Photo of tombstones
Tombstones from Inistioge’s pioneer cemetery
©Jeri Danyleyko

During the mid-1840s, life was at best uncertain for new settlers arriving in Canada. After making their way across the ocean in horrendously overcrowded and disease laden steamships, and then travelling by stage for several days along bumpy, rutted trails, many suffered the ignominy of waiting for months for transportation of their meager provisions to their lands where they hoped to make a new beginning.

During these lengthy waiting periods, they could find respite and shelter in small stopping places like George Johnston’s hotel. Here was a place where new settlers could at least enjoy a bed, warm meal, a pint of ale and a place to wait it out before embarking on the serious work of clearing their land and building a homestead.

In the early 1840s settlers began arriving in the area along the Toronto-Sydenham Road (now Highway 10). Johnston’s hotel, opened around 1843, became a popular stopping place for temporary transient settlers. It remained open for at least 10 years and possibly longer and formed the nucleus of a small hamlet that became known as Inistioge.

The small townsite began to take form with the arrival of George Armstrong and his family around 1849, a year after work began on the Toronto-Sydenham Road. The Armstrongs, originally from Inistioge, Ireland, lost no time in establishing a number of important institutions.

The Armstrongs were a deeply religious family so naturally the first order of business was the construction of a church. Methodist services took place in the home of George Snyder, a local magistrate until about 1850 when the congregants built a log church on the Armstrong farm. Officially known as the Proton Mission, the church became known locally as “Armstrong’s Church.” Along with the church there was also a cemetery, with the first burial taking place in 1852.

Next up was the post office, opened in the Armstrong home in July 1851. Since the post office was the first in Proton Township, tradition dictated that it assume the name of Proton PO. Unofficially, they knew the settlement as Inistioge after the Armstrong’s home town in Ireland. Since Inistioge was located right on the town line of Proton and Artemesia, the post office served both townships as well the township of Melancthon. The post office received the new name of Inistioge in 1865.

The schoolhouse followed sometime before 1865. They built S.S, #2, Proton on Lot 206, the Rowe farm. A tavern stand was located on the next farm, Lot 205, owned by the Achesons. There was also a small court office for the 5th Division Court, Proton. John Moore organized Orange Lodge LOL 737, located on Lot 179 of David Stinson’s farm in the early 1850s.

The “Moore settlement” was located on lot 190 in Artemesia almost directly across the road from Inistioge. It was named for the John Moore family, who arrived in the late 1840s or early 50s. Later it became known as Victoria Corners. The Moores were generally regarded as likeable oddballs. They were both musical and well read and frequently spoke of future developments such as “horseless carriages” and “flying machines.” Their neighbours shuddered in disbelief.

Victoria Corners had its own school, S.S. #4, Artemesia, built in 1855. John Wesley Armstrong, who also served as a court clerk and commissioner in the small court office in Inistioge, was the teacher.

Businesses and residential listings between the two closely knit settlements intertwined. The Ward family operated one early store, located just south of the Orange Lodge in Victoria Corners. Supplies were scarce and transportation difficult. When it was time to stock up, Mrs. Ward walked to Orangeville, where she caught a stagecoach to Toronto. With her supplies in hand, she took a boat to Collingwood where she met up with her husband and his team of oxen. They loaded everything up and early the following morning began the slow trek back home, a distance of about 50 kilometres, often arriving by nightfall.

The Armstrongs also owned a dry goods store, located on lot 198 on the Artemesia side, across from the church. Like the Wards, they either back-packed or brought in their supplies on horseback from Collingwood. Alex Neilson ran the store during the 1870s and 80s. Two lots north of the store, on lot 196, stood the blacksmith shop, operated by Henry Mitchell, and then by Richard Campbell. Close to the Neilson store, was the Jordan Hotel.

The Armstrong’s church had served the community well for 20 years, however by 1871 the congregation had grown and it was time for something better. The new church was a simple frame and roughcast structure built by John Sloan and Sons from Eugenia. Although still humble, the new church with its three stained glass windows was a definite step upwards and led to a more reverent formality. They replaced the old cloth bags used for offerings with snappy new tin collection plates covered in red velvet. A new name, the Inistioge Methodist Church (later Inistioge United Church) followed.

Due to the lengthy travel involved, the minister couldn’t be there on a regular basis. During those times, lay ministers often conducted the services. These included Joyn Wesley Armstrong, choirmaster Thomas McQuay, and Joseph Strain who lived just south of the Moores in Victoria Corners. Mrs. Williams and later Emma Moore were the organists. Sunday school, taught by Mrs. McGillivray, took place in the McGillivray home. The church continued seeing improvements such as a new red and yellow brick facing in 1884.

The Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway (later CPR) arrived in 1872. The railway built a small flag station, not at Inistioge, but at a nearby settlement about 2 kilometres northwest, that became known as Proton Station. Businesses slowly began to gravitate to Proton Station to be closer to the railway. Around the same time, they replaced the log school with a frame building located one lot north on the Acheson farm. It became known as the Acheson School. Since Proton Station did not have a post office or school, residents used the Inistioge post office and the Acheson School.

During the 1880s, the community boasted a sawmill run by J. Stinson and Sons, and the Clipperton sawmill owned by Thomas McQuay. Of the two, the Clipperton was the most long-lasting and remained in business for about 30 years. It was located about halfway between Inistioge and Proton Station and had the advantage of being close to the railway.

In addition to the mills, the hamlet also included a harness maker, Matthew Leitch, a shoemaker, Angus McGillivray and a stonemason, George Nixon. During the 1890s, William Haines opened a cheese factory in Victoria Corners known as the Victoria Cheese Company, with George Ludlow as the cheesemaker.

In 1889 they replaced the Acheson schoolhouse with a far more substantial building, built at a cost of $1239.45. It included the latest in modern conveniences most notably a furnace. Unfortunately they only used the school for a short period of time. In late 1896, residents in Proton Station decided to build a school of their own. Students living north of the schoolhouse relocated to the school at Victoria Corners resulting in closure of the Acheson. The two townships shared taxation with Proton residents paying 40 per cent and Artemesia the remainder. They never changed the school to a U.S.S. and it retained the name of S.S. #4, Artemesia. Teachers boarded at either the Rennie or Ludlow homes.

Inistioge might have thrived if the railway hadn’t set up shop in Proton Station. By the early 1900s it was beginning to dwindle away. In 1904 Henry Armstrong stepped down from the role of postmaster and the post office closed.

Today, almost nothing remains of Inistioge. The Orange Lodge lasted until 1940. The cemetery also remained in use until 1940 and the church until 1961. It was later demolished. Both the Acheson and Victoria Corners schools are still standing and are now in use as private homes. Road alignments let to the obliteration of the entire east side of the village. A wrought iron arch in front of the cemetery with the words “Inistioge 1851-1971” now marks the location of this once-proud little settlement.

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