Kitley –  The Early Years

Kitley Township

When the United Empire Loyalists travelled up the St. Lawrence River in their bateaux, Durham Boats and canoes, in 1784 to claim their new homesteads, Kitley Township was still a wilderness, inhabited only occasionally by nomadic Indian tribes on hunting and fishing expeditions.

While UEL pioneers were settling along the riverfront townships, the future township of Kitley was undeveloped and uninhabited.

Edwardsburgh, Augusta and Elizabethtown were first settled, but north of these new townships, dense forests stretched to the Rideau River and beyond.

The land had formerly been Indian Territory, though the natives used it only for occasional hunting and fishing expeditions. They had no permanent settlements such as those which once existed in Augusta Township. The Iroquois had a number of trails running through the wild forest which covered the area, the paths starting at the St. Lawrence and winding up in the Rideau District.

French Canadian fur traders also criss-crossed the area but left no permanent camps to mark their passage.

Gov. Frederick Haidimand

In 1790, Governor Frederick Haidimand, a British army general, ordered surveys of the lands north of the settled townships.

Survey parties under Lt. Gersham French and Capt. James Sherwood of Jessop’s Rangers, examined the area which was to become Kitley and found it suitable for habitation and settlement. They were impressed by the numerous mill sites found along inland streams.

The actual survey of Kitley was delayed for seven years until 1797. In the meantime, Kitley had its first settler, a pioneer farmer named James Finch. With his family, James Finch settled on what was later to become Lot No. 29 in the 7th Concession.

The Pioneer Upper Canada Surveyor, Lewis Grant, laid out the lines of Kitley Township in 1797. It consisted of approximately 100 square miles of dense forest. For some reason, probably because its northern end was closer to the Rideau Canal than to the St. Lawrence, for shipping purposes, the concessions ran from north to south rather than from south to north as in Elizabethtown and Augusta Townships.

But Grant and his helpers laid out the township from the south starting with Concession 10. When they reached the Northern end they discovered that Concession 1 was only half as wide as the other nine. That’s why Concession One is narrower than the others and has fewer lots.

Marking off the Lots, the surveyors started at no. 30 in the west and worked their way eastward, then discovered another major error; they actually ran out of room! As a result, this mistake by the surveyors robbed Kitley of the first three lots in every concession. Starting in the west with Lot No. 30, Lot No. 4 is the most easterly. Lots numbers 1, 2 and 3 do not exist!

Later surveys show No. 22 to be a reserve lot. James Finch who had already cleared five acres on Lot No.22 moved over to Lot No. 21. (Possibly before anything was officially signed.)

Both lots lie along the road which became the main street of Toledo. Although Mr. Finch erected a log cabin, dug a well, and cleared 16 acres on Lot No. 21, his claim to the land was disputed by the government.

The Kitley census of 1800 lists James Finch as a settler, but he is missing from the count in 1804. Historians believe that he got fed up with government delays in approving his claim and left the area in disgust.

Irishmen formed the backbone of old Kitley Township 150 years ago, and this tiny farming community boasted a fair sampling of sons of Erin (Ireland) along with UEL folk, some of whom came from the deep south of the United States.

In the 1820’s, Irish, English and Scottish settlers flooded into Kitley, helped by free passage over the Atlantic, guaranteed by the government and an offer of 100 acres of free land per family.

After the great Irish migration of the 1830’s and 1840’s to Canada, when the Irish fled their homeland to escape the ravages of droughts and famine, Kitley folk numbered 3,565 souls. There were 962 citizens from Ireland or of Irish extraction as well as 67 Scots, 61 Englishmen, 93 Yankees, 24 Quebecois, 15 Maritimer’s, one German and one East Indian. As well, over 2,000 of these residents were native Indians who still hunted in the hills and valleys and along the lakes and creeks.

Kitley Township was named after Kitley, Devonshire, England, home of a British M.P. John Bastard and the township of Bastard was named after the M.P. himself.

Abel Stevens, the Baptist elder who colonized Bastard and parts of Kitley, listed 39 families in Kitley in 1798.He didn’t mention James Finch but listed two sons, Richard and Henry Finch.

Toldeo researchers found that James Finch had been granted 200 acres on Lot No. 22 on May 22, 1801, but Finch sold the property the next year to Hugh McIlmoyl, who then sold to Eben Estes the same year. After several more transactions the lot came into possession of Wyatt Chamberlain, the founder of the village.

Wyatt Chamberland, a retired preacher, called this settlement Camberlain’s Corners. He opened the first store in a log cabin. Rev. Chamberland also built the first frame dwelling in the area, was the first postmaster and became a justice of the peace. His first wife was Catherine Halleck, daughter of pioneer missionary Rev. William Halleck, for whom Halleck’s Road, west of Brockville was named.

Chamberland’s Corners officially became Toledo in 1856. The village was named after Toledo in Spain, scene of a British victory over a French army in the Spanish Campaign of 1813.

In 1851, Kitley boasted 3,525 souls, men outnumbering women by only 25. There were 962 residents Irish or of Irish extraction and only 24 French speaking citizens. 91 were from the United States and 128 from England, Scotland and Wales.

The township listed 540 families living in 529 homes. The dwellings were said to consist of 32 in stone, 81 frame, 300 log cabin style and 110 shanties.

The Township of Kitley, in Leeds and Grenville County, Ontario, was incorporated effective January 1, 1850 under the terms of the Baldwin Act, Chapter 81, Canada Statutes, 1849.

James Graham was elected the first Reeve. Hiram McCrea took over the reeve ship in 1861. He lost to William Bell in 1862-63 but regained the position in 1864-66.

Kitley has grown and waned over the years and remains today a busy township, with a number of enterprising communities contributing to the well-being of Eastern Ontario.

(Recorder and Times c1985, Darling Collection Book 5)


Absentee Land Owners Plagues Early Kitley

Absentee land-lords were the plague of Kitley’s early days and were in a large measure responsible for the delayed development on the township.

Hon. William D. Powell chief justice of Upper Canada, already a wealthy man, became even richer with the grant of 1,200 acres in Kitley in 1797. He never saw an acre but simply held on to the land until the time was ripe for an enormous profit. Then he sold his 1,200 acres in parcels. He also got 1,200 acres for his wife, and sold those lots as well.

Another man who never saw his land was Major Hazelton Spencer, who lived in Niagara but was granted 1,200 acres of Kitley land. He sold at a good profit without ever visiting the site.

There were many large grants of land which eventually were sold to give the owners a good profit.

(Recorder and Times c1985, Darling Collection Book 5)


The First Mill

Joseph Haskins, the first miller in these parts, settled on the future site of Jasper in 1802. At that time, Irish Lake was a muddy swamp or marsh, drained by Irish Creek which turned into the Rideau River, north of Haskins’ Mill.

Mr. Haskins dammed the creek near his homestead then used the dam water to run a grist mill he erected. A sawmill followed and pretty soon a hamlet grew up around the homestead.

Damming of the creek backed up water to form a lake where the marsh land had existed. The name Irish Lake was given to this body of water.

Haskins’ Dam created such a body of water that when Col. John By’s surveyors were laying out the route of the proposed Rideau Canal in 1825, they seriously considered running the new waterway down Irish Creek, through Irish Lake and thence westward to Bellamy’s Mills, now Toledo. However the prospect of having to cut through high ground west from Toledo, deterred the surveyors and further tests on Irish Lake indicated some six feet of mud would have to be excavated over the entire length of the lake to make a channel feasible.

The Irish Creek – Irish Lake idea was abandoned and the surveyors laid out the canal route past the estuary of Irish Creek on to Smith’s Falls, eventually cresting the height of land at Newboro and then going downhill along the Cataraqui River to Kingston.

First called Irish Creek, the village became Jasper when postal service was inaugurated in the late 1830’s.

The Livingston’s were also millers and among the first to provide their neighbours with milled flour. Later the Bellamy Brothers put up grist mills and sawmills on Bellamy Pond. (Recorder and Times c1985, Darling Collection Book 5)


Early Religion

The ‘old time’ Methodist circuit riders brought religion to Kitley’s pioneers by horseback. In 1818 the good folks of Kitley organized their first Methodist congregation.

Up until that point, these circuit riders had been holding Sunday services in various homesteads. Records show that Reverend Ezra Healey conducted worship in 1818 at the home of Alex McClure.

Four families formed the first Methodist Society. They were the families of Duncan Livingston, Jonathon Lyman, Horace Tupper and Ephraim Koyl.

Kitley’s first Methodist Church was erected in 1839 in Toledo by Alex McLean and George Marshall, the builders.

The Presbyterian congregation was organized in 1843 and a church was built shortly thereafter.

In 1830, the Roman Catholics built a church at Belamy Mills. (Kitley).  Irish settlers contributed their labour in the construction and formed the largest segment of the parish. (Recorder and Times c1985, Darling Collection Book 5)


Cheese Factories

When there was a surplus of milk in the early days, it was used for making butter. The surplus butter was packed in wooden tubs or boxes and taken to market in the autumn or early winter.

About a century ago, in response to a demand in the British market, there was a shift from butter making to cheese making.

To make Cheddar Cheese it was necessary to have a factory, with considerable equipment, to which the farmer could deliver milk daily. The first item of equipment was a steam boiler to provide heat to the vat in which the cheese making took place. Therefore the factory had to be located where there was a reliable source of water.

There have been ten factories in Kitley or on its boundaries, although they were not all in operation at the same time.

The Ross Factory was later removed to Newbliss and McAndrew’s Factory was located at the intersection of the Bastard Town Line and the Fourth Concession before Donovan’s was established. Bellamy’s Cheese Factory was  first located under the hill, and later beside the pond. Cameron’s Factory was located at Shane’s and Moore’s was near Eloida and Frankville, Crystal and Jasper.

When Robert T. Beckett came to Kitley in the late 1890’s, he helped to organize what was known as Donovan’s Factory. About 1900 he left Johnnie Donovan in charge there and came to Newbliss. He was a man who tried to lead the way to brighter things.

The Newbliss Factory consisted of three frame buildings. The factory proper is still in use as a store. The curing room has been moved across the road and made into a garage and dwelling. Directly behind the main building was the boiler room.

The weighing-in stand was under a canopy facing the highway. The cans of milk were raised by a hand operated hoist, which was later replaced by one run by steam power. The milk cans were of the thirty gallon size, which held up to three hundred pounds, or the forty gallon size which had a capacity of four hundred pounds.

From the scales, the milk passed through a conductor pipe and a strainer, made from several piles of cotton, into a vat. When the vat was filled to a certain level and heated to a prescribed temperature, rennet was added, and also colouring, in the case of coloured cheese. The additives were thoroughly mixed with the milk and then the vat was covered and allowed to set.

In due time the curd was cut and the whey drained off. Next, the curd was washed, salted and placed in the press. Enough curd was put into the press to yield a cheese weighing between ninety and one hundred pounds after the air and moisture had been squeezed out. The cylindrical block of cheese had a skin made of cotton gauze known as a cheese cloth.

The blocks of cheese were placed on tables in the curing room, where they were kept at a constant temperature for a period of some weeks. When ready for shipment they were placed in cylindrical wooden containers, known as cheese boxes. Protected by a thin coat of paraffin wax, the cheese could withstand the moderate changes of temperature but would be damaged by freezing.

Usually the factory patrons took turns hauling the cheese to the railway station, from where it was shipped to the Brockville Cheese Board.

When Wilfred Bruce was running the factory he lacked only a few cents of having a thousand dollars for making cheese in the month of June. He was being paid about four cents a pound, so he must have produced about 25,000 pounds of cheese. (Recorder and Times article dated March 15, 1967) (Recorder and Times c1985, Darling Collection Book 5)


Excerpts from “Leeds Grenville: their first two hundred years” by Ruth McKenzie pub. 1967

We come to Kitley bounded by Wolford on the east and South Elmsley on the north. Kitley is an inland township watered by tributaries of the Rideau (Irish Creek and Hutton Creek), but not extending as far north as the main Rideau River.

Most of the early settlers in Kitley drew their land on the seventh, eighth or ninth concession, the three lines nearest to Elizabethtown to the south. Some of these early settlers were Baptists who came to Canada with Able Stevens, founder of Bastard Township. Among the names of the pioneers who arrived before 1800 were Read, Livingston and Soper.

The first of the Read family (also spelled Reed) was Major William Read, a Loyalist who settled in New Brunswick after the American Revolution and then came up the St. Lawrence to Upper Canada towards the end of the century. He drew 400 acres of land in Kitley, a 200 acre lot on the eighth concession, where he lived and another on the seventh. Major Reed became a leader in the community and, in the years preceding the War of 1812, he trained a band of some sixty volunteers for the war he feared was coming. Among the volunteers were his three sons, one of whom, William Junior, became a Captain in the War of 1812.

When Major Read died in 1828 at 79 years of age, he was buried on his farm in what is now an abandoned cemetery “small, dilapidated and overgrown with prickly ash”, as it was described recently.


9 thoughts on “Kitley – The Early Years

  1. May I be pointed to any information in regards to either Solomon Soper, his son Timothy Soper, and or his son Alonzo Soper. In particular, where they might be buried?
    Seán Soper

    • According to Find a Grave, Alonzo Soper is buried in the Hanton Cemetery, Kitley Township. If you noticed the photos on our website, the cemetery is unattended and in poor condition. One of the tombstones clearly states “Sacred to the Memory of Mary Mulvaugh wife of Alonzo Soper, Who departed this life Jun 9th, 1859 age 51 years” His name does not appear on the list of graves, but many are illegible. I would suspect that the people you are looking for are all buried there.You can see the cemetery at our website:


      • My sincerest thanks John. I have this fellow as actually remarried after Mary Mulvaugh’s death (I recall her surname as Stoddart-Green? {sic} a recent Scottish immigrant to Kitley circa 1860).
        My direct ancestor H.L. Soper, is the son of Alonzo and his second wife. At the time of H.L. Soper’s passing in 1918, his obituary lists his half siblings from his father Alonzo and Mary Mulvaugh’s union. I’m uncertain he (Alonzo) would have been buried with his first wife’s family?
        Do you know who to contact in regards to access of the grave yard?
        Seán Soper

  2. I’m looking for any Bruce family history. I see that there was a Robert Bruce and a Wilfred Bruce and I’m wondering if you have any other family names that might be linked to them so that I can determine if they are a relation of mine.

    Many thanks

    • Hi,

      I just checked and unfortunately we have nothing in our records on the Bruce family. Good luck in your search.

  3. I am looking for any information on the Kish Family who apparently came from New Brunswick and settled in Kitley before 1850. My Great Grandfather was born around 1854 Kitley but his older sister was born in 1849 in Kitley. My 2x Great Grandparents were born in New Brunswick and moved to Kitley in the 1840’s. Like every other family name “Kish” has had many other versions of the name “Kech” or “Kesch”. If there is any information it would be appreciated.

    • Good morning and thank you for your inquiry,

      Unfortunately we are of little help to you on this one. We have nothing in our “Genealogical” section. Our history of Kitley unfortunately is limited. I checked what we have for cemetery grave sites, and while our list is not complete, I did not find your name.

      I went to the Walling map of 1861-62 which shows all of those who owned, not rented, homes in Kitley and the only name I came up with that is close is Kinch on Con 5 Lot 20.21.

      I would suggest that you contact the Leeds and Grenville Genealogical Society, they have good records and may be able to help you.

      Good Luck,

  4. I appreciate you taking the time to look. Unfortunately, the family had left Kitley Township by 1961 which we find them in Bedford Township in the County of Frontenac. I will contact the Genealogical Society.

    Kind Regards,


  5. i am looking for information on the Cavanagh families that settled in Kitley in the 1840-1860 time frame. Any data you have would be appreciated.

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