Most of the land of the present day village of Harwood, Ontario on Rice Lake was purchased in 1828 by Robert Harwood a Montreal merchant. First called Sulley or Sulley’s Landing, the land developed rather slowly until the early days of the railroad. One of the earliest railways in Upper Canada, the Cobourg-Peterborough Rail Road was about to change everything in 1854 for this little back-woods village. This new development encouraged the surveying of the town site in 1855. This railroad was constructed from the Lake Ontario town of Cobourg north through the Baltimore valley to Harwood. A major engineering and construction project was soon completed for a ‘crib’ bridge to span Rice Lake…the longest of such a bridge in Canada at the time.
On completion to Peterborough, this RR transported lumber, passengers, goods and later ore for the Marmora iron foundry. Harwood prospered greatly from developments here. But alas, this great crib-bridge carrying the track across the lake was poorly engineered and constructed was severely damaged by years of ice damage and had to be closed in 1862. Major competition from the Port Hope & Peterborough RR an offshoot of the Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton RR was great. After the local lumber mills closed, the Cobourg line ceased operations in 1895. 1916, the rails were removed and sent to France for the war effort. Prior to the 1860’s there were two large sawmills here turning out 50,000,000 board-feet of lumber yearly!
There was a memorial plaque originally erected in 1882 by James Barber south of the village on Cty. Rd. 15 that honors German railroad workers who died of cholera in the early days of construction. It read: “In memoriam, fourteen German laborers who died of cholera, 1854 and are buried in Potter’s Field”. Note: A ‘Potter’s Field’ means “a stranger’s burying ground”. By a strange coincidence, the owner of the railway berm at the time was a Joseph Potter. The Ranger cannot locate this plaque today, I remember seeing it on a bus tour sponsored by the Cobourg and District Historical Society in September, 1987 as a Sesquicentennial Project of the railway. It may have been ‘lost’ during road re-construction several years ago.
The quaint little railway station built in the 1850’s was located near the present day government dock. The station was sold when the Grand Trunk RR purchased the C&P in April 1901. It was dismantled and moved to nearby Roseneath by A. Copperwaite to become an Orange Hall. Around 1928, Harry Kelly had electricity installed and ‘moving pictures’ were shown there until 1950. This station may still have some life left in it as a Harwood Rail Heritage group would like to see it restored and placed back on its original location at the Harwood dock.
Harwood was once home to the Harwood Co-Operative Creamery Co. Because of increased farming in the area at the turn of the century, Stanley Southworth founded a creamery in Harwood. After a large number of owners, one of the first Co-operative businesses in the area The Farmer’s Co-operative Creamery Company was established. This business ran from around 1900 until late 1978, so successful because it utilized cooling water from five springs that ran a constant 45 degree F year around. A well- known local farmer, Robert Earle Drope (1898-1969) managed the creamery for many years. Drope was a Hamilton Township councillor for many years and a Progressive Conservative party member of the Canadian House of Commons.
The Ranger has vivid memories of collecting cans of cream from our farm in Camborne for pick up by the Co-op’s driver, my uncle Frank McAllister. After hand milking our cows (twice daily) the milk would be ran through a hand- cranked ‘separator’ to extract the cream. The cream would be put into cans in cold storage and the low fat milk was then used to feed our young beef calves. On his next pick up, Frank would drop off a small check for the cream and a few pounds of quality Harwood butter. Another memory at this time was my ‘late’ brother-in-law Garnet West picking me up in his ’57 Ford station wagon and heading to Front St. Harwood to a local barber for our fifty-cent haircuts.
From the closure of the creamery came the opening of the Ontario Natural Resources, Harwood Fish Culture Station in 1986 at 6388 Northumberland County Road #18 opposite the now demolished creamery building. If you visit this 350 acre site and the gates are open you may enter for a free self-guided tour. This culture station was started here because of its location to stocking sites, large volume of high quality, spring fed cold water from the five springs mentioned above. This cold water was perfect for fish culture and a bonus…no pumps or generators were needed to distribute the water. Lake and Brown Trout yearlings are stocked from here.
Harwood can very be proud of their Memorial Park and Community Hall located at 5453 Front Street. The park and hall are owned and maintained by the people of Harwood, rather than the township or the county like most others. Volunteers for the Park Board are elected every year by members of the community. The hall may be rented by anyone for dances, euchre parties, birthday and anniversaries, family reunions etc. The large park also features an artesian well that runs all year and the public is invited to take water anytime, and of course, a small donation is always appreciated by the Board. Because of the limited parking near the dock, why not park at the community hall, pick up an ice cream cone at the near-by variety store and enjoy the walk to the lake.
A notable resident of Harwood was the late Hazel Bird (1920-2009). Mrs. Bird was known for her passion for saving the Eastern Bluebird. All those bluebird nesting boxes you see everywhere in Northumberland County are all there thanks to Hazel. 4639 Robson Road was her favoured location for exploring and the location of her well known Bluebird Trail. The 290 acres of ‘at risk’ species of plant and animal life has recently been named The Nature Conservation of Canada’s Hazel Bird Nature Reserve and is open to the public. For more on this special place, see the Bushwhacker’s Hazel Bird Nature Reserve.