This story is part of our partnership with Maryboro Lodge The Fenelon Falls Museum and was written by Glenn Walker.
Built in 1837, it is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the Kawarthas, in 1963 Maryboro Lodge became a Museum.
KAWARTHA LAKES-On May 20, Maryboro Lodge Museum is hosting its 60th Anniversary Party. The new exhibitions will open for the season, including a documentary recounting George Jackett’s memories of digging the present Fenelon Falls Lock (which coincidentally opened in 1963). The event will feature many exciting hands-on activities, both indoors and out, a scavenger hunt and a community campfire with North Country Express. A casual tea will feature Maryboro Lodge’s own Gem Gems, one of the treats that the Abbott sisters baked when Maryboro Lodge was a tourist lodge. For more information see: https://maryboro.ca/events/spring-party/
In the early 1830s, the cataract that has since become known as Fenelon Falls was a striking location on this ancient waterway. Being a day’s paddle from either Scugog or Curve Lake, and two days or more from either Lake Ontario or Peterborough, it was a little remote, though beautiful. When Thomas Need first visited the falls, he described it as Niagara in miniature and noticed that the landscape stood out from the surrounding forests. It was “fringed with dwarf oaks” which made it “one of the loveliest scenes in the province.” As he was commissioning mills at Bobcaygeon, he recalled that it was a “great delight, on the long evenings… to sail up the lake in my canoe, and pass a quiet hour or two at the falls, after the toils of the day were over.”
Fenelon Falls was home to a unique ecosystem. At the end of the last glaciation, for a period of time, it was the controlling sill of Great Lake Algonquin—a giant pool that encompassed modern Lakes Simcoe, Huron, Michigan and Superior. The tremendous rate of flow that carved the Fenelon gorge, also scoured the soil from the banks of the river, leaving behind a dry and stony terrain that would not support the forests that grew most everywhere else in the region. After the river receded to its present size, this former river bed would become downtown Fenelon Falls. But bur oaks could survive in this climate, though they grew sparsely and slowly. They typically remained small, often living for centuries.
To the eyes of gentlemen like Thomas Need, Fenelon Falls was a beautiful, natural parkland—that also had waterpower. It would not be long before two of his peers would begin developing the site. It saddened Need to see this happen, because of the site’s natural beauty, though these new entrepreneurs were in the same business that he was in.
Robert Jameson was the grandson of John Jameson, the famous Dublin whiskey distiller. He soon partnered with James Wallis, whose family had moved to Ireland after the Battle of the Boyne to take up a landed estate, Maryborough, in County Cork. For centuries, land ownership had been a basis of wealth and power in Great Britain. These two aspiring young gentlemen were both younger sons—they came to Canada because they lacked the resources to live among the elites back home. But they were hoping that by investing in land, they could make a fortune, that would allow them to live up to the standards of their well-heeled ancestors. As they bought the sites that would become Fenelon Falls and Rosedale, they accumulated 22.7% of Fenelon and 9.3% of Verulam Township. They also purchased the harbour at Whitby (then called Windsor), with the expectation that this would likely be the outlet for the produce from this district.
Of the two partners, James Wallis was the one who tended to spend more time in the nascent community managing his affairs, while Robert Jameson was often travelling. Being a bachelor in the woods, James Wallis loved to travel with his friends to attend balls in more developed communities—there were few young ladies of social standing in the backwoods. Since Jameson and Wallis owned the village plot, Wallis could choose almost any site for his abode. For the practical reason of the waterpower, the mill had to be built at the falls. For his home, James Wallis was drawn to the ancient oak grove on the river’s north shore, where it drained Cameron Lake.
James Wallis did not build himself a country home, as he had known as a child—he lacked the means. Maryboro Lodge, true to its name, was a lodge, located in the backwoods, where he could host his friends and associates. By British standards, it was by no means a striking architectural specimen—he used what he had on hand. It is made by stacking up the deals (3 x 9-inch boards) on edge, that his mill was producing—a common export dimension in the British timber trade. At the time, there were many stacked log buildings, but Maryboro Lodge is unusual in being a stacked deal building. Though it was just a lodge, Wallis had it covered in white plaster, which made it stand out when viewed from across Cameron Lake. It was also conspicuous relative to the shanties that practically everyone else was living in.
Maryboro Lodge (1837) was not built as a practical home. The original building had two dancing parlours with French doors leading through the ancient oak grove towards the river. On the back side, there was a dining room, with bedrooms on the second floor. It was wonderful for hosting parties in the backwoods, but the original building lacked a kitchen for his domestic help to prepare the feasts. This was remedied with an addition shortly after, that also added a second-floor servants’ quarters, complete with a separate staircase leading to the kitchen. Wallis hosted many events at Maryboro Lodge, married, started a family, and soon realized that the land business was not what he had hoped for.
For many aspiring British gentlemen, raised in a society where land was scarce, valuable and a basis of social status, buying up the land that the government of Upper Canada was distributing at little cost seemed like a great investment. A few tried to introduce the systems of tenancy that were common in Britain, only to find that practically all the farmers crossing the Atlantic wanted to own their own plots. As Jameson and Wallis tried to sell lots, the Crown had plenty more land to sell, which made it very difficult to find many buyers willing to pay more than the going rate for crown land. Jameson sold his share to Wallis and moved on. As the years passed, Wallis learned that land speculation could be the road to ruin as easily as it might be a way to make a fortune. By the 1860s, Wallis’ land venture was basically insolvent and was liquidated by a local land agent. Personally, Wallis was saved by his family’s fortune, which allowed him to start a new farm, Merino, near Peterborough, where he imported fine livestock and operated a steamboat. His mills, tavern and store at Fenelon Falls were neglected and left to ruin.
Once Wallis moved to Merino, though Maryboro Lodge had not been built as a practical home, it was better than what most families could expect as a dwelling. In the second half of the nineteenth century, many families lived there, including the Littletons, who have remained in the community until the present. But Maryboro Lodge was more than just a building, it was situated in the ancient oak grove, that lined Fenelon Falls’ waterfront. Much as it had hosted teas and soirees in Wallis’ day (he was the village’s most notable public figure), once he moved on the Oak Grove remained a favourite site for community events, like church picnics. Stretching from Maryboro Lodge on Cameron Lake to the Falls, this natural parkland, became a community gathering place.
In 1882 work began on the Fenelon Falls lock and canal, which would cut through the ancient oak grove, significantly reducing its size. Without Mr Wallis to maintain it as his private parkland, the practical business of subdividing the grove into village lots began. They were desirable lots, and many were developed by prominent local families (now the Oak Street Heritage Conservation District). By the start of the twentieth century, only fragments of the ancient oak grove that had once defined the Fenelon waterfront remained.
In 1913, three sisters, Kate, Belle and Tillie Abbott purchased Maryboro Lodge and turned it into a tourist lodge. With the railway separating it from the village’s campground (now the south end of Garnet Graham Park), and the most popular swimming area (the canal) right in front, it was a fantastic location. Belle and Tillie carried on after their sister died in 1922, becoming memorable local personalities. The sisters often dressed in white were quiet and thin. In later years, some children would remember that they at first mistook them for ghosts. But they were great hosts, and often made lasting friendships with their guests. Some families came back to visit year after year and even stayed in touch once the Misses Abbotts moved to Waterman’s Nursing Home in Lindsay.
While in the nineteenth century, enjoying tea at Maryboro Lodge had been a special occasion for the public, the Abbott sisters turned it into an everyday tradition. Though they never had running water or an electric range, they spent their summers in the heat of the old summer kitchen, preparing all the baked goods to serve lunches and teas to their guests. Their recipe book has survived (https://maryboro.ca/publications/abbott-sisters-recipe-book/) and many of their favourites are still served at Maryboro Lodge Museum today. Guests spent a lot of time enjoying summer on the verandah overlooking Cameron Lake, while they stayed in small cabins on site (one of them lives on as the museum schoolhouse).
Maryboro Lodge had been built long before the advent of insulation, and by the twentieth century, few could stand to live there in the winter—it always has been a building designed for summer gatherings. Belle and Tillie often went to stay with their sister, Mary Kelly, who lived on Francis Street. Around 1960, as the sisters had to move to a nursing home, Mary’s son, Milburn sought to make sure that Maryboro Lodge would become a public space. He arranged with the village’s historical society to transfer the property. Since the organization was not incorporated, the village legally owned the museum.
When Maryboro Lodge opened as a museum in 1963, its community was coming to terms with the fact that the pioneers of the local agricultural settlement had all passed on, and the public memories of this period were becoming fainter. When it originally opened, the museum exhibited an eclectic mix of artefacts, mostly looking back on the nineteenth century. But from the beginning, it was a community space, operated by volunteers from the community.
While Maryboro Lodge Museum has broadened its scope to share stories about many different subjects, and today it serves more people online than in-person, many of the traditions that began in the age of Mr Wallis carry on to this day. The ancient oak grove is still a favourite gathering place for community events. Today, tea is one of the village’s longest-standing social traditions, which features heirloom recipes from the community. Local pianists still share their talents on the village’s first piano, an 1868 Chickering Square grand. Then, as now, the parkland situated where Cameron Lake flows into the Fenelon River is a focal point for the village of Fenelon Falls.
Maryboro Lodge, The Fenelon Falls Museum has been hit hard by the pandemic. If you want to make a donation to the museum, you can e-transfer to: [email protected] or mail a cheque to :
Maryboro Lodge Museum
50 Oak Street
Fenelon Falls, ON