By Chad Ingram
It’s difficult, impossible, really, for those of us living here in the comfortable 21st century, with our automobiles and propane heating and pocket-sized devices capable of holding the sum total of human knowledge, to truly fathom the hardships the people who built Minden endured.
Try to picture it.
Pretend it’s some time around 1878. You and your family have decided to leave the Hamilton area because an economic depression is making life difficult. The Canadian government is trying to open up areas north of Toronto and land is plentiful.
You pile the belongings you’ll take with you into a horse-drawn sleigh. You have to travel during the winter because once you get north of Toronto, bridges will be in short supply and you’ll need to cross the frozen lakes.
What in the 21st century would be a car ride of a few hours, takes a week, driving your horses dawn till dusk.
When you arrive in Minden, a string of wooden buildings surrounded by a sprinkling of homesteads peeking out from beneath mounds of snow, you and your family take up temporary residence in the log cabin of another settler family.
Once the snow melts, you and your family – hopefully you have a bunch of kids, and hopefully some of them are muscular – begin the painstaking process of hacking your own homestead out of the woods, using the trees you cut down by saw and axe to build your own cabin.
The black flies are ravenous, flying up your nostrils and into your eyeballs, and at night, you hear the wolves.
This was reality for the resilient people who founded this community.
When John and Christina Prentice celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1906, nearly 30 years after they settled near Minden, they were presented with an address from the community.
“When you came to the county, it was most part virgin forests, accessible only in the winter, the haunt of the deer, the bear and the howling wolves,” it read. “You have seen the forest disappear year by year, the land cleared for cultivation, and the forest wealth given to the people by a bountiful and all-wise creator, go down our streams, rivers and lakes to the great centres of trade and commerce of the county. Instead of the rude shanty, erected to shelter the settler and his family, we now have on the most part, fine commodious dwellings with the comforts of life and many of the luxuries as well. Instead of the log houses and log barns of former days, we now have in many places, fine houses and good bank barns, commodious enough to hold the entire crop for the year, and furnish shelter for the farmer’s herds and flocks.”
Later in the document, there’s reference to “the awful hills, lakes and valleys of this interminable wilderness of the North, known as Bobcaygeon Road.”
Try to picture this the next time you’re driving through town.