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As sawmills and settlements opened up the interior of the Ottawa Valley in the 1850's, the Canadian government developed a series of colonization roads throughout central Ontario. The most significant of these was the Ottawa and Opeongo Road, better known as the Opeongo Line. It followed a westward course in its climb from the Ottawa River to the Madawaska Highlands, - linking several wilderness routes along the way to an unceremonious end north of the village of Barry's Bay. European settlers were lured by land grants, but the challenge proved too difficult - the land was unforgiving. The giant virgin pine stands were harvested, the ever-hopeful pioneers moved on, and forests eventually reclaimed many of the primitive homesteads. Today, some of the original log barns are still filled each summer with hay and grain harvested from small fields. The remnants of the great hardwood forest still cloak the hills and stand cheek by jowl with areas of cultivated land separated by fences of stone. And while many of the once-bustling communities are now relative ghost towns, the spirit of adventure that attracted our pioneers remains.
Palmer Rapids is home to a major music festival every year. Join the hundreds who come from all over and stay to experience the multitude of entertainers!
Farrel's Landing and the village of Castleford were the starting point for the settlers' trek into the Ontario wilds. Nearby is the First Chute of the Bonnechere River, the first major obstacle to water passage into the heart of the Valley. Farrel's landing is a bay on the western shore of Lac des Chats. It was once the site of a wharf and hotel operated by an early Irish immigrant - Edward Farrell.
A Scottish settler named Ephraim Reid built a woolen mill here in 1850 by damming the stream that ran from the lake which bears his name. When the Kingston and Pembroke Railway arrived in 1884, travellers would detrain here and overnight at Tom Culhane's Opeongo Hotel.
Almost non-existent today, this hamlet is at the crossroads of the Opeongo and the road from Calabogie to Douglas. Notice that the farmland becomes marginal as the road climbs through the Opeongo Mountains - a rugged and rolling plateau of hardwood forests dotted with lakes and rivers.
Named after Ireland's holy mountain, this hamlet is known for its mythic leprechauns. Visit the unique fieldstone church, the holy well and the plaque that honours the original settlers.
Now a virtual ghost town, this once thriving mill town on Constant Creek boasted a water-powered sawmill and gristmill.
St. Joseph-on-the-Opeongo Roman Catholic Church marks the remains of this hamlet. From here the road skirts the base of the Opeongo Hills along the southern edge of the Bonnechere Valley.
All that remains of the original McGrath settlement is a century farm and a small church - St. John's Lutheran. Historic St. Clement' s Anglican Church sits between Esmonde and Clontarf. From here the tall, mixed forests sweep along the edge of cultivated land as the Opeongo continues to climb.
A small detour will take you to this Irish settlement located at the base of Ryan's Mountain, on Cty Rd 512. The annual St. Anne's Parish Pilgrimage is celebrated here on the last Sunday of each July.
This tiny hamlet is worth a visit. The falls at the north end of the village on Rockingham Creek are a must see, as is St. Leonard's Anglican Church, built in 1867.
In the 1800's this village, at the junction of the Opeongo and Peterson Settlement Roads, boasted a population of 200, three stopping places, a racetrack, three stores and two blacksmiths. Remains of an old store and hotel still stand. Our Lady of the Angels Church, just west of the intersection, was the area's first Catholic Church.
The steep, stony fields along the roadside give reason for Hopefield's name. This is the historic Daly Hotel section of the Opeongo Road. Hopefield had its own post office in 1861, 24 years prior to the founding of nearby Wilno (Canada's oldest polish settlement).
The little hamlet of Wilno (Canada's first Polish settlement) is located just 150 kilometers from the Nation's Capital (Ottawa, Ontario) and 50 kilometers from world renowned Algonquin Provincial Park. This pristine area of the northern part of Central Ontario, is a beautiful location rich with Polish Kashubian cultural heritage.
The Crosses of Wilno
When immigrants from Kashubia Poland settled in the Wilno area, they brought with them not only a rich cultural heritage, but also a deep religious tradition.
Click here to download "The Crosses of Wilno" - a free, self-guided tour.