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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Which Newcastle is Which?

Do you remember when Clarington was called Newcastle? A recent Toronto Star article about the sinking of the HMS Speedy on Lake Ontario in 1804 reminds me that the name of Newcastle has caused confusion in both the 19th and the 20th Centuries.

In 1804 Ontario was divided into 14 districts (the familiar counties were not established until 1849). It was the law that an offence that occurred in a certain district had to be tried in that district. A native aboriginal was caught in York (Toronto) for a murder. York was in the Home District but the murder had been committed in the Newcastle District to the east. So, the judge, lawyers and court officials, representing the cream of Canadian Society at that time, boarded the small RMS Speedy with the prisoner for a trial at Newcastle the District Seat. They headed east onto Lake Ontario, but never made it to their destination! Although sited from shore they were lost in a storm. The fate of the Speedy was for many years a mystery. One report indicated she was actually sited along the American Shore before disappearing. The Toronto Star article mentioned above (see Aug. 19, 2012 page A9) is about a diver who believes he has found the Speedy.

Many people suppose that the place we know and love as the Village of Newcastle was where the unlucky Speedy was headed. The Newcastle where the Speedy was headed was actually further east and was, in fact, never built. When the District was formed in 1802 the site of the District capitol was chosen on Presqu’ile Point south of Brighton. Detailed plans were drawn up which included a prison, market, church, cemetery, school, parsonage…etc. They even named the streets: Second Street, Third Street, Grave Street, Hospital Street and Glebe Street. I suppose the trial would have been held in a hastily built log structure but that building was to commence soon after. However, after the sinking the District capitol was moved to Cobourg.

Closer to our own time the name Newcastle again created confusion when Regional Government came into effect in 1974. The former townships of Darlington and Clarke were amalgamated into a new municipality called the “Town of Newcastle”. I’m sure the name was chosen because we used to be part of the old Newcastle District, but within this “Town of Newcastle” there was also the “Village of Newcastle”. This created quite a bit of confusion to those not familiar with the area. In 1994 the name was changed to Clarington. There had been a movement afoot to change the name to Bowmanville but Clarington was chosen because its name is taken from the two names of the old townships (Darlington and Clarke). The Bowmanville Boosters took their money and paid for the decorative metal top on the Bowmanville Cemetery gates.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Boy, Is It Hot Out!

Boy, is it hot out!

The hot weather has been big news this summer.  Record high temperatures and devastating drought have been regularly reported in the headlines.  While perusing Colonel Samuel Strickland’s book, “Twenty Seven Years in Canada West” I read a description of the summer of 1825 and was struck with just how similar it was to the summer of 2012. 
Strickland is describing his time in Darlington Township (western half of today’s Clarington) when he relates, “The summer of 1825 was warm, even for Canada where this season is always hot.  The thermometer often ranged above 90 degrees in the shade.”  With no air-conditioning available Strickland beat the heat by daily swims in Lake Ontario and regular afternoon breezes. 
With the hot weather came the high humidity.  This caused storms. “The climate is subject to violent thunder-storms accompanied by vivid forked lightening and heavy rains…Fatal accidents, however, sometimes occur, and houses and barns are burnt down by the electric fluid.” 
While the weather is similar one feature that is not is that in Strickland’s day vast areas of land were still covered by virgin forests.  Lightening or carelessness could start forest fires that would spread over many acres killing wildlife, farm animals and even people.  Strickland relates one man who saved himself by jumping into a stream and keeping his head below the water.  His friends thought they could outrun the fire and were all killed.  Another story tells of a settler whose cabin was near several large but tall dead hemlock trees.  During a fierce lightening storm the trees were hit with lightening and literally exploded sending wooden shrapnel over 60 yards in all directions.  Had any of the settler’s family been outside at the time they surely would have been killed.  “If a barrel of gunpowder had been placed under the trees, greater devastation could not have been made.” 

Summer all too soon gives over to autumn.  Strickland called September, “the most beautiful month in the Canadian year”, and goes on to describe the season, “The weather is neither too hot not too cold.  Nothing can be more delightfully pleasant; for, in this month, the foliage of the trees begins to put on that gorgeous livery for which the North American continent is so justly celebrated.”  Another factor that adds to the enjoyment of the fall, that Strickland fails to mention, is that the kids go back to school. 

The photo for this article shows an early summer cottage from Port Darlington's West Beach c. 1910.