Saturday, May 1, 2010

Old Government Rd. to Lavant

Lanark County is unusual in Canadian history in that it was founded as a military project following the War of 1812. Back then, Britain and the US held their grudge match following the US War of Independence, with the upshot that anyone with British inclinations still hanging around the US after the dust settled was vigorously encouraged to leave. The area around Kingston, among others, received a large influx of Loyalists and demobilized soldiers looking to start a new life.

The Brits suspected the Americans would try to pull a fast one and invade Canada. Those suspicions proved accurate, so the Brits undertook a massive military program to bolster security in Upper Canada (today's Eastern Ontario region). The Rideau Canal was part of this plan--it provided a secure means of transporting goods and people between Kingston and Montreal via the Ottawa River. Lanark County was another part of the plan. The British didn't fully trust the allegiance of those Loyalists-come-lately down in Kingston. So they wanted a bulwark of unquestionably loyal subjects along the upper reaches of the Rideau Canal. Who better to serve this honour than the Scots?

Hence the Crown arranged for several waves of Lowland Scots to settle Lanark County. Townships were settled in horizontal bands starting in the south. East-west roads were therefore important routes to link these early communities. The Franktown Rd. from Richmond to Perth was a prime example (who woulda thunk that Franktown was an important centre back in the day?). Perth was the lower county seat for settlement activity and Lanark was optimistically envisioned as being the upper county seat. Tragically, actually. Lanark's plan of survey is about three times larger than Perth's. But Lanark's on unforgiving terrain so we all know how that plan worked out. Anyway, Highway 511 linking the two towns was intended to be an important north-south arterial route and in fact it was one of the earliest settlement roads in Ontario.

All this brings us to Old Government Road. The question is, which one? Pretty much every early road in Lanark County was a "Government Road" because the military drove settlement activity until about the 1820s.

My 1879 map of Lanark County shows an intriguing route from Hwy 511 to Lavant, north of the road that today runs through Poland. In Lavant today, there's a trail out of town named "Old Government Road" that aligns with the historic route. It's closed in summer (private access) but open to snowmobilers in winter. The E104 trail follows Old Government Road on its way to the ghost town of Lammermoor, but I suspect the historic route diverges to further north along Waddle Creek Road, which intersects the 511 at Brightside. It's really hard to be sure. Correlating old maps with new is more art than science, so I'll be out exploring more of this route to see what clues I can find.

An interesting side trip turned out to be the E104 where it crosses Hwy 511 to the east, just north of Hopetown. This track, as shown in the above photo, has signs of being an old road and not just a snowmobile trail. You can only get in about a kilometer or two because it descends into swamp. Maybe by late summer the swamp will be passable and can be linked up to Pretty Drive.

As a footnote, the E104 west of Lavant (up Lavant Mountain) was in fantastic shape last weekend. Mudholes that are usually axle deep--or deeper--were bone dry. There are still some gnarly riding sections but this is definitely the driest I've ever seen this trail. Highly recommended from Lavant to Bottle Lake Road, but you'll benefit from knobbies and good low-end speed control. I just switched my countersprocket to a 14-tooth which should help immensely in the technical sections. You're hard pressed to ride 20-40km/hr on these trails on anything as heavy as a KLR. That is, I won't because I tend to ride self-supported. Don't need a breakdown, thanks!

Contact me if you want a guided tour of any of these trails. I've ridden a lot of the dirt within 200 km west of Almonte. Knobbies are ideal, but you could manage with dualsport tires if you're patient and confident on loose surfaces. You'll also need a Gold Trail Pass, available at Carson's in Perth. Keep it legit and no one can complain if you accidentally go down a trail you're not supposed to.


  1. I'm bringing my mountain bike to this area (K&P around Norway Lake). Will I need a trail pass? I can be contacted at n-.-p-a-n-k-h-u-r-s-t-@-g-w-a-l-.-c-o-m (remove the dashes)

  2. i am very scare when i ride a bike. it is dangerous i think.

  3. Nice article. Used to live in the hamlet of Poland, so this is especially intriguing to me.