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…)
Detail of Elizabeth Cottage, built by Edward Horsey c. 1846. (my photo)
This blogging hiatus isn’t going as planned, but that’s okay. I’m going to use this post as a testing ground for a paper I’ve been researching on domestic Gothic Revival architecture in the Kingston area. My argument is that Gothic Revival was an unpopular style for houses in Kingston – and more broadly, Ontario – in the nineteenth century, and exploring why that might have been. This was despite a growing interest in Gothicism in England throughout the first several decades of the nineteenth century, and a later assessment of the Gothic as somehow being an inherently Canadian style. (The British thought this too. Even though the Gothic originated in France. Anyway…)
Nineteenth-century Gothic Revival architecture often has a heavy and sober appearance, but apparently it was still too fancy for most Kingstonians in the 1840s and 50s, who preferred plain, classically-inspired designs. The only examples of secular houses making a real effort at Gothic Revival in Kingston are Elizabeth Cottage (Edward Horsey, c. 1846) and McIntosh Castle (John Power, 1852). Allen Cottage (William Coverdale, 1848), a house on Wolfe Island which was demolished some eighty years ago was another good example, except it was built for the rector of a church. I may consider it in my essay even though I’m focusing on non-church-related architecture.
In this post, I’m just going to go over some local examples of Gothic Revival and save the theory for my paper.
Robert Clarence Thompson at age fourteen, scanned from the book Stories of Prince Edward County.
Robert Clarence Thompson of Prince Edward County surely must be among the youngest soldiers to serve (or who tried to serve) in the First World War. Not quite as young as twelve-year-old Sidney Lewis, who has been authenticated as the youngest British soldier to fight in the war, he still joined up at the mere age of fourteen and was on the Western Front by fifteen. I read about Thompson in the locally-published book Stories of Prince Edward County, which is a series of articles originally published in the Kingston Whig-Standard, written and collected by Alan R. Capon. I thought I had better investigate this one.
With this I stray a bit out of the realms of Kingston history, but I’m intending to include history from the surrounding areas of Kingston in this blog, so this is the first of a coming series. Anyway, it’s an interesting story.