by Michael Whittaker
When considering the heritage of North Grenville, many people think first of the arrival of Europeans cutting farms into the forests along surveyed tracts, building mills on select water courses, and developing commercial interests. More than 8,000 years of First Nation history preceded recorded White settlement.
In the years after the American Revolution, and with the onset of Loyalist settlement, two preliminary surveys charted the West Branch of the Rideau River. The township was incorporated in 1850.
But do not imagine families immediately settling in what was then Oxford-On-Rideau Township. In 1801, the three Harris brothers and their families became the first settlers near the confluence of the South Branch with the West Branch of the Rideau. Following a number of land sales beginning with the original grantee, Asa Clothier took possession of the property in 1819 to develop into Clothier’s Mills. While investigating the construction of the Rideau Canal in 1829, Sir James Kempt never made the journey up the South Branch to Clothier’s Mills, irrespective of which political sycophants renamed Kemptville. The small community’s name was not placed on a map until 1836.
There is much, much more to the establishment of communities across the township through the 19th century. Historian Dr. David Shanahan has written many much detailing the group and individual contributions to the growth of North Grenville. These histories are readily found online in the North Grenville Times, in published histories, and by Google searches.
Identifying, preserving, and promoting the diverse history of the Municipality of North Grenville is a challenge. As required by the province, the Heritage Advisory Committee advises the Municipality regarding our heritage, including architecture, material culture, and historical and natural heritage. The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated the committee’s initiatives in conservation, restoration, education, and heritage designation of the built and natural environments.
The committee meets virtually once a month via Zoom. A subcommittee is examining the rehabilitation of the Oxford-on-Rideau Township Hall to identify options, along with monetary requirements, to assist Council in future use priorities, along with heritage preservation. Another subcommittee is taking a similar approach to the former courthouse in Kemptville. The pandemic has slowed the efforts of the subcommittee evaluating a list of requirements for buildings to be added to the heritage register. The documents held by the municipality are to be reviewed, updated, and evaluated. A subcommittee recently struck will focus on the pre-contact and historical archaeology of North Grenville.
The Heritage Advisory Committee has a work plan consistent with the priorities of the Council Work Plan and the forthcoming Community Strategic Plan. Currently, the committee comprises seven volunteers (Michael Whittaker – Chair, Inge van Gemeren – Vice Chair, Robert Angi, Amanda Hutchins, Kenneth Mews, Neil Whyte, and Kevin Willey), and two members of Council, Nancy Peckford and John Barclay. All have voting rights. Amy Martin, Director of Planning and Development, also attends as a liaison to the Municipality.
So much more needs to be done. As the municipality grows, the task to identify and preserve North Grenville’s heritage is a goal all residents can share. Our culture and lifestyles are founded on our history. Without honouring and remembering our past, what does the future offer?