By Barry Penhale
Any reputable dictionary when consulted will immediately produce several examples of the meanings of the words “mystery” and “mysterious.” The Canadian Oxford Dictionary comes through with “secret, hidden, undisclosed” and perhaps best of all, “full of or wrapped in mystery.”
Each of these definitions is aptly suited to any writings concerning the early Hastings County locality known as Lost Channel. This is an area especially suited to those adventurous history seekers who relish exploring Ontario “Ron Brown style,”* by getting off the beaten path. Perhaps “off the beaten path” truly sums up the ghost town of Lost Channel better than any other phrase. This somewhat hidden landmark, though easily accessible to the east of Highway #37, along the Lost Channel Road south of Tweed, can indeed be considered the entranceway to a scenic region uniquely its own — a fascinating area that resonates with reminders of the past that many other parts of Ontario would be hard pressed to match.
If a complete history of Lost Channel has been written it has not yet come to my attention. However, two newspaper articles published in the 1970s would appear to represent the most fulsome writings to date and are part of the archives housed at the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre. “The Saga of Lost Channel” by Harold Roberts was published in the Tweed News, Oct. 30, 1974. It should be noted that Roberts was a local businessman who operated a stationery store in association with the Tweed News Publishing Company. The other Lost Channel story also appeared in the Tweed News on Nov. 6 of the same year. Initially prepared by the Chapman Branch of the Women’s Institute** as part of their Tweedsmuir history series, a copy of this article is in the Tweed and Area Heritage Centre.
Returning to an even earlier time when the likes of Hasting’s Bella Flint and other equally prominent timber barons were hitting their stride, the river drivers in their employ were a familiar sight along the Moira River. And some sight it must have been as annually, gigantic rafts of square timber were deftly driven down such then turbulent waterways. It is believed that around this same time someone, likely a very frustrated lumberman, came up with the name Lost Channel when confronted and confounded by the ever-present diverging branches of the river. Small wonder that this particular site on the mighty Moira was truly a raftsman’s nightmare.
Before moving on from the colourful era of the old bush days with their shanties, lumber mills, and giant pines herded in large timber bays on the Bay of Quinte, I wish to quote that old lumber merchant Flint who, as early as 1869 was becoming acutely aware of dwindling merchantable timber in the hinterland of Hastings. Flint wrote, “The pine and other timber on the Moira and its tributaries is fast passing away and will soon become a matter of history.”
In years past, the Moira River in the vicinity of Lost Channel was known to be both deeper and cleaner than today. Not surprisingly, this and some other stretches of the Moira proved to be a natural habitat for huge specimens of Lake Sturgeon. Newspaper reports in the Tweed News during the late 1880s made mention of two sturgeon caught, one weighing in at 87 lbs. and the other exceeding 100 lbs. The successful anglers involved had certainly earned bragging rights!
Other than magnificent scenery and some rugged evidence of decaying millworks there is little to suggest that this was once quite a lively industrious community boasting homes, water-powered industries, one or more stores, and even a Lost Channel Post Office, which appears to have opened on April 6, 1889, with a Mr. Fluker as postmaster. Its days, unfortunately, were numbered and the post office only served the community little more than 10 years. Following closure, it would appear that local mail destined for Lost Channel became the responsibility of the Chapman Corners post office.
Lost Channel’s industrial past is nothing short of remarkable eclipsing anything else one can associate with what today has become an Ontario ghost town. Readers of this blog and the print version of Country Roads need be assured of my further attention to Lost Channel. It will be a pleasure to share with you the results of my examination of the varied past enterprises that for a time did much to put Lost Channel on the map commercially. It’s a story worth telling!
* Ron Brown is the well-known authority on Ontario’s ghost towns and railways. The author of many books about Ontario, Brown also conducts popular bus tours of the province and is in demand as a lecturer.
** The Women’s Institute has made an enormous contribution to our understanding of Ontario’s heritage that, without the monumental efforts of its individual chapters, would simply not exist. Time and time again historians and historical researchers (including this chronicler) have said “Thank God for the Women’s Institute and the existence of the invaluable Tweedsmuir histories produced by countless often unrecognized volunteers.” First organized in 1897 at Stoney Creek, the Institute was founded by Adelaide Hunter Hoodless (1858-1910), whose homestead near Paris, Ont. (west of St. George), is operated as a museum by the Federated Women’s Institute of Canada. Elsewhere, a plaque can be found at the Erland Lee Home (about two two kilometres from Stoney Creek). One cannot make mention of the Institute without acknowledging the role of Erland Lee, an Ontario farmer who opened up his home to accommodate an audience of 100 women for an inaugural meeting and on behalf of the women present signed the official paper that enabled their existence — at the time women did not have the right to sign a legal document.
Sources: Tweed and Area Heritage Centre archives and the writer’s research files. As always a big thanks to Evan Morton.
Special thanks to The Tweed News for making these photographs available.