The History of Sydenham Lake

 

The Land

Frontenac County (along with many of the other counties ‘fronting’ on Lake Ontario) consists of two geologic characteristics. The northern part is pre-Cambrian bedrock Canadian Shield topography while the southern region is Limestone bedrock of the St. Lawrence Lowlands laid down by ancient seas. Our lake has the relatively unique circumstance of being situated on the boundary between the two. This geology fundamentally explains the lake’s character as it exists today. The more populated region to the south of the lake is based mainly on agricultural communities while the area to the north is largely a recreational, hunting, fishing, and (in earlier days) mining region. As lakefront property was developed over time it usually took the form of camp or cottage structures particularly on the north and Eel Bay shores owing to the shield nature of the land there.

First Nations

Little is known of the extent to which the First Nations peoples used the area around what is now called Sydenham Lake. Based on an agricultural lifestyle, Iroquoian villages grew up along the Lake Ontario Shore, while the Algonkian peoples evolved as nomadic hunter and fisher tribes living in temporary encampments as they moved along rivers and lakes in Canadian Shield regions. So it’s possible that the Iroquois may have travelled up Millhaven Creek from Lake Ontario, passing through what is now Millhaven, Odessa, Mud Lake, and Sydenham. Or possibly the Algonkians may have travelled as far south as what is now Loughborough Township. We do know that local families have found arrowheads and other artifacts in the vicinity. Otto Gossage told of children in the early 1900’s playing in a rotting old dugout canoe that had been on the shore for years near the present Canoe Club.

 

Settlers

Early settlers near the lake were largely United Empire Loyalists. The Treaty of Paris in 1783, which recognized the independence of the United States, was the final blow for British Loyalists in North America. They emigrated from the newly formed country to parts of what is now Canada with by far the greatest numbers coming to present-day Ontario. In 1791 the British Parliament passed the Canada Act, usually known as the Constitutional Act, which provided for the division of Quebec into Upper and Lower Canada. The disbanded Loyalist regiments provided the majority of settlers in Upper Canada and were given land grants, first in the ‘front townships’ along and near the Lake Ontario shore, later further north in the ‘back townships’.  Apparently the first settler here on the lake was Michael Sloat (or Sloot) who was an UAE given a free land grant in 1796, and two more lots in 1806 and1807. As a result the lake came to be known as “Sloat’s Lake” and the west end near the outlet of the lake into the creek was called “Sloat’s Landing”. Other UAE settlers followed: one note stated “around 1819 English squires Rutledge, Sloat, Wood, Blake, Purdy, Simkins, Sills and MacMillan owned the only wagon in Loughboro.” Loughboro was an early name often used for the growing village at the outlet.

 

Sydenham Village

Sydenham Lake and Community, CIRCA 1950

The history of Sydenham Lake is intricately linked with the history of the village of Sydenham. In October 1839 Charles Poulett Thomson came to Kingston from England to be the Governor of Upper Canada. His dream of uniting Upper and Lower Canada into the United Province of Canada was realized on 10 February 1841. He was also Baron of the barony of Sydenham in England and therefore addressed as Lord Sydenham. He thus became the first Governor of the united Canada, with Kingston as the seat of government. He died in late 1841 or early 1842 as the result of complications from a broken leg following a fall from his horse in Kingston while in ill health. Shortly after Lord Sydenham’s death, Squire William Holditch who lived on what is now Portland Street in Sydenham suggested changing the name of Sloat’s Landing (or Loughboro) to Sydenham in his honour. The lake continued to be called Sloat’s Lake for a time after that but gradually became known as Sydenham Lake.

Sometime prior to 1853, perhaps as early as 1830, Loughborough Post Office was created in the settlement of Sloat’s Landing. There are some references that indicate the hamlet was called “West Loughborough” or just “Loughboro” after this post office. The hamlet of Sydenham was laid out about 1846 but the post office continued to be called Loughborough until 1 June 1883 when it’s name was officially changed to Sydenham.

A map of the village from about 1860 shows 77 structures all told including homes and businesses. By 1856 the Sydenham Road had been constructed from Kingston to Sydenham (16 miles long, 9 of which were macadamized).

At the outlet to Sloat’s Lake was a small waterfall that provided hydraulic power to a sequence of mills and eventually electric works. A bridge was built crossing the creek at the lake outlet sometime prior to 1850. In the latter half of the 19th century a dam was also constructed at the outlet to increase the lake level and provide more water power for the several mills that had been built there. The creek was called Mill Creek and runs down through Mud Lake to Odessa, then on to fall into Lake Ontario at Millhaven. Odessa was originally a village named ‘Mill Creek’. The creek is currently named ‘Millhaven Creek’ although locals here often refer to it as ‘Sydenham Creek’.

 

Boating on Sydenham Lake

C. W. Cooper writes in 1856 that a small steamboat or scow was used for transportation on Mill Creek between the villages of Sydenham and Mill Creek. Subsequent references show that a small steamer was used to haul a barge on Sydenham Lake bringing materials from the mines on Eel Lake at the north eastern end of the lake to the village for processing or shipment out to Kingston. It is not clear if this is the same steamboat as was used on Mill Creek or a new one.

 

 

Boating Party by 'The Point' 1910

Early drawings and then photographs show that boating for pleasure has long been one of the lake’s main attractions which is not surprising given the cottage nature of most of the lakefront development. Sailboats as well as canoes and rowboats have been used from very early days. Several photos from the early 1900s show picnic parties and many boathouses at various locations along the shores of the lake. The Boyce Family who owned the drug store in Sydenham also had a resort on Boyce’s Island which would have been accessed by boat. ‘The Point’ in Sydenham is a recreational area with swimming beaches on either side of the end of a small peninsula. However, the beaches are not natural and did not exist until around the 1950’s. Burrowes’ 1861 drawing vividly demonstrates that both boating and picnicing have long been popular (see image above). Along what is now called Clearwater Road South was an area known as ‘Moore’s Landing’ with several boathouses. There was a small natural beach there sometimes called ‘Moore’s or Sydenham Beach’.  In addition, across the narrows from there is a small treed point that was also known as ‘Picnic Point’ which was evidently a popular boating destination. In the 1930’s and 40’s a family named Gallagher who owned a store in Harrowsmith built a cottage near that little point but had to access it in their boat, leaving their car at the boathouse on the north shore.

Moore's Landing, Sydenham, Ontario

 

Of course many people over the years have held informal sailing, rowing, windsurfing, canoe and motorized boat regattas on the lake. Various community events held at The Point such as on Dominion Day included boating activities and sometimes waterski demonstrations. In more recent times organized boat racing has been held. In addition to waterskiing, the usually calm waters of the west end have attracted canoe and kayak races. In the 1980’s the Kingston Rowing Club organized some racing events based at The Point. Today this is continuing through the auspices of the Sydenham Lake Canoe Club. Frequent fishing derbies are held with departures and weigh-ins at the boat ramp on The Point.

 

View from "The Point", 1971

 

Rail Transport

In August 1884, the ‘Napanee, Tamworth & Quebec Railroad’ was created with the intent of building rails all the way east to Quebec. However in 1886 it was sold to E. Rathburn and became the ‘Kingston, Napanee & Western Railroad’. Rathburn extended the tracks north to Tweed and in 1893 east to Sydenham and by connecting with the K&P Railroad, produce and people could travel by train to Kingston. The Sydenham Station was located on the site of the present day Beer Store and was a busy terminus, transporting passengers and shipping minerals, livestock and lumber.

Sydenham Rail Station, 1900


By 1914 the line was part of the Canadian Northern Railway (eventually becoming part of the CNR) which refurbished much of the track and extended it to Smiths Falls and Ottawa, with the rail bed running along the north shore of the lake. Trains began to run on the CN line just in time to carry troops for World War 1 in 1914. At the time it was the only rail line from Toronto to Ottawa. Long standing residents of Sydenham may recall the familiar train whistle at 5:00 in the morning and at noon. From 1914 until 1938, two passenger trains ran through Sydenham daily, as well as freight trains. After passenger service ended, freight service continued until the mid 1970’s. In the 1980’s rail traffic along that route was abandoned and the track was removed in 1989.

In 2000 the rail bed became the Cataraqui Trail – part of the Trans-Canada Trail system. A small stone bridge which can be seen by looking northeast from the Sydenham Veterinarian building, and a patch of dressed stone wall just below the railway underpass on the Sydenham-Harrowsmith road are all that remain visible of the initial rail system.

The Point

As previously mentioned the recreational area now known as “The Point” was once part of a land grant which was farmed beginning in the early 1800’s. The 1878 Atlas shows it was owned by William Mace who also had a brewery and distillery in the village. Over the years it has been given various names: Picnic Point, Mace’s Point and Lake’s Point are a few. Today it is simply called The Point. In 1947 the Sydenham Women’s Institute along with the Sydenham Board of Trade undertook to purchase it from the Lake family, paying off the cost by 1955 with various community fund raising events. In 1971 the two organizations agreed to transfer the ‘Loughborough Memorial and Recreational Centre’ to the township for use by its citizens in perpetuity.

Mace's Point, Sydenham Lake, 1905

 

 

The Lake

Up until the original dam was built at the outlet to Millhaven Creek the lake’s surface area was much smaller than at present. The 1878 Atlas shows the east end of Sydenham Lake and the east side of the waterway joining it to what was then called Eel Lake to be low lying marshland. The dam raised the lake level enough to flood those areas increasing the surface area by approximately five square kilometres. Thus the island-filled east end of the lake over to Wilmer Road was created and the widening of the waterway and Eel Lake created Eel Bay. The 1914 extension of the railway ran along the north shore, with two iron bridges crossing the mouth of Eel Bay onto and then off Boyce’s Island.

 

In 1830 the population of the entire township was 1003. Structures on lots with shoreline on Sloat’s Lake were built next to a road with the lot running back to the lake, rather than being located on the shore. Gradually more and more recreational properties were developed on the waterfront. Local citizens built there but as transportation to the area became easier, more and more seasonal residents came from Kingston and as far away as the northern states.

Boyce's Island Resort, circa 1900s

Sydenham had many hotels in its earlier life. Today many of the cottage properties have been converted into year round homes and most lakefront lots have been subdivided and have permanent homes built on them. There are about three hundred lakefront owners at present.

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

1.  ‘Frontenac, Lennox & Addington’,  C.W. Cooper 1856. Facsimile Edition 1980, Canadian Heritage Publications
ISBN 0-920648-03-7 FCL 971.35902 Coo

2. ‘Illustrated Historical Atlas of Frontenac, Lennox and Addington Counties, Ont’ J.H. Meacham & Co. 1878 Offset Edition 1971, Mika Silk Screening Ltd., Belleville, Ont.
ISBN 0-919302-14-9

3. ‘County of a Thousand Lakes, The History of the County of Frontenac 1673 – 1973’  Corporation of the County of Frontenac 1982
ISBN 0-6960461-0-3

4.  Photos Courtesy of:
Cam and Wilma Kenny, Sydenham
Dale Silver, Sydenham
David Borrowman, Sydenham

5. Internet:
(population)   http://www.uppercanadagenealogy.com/townshipsS.html#L