Prince Edward County Heritage Advisory Committee (PEHAC) Prince Edward Heritage Advisory Committee

Historic Notes

County Heritage,
Role of PEHAC

A Photo Tour of PEC
Heritage: A National
Cultural Landscape?

Prince Edward County
Historic Notes

List of Designated
Properties in PEC

Advantages of
Heritage Designation


Guiding Principles in
the Conservation of Historic Properties

PEHAC Membership

Contact Us

Links to Related Sites





Introduction to Prince Edward County: the natural/cultural mix, linked with pastoral, coastal and rural settlement vistas

Prince Edward County, famous as a part of United Empire Loyalist settlement, is an island community encompassing less than 700 square kilometres, which boasts of over 800 kms of shoreline with varying geological features. The relative isolation of the island has nurtured a special rural culture, with overlays back through time as this culture evolved according to the natural setting and proximity to various markets. Within the County are to be found a remarkable mixture of heritage features (natural, architectural, archeological, historical), each meeting defined criteria for heritage significance.

Yet, to suggest that the County simply holds a collection of heritage assets is to sell it short. What makes the County unique, are the "webs of life" that link these assets to each other through time. These include the pastoral vistas, the historic allure of streetscapes with designated heritage buildings, the quiet harbours nestled into the geological features, and the natural shoreline as seen from the south which is the haven sought by migrating birds every spring. These examples identify only a few of the key links that bring the heritage of the County to life and make it the fascinating landscape that it is, rather than just an outdoor museum containing a variety of different artifacts. It is this combination of special places and events and their interwoven connections with the life of the County that sets Prince Edward apart as a potential National Cultural Landscape.

The notion of a "Sunday drive" perhaps explains this best. It is not so much the idea of rushing from one "artifact" site to another that makes a drive interesting, but the overall impression of seeing the mixture of places and what links them. Prince Edward County is not an outdoor museum with a scattering of artifacts, but a place that presents its heritage assets in a setting that brings them to life through an evolving economy and culture having long term respect and human involvement within a vibrant ecosystem.

Natural Heritage

The story of this island community begins with the land itself. Some 500 million years ago, during the Ordovician period of the Palaeozoic era, this area was inundated, and creatures living at the time became fossils as the limestone which now underlies much of the island was formed. About a million years ago, glaciers ground over the county and modified the surface of both the island and the shoreline. Sand deposited in areas resulted in the formation of the Sandbanks, deposits of glacial till introduced new soil types but also the boulders that make farming more interesting and landscaping options more varied. Streams flowing under the glaciers formed eskers, which are sources of gravel as well as holding basins for water retention.

These geological events provided the setting for the gradual evolution of the island to the way it is today, with areas of deep rich soils, unused or pasture lands on high limestone bedrock, and extensive swamp and marsh ecosystems.

The combination of these features with its location in Lake Ontario has resulted in The County being blessed with some rather unusual natural features and events:

  • Lake on the Mountain...geological anomaly similar to Roblin Lake…the water is nearly 200 feet above the lake that is only a short distance away.
  • Sandbanks Provincial Park...geological phenomena…the largest baymouth sandbar separating freshwater in the world.
  • Point Petrie and Long Point/Point Traverse...ecological interest...migrating birds crossing Lake Ontario use these staging points in numbers and varieties (334 species) almost equaling those of Long Point and Point Pelee on Lake Erie, the latter boasting 365 species.
  • Precambrian inlier, Ameliasburg vicinity...geological anomaly...a unique 13 acre area of precambrian rock protruding through a setting of much younger limestone.
  • Mature maple grove above Black River along County Road #13…the canopy of Grimmon’s Woods creates a unique linkage between a high limestone ridge and the Black River valley.
  • Albury swamp heronry...ecological site…one of several major heronries on the island, the nesting sites for the majestic blue heron. Snakes (water and garter) abound, as do bull frogs. Other wildlife common to The County include deer, otter, coyotes, muskrat, turkey, grouse and fox.
  • Little Bluff Conservation Area…illustrative of the high limestone cliffs common in The County, the pebble beach with the marsh behind provides a view of the cliffs and habitat for a wide variety of birds.

Cultural Heritage

Early History as portrayed by Archeological Sites

Although it is difficult to conceive now, The County had a tundra ecology after the glaciers receded. The earliest residents were Paleo-Indians who hunted in the area and left behind evidence of their presence in the form of fluted chert spear points, which date back some 12,000 years.

As the earth warmed following the ice age, trees began to grow in the County, and three cultures followed one another: the ARCHAIC, hunter gatherers; MOUNDBUILDERS, who were larger groups with some agricultural activities; and EARLY IROQUOIS, who formed small villages with some farming; followed by LATER IROQUOIS with larger villages and more extensive farming in the Devils Punch Bowl area.

During the latter half of the 1700’s and 1800’s, however, the Mississauga Indians (Waupoos Island was named after Chief Waupoos) of Prince Edward were decimated by diseases brought from Europe.

Cultural Heritage as influenced by Natural Heritage

With over 800 kilometres of shoreline, it is no surprise that Prince Edward County can trace water transportation back to its early days. Carrying Place portage was used by Indian people long before European explorers arrived.

The shores and offshore areas to the south of the island, known as "the Graveyard of Lake Ontario", are littered with the wrecks of ships from the earliest of time to the present, far more numerous than those in the Fathom Five area. The shoals of scraped underwater table rock in this area are extensions of the limestone rock carved by glaciers.

The French Connection

Champlain crossed The County in 1615, beginning at the False Ducks Islands. French fur traders passed through the area on their trade route up the Trent to Lake Huron. In 1668 Sulpician Priests established a Mission in the Lake Consecon area called Kente. It served the Iriquois villages on the north shore of Lake Ontario. It was abandoned in 1680. A 1757 French map named Prince Edward "Presquille de Quintee". British, French and Dutch trade wars erupted from time to time. Finally under British rule in 1763, Prince Edward and beyond was declared "Indian Country" and no formal settlement by Europeans was allowed.

The United Empire Loyalists

This changed with the arrival of some 500 Loyalists (plus disbanded British and German allied troops) subsequent to the American Revolution. Captain Justine Sherwood carried out a reconnaisance survey of Prince Edward in 1783, and the following year, surveyor Collins came ashore at Prinyer’s Cove, erected a log cabin and began to survey the "5th township", now Marysburg, the first to be done in the County. The first Loyalist settlers, led by Lieutenant Archibald MacDonnell, arrived in the fall of 1784 at MacDonnell’s Cove, later named Prinyer’s Cove after his son-in-law, and began to build their cabins and clear the land.

This early settlement was followed by similar activity in the area up the shores of Picton Bay, then called Grand Bay, across the old portage to East and West Lakes and to Wellington. The Daniel Reynold’s Loyalist house was finished and he and his new bride moved there in 1792. It has been carefully restored and still functions as a residence. Interestingly, both these areas, although not tilled until the early 1800’s, reflected the influence of nature: they are easily accessible by water, and have good soils.

Throughout the 1800’s, Prinyer’s Cove was used by commercial schooners as a safe haven. There were several docks, where local products could be loaded onto the ships. Many other safe harbours in The County received similar use throughout that Century, including Picton Bay, Weller’s Bay, Bay of Quinte, Smiths Bay and South Bay.

The Realities of Island Life

Although most access to The County is now by bridge, a variety of ferries served over two centuries. The Glenora ferry, in different forms, has operated from the Adolphustown area to Glenora for over 200 years. Initially operated by oars for passengers only, it evolved to its present form. The Glenora mill was built by Peter Van Alstine in the early 1800’s. The flour and carding mill were operated by Hugh Macdonald, Sir John A’s father, between 1829 and 1836. The current fisheries research station was originally constructed in 1870 by James C. Wilson to manufacture water turbines. The machinery in both buildings was powered by the overflow water from the Lake on the Mountain 200 feet above.

Newly arrived settlers from Europe and the US had to have their needs met locally, as transportation of the day was sporadic. Consequently, in addition to food, manufactured goods had to be produced nearby, thus setting off The County’s very own "industrial revolution". The head of Picton Bay became a manufacturing and distribution town. Hallowell Township had the second highest assessment in the Midland District, about half of that of Kingston. The first settlers in Bloomfield, Abraham and James Barker, established a grist mill and a general merchandise business. Abraham’s son David started a foundry. Stewart Wilson set up a business making harness, wagons, ploughs, other agricultural machinery, stoves and castings. Hallowell produced everything required: furniture, leather boots, hats, clothing, books, beer and whiskey. Predictably, demand for locally manufactured products tapered off as transportation matured, the limited market became saturated and new sales were replacements only.


Although the current site of Picton was granted to Lieutenant Moore Hovendon following the American Revolution, it was purchased at a Sheriff’s sale in 1790 by Robert Macaulay, who passed it on to his son in 1800. William Macaulay had it laid out as a village in 1815, naming it Picton after General Sir Thomas Picton who had been killed that year in the Battle of Waterloo. Street names (Portland, York and Pitt) were all heroes of the day. In 1837, the adjacent village of Hallowell on the north side of the Bay was amalgamated with Picton. The industrial activities in Picton, combined with the settlement there of families of means, resulted in the rich architectural heritage now so valued in the County.


Milford is near the upper end of the Black River, the largest river in The County. In 1826, the Royal Navy’s Crown Reserve on Pine was released, resulting in a boom period there. During the "schooner days", vessels were built in Milford and floated down the river to the lake. The bridge, near the present Black River Cheese Factory, was a swing bridge at that time, and the river was dredged.


Agriculture has played an important role in The County since the early 1800’s. Initially, the main cash crop was wheat exported to Great Britain. The USA became a major customer during the Civil War, and these trade links were retained until near the end of the century. A saying of the times was "wheat bought the farm and barley paid the mortgage". The Picton Fair Grounds played roles complementary to the agricultural industry of the times. The Prince Edward Agricultural Society, formed in 1831, held its first Fair in 1836, and purchased the present grounds from the Picton Driving Park Association in 1886. Initially, the Grandstand became the focus for trotting horse racing, symbolic of the export of trotting horses to the USA. In 1890, passage of the McKinley Tariff put a stop to all agricultural and fisheries exports to the US.

When the Tariff killed their market, farmers switched to dairying and growing canning crops. As many as 30 butter and cheese manufacturing plants operated at one time. By 1902, it is estimated that one third of all Canada’s canned fruits and vegetables came from "The Garden County". Apples continue to be a significant crop, with County cider and maple syrup even being sold in gourmet food stores in Toronto such as Shay Gourmet.

Social Centres

Schools and churches became the social hubs of the communities, which were small in area due to the nature of transportation of the day (horse and buggy). A lasting tribute to these times is the historic Bethesda United Church and its "drive sheds".

1920 to 1940

Economic growth elsewhere and the role of the automobile brought the recreational assets of The County to the fore in the "Twenties". This was somewhat short-lived as the Depression caused widespread unemployment. Somewhat of an economic bridge from the Roaring Twenties into the Depression years was provided by rum running. Farmers lived off the land as best they could, but others had no choice but to leave. The population of the County dropped to 16,700. World War 11 changed that in a hurry. The Hasty Pees were mobilized for active service in September, 1939. The establishment of the British Commonwealth Air Training Program, as an old doctor reported to Dave Taylor, "brought in a welcomed addition to the gene pool".

The natural resources of The County continue to provide an economic base. Agriculture flourishes. Mineral extraction and processing continues. Tourism is again becoming a major industry, with B & B facilities providing many full and part time jobs. Moreover, the tranquil setting provided by The County is found attractive by self employed and retiring "Baby Boomers". The reputation of The County in terms of beauty, culture and serenity continues to attract many persons planning to live and retire in The County. Modern communication technology makes it possible for many persons to live where they choose, rather than this being dictated by "where" they work. These residents make considerable investments in real estate and bring their cultural wealth and well as their financial capacity and business acumen to The County, contributing to the business and cultural wealth and helping to perpetuate the evolution of this island cultural landscape.

Cultural Heritage:

  • County personalities and their contributions
  • Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, spent part of his youth in The County, helping his cousin L. P. Macpherson, a Hallowell lawyer. He was pro tem secretary of the Agricultural Society in 1833/4, and later married at another cousin's house, who was a former Hillier resident. Interestingly, another Picton resident, George McMullen, became a liaison officer in a deal between a group of Americans and Sir Hugh Allan, regarding the construction of the CPR. This consortium had paid substantial funds to the Conservative Party, but Macdonald would not accept the notion of the rail line running through much of the US rather than an all-Canadian route. The public release of documents precipitated "Great Railway Scandal", which led to the defeat of Macdonald’s government, and nearly ruined Macdonald himself.
  • McMullen was identified by the Picton Gazette as an "informer and retailer of private correspondence". In 1884, he purchased the home constructed two years earlier by Walter Ross, former first MP (in 1867) from Prince Edward to the Parliament of the Dominion of Canada, who had become insolvent in the interim. The structure has been occupied by the Royal Canadian Legion since 1948, a landmark for its architecture and the majestic black walnut trees in the front yard.
  • Plaque: Sir Rodmond Roblin, Premier of Manitoba 1900 –1915, grew up on Fish Lake Road. His grandson, Honourable Dufferin Roblin, unveiled the plaque in 1963, when he was Premier of Manitoba. He later became President of the CPR.
  • H. J. McFarland, Mayor of Picton in the ‘50’s made the term "The County" famous well beyond Prince Edward.
  • Honourable George Hees, former Federal Minister of Industry and Veteran’s Affairs.
  • James A. Taylor, QC, former Ontario Minister of Energy and of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, presently Mayor of the Corporation of Prince Edward.
  • Honourable Lyle Vanclief, Federal Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.

Architectural Heritage


  • The Regent Theatre is an historic structure. The main building was constructed in the 1830’s, but the theatre came into its own when George Cook bought it in 1918 and converted it to its present use. As a mid point between Toronto and Montreal, it was the setting for vaudeville acts and major plays, and continues to this day as a setting for a variety of cultural activities.
  • Macaulay House: c. 1830, has been furnished and restored to the style of the 1850’s, in the setting of Macaulay Heritage Park.
  • Town Hall: built in 1866 as a fire hall, with meeting rooms upstairs. Served as the Bijou Opera House for live travelling shows and movies. Used sporadically until work began in 1988 to restore it as a Town Hall.
  • The Crystal Palace: built in 1890 on a variation of Paxton’s use of glass (Crystal Palace, Great Exhibition in London, 1851) for the Prince Edward County Agricultural Society.
  • The Merrill Inn: constructed 1877, Edwards Merrill, a lawyer and judge, also built a scaled down version overlooking the Bay (2 Hill Street). Suffering from a terminal disease, Judge Merrill hanged himself from the balcony of this Hill Street home.
  • District Court House and Gaol: constructed in 1832/4 in the Greek Revival style. Hugh Macdonald was a Justice of the Peace at the time, and attended the first session in the new Court House with his son John A.. The latter Macdonald, although not yet a lawyer, successfully defended himself at the second session in the courtroom against an indictment for assault. The Goal part of the building now houses the County Archives. The Court remains in use.


  • The Wellington Catholic Church was the first church erected in the County.
  • Tara Hall, completed in 1839, an excellent example of the "Loyalist style" of architecture, similar to Macaulay House.
  • The Wellington Museum was a former Quaker Meeting House.


  • Main Street: a blend of heritage homes, crafts shops and homey B & B establishments make Bloomfield a destination for many travelers, as well as those wishing to store helicopters.
  • This contrasts with its original roles as an industrial town (saw mill, canning factories, carding machinery, woollen factory, etc.). The Cooper’s sawmill still operates, manufacturing pallets.
  • Site of several Quaker Meeting Houses, as early as 1803.

Rural Settings

  • Horses at one time powered the ferry to Waupoos Island.
  • The Ameliasburg octagonal house was one of four in the County, two remain in Picton.
  • The Ameliasburg Museum evolved around the Methodist Church, constructed in 1868.
  • Northport was once a major port on the Bay of Quinte.
  • White Chapel was first Methodist Church in Prince Edward County, constructed in 1809. It has been maintained as a place of worship longer than any other church of Methodist origin in Ontario.

PEC continues to evolve as people interact with the natural resource base: the webs that bring it all together.

  • Loyalist Parkway...a drive through history (heritage barns; farms vistas; mixed architecture rural residences and yards; historic plaques).
  • Prince Edward County Trail System…a system of hiking and cycling trails is under development, with major portions of the old rail bed being readied for the spring of 2000.
  • Picton Harbour; Prinyer’s Cove; West Lake … transportation and recreational activities today make use of the same waterways used in the past.
  • Special Activities celebrate history (eg. Picton fair; Wellington "pumpkin festival; Bloomfield Christmas Parade of Lights; Cherry Valley Plowing Match; Prince Edward Yacht Club Regatta) and our linkages with our natural resource base.
  • Eight museums bring together memories of the past (Mariner’s Park Museum; Macaulay Heritage Park, etc.) for the education and enjoyment of both residents and tourists who wish they were.

Prince Edward County continues to evolve as a cultural landscape.

  • New communication technology frees people to work where they choose to live.
  • Artists find the area attractive and offer frequent studio tours and shows.
  • Heritage conservation and education continues to be important.
  • We are building on all the assets of the past ( Little Bluff; Sandbanks; heritage barns; rural vistas; heritage homes; water vistas)
  • And our respect for our history is celebrated as the future unfolds (agricultural fair; museums; modern plays; Sandbanks beach; fishing derbies; main streets of Picton and Bloomfield; Cenotaph)

Jim Collinson, with research material from David Taylor
November 18, 1999

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