This mural across the back interior wall of Union Hall was painted and donated by Laurel to commemorate this once historic landmark.
“Handy As A Pocket On Shirt”
by Claudia Smith
At the time in the history of Lanark County when travel of any sort was not easy, waterways and swamps were major obstacles to be overcome. The boggy narrows between Clayton and Taylor Lakes in Lanark Township were no exception.
Oxen splashed through the muck at a fording spot and the settlers themselves walked across on a wide plank at what was called Settlers’ Crossing. The planks were later replaced with three hewn logs chained together to make a wider bridge but it still could handle only pedestrian traffic.
In 1825, the crossing was “inundated by the backwater caused by a mill dam built by Edward Bellamy Sr.” The water level was raised by four feet and the “dry swamp” became a river.
Records show that there may once have been a ferry going across the narrows between the lakes. A Bennett family settled by the shoreline and may have operated a ferry for travelers. A local store receipt book shows that several fruit trees and garden seeds were sold to “Bennett at the ferry” in the early 1830s.
The ferry may have simply been a raft that was poled across the river carrying people and their goods. Perhaps it was a stronger, sided raft that was able to carry one horse or cow at a time. Shouts from one shore to the other may have been enough to hail the ferryman. A cord strung across the stream and attached to a bell set on a post might also have been the signal that a customer waited on the other side.
In 1858, the Lanark Township Council received a request from 69 petitioners arguing that a bridge across the river was “indispensably necessary for the convenience of the western section of the county, generally being several miles shorter by the route to the Catholic Church at Ferguson’s Falls, to Perth and to the railroad depot in Almonte.
in 1859, a contract was let to James Sullivan to build a bridge 340 yards long for 18 pounds, 10 shillings. Timber was cut, planks were sawn and thick pegs were driven into the wood of the stringers for a new bridge of an innovative design – it floated.
In August, the commissioners in charge of the project reported that “…the bridge is now finished and at present, horses and oxen with carts, waggons, buggyies, carriages of all description loaded or unloaded may pass safely and securely without impediments.” On Sundays and holidays people flocked to see “…the curiosity and construction of our mammoth bridge.”
Eighteen years later in 1877, wheels wind and waves had taken their toll on the bridge. Timothy Sullivan won the contract to build a new bridge on top of the old one as it had become impossible fro horses to travel on. The old arch over the waterway and the 50-foot-long passing portion on the centre of the structure were to be kept as they were in the old bridge. A stout railing was bolted along each side.
This Floating Bridge was a “handy as a pocket on a short” in summer as well as in the winter. Countless horses, wagons, farm machines, funeral processions, and people on foot, as well as sows, cows, cattle and sheep were driven over the convenient shortcut.
A woman from Galbraith area north of the lake, tapped a maple bush on the south side of the lake. She walked across the bridge carrying heavy iron pots for boiling the sap. When the sugar season was over, she carried the many pounds of sweet harvest back to her home.
There was a social life at the bridge. On evenings when parents were assured that all the chores were properly done, children ran to the river to fish.
Joe Baye, a native trapper and hunter, lived near the bridge and he always had long fishing poles to lend the youngsters.
Men fished and hunted ducks from the bridge. Families ate their packet of sandwiches on Sunday afternoon.
The bridge caught the wind like a mast in stormy weather and rocked on the waves.
In high water, the logs tended to pile up and teams of horses had to climb the logs, as did cars in later years.
When the bridge logs were bumped over in high water, children crouched on the floor in the back seat of early model cars.
Summertime brought low water and the bridge stretched down, resulting in an easier surface for travelling.
Often nerves were taut when the bridge was being navigated, especially if the horses were young and inexperienced or the load unwieldy. The men of the Miller outfit breathed a sigh of relief each time they crossed safely with their heavy threshing machine pulled by two teams of horses.
One dark and very wind night, Arthur Bar (now deceased) was heading home to the Clayton area from a festival in Rosetta. He lead his reluctant horse across the rocking bridge, nervous that the horse and buggy might go over the side or that they might fall off the end of it.
Log drives were floated from Taylor’s Lake down to the mill in Clayton and had to pass under the arch of the bridge. The Almonte Gazette reported that Mr D J Thomson took a drive of saw logs to the mill in April 1838.
“Owing to the water being so high it took three men with pike poles to put them through under the Floating Bridge. However, the trip from there to the millpond in Clayton was made in eight hours and considered a fast trip by old river men.”
The old bridge was closed by the Government of Ontario in 1943 due to its unsafe condition. People built fires on it to boil water and one group did not make sure all the coals were out.
The last floating remnants of this historic landmark were blown out on Hurricane Hazel in 1954. Sunken timbers still stretch in parallel lines under the waters of the narrows, and in a very dry season a few bolt stick above the water from the old stringers.