It might look like a quiet place where nothing out of the ordinary happens but Northumberland County has a colourful past. The 19th century was the era in which hearty settlers battled the elements to establish homesteads in the wilderness. Meanwhile, emerging towns battled it out for supremacy, especially in the railway era. Indeed, Port Hope and Cobourg aspired to be as influential as Toronto. And early on, Rice Lake gained acclaim as a tourist destination, while in the four decades before World War I, Cobourg was the domain of choice among wealthy Americans keen on building summer homes. Fortunes were made and lost, while the family farm kept chugging along as the rudder of the local economy.
It was a different time, and the stories, events and personalities from that era are the stuff of legend today. History remains alive in Northumberland and you don't have to look far to find vestiges of the past. Just turn down any country road and see what sights there are to be seen. Or check out some of the highlights listed here:
- Historical Plaques - Throughout Northumberland County are 23 historical plaques erected by the Ontario Heritage Trust, each commemorating a person or event of significance to our heritage. These are the familiar blue-and-gold plaques; several local municipalities tell even more stories through plaques of their own.
- Trent-Severn Waterway - It was finally completed in the early 1900s, but every step of its construction was a political hot-potato. If you can't go by boat, you can follow the Trent by criss-crossing along country roads, checking out the locks and the scenery as you go.
- Rice Lake Rail Crossing - It was a real engineering feat in 1860, but the railway trestle across Rice Lake failed in its first year and was never used again. Remnants of the route are still visible from the shore at Harwood.
- Campbellford-Seymour - This interpretive signage tour highlights 10 historically significant sites which impacted the growth and development of this community, and includes Ferris Provincial Park.
- Church Key Brewing - Worth a tour just to see how a little country church near Campbellford was converted into an artisan brewery.
- Catharine Parr Trail - A seminal figure in Canadian literature, this pioneer writer chronicled the botany of Rice Lake. Sites associated with her are found in Hamilton Township.
- Murray Canal - It took years of political wrangling, but this short cut through the very eastern edge of Northumberland was finally finished in 1889 so that ships could avoid the worst of the treacherous waters at the eastern end of Lake Ontario.
- Susanna Moodie - Probably the best known of Canada's pioneer authors, she based much of her writing on her disastrous homesteading experience in Hamilton Township.
- James Cockburn - One of the most influential political figures in Cobourg, Cockburn was one of the Fathers of Confederation who created Canada as we know it today. We celebrate him during Canada 150.
- Ganaraska Trail - This hiking trail heads due north from Port Hope, following the route of the historic Midland Railway.
- Port Hope Drive-In Theatre - Once a mainstay in the suburbs and the countryside, the drive-in theatre is a vanishing species, but ours still functions in the summer months.
- J. D. Kelly - The most famous artist to grow up in Warkworth, Kelly's renderings of pivotal moments in Ontario history still have resonance today.
- Wreck of the Speedy - Plans to make Presqu'ile a regional capital were scuttled when a ship carrying court officials and politicians sank just offshore in 1804.
- Toonie Monument - The first Canadian $2 coin was designed by a Campbellford artist in 1996.
- Danforth Road - This road, still in use, was conceived as a military road, far enough from Lake Ontario to be secure from American attack. Yes, it's the same Danforth as in Toronto.
- William Weller - A colourful character who ran the stagecoach line from Hamilton to Montreal in the pre-railway era. Gained renown for driving the governor-general from Toronto to Montreal in a record 37 hours.
- Alderville First Nation - When this Ojibway band adopted an agrarian way of life, they found their island in the Bay of Quinte unsuited to agriculture. The current reserve provided much better opportunities
- Gerald Heyward - An artist who gained fame for miniature portraits of royalty and other famous people. Always held a soft spot for Gore's Landing and built the house that was Victoria Inn, now a private residence.