The Military Road
Researched by Glenda Strider

Although it appears on no map, in no report, and is unheard of in the Public Archives, the locals all knew of the Military Road. It ran, according to Earl Orchard, from Bruce Mines to Rydal Bank on Ottertail Lake, then angled across in a northwesterly direction through the present Plummer and Gordon Lake communities. On the east side of Sanders’ Hill, the road turned to the north and north west, crossing the Echo River where the Baldwin Farm is now located (original owner Alex Findlay) and proceeded through the Garden River Indian Reserve, past Wild Man Mountain, the Sacred Rock of the Ojibway, and continued across Cold Water Creek and Root River turning left to what was later known as Huckson’s Corner near the present K-Mart, and then down to the village of Sault Ste. Marie on the banks of the St. Mary’s River. Tradition persists that it was built as a military highway to permit passage of Colonel Wolesley’s expedition on its way to put down the Riel Rebellion on the Red River in Manitoba in 1870. However, to the present date this has been impossible to confirm.



Outside of the North Channel, the only other access to Bruce Mines or Garden River was the Old Garden River Road. This became known as the Government Road, or the Soo­-MacLennan Road depending on whom one spoke to. It was a rough thoroughfare at the best of times, and made impassable in inclement weather. A trip to the Soo was a 3-day effort. It wasn’t until 1937, that a 21.65 mile stretch of gravel road was constructed which apparently started in Sault Ste. Marie and joined the first section from Laird Hill east to Bruce Mines. For some reason, according to Ministry records, this section had been constructed one year earlier. However, it was the Soo-Laird portion was paved in 1938 and 1939, leaving the easterly continuation graveled until 1946-48. This became known as ‘The North Bay- Sudbury-Sault Ste. Marie -Trunk Road” which was shortened to Highway 17. All Highways were designated King’s Highways as early as 1930, and that name is to remain regardless of the gender of the reigning monarch.

Many landmarks along Highway 17 had to be removed when progress, in the form of the four-lane went through in 1976. The previous year some of the demolition and removal had already taken place, with the Rix and Tuckett homes being moved and the Gibson home and St. Gregory’s Church being demolished. This was the stretch of highway between just east of Maple Leaf Road, and just east of St. Joseph’s Island turn off. Numerous other buildings were moved along the line as well.

After 2 or 3 years of construction, train travel was established in the area, when on December 9, 1887, Engine #209 pulled into Sault Ste. Marie. There were actually two stations in existence before one was built at Bar River; one at Isbester and one at Ekoba (Echo Bay). Although it brought new settlers into the northern end of the township, it was not of great service to those in the southern part. They had still to travel quite a distance to avail themselves of this method of transportation. Supplies remained having to be brought to the dock at Port Findlay and hauled overland to their homes.

For many years, the train was a great service to the populace of Algoma. As Sault Ste. Marie grew larger, it became a more popular shopping centre, and area residents travelled back and forth; not to mention the availability of markets for produce and shipping as we have spoken of in previous chapters.

With better highways came bus travel, a little cheaper method of transportation. Unfortunately, Canadian Pacific Railway decided that transporting freight was more economical than passengers, and in the mid-70’s the popular ”Bud” car was discontinued.


Post Office

Contact with the outside world was made a little easier, at least by mail, when John Evoy was granted the first Post Office in the area. This became reality on September 1, 1880, and remained in the Evoy homes until John’s death in 1903. The next year it was transferred to a more central location, at the store. John’s mail carrier was his son, Silas. His route extended to Garden River, through Sylvan Valley and back, sometimes being carried out on horseback in summer and dog sled in winter. Louis Garnett established a small post office in his store to accommodate the people over that way and mail was dropped off at catch posts, both there and at the crossing at Bar River. The Laird Hill area people were able to receive their mail through a service offered by several residents in their turn. The Venn family at one time would travel to MacLennan three days each week, bringing the mail back with them so those residents in that vicinity needn’t make the long trek themselves. This service was continued by Ted Shellhorn, Ed Granger and finally Jim Khull before delivery service was introduced and each family had their own mail box. Strange to think that one hundred years ago a letter could travel from Sault Ste. Marie to Laird in two days at most, and now with a century of “progress”, it could take three or four. The Bar River Post Office was an institution and provided delivery service, not only with mail, but with the added bonus of getting one’s groceries delivered as well.

Bar River Post Office, built approximately 1880.

It was a sad day when, in the name of progress again, the address became known as RR#4, Echo Bay, and the Post Office which had served for nearly a century, itself, was closed. Residents now pick up their mail from the very impersonal little green boxes at the corner.


Laird Cemetery

The final resting place for many Laird residents is situated on Laird Hill, and is made up of two parts. The land was originally part of the farm of Henry Gibson. The council felt that a grave yard was needed and in 1892, purchased this portion. Previous to this, the deceased were just buried on their own farms. Since some of the dates on the old portion of the cemetery, which lies just below the hill, are dated before that year, they were obviously transferred there at a later date. George Riley became the first grave digger. A ravine divides the old and new parts of the cemetery with a small bridge making a very picturesque setting. When walking through old graveyards, one can learn of many tragedies that occurred in a bygone era. One has only to read the stories told by the tombstones to relive the sadnesses that our ancestors suffered in those early years, without doctors or hospitals or “miracle drugs”.



Laird residents welcomed the advent of the telephone into the community. Some felt that it was the greatest invention yet.

Prompted by inquiries from residents, Reeve Robert Murray and his councillors held a meeting in February of 1909 to discuss the possibility of obtaining a system in Laird. On April 15 of that year, a tender was accepted from R.J. Aitken for construction. The first switchboards were located at Trotter’s at Echo Bay, Duncan Fremlin’s in Bar River, and F. H. Schoales in Laird. There were 83 subscribers on that original list and each was charged a certain amount. Mr. Schoales earned the great salary of $36.00 per month by 1917 when the switchboard was removed from Duncan Fremlin’s house. Many Laird residents served their time as Commissioners, but the longest position held was that of Secretary-Treasurer, a post held by Newman Johnston for 38 years.

The system was operated on what was called a ground circuit, meaning one serial wire and return by way of ground until, in 1930, a metallic circuit was introduced.

Bell Canada finally purchased the system in 1968 when each subscriber was given a tidy sum from the profits. ”Rubbering” was fun back in those days, when you could find out everything you ever wanted to know about anybody just by listening in, and as long as there were no background noises you weren’t detected. Two stories come to mind about the old country phones. One my mother-in-law told me of two elderly Scots, who carried on their conversation in Gaelic so as to confuse their listeners.

Another is about Jim Forrest in Bar River. Jim was a bachelor whose ring was seldom heard. His post-hole auger turned up missing one day and since he could not remember who had borrowed it, he went to the telephone and rang his own ring. After hearing several “clicks” indicating that a goodly number were listening, he said, “Whoever borrowed Jim Forrest’s post-hole auger, please bring it back”. He got results!



It seems incredible to our children today that there was ever a time when one couldn’t just flick a switch, and instantly there would be power. They will never experience the doubtful pleasure of “trimming” a lamp, or cleaning its chimney. I don’t believe that my Grandmother Tuckett ever completely trusted this new invention, because, as long as I can remember, there were always at least five lamps trimmed and ready for emergencies.

After years of reading, mending clothes and knitting by candlelight, coal-oil lamps or even rags soaked in pitch, electricity finally came to Laird. Although the poles were erected and lines were strung in 1932, many of the folk did not avail themselves of the service until as late as 1943. In fact, in talking to some of the older generation, some of them never did experience the “flicking of a switch”.


Where To Next?
Go To Next Chapter – The Military Effort
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More “Progress Through The Years” Pages To Explore:
Laird History Volume Two – Post Office
Laird History Volume Two – Military
Laird History Volume Two – Telephone
Photos – Books, Newspapers, Magazines
Photos – Historical Maps
Photos – Awards, Plaques, Citations
Photos – Civic And Municipal Government
Photos – Historical Deeds & Mortgages