What would it be like to be one of the first non-Indigenous women who lived and loved in the Algonquin Highlands?

Lady in a pink dress

First of all imagine that your parents have come from Wales and settled on what had ‘perhaps the best agricultural potential’ in the area.   In fact you were a three week old baby when you came to Canada and Stanhope Township is the only land you know.  To be specific this land was on the eastern side of Halls Lake.  Even though it was ‘relatively inaccessible’ this ‘flat land next to the Kennisis River provided a relatively rich sandy terrace and it seems that it was better for farming that, than the 100 acres that they had acquired earlier to the west of the mouth of the Kennisis’.  (Source the Algonquin Highlands Heritage Project)   I can’t imagine clearing the land in this area and trying to make a living on farming with the harsh winters and short growing seasons, to say nothing of how to feed a family of five children!  This young women herself wrote in later years that her ‘dad put in his first crop in fresh cleared land with a hoe – seven acres of it’.

ploughed field

“Harvest 1935” close to Mary’s Lane off Highway 35.
Photo courtesy of Linda and Bev Coneybeare and the Algonquin Highlands Heritage Project”

Then imagine that there aren’t many eligible bachelors around anywhere.  In fact it was fairly common to marry the girl from the farm close by.  As local history buff, Peter Hewitt says, when it comes to finding someone to marry, ‘the crop to pick from wasn’t all that large’.  One didn’t have online dating or even many social gatherings, at which you could meet someone, who didn’t already live around the corner.  The social community was certainly in the township, places like the churches or even the Orange Halls, as well as at events like building “bees”.

So now imagine that a young dashing adventurous man comes to stay with your family all the way from Wales.  It doesn’t really matter that he is your first cousin, does it?  You’ve never met this son of your mother’s sister and he is unmarried and has come to Canada for a better life.  Now this part you don’t have to imagine; your parents don’t approve of any romance between cousins.  Oh yes, it’s important to know that you are almost 30 and your beau is 40.  It must feel like your life is ticking away.

(Note : Sam Davies was born on January 1, 1867 in Hope, Flintshire, Wales  He is often referred to as Sam Davis in other stories from later times. )

This is the story of Rose Johnson Davies, one of the amazing early Algonquin Highlands women.  In fact Rose was amazing even before Algonquin Highlands existed and was known as Stanhope Township.

Rose was the daughter of Edwin and Eliza (Jones) Johnson.  She was the second youngest of their five children, born in September 1877.  Her younger brother Walter Johnson, is also an important part of Little Hawk Lodge history.  He was in fact the builder of the first iteration of that resort, known in the 1930’s as Gleneda (also written Glenida) Inn.

Eliza (Jones) Johnson, Rose’s mother had been born in Wales about 1834, according to the Algonquin Highlands Heritage Project.  She still had a sister there and it was this sister who sent her son Samuel Davies along with his brother Alfred to find a better life.  Of course news would have travelled, even if by snail mail, that there was free land to be had, 100 acres in fact!  All you had to do was clear it and put up a structure within ten years.  It must have seemed like it would be worth the adventure.  However it was undoubtedly a difficult life to farm the land in this area, to say nothing of all the clearing.

Having fallen in love with Samuel Davies, Rose was now faced with a new problem.  It is not difficult to believe that her parents did not approve of a marriage between first cousins, even if they had never met each other before he traveled to Canada in search of a new life (or even wife).  How would the two young lovers manage to marry, when it seemed like the cards were against them?

It just so happened that there was a lay minister, Thomas Mason, who lived on Boshkung Road, just the other side of Hall’s Lake, from where Rose’s family lived.  As it turned out Thomas Mason’s son Alfred was married to, Sarah, who was Samuel Davies’ sister.  So Thomas Mason did both his daughter-in-law and son a favour, as well as Rose Johnson and Sam Davies, it seems.  He did in fact marry Rose and Sam.

people posing in front of a house

Mason family at Boshkung – Rear: Sarah (Davies) Mason, Amey Ezilda Mason, unknown; Middle: Myra Mason, Alfred Mason; Front: Wilfred Mason, Thomas Mason.- Photo from Stanhope Museum Photo Collection

Yet it would not have been easy for Rose just the same.  There were no cell phones or landlines even to set up the big event.  There was no vehicle that she could just jump into and drive around Halls Lake to get to the Boshkung Road.  Rose and Sam would have had to decide on a date and hope for good weather.  And, that good weather they were hoping for was in the winter!  It was a shorter distance to walk across Halls Lake than to walk around it, so it was definitely easier to set the date when there was ice (and snow?) still on the lake.  However if you have ever tried walking across a lake in winter you know that this still isn’t easy, especially if you are carrying all of your important possessions and the weight of knowing that you are going against your parents’ wishes.  With the strength of her love and the will of a strong woman, Rose Johnson did exactly that!

colourful rug

Hooked Rug, “Walking on Thin Ice” designed and completed by Bev Coneybeare

The family of Rose Johnson were of course not happy, but they had to accept this marriage.  No one talked about this forbidden union and Rose and Sam Davies went on with their lives.  They made a home for themselves on the Kennesis River close to the narrow bridge on the Little Hawk Road and lived in this same house for over six decades.  They had five children, although three of those children, Leigh, Blanche and Olive did not live to adulthood.  We know from the attached newspaper article that Lillian (Lilly) loved in Toronto.  One of their sons, Robert  Edward (Bobby) Davies lived in the area his entire life.   Rose herself lived to the ripe old age of 96, sixteen years after Sam passed away.  We know  from her nephew Peter Hewitt that she continued to spend her summers alone in the cabin at Little Hawk Lake, near where Oakview Lodge now stands,  after Sam was gone.  However Sam also lived to a good age, having died when he was 90.  One of the other ironic facts that is listed in the Algonquin Highlands Heritage Project website, is the date that of Rose and Sam`s marriage was registered, April 1, 1907.  No fooling!

Folks like Peter Hewitt remember that neither Sam nor Rose were very tall.  However it seems to me that they stood up for themselves and the love that they felt, even if it was frowned upon by those around them and conventional wisdom.

house with wood siding

Rose and Sam Davies house still stands by the Kennisis River, even if it looks different today.
Photo by Joan Hamilton

Other long time Big Hawk cottagers, Diane Dennis Rock and her brother Richard Dennis remember Mrs. Davies and her home by the Kennisis River bridge on Little Hawk Road. The Dennis parents would encourage Diane and Richard to visit Mrs. Davies.  It was at approximately ages 8 and 6 respectively, that they took their family boat to the landing by Oakview Lodge and then walked the road to Mrs. Davies home.  At that time, (in the mid 1950’s) Rose was in her 70’s.  As Diane recalls Mrs. Davies would often be sitting on her porch when she and her brother would walk up to visit.  Diane remembers that she was a petite woman and that she always wore a dress and pearl necklace.  Diane’s memory is of what a lovely woman she was.  She would tell them stories, one of them of her taking a canoe to school down the Kennisis River along with local Indigenous children.  At the age of 90 Rose also wrote an article reflecting on Hall’s Lake and in that article also mentions that at a certain time she walked four miles to school.  Either by canoe or walking, it was quite a trek.

Lady in a pink dress

Rose (Johnson) Davies, undated. Photo courtesy of Bev Coneybeare

Bridge over calm water

On Little Hawk Road, the Bridge over the Kennisis River with Rose and Sam Davies’ cabin in the background on the far left. Photo courtesy of Beth Carey.

Along with these stories she served the young Dennis children, milk and cookies. Mrs. Davies remains a fond memory for them both.  I wonder if she ever told them the story of walking across Halls Lake to meet and marry Sam Davies?

people with a dog in front of a stone house

Left to right: Sam Davies, Rose Davies, unknown, and far right Mary Oliver.
Photo courtesy of Bev Coneybeare

Nice lady making a rug

Beverly Rae Coneybeare is the artist who captured the story of her Aunt Rose (Johnson) Davies in a hooked rug. Photo by Joan Hamilton.

You may have noticed the five fish jumping up from the ice below Rose as she crosses Halls Lake depicted in the hooked rug.  Bev chose the number five because of the five children that Rose later gave birth to.  You may also wonder about the colour of the fish in the rug.  Bev Coneybeare, who grew up  in the area and has returned in her retirement years,  knows that Halls Lake was known for its rainbow trout.  Perhaps it was the steady diet of these special delicious trout that helped give Rose Johnson the courage to follow her dreams.


Rose and Sam Davies rest in peace at St. Stephen’s church. Photo by Joan Hamilton

Story written by Joan Hamilton with thanks to Bev Coneybeare, Diane Dennis Rock, Peter Hewitt, Carolyn (Hewitt) Fuerth and the Algonquin Heritage Project.

Attached to this story, read the article written by Louise Watson and published by the Haliburton County Echo on Thursday September 21st, 1967 to learn more about this amazing early Algonquin Highlands women, Rose (Johnson) Davies.  Republished with permission of the editor of the Haliburton Echo.

PDF: “Tribute to a Ninety Year Old