By Mrs. F. Slater,
Historical Research Convenor of the McArthur Mills Women’s Institute
This history was transcribed by Elaine Kirkham, who says: “I received (two stories) from a cousin Claude McARTHUR whose ancestors were both McARTHURs but not likely related. The ancestors were Archibald McARTHUR & Elizabeth KAIN and John McARTHUR & Elizabeth GRANT. This typed manuscript included a history of the family written by his cousin (a descendant of Archie) and contained two items. One, a lovely love story, was published in the The Equity, Shawville, Quebec and according to the article was substantiated by Lorne McARTHUR (now deceased). The story is also included in Lorne McARTHUR‘s typed history. The story of McArthurs Mills was written by the Women’s Institute of that place. McArthur Mills is a very small town just outside of Bancroft, Ontario and is on the border of the townships of Mayo and Carlow, County of Hastings.”
Sometime prior to the year 1880 a Scottish brass band leader and dancing teacher named Archie McArthur accompanied a group of men on a political tour of these then sparsely settled areas. At that time one family had settled in Hartsmere, one near old Hermon and several at Fort Stewart and Boulter. There were no white settlers in the vicinity of what is now McArthur’s Mills.
Coming by way of canoe to Norway Bay, they picked their way along blazed trails to visit the various families. Mr. McArthur, struck by the towering forest of virgin pine and the roaring river and waterfall, vowed to return and establish a mill on the promising looking site.
He returned shortly to find an Indian named White Duck living under an upturned pine root near the rapids. A deal was made, Mr. McArthur purchased the mill site and water rights and true to his promise soon stood by the falls. The mill afforded comfortable living quarters above for the family and a mill beneath. Could we now see the first water wheel (constructed principally of wood, we would indeed count it a primitive affair). The saw was what is known now as an “up and down” saw. At that time there were no roads, no bridge spanned the river. Two stringers afforded passage for those on foot and horses swam the river. Goods and supplies came by canoe and were packed on the back from Norway Bay. Tump lines were extensively used in those days as much larger loads could be carried with them.
Settlers were few but more settlers soon began to arrive. The only school in the then united townships of Mayo and Carlow was the Boundary School. Later four more School Sections were formed but it was not until the year 1895 that the ratepayers of our section met to discuss the erection of a school. Tradition has it that a scoop-roofed structure sufficed for a time previous to this period but there are no records to substantiate this claim. At the first ratepayers meeting Archie McArthur Sr., acted as chairman and Dave Pritchard was appointed Secretary Treasurer and Wm. Aids, Robert Harvie and Norman Dillabough were the Trustees.
In January 1896 ratepayers met to approve a site on Lot 24 Con. 13 owned by Robert Harvie. In April 1896 a meeting was held to submit a proposal to raise by debenture the sum of $250.00 for erection and furnishing of a school building.
Archie McArthur‘s tender for the erection of the building was accepted and on August 28th of the same year, the building was approved by the ratepayers. It was 26 feet long 24 feet wide and 13 feet high. It was lathed and plastered, had a brick chimney, wainscotting four feet high, a shingled cottage roof and a pine floor. This same building served until 1928 when it was razed by fire.
The first sixteen school desks were purchased for $46.83 from Young Bros., and were shipped to Rathburn Station (now called Ormsby) and were brought in by wagon, a distance of 35 miles.
In 1901 A. A. Harvie was authorized to erect a flagpole 30 feet high (perfectly straight) and a flag was ordered 6 ft. by 3 ft. In the same year a hand bell numereal frame and slate for a blackboard were purchased. An organ was bought with concert funds.
A meeting was also held regarding non-attendance of children and to organize a bee to remove stumps and clear up the school grounds. By this time, the school had been cove-sided and the teacher was asked to speak to the children about cutting or marking on the building. The first teacher’s salary was $25.00 per month. The first auditor Archie McArthur received a fee of $1.00 and Thos. Thwaites received $3.00 for his services as Secretary Treasurer for the year of 1896. Norman Dillabough contracted to supply two cords of pine wood and three cords of maple for 50 cents and 60 cents respectively. Thus the first school was established.
Mr. McArthur or Archie as he was usually called, was a man of vision and ambition. He dreamed of a self-sustaining and thriving settlement. More settlers were brought in. A store and Post Office were established and McArthur’s Mills became the official name of the settlement. The well equipped mill manufactured shingles and lumber. A cabinet maker plied his trade in the Barracks and soon every home was supplied with handsome chests, wash stands and various articles of furniture, some of which are still in existence to bear testimony of Jimmy Tufts handiwork. A blacksmith shop and then a cheese factory came into being and a telephone line spanned the township. Doctors were scarce but Mrs. Robert Harvie efficiently acted as midwife and three quarters of the present population were ushered into the world by her. Student Ministers occasionally came and visited around and meetings were held in the school house. Many of the population were of the Presbyterian faith and later a church was erected at Hermon as it was considered a more central spot for church-goers. Mr. McArthur’s dream was nearing completion.
Little can we realize the labour entailed in clearing the land of its giant trees, tilling the soil and forcing it to produce. Little can we realize the danger of the river drive and logging. Nor can we realize the primitive methods employed in order to eke out an existence and to build substantial homes. The remains of a potash burn can still be found on this side of Hermon Church and charcoal was made a short distance up the Hartsmere road.
The boys of the family received the least education as at an early age they took the place of a man.
The first team of horses and lynch-pin wagon in the township were brought up from Almonte in the winter by Mr. McArthur. The first house to be built was on the property now owned by Maitland Barker. Prior to this a scoop roofed log shanty sufficed. Later other houses were built close by, among them we now live in it having been built by Archie McArthur Jr. for his own family.
However, the settlers were industrious and happy. Soon comforts crept in. Wagoning cheese to Ormsby at nine cents per hundred now seems small pay but it was a sure source of revenue. A steamboat named the Mayflower plied the waters between Barry’s Bay and La Voys Landing and on one epic picnic day it dared the waters up our river. This same picnic day was a gala affair marked by the erection of wooden swings and baskets very similar to those seen at our present day midways and fairs. Community spirit was good. Bees were in order. Square dancing a favourite pastime. The days of dire hardships were passing and a new age was beginning for the Northern Settlers.