Derives Its Name From the English Sea Port
The Political Struggle in the Early Days - Bath Ranked Very High as a Seat of Learning -
The Frontenac the First Canadian Steamer on Lake Ontario
Bath, Sept. 10 - The quiet and pleasantly situated village of Bath has now, according to the last dominion census, a population of less than 600, and a total assessment last year of but $115,368, and yet within the lifetime and memory of some readers of the WHIG it was a formidable rival of the city of Kingston. Up to 1810, or even later, its population was nearly as large and appeared to increase about as fast; its business, in some lines at least, was quite as important, its educational advantages were even better, and it was also in advance in regard to literary and church affairs.
Bath was first settled by the hardy United Empire loyalists, who settled in Ernesttown, along the shores of the Bay of Quinte, in 1784. They were a part of the King's New York Royal Rangers, who took such a loyal and prominent part during the stirring and bloody times of the American revolution, and the most of them appear to have been men of unusual energy and intelligence. The location is most beautifully and healthfully situated, bordering as it does on the shores of the Bay of Quinte, with a fine view of Lake Ontario through the gaps at both ends of Amherst Island. It is now a very healthy and quiet summer resort, and no doubt derives its name from that popular seaside resort, Bath, England.
Bath lies eighteen miles west of Kingston, on the bay shore, and the road between the two places is one of the most pleasantly situated of any in the country. It is said that one of the very first public roads built in Upper Canada was between Kingston and Bath, during the early years of the century and, indeed, until after 1812, travelers going west could travel with waggons as far as Bath, and then the only land conveyance would be by horse-back, as there was but little else than a mere bridle path through the then all but unbroken wilderness. Beyond the head of the bay few would venture on towards Toronto unless accompanied by a trusty Indian guide.
There stands in Bath today, and it is still in constant use, the oldest Anglican church now in actual use in Upper Canada, and it was among the very first built in the province. Only the two Indian churches at Grand river and in the Tyendinaga Reserve appear to have been erected previous to it. Some log buildings of a diminutive character answered the purpose of churches, here and there, earlier than that time, but "St. John's", Ernesttown, as the village of Bath was then called, was really the first of any size and importance. It was erected and in use as early as 1795, and has been in constant use ever since, except at intervals between some of the early ministers. The church, however, venerable as it is, has been kept well repaired, and improved, and is now well up to date, both as regards the buildings, the worshipping congregation and the minister, the kindly and genial Rev. E.H.M. Baker, the present popular rector, so well and favorable known to many readers of the WHIG. It would be well if he would supply your readers with a somewhat connected history of this memorable place of worship. I think it is in his heart and mind to do so at an early period. The founder of this church was the celebrated Rev. John Langhorn, one of the pioneers in church work in Upper Canada. Indeed, his mission work began before the province of Upper Canada was constitutionally formed at all, in 1791. Good authorities say that he was the first regular Anglican minister in regular mission work west of Kingston, and the second in Upper Canada. The Rev. John Stuart, of pious memory, in Kingston, preceded him a few years.
St. John's church, Bath, built in 1794-5 was but two years after the first one in Kingston, and a building of considerable more pretentious and of greater durability. It was twenty-four years before any at Belleville, or Toronto, or any important point west. Mr. Langhorn's parish then extended from Kingston to the Carrying Place, at the head of the bay, a distance of nearly a hundred miles, and all through Prince Edward county. The grandfathers and grandmothers of many readers of these lines travelled long distances for him to perform their marriage ceremony, no other minister being available in what now constitutes Lennox and Addington, Prince Edward or Hastings counties. A popular history of his life and labors would be interesting reading for this generation of Canadians.
Bath had also one of the first public libraries in Upper Canada. In March, 1811, the then school trustees, Robert McDowall, Benjamin Fairfield, William Fairfield, Solomon Johns, William Wilcox, Samuel Neilson and George Baker, advertised in the Kingston Gazette that "for fifteen shillings a year the use of a valuable library" could be obtained by students. The inhabitants have ever since been a very intelligent class. There was at that early day, too, an excellent academy in that flourishing village, the only one then west of Cornwall, and a rival to that seat of learning. At Cornwall the Rev. John Strachan was the teacher. He afterwards became the first bishop of Toronto, and of Upper Canada, and a man of great prominence in church and political affairs in this province. The Bath academy had for its teacher the celebrated Barnabas Bidwell, whose name stands so prominent in the early political history of the country. Mr. Bidwell was a man of much learning and ability. He was born in Massachusetts while it was yet a British colony, and therefore a native born British subject. He occupied a prominent official position in his native state, but falling into business difficulties he came to Canada and settled in Bath, where he was first a successful teacher. He was, later on, elected to parliament for the midland district, but was declared disqualified by the family compact majority in those days. His son, the still more celebrated Marshall Spring Bidwell, was afterwards elected in his stead. Both resided for years in Bath and then removed to Kingston. There were stirring and hot times in the political struggles in those early days in connection with the election of the Bidwells and Peter Perry, who then lived on a farm near Bath, and those struggles culminated in the memorable rebellion of 1837-8, out of which came much of the civil and political liberties we all now enjoy.
The somewhat imposing school building of that time was appropriated for a soldiers' barracks during the war of 1812-13, and seems never to have been used again for its original purpose. Later on a fine brick school building was erected, one of the finest and best of its day in all Upper Canada, and Bath for years ranked very high as a seat of learning.
In 1809, the finest Masonic temple in the country was built at Bath and for many years the place was an important centre for that venerable fraternity. The building stood near the church and the academy and may yet be remembered by many of your readers, but it, too, has passed away among many of the other glories of what appears now to be destined as our Canadian Auburn.
In 1818 Bath had assumed sufficient importance that a bill was introduced in the Upper Canada legislature to specially incorporate it as a town. That was before a majority of our now most flourishing Canadian towns and cities had even commenced their existence.
During the war of 1813, Bath became an important centre for the yeomen militia of the old Midland district, which appeared truly loyal to the last man.
It was during that year that an invasion from the states was fully expected, and many preparations were made to give it a hot reception. One morning a hostile fleet appeared at the upper gap and all hands were warned out and were promptly at their posts. Whether this fact was the reason or not, that fleet left Bath in peace and sailed on towards Kingston. The militia marched down along the road at the same time "breathing out threatenings and slaughter," all the way. At Kingston, as is well known, shots and similar compliments were freely exchanged, strongly suggesting to the enemy the idea of "small profits and quick returns," and the fleet judiciously passed on farther down the river, doing little damage anywhere.
At Bath the first two steamboats were built that ever floated on Upper Canadian waters. These were the "Frontenac," the first Canadian steamer on Lake Ontario, and the "Queen Charlotte," the first on the Bay of Quinte. A few years later the str. "James Kemp" was also built at the same place. These were long before Kingston had become a vessel building place. The "Frontenac" was launched on the 7th of Sept. 1816, from Finkle's Point, just west of the town, and had a long and successful career on the lake. The stockholders were nearly all residents of Kingston, among whom were: Joseph Forsyth, John Kirby, Capt. Murney, Lawrence Herkimer, Wm. Mitchell, Horace Yeomans, -- Marsh and others. The "Charlotte" was built a year later, and its first appearance up the bay was indeed a memorable event, many travelling miles to witness the strange phenomenon. It, too, had a long and prosperous career. Among the active promoters and builders of that historic steamer was Henry Gildersleeve, then an active and skilful young mechanic, who laid the foundation for his afterwards large fortune and that of his family in that pioneer steamer. He was the father of the Gildersleeves of today, so well-known n connection with steamboat enterprise in Kingston and throughout Ontario. While engaged in building that steamer he boarded at Finkle's tavern, Bath, then one of the most important hostelries in the country, and he wooed and won one of the landlady's fair daughters, who became his life helpmeet and the mother of the enterprising Kingstonians to whom the limestone city is so much indebted for much of its commercial success. Another daughter became the wife of -- Crysler, one of the eastern members of the Upper Canada legislature of those early days. Mr. Crysler made Finkle's his stopping place on his way up and down the country at that time, as did all travellers by land and his heart too was smitten with the charms of youth and beauty. She became the mother of the Cryslers, so well-known as popular captains on the bay and other steamer running into Kingston forty years ago. We understand that Mr. Carter, the popular railway and steamboat manager of the Bay of Quinte railway company, is also a descendant of that honored pair.
A few words may not be out of place in regard to Henry Finkle, the popular entertainer and the prominent business man of those days. He had been in the engineers' department, in the British service, during the American revolution and learned the use of tools. He became an early resident of Bath and superintended the mechanics with their whip saws and other crude tools. He is said to have built for himself the first frame house built in this country. All were of logs or stones up to that time. He also built a frame school house and a residence for the teacher. This was, probably, Bath's first academy. He was a stockholder and an active promoter in the first steamers built, and it was probably owing to his influence and business energy that this point was selected as the building place. His house was a political and business headquarters for many years. Courts, elections, public gatherings and the like were generally held there. Probably for some years no place, between Kingston and Toronto, was so well known. Rowland Finkle, a leading resident now of this place, is one of that family and inherited the family property.
It may be remarked here also that the first important courts held in the province were also held at Finkle's tavern, Bath. Indeed, that was before Upper Canada had become a separate province at all, but an appendage of the province of Quebec. Before 1791 what is now Upper Canada, or Ontario was divided into four judicial districts: Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nassan and Hesse. Mecklenburg extended from Gananoque river to River Trent, and John Cartwright, of Kingston, a leading citizen, was appointed the first judge. He was grandfather of Sir Richard. One of the first important cases tried was for watch-stealing. On the accused the watch was found, and he was tried, at Finkle's tavern, it is said, for the theft. His defence was that he bought it of a peddler - a usual plea yet - but he was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. Hanged he was, too, but protesting his innocence. That was the first hanging in this province, it is said. Such was law and justice in Canada a hundred years ago.
A number of very prominent business men spent their active days here, and some of them accumulated what was then large fortunes. The Hon. Benjamin Seymour, who for many years represented the county in parliament, and was afterwards promoted to the legislative council, was a merchant here for many years, and became a very extensive land-holder. He moved to Port Hope, where he died years ago. The Davy family were among the first settlers, and they became very active and extensive business men, as merchants, grain dealers, vessel owners and builders and the like, but never became very wealthy. The Fairfields were also well known in business, and the Howards and others. Oston Hancock was at one time a large and wealthy merchant, who died and was buried here. James Donnelly was a successful merchant and moved to Montreal, where he established a well-known wholesale house, still carried on by the family. Messrs. Samuel Rogers, Edward Priest, Belfour and Armstrong, and others, were all in their time the most extensive carriage and waggon manufacturers in this county, giving employment to many men. The Johnsons were well known business men. Dr. John Stewart became a wealthy and well known physician and he died in Belleville. Many others whose names were well known and highly respected, who did well their share in building up not only their own town, but the whole country about, have all passed off the scene of action. Peace to their memories. They were stirring and honored men.
A word about Bath's decline is all that space can be found for. It was first on the high road from Kingston to Toronto and all points west, by land, and a place of stopping and trans-shipment. Years later the government built the splendid macadamised road on a straight line from Napanee to Kingston and Bath was left miles south of the great western thoroughfare. Then the Grand Trunk railway was built, and it is said the Bath landowners formed a combine to hold their lands very high, and a line father north was located, again leaving Bath miles to the south and no railway station within four miles of it. This was its second very serious blow. It was, too, a great shipping place for farmers' grain for half the county, but the several railways across the country cut off that business. It never had any good water power for manufacturing purposes and that was a serious detriment to success. It still remains a beautiful and healthful summer resort, where many delight to come and spend their vacations. In this respect its advantages are not well know. Peace and quietness, good company and good fishing and much good cheer can always be found at Bath. May it long live and flourish.