What's New - September 2021
Families Impacted by The Breakaway
"The Breakaway" was a natural disaster that happened on April 21, 1852 a bit north-west of the village of Hilton, in Brighton Township. It has been local lore for all of us growing up in the area and is represented in our written and verbal history. On April 21, 2012, I told the story of The Breakaway at Hilton Township Hall to an attentive crowd. Since then my research has developed considerably and my approach to local stories has changed. While the Breakaway may not make a book, it is perfect for a video and I have decided to dig into the story again with a view to presenting it in video form.
With this in mind, I have been doing my habitual "deep-dive research" on the people who lived along both Breakaway Creek and Cold Creek on that day, April 21, 1852. The result has been a lot of names and families that we have not associated with this story before. Even more fascinating, it appears as if a good number of the people who lived at or near the lake that drained, quickly left the area after the disaster. My intent has been to determine specifically which people and families would have been impacted and how. I am more excited now because the research gives me a lot better material to support the work. The project is ongoing and it will be quite a while before a video will be available. I hope to collaborate with the good folks at the Brighton Digital Archives to produce a better quality video than I can do myself, but all that is at early stages. I hope to have something to show in the next six months or a year. Stay tuned!
The Stephens Family of Breakaway Lake
One of the groups most directly impacted by the Breakaway was the Stephens family. Richard Stephens had come to Upper Canada from New York State in 1808 and settled in Cramahe Township in 1824. He and his family established a homestead that included the south side of the lake. Just a couple of years before the lake drained, Richard sold half lots to two of his sons and there was a good deal of wheeling and dealing in real estate besides this. However, when the gravel bank gave way and the lake drained, almost the entire family sold the property around the lake and left the area. Several members of the family ended up in Kent County, north of Chatham, Ontario, with an extensive farming operation into modern times. One son, Daniel T. Stephens, married a girl from Cramahe Township and would stay around, dealing in real estate for several decades before moving on.
Alexander Dodds: Soldier and Speculator
One of the most fascinating sub-plots to come out of my research is the story of Alexander Dodds. This name is at the top of many pages of the land registry records re lots in this area of the old border between Cramahe and Murray townships. He was a British soldier who became famous for his brave actions in a naval battle between the British and the Americans on Lake Erie. One result was that he was granted many pieces of land in Upper Canada. He married very well, to a daughter of Richard Cartwright of Kingston, but died a few years later without any heirs. As a result, for decades afterward, the land he acquired would be managed by two of his nieces.
In particular, Lewis Shearer leased land from the nieces in the 1840s in order to establish a saw mill on the creek that went across a few hundred yards of the north-west corner of the lot. After the saw mill was destroyed and Lewis Shearer was killed in the Breakaway, his wife, Sarah (ne Morrow), purchased the land from the nieces and would pass it down to her children, The nieces of Alexander Dodds sold many pieces of property to settlers in the area, contributing to the development of the community.
John W. Simpson Sells Quickly
The second saw mill on Breakaway Creek was owned by John W. Simpson and was located a mile or so down the creek to the north-east. Local lore has it that his mill was damaged but there were no deaths or injuries due to the flood. It would appear that the tsunami in a creek had slowed down and spread out by the time it got to Mr. Simpson's land, which was lucky for him. In any case, Mr. Simpson wasted no time in disposing of the land. He sold the property to Lewis Clarke on October 26, 1852 but would stay in the area.