A History of Bennie

A History of Bennie's Corners in Pioneer Days

The Bennie's Corners Day, being celebrated today (August 8, 1969), afternoon and evening in conjunction with the Back to Almonte Week, should be of great interest to many. The Ramsay Women's Institute is erecting a plaque to mark the 100th anniversary of the building of the present school, to honour the early teachers and pioneers of the village that used to be there, the visit there of King Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, and Dr. James Naismith, inventor of basketball, who has brought honour to the school, the community and to Canada. A little museum is being set up in the school for the occasion, just some old time school books, maps, pictures, sporting equipment, and pioneer articles, as well as the Tweedsmuir history, etc. An article written long ago by Robert Young, an uncle of M. R. Young, former hardware merchant in Almonte, and his two sisters here, tells of the days at Bennie's Corners when the school was new.

Bennie’s Corners Gave a Fine Surprise To Prince Edward

Village 5 Miles from Almonte had a Big Arch and other Decorations for the Prince - People who accompanied Prince from Arnprior had not expected any demonstration there. A recent reference to Bennie’s Corners by the O.T.S. interested Mr. Robert Young, 240 Fifth avenue, Ottawa, a former Almonte man, who knew Bennie’s Corners when a small boy back in the early sixties. Mr. Young tells the O.T.S. that Bennie’s Corners was one of a few of the smaller villages of the Ottawa district which was honored by a visit from the Prince of Wales (King Edward) in 1860. And the Corners did itself proud on that occasion. It will be recalled that the Prince on the occasion of his visit here in 1860 sailed up the Ottawa river to Fitzroy Harbour, then to Arnprior where he stayed over night with Mr. McLachlin, the lumberman, and the following day drove to Almonte by way of Bennie's Corners, and from Almonte took the Canada Central Railway on his way back. Almonte was the terminus of the railway at the time.

Rose as a Man

When Bennie's Corners heard that the Prince was coming that way the Corners rose to the occasion. It decided to show that the hamlet was just as loyal as Almonte or Arnprior, 15 miles away. The farmers combined with the villagers and erected a large wooden arch, which they covered with evergreens, flags and loyal mottoes. All the houses were also decorated.

Were Surprised

The Prince's party, which left Arnprior, consisted of about 2 vehicles owned by Arnprior people. Neither the Prince nor his escort had expected any demonstration between Arnprior and Almonte and when they saw the elaborate preparations the little village had made, they were greatly surprised and pleased. The villagers gave the Prince a great welcome as he drove through the Corners.

A Live Village

Bennie's Corners was a live little village in the sixties, according to Mr. Young. Bennie's Corners was a name as far back as 1848, but was in its prime in the sixties. It was started by one John Bennie. The cities and big towns later killed it. In 1860 when the Prince passed through, the village was a live business center. The merchants and other business people as Mr. Young recalls them were:

Village Live Wires

Alex. Leishman, merchant, who had succeeded John Bennie. Mr. Leishman did a big business with the lumbermen. In the winter the village used to be picturesque with shantymen's garbs, colored toques and sashes and wool coats. William Phillips, blacksmith. John Phillips, wagon maker. Geo. Cockell, made-to-order boots; Alex. Snedden, hotel keeper and farmer. Mr. Snedden used to draw grain and camp feed to Mattawa in the winter. He had four sons, William, James, Alexander and David.

Pot Barley

Stephen Young, who made what was known as "pot barley" for soup. The barley was hulled. Greville Toshack ran a carding mill and farmed. He was a one armed man. A Paisley Weaver. Alex Peters, weaver. Mr. Peters was an old Paisley weaver, and knew his weaving.

Very Exact Man

James' Snedden supplied the lumbermen. He was known as "Banker Jimmy" because he was always "well fixed" financially. John Baird kept a general store, ran a flour mill and sent supplies to the lumbermen. Mr. Baird was known to be a very exact and honest man. When he weighed goods they were weighed to the fraction of an ounce. He never gave more nor less. Mr. Baird later went to Almonte and ran a woolen mill there. John McCormack ran a tailor shop.

Cooper Shop

John Glover operated a Cooper shop, and made firkins and pork barrels. There was no church at Bennie's Corners, but in the sixties, the Cameronians used to hold services in the village school house. The nearest church was four miles from the village.

Rival to Almonte

Mr. Young says Bennie's Corners once aimed to rival Almonte in the race for business supremacy, but lost out, as Almonte was on the railway. Besides the businesses and industries mentioned were others: In 1868 Peter McDougall advertised: New Woollen Factory at Youngville. 9th line near Snedden's hotel, open Aug. 1, 1868. Custom work carding, spinning, weaving, fulling, finishing. This was where the mouth of the Indian River empties into the Mississippi at Otter Glen, the present home of Russell Camelon. There were also quarters for the factory hands in what they called Corktown, and also a dye house. This is where Stephen Young had his barley mill about 1830 or possibly in the 1820's. Peter McDougall later built a larger stone factory in the Village of Blakeney. Mr. William Whitelaw wove blankets and lived on the sideroad between the 8th and 9th lines. He had a son James who taught school and later became a minister. On the farm of John Snedden, now owned by another John Snedden, Mr. Richard Foxby had a brick yard where he made the brick that was used to build the houses of John Snedden, his brother Banker Jimmy Snedden and the house now owned by Sheffield Graham on the 9th line, as well as the two former brick schools on the 7th and 10th lines. In 1838 Greville Toshack, who had the carding mill on the Indian River, James Rosamond of Carleton Place and Mr. Bellamy of Bellamy's Mills, now Clayton, met to agree on restriction of credit on custom work in carding wool and dressing homespun. In the Carleton Place Herald we find: ALEXANDER LEISHMAN, Auctioneer, Bennie's Corners, RAMSAY. FOR SALE By the subscriber, FLOUR and OATMEAL JOHN BAIRD Woodside Mills, Ramsay, June 23, 1857. John Baird in 1828 bought 200 acres from the Canada Company for $500. Carleton Place Herald: "For Sale or, to Lease for a term of years." That valuable property in the Twp. of Ramsay, known as "Woodside Mills," consisting of a flour mill with two runs of Burr Stones, a Superior Smut Machine, an Oatmeal Mill, with two runs of stone, one of which is a Burr. The Mill is three and a half stories high and most substantially built. There are also an the premises a KILN capable of drying from 120 to 200 bushels Oats at a time, a frame house for a miller, a "blacksmith's shop" with tools complete, two stone houses and outbuildings with stabling for eleven horses, haylofts, sheds, coach houses, etc. There are 200 acres of land, about 80 of which are under cultivation. As there are other water privileges on the premises, furnishing an abundance of water power, a large amount of machinery could be erected in addition to that in operation. For further particulars, apply to the Subscribers on the premises. Ramsay, 20th April, l860." William Baird, John Baird. According to the Canada Directory 1857-58 the population of Bennie's Corners was 75 and of Almonte, 500. In Mitchell's Business Directory of 1864-65, Bennie’s Corners had a population of 115. Mr. McGoverane was listed as another cooper, Greville Toshack as a Justice of the Peace and Robert Gommersall as a tanner. In the Canada Directory of 1871 it states that the mail comes twice weekly. Eneas Toshack was a shingle maker and James Toshack a leather dealer. Jas. Coxford, was a shoemaker, Alex and David Snedden had a gristmill and Abial Marshall a sawmill. Of course the Sneddens had long been lumbermen and built the slide. James Bennie had received lot 25, Con. 8, from the Crown. In 1846 he sold a large part of it to Wm. Philip, and from that time on until he moved away about 1855 he sold many lots. He moved to Lanark township where he died at 92. His brother, John Bennie, moved to Renfrew County. James Bennie had a store and became the first Postmaster 1853-1355. Bennie's Corners Post Office: July 1st, 1853 -- James Bennie; July 1st, 1855 - Alex Leishman; July 1st, 1874 - John Crossley; Jan. 1st, 1879 - Miss Jane Philip; 1881 -- John Whitelaw; 1883 - Thos. B. Caswell; 1890 -- Robt. Philip; 1891 - Alex Anderson; Mrs. Alex Anderson had the post office again for a year or two before the rural mail delivery began. Bennie's Corners School was one of outstanding merit, having received a diploma as the best in Lanark County. It was taught by outstanding educators who did their part in producing fine citizens. In the early days were John Bennie and John McCarter, both of whom taught in a large log building behind where the present school is located. Behind the school in the field two Bennie children are buried. About one-third of the building was teacher's quarters and the other two-thirds the schoolroom, which was long used for meetings of many church groups. Here Andrew Toshack continued to superintend a large Sunday School for about 50 years and also helped to carry on weekly prayer meetings. Many church services and other meetings were held here and also in the new school. The enrollment in the school ranged from 60 to 90 and many came from adjoining School Sections because of the superior teaching they received. Mr. Thos. B. Caswell. an outstanding teacher, was one of the early teachers in the new school. Among his pupils was one who became famous all over the world, the much loved physical instructor, also an M.D. and a Presbyterian minister and chaplain in the 1st World War, Dr. James Naismith, whose achievement should not be forgotten. Much honor is due him indeed. We want the world to know that it was here that he attended "Common School" and here that he obtained some of the grounding for a later life of service. It was here, too, playing Duck on a Rock on the pink granite stone across the corner from the school that he got the idea of the underhand throw of a ball into a basket.

Edna Gardner Lowry.