Local Historic Sites: Old Hay Bay Church

Old Hay Bay Church. (my photo)

Old Hay Bay Church. (my photo)

I’ve been kind of beating you over the head with churches lately – my last historic site post was also about churches – but as you can see Old Hay Bay Church is something rather different. It was built on the south shore of Hay Bay, between Napanee and Adolphustown, in 1792 and stands as the oldest surviving Methodist meeting-house in Canada. To me, it looks like a piece of New England plunked into the Ontario countryside.

Reverend William Losee, an itinerant preacher from New York, came to Canada in 1790 and began converting people to Methodism, which rapidly gained as a religious movement. This meeting-house was built just two years later, and along with Fairfield House (1793) and Fairfield-Gutzeit House (1796) constitutes one of the very oldest structures in the area. (All three buildings are in the vicinity of Bath – Bath is a very lucky place!) Old Hay Bay Church also has one of the best signs I’ve seen in a long time posted in its entrance:

Yes. (my photo)

Yes. (my photo)

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Mysterious Demorestville

It’s very likely that if you don’t live in Prince Edward County (and/or are not obsessed with local history) you haven’t heard of Demorestville. It’s a little town – almost a ghost town – in the northwestern part of the County that hasn’t seen much excitement in, oh, a hundred and fifty years or so. But once upon a time, things were different. Demorestville was at one point one of the biggest towns in Upper Canada, rivalling Picton, Belleville, Toronto, and Kingston for size and primacy. Then, around the middle of the nineteenth century, it began to slowly but surely decline. Why did this happen?

As I’ve discovered, the answers are murky. The most clear-cut is that, harbourless and not on the railroad, the town simply declined as time went on. However, some cite other reasons: the death of Guillaume Demorest, the town’s founder, and a mysterious fire that apparently occurred around the turn of the twentieth century – though no records exist of it. Then, there’s the legacy you can see in the stretch of road snaking around the left side of the village, called Gomorrah Road…

Forgotten as it is today, Demorestville has one of the more interesting histories of Ontario’s tiny towns. Let’s dive into it.

Guillaume Demorest was born in 1769 in Duchess County, New York. He was from a French Huguenot family which had come to the Dutch colony of New Netherland via the Old World Netherlands, where they had originally fled to escape persecution. As a boy during the American Revolution he joined the commissary of the British army and later came to Canada in 1790. By 1794 he was in Sophiasburg (the township where Demorestville is located), and by 1800 he had built a grist mill on a stream flowing from nearby Fish Lake. As usually happened in Loyalist days, a community built up around the mill. (I have to add the description of Fish Lake from the 1878 historical atlas of Hastings and Prince Edward Counties: “Its name was derived from the immense quantities and superior quality of those species of the finny tribe which filled its waters in the early days of settlement.” The finny tribe, ha…)

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Cryptozoological Curiosities

Mermen, centaurs, weird dolphins, guys with wings on their legs: detail of Raphael's Triumph of Galatea (1512) (click image to go to source)

Weird sea creatures cavort in Raphael’s Triumph of Galatea, 1512. (click image to go to source)

Arthur Britton Smith’s Kingston! Oh, Kingston! is a fun anthology which comprises a large number of mostly primary source accounts of Kingston. They range from the French occupation in the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century, and are really fascinating to look through, not least because some of them are really quite strange. I think Britton Smith, despite the fact that he was a lawyer and RMC graduate, must have had a slight taste for the weird as he compiled this book, which is fine by me!

For example, his book includes two accounts of enormous aquatic animals that were apparently seen in Lake Ontario, as well as a story about a strange colourful bird, and some kind of fruit-bearing plant with poisonous roots. Most of the events aren’t strictly about Kingston, they simply took place in Ontario, but I’m including them anyway. If you have any ideas as to what these creatures could be, please let me know!

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Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past, Part One

It can be easy to see historical figures as people who seem somehow disconnected from a personality. Sometimes you just can’t get excited about the old guy in the portrait, despite the laurels to his name, and history starts to appear ever more dull. Well, that doesn’t always have to be the case. To spice things up a bit – inspired by this Tumblr and others – I bring you five men from Kingston and the area who not only made history, but looked great doing it. Yes, it’s Hunky Guys of Kingston’s Past!

Due to the surprising amount of stuff that these guys did in their lives, I’ve needed to break up this post into two sections. The next one will be coming shortly. They’re arranged broadly in chronological order, for lack of a better method.

Anyway, here is Part One. Enjoy!

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The Picardville area remained working-class throughout the nineteenth century and continues as such today. (click image to go to source)

The Picardville area remained working-class throughout the nineteenth century. (click image to go to source)

*October 3, 2014 update: Check out the bottom of this post for some cartographic evidence of Picardville!

A while ago I wrote about the nineteenth-century village Stuartsville, one of Kingston’s working-class satellite villages now incorporated into the city proper. Today I present to you another one with a rather colourful past: Picardville, also known as the French Village. While Stuartsville was known for its filth and poverty and loud opposition to annexation with Kingston, Picardville was just known for its filth and poverty. It was a notorious area, kept afloat by a steady business in alcohol, crime, and prostitution.

But it’s really the unlikely beginnings of Picardville which make it interesting. There’s less information about it readily available than I would have hoped; however we can begin to make a rough sketch of this former village to the north of downtown Kingston, and use our imaginations to fill in the details.

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“As white a heart as any man…”

Vandervoort's Hardware is the site of George Mink's first livery business with Serge Carmino in 1837. (my photo)

Present-day Vandervoort’s is the site of George Mink’s first livery business with Serge Carmino in 1837. (my photo)

Kingston has been seen as a conservative Anglo-Saxon bastion almost since day one, but of course it’s not surprising to learn that what we would today consider ethnic or racial minorities have also been part of Kingston since day one. Aside from the ever-present Native population in Canada, we began to acquire a black population immediately after the American Revolution when the first United Empire Loyalists arrived, occasionally with slaves in tow.

This is how George Mink, the son or possibly grandson of a slave brought under such circumstances, got his start in Kingston. Becoming a successful businessman and leader of the local black community, he also experienced conflicting levels of support and discrimination from white Kingstonians. Although early-to-mid nineteenth century Canada appears to have been a comparatively liberal place for blacks, as we’ll see, there could be limits to this freedom.

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