A Rockland Treasure

Each year on our anniversary, my husband and I spend the day on a special outing. We wander along southern Ontario byways, enjoying a pleasant day trip together. It is a day for searching out interesting vistas to photograph and checking antique shops for some special treasure to happily bring home. This year my treasure was an old photograph that evoked curiosity, the moment I spied it on the antique market shelf. The picture is in rather sad shape, a corner missing, foxing marks appearing over the face of the image and no visible photographer’s name. Still someone had taken the time to give it a label –  “Moulin. W.C. Edwards ..Rockland.Ont”.

On a hunch that some details might be discovered about this lumber company, subject of the photo, I chose the picture to become my anniversary treasure. It proved to be a fascinating pick, an old photograph that had wandered its way halfway across the province from its place of original beginning.

An Anniversary – Treasure Photo

View of the W. C. Edwards Company

Rockland, Ontario

Lumber yard in foreground with the mill company buildings in distance.

Rockland Today

Along the southern shore of the Ottawa River in Eastern Ontario, one discovers the old city of Rockland. It is about 35 kilometres east of Ottawa and today is part of the city of Clarence-Rockland. Rockland was founded in 1868, the same year that William Cameron Edwards built his sawmill at McCaul point. Years later he noted that the only families resident on the point that year he arrived, were those of James McCaul and William Way. Soon more families came to settle. Here they found work in the mill as well as in nearby forest shanty camps. Great trees were felled and their stark trunks brought to the mill on long river drives.

William Edwards

William Edwards was born 7 May 1844 in the village of Clarence in the United Counties of Prescott and Russell. He was the third son born to William Edwards Sr., and Ann Catherine Cameron who had settled there in 1820. After attending the Ottawa District Grammar School young William began working for Cameron & Edwards, a lumber company opposite Clarence, but across the Ottawa River at Thurso, Quebec.

Within a few years, William decided to strike out on his own in business. Joining with James Wood in partnership in 1868, they built a small steam powered sawmill at Rockland on the Ottawa River. It was located at what was known as McCaul Point, where as yet, there were only a couple of families residing. The building of a Mill was destined to have a huge impact on the the growth of the newly founded village.

The recently established firm was called W. C. Edwards & Company. Just three years later, Cameron & Edwards, the business across the river where William had first started his working days, gave up their location and joined the W. C. Edwards & Company at Rockland.

That was in 1871, following which a new large mill was erected. Business steadily increased with the growing demand for lumber at Montreal and overseas in Europe.

A setback occurred in 1875, when a regional fire destroyed the entire area, taking out the mill, docks and buildings.
It was a huge setback, which insurance did not begin to cover, nonetheless the company quickly rebuilt. By the spring of 1876, they were back in business.

In 1882, William chose to run as a Liberal Candidate for the district of Russell. His bid to earn a seat in the House of Commons was not successful in that election. Three years later, he turned his focus onto a different part of his life.
On 24 January 1885, he married Catherine Margaret Wilson at Cumberland, Ontario. Catherine was born in September 1856 and was a daughter of William Wilson and his wife, Mary McElroy.  In February 1890, William and Catherine had a son. Their infant child lived only four days. Their precious little boy was buried in Beechwood Cemetery, at Ottawa.

When William began his lumber mill at Rockland in 1868, there were only a couple of families living in the area where a village shortly began to grow. William would have the honour of naming the hamlet, gifting it with a title reflective of the  rocky landscape wherein it is located. He also became its first Post Master, holding that position from 1 May 1869 until 12 February 1887.

The management of W. C. Edwards Company always remained in William’s hands. As well he became active in the growing community of Rockland. He was a justice of the peace for many years and served for a time as reeve of the village. William was active in the County of Russell Agricultural Society, holding the position of president for a number of years.

William again ran for Parliament in 1887 and was successful. He served out his terms as an MP from that date until 1900. In 1903, William was made a Senator, taking his seat in the Senate where he served for the next eighteen years.

Photo Source: Kelisi – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25750641

Hannah (Wright) was the wife of another Ottawa lumber baron, Joseph Merrill Currier. He had died in 1884, leaving Hannah to live alone in the home they had long shared. After her death in 1901, Hannah’s home at 24 Sussex Drive was sold to William Cameron Edwards.

Although it did not become his place of residence, William Edwards retained the house until his own death, at which time it passed to his nephew, Gordon Cameron Edwards. In the mid 1940s, the home became the property of the Canadian government and thereafter the renowned residence of the Prime Minister of Canada.

At the age of 77 years and four months, William Cameron Edwards passed away at his home at 80 Sussex Drive in Ottawa. His death occurred on 17 September 1921. Two days later his remains were interred at Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa. The following year on 9 August 1922, Catherine Margaret (Wilson) Edwards, widow of William, also passed to her eternal rest. She was buried next to her husband in Beechwood Cemetery.

Source: Find A Grave web site

Out of Our Past

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City on the Ottawa