoreline.

“More settlers arrived in the surrounding area but before farming could begin the land had to be cleared of the heavy timber along the Ottawa River. Lumbering became the main industry.

“Huge quantities of timber were cut into square logs and hauled through the village of Beachburg to the Ottawa River only four miles away at different points.

“Eight span of oxen would haul one square timber through the Mast Road in the Glen to Bellow’s Bay on the Ottawa River. Logs were taken to other places on the river as well. The raftsmen then guided the timber through the wild turbulent, treacherous waters of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers to Quebec City where it was taken to England to make masts and spars for sailing ships.”

It is assumed that much loading of timber was done onto the ice in the winter. But heavy loads were often pulled in all seasons by using “stone boats” – low sturdy platforms with large iron runners beneath.  The Mast Road   starts at the Glen outside Beachburg and went in a straight line to reach the Ottawa shore over flat terrain – important when pulling extremely heavy loads.

Ross Museum past-president Lawrie Barton:

“Today we think of horses as the primary power source on the pioneer farm. However the 1851 Westmeath Township census recorded 2,358 oxen and 1,232 horses. Oxen were stronger that the average draft horse. They were more hardy, easier to maintain and could pull plows, harrows and wagons.

The two photos used here are from Google Images.  It is hard to imagine the sight and pulling capacity of  “eight span of oxen”.

This resolution entry comes from the Westmeath Township Council Minute Book for that date:

“8th October 1871

Moved by Beall, Seconded by Condie, that the petition of Chas. Findlay, putting his Statute Labour for three years on the Mast Road, in vicinity of his farm there, be granted.  Carried.”

It was not unique for this township to have a Mast Road.  Many townships did in those early years, when mast roads were built all through the lumbering sections of eastern and northern Ontario,  to take the huge squared timbers to the closest river  and thus send them out to market.

The British navel shipyards were in full operation, building new ships or repairing the ships of the greatly expanded British naval fleet during the Napoleonic War years.  Demand was high for massive straight masts for the riggings.  These “sticks” were the stuff where men could make fortunes! A William Price was sent out as early as 1810 to seek a new supply source for the battleships of Britain.  As a representative of the Admiralty, he returned to England impressed with his exploration and together with James McGill, later founder of the University that bears his name, he began the square timber trade.

Evelyn Moore Price writing in her “History of Corporation of  Township of Westmeath”, describes the Mast Road this way:

“Lumbering was the main industry in this section of the Westmeath township from the time of 1837 when settlers began arriving from down the Ottawa River.  

“Huge quantities of trees were cut in the surrounding locality – hewed into square timber by skilled woodsmen – which were hauled through the tiny new hamlet of Beachburg by eight yoke of oxen hauling one stick of timber.

“They hauled down the “Mast Road” so named for its suitability for hauling the long mast suitable for sailing ships.  These had to be “rafted up”, in still waters and not in the turbulent waters of the Ottawa on the other side of the peninsula.  This road passed through “The Glen” and is known to be one of the straightest road in existence.  This was traversed and the timbers put in Bellows Bay on the Ottawa River at Lot 1, North Front A. Traveling was extremely hazardous due to the heavy timber causing the lowlands to hold the water under which was marsh or bogs.  Great difficulties were encountered traveling on these primitive trails.  For this same reason, many pioneers came up the Ottawa, among them John Buchanan.  To avoid the dangerous stretch of rapids, now known as Whitewater country, he by-passed these by going on the other side of Calumet Island as far as LaPasse where he turned downstream, landing his family and belongings at the Roche Fendu area where he had taken up a large tract of land.”

The Mast Road is no more. The usefulness of having a direct, flat route to the riverfront at Bellow’s Bay faded with the last of the giant timbers were felled. Snowmobilers are the only users of trails in this area now.  Now the alternate road route in use from Beachburg to the Ottawa’s shoreline west of Westmeath, is along the Lookout Road, over two sets of hills, providing wonderful, scenic views; but not good for oxen pulling heavy loads.

Today that large area of cedars and bushland of  forgotten Mast Road contains the Westmeath Conservation Area to preserve the Westmeath Bog.