Cloyne Pioneer Museum

By Andrea Gyimah

Situated among the abundant lakes of Addington Highlands, the town of Cloyne, Ontario evokes the nostalgia of its logging past. The donation-run Cloyne Pioneer Museum and Archives serves as a time machine for those interested in taking a look at the history of the logging and timber industries in Southeastern Ontario. It is a pretty drive up Highway 41 and just south of Bon Echo Provincial Park.


When European economic interest shifted to Eastern Ontario in the early 19th century, Cloyne and surrounding areas became a hotspot for the logging industry. With Lakes Mazinaw, Skootamatta, and Story in close proximity, transporting timber from Cloyne to sawmills in Ontario was relatively easy for the day. Brothers Aylesworth and Ebenezer Perry spearheaded the building of Perry Road, which opened up the “back country” of Cloyne for farmers and settlers that were not involved in the logging industry. Despite this new avenue for making money, the primary focus of the area’s economy was the logging industry. Several companies – including Gillies, McLaren, and Rathbun – acquired the rights to log in this area and recruited immigrant lumberjacks (mostly of Irish, German, and French descent). In fact, Irish settlers made up the majority of immigrants to Addington County, with 500 000 arriving in Canada between 1815 and 1845 and a second wave of immigration during the Irish Potato Famine. This led to Addington County developing its own Irish Catholic logging and milling culture, which was vastly different from the traditional English Protestant dominant culture. This Irish influence can be seen in Cloyne’s name, which was taken from a village on Cork County, Ireland.


Logging in Addington County was mostly a seasonal industry, often beginning with the first snowfall. Loggers also relied heavily on oxen, horses, and donkeys since automation would not be used until 1912. Logs were mostly cut into square shapes as they were easier to transport. The most profitable part of the industry, however, was the naval mast trade, which required only the highest quality trees (mostly oak and pine) for the British Royal Navy. The naval lumber exports increased exponentially from 9000 loads (between 1802 to 1805) to 500 000 in 1840.


Farmers, who had been lured to Addington County under the promise that the land they would receive after the forests had been cut down would provide crops and income for their families, were very disappointed by the quality of the post-deforesting soil. However, the rock hard Canadian Shield was not conducive to growing anything and many farmers were forced to rely on seasonal work and selling goods to survive.


In an effort to take advantage of the rocky lands, many prospectors began arriving in the mid and late -19th century to look at the possibility of opening mines. A series of mines opened in the area – most notably, the Golden Fleece near Flinton and the Star of the East and Ore Chimney both located near Cloyne – but only low-grade minerals were found and demand was low.


A more profitable economic venture was found in tourism, with Bon Echo Park being “discovered” by tourists in the late 19th century and serving as a popular vacation and honeymoon spot to this very day. This also stimulated Cloyne’s economy due to a number of hotels, restaurants, and cottages being built in the area, including the Bon Echo Inn owned by Canadian feminist Flora McDonald. Skilled tradesmen and builders began to move into the area as the logging industry began to dry up due to intense deforestation.

Flora McDonald Denison
Credit: Bon Echo Provincial Park

The turn of the 20th century brought forth a second industrial revolution for the citizens of Addington County. Increased automation transformed the logging industry, leading to large-scale deforestation and a slowing down of the logging industry as a whole in the Addington Highlands. Instead, the town began to shift its focus to the tourism industry. The concept of transcendentalism, or “getting back to nature”, had been popular among Americans for a while, with its most prominent supporters poets and writers such as Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, and Louisa May Alcott. It preached self-reliance, peace, and eschewed the conveniences of modern life. Flora McDonald first visited Bon Echo Park with her family in 1901 and immediately discovered her love for Addington County. She returned annually afterwards, eventually purchasing the Bon Echo Inn from a dentist in 1913. Although born over two decades after the heyday of the transcendentalist movement, Flora was nonetheless inspired by Walt Whitman’s beliefs and yearned to turn the Bon Echo in into a retreat for writers, artists, and poets to practice and share their craft in a natural setting.

Mazinaw Rock in Bon Echo Provincial Park

After her death in 1921, her son Merrill Denison continued to realize her dream of creating a Canadian spiritualist paradise and even invited his friends (including the Group of Seven) to work and play at the Inn. However, the stock market crash of 1929 was devastating to Denison and the Inn closed shortly after. The empty Bon Echo Inn burned to the ground in 1936, taking with it the last remnants of McDonald’s dream of a nature retreat. However, the spirit of the original Bon Echo Inn still remains in the current town of Cloyne, where it serves as the biggest booster for their economy. Cottages and hotels fill the town and surrounding areas and serve as a retreat away from the business of modern life for many Canadian and American families.


Today, the stories of the pioneers and loggers that gave Cloyne its history as kept alive by the thriving Cloyne and District Historical Society. With a strong and active volunteer base they keep the memory of the early settlers alive through the museum as well as education videos and photographs on YouTube and Flickr and a newsletter that often contains features on prominent early Cloyne citizens and their impact on the town and Canada.

Cloyne and District Historical Society
Box 228
Cloyne, ON Canada
K0H 1K0                   

Contact: 613.336.8619

Location: Hwy. 41, Cloyne Ontario
(across from Post Office)

Hours of Operation: See website

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