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Esmonde

History

Town site photo

The Curry farm and post office

©Copyright: Jeri Danyleyko

The name "Opeongo" originated from the Algonquin word "opeauwingauk" meaning "Sandy at the Narrows." The Opeongo Road was probably the most well know failure of the infamous road colonization scheme that took place during the mid 1800s. Completed in 1867, it stretched 110 kilometres from Ottawa through Renfrew County to Algonquin Park.

By the mid 1850s settlers, lured by the usual government hype of rich agricultural resources for free, had begun arriving from all parts of Europe. Settlers were given their pick of the 100 acre lots on a first-come first-serve basis. Although the goal of erecting a home and cultivating 12 acres in the first 4 years seemed quite achievable, the soil turned out to be thin, rocky and unsuitable for farming. With their hopes of a better life dashed, many struggled on just to obtain title to a piece of land they could call their own. The area was full of rich virgin forests and eventually lumbering interests took over.

Esmonde was one of several small communities and cross road hamlets that sprung up along the Opeongo Road during the mid 19th century. It had a schoolhouse and both Catholic and Anglican churches. Patrick Curry opened a post office in 1888, which remained open until 1917. The village also contained a saw and shingle mill operated by A. Quade.

The land around Esmonde was reasonably fertile and it thrived for awhile, but once the land was farmed out the farmers moved on and the village died. Esmonde was never large and at its peak boasted a population of around 25.

By 1893, J.R. Booth had expanded his lumbering interests into Algonquin Park. His railway, the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound ran through the park, by-passing the Opeongo Road. The sawmill operated until at least 1910.

Today the Opeongo Road, with the old rough hewn old log homes and split rail fences retains much of its pioneer flavour. A 1977 government report called for the preservation of the Curry farm and post office building, which were in a sad state of deterioration. Sadly it didn't happen and the structures have since crumbled into ruins. St Joseph's Catholic Church continues to operate. The community hall, located near the church has been renovated and is still in use.