St. John's Anglican Cemetery©Copyright: Susan Foster
The Old Nipissing Road was another of the failed colonization routes opened by the government in the mid 19th century. Now known as The Ghost Town Trail, this early pioneer route tells a sad story of failed farms, disease, staggering rates of child mortality and mind numbing hardships. Dufferin Bridge was one of the early casualties.
The opening of the Nipissing Road attracted numerous settlers to the rugged bush of Parry Sound District. In 1879 John Clarke along with partner Joseph Irwin decided to take advantage of the traffic and build a grand hotel along the road. His stopping place would later be matched by another built by Richard Irwin, a relative of Joseph.
As the farms were cleared a small village that included two grocery stores, two general stores, Methodist and Anglican churches and Richard Irwin's hotel, sprang to life. Irwin expanded into the lumber business by building a sawmill on the local stream. More buildings were added, one of which was the attractive post office, opened in 1882. Hugh McCans operated the blacksmith shop. Early records show the majority of residents were immigrants from the British Isles.
As the railway pushed northwards towards North Bay, it followed a different trajectory, upsetting the fragile traffic that ran on north-south axis along the Nipissing Road. Rail travellers now found it easier to bypass the southern Nipissing Road settlements and disembark at more northern locations such as South River, Sundridge and Burk's Falls where the land east and west of the rail line was better for farming. Settlements like Dufferin Bridge were hit hard by these changes.
Roughly two thirds of the area's residents were farmers trying to eke out a meagre living from the thin rocky soil. By the early 20th century a population of only 65 remained; a far cry from the 130 or so who lived there during Dufferin Bridge's early days. A diphtheria outbreak in early 1902 claimed a number of lives. Many others departed west to farm the rich lands on the Canadian prairies. The general store, grocery store, Irwin's hotel and post office precariously held on for a few years. The post office finally closed in 1905. Over the next two decades the population slowly trickled to nothing.
All that remains of Dufferin Bridge today are two cemeteries, St John's Anglican and the Dufferin Methodist. The tombstones tell a particularly heartbreaking tale of the Ashton and Morden families who, between them, lost 10 children between the ages of 1 and 10, during the 1902 diphtheria outbreak. Only one of the Morden children, Mary Lucinda, survived the epidemic. Ironically Lucinda lived to the ripe old age of 102. Another daughter, Cecelia, was born in 1906. Apart from the cemeteries, there is little other evidence that Dufferin Bridge ever existed.