Bobcaygeon’s nickname is “The Hub of the Kawarthas” and it is well named. The village is located at the rapids where
Lake empties into
Lake on its way to
Ontario . The spot was an obvious site for native villages and was the spot of an early trading post run by a trader named McKeough. But the father of the village was an English entrepreneur named Thomas Need who set up shop in 1832. The local Mississauga Indians called the site “bob-cajeon-unk” which meant “shallow waters” in their dialect. Need liked the name.
Need was granted 400 acres including the 3 islands that were part of the new village. Need built a sawmill & grist mill on the big island and a community began to grow up. In 1834 the government of Upper Canada commissioned the first lock for the
Waterway at Bobcaygeon. The lock was finished by 1840. The site was truly the “Hub of the
Kawartha Lakes .”
In 1844 Need sold his interests to a local farmer named Mossom Boyd and the village really began to prosper under its most famous family. Boyd’s main enterprise in the early years was his sawmill business. Ideally located on the
Waterway , Boyd floated the massive white pine logs to his mill at the foot of the lock. The dam at Buckhorn (completed in 1844) raised the water levels and forced several re-organizing of the locks & sawmills to the point where Boyd moved his sawmill to a new (and much larger site) on the south-east end of the island.
In 1855, the government commissioned a series of colonization roads to open up the Ottawa-Huron Tract north of the
Kawartha Lakes . The Bobcaygeon Road was to be a key piece of this scheme and
Village was to be the start point for the new road. It had regular steam boat connections with both
Peterborough (via Bridgenorth) and Lindsay. All the settlers for
County flowed through Bobcaygeon until the Victoria Railway diverted the flow in 1876. The village prospered and became the largest community in the area. The village contained several large hotels and numerous stores to service travelers on the Road, local farmers & the lumber industry, then approaching its zenith.
The village grew up on the 3 islands and on the north shore where a separate village called Rokeby was surveyed by the government. In 1876 the rival villages amalgamated so they could boast 1,000 residents & qualify for incorporated village status. The name Rokeby disappeared.
The Boyds branched out and formed the Kawartha Navigation Company with numerous steam boats that plied the
Kawartha Lakes for several decades until the age of steam passed by World War I. They also dabbled in livestock breeding. But the Boyds really wanted a railway for their businesses and when the Victoria Railway was planned in the early 1870s, they tried desperately to get the line to cross the
Kawartha Lakes at Bobcaygeon. Unfortunately their designs were stymied by Verulam Township Council who refused to grant a bonus to the company.
Falls was not so cheap and won the railway. Fenelon’s rise was Bobcaygeon’s demise and the population actually declined in Bobcaygeon as Fenelon’s grew. Bobcaygeon eventually got its railway in 1904, but by then it was too late. The Boyd Family closed their big sawmill in 1898 and the village languished even further.
The prosperity brought by the mills and the Road led to a number of prominent industries in the village. The Boyd Family built a series of large, lavish houses along the canal. The only one that survives today is the Boyd “office”, now a museum/library. The numerous Boyds also had a private school in the office. The Teachers, a Mr. & Mrs. Comer started a private school for boys called Hillcroft in town. The large structure was converted to a hospital (with 18 beds) in 1958. The small hospital operated until closed by the Ontario Government in the 1970s.
Bobcaygeon also contained all the DNA structures of an established village: 4 churches, high school, newspaper, sawmill, grist mill, Orange Lodge, agricultural fair and numerous businesses. The
Canal also contributed to its prosperity, particularly in later years when tourism climbed to the number one industry in the area. Today the village has become a retirement destination, with both condominiums and estates gracing the local lakes.