• Art Duval

Introducing the Osbornes. A.C. Historian of our Ancient Town and the Osborne legacy


In the history of Penetanguishene, we were fortunate enough to have a man who painstakingly chronicled the life and times of our ancestors. Alexander Campbell Osborne came here in the 1880's and 90's looking to fulfill the story of his own youth and family. He would also become part of the fiber of Penetang, being in many social and philanthropic groups such as the odd fellows in Penetang. His sons would also be involved in the local society.

AC as he's known had spent his youth in Napanee, where his Grandfather Nathaniel Osborne, blind in his late years, required a guide. Young AC would be that guide and as a result would hear the stories of his Grandfather's time in the War of 1812. Stories about times with his friend Sergeant John Lowe and the Methodist minister, his cousin George Young.

In this time AC would learn to tell stories, to capture the essence, the very fabric of the people involved. He would learn the importance of sitting around the kitchens of those whose story he wanted to tell. Nathaniel had been in the commissariat, assigned to Mackinac Island, where so many of the future settlers of Penetanguishene would rub shoulders with him.



At the end of AC's school days he would chose the teaching profession, going to the Normal school in Toronto. Toronto was the only school of this kind at the time. Basically it set the curriculum for what would be taught, as before all schools were pretty much on their own. Prior to 1847 no professional teaching certificate was required. While in school, he attended one of the first Canadian National Exhibitions in Toronto.

AC would receive an education at teacher's school, then called a Normal School (or model school) in Toronto. His teaching career would bring him to Malton, where in 1862, he would marry Jane Anne Frankland, who was born in Hackness, Scarborough District of England. The Frankland's had emigrated to Canada to open a carriage business after 1851. She would produce sons in (James)1862, (Henry)1864 and (George)1865 before moving to Fort Erie and Wingham where in 1869, they would welcome two more sons, Herbert in 1869 and Earnest in 1875. Finally in 1883, they would have a daughter Ethel, in Simcoe. (County?) From there, he would move to Napanee as a headmaster.

In 1873 the Wingham times needed an editor, Mr J.M. Leets was retiring and AC Osborne took over as editor. It is not known if he had any experience in newspapers prior, but I assume he must have been involved somehow.

His teaching days were not over, but it would seem that it no longer fulfilled the storytelling needs of Mr Osborne. He would return to Napanee to be a headmaster of a school there but it is apparent that the newspaper business was calling, he would only be in Napanee a couple of years.

His Grandfather Alexander Campbell had once been in the newspaper business, printing the Napanee paper in his store there. Some cosmic force enticed AC to come to Penetanguishene in the 1880's where he knew that stories were to be told. Acting as a correspondent, he would eventually start the Penetanguishene Herald with his son George.

Here it says his oldest son, but I think it was George and not James who was the son in question. George would go on to be a writer, writing a historical depiction of Midland named A story of early Midland and her pioneers : a tribute to the days of old-to the pioneers who gave of their spirit and thought to the making of the beautiful and substantial Midland of to-day.

This would reflect the works of his father on the people of Penetang.


This long list of work by AC Osborne shows his interest in telling the stories of his family and the people of Penetang. (They are held in a box in University of Toronto, where I hope to see them some day when Covid is over. )

Long a memeber of the Methodist church, AC would step forward and be a president of the local bible society. He would also be a charter member of the Oddfellows whose mandate states- The historic command of the Oddfellows is to he “visit the sick, relieve the distressed, bury the dead and educate the orphan.”

AC would also be called on to entertain visiting dignitaries.

When county historian AF Hunter came around with his bicycle, he found AC to collaborate on some works and tour the area, searching for historic villages of the Wendat.

We also get his work, "The Migration of Drummond Island Voyageurs to Penetanguishene", due to his reputation as the go-to historian for Penetanguishene.


The family were part of the affluent part of the community, and built the first movie theater in town and when the arena needed to be replaced, it was the Osborne family in the person of Herbert Osborne, who would build the replacement down at the bottom of the main street where the beer store is now.


I will be telling the story of Corporal Osborne in a later blog. I will also discuss some of the works of AC, George and Herbert and their involvement in the society at Penetanguishene. AC would also lose two sons at a young age in Harry Osborne, in 1888 who perished due to inflamation of the bowels. (Could it have been the influenza?) He lost a son Earnest in 1897 as well.


AC Osborne, ever full of energy and mirth, would work on his collected stories right up until his death at nearly ninety years old. Publishing books right up till the end. In 1924 he passed away, and fittingly he is buried at Copeland Hill Cemetery where the original route into Penetanguishene existed and is now almost completely forgotten. Many of his co-inhabitants of that cemetery tell a story of the origins of this ancient town. A moniker used by the editor of the Barrie Advance to poke fun at our man AC Osborne.

What brought the Osorne's to Penetang is quite a story on it's own. The Osborne's never expected to be in Penetanguishene, but the forces seemed to lead them there. They had been deeply ensconced in the New Jersey area before that country decided to revolt against Britain. Staying loyal to Britain, they were facing difficulties in a now foreign land, so on hearing of land in Sophiasburgh, in the area of Napanee, they decided to acquire land in the form of a land grant. Among them were the Short family and at a similar time, the Campbell family came north as well in the form of AC's Namesake Alexander Campbell.

Again faced with another war, the Osborne's represented the Crown again and Nathanial Osborne, AC's Grandfather took up arms in far off Mackinac Island, in the Commissariat department.

Then through time AC was looking for a place to start a newspaper, and Penetang had long wanted one, having brought a printing press from Cookstown in 1870's. AC would find a home to write his stories and research the area, reading such works as "Forest scenes and incidents in the wild, by George Head as his guide. I will also follow two of his children, Herbert (HAC) Osborne, who was a local photographer who moved to Deseronto to open a studio, but returned later and was involved in the area and George who wrote for the local newspapers, and also an important historical book on Midland and it's pioneers.

And I will tell the story of Lyall Osborne, who served and died tragically in training for World War 1


Look for other blogs on the Osborne's as I continue work on this important family to the history of our ancient village.

Art Duval

Pipesmoke of the past












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