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Heart & Soul

The History of Bethesda-Reach


This book is the story of a rural Ontario community named Bethesda located near the western boundary of what was formerly Reach Township but renamed Scugog.

It reads like the life of hundreds of these communities built by early settlers, but these people are closer to us, as our ancestors and our neighbours. They depended on their individuality and when greater trials came, on one another. Their values, held so dearly, enriched the lives of those they touched. The thread of a strong settler community ran through these neighbourhoods linking one to another, sometimes in family relationships, sometimes as a neighbour, other times only because their purpose was to find the best life possible in a harsh, unfriendly environment. Talents and skills were acquired which benefitted their family’s lives, and, as time passed, they took them into other communities to be freely used during work and social settings. Through it all stands their devotion to God, family and community.

The research included in this book was largely done by Hilda Bailey whose dream was to create a visual and verbal history of the communities of Bethesda, Epsom and Utica. These three hamlets were included in the church circuit until 1956 when Bethesda Church closed. Following the Centennial observances of Epsom church in 1967, Hilda collected letters, family histories and the genealogies of hundreds of people whose lives had shaped the communities. These materials have been assembled and expanded by a group of women representing the Bethesda-Reach Women's Institute (WI) delving deeply into the Tweedsmuir History book and its knowledge of the area, and other sources.

As long ago as 1927, a number of Ontario Womens Institutes began to compile histories of farms, public buildings, villages events, churches, schools and even whole rural counties. Tweedsmuir Histories were officially launched as a fiftieth anniversary project of Federated Women's Institutes of Ontario in 1947, and were named for the late Governor General of Canada, Lord Tweedsmuir. His wife was instrumental in encouraging WI branches to record local histories, as accomplished by the British WI, in order that "the history of humanity, which is continually interesting to us, and your village histories will be the basis of accurate facts much valued by historians in the future. I'm proud to think that you have called them 'The Tweedsmuir Village Histories." Thus, across the province, over one thousand WI compilations exist!

The local Womens Institute was chartered in 1956 and our first historian was Mrs. Wilfred Evans, whose devotion laid the foundation for our history venture. Her daughter, Mildred Evans, has carried on the responsibility and contributed immeasurably to this publication.

Today many communities have seen their churches, schools and even their place on the map disappear. Bethesda is one of those. But the spirit, which bound these neighbours, and the contributions they made, deserve to be recognized.

The past is intriguing because it is often a mystery. All members of a family need to connect to their past and to nuture the ties that hold them to those who came before.

" We shall not cease from exploration,
And the end of all our exploring,
Will be to arrive where we started,
And know the place for the first time."
Memorable words of T.S. Eliot.


In 1809, Major S. Wilmot surveyed Reach Township some twelve years before the first white settler, Reuben Crandell from New York State, settled on the farm later known in the village of Manchester as the “Christie Brothers’ Farm.”

The Bethesda-Reach community is situated in the County of Ontario in the Township of Reach, Concession 9. The area of rolling hills and fairly high altitude has productive farms, which for many years has provided its citizens with a good living and comfortable homes. It is hard to realize that about 1820, this community was all woods; mostly pine and cedar, inhabited with Indians. From early Indian trails there is no exact date known of when the first roads were opened.

About 1825, the Crandell's cut a rough road in the Columbus area and Reuben Crandell cut a road between his home (Manchester) and a point three miles north of Oshawa.
The tenth concession (now Hwy 47) was a dirt and gravel road until around 1940
when A.C. Jupp Construction Co. was contracted to pave it south to Stouffville.
The gravel pit on Jack Frost's farm provided most of the aggregate products needed for this project. The same property is still the scene of active gravel production managed by Harvey Acton Construction Co.
Prior to paving Hwy 47, and other dirt roads, property owners maintained the stretch of road fronting their property, with road masters calling a work bee when necessary. Russ Rodd, Thomas Bartley, Stan Ward and Corless Ashenhurst, to name a few, were members of the fraternity of road masters lending valuable service to the travellers of the community. In the winter they broke trails, and horses and sleighs, sometimes following the main roads but often traversing through farmer's fields where the least snow was to be found. It was only after World War II that Reach Township provided a grader and maintainer snow plow to clear and repair roads.

In 1850 English money was used in Canada. Luxury items were classified and taxed accordingly. A house of round logs would have been taxed different than that of squared timber. Brick or stone houses carried a higher taxed than those made chiefly of a wood. An enclosed carriage with two wheels and used for pleasure, was taxed more than an open carriage with four wheels.

No telephones were used in Bethesda until around 1900 when a group of doctors decided to have a telephone installed in George MacGregor's home, on Lot 6, Concession 9 - East Half, as a central calling place. The neighbours were then able to telephone for a doctor, without having to make the trip to Uxbridge. Mrs. Sandy MacGregor was the nurse for the community. There were few homes, where she had not been in to help.

Highway 12 was known as Centre Road and was not paved until many years later.

It is very interesting to think of the progress that has been made in mail delivery to our door or mailbox. It was not always so handy. Miss Gertie Fisher recalled her teacher, Mr. Allin, would choose two boys or girls who had done good work and behaved well to travel each day to the Epsom post office to bring the day’s mail to Bethesda residents. The Asling's operated the store and Post office at Epsom in 1887.

About 1912, Rural Mail Delivery was started. George Real and Tom Gully brought the Rural Route 3 mail, driving every other day with their horse and buggy (or cutter in the winter). Despite every kind of weather, good and bad they usually got through. The mailmen brought medicine, groceries for the snow bound, repairs and parts for broken machinery. Later, when cars came on the scene, the mail carriers for many years were Norman Lee and Ed Stewart.

As we review our history many interesting facts and stories are recalled. We cannot help but admire the earnest desire of these people to have a church, a place of worship and a school where their children could learn the three “R's”.

Just as soon as it was possible, we find that they built a church. Its location in the previous years was on Lot 6, Concession 8. We have no date of when this primitive structure was built but many believe it was prior to the 1850s. While old family records reveal the construction took place in the 1850s, others feel it could have been as early as the 1820s. Bethesda school was built on the opposite side of the road on Lot 7, Concession 8. The church, like the school, served the sparsely spread out settlers and was accessible by a trail shown on both an 1860 and 1877 map.

One record showed where a meeting was held to move the church across the road to the same side as the school. Early Methodists were very serious about their moral and spiritual obligations and as a result, selected a group of quarterly Board members who examined the Sunday School teachers and church leaders, at least once a year, as to their character. Such reviews were often included in discussions about Temperance and Reform, which was later, called Evangelism.

Pioneer preachers went their rounds as a circuit rider on horseback or by walking. At one time their circuit extended from Whitby to Sandford. Mr. Berry was among the first preachers and so was Mr. Thomas Moore from Bethesda.

It is interesting to know something of the school life of that era. Mr. Rae Munro's grandfather and uncles attended the little log schoolhouse surrounded by a high board fence. Rae has a slate that we think was used there around 150 years ago. In those days a slate and slate pencils were the main equipment needed by Bethesda pupils.

By 1885, more settlers had come to the area making the little log church no longer adequate for worship and social occasions. No doubt there was more money available to think about building a better house of worship. In 1876 John Pethy marked off 3/4 of an acre on Lot 7, Concession 8 that also bordered on the 9th Concession.

The S.S.#10 school was built in 1876, replacing the little log building. The Bethesda Church was built west of the school in the year 1887-1888, looking splendid in its façade of double red brick and pine lumber, with the inside complimented by a full basement. Sheds were constructed at the back of the lot where there was ample room for stabling horses and buggies, and in the winter, cutters and sleighs.

The original design abutted the south end of the church and proceeded south and east along the back of the property. The easterly section was removed first. The sheds had good cribs for the horses to eat from and some students tied their mounts there when they were at school during the week, and then drove home when school was out for the day. Memory recalls a door that opened in the church basement to allow access to the shed without having to move outside. The steps also led to an upper loft area, where props and decorations were stored for the children's Christmas program and other events.

By 1940 many changes had taken place. The country had come through the depression and was fully engaged in supporting Canada during World War II.

Families were generally fewer in number and transportation made easier for pleasure trips, much of the farmland was taking on a new dimension and the overall effect was a factor in the dwindling church membership of thirty-four.

This increased the financial burden on a few, so in 1954 a discussion took place whether to close, or to keep the church open. In 1955 the problem was placed before the congregation with Reverend Kennedy of Uxbridge as meeting chairman. By a ballot of 14 to 7 in favour, it was voted to close the building.

Bethesda members began attending the Greenbank, Uxbridge and Epsom churches for worship. Those who moved out of the area later identified themselves with their new community church.

In 1955, Bill Carnegie, a local carpenter from Greenbank, bought the church for $300 and dismantled it. Any money remaining after closing-out expenses was turned over to the Epsom and Utica churches.

Bethesda’s comfortable church pews were given to the Epsom congregation, the communion table and pulpit donated to the Utica church and the piano received a good home with the Reach Township School Board. Fred Smith of Lot 8, Concession 6, purchased the church shed which he converted to use to a shelter on his turkey farm.

Dr. Matthew Dymond, Minister of Health in 1964, officially opened the new four-room Epsom School that included children from the former Bethesda, Utica and Epsom classes.
In his address, Dr. Dymond stated, The day of the "little red school house" had gone and consolidated areas will soon be the standard everywhere. It is necessary to meet the growing demands on the children of the educational field.” He remarked that, “Not long ago a grandfather, father and son would be expected to carry on the family business but it was no longer the case. Today's students may find it necessary to learn three different careers in their lifetime and still retire at an earlier age than their parents. To meet this challenge, newer methods and newer ideas in education must be realized.”
Gordon Prentice bought the lot and dismantled the outdated schoolhouse. Red bricks were cleaned and reused to build a house. Gordon's son, Donald, built a new home some time later and used some of the brick to build his fireplace. In place of the church and school two houses have been built and families by the name of D. Ralph Nottingham and Paul Solomon live on these properties.

“The old order changeth, yielding place to the new.” Many schools and churches, which were the pride of the pioneers, are empty and being sold off. The roads have become busier with school buses heading to bigger and better-equipped schools. However, memories and associations with the" little red school house" and the small country church will remain precious to many of us for years to come.

After the close of the Bethesda school in 1963, the children were bussed for one year to Greenbank. Mr. Ernie Lee was their bus driver. The new school situated in the village of Epsom was opened September 1964 that brought together the three school sections Bethesda, Epsom and Utica.
The bus traveled the Marsh Hill Road at first and later the Lee's purchased additional three busses as the routes changed. In 1964, Jim Ianson and Ernie each had a bus but in 1970 Ernie sold to Jim Ianson and in 1996 to Murray Lee.

The safety factor became a priority as well as distance. The children well remember that the older children sat at the back and the younger ones at the front, however this was reversed and the bus route was reversed and the children all got a Christmas or the year- end reward treat from the Greenbank store.

In 1970 Ernie sold his busses to Jim Ianson and Murray Lee bought the bus route in 1976. It was noted that the busses stopped at the Evan’s home on the 8th Concession for 28 years. Mary Real and Shirley Lee were most reliable and much-loved drivers for many years. Now in the year 2000, the Durham District school board contracts out each bus route to the successful bidder, Stocks or Laidlaw to name two companies. There are special busses for the handicapped and or special-needs children so they can attend the place of learning best suited for them. In big letters on the side of each yellow bus is the inscription, "On the Journey of Learning".


Sara (MacGregor) Johnson attended the red brick school, taught school at Bethesda and wrote the following in her memoirs. “In the winter and on wet days the boys made use of the church shed, climbing on its rafters and beams while the girls played ‘Farmer in the Dell.” Spelling matches on a Friday afternoon were quit a delight to most children. Benches supplied the seating until double-desks were available.
Church began at 10 a.m. and Sunday School at 2 p.m. The time between the two services was spent learning bible verses by heart. For this they would receive a ticket and enough tickets would in time earn a book from the library. The church at this time had a large library and it was well used.
During church service there was always a time for testimonies, as a child Sara found this very interesting. They had a quarterly communion service with each church taking its turn. The communion meant going up to the front to receive the bread and wine. Sarah recalled a quartette of Art Camplin, Andrew Page, Ewart Blight and Stan Ward were in demand to sing at surrounding locations. Sara remembers an excellent choir and the organ playing by Lillie Stovin, Laura Camplin, Mrs. Thomas Ward, Hettie Ashenhurst, Mrs. Bert Dobson, Myrtle Palmer, Elsie Dobson and Mrs. Clarence Croxall.
The church had Christian Endeavour meetings with a message preached from the Bible and included prayer and singing.

Lois Pickett recalls when she attended the school they had no cloak rooms. Coats were hung on hooks across the back wall of the school. Heat was provided by a box stove at the back of the school. A room (a curtained off corner) held a wash basin on a small table.

Miss Gertie Fisher spent most of her childhood in the late 1800s living in a house by the side of the road where the former Pickett's farm lane came on to the Ninth concession. She recalled her father worked for the Bethesda farmers for 50 cents a day and 25 cents in the winter. She remembered collecting missionary money for the church to help people in far- off lands.

Controversy arose in 1890 when the Reach Church circuit was proposed to become part of the “Bay of Quinte Conference.” Messrs. F. Dobson and William Sellars were appointed as delegates to the meeting to be held in Stouffville, November 21, 1890. Even though they did not get their wish, they presented a strong case for the status quo.
Within Bethesda’s Quarterly board, a recording secretary, attended each meeting to record its proceedings. The following items were recorded:
“On various occasions this committee endorsed members of the Society who wished to enter the ministry. One such applicant was brother Arthur Allen who was recommended. He was licensed to act as ‘Exhorter’ on the Epsom circuit. In 1896, R Dobson was licensed as a local preacher.”

In 1890, the total membership was 164 not including those very young folk who were regular attendants. To assist with financial matters an envelope system was inaugurated within the circuit in 1906, encouraging the brethren to make contributions on a regular basis, by placing their “gifts” in an envelope on the collection plate each Sunday.
A new hymn book became available in 1918, and it was decided that each appointment would be responsible for acquiring them.
In 1920, the Board accepted the resignation of Alex MacGregor (Bethesda) who had served the position of recording secretary for 29 years. Andrew Page succeeded him for one year, then Bert Dobson took up the responsibilities and served for many years.
In 1921, Reverend Lee informed the congregations that the new regulations for minister’s salaries were to be $1500 a year minimum and an allowance for horse keep and two weeks holidays. Times had changed since the $300 paid in 1876, $600 in 1881, $650 in 1881 and in 1917, and $900 per year.

Bethesda school children joined other schools in 1897 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria. Their entry was a decorated wagon for the parade held in Uxbridge.

A telephone line was put through in 1908 and hydro came in 1930.

Gladys Evans wrote how, in 1926 and 1927, some members of the Bethesda Young People’s group decided to put on a play, "The Last Loaf," which had a temperance theme, very carefully chosen as it had a good moral, as well as a liberal amount of comedy.

It involved the baker, played by Fred Dobson, with the timely greeting of, "Which will it be? Either both or neither; square brick family twist rolls, or muffins? Buttered up or buttered down?"
If he was answered at the door by the maid, Patty (Gladys Evans), he would hear, “Come to my arms, you bundle of charms.”

Then the part of the stuttering butcher, played by Turner Ashenhurst, always brought peals of laughter. But, Cliff Ward and Wilfred Evans, Walter Webb, Florence Webb and Elsie Ward carried the serious side of the play. The play was popular and had performances in eight communities: Bethesda, Utica, Epsom, Uxbridge, Udora, Goodwood, Greenbank and Nestleton.

When spring seeding time arrived, the play had to be discontinued, but the grand finale for their display of talent came with a trip by boat from Toronto to Niagara Falls.

The young people of Bethesda were known to be hockey enthusiasts. Going back to the early 1920s, the young people were active in flooding and using open-air rinks where "shinny" could be enjoyed. Rinks were made on the Palmer farm and the Brown farm on the Ninth Concession, and also at Wilfred Evan's farm on the Marsh Hill Road.

Every Saturday a team from elsewhere came to challenge Bethesda players on these ice patches. Everyone pitched in to clean the ice off when necessary. No doubt there were many half-frozen rooters by the time the games ended.

About 1933, a" bush league" was formed using teams made up from men of the surrounding towns. Reach entered a team coached by Wilfred Evans. Team members included Lloyd, Ronald and Rubert Beare, Ivan Beare, Armour McMillan, Delbert Catherwood, Bill Keene with Enoch Mcknight as goalie. Ralph Veitch acted as team treasurer. The Depression was on so the league managers decided to barely cover expenses by charging low fees, and children were allowed in free.

The Bethesda area was known for the many "home boys", youth and young men who came to Canada from Great Britain and worked on the area farms and also attended the local school. At one time there were nineteen boys in one Sunday school class with Charlie Webster as their teacher. Some that are remembered as being successful in later life were: Leslie Skewis who later lived near Lindsay, Alfred Budd (World War I); Henry Dermedy, later of Boston USA; Pat Gardner who moved to Toronto.

Bethesda and community were noted for its many musical talents such as the good band in Epsom. John and George Ward of Bethesda were clarinet players, Sandy MacGregor's son, William, played the horn.

In 1920, Bethesda residents were treated to a movie of Charlie Chapman at the Bethesda social evening. A.G. Tipper, from the Department of Agriculture at Uxbridge, presented the classic comedy that was enjoyed by old and young alike.

John Dobson recalled that in 1926, Stan Ward and Bert Dobson each bought a "new- fangled" fire extinguisher for twenty-five dollars. Each one said nothing about it thinking the folks would make a joke of the purchases, however Stan Ward's barn was struck with lightening and was saved by the two extinguishers.

The Sunday School Picnic was held at Brookdale in 1928 and attended by most of Bethesda residents.

When Laurence, Ross and Floyd Evans attended school they also had the job of being the caretaker. Laurence recalls getting sixty-five dollars a year and Floyd remembers riding his pony to school before daylight in the winter to start the fire in the stove.

In 1937, the church quarterly meetings were replaced by congregational meetings open to the people. The first congregational meeting was held at Bethesda where all the reports were given, and the election was held to elect Elders and Stewards holding for the next term, which were usually two to three years.
Those elected Elders in 1940 were George Ward and Cliff Ward. Stewards elected were Fred Dobson, Stanley Ward and Turner Ashenhurst. Ushers appointed for the year were Comrie Ward and Henry Dyas.

In 1913, while Mr. and Mrs. Cliff Ward were driving to town, the harness of their horse broke and the horse bolted throwing them into a ditch. Nobody was hurt but a big bucket of eggs did not survive the accident.

Dorothy Wilson remembers her father, Norman Prentice, talking about when he worked on the farm of Wesley Page for about eight months he could only recall one meal that they did not have pie. Pie was served at every meal, breakfast, noon dinner and supper.

Roy Hope recalls being also the caretaker of the school in 1931-32 when he was in grade seven and eight.
In 1964, Reverend C.R. Nelson, instructor in religious training in schools, offered the prayer of dedication for the new Epsom Public School.

The Uxbridge Times Journal, dated the 23rd of December 1969, wrote an article on Robbie Croxall and Tina Ruhl. These two Epsom school children also became television stars when the Department of Education sent its film crews of the Educational Television Branch to follow them around the school and at home to reveal insights into early adolescence. The film was seen on CBCTV.

In 1986, a shipment of some 3,000 bags of corn donated by Uxbridge and area farmers was sent to feed the hungry in Mozambique. Floyd Evans, Orvan Brethour and Don Asling originated the idea to help the hungry in far off lands. Working with churches in the community they had great success in launching this mammoth project which was accomplished almost totally by volunteers.

Janice Evans was presented with the provincial 4H award in 1987 for completing 24 projects.

In 1989, Heinz Blum owner of Bethesda "Christmas Tree Farm" won the best award for “White Spruce, four to five feet,” from the Christmas Tree Growers Association of Ontario and received the reserve champion award.


Why They Came

By the time the earliest settlers came to this part of Reach, the townships in the Niagara peninsula and beside the colony's lakes and waterways had been cleared and settled with neat houses and productive fields. But beyond these first-occupied acres lay heavily- wooded tracts with no transportation routes except Indian trails.
The Township of Reach had been surveyed in 1809 by Major S. Wilmot, but not until 1821 did the first settler, Reuben Crandell, tramp through the forests and decide on his farm plot of four hundred acres in what is now Prince Albert.

Not until 1838 did settlement begin in the Bethesda area when Robert Dobson arrived. A surveyor’s map of 1828 shows all land from Lots 1 to 12, Concession 8 and 1 to 6, Concession 9 were in the name of various settlers, Clergy Reserves or the Canada Company. Many people shown as owners had been granted these lots because they had remained loyal to Britain during the Revolutionary War in America, or they had fought for British North America in the war of 1812.

However, lands closer to the lakes found in the Niagara area, or Prince Edward County, were more desirable. Land was also granted to members of the “patriotic” families and back country townships like Reach soon had its lots taken up by absentee families like Moses Secord, George Howe, Catherine Marsh, Clare Marsh and James Neville. The Marshes were given large parcels of land because their grandfather, William, a colonel in the British army during the revolution, had lost valuable lands in Vermont. Their father Matthais, who settled near Trenton, had twenty-four children.

The Canada Company was a London-based organization that had bought nearly 2.5 million acres in Upper Canada to sell to settlers. Many agents of this company were stationed in every part in the British Isles and travelled throughout the cities and towns often painting a rosy picture of life in the colonies, growing wealthy themselves from the sales of land. Glowing reports of cheap, fertile lands, great water accessibility and freedom from taxation were enticing to people in Britain where life was changing rapidly.

Government-assisted settlement schemes were available and shipping agents travelled the ports encouraging immigrants to fill the holds of the ships on their return trip of bringing cargoes of timber to Britain from Canada. Little mention was made of the atrocious hardships in crossing the broad Atlantic Ocean. Hunger, disease from filthy holds and poor food were prevalent and little was said of the fact that the hardest labour might not improve their lives in North America when compared to their homeland.

When the Napoleonic Wars ended, thousands of younger sons returned to British family estates that would seldom become their inheritance. As soldiers, they were pensioned on half-pay, never enough to support a family, and at any time they could be recalled to military service. By 1831, the population of the British Isles, which had been 13 million in 1780, soared to 24 million. Machines in factories were replacing cottage-industry spinning and weaving.
Collective farming practices were replaced by individual farming. No longer would sheep or cattle be pastured in unfenced commons.

New methods of farming increased production but reduced opportunities for unskilled squatters and small landholders.
Highlanders of Scotland saw the breakdown of clan society as sheep grazing took over the lowlands. In Ireland, a population explosion fuelled by potato cultivation gave that country the highest rural population density in Europe in 1821. By 1847, this concentrated focus on potato growing to feed its people, resulted in a devastating famine when the crops rotted in the ground from disease. Destitute and unemployed families were promised security in another land by their government, shipping agents, the Canada Company and its agents, and even relatives who were settled in modest comfort.

Little wonder that the English, Scots and Irish arrived in huge numbers in these mid-nineteenth century years.

Name Spelling

An interesting fact that comes down through the years, and it is not uncommon, is that families have had the spelling of their surnames changed on official and unofficial documents: Prentice (Prentis), Hargrave (Hargraves, Hargreaves), McGregor (MacGregor, Macgregor), etc. We use the present-day spelling of the names in this book, but want to recognize the changes that evolution brings.

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