Marmora Historical Foundation, by Andre Philpot
In 1820 three emigrants who were to reshape Upper Canada stepped off ships in Montreal.
The first, still a boy, was John Alexander MacDonald destined for Kingston, and to become the father of Confederation.
The second was William Lyon MacKenzie destined for Toronto who would be our most famous rebel and the man who would lead the colony towards democracy.
The third was an extraordinary entrepreneur heading here to Marmora to set up the colony’s first great industry.
That year, Charles Hayes, enticed by the colonial government, came from England to start Upper Canada’s first Iron Town and her first real industry.
Unlike most immigrants he travelled in some style and arrived in November 1st ,1820, at Kingston, ‘in perfect safety by steamboat’. But that was where the comfort and safety ended for his target was up here in what was endless bush virtually without settlers or roads. He had been sold on the idea of an ironworks based on an ‘inexhaustible mountain of iron ore’ at Blairton to floated by barge be processed to a site just upstream form here at the ‘great falls’ of the Crowe river.
Despite the isolation and hardship, by spring of 1821 the Hayes ironworks had began to grow around two great blast furnaces. They were operated by the 200 hundred or so, old-world miners who Hayes enticed here with him. Fed with the Iron Ore from Blairton and wood from thousands of surrounding acres, the furnaces pored out tons of molten iron. Ballast, stoves, and, even two cannons, that Hayes declared to be ‘able and suited to defend the empire’, were produced. And this Village grew.
The difficulties of transporting such heavy products down muddy trails to markets so far away, meant steady financial loses and finally closure. In 1825 Hayes went back to Britain to pine for Marmora but never to return.
He left behind however an Irontown with the Blast Furnaces, the system of dams, the housing, the forest resources, and the village. For the next century dreamers found it impossible to believe that it couldn’t work. Time after time they attempted to get the ironworks going again.
There was a move afoot to transfer the Kingston Penitentiary here and use the free labour. Even a plan to dig a canal for water transport to the Trent. Surely it would work if there were just better routes from Marmora to the markets of her products.
Later there was a rail line, right here through the park,(you are standing on it) , established to try again to make the works profitable. Nothing seemed to work but it was never for lack of trying of for lack of dreaming.
By the 1880s the dreaming had subsided but not before the works had attracted a ‘who’s who’ of Upper Canada Society.
In the 1840s the mine manager, Anthony Manahan, could have changed history if only he were more popular. He ran against, and lost to John A. MacDonald, our future father of confederation’s who had embarked on first quest for high office. That election was a three- day affair, fueled by a lot of alcohol and ending with a public ‘shout out’ vote in the Kingston Town square. John A. MacDonald was born for that sort of format and the dour Anthony Manahan was not—he was trounced. The rest, as they say, is history.
But who knows, had Manahan won, perhaps you would be standing now in the Capital of Canada!!
Over the next two centuries prospectors on a great treasure hunt for the mother lode, developed nearby mineral deposits. They dug up everything from marble, lithographic limestone, and lead, to gold and silver.
Mining Hamlets—Deloro, Cordova Mines, Malone, Eldorado, Bannockburn, etc.. etc., sprang up and each for a while thrived. As the plaque says, surnames of those first miners so many years ago are still prevalent today here in what is truly the birthplace of mining in Ontario.
Here’s something to think about:
In 2017, Canada celebrated its 150th anniversary.
In 2020, Marmora will begin to celebrate her 200th!
So--Let’s look upon the placing of this plaque, not as a single event, but as the beginning of the celebration of our extraordinary and unique heritage.
Linda Bracken, Deputy Mayor
When we heard about the opportunity to apply for a historical plaque we immediately thought of the miners in the area and how those miners became the roots of the Marmora family tree.
The Marmora Historical Foundation has a link to the 1861 Marmora Census. And while looking over that document so many names sounded familiar. There were 1500 names on the list.
And the Shannon's and Jone's tied for 27 each.
Now, it's hard to tell if all of these families had miners among them. Some were Irish, English, Welsh, how many reasons were there, at that time, for people to make such a journey to the little hamlet of Marmora?
Whatever the reason for their journey, those names have been apart of the fabric of Marmora and area for generations. The men in the mines and the women making the home were hard and resilient people. I would say that those qualities are still prevalent today in Marmora and District. As we branch out as a municipality, we owe a lot to the miners that settled here. We now live in one of the most ecologically diverse areas of the province. I don't think you would live here if you didn't enjoy the nature that we are settled in. The Land Between they call it. Lucky for us the geology that made this land enticing to so many families still impacts our lives today.