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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 basically 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 video – Thanks!


“Snowy footpath” by Copyright © 2011-2020 by Clayton J. Barker



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 , thanks.




Welcome back to BURFORD – all Those Years Ago and to PART 2 of this virtual walking tour. Our tour today will take us down a 35 km (22 mile) section of the longer former trail route, which I had outlined in Part 1, which part of it later became known as the Old Stage Road.


We will start at the east side of the present-day Town of Ingersoll, Ontario, at the hamlet of “Centreville,” in Oxford County, and will aim to end up at the present-day village of Cathcart, in the geographic Township of Burford, in Brant County.


So, get your comfortable footwear on, at 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 Part 1, we left off after I had introduced Governor John Graves Simcoe and his expeditionary party consisting of some two dozen men, including servants and Mohawk guides and several dignitaries who went on to become some of Upper Canada’s future “Top Brass.” In this segment Part 2 and in Part 3 we will be continuing to look at the history of The Old Stage Road as it evolved as a result of three major upgrades, from a footpath in the 18th a settler trail in 1797...To a military highway in 1810...To a stagecoach road in 1828


We will start at a place between Ingersoll and Beachville Ontario, approximately where the original trail crossed the Thames over 200 years ago, then follow the 19th Century Stage Coach road through West and East Oxford and then part of Burford Township, ending this segment at the West Quarter Townline, at The Stage Road.


But first I will provide just a bit more background information, in order to understand or visualize the way it was here, 216 plus years ago:


I will briefly describe:

• The Governor’s mode of travel.

• The weather conditions.

• The conditions of the trail itself.

• Their accommodation.

• Their diet.


So, carrying right along...


The Governor and his men set out on their return trip from Detroit Feb. 23rd, 1793 in 16 carioles, or sleighs, because the travelling was good and the trail was much better down that end, the closer you got to what they called “Sandwich,” which is now Windsor. (OHS, Vol. 44, No. 1, 1952)


There was a good dumping of snow and it froze so hard that they could walk on the frozen Thames River, as it was easier travelling that way. By the way, a “carriole” or “cariole”, is either a light four-wheel open or covered one-horse carriage or a small, narrow, open horse-drawn carriage or sleigh for only one person. Since the river was frozen hard, both horses and carioles were ok to ride on the frozen river, that is how cold it least for a short time.


The trail became too treacherous, narrow and with such radical changes in elevation, having the carioles, or that many horses, would have just slowed them down. So, they left the horses and carioles and went on foot, but with only a couple pack horses.

Some of the men had snowshoes, however, the Governor only wore moccasins. They travelled much of their journey on foot. By the night of March 4th, 1793, it poured rain and there was a severe thunder and lightning storm. Their bedding material (consisting of boughs of hemlock) was soaked right from the start. (Littlehales / Scadding, Toronto, 1889)


But what’s new - Welcome to Ontario, Mr Simcoe.


Their camp for the night of March 4th was on the north side of the Thames River, opposite what is now Centreville. The landscape in this area today has been completely removed by extensive quarrying. According to Major Littlehales journal of the trip, they usually stopped about 4 pm to allow the native guides to construct wigwams. Since these wigwams were only large enough for about a half-dozen men or so, they probably needed several of these built, for such a crowd.


Major Littlehales describes how they were constructed:

“The dexterity and alacrity of these people, habituated to the hardship’s incidental to the woods, is remarkable. Small parties will, with the utmost facility, cut down large trees with their tomahawks, bark them, and in a few minutes construct a most comfortable hut, capable of resisting any inclemency of the weather, covering it with the bark of the Elm.

(Littlehales / Scadding, Toronto, 1889)


As far as food was concerned, their diet for the trip consisted of salt pork, venison (if they were lucky) and venison soup and biscuit or hardtack, as it was called, too. However, they also ate raccoons and porcupines, which were plentiful around here, at that time: Bears, wolves, cougars and rattlesnakes were also plentiful back then.


It is interesting to note that along their way, Prior to reaching their March 4th stop-over, they had encountered various totems at sacred burial sites deer fences and carvings and drawings made with charcoal and vermilion, on the trunks of trees. At one location, a tree carving depicted men with the heads of deer and at another location, a tree had the carving of what looked like a cat or perhaps a cougar, but they also saw drawings depicting men hunting bison, which you wouldn’t expect to see anywhere around here.


Lake Erie was named after the indigenous tribe known as the “Erie” or the “Cat Nation,” who were an Iroquoian, and it is possible that the carving of the cat had something to do with them and their former territory. Just west of the present-day Folden’s Line bridge is the approximate location where the Simcoe expedition crossed the Thames River on logs or fallen trees, to the south side.


In Major Littlehales' journal of the trip, he said that it had rained “without intermission,” and that “the brooks and rivulets were swollen considerably.” They crossed many of these watercourses on the trunks of fallen trees or logs. After crossing the main south-east branch of the Thames, which passes through what is now Woodstock, Beachville, Centreville and Ingersoll, they still had many, many more creeks, streams and flooded swales or runs of water, to cross, as there were no bridges.


The Thames isn’t such a wide river, compared to the Grand River, but it could still be tricky trying to cross when it was extremely flooded. The original Thames River was a natural meandering and Navigable watercourse through what’s now the Beachville area, however over the past 150 years limestone quarrying, in the Beachville area, along with flood control measures, called for modifications and channelization of the natural river course. Along the shore of this section of the upper Thames River, the early European settlers found limestone and it became a significant resource here.


Basically, the river in the vicinity of Beachville and Centreville is a completely different configuration than what the early settlers and Simcoe would have known. Note: the Simcoe Party may not have crossed the larger rivers in the same place coming back from Detroit, as they did when they went, as unpredictable weather conditions and the water elevation at the time of crossing played a big role in deciding where and how to cross. This is why the place where they crossed and the place where the local settlers later established a fording place, was about 600m (1,970ft) apart, according to land surveyors’ notes.


The thing about fording a river, back in the days before there were bridges, is that usually in order to get wagons down to the river ford, they required a natural slope that wasn’t too steep, and the same on the opposite side of the river too. This was done by selecting a fording site near or adjacent to the mouth of a stream or creek that had fairly uniform side-slopes, so they could just gradually climb a gradual slope all the way up the stream from the river.


The hill, or Ingersoll moraine, as it is known, which runs parallel to the river along the south side of the Thames, at Beachville, seems way too steep in most places, for wagons or stagecoaches to travel up or down. This is also probably the reason why the Governor’s party did not try going straight up the hill too after they crossed the river. They gradually climbed the slope further along skirting the more severe slopes, along a natural ravine. With this information and my knowledge of early land surveying, cartography and of course physiography, from dear Mr Harry Southam’s high school geography class, I can deduce the likely route of the trail as it may have ascended/descended this moraine.


This is a view of the present-day village of Beachville.


The orange dashed line represents the approximate route taken by Simcoe’s group, based on the highly detailed notes of D. W. Smith, who accompanied the Governor on that expedition. My interpretation of the land features noted by Smith are transposed onto 21st-century mapping which has been produced by the Ministry of natural resources and Forestry and the Oxford County GIS website.


Just prior to the survey of Oxford-on-the-Thames, as it was being called, the trail which brought the settlers into the interior of the province was improved by a group of settlers under the leadership of Thomas Ingersoll, between 1795 and 1797.


[But more about Thomas Ingersoll later].


If you look at the mapping that was done by the early surveyors of the late 18th century, in this area, the trail was shown as a dotted line which appears to cross the Thames River somewhere between lots 9 and 10 of the broken-front concession, in West Oxford-on-The-Thames. These variations will be shown in dark blue on my overlay.


Immediately after crossing the Thames River, the Simcoe party then crossed two runs of water and at 9:40 in the morning of March 5th, they met the “winter express” which was the biweekly courier en route between Niagara and Detroit. This “express” consisted of three men on foot. The land surveyor Augustus Jones was with them and instead of going on to Detroit, Jones joined the Simcoe throng and went back to Niagara.


The courier or express came through, by way of the footpath every 14 days and since that is roughly the amount of time it took to travel between Niagara and Detroit, the Simcoe party also met the express when they were heading to Detroit, as well.


A few more creek and stream crossings then they crossed what is now called “Cedar Creek.” It is very distinct or unmistakable physical features like this which held in piecing this sort of puzzle together. D. W. Smith describes it as a “Large brook running to the left and making a fork to the northward, with the River Thames.” As you can see, Cedar Creek runs north into the Thames but before it gets there, it makes several “forks” along the way. There are still cedars groves in the area along the Old Stage Road, in Oxford, however, the British also called them “Cypress.”


According to major Littlehales, at 12:23 p.m. March 5th, they“...halted in a Cypress or Cedar grove, where they were much amused by seeing Captain Joseph Brant and some of his men chase a lynx with their dogs and rifle guns, but they did not catch it.” (Littlehales / Scadding, Toronto, 1889)


At 1:55 p.m. they arrived at what is the upper end of what is now called the “Kenny Creek.” They found it very much flooded and noted it as a “Mudhole creek.” Kenny Creek starts basically in the middle of West Oxford-on-The-Thames and flows east into the County of Brant a short distance east of the hamlet of Cathcart. Here, it merges with the Horner Creek, Elliott drain and Whiteman’s Creek, and eventually flows all the way to the Grand River.


You will see a quote in the credits of this film, which is one of my favourites quotes and it goes "The past actually happened, but history is only what someone wrote down." By Whitney Brown. I think it is fantastic that we have two versions of the same expedition; One, by D. W. Smith with very accurate data that records the very locations of the land features they encountered, and the other, from the standpoint of a diarist in the person of Major Littlehales. Smith’s details coincide very accurately with today’s mapping, but he does not elaborate on what is going on in and around the expedition party itself.


Between what is now Vandecar and Burford West Quarter Townline Road, Major Littlehales mentions in his journal, on their way to Detroit, Feb. 12th. —"We travelled through an irregular woody country and passed an encampment said to have been Lord Edward Fitzgerald's when on his march to Detroit, Michilimackinac, and the Mississippi.” This is very interesting. D. W. Smith does not mention this in his journal. How Littlehales comes to know this is not known, but Dr. Henry Scadding, who published Littlehales’ journal in 1889, says...“This refers, no doubt, to an incident in Lord Fitzgerald's journey through Canada, in 1789.”


This is where the name of one of the most colourful historical characters that had ever travelled through Burford enters into the story. Only a few months earlier, in 1792 Fitzgerald had been dismissed from the British army for publicly saying that "the speedy abolition of all hereditary titles and feudal distinctions".


Brave fellow, I say...I will elaborate more about Lord Edward FitzGerald and his very colourful and exciting story in Part 3.


At 3:15 p.m. the Simcoe expedition passed the place where they had encamped on the night of February 11th when on their way to Detroit. It was described as being “close on a small swampy spot, with long coarse grass.” This location is in the geographic township of Burford at about 600m west of the West Quarter Townline, where the road overlooks a small swampy spot that to this day still has long coarse grass.







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 are 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.      










LINKS To Check Out


About The Author



The Old Stage Road – Along the Detroit Trail (Part 1)



The Old Stage Road – Along the Detroit Trail

(Part 3)