Spence Township

Spence Township was named for a former Postmaster General, the Honourable Robert Spence and Dufferin Bridge was no doubt named after the visit of the vice-regal Earl of Dufferin in 1874. North Sequin was just a mile to the north of this hamlet and so the inhabitants of these two stopping places shared some amenities, one of which was the Orange Hall. In fact near the corner at the Orange Hall side road between the two villages, there once hung sign at the parsonage which read: “NO CATHOLICS ALLOWED.” As the name implies the area was mainly settled Irish Protestants and they wanted it to stay that way.

Ashdown may not be in our township but it is important to our history. It is the Nipissing Road’s most southerly village. Ashdown developed at the junction of the Parry Sound Colonization Road , a mile west of the village of Rosseau on Lake Rosseau.

Named after pioneer landowners, the village, by 1880, boasted a school, Orange Hall, Methodist Church, a store, and hotel run by the Ashdown family, as well as R.G. Hall’s blacksmith shop and A.H. McCann’s wagon and carriage factory. A short distance south of the junction, the White Oak Creek provided power for Thomas Scott’s planning mill and Cyrus Lawson’s sash and door factory. Stages departed daily for Parry Sound to the west for $1.25, and twice weekly along the winding Nipissing Road to Magnetawan for $2.00, and Nipissing Village for $4.00.

Ashdown prospered only briefly. The advent of two railways, the Toronto and North Bay line to the east, in 1886, and the Booth line to the north in 1897, deprived both colonization roads of freight and passenger traffic. With the decline in road use, Ashdown lost its strategic advantage and its businesses moved to the larger village of Rosseau. By 1908 not even the post office remained.

Visible remains of Ashdown are few and scattered; her a log shell, there a frame skeleton, as well as depressions and overgrown yards, indicating old cellar holes and village lots.

Spence was at an intersection with the Ryerson settlement road. The junction attracted two stores, a boarding house-hotel, blacksmith shop, two sawmills, a church, a school and several dwellings.

Most buildings clustered at the northwest and southwest corners, while, dominating the northeast corner, was the two storey frame hotel, for many years run by Sevitt Simpson.

From the top of the hill, looking across the creek that the cement bridge once spanned, was the location of the school near some young white birches where Annie Black once taught, and a store stood nearby. The cement bridge has been replaced with a large culvert and the road widened considerably to better serve today’s traffic.

The spring of 1879 saw a building boom in Dufferin Bridge. The founder, John Clarke and his partner, Joseph Irwin, opened the Dufferin House opposite the corner of the Muskrat Valley Road. This hotel was reported to have had a gaming room in the basement but the hole in the ground that we saw didn’t allow much of a room. John and Joseph may possibly have sold to G.P. Brooks when they moved up to Magnetawan in 1895 to buy another hotel.

Richard Irwin opened his establishment, called the Lorne Hotel, just a few months after the Dufferin, in time for the 12th of July celebrations that year, complete with outdoor dance floor and a German band from Ten Mile Lake. Richard was the first postmaster here from 1878-1887. Thomas Scott latter bought the Irwin Business. There were several new stores built, one operated by Sam Plumtree who may also have had a boarding house, near the Orange Valley Road; Thomas and P.J. Vigrass had stores, and later served gas; James Vigrass was a carpenter, Henry Good was a shoemaker; Charles Clark ran a blacksmith shop.

The Guelph Lumber Company built the Dufferin Bridge Store in 1888 for John McGarry. This was home of the next post office until John resigned in 1889. James Vigrass then filled the vacancy until his death in 1898 when his wife Martha continued the service until 1905. The Post Office closed at that time. Dufferin Bridge was also showing signs of its demise due to the Booth railway and by that time the railway had reached Burk’s Falls so people were traveling that far by train and to Magnetawan by steamboat.

Also near the Muskrat Valley Road once stood a small St. John’s Anglican Church where now all that remains is the outline of the stone foundation, guarded by a comparatively young pine tree. Around it lays the lonely cemetery beckoning the traveler to stop and visit.

A little further on the left of the road as you travel north towards Magnetawan, lies a fair sized gravel pit, which we learned supplied much of the material for local road improvements, the Nipissing Road having once gone right through the centre. At the south edge of this pit stands what remains of a large dead maple tree. It stands very close to the surveyed line separating Monteith and Spence townships, and so was named The Witness Tree. It must be old, but regrettably, nothing lasts forever. If only it could talk to tell us what it was witness to!

The Dufferin Methodist Cemetery is not far north of her. It too once boasted a small church but its position is not so well defined. Close by, but not readily visible from the road, there are still some remnants of an old blacksmith shop that sat behind the Vigrass grocery store, and farther back, a corner of the log barn peeks from the weeds and young trees. In another spot you can see the wagon ruts worn in rock near an old foundation.

All along the Nipissing Old towns sprung up. Towns like Dufferin Bridge, North Sequin, Spence, and Port Anson. Each was a community unto itself. Each had a Church, Cemetery, Inn, School, Post Office and an Orange Hall. Dufferin Bridge, North Sequin and Spence still exist today. Port Anson is the area around the Cornball Store, where Midlothian Road and the Old Nipissing Road meet.

Irish Protestants mostly settled these communities in Spence Township. These early settlers welcomed weary travelers from many nations and many different religions. These early settlers helped the newly arrived with friendship, barn raising, crop planting, harvesting, and clearing the land. These communities became an extended family because everyone of these immigrants was far from home and family.

As the surrounding farm population declined through the early decades of this century. Spence’s function faded. Vacant building, several cellar holes and foundations along the west side of the road testify to the village’s former extent.

Just a few miles north, as the road approaches Magnetawan, it suddenly enters a pocket of good farmland. In the heart of Magnetawan village stands a plaque which commemorates the building of the Rosseau-Nipissing Road.