Recollections of an 1832 Voyage and Life in Orillia

Shanties and Tent in a Clearing (Orillia Township)
White, George Harlow, 1817-1887
Picture, 1872, English
From the Toronto Public Library Digital Archive. In the Public Domain.


Sometime after the death of Jacob Gill in 1846, his daughter Hester Anne Gill, then the wife of Leonard Wilson, wrote a letter about the Gill family’s move from Newmarket to Orillia in 1832 when she was a child.  Excerpts from that letter, with some added punctuation and comments, described the journey that early settlers would have experienced and some of what Orillia was like in 1832.

 “In the spring of 1832 father came here to engineer the building of the chief’s house for the Indian Department … At that time this place was called the Narrows Village.”

 “Father came in the spring and the family came in June ...  We came to Holland Landing and stayed there all night … There put all the things in an open schooner and came down the river and got as far as a place called Grasses Point where we went ashore built a fire, cooked our supper, and eat it, then made our beds with the sky for a roof and slept till morning, then breakfast, then came as far as Mr. McVitys where we had our dinners, then we came as far as 8 Mile Point, stopped and had a run in the woods, then we went on the boat again and as there was no wind they had to row all the way from there to the village.”

 “The next morning, we were all up early of course to see the new place.  There were about 12 or 16 log houses build for the Indians the school house forming the centre they were built in the form [of a V at the southeast corner of Peter Street and Coldwater Road].  A large one for the Farmer [Gerald Alley], kept to teach them that art, then there was another for the minister above the “V” to the right of the Coldwater Road when standing looking on the lake and for about 3 miles toward Coldwater there were houses built each side of the road.  These were built before we came.”

 “Father superintended the building of the chiefs house that summer and afterward surveyed the reserve lands through to Coldwater.”

 “Mr. Woods told me they lived that winter in a Shanty 16x12 ft. without a fire place til after Christmas building the fire place at the end of the shanty.  Money was not wanting but was of no use then as there was no road to get away from here after the lake was frozen over and none but the Indians to do anything.  At that time there came one of the hunters down from the North and staid with them until spring and knowing more of how to make them comfortable he made a fire place and filled in the holes between the logs so as to keep out the wind and snow and make them warm.”

 - By Fred Blair, OMAH History Committee