The story of the Loyalist settlement of Canada is an epic tale of war, tragedy, and survival as these desperate refugees fled their farms and homes during the American Revolution. Some settled in the wilderness of what is now eastern Ontario in places like Prince Edward County. Hunger, and hardship marked their first years of settlement. But over the generations, the land was cleared, a robust agricultural economy took root, and Prince Edward County became an epic-centre of Confederation. Today there are many communities, street names and heritage houses that reflect the Loyalist style and influence.
Small schoolhouses still dot the landscape in Prince Edward County. While many have been transformed into homes, they remain distinctive reminders of a time when neighbourhood kids walked a few kilometres to the nearest school on a daily basis. Usually, a single under-paid, over-worked and genuinely harassed teacher did their best to impart a basic knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic to distracted students in multiple grades. Bathrooms were primitive outhouses. Heating was a single wood stove in the centre of the room. If you sat too close to it, you boiled. If you were seated along on the outside walls, you froze. And there was always the lurking presence of the leather strap in the teacher’s desk as harsh punishment for poor student behaviour.
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Tall ships were once a common site on Lake Ontario waters. After the threat of war with the United States diminished after the War of 1812, these graceful wooden vessels assumed a new role shipping a wide range of products – timber, agricultural goods, and other supplies to international markets. One of the earliest exports from Prince Edward County were apples shipped in barrels to British consumers. But in the heady days of The Barley Days (1860-1890), local farmers shipped their barley and hops to the American brewing industry in New York state. It was a trade so lucrative, you could pay for your farm with a single harvest. And when high U.S. tariffs ended that trade, Prince Edward County turned to other crops like tomatoes, peas, and corn establishing itself as the “Garden County of Canada” from the 1880s until the late 1960s.