Red Cloud/Dawson Creek Settlement, Ontario

How do I start this post? It is a story about a place now called Red Cloud. An unknown by most (including the Ranger) a ghost town it was originally called Dawson Creek Settlement. This story is about things the Ranger likes to write about. A cemetery, a recently lost school house and a once prominent milling industry. The location of the former Dawson Creek Settlement is south and east of Burnley, Ontario. Look for a short, graveled, very scenic north/south Dawson Road heading south from Northumberland County Rd #29 to Morganston Road. Midway, the School House Road turns sharply east and is the location of the famous Red Cloud Cemetery (108-560 Old School Road, Warkworth, Ontario).

Red Cloud Cemetery. The name Red Cloud may have originated from the fact that if you look up through the hills at the clouds, at the right time on a cloudy day you might see a red hue there. The two acre cemetery, once part of an old school yard was established on a flat hillside just east of the former village of Dawson Creek Settlement. There are no records of the original land grant or purchase of the land at the Colborne Registry Office, nor is there any information that a church actually existed here. Was the school building used for church services? The first burial here was Amerilla Walter, daughter of Robert and Sarah in 1858, the last burial took place in 1930’s. In 1968 the Castleton Cemetery Board, likely following the new Ontario Cemetery regulations stating “any abandoned cemetery situated within the boundaries of the municipality shall be the responsibility of that municipality” assumed control of the administrative duties of Red Cloud Cemetery. At this time the cemetery appeared to be abandoned and was in a run-down state. The site was overgrown with vegetation, headstones were severely decayed, missing or buried in the ground. Volunteers unearthed stones and recorded the names and other vital information from them. The area was cleaned up and an evergreen grove was planted. A commemorative cairn was placed at the gate. Many volunteers and especially Dr. T.T. Samis whose grandparents are buried here are to be thanked for their contributions in the amazing Red Cloud rehabilitation.

This site at first appearance… still looks somewhat like an old, deserted grave yard. Not so! I would call this a ‘living cemetery’ as it is purposely maintained to look this way. Instead of high maintenance, green manicured grass, it features natural prairie grass and some thirty rare Ontario plants such as Big blue stem, Little blue stem, Indian grass, Butterfly milkweed, Prairie buttercup, Blazing star and Wood lily. Because the land was never ploughed, the tall grass prairie was preserved. Red Cloud Cemetery is now an important living botanical museum. Red Cloud is also a favorite stop by hikers of the 300 km long Oak Ridges Moraine Trail, especially the local Northumberland Chapter which passes by here on its way to the trailheads of Warkworth to the north or Castleton to the south.

SS #24 Red Cloud School. Located on Concession 10, Lot 31, it is unknown exactly when this school was built, but it seems likely it was around 1874. The will of the late Charles Bull of October 1874 provides for the transfer of the school site to unnamed trustees. The school was located just south of the current cemetery (the cemetery was part of the original school yard). Around 1900, the outside of the original clapboard building was covered by four inch concrete blocks the same way the Dawson home was.  When the school closed in 1940 the students were transferred to the Castleton School a few miles south. The school building remained empty for many years before being destroyed by fire in the late 1970’s. Today, accept for a few foundation stones there is little sign of its existence.

Dawson Creek Settlement. According to the locals, the settlement was established by Robert B. Dawson shortly after the War of 1812 by Quakers from New York State and the Prince Edward County area. Based on the lumbering industry, the village thrived until about the mid 1900’s when the lumber resources dwindled sharply. In its heyday, the settlement was blessed with productive farm land, a shingle and sash mill, saw and grist mills and a cider mill. Dawson was well known locally for outfitting one of his two mill pond dams with a generator and thus became the first to generate hydro- electricity in the area. It is said that he first used this electricity to power lights for his millhouse on the hill across from the pond. It seems that it eventually became an inconvenience at the end of every day he would have to trudge back down the hill to the mill and manually switch the power off. Sometime later, Dawson rigged up a ‘turn off’ switch in his house. Also of interest is that the first telephone system in Cramahe Township, The Mt. Pleasant Telephone Co. was started by this enterprising gentleman and a John McKague.

In the 1920 and 30’s, as the lumbering trade was declining, Dawson Creek became better known as somewhat of a tourist attraction with visitors coming from all over the townships to swim and to fish in the well- stocked ponds. Today the mill house is still in use, located on the east side of the historic stone bridge over the creek. If you look very hard from the bridge through the trees, part of the foundation of the grist mill and dam can still be seen south the T intersection of the Dawson and School House Road intersection. Oh yeah, you also have to look very close from the thick gravel road to even know you are crossing a bridge! Originally, the only way the Ranger found it was from a local dog walker, when asked pointed it out from a distance. The sound of running water was the only give- away! The minimum guard rails and lush vegetation completely camouflaged it. To see another of the Ranger’s unusual ability to find bridges, see the post The Elusive Railroad Bridge, November, 2013. According to the 1878 Historical Atlas of Northumberland and Durham, some early family names located here were: Johnson,Haye, Hopkins, Dawson, Ferguson, Brintell, Tuck, Bull, Mathers, Walker, Barrett, Puffer and Kelly.

In my research, the Ranger has read of people having had an unusual sense of calm or a strange sense of being at peace and alone while at Red Cloud Cemetery. My own experience of this serene place hit me a week ago. After weeks of waiting for a rain-free day… a rarity this spring, to capture some crisp and clear photos for this post, that day finally came. A pleasant, cloud-free day found me spending a long period of time wandering the cemetery grounds. Before retiring that night I decided to check the images on my camera. One particular picture caught my attention, it was an image of a pool of water in the creek at the bottom of the former mill pond dam. Lots of green spring vegetation, dark blue stream water reflecting the clouds. Later that night I awoke thinking about the cloud reflections in the water. Wait… there were no clouds in the sky that day!!  Jumping out of bed, popping the camera card into my computer for a better look, yeah indeed there they were! Reflections of what appeared to be clouds taunting me! Awaking the next day and feeling somewhat sane, I guess it hit me.


For our readers, was this an impish prank the Red Cloud denizens were playing on me? Was this a trick of nature? Rather than explaining it here in this post, it seems that it would be more fun to leave it up to the readers to figure it out which they would prefer it to be.

Regards, Ranger.

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