The Township of Algonquin Highlands is located on the western side of the Haliburton Highlands in Central Ontario. Algonquin Highlands includes the geographic townships of Sherborne, McClintock, Livingstone, Lawrence, Nightingale and Stanhope.
We settled on land that had been inhabited by Indigenous peoples from the beginning. As settlers, we are grateful and we thank all the generations of people who have taken care of this land for thousands of years. Long before today, there had been Indigenous Peoples who had been the stewards of the lands of this township. We recognize and deeply appreciate their historic connection to this place. We also recognize the contributions First Nations and other Indigenous peoples have made, both in shaping and strengthening this community in particular, and our province and country as a whole.
The former townships of Stanhope and Sherborne were each incorporated in 1866. In 1874 the two townships came together and were known as The United Townships of Stanhope and Sherbourne (with a u). They separated in 1897 and Sherborne went on to become Sherborne et al, encompassing the townships of Sherborne, McClintock, Livingstone, Lawrence and Nightingale. Stanhope remained independent until it amalgamated – again, with Sherborne et al in 2001, becoming Algonquin Highlands.
The municipality is characterized by several very small urban settlements and a significant amount of both waterfront and rural areas predominantly understood to be “cottage country”. The Township of Algonquin Highlands includes half the village of Dorset, part of Carnarvon and the hamlets of Boskung, Buttermilk Falls, Halls Lake, Little Hawk Lake, Maple Lake, Ox Narrows, and Oxtongue Lake, the latter having the pleasure of being nestled up beside, and sharing the history of, Algonquin Provincial Park.
While the township is characterized by having four main communities (Carnarvon, Stanhope, Dorset and Oxtongue), each of the hamlets noted above has a colourful and well-documented history.
The village of Dorset is the township’s only real town and has the interesting (and challenging) situation of being split in half by the boundary line between Algonquin Highlands and Lake of Bays townships. Its settlement history goes back to 1859. For the purposes of this project, in order to retain the identity of the village of Dorset, this plan will include the geographic village on both sides of the boundary line.
Dorset’s story is steeped in its waterways where the legendary Royal Mail Ship steamboats of the early 1900s plied their trade to places like the Bigwin Inn and some 21 other grand hotels of the era. At its height, the town boasted five hotels, three stores, three churches, two sawmills, and one jail. The area’s culture was based on a tough and self-sufficient syle of people: farmers, loggers, fishers, carpenters, guides and mid-wives. Today its culture is embodied by the Dorset Lookout Tower, the rebirth of the Bigwin Steamship and a connection to Group of Seven painter Franz Johnston, murals of whose work have been commissioned by the Dorset Museum.
At Oxtongue Lake, people initially settled the area to service the huge lumber companies in the Algonquin region and as a result, a small community sprang up around those services. The rugged hinterland was an attraction to the likes of department store founder Timothy Eaton and Group of Seven legend Tom Thomson, and Oxtongue Lake’s long flat surface was a testing ground for Art Asbury’s Miss Canadian and the hydroplane speed records he set in the 1950s.
Stanhope remains the “township without a town”; a community of loggers and farmers where the absence of a village forced people to create their own sense of community. Home of the Hawk Lake Log Chute, famed racehorse Guilford Bay and myriad colourful characters, the Stanhope area of Algonquin Highlands is the headwaters of the Trent-Severn Waterway and is a picturesque and storied community of toil, innovation, tenacity and creativity.
Carnarvon today is but a crossroads of two highways straddling Algonquin Highlands and its neighbour to the south, Minden Hills. Yet beyond the stoplight and the handful of businesses is a settlement originally called Brown’s Corners where the original “union school”, Fry’s blacksmith shop and Rogers’ Store lie quietly waiting to tell their stories, where creative businesses flourish in these re-purposed buildings and where an entire generation grew up with in the shadow of the old Browndale Camp up on Cowen’s Hill.