The Historical Settlement of Bennie’s Corners

The History of Ramsay...

(from Ramsay Reflections 1836 – 1979)

In 1820, Ramsay Township was surveyed by Reuben Sherwood and associates.  The survey was completed in January 1821, and almost immediately military settlers from Perth began to pour in. The first of these settlers located in Feb 1821. A large influx of settlers called the Lanark Society Settlers also arrived in late summer of 1821.  These people were from Scotland and were craftsmen who had been hit hard by the depression following the Napoleonic wars.

One of the few letters which remain from those written by the Lanark Society settlers in the Ramsay township’s first year is that of Glasgow emigrant John Toshack.  In a letter dated 11 Sep 1821, he said in part:

“We have got land in the township of Ramsay near the Mississippi River which runs into the Ottawa about 15 miles for our land.  We are only half a mile of it…….

William, John and James Bennie and I have each got one hundred acres together in a square. It is most beautiful land and resembles the Dalmarnoch haughs. According to what I have seen of other land, it will produce abundantly of all which is necessary for the support of a family….”

Bennie’s land, which later situated a crossroads point became the village of Bennies’s Corners less than two miles from Blakeney. In the 1850s, with a population of about fifty, there was a post office and general store, a few residences, a school and tradesmen such as blacksmiths and shoemakers.  William and John Baird owned a grist mill, Greville Toshack owned a carding mill and Stephen Young a barley mill, all of which were located on the Indian River.

In the 1860s Bennie’s Corners population was at its peak with about 150 people. All the original settlers were from Scotland, primarily the Glasgow and Paisley area.

From the Canadian Directory for Bennie’s Corners on in 1871, we learn that they received their mail three times a week and the following occupations were listed:

John Allan – sawmill                                       William Anderson – farmer

John Baird – gristmill owner                        James Geneford –shoemaker

John Clover – cooper                                      Robert Gomersall – tanner

Alex Leishman – post office and store           Marshall – sawmill

William Phillip – blacksmith          Andrew and David Snedden – grist mill

James Snedden – farmer                                 Andrew Toshack – farmer

Toshack – shingle factory                        James Toshack – leather dealer

Peter McDougall – woollen factory (at Otter Glen)

Bennie’s Corners is known as the birthplace of basketball.  The Schoolhouse S.S. #10 is where James Naismith and his lifelong friend, the renowned Robert Tait McKenzie, attended primary school.  It is here, while playing the schoolyard game “duck on a rock”, that it is believed that James Naismith was inspired to invent the game of basketball.  The famous rock is now located in the Naismith Museum housed in the Mill of Kintail (the Robert Tait McKenzie Museum) also located in the Bennie’s Corners area.

A TOUR OF BENNIE’S CORNERS (written by Jill Moxley, architectural comments by Julian Smith)

Most of the settlers in Bennie’s Corners had never farmed.  They carved their living out of the bush and prospered, building the fine homes that remain today and leaving a legacy of perseverance and hard work with their descendants, many of whom are still farming in the area.

  1. Built on the 1840s by William Moir, an early Lanark Society settler, this house is typical of the stone houses of the time, featuring an elliptical fanlight and dressed limestone quoins and door surround. There is evidence that the upper gable was added in the 1890s at the same time that the house was covered with lime stucco.
  2. This house was originally built of logs which were later covered in wood siding and is one of the earliest homes in the area. It was the birthplace of Dr Archibald Albert Metcalfe who practiced medicine in Almonte for 65 years, served seven terms as Mayor of Almonte and pioneered the development of electrical power there.
  3. Thus 1 ½ storey farmhouse in Vernacular Georgian style is typical of mid-nineteenth century residential design in the Valley. This house is notable for the fine cut stone used on the quoins and around the front entrance with its elliptical transom. The way the stone projects suggests that the rubble wall portion may originally have had a limestone stucco. The house was built by Walter Black and still has the original fireplace with bake oven in the cellar.
  4. Built by William Baker in the 1850s, this house was originally of logs, later covered in wood siding. It features the typical front gable and formal entry. Note the unusual form of the transom and sidelights.
  5. This house, which was in the Bowes family for many years, is a 1 ½ storey design, a common farmhouse style more often found in stone or brick. The symmetrical three-bay front and matching end chimneys are characteristic of mid nineteenth design.
  6. Built by John Steele Jr in the 11890s, this house with its traditional 1 ½ story form, featuring a front gable and formal entry with sidelights and transom, is more typical of stone house of the period. The front porch was probably added early in the twentieth century. The farm is still in the Steele family.
  7. Gatehouse of the Mill of Kintail Conservation Area. Built about 130 by John Baird as his store, it was restored and remodeled by Robert Tait McKenzie one hundred years later ad a guest lodge. Wilbert and Margaret Monette the occupied the house for approximately forty years before it was sold to the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority. The rear addition was added in 1989.
  8. Mill of Kintail Museum. Known originally as Woodside Mills, this imposing stone structure was built by John Baird in the 130ss as a grist mill powered by a series of dams on the Indian River. Abandoned by the Bairds in the 1860s, it was purchased by Robert Tait McKenzie in 1930 and transformed into a summer home and studio.  In 1952 Major and Mrs Leys purchased the mill and founded the museum as a memorial to Robert Tait McKenzie.  In 1972 the property was purchased by the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority.
  9. Built in 1865 by John Snedden, son of the original settler, this house is of 3-ply brick made on the property from the local clay. It is a good example of the Neoclassical tradition with evidence of the growing interest in picturesque style evidenced by the decorative verge board and the round top sash window. Note the arched elliptical openings on the carriage house – one of the few remaining in Lanark County.
  10. This house was built by William Toshack in about 1860 in typical Georgian Vernacular style. Note the dressed stone quoins and door and window surrounds, as well as the symmetrical end chimneys.
  11. Home of Robert Phillip, son of the original blacksmith at Bennie’s Corners. Built in 1868, this simple frame house of three-bay design and side gable form is typical of early Ontario houses.
  12. Schoolhouse S.S.#10 Bennie’s Corners – The first schoolhouse on this site was built of logs. The school was started in 1825 by John Bennie whose first wife and two infant children are believed to be buried here. This is the school house that Robert Tait McKenzie and James Naismith attended.  It is believed that while playing the game “duck on a rock” at this school that James Naismith was inspired to invent the game of basketball. The large stone from this game has been relocated to the James Naismith Museum housed in the Mill of Kintail. The frame structure that replaced it in 1869 had a gable front design and large symmetrical windows typical of schoolhouses of the period.  In 1999,  a modern stone addition was added to the front of schoolhouse.
  13. Built by William Anderson, the original settler on this farm, his house is the original log structure which has been overlaid with wood siding. The symmetry and the rectangular transom are typical of simple Classical Revival homes of log and stone. The front gable with the Gothic Revival window may have been added at a later date.  The pressed metal roof probably dates to the 1930s.
  14. This lovely stone home, now known as “Stanehive” was built in 1856 by Peter Young and his brother Robert. The quality of the stonework here is very high with cu and dressed stone laid in regular courses. A decorative effect is achieved with contrasting stone used for the quoins and the massive lintels and door surround. The large two-paneled front door is very handsome and the transom above has the uneven division typical of the area.
  15. The Gardner farm was settled in 1821 and this house, originally of board and batten, was built in 1867 by Walter Gardner. It is a fine example of the Classical Revival style and features interesting patterning in the transom and sidelights.
  16. Built by William Phillip, the original blacksmith at Bennie’s Corners, this L-shaped home is typical of late nineteenth century farmhouses more commonly found in central and southern Ontario. The high-pitched roof and one small gable probably originally carried fancy vergeboards of the Gothic Revival style. The round arched windows are examples of the more decorative woodwork of the late nineteenth century.
  17. Built by Abial Marshall in the 1860s of local brick made on John Snedden’s farm, this house is an early example of the evolution from Neoclassical to Gothic Revival style. Note the Gothic window in the gable at the front and the unusual use of cut stone trim at the corners and around the window and front door.
  18. Known as “Snedden’s Stopping Place” this substantial five-bay structure was built in 1844 to replace the original log building that burned down in 1844. The inn served the teamsters travelling up and down the Ottawa Valley and had stabling for 14 teams. It ceased operation on the late 1860s, but the farm has remained in the Snedden family and is now the home of Mississippi Holsteins.
  19. Built in 1840 by John Toshack, one of the first settlers at Bennie’s Corners, this house is a fine example of Lanark County Vernacular. Note the elliptical fanlight and the regular courses stonework of the front façade highlighted by cut and dressed limestone quoins and door surround. The upper gable is probably a later addition.
  20. This house was also built in the 1840s by John Toshack Jr. The unusual design features a projecting centre bay and high quality stonework. In the 1860s a very large stone addition was added to the back of the house but has since been removed.
  21. Known as “Otter Glen” this house was built by Stephen Young in 1858. It is close to the site of his barley mill, the area’s first stone building constructed prior to 1830.  The mill later became a woolen factory.
  22. This brick house was built in 1885 and the window detail and overall style are typical of late nineteenth century design. It is the birthplace of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. He was born in a house which formerly stood on the lot.
  23. Built in 1855 by Robert Young, a skilled stonemason (see also #14), the house is a fine example of Vernacular Classic Revival architecture. It is known as the Naismith House since it was the home of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Naismith’s parents both died in 1870 and their three children were raised by their uncle and grandmother on this farm.