Vickers home, built around 1925Courtesy: Charles Vickers
The Ontario Road Colonization program was started with the best of intentions. The program was developed to encourage long-term settlement of farmland and stem the flow of traffic to the United States, which offered rich farmland and a much longer growing season. With railways still in their infancy, the province also hoped the roads would help connect the northern and southern reaches of the province and facilitate the transport of goods. In all 13 major roads were built.
To qualify for a land grant, settlers had to meet a list of conditions. These included being a minimum of 18 years of age, building a small house, having at least 12 acres under cultivation within four years, and residing on the land for a minimum of five years. After that they were able to obtain title to the property.
Although the initial government reports looked promising, by the 1860s it was becoming clear that disillusionment was beginning to set in. Simply put the northern land was not good for farming. Although limited pockets of land were arable and could be cultivated, the growing season was short and much of the soil was thin and rocky. Frustrated settlers began abandoning their grants in large numbers and heading off for greener pastures, either in the US or in western Canada where the rich prairie lands were being opened for settlement. Those that chose to stay dabbled in a combination of farming, lumbering and providing assorted services to the surrounding settlers and communities.
Like many of the northern roads, the Nipissing Road fared quite poorly. The 111-kilometre road, which ran from Rosseau to Nipissing, was built from 1866-75. Three small communities popped up at the south end of the road. These were Seguin Falls to the south, Dufferin Bridge and North Seguin, which was the most northerly of the three. Adjacent to North Seguin on the northwest was the settlement of Orange Valley which never attained actual community or hamlet status. Although these small communities were different, they were closely inter-twined and shared a number of complementary services. There was quite a lot of movement back and forth.
North Seguin was first settled around 1873. A post office was opened in 1877 by D.A. Campbell, who also owned the general store. The community was built along both sides of the Nipissing Road and along the fifth concession (later Orange Valley Road) running west.
The North Seguin school, SS #2 Spence, was built around 1879 on Lot 26 on the Orange Valley Road. Like most early school buildings, it was erected by a community bee with James Vigrass from nearby Dufferin Bridge as the carpenter. Both communities used the one-room schoolhouse which measured 8.8 X 5.8 metres (29 X 19 ft). Vigrass also built the desks and benches. A porch was added in 1921. North Seguin unofficially ended at the schoolhouse with Orange Valley starting just to the west. A small log Methodist church, located on Concession A, Lot 45, was built sometime in the 1880s. An Orange Hall was located further south on Lot 41 Concession A.
North Seguin's early settlers included John Latham and Elias Ashton, both of whom served as postmasters and store operators, John Vickers from nearby Rock Hill, and Samuel Plumtree, a later store owner who postmaster from 1896-99.
Many of the early residents came from England and Ireland. John and Mary Vickers were typical of these new arrivals. They left England, arriving in Rosseau and then headed on to Rock Hill, travelling up the Nipissing Road with a team of oxen. They later moved from Rock Hill and built a home on their land at Lot 45, Concession B in North Seguin.
The Orange Valley and Orange Valley Road were opened a few years later, around 1880. At some point a sign stating "No Catholics Allowed" or words to that effect was reportedly erected around Orange Valley. The story still lives on in the history of urban legends.
One family who left their mark in North Seguin did not originate from the UK. The Plezter family came from Blyth in southwest Ontario, probably in the mid 1880s and settled in the Orange Valley area. There were two brothers, John and Henry. John and Josephine Pletzer had lost three of their four children before settling in North Seguin. Tragically their one surviving child died from diphtheria in 1887. In later years it was said that if John and Josephine looked after John Studholme in his advancing years, he would deed them the property located on Lot 31, Concession 5. They received title to the property after his death.
Around the same time, John's younger brother Henry also journeyed up from Blyth. Henry and his family moved around the area for a number of years before purchasing some property from John and settling down to farm. George Arnold, the grandson of a cousin George, became quite famous as a carver of birds.
By the mid 1890s, North Seguin's future was beginning to look more promising. In 1896 the Canada Atlantic Railway (later CN) pushed through to Seguin Falls, 11.2 km (7 miles) to the south. This made it far easier to transport lumber products from North Seguin to the railway.
The old log Methodist church was replaced by a new church and cemetery located further south on Lot 40A, Concession A. The cemetery, known as the Dufferin Methodist Cemetery, is located at the point where Dufferin Bridge meets North Seguin. The tombstones tell a particularly heartbreaking tale of the Ashton and Morden families who were North Seguin residents. Between them, they lost 10 children from the ages of 1 and 10, during a diphtheria outbreak in 1902. Only one of the Morden children, Lucinda, survived the epidemic. A second daughter was born a few years later. Ironically Lucinda lived to the ripe old age of 102.
A third cemetery, the Orange Valley Road Cemetery, located on Lot 27 Concession 4 dates back to 1886. The cemetery only contains a few stones belonging to the Wark and Pletzer families and may have started out as a family plot.
One of North Seguin's most prominent citizens was Albert Vigrass. Vigrass, the son of James Vigrass, married Plumtree's daughter Rebecca Magdalene (Lena) and settled in North Seguin. In 1899 he took over the general store and post office from his father-in-law. The post office and store were located in the front of his house. The store was small and limited to staples such as flour, sugar, tea, candies for the kiddies and lamp oil. The post office also served residents of Orange Valley. There was a small blacksmith shop behind the store. In later years, a gravity feed gas pump was added. He had an extensive library and appears tohave been very well-read.
Vigrass wore many hats. In addition to farming, he established a lumbering and saw mill operation which provided employment to a number of men in North Seguin. Over time Vigrass streamlined his lumber operation by building roads and replacing his horses with trucks. The lumber was hauled to the nearby rail station in Seguin Falls. Besides the Vigrass mill, there were a number of other smaller logging operations in the vicinity.
Another addition to North Seguin was the Pentecostal church built in 1918. In 1912 the Pentecostal Assembly of Zion Hill purchased a half acre plot of land on Lot 28, Concession 5, from John Farrow for one dollar. Until a building and parsonage could be erected, the congregation reportedly met in the abandoned home of Elias Ashton, an early settler who had moved out west.
Entertainment and social activities often took the form of square dances which were usually held at community halls and Orange Lodges in the area. The Vickers family, who were all musical, formed the Vickers Brothers Orchestra and played in the area until the mid 1930s when the family moved further north. The Brown Family Orchestra then played for dances in the area -sometimes playing up to several times a week from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Eliza Brown (Vickers) provided music lessons to some of the children in North Seguin. The band thrived during the 1930s and 40s.
The depression sounded the death knell for small, remote communities like North Seguin. The Methodist church had closed some years earlier, prior to United Church amalgamation in 1925. In 1929, the government established a fire lookout tower on Lot 45, a portion of which they purchased from the Brown family. Mrs. Brown was a granddaughter of the original owner, John Vickers.
Albert Vigrass briefly served as the first towerman until Harry Black was hired full time to cover the fire seasons. By then Vigrass had considerably more time on his hands. Sadly his lumber operation closed in 1929, a victim of unpaid accounts resulting from the Great Depression. Following the closure of the mill, Vigrass reportedly continued to provide food to his former employees for some time afterwards. Vigrass passed away in 1937. Lena kept the store and post office going until 1940 when the post office was taken over by rural mail delivery.
With job opportunities in the region limited, the exodus continued through the 1950s. The Pentecostal Church lasted until around 1954, although the church remained intact with everything in place for many years afterwards. The organ was apparently used for lessons right up until the 1970s. The school lasted until 1956 and the lookout tower until the 1960s. The manse is no longer standing.
Today there are still a few small reminders of North Seguin. A number of original or older homes are still standing and occupied, some permanently and some seasonally. These include the Vickers home at the south end of North Seguin, the Brown home on Orange Valley Road, the Hughes home (now a hunt club), the Pletzer home dating back to the 1870s, the Downing and Farrow homes, the former Pentecostal Church (now a home) and the schoolhouse, which is unfortunately derelict. The Orange Valley Cemetery, now owned by the municipality of Magnetewan, and the Dufferin Methodist Cemetery are both well maintained.
Many former residents still maintain a strong bond to North Seguin. Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of Merv Brown, an historical plaque with a brief history now stands at the junction of the Nipissing and Orange Valley Roads.
Thanks to Merv Brown, Mary Clare, Maureen (Vigrass) Maguire, Donna McKinnon. Mike Morden. Lois (Vigrass) Murray, Candy Pletzer , Rodney Pletzer, Charles Vickers, John Vigrass, Ken Walker, Ferne (Morden) Wylie for sharing their photos and information. Please show respect and do not use these photos without permission.