Missinaba County in the Changing Face of Ontario

The Archives of Ontario, bless their hearts, have re-produced a set of maps from the Economic Atlas of Ontario / Atlas Économique de l’Ontario (W. G. Dean, Editor/ Directeur; G. J. Mathews, Cartographer/ Cartographe Printed 1969 by University of Toronto Press for the Government of Ontario) showing the Changing Fact of Ontario, and in particular, those showing “The Evolution of the District and County System 1788-1899”, which you may find at http://www.archives.gov.on.ca/en/maps/textdocs/ontario-districts-maps.aspx#districts_1882.

This splendid resource makes it possible to show the gradual emergence of Missinaba County and its 18 townships, a testimony to the endurance and skill of 19th Century surveyors, the rigours of whose profession we can only imagine nowadays.

Let us take a moment to imagine. Their task was to draw straight lines across the entire face of the land, dividing it, in defiance of its myriad folds, undulations, indentations, lakes, ponds, swamps, and all the irregularities of Nature, into an essentially rectangular grid of townships, concessions and lots, the lot being the fundamental unit of settlement. People lived on lots, and still do. Legions of surveyors completed this task for the entire area of southern Ontario in a little over one hundred years, in spite of weather, biting flies, natural hazards, and all the other hardships of a life camped out in the bush. They were a hardy breed, and they went everywhere, taking notes along the way, enabling organized settlement, and leaving an invaluable record of the land as it was in its aboriginal state.

By the end of the 19th Century surveyors had created a tessilature that survives to the present day and is one of our most enduring pioneer artifacts, a part of our built heritage that is unlikely to be erased as long as people occupy the land. It looked, in the large, like this:

1899b

If you click on this you get a larger picture, which opens in a new window. The darkened area lying east of Lake Simcoe is Missinaba County, a fabled place. You see what I mean when I speak of it as part of “middle-Ontario”. The lines mark the boundaries of townships.

The following eight maps show how the tesselature evolved from its beginnings in the late 18th Century, when settlement began:

1882b

1851b

1845b

1838b

1826b

1798b

1792b

1788b

So there you have the provincial context for the evolution of Missinaba County, before it leaped into literary prominence in the early 1900’s. A lot happened before then, and a lot happened afterwards, and it’s still happening. Stephen Leacock has given us a brief snapshot of one short era, A fuller account is long overdue. And now it’s happening. We’ll begin at the beginning, go on to the end, and then stop.

I am grateful to the Archives of Ontario for making these maps available.

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