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The Old Stage Road – Along the Detroit Trail


The following is Copyright © 2020 by Clayton Barker, all rights reserved. These pages are the script/narration which I had prepared for my new video series, BURFORD – All Those Years Ago. To watch the videos please follow the hotlinks below, either to my YouTube channel or to each individual video – Thanks!


Excerpt of map which Elizabeth Simcoe had copied,1793

Published in "The Diary of Mrs. Simcoe"

by John Ross Robertson,

William Briggs, 1911

University of Toronto Library


My YouTube Channel is as follows:


Here is the hotlink to video#1: PART1


Here is the hotlink to Video#1: PART 2


NOTE: Links to other videos can be found off to the left here, thanks.




Welcome to BURFORD - All Those Years Ago, and my first virtual historical tour. In the past, I have taken small groups along the streets of my hometown of Burford and had shared what stories and information I have accumulated over the years to small groups of about 6 or 10 tour-goers. Pausing at each place along the way, I have told the history, as I know it, and I have highlighted the importance of each place, its architecture, and the significance of the people who had been part of its story. However, because of the issues and complications of organizing assemblies of people, these days, due to Covid-19, I decided to take my normal live historical tours, to the video screen.


In this first video, we will be looking at one of Ontario's oldest, most trod, interior roads, which originated as an ancient trackway or foot path. It was referred to in the 1700's as the "Detroit Path" or "Detroit Road" or sometimes the "Detroit Trail." This footpath became an important link or portage route between Niagara and Detroit. Parts of this route still remain as a winding gravel or paved road, though its importance has diminished somewhat.


We will only be looking at that portion which passes through the counties of Oxford and Brant. The section we will be looking at became known as "The Old Stage Road" during the mid-19th century and the days of the stagecoach. The section of this road which continued westward along the Thames River was sometimes referred to as the "Thames River Road." Some sections of this stage-coach route, near or beyond London were sometimes referred to as "The Longwood’s Trail" or the "Hamilton Road."


So, get your comfortable footwear on, and hat too, if you like, and please, if you are in the company of others, who you do not live with, mind the social distancing protocols and restrictions.


Enjoy the tour





In pre-historic times, this footpath provided a link between hunting grounds and areas of trade for the indigenous people who first called this place “home.” In the 16 and 1700’s it became a crucial inland trade route for trappers between the forts and trading posts located at Niagara and Detroit, and passed through what is now the geographic Township of Burford. Sometime between the late 1600s and the late 1700s however, this pathway was referred to as the “Detroit Path” or “Detroit Road” or “Detroit Trail” - I prefer to just refer to it as the “Detroit Trail.”


The Detroit Trail:

was the only thing remotely representing an interior road, connecting the settlements and fortifications at Niagara and those at Detroit, and it extended a distance of about 402 km (or roughly 250 miles).  It was used extensively by French trappers and Missionaries as a way to avoid the British ships that patrolled Lake Erie. When John Graves Simcoe travelled through this area in company with his expeditionary party of about two dozen men, in the winter of 1793, they went by way of the Detroit Trail (D. W. Smith, Archives of Ontario, Map 1792 - 1795).  Simcoe was the first Lieutenant Governor of the British Province of Upper Canada and he had great plans and schemes in mind to transform the then Upper Canadian wilderness into yet another “New England.”


One of Simcoe’s greatest schemes was to build a military road basically in a straight line from the head of Burlington Bay westward to the site of his proposed capital, which he wanted to be called “London.”  Up until this time the governor had only seen renditions of maps which had been prepared by his surveyors prior to his arrival in Upper Canada and he hadn’t yet stepped foot in this part of Ontario. On his map, however, his so-called capital of London was yet just a speculative dot on a not-yet fully explored the westward-flowing river, which he named the Thames, which the indigenous people had referred to as the “Antler River.”


The Mohawk leader Joseph Brant summed up Governor Simcoe’s years here in Canada by saying “He had done a great deal for this province – he has changed the name of every place in it” (Dawe, 1980). Previous to Simcoe’s arrival, however, the French had named this river “La Tranche.” The military road he designed to connect the head of Lake Ontario to his proposed capital of London he was named “Dundas Street.”  He called them “Streets” because ancient Roman roads were always referred to as “Streets” (Breithaupt, O. H. S., 1924). In some ways, the British in the Upper-Canadian wilderness were not unlike the Romans trying to civilize, conquer and assimilate the ancient tribes of the British Isles and Europe. Dundas Street is a completely different route from the Detroit Trail, though they are somewhat parallel and lead to a common destination.


Note: Dundas Street is basically Highway #2 and also “Governor’s Road.” As I had mentioned earlier, Governor Simcoe travelled through this area along the Detroit trail in the winter of 1793. He was travelling in company with an expeditionary entourage which included Government officials, soldiers, surveyors, indigenous guides, servants and a Newfoundlander dog named “Jack Snap.” The governor set out from what was being called Newark (now called Niagara-on-the-lake) on February 4th and followed the Detroit Trail arriving in Detroit on February 18th, which took about 14 days. The return trip to Niagara they left Detroit on February 23rd and arrived back at Niagara on March 10th, a total of 15 days. Though they made better time on their return trip and should have returned much earlier, they had lingered at some areas longer and stopped more frequently along Lake Ontario at various settlements.


A very prominent leader of the Mohawk people “Thayendanegea,” a. k. a, Captain Joseph Brant along with several of his men, accompanied the Governor’s entourage as guides. He was known as a “Mohawk Chief” but was not a hereditary chief. Other members of the “Simcoe Party” were individuals who went on to play significant roles in the “Euro-American” development of Upper Canada:


• Thomas Talbot, who was the Governor’s private secretary, founded the community of Port Talbot, Ontario. He was responsible for enticing 50,000 people to settle in the Thames River area. He fought during the American Revolution, the Napoleonic war in Europe then later commanded the 1st Middlesex Militia and held the position of supervisor of all the militia regiments in the London District. Talbotville, Ontario, the city of St. Thomas, Ontario, were named after him (Wikipedia).


• Augustus Jones was a deputy surveyor, and United Empire Loyalist. He was the surveyor that not only laid out the Governor’s Dundas Street, but he also completed the initial surveyed outline of Burford Township.


• Lieut. James Givins, who was the Superintendent of the Indian Department. He had fought during both the American Revolution and the war of 1812. In 1820 Givins was promoted to Colonel of the 3rd Battalion of York Militia, then Colonel of the 1st Battalion of West York in 1821 (Wikipedia).


• Major Edward Baker Littlehales, Major of Brigade, was afterwards Sir E. B. Littlehales, and for some time Secretary at War for Ireland. He was the first cousin once removed to Peter William Baker, son of William Baker, Baronet of Ranston, in Devon, England. Lieutenant-general Sir Edward Baker was given the title 1st Baronet Baker of Ranston, Dorset. Sir Edward took the surname Baker as a condition of his inheritance in 1817 (Wikipedia).


     Major Littlehales kept a diary of the journey and although the main features and rivers were quite accurately described and placed on a timeline, he had only jotted down simple notations then when he was back home, he wrote up the diary (


• David W. Smith (sometimes “Smyth”), Deputy Surveyor General. He was also a member of the House of Assembly. In 1802, he returned to England and, in 1804, resigned from his appointments in Upper Canada. He began a second career as property manager for the Duke of Northumberland. Sir David W. Smith was made a baronet in 1821 (Wikipedia).


     Smith also kept a journal of the trip, except his was more detailed and he wrote it while on the trip and didn’t transcribe it later (D. W. Smith / Lewis, O.H.S.,1952).





The information contained on this page represents the research findings and opinions of the author. The material on this page reflects the author’s best judgement in light of the information available at the time of compilation. Any use of this material made by a third party, or reliance on, or decisions made based on it is the responsibility of such third parties. The author accepts no responsibility for damages, if any, suffered by any third party as a result of decisions made or actions based on this work.      


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The Old Stage Road – Along the Detroit Trail (Part 2)