Rice Lake obtained its name from the abundance of cultivated black rice which grew in abundance in the shallow parts of the lake. The lake is about 28 miles long with an average of 3 miles wide and a total of 27 islands. The largest, Long Island near Bewdley is about two hundred acres. The smallest is Little Grape Island and measures about twenty-five by thirty feet. The building of the Trent Canal and its damming of the lake drowned most of the rice fields.
Bewdley, a sleepy little town on the west shore of Rice Lake has had many ups and downs in its colourful history but now seems to have found its niche as a thriving fishing and tourist area. It was once called Black’s Landing after a local tavern. After being inhabited for generations by native settlers, in the 1790’s the earliest land grants near Bewdley were granted to three sisters, Nancy, Elizabeth and Nelly Grant. In 1829, William Black was the first settler here. By 1833 Black’s Landing (Bewdley), Claverton (Gores’s Landing) and Sully (Harwood) were all busy Rice Lake Steamer stopping points on the lake.
William Bancks is credited with founding the village around 1833. Sometime later, Bancks obtained a loan from the Bank of Upper Canada and purchased lot 31 from Nellie Grant were he established a water powered saw mill and a log house on Cold Creek. By 1842, the Newcastle Banking Company, which Bancks now owned, failed and he was forced to default on his mortgages. His properties reverted back to the Hon. George Boulton a Cobourg lawyer and land speculator. Bancks log home had been built overlooking the mill pond and was named Sawlog Hill when it was purchased by James Sackville Jr. See post, Bewdley’s Heritage Sackville Bridge.
Around 1845, surveys were conducted for the possibility of a railway from Port Hope to Peterborough through Black’s Landing (Bewdley). This possibility caused great opportunities for land speculators. A large blow to the town…financial problems ended the railway dream! At this time there was only about eight residents in the town and three of these were tavern keepers. One was Philander Hannah (1822-1874) on of the earliest settlers to the area. Charles Armstrong, an 1840 innkeeper and the Rice Lake Inn (1849) built by Richard Ainley to accommodate local sawmill employees.
Of interest to the Ranger, was the fact that by the 1860’s Bewdley became an important lumbering town. Robert Wright owned a steam powered saw mill c 1848 on Mill Street on the lakeshore. James Sackville’s mill as mentioned above, was cutting local white pine on Cold Creek and George Willcox was operating a steam powered shingle mill on Cold Creek as well. At this time stage coaches were making regular stops in Bewdley, the half-way point between Port Hope and Peterborough.
In 1857 the Port Hope, Lindsay & Beaverton Rail Road was finally built. It was located a few miles west, bypassing Bewdley completely, running northward through Campbell’s (Campbellcroft). This was a major blow to Bewdley! This twist of fate also led to the end of the stage coach routes and most of the hotels in the village. The Rice Lake Inn, one of the oldest structures, survived as a hotel for one hundred years and became the Rice Lake Variety Store.
Some notable residents of the village of Bewdley, John Sidey a pioneer storekeeper, doctor and a dentist to the locals. Sidey operated the villages first Post Office in 1860. His store was located near the government dock and burned down several years ago. Joseph Scriven was famous for penning the world famous hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” when he lived at the Sackville residence near Bewdley. See post: What a Friend We Have – Joseph Scriven. David Kidd-Byrne a crippled Evangelist claims that Scriven rescued him from a terrible accident, saved his life and cared for him for years. It is said that Kidd-Byrne was converted by Scriven to the Plymouth Brethren and in return he erected both local Scriven monuments…one in the Port Hope town park and the other on the north-east side of the old Hwy # 28 (Rice Lake Drive) and County Rd. #9. Kidd-Byrne had a lot of interesting and questionable history associated with him and because of space limitations in this post readers are encouraged to investigate his story further. Mina Benson, a local farm girl who after her explorer husband (Leonidas Hubbard) died, made history by following in his footsteps and became known for her Labrador explorations. Other notable residents of the village were Charles Fothergill (1782-1840) artist and naturalist and Charles Clay (1906-1980) writer and publisher.
After losing the Rice Lake Steamers and the stage coach’s to the railway, Bewdley’s latest loss was the re-routing of Highway #28. In 1975, the highway’s high volume traffic from Port Hope to Peterborough by-passed the village completely… maybe this wasn’t such a loss after all. Gone were the traffic jams, roadside parking of cars and boat trailers in the village and high accident rates, especially for fuel tankers on the winding road entering and leaving the village. Upon entering the village today a tourist could be forgiven for thinking what a quaint and small village! What they see are a number of cottages, a few restaurants, the Lakeside Supermarket, the Marina & Boat launch, the tiny Optimist Lakeside Park and the LCBO. A special thanks to the young lady at the Boat Rental & Chip Stop at the Bewdley dock for pointing out the original 1860 Post Office Building to the Ranger. (See picture, the PO building is the smaller of the two cottages). One building standing since 1870 is now a restaurant, Rhino’s Roadhouse is known for its BBQ wings was nearly lost to a fire in 2015. Now rebuilt, it was host to a visit in 2017 to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The lakefront has very limited parking and only near the park, but has cleverly created a huge parking lot south/west of the village with a great walkway to the lake. This parking lot is a little hard to find but is directly across Rice Lake Drive at the end of Cavan Street and has plenty of room for cars and boat trailers etc. You might say that Bewdley ‘missed the boat’ over the years by mostly catering to boaters, fishermen and cottagers. Missing are park lands for the campers and pick-nickers…where have the Ontario Park planners been?
The thriving village is rarely seen unless you leave what is now called Rice Lake Drive and turn west on Mill Street. Located in the valley west of the lake can be found the homes of the locals, church, fire station, Legion Hall and a Community Centre. Another of the Village’s unique quirks is that the Main Street runs north off of County Road #9 down a lovely, narrow tree-lined road into the village, not along the lakeshore as one might expect. Be sure to check out the Bewdley Conservation Area on Cavan Road featuring a beautiful short trail to the lake. The Oak Ridges Moraine Hiking Trail (Hope-Hamilton Chapter) was designed by the Ranger to pass through Bewdley to connect the Ganaraska Forest to Cavan Road and points eastward. This gives hikers a great place to rest on a hike, to meet for or to end a hike.
As usual, the Ranger has at least one memory of the places he writes about. As a teenager my sister Barb once worked at the long gone Sportsman Centre, (a large yellow building, originally the Sidey Grocery store) located at the Government (Bewdley) dock. She was boarding at our aunt & uncles home in the village. A new driver, Ranger picked her up for a ride in his ‘new’ ten year old ’57 Ford (this was before vehicle certifications and seat belts) and we headed out for Bailieboro. On the way back we decided to see how fast this old car could go. This was on the old, curving Hwy #28 that was never designed for speeds over 100 MPH! Yeah, it is a wonder I am still alive today.