Evolution of The Ganaraska River Watershed

At the end of the Ice Age, the surface of the Ganaraska Watershed took shape by the flow of melting ice and water and became a wilderness of pine and hardwood trees.  shaped by thousands of years of glacial activity on Paleozoic bedrock, topographic and hydrogeological features which include the Oak Ridges Moraine, the Peterborough Drumlin Fields, the South Slope and Iroquois Plain physiographic regions.  The Ganaraska  Watershed drains a total of 278 square kilometers, the Main Branch of the Ganaraska is joined by ten other tributaries, the largest is the North Ganaraska Branch.  The flow of the Ganaraska is generally resilient to stresses such as drought, and the water provides aquatic habitats, and human uses.  The ‘Ganny’ as the locals like to call the river is very shallow.  The 2oldguys can attest to this, as one hot and humid day recently, to cool off they took a short stroll up the river near downtown Port Hope.  The water never got above our knees!  The early watershed was a diversely wooded area containing massive stands of oak and pine trees.

Prior to the first European settlement, several aboriginal people inhabited the watershed.  The first inhabitants on the watershed were the First Nations, including the Huron’s, who resided in the region from Lake Ontario to Georgian Bay until the late 1600’s, when the Iroquois forced them to move as far as Lake Superior.  After 1660 the Cayuga tribe of the Iroquois established outposts near Rice Lake and at Ganaraski (Port Hope).  In the late 1700’s the Iroquois, were forced out of the area by the nomadic Mississauga, part of the Ojibwa-Algonkians from the Lake Superior area who never settled long in any place.  The Mississauga at one time had a settlement on the east bank of the Ganaraska River known as Cochingomink, meaning “the commencement of the carrying place”.  The first settlement on the Ganaraski (later Port Hope) likely meant “The Spawning Place” because of the abundance of salmon at the mouth of the Ganaraska River by the Cayuga, meaning ‘People of the Great Swamp’ was located at a place named Monkey  Mountain or possibly Monk’s Mound, meaning “people of the longhouse’.  This settlement may or may not be today’s park of the same name.

The Ganaraska Watershed had three main tribal paths that were very similar to today’s Walton Street (Port Hope) and Northumberland County highways #2 and #28.  The British later arrived and harvested oak and pine timber for the building of Royal Navy vessels and ship’s masts.  The Mast Woods area north of Port Hope was prized for it’s timber which was harvested and sent overseas for sailing ships masts.

The  Ganaraska River Watershed’s political boundaries include the Municipality of Clarington (Kendal and Kirby), the Municipality of Port Hope (Welcome, Canton, Osaca, Perrytown, Elizabethville, Garden Hill, Campbellcroft and part of Hamilton Township (Rossmount).   The uppermost watershed is found in the City of Kawartha Lakes and the Township of Cavan.  Some of the watershed invasive species to be on the lookout  for are Dog-strangling Vine, European Buckthorn, Garlic Mustard and the Giant Hog weed.

The Ganaraska River contains ten tributaries or branches including:  the Burnham, Coldsprings, Duck Pond, Elliott’s Creek, Little Ganaraska, Quay’s, Main Ganaraska, Soper Creek, North Ganaraska and the Welcome Branch.  Today there are dams located at Port Hope (Corbetts); Canton Mill; Campbellcroft Mill; Garden Hill and Mercer’s; Elizabethville and Kendal (Jackson Dam).  The cold to cool water of the Lower River supports a diverse fish population, dominated by Brook Trout, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, darters and cyprinids.  Migratory Chinook Salmon spawn in the lower reaches. Some of the many protected lands of the river are :  The Sylvan Glen Conservation Area; the Bewdley Conservation Area; the Garden Hill Conservation Area; Richardson’s Lookout Conservation Area (west of Garden Hill; the Port Hope Conservation Area (Hwy’s 28/401) and the Kendal Crown Lands.  Note: the Richardson’s Lookout Conservation Area has a wooden observation platform built on top of an 850 foot drumlin overlooking the Ganaraska Forest that is dedicated to A. H. Richardson, a local Forest Engineer who was instrumental in the Ganaraska forest renewal and Conservation Area movements in Ontario.

Some of the early communities of the Ganaraska Watershed with date of settlement, earliest pioneers and their early industries:

Port Hope;  The first settlement at the south end of the Ganaraska River’s natural harbor, attracted the original Indigenous People, The Huron Tribe, Cayugas, (part of the Iroquois Confederacy) who migrated here from the (now) State of New York and the Iroquois Tribe.  By 1793, the United Loyalists, the first permanent settlers of European Heritage arrived.  Pioneers; Peter Smith, Lawrence Herchimer, Myndert Harris Sr., Johnathon Walton, Stevens, Ashford and Johnson.  Early town names; Ganaraski, Cochingomonk “meaning the commencement of the carrying place” referring to the route from the river north through the forest and sand hills to Rice Lake,  Fat Fire Creek, Hope Mills, Smith’s Creek, Toronto, and later Port hope in 1817.

Dale:  Pioneers; Clifford, Fletcher, Boyce, Brown, James Stevens, Jonathon and Paul Redford began clearing and working the land here in 1789 followed by a second wave of settlement from 1815-1820.  The first industry was started by Johaida Boyce in 1818, building a sawmill, woolen and a cider mill on the Ganaraska River west of the village, a tavern and a post office.  Today, Dale is mostly a farming community.

Welcome:  Once called Power’s Corners.  Daniel Crippen, yeoman, was the original homesteader around 1797.  He was followed a year later by yeoman Lenard Soper who later received a military land grant here.  After 1815 the village settled slowly, but never had a saw or grist mill.  They did however have the first wagon shop north of the river from Port Hope.  It was built by John Westlake in 1830.  By 1837 Welcome (Guideboard) did have a tavern where stage coach horse were changed for runs on the King’s Highway.  William Monaghan had a small boot and shoe shop here.

Rossmount:  Formerly called Lancaster, was established near at the sixth Concession north of Port Hope (Hwy. 28).  The first settler was Cornelius Daily, yeoman who received a military land grant in 1798.  Two years later, Elizabeth Summers, daughter of a United Empire Loyalist was given an original land grant here.

Canton:  In 1801 there was log houses built on the Canton site on the Fourth Concession.  Settled by the Myndert Harris, James Hawkins and Asa Callender families who moved here from Port Hope.  The village attracted millers and sawyers because of its excellent water privileges at the mouth of the Main Ganaraska Branch of the Ganaraska River, which is almost of equal size with the Main Ganaraska River itself.  The first mill here was erected by a Mr. Potter in 1825 and three other milling families soon located on farms on this part of the watershed.  After 1830 more mill rights and carpenters arrived.  The first gristmill north of Choat’s Pond (Port Hope) was built on the Potter site in Canton, the forerunner of the Durham Mill completed in 1835 and today is better known as the Canton Mill.

Quay’s Crossing:  The first land grant in the area was made to Elias Smith, Jr. in1798 but remained under-developed until 1816 when John Perry and John Farley, yeomen, obtained the land and settled there.  By 1820 other settlers arrived including Thomas Quay whom the village was named for.   Quay’s Crossing named because of the Midland Railroad crossing Quay’s property.  Agriculture was and is still prominent there today.

Campbellcroft:  Established in 1830 by Thomas Campbell and Scottish settlers.  Once best known for it’s grist mill, post office and hotel.  Later known for its connection to the Port Hope, Lindsay and Beaverton Railroad (Midland) with the railroad station originally named the Garden Hill Station.

Perrytown:  Established in 1820 by Perry, Callender, Corbett and Rutledge.  The  village included a post office, four churches, cheese factory, boot and shoe shop. blacksmith shop, mills and later to its connection to the nearby Midland Railway with a ‘whistle stop’ station.

Elizabethville:  Established in 1825 by Francis Tamblin, John Barkwell, John McMurty, Oak, True, Diamond and Beatty families.  This village featured grist and saw mills, carriage and wagon shops, grocer, foundry and blacksmith shops, a whiskey distillery, church, post office, school and an Orange Lodge.

Osaka:  Established in 1830 by the Elliott family.  Mills, blacksmith shop, post office and a general store.  Much later a long-gone Canadian Northern Railway Station.

Kendal:  Established by Theron Dickey in the 1840’s with a grist mill.  Later two saw mills, two cooperages, shingle makers, a wagon shop, three general stores, drug store, an agricultural implement factory, two churches and two hotels and a school were added to the village.

The decline of the settlements along the river was caused by large scale timer harvesting from the upper slopes of the watershed,  natural resources  depletion and the opening of farm land at the north end of the watershed where the soil was sandy and of poor agricultural value.  When the natural forest’s thin base of topsoil was exhausted, farming became almost impossible and much of the land was abandoned.  Many of the young people moved from the farm to the city, United States or the newly opened Canadian West.  A partial depression in 1929 and mass production in industry elsewhere in Ontario, killed the small factories along the river.

Until about 1860, up to 50 mills (saw and flour) operated along the river for milling grains. The excess un-milled grains were purchased by up to five distilleries along the river for the famous Port Hope Whiskey.  The Spring melt and heavy rains from dozens of tributaries upstream from the river, of course, was channeled into the Port Hope area.  The first flood recorded was before 1813 when it was reported a log bridge on Walton Street Port Hope was washed out.  Some other notable floods in the area:  In 1878, the Barrett bridge and dam were completely destroyed.  In 1906, the Gray’s dam in Garden Hill gave way and the McCallum bridge at Dale was lost.  In1909, a bridge on the Fourth Line at Canton and the Barrett Street bridge in Port Hope floated down the river.  In 1936, the Midland Railway was blocked by ice on Ontario Street Port hope and the Nicholson File dam  headed down the Ganaraska River.  And of course, there was the devastating 1980 flood in downtown Port Hope which damaged several bridges and washed out many buildings and businesses.  Today the Town of Port Hope commemorates the great flood of 1980 with a ‘Float Your Fanny down the Ganny’ river race each year in April, with a canoe and kayak race down the river starting in Canton (16 km) and the ‘crazy craft’ starting at Sylvan Glen (10 km) into Port Hope.  The participants of the crazy craft construct the wildest crafts you can imagine and wear costumes to match!  This event draws thousands along the river to watch the spectacle. Great way to show the world that local residents won’t be beat by the raging river.

Regards,   Ranger




  1. H.Douglas Butson · · Reply

    I really found some interesting facts about the area especially the family connection my grand mothers family the Beatty s is there any other information on the Beatty family of the area as I would be very interested in getting some copies my great grandfather was John married Ethel Nixon could you let me know where I should look
    Douglas Butson


    1. Douglas Butson, you might try The Port Hope Archives located at 17 Mill Street, North, L1A 2H2. Their e/m is archives@porthope.ca,
      Rachel Arnaud, is their Archivist. I hope she can help you in your search. I will attempt to find more information for you as well. Good luck on your search.


  2. […] here if you want to read 2 Old Guy’s Walking blog “The Evolution of the Ganaraska River.” If you want to know more about Float Your Fanny Down the Ganny go […]


  3. […] If you would like another account of the history of the Ganaraska Watershed and the Richardson Lookout/Garden Hill Pond conservation areas 2 Old Guys walking (you guessed it right?) has a couple more blogs here and here. […]


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