Canadian Transport Sourcebook

[ Home | All Works | List of Authors | By Date | Contact ]
Canadian Transport Sourcebook > All works> Annual Reports of the Waterloo Historical Society > President's Address, 1935


D. N. Panabaker


I think one would almost give 'a right arm' for the privilege of traversing an old Indian Trail, if there were one left to us hereabouts. I do not know of a Waterloo County map which was made with sufficient care to even trace the old Indian trails in the district.

On the original survey map of our neighboring township, Puslinch, made about one hundred years ago, is found the tracing of an Indian trail commencing not far from what is called on that map "Panabaker's Clearing" in the east limits of Waterloo township and following roughly the course (down stream) of the outlet of Puslinch Lake and then up the larger stream—The Speed River, north-easterly in Wellington County to a point on the Brock Road leading from Guelph to Sundas.

Old Puslinch men with whom I have conversed have told me that they were familiar with this old Indian trail in their youth and from them I received a fairly clear description of its location.

I believe that the surveyors themselves made use of this trail and it is said that when the Brock Road was cut through the forest, this Indian trail formed a starting point and was regularly used by the men from this part of the country who joined in the work of constructing that military thoroughfare named after General Brock.

It is interesting to note, that when Waterloo, Wellington and other adjoining counties were finally formed, there was a balance of unpaid indebtedness outstanding against this Brock Road which had to be apportioned among the newly-formed counties as a liability which they had respectively to assume and liquidate in later years.

About fifty years ago, the distinguished American Naturalist, the late John Burroughs, in his sublimely descriptive style, wrote "FRESH FIELDS" telling of his visit to Great Britain and Europe and of the interesting foot paths in the Old Country, which though traversing miles and miles of privately owned property, were in reality public walks, frequented by youths and maidens as "Lovers' Lanes" as well as by the citizenship generally in travelling from place to place.

Undoubtedly these Old Country lanes survived from the days of Ancient Britain, and how unfortunate it is that here, in our country we have practically lost trace of the Aborigines' trails, which later became "bridle paths" by which our pioneer settlers found their way into the country and over which they for some years carried their wheat to the distant grist mill and returned with sacks of meal and such other few commodities which they could procure by trade for their grain in the small stores located in the hamlet.

Bridle paths in American literature have been the subject of poems and writings much as have the foot-paths of old England and its lanes prompted its poets from the time of Shakespeare on. Milton sang the praises of "Arched walks of twilight groves."

While no doubt the roads over which our pioneers came to this country were in many sections little more than bridle paths, the settlers from Pennsylvania were familiar with better types of gravel roads and after reaching Waterloo they were not long in getting their country roads in the new settlement, improved by surfacing them with gravel.

John Burroughs also told of his finding in England and Scotland very little surface rock or stone and he believed it all to have been used in construction of houses and other buildings, bridges and magnificent roadways which he found there and he remarked upon the soft nature of the native rock, stating that it would be possible to destroy the arch keys in many of the old stone bridges of England with a pocket knife.

The hardness of our rock in this country, may have deterred our earlier road builders from more general use of it in road building here and I do not know of a single example of a stone arch bridge in this part of Ontario.

Our Waterloo County gravel roads were for almost a hundred years regarded as the "last word," although I recall that the road from Gait to Sundas was called a stone road, being built, as I suppose, with large stone as a road bed and surfaced with gravel and small stones. These gravel roads were certainly a vast improvement on the mud or earth roads so prevalent up to fairly recent years in many parts of Ontario.

I recall very clearly the difFerence in a bicycle journey which I made over the clay road from Niagara to Ridgeway, as compared with one from Goderich down the Huron Road to New Hamburg and on through this county to Hespeler, all then surfaced with gravel .This was about 40 years ago.

When in England and Ireland about thirty years ago I saw, in some parts, very crude implements used in road repairs, being simply a sort of one-horse sculler operated by a couple of men, but roads on which they were employed, were in wonderful condition, although rather narrow as compared with our 66-foot road allowances here. However there were also then being employed in other sections large road rollers operated with steam engines, forerunners of the modern heavy machinery now in use hereabouts, on our permanent type of roads.

It is of interest to note, that Waterloo County, was the first to take advantage of the Ontario Provincial-County road building system, which came into being July 15th., 1918 by the issuance from the Ontario Department of Public Highways, of its regulations, providing for a Provincial subsidy of 60% of the cost of roads built under its specifications, subject to the Department's approval of the road as coming under the classification of a Main County Highway.

Omitting the details of the discussions which took place early the following year, in this county, as to the desirability of building permanent types of road under this 60% subsidy from the Province, it is sufficient to indicate the time of transition from the idea of gravel roads for main highways to that of concrete construction.

Credit must be given to the Reeve of Woolwich, for definite action in beginning concrete road building in this county. Reeve Solomon Koch, then in office in Woolwich Township, had the courage of his convictions that gravel roads were no longer suitable for main highways.

Contrary to the majority of the road and bridge committees of the county, he blazed the trail and backed up the advice of the writer, then County Warden, that a trial should be made of the more permanent type of construction on our main county roads.

After the formalities had been completed, it was on August 18th, 1919, that actual work of laying the concrete on a country road in Waterloo County commenced. A small section of the same road, in the village of St. Jacobs, had been put down a few years earlier under a five-year guarantee.

However this first work under the 60% subsidy plan, covered about 1½ miles, from the G.T.R. Railway crossing north of St. Jacobs, southerly to the village limits.

The contract was given to Lichty Brothers and the details of the finished work, were as found at the foot of this article. The new road was officially opened October 21st, 1919, by officials of the County Council and Township of Woolwich, and other representative citizens, occupying 12 automobiles, who passed over the concrete roadway, its entire length, and afterwards assembled at Welker's Hall, in St. Jacobs where were made appropriate speeches of congratulation to Woolwich and its enterprising Reeve and Council, for this first step in improved highway building in the county.

This official opening day was very wet, and after almost a 24-hour rain, the value of such a type of road was well demonstrated to those present who first saw it under such unfavorable weather conditions.

Thus is briefly detailed the transition of pathways in this county, from Indian trails to concrete highways.

The original small section of concrete roadway in St. Jacobs Village, was laid at a cost of about $1.43 per square yard.

The 1½-mile section was of 16-feet width, concrete content being 1 part Portland cement to 4 parts of gravel and laid down seven inches in depth.


From St. Jacobs North to Railway Crossing.

Concrete road 10,317 7-9 sq. yds. at $1.87 per square yard$19,294.60
Grading, filling and rolling1,261.41
Ritter culvert506.40
Schmidt Culvert354.75
Frey Bridge1,138.00
Concrete tile83.85
Fuel, for road roller50.83
Reinforcing for culverts, and freight451.00

  Total cost$23,140.84
[Public Domain] Copyright/Licence: The author or authors of this work died in 1964 or earlier, and this work was first published no later than 1964. Therefore, this work is in the public domain in Canada per sections 6 and 7 of the Copyright Act. See disclaimers.