Snedden Homestead was an Important Stopping Place in the Ottawa Valley

By Dianne Tysick, Special to The Gazette.

Inns and taverns were important "stopping places" in the early life of the Ottawa Valley but have been virtually ignored by historians.

Margaret McBurney and Mary Byers have attempted to rectify this and serve up some of the flavour of these establishment here and throughout Ontario through their newest book "Tavern in the Town".

"The trust is that these places have been basically ignored and very little attention has been paid to them," Byers stated in talking about the book last week. "They were (however) basically the hub of the community."

From the beginning until it reached the store shelves, "Tavern in the Town" took four years to complete, this including three years of writing and researching.

While many might feel that it would be more difficult for two people to write a book than one, Byers and McBurney think differently. Having that second person, McBurney says, was an advantage most of the time, particularly in regards to the travelling. "I don't think one person could do it," she remarked. "There were a lot of back roads and small inns that I wouldn't have wanted to do alone."

In the initial research for the book, the two women relied a great deal upon historical societies throughout the province and Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committees (LACAC's). Locally, John Dunn proved to be a very knowledgeable source, driving the authors around and giving them a lot of "background colour" on the Ottawa Valley. Through these bodies and individuals, the writers obtained the names of some 200 inns with 85 of these being featured in the book.

Inns were much more than drinking places, the authors point out in "Tavern in the Town" with these establishments - prior to the building of town halls later in the 19th century - often serving as a community's only public building. These were the setting for everything from political meetings and church services to court sessions and township council meetings.

Each chapter in the book focuses on a particular geographical area in the province with these being divided along the lines of the old stage coach routes.

Here, in the Ottawa Valley, the reader is told that the inns were more popularly known by the term "stopping places". According to the book, this term in coined through the lumbering industry which was a major part of the early economy here. The lumbermen would spend the winter in the bush living in camps. On the way into the bush, a stopover was made at these places to purchase barrels of prime mess pork (hams and bacons only), mess port (all the other parts) as well as flour, beans, potatoes and other supplies. While serving the same purpose as an inn in terms of providing sleeping accommodations, the authors make it clear in "Tavern of the Town" that stopping places were "unique unto themselves and to the Ottawa Valley, developing in a pragmatic way to suit the needs of their customers".

One of the stopping places that is featured in the section on the Ottawa Valley is Snedden's on Highway 15 near Blakeney. Built in the 1840's by Alexander Snedden, the white frame structure was well know throughout the Ottawa Valley.

"Who in this portion of Victoria's domain has not heard of Snedden's as a stopping place," one diarist is quoted of commenting regarding the Inn. "Ask any teamster on the Upper Ottawa and he will satisfy you as to its capabilities of rendering traveller oblivious to the comforts of his home."

Preceded by a log building which had been destroyed by fire, the frame building operated as a stopping place until the mid 1860's. According to the book, one of the inn's least welcome lodgers was the man infamously known as the villain of the valley, the notorious Laird Archibald MacNabb. The authors state that MacNabb would produce a 20 pound note to pay for his lodging and since there generally was not sufficient cash on hand to provide change, he would simply walk out and say that his account was settled.

Since its closure as an inn, the building has been utilized as a residence and is now home to Alexander Snedden's great great grandson, Earle and his family.

The Snedden's have retained many of the original features of the stopping place including the pine interior doors and the heavy front door that boasts a deep axe scar, courtesy of a drunken patron enraged at being ejected from the premises.

Earle's wife Marilyn has been told that lumbermen used to "roll up" in blankets and sleep in the two large rooms in the downstairs portion of the house. One of the large rooms on the second floor, she says, served as a dining room while the stopping place was operating.

The original white pine boards on the lower level are now covered by hardwood. Until the change in the 1930's, people were able to pinpoint the location of the bar through the cigarette butts on the flooring.

Aside from Snedden's stopping place, another local inn mentioned in "Tavern in the Town" is Adamson's inn in Perth. Situated at 53-5 Craig Street and now serving as a residence, the log structure now covered over with clapboard siding was a centre of community activities and political rallies during its years of operation. It also was utilized as one of the first Masonic halls in this part of the province.

An interesting fact related about the inn in McBurney and Byers' book is that this "miserable hovel" was the place where the Duke of Richmond stayed during a tour of inspection of the regiments in Perth. Shortly upon his return to Richmond, he died.

The approach that the authors have taken in the writing of this book and their three previous works is one that concentrates very much on people. In this latest work, a great deal of attention is paid to the innkeepers with the reader being given considerable insight into the characters of these individuals. For example, one learns through reading about the Perth inn that its owner Lieutenant John Adamson was not very kind to his wife and servants. "He turfed his wife and servants out after doing all the work when the Duke of Richmond," McBurney stated.

One of the things that the authors discovered in writing the book was the level of alcohol abuse in Ontario during this time. At that time, whiskey cost 25 cents a gallon and more often than not, according to the two women, was bad. In Upper Canada, alone, there were 177 distilleries and 88 breweries that were licensed.

McBurney and Byers hope that through the writing of "Tavern in the Town" that people will become more conscious of inns. "People often asked us what we were doing (when we were writing the book) and when we told them, they would say that they had always wondered about an inn in their own community," Byers remarked. "We hope they will take interest in these buildings and realize that they are part of our history."

It is also their hope that people will find the book a good read. "There has never been much humour in Canadian history," McBurney noted. "We're trying in a small way to rectify it."

Although still in the early stages, McBurney and Byers are interested in writing a book on Canadian history. It would be written from the point of view of the "ordinary" people who settled In this country.