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HomeNewsPeter Dahl And Rob Schrader Remember The Lower Dutch Line Settlement And...

Peter Dahl And Rob Schrader Remember The Lower Dutch Line Settlement And The Creation Of The Dahl Forest

This is part of our partnership with Maryboro Lodge The Fenelon Falls Museum and was written by Glenn Walker. With files from Rob’s father, Grenville Schrader. 

KAWARTHA LAKES-In the mid-nineteenth century, as European immigrants were streaming to south-central Ontario, the townships near Lake Ontario settled quite quickly. Those further north, along the Trent River Valley, attracted immigrants starting in the 1820s and 1830s, but were noticeably slower to settle than those at “the Front,” as it was called in those days. The townships north of the lakes were much slower again. The Crown assumed that the lack of transportation was holding back settlement, so it began to construct Colonization Roads, beginning with the Bobcaygeon Road in 1856. Complete to Kinmount by Autumn 1858, it reached Minden the next year, facilitating the development of these communities. Contemporaries noticed that the soils were often shallow and stony on the edge of the Canadian Shield. 

The Bobcaygeon Road became a major transportation route, including much traffic serving the forest industries. About five miles north of Kinmount was the notorious Springhill Hotel, operated by Edward Harvey. As Guy Scott explains, it “had an evil reputation among some locals. It was a noted bootlegger hangout, but rumours also circulated about missing travellers who disappeared during overnight stays. Legend has it the proprietor murdered them in their sleep and robbed them of anything of value. Nothing of course could be proven, but the legend did exist.”

In the mid-nineteenth century, it was conventional wisdom that by crossing the Atlantic, you could make a better life for yourself. Half a world away, Joachim Heinrich Johann Geese was a tagelohner (day labourer), who was born on July 28, 1818. He was joined by some of his friends and relatives from the Brandenburg area of Prussia (now Germany…. the German nations were not unified until 1871). The party consisted largely of labourers, in an era when class was really important. 

It is not known how the emigrants decided to come to Canada, but in the 1860s a group of German families settled together north of Kinmount, on the concession line running east from the Springhill Hotel. It would soon become known as the Dutch Line (or Lower Dutch Line), because so many of the immigrants were Deutsch (German). Before long, the families would anglicize their names, Geese became Geeza, Schroder = Schrader, Baas = Boss, and Neizke. It was not just Germans settling in the community, they were joined by British families like Sharples, Bright, Hoyle, Lindsay, Holly, Miles and Mitchell. Some of the immigrants were pensioners receiving land grants for their service in the British military. 

Whether or not prospective immigrants knew at the time they were acquiring their lots, the area’s poor soils inspired many jokes locally. Lumberman George Thompson remarked: “I afterwards used to hear those old pensioners say that they wished they had brought some of the old cannon captured in the Crimea War with them, so they might shoot the seed into the ground, for they said that was the only way they knew the seed would be successfully planted in that kind of soil.” Grenville Schrader, the great-grandson of one of the immigrants elaborated, “This community (the Lower and Upper Dutch Lines) were founded on the misplaced belief that the great stands of trees could be replaced by golden fields of wheat. When this was revealed to be a cruel fantasy, some despondent farmers (English and German) abandoned their lands and headed for greener pastures.”

 

Louis Wilhelm (Billy) Schrader Homestead, Lot 10 Con 6 Snowdon (Dutch Line)

It took a lifetime of labour to hack a farm from the forest. Felling trees with axes, assembling them into great heaps to burn, growing crops around the stumps, and trying to clear the field of stones. But in this neighbourhood, “if you dig one stone up, you will have two more with it,” Rob explains. “It was poor ground.” The backwoods farmers laboriously cleared the stones from their fields, creating great stone piles along the fence row, or in places stone fences. “When you are out walking and you find a stone fence you know you are either going north-south, or east-west. I don’t think this was ever a prosperous area for farming.” 

Located near the glaciated Burnt River valley, the ground was rolling, with many ridges and hills. There was a reason that it became known as part of the Haliburton Highlands, named after the undulating Scottish terrain. Initially, the forest soils may have seemed like they had some potential for crops, benefitting from millennia of leaf litter. But even as they were creating new farms from these forests, most of these families needed off farm income for cash. In that era, logging was the big business in the area. It was a mixed farming economy, as families laboured to meet their own needs from the forest. For the descendants of labourers back in Europe, to own your own land and be able achieve a modest self-sufficiency was an accomplishment. 

In 1878 the Victoria Railway reached Haliburton, running right through the settlement, alongside the Burnt River, at the Lower Dutch Line. It linked this backwoods community with the wider world, as it also provided employment over the years. Rob’s grandfather, Archie Schrader, became the section foreman for the Canadian National Railway. Archie’s father, Billy was a teamster. 

The community had a schoolhouse, SS#6 Snowdon Township, that doubled as the local Methodist Church (becoming United with Church Union in 1925), which was located near the railway. Once the railway was built through the area, the settlement to north, Little Ireland, became known as Minden Station. It was again rechristened as Gelert when it became a post office town one year later in 1879. Gelert was home to J.W. Watson’s store, John Connors hotel, and Joseph Isaac “Ike” Sedgewick’s sawmill. 

Tree Planting at Dahl Forest

While the forest industries were the largest source of off-farm employment in the region, they substantially changed the forests. At the time, only selective cutting was practical, but as the lumbermen made their way through the forests, they left behind huge quantities of slash—they had no means of disposing of the crowns and branches of trees other than leaving them to rot. But as all of this material, much of it pine, sat on the forest floor, it took many years to rot, and in the meantime made great kindling. All it would take was one little spark, and a huge conflagration could begin. 

The Great Forest Fire of 1913 tore through 175,840 acres, including parts of Anstruther, Burleigh, Cavendish, Glamorgan, Harvey, Monmouth, Methuen, Snowden, Dysart, Lutterworth, Anson, Cardiff, Guilford, Stanhope and Eyre townships—once among the finest pineries tributary to the Trent. This fire burned a substantial acreage in other watersheds as well. By comparison, the 1948 Chapleau-Mississagi Fire, often said to be the largest in Ontario’s history consumed 645,340 acres. Between the Irondale and Burnt Rivers, 40,851 acres burned, leaving the area 81.5% burnt over. 

 

On the Geeza Road Bridge Over Burnt River

Grenville wrote about the fire, “During the height of the fire, many women and children were standing in the Burnt River. The location was today’s 1339 Geeza Road, where the road meets the Burnt River. … It is very difficult to explain the trauma of a forest fire to someone who has never had the unfortunate experience of fighting a fire in rough terrain. The tools available were generally a shovel, grub hoe and an axe. They were not adequate when fire was jumping from tree to tree faster than you can run!” Many of the burnt stumps in the vicinity today are relics from this inferno. 

Grenville continues, “The most prosperous thing on the burn following 1913, was the endless growth of blueberries. This area was known as blueberry country, until into the 1950s, by this time the new growth of trees and bush had choked out all the blueberry plants.” The fire was not an isolated incident. Many forests in the district burnt several times over.

In the second and third generation, many of the community’s youth headed to the Great Plains in search of greener pastures. Others found work elsewhere in Ontario, some ventured to California. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, horse-drawn machinery vastly reduced the labour that went into farming. But in the neighbourhood’s stony, rolling hills, not all the land could be worked with machinery. The yields could not keep up with those other neighbourhoods. “It was pretty tough,” Rob observes. “Households did not have a lot of money, so the township couldn’t really look after the road. Most of the people in the neighbourhood would make a buck where they could, here and there, doing what work they could find. In my father’s generation, a lot of them would go to work around Owen Sound to pick apples, they could make some money that way. But I think a majority of them left and went to the city to work. My dad (Grenville) became a telegrapher, worked for CN and ended up in North Bay. His sisters moved to Lindsay to find work. Barb married and moved to Fenelon Falls, while Ruby later moved to Brantford.”

It is hard to believe looking at the landscape today, but in the early twentieth century, it was largely cleared as farmland. Families carried on, getting by as best they could. “You can’t make much money off these farms, they were all rock, that’s why they all had secondary jobs,” Rob explains. “To the extent they were farming it was mixed farming. The fields were basically hay, and to the 1950s everything was horse drawn. They would cut the fields with sickle forks, then throw it on the wagon with the pitch forks. Once they got to the barn with the hay, they would lift it with hay forks and dump it into one great heap. There were no crops that were grown for sale, the fields were just hay fields, with cows, pigs and chickens.”

For all of the hard work that went into farming, it was scarcely a source of income. “There was almost no cash in the community—that had to come from wage work,” Peter Dahl explains. Jobs were scarce in the community, and those looking for work often had to travel to a different community. “There also was no ‘social safety net.’ Caring for those who were sick or disabled, fell on their family or charity.”

One of the last residents to make a living off the land in the Dutch Line Settlement was Raymond Geeza—also at one point the road’s only year-round resident, as Rob narrates: “Raymond never married, and his dad had died young, leaving his mom with the farm. It was just a small operation. He grew potatoes, kept horses, and had stalls in his barn for his cattle. He also sold wood and maple syrup that he made on the property. The cattle ran through the bush, and it was an adventure to bring them back to the barn in the fall as they had become half wild. He farmed until about the 1960s, and lived there until about 1976, with coal oil lamps and no hydro (it had not been run down Geeza Road). He loved to read Zane Grey novels. I don’t think he needed a lot of money to survive.” Peter continues: “I remember Ray sitting in the summer kitchen in the back of his house, by his wood stove. He had logs and firewood stacked against the stove, and the rest of the room was full of newspapers and magazines—stacks and stacks of them.” 

“When my family arrived in the 1950s, it was a landscape of fields with cattle,” Peter explains. “Aside from people’s gardens, it was grazing and hay. There were areas where there were sand dunes. You would not call it arable land, you wouldn’t work it up with a tractor, they were just grazing cattle with barded wire fences running everywhere. There was no electricity, and no plumbing of any kind, except a pump on a well—if it wasn’t being done with a bucket.” 

“In the 1950s, the local hunters would run a pack of dogs hounds from Gelert, that would follow the Burnt River Valley,” Peter narrates. “The hunters would come in on Geeza Road, and there would be something like 60 cars parked on the road. It seemed like they were shoulder to shoulder on Geeza Road and it would hardly be possible for the deer to get through, because it was open fields.” 

On Tractor at Dahl Forest

Farming in the Dutch Line Settlement did not make the transition to mechanization with tractors. After the Second World War, farms in other areas employed a new generation of machinery that vastly reduced the amount of labour that went into producing agricultural commodities, for instance haybines, hay rakes, balers, combines, sprayers and manure spreaders. For the farmers at the Dutch Line settlement, this was simply not an option—it would have been challenging to use the equipment in some areas because the land was so rolling and stony, and they did not have the income to finance it. 

After the Second World War, practically everyone had higher expectations for their standard of living, than their parents or grandparents. Families expected that their children would grow up with toys, many went to college or university, they might have meal options other than meat, potatoes, carrots, onions and preserves in winter. Women no longer faced a lifetime of difficult domestic work, baking at a cookstove (even in summer) or carrying, then heating, water so their family could bathe. A more prosperous life could not be achieved living off the land at the Dutch Settlement. The days of eating venison so the beef could be sold were coming to an end. Many locals got a job working at GM in Oshawa.

One by one, the old farms passed to people who worked elsewhere, including many who would only visit the region seasonally. Some were forfeited for non-payment of taxes. Was the land really worth much? If they were farmed at all, perhaps the fields were just mowed. Some would just cut firewood.

May (Bowhey) Schrader at the Bowhey Homestead, Lot 11, Con 5 Snowdon

Lots 11-12, Concession 5 of Snowdon Township had been the homestead of Henry and Frances Bowhey, who settled around 1870. Henry was from Cornwall, England, and Frances (Lowery) was born in County Down, Ireland. Their daughter, May, married Dick Schrader, and the young couple purchased the farm from May’s parents. Henry and Frances’ descendants continued to live on the farm down to the 1950s, when Ernest Schrader decided to move to Lindsay. Then new immigrants purchased the property. 

William Eric Dahl had grown up in Sweden and arrived in Canada just in time for the 1929 stock market crash, which began the Great Depression. “It was a hard time to get established,” his son Peter observes. “He started a company after World War II, making phenolic plastic components, sometimes called ‘thermosetting’, or Bakelite. Like an egg, once they solidify, they will not melt, and they were used to make electrical parts, distributor caps, and rotors for cars that used traditional ignition. Many handles of pots and pans are thermosetting plastics. My father made items for the automotive sector, most of it was pretty high tech at the time. Northern Telecom was another big customer. William’s wife, Marjorie (everyone called her Peggy), was from an English/American-Canadian family in Guelph, so we didn’t speak Swedish at home.”

“There is a long history of forest farming in Sweden,” Peter narrates. “The oldest forestry company in the world is Swedish, incorporated in 1288. After all the natural trees had been cut down, a culture of planting trees, then waiting a lifetime to harvest them developed.” So William Dahl purchased the old Bowhey homestead in 1955 and called it Dahl Forest Farms. “It was a financial investment. He did not buy the property to save the world’s ecology. But, like many Europeans, he had a fascination with ideas of a wild North America. He would enjoy owning a forest, a place to go walk in the woods, hunt and fish. Plus, land up here was dirt cheap.” 

“My parents never lived at Dahl Forest Farms,” Peter recalls. “We lived in Lindsay when I was a child in the 1950s. My dad owned a manufacturing company in Montreal and Guelph. He thought about building a factory in Lindsay, but never did. He just had an office there and enjoyed volunteering. He became a president of the Rotary Club. As an engineer himself, he loved German engineering, which was not necessarily a popular thing in the 1950s, after the Second World War. He had a Leica Camera, and loved taking photographs. He drove the first Mercedes Benz car that anyone had seen—and it was cheap to buy at the time. He also had a Volkswagen van in the 1950s. Late in life, he had a house near Eganridge, and was still teaching golf at the age of 90.” 

“Father was adventurous, he loved to travel, and try new things,” Peter says. “He was extremely hard working when he was setting up a business, but he was someone who had a hard time settling down—he just couldn’t anchor anywhere. He would do something new for 5 or 8 years, then would tire of it and be off to do something else. Mother would quietly go along with all of my father’s shenanigans. She was a very private person, everything that a mother could be, with a deep respect for nature. She was a violinist, and loved to go canoe tripping. In her youth she worked at Northway Lodge, a girls’ camp, on Cache Lake in Algonquin Park, and later my sister went to the same camp.” 

“When father started Dahl Forest Farms, it was mostly open fields. At one point there had been seven working farms within two miles of the Dahl Forest. Bits and pieces were forest, especially along the river, but just about everything had been cut for firewood. There was a lot of scrub bush. Across the Burnt River, it was a rocky outcrop. There was only one small red pine plantation across Geeza Road on the river. It was the days of big elm trees along the fence rows.” 

“For several years, Dad planted at his forest farm. He would break me out of school at Easter to help for a week. We rolled up the wire fences that ran across the fields. At first he was just hiring a planting crew, then he got a machine. There was no financial assistance from the government at that time, you were totally on your own, though the MNR would loan you a tree planting machine that could be pulled behind a tractor.”

“The first year, while we were planting in April, there was a drought. Dad knew it was senseless to plant the trees in sand that was bone dry, so he didn’t. When the MNR came back a week later, we had tens of thousands of trees in a creek, watering them every day, because they couldn’t be planted. Dad said ‘no’ to the fellows from the MNR, ‘you can’t have your planter back,’ and an argument ensued.” After much discussion, it was eventually decided that the Dahl family could keep the planter until the trees were in the ground. The next year, William bought his own planter. In the end, practically all the former farm fields were filled with seedlings, requiring 110,000 trees, and the remainder—a majority of the property—was allowed to regenerate naturally. 

“I loved planting trees,” Peter recalls. “Dad would hire a crew of local men. There was both hand planting and machine planting, but most of what I remember is machine planting. The tree planting machine is towed behind a tractor. There is a plow-like blade, like a ship’s prow, that goes into the ground and splits it apart. At the back are two wheels, that are canted inwards, that bring the ground back together at the stern. In between, two operators sit on seats above the wheels (which gives the wheels extra weight). You take a seedling tree and put it in the ground, then pull another tree out of the bin, while the other person plants one. There is a string or rope that tells you when the spacing is correct to plant another tree. My dad paid me 50 cents an hour to plant trees, and one of my jobs was to water the trees, with a bucket from the river once a day. It was a job I really enjoyed. Lots of fresh air and outdoor exercise.”

“In the years that followed, the property just sat, as my family moved around a lot. I came up to see it, but my dad lost interest. He was fascinated by flying, and we would fly everywhere. He moved to the Bahamas, to Florida, and travelled all over the place. He was always challenged by some new adventure. I usually found a way to come to the Dahl Forest, at least once year. I often came to Canada for the summers.”

“My parents’ marriage broke down in the 1980s—we don’t talk about that a lot. As a result, my mother was deeded the Dahl Forest as part of the settlement. She spent her summers here from then on, then she would come to BC and spend winters with my family in Victoria, BC.”

“Dad died in 2000 at age 93, and in the early 2000s, mom was going back and forth between the properties. She was in her eighties at the time, and we would talk about what was going to happen to this property. My family lived on the west coast. My son had married and started his family there, and there was no way they were going to move east. As much as our son enjoyed visiting the Dahl Forest, there was no way he was going to come back. My sister had no children, so there really wasn’t anyone to leave it to. Mom was thinking that she was not going to live forever (she died at 96).”

“The idea was percolating that somehow the property must not be developed or severed up. Our family loved nature, wildlife and ecology, and didn’t want to see the forest destroyed. There was a time back in the 1970s that my dad was thinking about making a golf course and air strip on it, but in the 2000s, we decided that we would see what we could do to have it preserved. Selling it was not attractive to us. We would tell people that you can’t sell your own child, it was too close to our hearts to part with it for any amount of money.”

“There was an article in the paper about how the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust had just been formed. They had just one property, Nora’s island up in Kennisis Lake. We talked to Paul Heaven, an ecologist who assesses the ecological importance of properties, and he thought the Land Trust was a good idea. So we approached Sheila Ziman, and she was delighted with the concept. … A lot of people don’t understand why we did it. The Dahl Forest is probably worth millions if you put it on the market.” 

“Within our family, the idea was a little dicey at first,” Peter explains. The Land Trust was looking to sever a lot and sell it, so they could start an endowment attached to the property. In the end, we gave the property to the land trust, then I bought the lot from them, so they could also have the endowment.” In 2009, the process was completed, and the Dahl Forest became a beautiful place to hike, cross-country ski and appreciate its unique ecosystems. The family was provided with a life interest in the cottage and property, and Peter continues to live there much of the year. William Dahl also made a sizeable bequest to Sir Sandford Fleming College. 

It was not that much of a change from the way things had been. “That was the way things were in my Dad’s Swedish background. In Swedish common law, you can’t prevent someone from coming on your land, as long as they are not disturbing you, or unless the landowner has a good reason to prohibit. People can go walk on other people’s land as long as they don’t disturb it—you can’t camp in someone’s backyard or trample their crops. They don’t have the trespassing paranoia that we have in North America. The land belongs to the nation’s people.”

“We have never said ‘no’ to anyone who has wanted to come and walk on the property since Day 1. There were old farm roadways, and in some cases we created new trails. Most of the trails were used for fire protection so, if needed, firefighters could at least get a pickup truck through the property. That’s what became the trails. The Land Trust made an agreement with us. There were to be no motor vehicles, no camping, no harvesting or hunting. When it was being created there was a lot of talk about what could not be done. I suggested making a list of what the property is available for instead: activities like nature observation, birding, walking, exercise, education, and scientific study.” 

“So today you can walk the trails, look at birds and appreciate the animals. I remember one thanksgiving weekend there were 14 cars parked at the gate. Hardly a day goes by when you don’t see someone walking, showshoeing or skiing. In 65 years at the Dahl Forest, we have practically never had any issue with people doing things we objected to. We have good neighbours. Years ago, we did allow neighbours to hunt, but hardly anyone ever did.” 

A Pathway at the Dahl Forest

Having waited a lifetime, the forest that Peter helped to plant as a child is now beginning to mature. “The red pine did very well, it loves gravel and sand. The white pine was a disaster—some was interspersed with red pine, some was planted on its own. First the white pines got weevils, which killed the lead shoot when they were 6 or 8 feet high. When that happened, we had to cut out the lead shoot, then all the surrounding branches become lead shoots. Then the trunk is coming up and separating into all of these branches instead of a main trunk. Then the porcupine population exploded—they were everywhere. We hunted and trapped and did what we could to reduce their population. They would go up the white pines, and girdle them where the bark was the tastiest. Then they would go on to the next one. There had been white pine interspersed with spruce near the gate, that was all damaged. The MNR came in and girdled the pines, to open up the canopy for the spruce. So commercially, the white pine forests were ruined. But today, you see white pine popping up all over the place, and it is as healthy as can be, no porcupines or weevils. But as far as we are concerned, the old stunted pines are fine, they are still healthy trees—whereas a forester would want to get rid of them.”

While much of the forest was allowed to regenerate naturally, the plantations were thinned, “but it never was a source of profit. They would leave two rows of trees, then cut the third. When the loggers came in, they wanted to cut the big, straight, lucrative trees. They didn’t want to cut the third row, because much is not saleable. Now, the only thing we do here is maintain the trails. My philosophy is let it be.” It’s a great philosophy for one of the Haliburton Highlands Land Trust’s most appreciated nature reserves. “It is a property that has been allowed to return towards its natural state through the deliberate actions of a private family.” 

This story is a memory and nobody’s memory is perfect. Sometimes details get a little mixed up, things get forgotten or overlooked, and the perspective is inevitably subjective. If you notice something that not right, have something you would like to tell us, or a memory to share the museum would be happy to hear from you: [email protected]

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

Box 179

50 Oak Street

Fenelon Falls, ON

K0M 1N0

 

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