Since yesterday’s post had a north Hastings County theme – it was about a vintage shop in the Bancroft area called Revival Store – I thought I’d carry on in that vein and tell you about our drive up the Old Hastings Road.
It was a beautiful day at the Manse, and after Raymond and I had used up the morning and the early part of the afternoon on yard work, we decided that we should treat ourselves to a drive through parts unknown. And I suggested taking the Old Hastings Road north from the hamlet of Millbridge up to see Coe Hill, a village I have heard of all my life but – probably because it’s several miles west off Highway 62, Hastings County’s north-south thoroughfare – had never visited.
It seemed like a good idea. The Old Hastings Road is a historic one (as you can see from the photo atop this post of the commemorative plaque at the hamlet of Ormsby, between Coe Hill and Highway 62) that runs parallel to 62. In the years when I was a kid growing up at the Manse in Queensborough I’d passed signs for the Old Hastings Road hundreds of times on family trips up and down the highway on the way to and from the ancestral Sedgwick farm in Haliburton County. Why not check it out?
On our Eastern Ontario map, the Old Hastings Road looked like any other road. There was nothing to warn us of the reality, which is that it is not maintained at all in winter (and remember, we were making this drive in early spring) and, by the looks of things, gets very little in the way of maintenance the rest of the time. A few miles north of Millbridge (itself marked on the map as a ghost town, though people do live there) it started to get pretty rough. And then we passed the “not maintained in winter” sign. And came to the end of the hydro lines. And the houses. And the road got worse and worse. (To get a sense of it, check out even a short bit of this video, posted by a motorcyclist who obviously liked the challenge the rough road offered.)
And it was getting late.
And did I mention that our little Toyota was very low on gas?
Which prompted me to turn to my iPhone to try to find out if there was a gas station in Coe Hill. Ha! A cellphone signal? There, in the middle of nowhere? What was I, nuts?
So let’s just say we were awfully glad when the Old Hastings Road finally intersected with the (mercifully) paved North Steenburg Lake Road. We zoomed the final miles to Coe Hill – which does have a gas station, thank goodness – and discovered a charming little place, made more wealthy than one might have guessed by, I imagine, the property taxes paid by the many cottagers on nearby scenic Wollaston Lake. Coe Hill has a school and a sizeable grocery store, restaurants and shops, a gallery or two, an LCBO – all the comforts one could want. And, by the looks of the well-groomed fairgrounds, an impressive fall fair (Aug. 23 and 24 this year).
So all was well that ended well, and we made our way east to Highway 62 and then back south to Queensborough and a nice evening at the Manse. But not before stopping to photograph the Old Hastings Road historical plaque at Ormsby.
You don’t have to read too deeply between the lines of the text on that plaque to realize that the story of the Old Hastings Road is one of heartache and broken dreams. High hopes for the growth and settlement that the new road was supposed to bring turned into disappointment and worse when it was realized that the soil atop “the southern fringe of the Precambrian Shield” was too thin and poor to be farmed. (You can read all about the history of the road in an excellent article here.)
“The settlers abandoned their farms and the road fell into disuse,” the plaque’s text ends. Well, disused, but not entirely unused. As Raymond and I can attest.