Story and Photos | David Bouthillier
I'm not entirely sure what I was looking for when we set out down the Old Hastings Road. I had visions of rounding a corner on my ATV and being greeted by a fully intact main street from an early 1900's country village a village in the middle of nowhere, completely abandoned, derelict, forgotten, and resting in complete silence. Unfortunately, no such village would be found on this trip.
Searching for ghost towns is a relatively new hobby for me, and it pairs very well with ATVing. I often wonder why I'm so fascinated with these relics of the past. I mean, it's just old rotting junk in the bush right? To me, it's more than that it's the back story that I always ﬁnd interesting. Why did these early settlers just up and leave their houses, farms, communities? What would life have been like living in the rough Ontario wilderness? Why did the people settle in this area in the ﬁrst place? Each ghost town, old dirt road, rotting barn, single room school house, church, and cemetery have an interesting and unique back story.
The remains of the Old Hastings Road lie just south of Bancroft and continue south to Millbridge. Originally a government colonization road, it was built in the 1850's to entice settlers into the area with free land grants. I had done some research in preparation for our trip and found the names and approximate locations of the seven ghost towns along the way. Further research lead me to an old abandoned steam engine located somewhere near one of the ghost towns deep in the bush. With our ATVs fully loaded and the GPS handy, we headed out from Bancroft Tent & Trailer south on HWY 62, with just a short run before we hit the start of the Old Hastings Road.
Our ﬁrst stop was at the Umfraville cemetery, the only remaining landmark of this early village. Umfraville is located just off the Old Hastings Road down Umfraville Road and the turnoff for the cemetery is marked with an arrow pointing up a narrow dirt road. At one point, Umfraville boasted a ﬂour and sawmill, a general store, a church, and a school. Now all that remains is the road, the cemetery, and some stone fences hidden in the bush.
The 20 or so residents that still reside in Ormsby might be a bit upset with the designation of "ghost town", but it really is a ghost of its former self. We were treated to four intact and well maintained early pioneer buildings. Ormsby is located at the intersection of the Old Hastings Road, HWY 620, and the Hastings Heritage ATV trail (a former rail line). We ﬁrst stopped at "The Old Schoolhouse" (www.oldormsbyschoolhouse.ca/), an early single room pioneer school house that has been beautifully converted into a tea room and restaurant. We picked up a nice warm beverage and chatted with the owner as he showed us his collection of old antiques. Next we wandered over to " The Old Hastings Gallery" (www.oldhastingsgallery.ca/) which is an old general store that has been converted into a very interesting gift shop. Across the street you will ﬁnd two churches. One appears to still be used for church service while the other appears to be under renovation for some unknown purpose.
THANET AND MURPHY CORNERS
We had to stop and turn around because we drove right past what little remains of Thanet. Now all that remains of what was once a busy village with 3 hotels, a church, and a school, is a small cemetery beside the road with a little white town sign. All other structures have completely vanished and returned to the earth.
Just a few kilometres south of Thanet at the intersection of the Old Hastings Road and Steenburg Lake Road, you'll come across the only remaining structure in Murphy Corners an old service station (possibly a general store). In the 1860's you would have been treated to a saw mill, a church, and a school house. The old service station is tightly boarded up so you can't even peak inside the building. The overhanging carport at the front of the building is a great spot to stop for a rest and to enjoy a snack.
Glanmire is by far my favourite ghost town on the Old Hastings Road. The haunting images of the church steps in the cemetery leading to nowhere is what originally attracted me to journey down this road. Rounding the corner you come to a sandy clearing where the cemetery lies silently today. The cement steps once lead into St. Margaret's church, but when the building fell into disuse it was torn down. A very large cement bridge spans Beaver creek and makes for some fantastic pictures and videos.
Some round holes drilled into the rocks on the bank of the creek led me to believe that there was a mill of some type that used the fast ﬂowing water from the small waterfall just east of the bridge. The creek itself has a very interesting feature. In the dryer days of summer when the water level is low, you can see the creek disappear into the ground through some underground caves on the west side of the bridge and then reappear on the east side!
The most interesting feature of all though was the old remains of a steam engine hidden deep in the woods. The boiler stands about 8 feet tall and is connected to a single piston engine via an overhead pipe. Beside the boiler is a collapsed wood building with many large pulleys lying on the ground. A ﬁnd like this is a true gem for a ghost town hunter like myself. While I cannot disclose the exact location of the engine, some careful searching online will most likely lead you in the right direction.
MILLBRIDGE AND MILLBRIDGE STATION
The last two remaining ghost towns on the Old Hastings Road are Millbridge, and just a short distance to the west, Millbridge Station. Like Ormsby, Millbridge has not completely vanished off the map. Situated just a short distance from HWY 62, the town has a mix of new buildings sprinkled with the early remains from its pioneer days including the old cemetery. Just a short distance south of Millbridge, the Old Hastings Road intersects with HWY 62 and then ends.
Millbridge Station developed just west of Millbridge where Stoney Settlement road intersected with the rail line. Today, the Hogan's Hotel still stands and even has the original hotel name painted on the red brick building.
In the end, I never did ﬁnd my ghost town, the one I pictured in my mind that is. Most of the little places along the Old Hastings Road have been reduced to nothing more than old pioneer cemeteries. In fact, by 1925 most of the villages and farms were already in a state of abandonment according to the Ontario land surveyor C.F. Aylesworth. If we wanted to experience the Old Hastings Road in all it's glory, we'd need to travel back a good 100 years. Today, the road is still very well maintained and we ran into a few other people on ATVs enjoying the scenic drive.
If exploring old ghost towns and other abandoned structures is something you're interested in, I suggest you look up the author Ron Brown and purchase one of his many books about Ontario ghost towns. There is also a website called Ontario Abandoned Places with thousands of pictures and places to view http://ontarioabandonedplaces.com/).
So don't just sit around. Hop on your ATV and get exploring those old country dirt roads. Who knows, maybe you'll stumble upon that ghost town I'm still searching for! •
About the author:
David Bouthillier is an avid ATV enthusiast and is the Media and Communication board member for the Renfrew County ATV Club. When he's not on a computer writing custom software, he can usually be found in his metalworking garage building something very cool.
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