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  • Writer's pictureArt Duval

Penetang, why are we all skewed up?

So another Quarantined blog. I just think doing positives is where it's at. This asks and answers and asks again some questions I have about the layout of Penetang. Why are we so skewed up?

So looking at a map we can see that we are askew. Were not laid out North-South. Hmm, that's a

bit weird. But there is a very good reason for that. It has to do with the founding of the town.

Nautical chart showing alignment of North South

The town was founded on military needs, the upper Great Lakes, needed defending from the ever-expanding United States.

So, in the late 18th century, (1795-8) Governor Simcoe purchased Penetanguishene for the British. The deal being struck was for Penetanguishene Bay and it's environs. A road had also been planned, but that wasn't completed as such until the war of 1812. Samuel Wilmot surveyed a roadway leading to from Kempenfelt Bay to Penetanguishene in 1808.

This was as far as they got until after the fall of Detroit. This precipitated a better communication with the upper lakes. The British wanted it done, so they employed a "get er done" type; aptly named Tiger Dunlop. He was ordered to finish the road to Penetanguishene. Which he did, in the wrong place. (but that is another story)

Going off the instructions of Wilmot's survey, he began the road at the end of a road that Wilmot had run to Crown Hill. From there, he turned 30 degrees west of north and bullied a road to Penetang, only deviating when encountering natural obstacles such as lakes.

In fact, he was so direct in his course that in later years the need to return and deviate the original route became necessary. In one case, Orr lake, the damming of the river necessitated the deviation. It's interesting to go along Highway 93 and see where some of these roadways continue to be used today. For instance, in Hillsdale, the original road did not divert around but went straight through. That original roadway can still be seen as a trail through the bush.

Another area where they decided to divert around a hill was at Waverley.(1) The road past the Cenotaph, now called Darby Road continues on the old route straight up and over the hill. This is also the case by Wyebridge,(2) where the original road, now called Old Penetanguishene road goes up and over the hill.

Here the situation deteriorated so bad that a road almost disappears and Subway Rd will bring you back to the highway. At some time around 1850, the decision was made to build a bridge over the River Wye, this took on the name of Wyebridge.

This roadway picks up at Brebeuf Road, behind Brooklea Golf Course and leads to a trail, if Brebeuf continued straight into Highway 12, that leads to Midland. In that area, there is still some hint of the community that lived along that section of the road, as tombstones mark an old pioneer cemetery.

The road, in its original position, can still be followed through Midland but goes back to a very primitive state as the highway avoids swampy lands. Where once Penetanguishene Road was a straight line, it is now a big S as it swings its way into Penetang. The direct route is continued as Murray Road, the original entrance to Penetang, where a priest with a gun once scared off would-be assailants.

The original right of way did not stop at Penetang, Military Road, over on the other side of the Bay, as we locals call it, picks up the course. Granted it does not follow the current alignment of Penetangs main street, that is the Main street being moved and not Military Road.

So Penetang is based on a layout that follows that 30 degrees west of north found by surveyor Wilmot to layout the Communication Road to Penetang.

But why are some roads also on a different angle? Well, the roadway and town were established under two different agreements. The town, which was originally to be at the Military base, was laid out with the old land agreement. Following the bay, some of those roads follow almost (but not quite) the North-South axis. While roads like Robert and Water lay perpendicular to the old road while Peel and Fox follow the Bay. Church street is an exception, it is one of the original roadways, and follows the lay of the land to the military base at the mouth of the Bay.

This led to some strangely engineered architecture. Along the main street, between what is now Main Street and Peel Street is a triangular space where buildings only have two right-angle sides. The building fronted on the main street and that side are square, the other side is along Peel Street and follows that angle.

Courtesy Rene Hacksetter

Not only did the lots have an odd shape, but they are on a steep hill as well.

And this led to an almost triangular Northern Hotel at Main and Simcoe. Which along with the steep hill must have made the carpenters and masons of Penetang quite skilled in their labours.

Along Peel street, the Episcopal Church, (Anglican) church is square to the Main Street, but the Sunday School next door is square to Peel street.

Courtesy Rene Hacksetter

Another oddity is the different widths of the streets. Robert Street West of Main is laid out 100 feet, and only 66 to the east. The Main street (Penetanguishene Road) is 75 feet and Peel is 70 feet. I don't know why the widths are different. Bill Hannah opined that perhaps Robert Street was wider due to the Fire Department possibly needed room for the firewagons to have more room. (If anyone knows, shout it out)

So why are we askew. To be honest I don't know. There were many changes to early Penetanguishene. Originally according to the Goessman survey, the townsite was to be out by the military establishments. Alexander Aitkin working for Governor Simcoe sketched the town and that was probably where he sketched it. Later the townsite was moved, so could they have simply used the data provided by Aitken. Aitken probably would have used the datum of the bay to lay out the town.

Penetanguishene Road is slightly out of place. Drawing a straight line it should be farther east. Also, it is about four miles east of what Aitken had originally wanted. So did this make things askew?

Why, oh why did we build on a hill? (Is it because we're all skewed?) That is a difficult question to answer. The original purchase of the land limited how far from the shore of Penetang bay was owned by the British. Could that have influenced those who first put up buildings in 1840?

I have as many questions as answers so if you know...

Art Duval

Pipesmoke of the Past

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