Orono Yesterday and Today

The most prominent building in Orono, Ontario is their town hall on Main Street. The Romanesque structure was built in 1898, a year after the original structure built next to the Masonic Hall on Centrerview Street was destroyed by fire. Once the original seat of government for Clarke Township, the clerk’s office contained a large walk-in safe that held all the documents and important papers of the township. In the late 1900’s the safe was opened and its’ contents were transferred to the city hall in Bowmanville and the Town Hall lost its status as a government building when Regional Government came into service. In 1935, the town citizens raised funds to erect the clock and bell tower to the hall. Today the Hall considered the “Heart of Orono” is used for wedding and community events while the lower level has housed the Gentlemen’s Card Club, the Autoworkers Credit Union and the Orono Play Group.

Orono was first settled by a rich and “curmudgeonly” old batchelor, Eldad Johns who built a saw mill on the Orono Creek around 1833. It has been said that Eldad became somewhat of a folk hero to the early settlers in and around the area. Soon after, Asa and Harriet Baldwin arrived to the Clarke Township wilderness, purchased land from the Canada Company through George Ball and built a modest log cabin on Lot 29, Concession 5. The Baldwin’s experienced the great resource of the area “when they scooped 2 speckle (Brook Trout) in their water pail.  Dennison Douglas at the same time purchased 100 hundred acres of land Lot 28, Concession 5. By 1845 Douglas had disposed of all his property which formed a large part of the business section of Orono today.

Before the 1840’s this small settlement was sometimes known as Jericho, Slab City and Bloomington. When a name change was needed for the small settlement emerging from the hemlock bush, a meeting was called at the Underwood blacksmith shop. Underwood made bells to hang on the early settlers cows. Bloomington the favoured name was already used in Prince Edward County. A local preacher named Beale from Orono, Maine suggested the name of his native place, a name unlikely to ever be duplicated. Orono Maine was named after Chief Joseph Orono of the Penobscot tribe.

One of the most interesting stories of Orono was recently uncovered by the Ranger in his research of this amazing town is that of Sherwins Pond. This story started long ago when Orono housed all the necessary saw, grist and even a woolen mill required to run a successful community. One of the first mills, the Tucker Grist Mill was about to change the flows of Wilmot Creek in the late 1800’s. In the early 1860’s, the flow of Orono Creek had greatly diminished because of the deforestation of the area, so much so that the saw mill would no longer operate properly. A canal was designed and constructed in 1863 to divert water from the main branch of Wilmot Creek to supplement water volume in the Orono Creek.

This canal was constructed by mill owners, farmers and townspeople who worked together using only horses and scrapers dug the two mile long, four foot wide by two feet deep canal. Starting north of Orono at Taunton Road and travelled through what is now the Crown Lands, along Station Street and emptied into Orono Creek. At one spot, the canal crossed a small tributary of Wilmot Creek were a dam was constructed to create a pond for the purpose of raising the water level of the small creek to the level of the canal. Logs were placed across the opening to control water level and flow of the stream and canal.   Water from the canal was also used for irrigation by the Forestry until it closed in 1996. The mouth of the canal has been filled in, but most of canal can still be seen today. The canal passed along the old railroad tracks to the creek that passes behind the business section of Orono and today resembles a ditch. The original mill closed when the Co-Op store opened a new mill and warehouse in 1958, that old millpond still exists.

Orono was once home to a 2 storey, 12,000 sq. ft. flax mill. Flax was grown for its seeds which can be ground into a meal that was used as a nutritional supplement or turned into linseed oil a product that was used in many wood-finishing products. Flax fibers were also used to make linen. A collapse during the original construction of the building resulted in the death of three people and others injured. Years later after the mill closed, the building was used for church services, a Sears Outlet and later converted into apartments. Today the outside of the modern ‘Nexus’ building on the site reveals little of the old mills original skeleton.


Orono Creek starting just north of the village running south to Wilmot Creek supported many industries over the years. At the north end of the creek; a saw mill as early as 1833; a wooling mill 1845-78; another saw mill 1855; lower down the river, a grist mill from 1837-1919; a tannery in 1851; and a saw/ grist mill from 1850-1858 in the town as well as a cheese factory and furniture factory in the nearby valley lands. Wilmot Creek provided the water power four saw/grist mill from Leskard to Orono and two saw/grist mills and a carding mill south of the village. Church Street once mainly industrial has now been settled as residential and Main Street is mostly commercial.

The former Orono Nursery was established within the Forestry Branch of the Ontario Department of Lands and Forests in 1922 and over the years was known as the Orono Provincial Forest Station and the Orono Forest Station. Late in the 1800’s there arose a need for tree nurseries in Ontario because the sandy soils caused by forest clearing for agricultural land turned into blow-sand wastelands. The Orono Nursery began with an original 350 acres of land chosen for its good water supply, labour force and the proximity to rail and road transportation. In its first year of operation 200,000 seedlings were grown and in the peak production year 7.5 million were shipped throughout the province. It is said that Orono Nursery supplied all the seedlings for the Ganaraska and Northumberland County forests. When Orono’s main employer closed in 1996, over six hundred acres of land was retained as Crown Land by the Minister of Natural Resources but managed by the Orono Crown Land Trust. This trust today has 13 km public of marked recreation trails. The Ranger remembers a hike with the Ganaraska Hiking Trail Association through the nursery property some time before it closed and seeing the thousands of seedlings and administration buildings.

Not to miss in Orono is the short Sydney B. Rutherford Woods Walk, a short pedestrian trail from Main Street leading down to the beautiful Buttercup Hollow/Park. On this trail can be seen the remains of the last mill dam in town and crosses under the former Canadian Northern Railway bridge, built in 1910 through ‘Goose Hollow’ to complete the 42 miles from Port Hope to Whitby. If you look closely you might see the town’s famous leaning water tower above the treetops overlooking Buttercup Hollow. This tower was erected in 1927 for the nursery water needs, and today looks about to topple over but it is designated and cannot by removed and the town hasn’t the funds to dismantle it. The current owner says that “it is not the tower that is the problem and should stay, it’s just the tank that needs attention.”

Regards, Ranger

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