Early Arrivals in Otonabee
George Kent was the first settler to take up land in Otonabee Township. He came as a member of a party of immigrants arriving to the area under the leadership of Captain Spilsbury in the year 1819. George was established on his land before the township was thrown open to settlement.
Shortly after it was surveyed in 1819, settlement began of Otonabee Township, in the county of Peterborough. In the first years, the only way into the township was across Rice Lake. Newcomers arrived by traveling from the south, shore over the waters, to the lake’s northern shoreline. Crossing the lake, which was subject to unexpected squalls causing rough waters, was no simple task. It took someone with experience to manage a safe crossing of the lake. Many new settlers would learn only after being tipped into heaving waves that they were wiser to pay for safe passage across the lake.
The usual point of entry was upon a point of land just below present day Hiawatha Village. Here a trader by the name of Herkimer had built a rough home and trading post at the water’s edge. Knowledgeable of the local weather patterns, he was able to guide families safely from one side to the other of the lake.
Arrival of the First Settlers
In May 1820, Captain Charles N. Rubidge, R. N. brought his family into the township to establish a homestead. Rubidge was the first to complete his settlement duties, thereby acquiring title to his land.
In 1810 at Deptford, Kent, England Charles had wed Margaret Clarke. Of their family of eight children, the younger five were born in England before the family set sail for Upper Canada in May 1819. One child, Henry, was born and died in England in 1818.
Captain Rubidge and his family were among a party of immigrants, many being gentlemen in the position of half-pay officers taking land as settlement for their years of service to the British Crown. Others who settled in the township in that year of 1820, were: John Walstead, Major Design, Thomas Carr, John Nelson and his sons, Andrew and William; John Mackintosh; Mr. Lindsay; Ambrose Mayett, James Beckett, Thomas Nelson, George Esson, with his sons, Thomas, Alexander, Daniel and Robert; John Fife and family; James Foley; John Stewart; William Sowden and Ralph Davidson. Additionally there were a number of single men: Robert Redpath; James Hunter; George Banks; Nicholas Bullen; Robert Ferguson; Robert Hyatt; Lieutenant Jenkins and Mr. Collier.
Arrival of the Robinson Settlers
In 1825, the first Otonabee settlers were joined by fifty-one families who came to Upper Canada as part of a British immigration program. It was managed, at the request of British government, by Peter Robinson. In total, this planned immigration brought some 2400 individuals out of Ireland to settle in various of the newly opening townships in the Newcastle District. These settlers would be given grants of land upon which to establish their homes and as with the earlier immigrants, the Robinson settlers would have to fulfill duties before the land could become their very own. Settlement duties included clearing a specified amount of land for the cultivation of crops, building a home on the property and clearing the portion of road allowance that bordered along the frontage of the settler’s grant of land. These tasks generally took a dozen and more years to complete, which accounts for the years of delay before many settlers were able to apply for the patent on land granted as a new settler.
Settlers in the Township in 1825
Among the families of Robinson Settlers were Lawrence and Mary Kent; Michael Lonergan; Thomas Sargent; James and Margaret Condon; William and Mary Cleary; Ellen and John Kennelly and Thomas and Mary Hallahan.
A Mill for the Township
In that same year that the Robinson Settlers arrived, Dr. John Gilchrist, another newcomer to Otonabee Township, built a grist mill in what was rapidly becoming the village of Keene. The mill had one run of stones. Dr. Gilchrist also erected a saw-mill with a single upright saw.
Changes on the landscape were needed to bring water to his mill. Therefore, largely at his own expense and aided by voluntary labour of the settlers, John excavated a half mile water course to bring the flow of water to the wheel at his mill.
So the tableau of the township was set. The years to come would see extensive development of properties and communities within the bounds of the township. Lands would be cleared, making way for large farming homesteads. Keene would become a thriving village, with Thomas Carr being named the first Post-Master of the village.