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April 11, 2003

Cameron Township in Perspective

Cameron Township, which is located east of Papineau Township and the town of Mattawa, and south of the Ottawa River, is one of the largest, if not the largest, township in the Nipissing District. It touches Algonquin Park near Cedar Lake and Brent on its south side. Its union with Papineau Township in 1992 makes the combined municipality of less than 1000 residents the largest in the district.

The CPR runs across its northern boundary along the edge of the Ottawa River and the Trans-Canada highway about a km south of the river. The original Pembroke -Mattawa Road, which meandered along the Ottawa River and through Cameron Township helped open the area in the early days, and had various stopping places along the way. The CPR had various stops and sidings along the way as well, including the Rolphton Siding and the Hodgson Siding (just east of the Cameron boundary) and a station at Klock.

The village of Klock, showing the Guilbault General Store and the schoolhouse behind. Isabelle Rainville photo.

A small unofficial community called Burritt developed around a section of the highway eight miles east of Mattawa where a community centre, school, general store, tourist lodge and several homes were located. I visited Mel Janveau and his mother Joy, who live opposite each other on either side of the highway near the old school and general store while working on the two previous articles I wrote on the village of Klock. It was Mel who got me interested in Klock and toured me around the township, showing me various heritage sites, including Klock.

Joy Janveau holding a picture of her father John Adam Burritt. Doug Mackey photo.

I visited Mel and his mother again recently, and they provided me with much of the historical information that follows, except the information on Sir Matthew Crooks Cameron, who the township was named after. First of all, some information about Sir Matthew.

How Cameron Township got its Name 

Matthew Cameron (1822-1887) was born into a well-to-do Scottish family and attended the Upper Canada College private school. When twenty years old, he was accidentally shot in the leg while hunting and had his leg amputated. He went on to become a brilliant lawyer and eventually a Toronto municipal councillor and an unsuccessful mayoralty candidate. He then went on to a long and successful career in the provincial legislature as a conservative MPP. He held several important positions, including leader of the Conservative Party and Leader of the Opposition from 1871-1878.

Cameron was very much a supporter of the status quo, but did support various progressive causes including settlement and mining in northern Ontario, and free and compulsory elementary education. In 1878 he left politics to become a well-respected judge. He was knighted in 1887, shortly before his death.

Some Township History 

Free land and available work in logging on the Ottawa River brought many early settlers to Cameron. The two best-known early families were the Burritt's and the Janveau's, both of whom eventually accumulated ten hundred-acre family lots each.

R.B. Klock, who became the Nipissing District's first Federal MP in 1895, was the first Reeve of Cameron and Elihu Burritt was one of the first councillors. His son, John Adam Burritt was later Reeve and his daughter Joy (Janveau) was a councillor. Joy Burritt joined the Burritt-Janveau families when she married Ferdinand Janveau. Cameron at one time dropped its council and became an Improvement District, and later returned to having a council before combining with Papineau in 1992.

Elihu Burritt, the original settler, whose loyalist descendants founded Burritt's Rapids Ontario, had a stopping place on the Pembroke-Mattawa Road and acted as a teamster for J.R. Booth and others. His son, John Adam, farmed and also worked as a teamster. Elihu had nine children, John Adam had eight, and his daughter Joy, eleven. When visiting Joy recently with her son Mel, two other sons, Eddie and Ken, dropped in for a visit. The Janveau-Burritt families are remembered by having two Cameron roads that meet at an intersection named after them.

Burritt's school children, with Emma Burritt on far right. Joy Janveau photo.

Joy Janveau's sister Emma, shown on the right in the school photograph, has written a memoir of her early days in Cameron. She recalled the Depression when a survey crew arrived to lay out the Trans-Canada highway in their backyard behind their house and barn. She wrote, "we laughed when we saw them and knew they would not build it there. You guessed it, that is where the highway went." Workers moved in at five dollars a month's pay, and soon a highway was built and their way of life changed.

Emma also remembered how Ernest Belanger, who lived nearby, moved his general store from the Pembroke-Mattawa Road to the new highway. He also opened up a tourist home to tap into the heavy traffic heading to Callander to see the Dionne Quints. John Burritt's sister Dorilda was married to Ed Belanger and ran the operation after his early death.

Advertisement for the general store and lodge on the Trans-Canada highway in Cameron township. Mel Janveau photo. 

A 1983 Cameron history book describes the first log schoolhouse, called Burritt's School and built on the highway (see photo), and was followed by one at Klock. A more central school was built, and by 1967 students began to be bussed to Mattawa. The post office called Burritt's PO was located on the highway until rural mail delivery was established.

There were many dances and much music provided in the township by the likes of the McMeekin family, including father and son Sam and Douglas, who served as township Clerks. An aunt, Esther, was a well-known pianist, and Kathleen McMeekin who still lives in Cameron, plays regularly at the Seniors Club in Mattawa.

A large group of Finns settled in Cameron at one time, and played an important part in the life of the community. They built a large Finnish hall, which later burned and was replaced by two halls because of political differences. At one time, during WWII one hall was raided by the RCMP and Communist literature was seized. The Finns have since moved on.

A display on farming at the Mattawa Museum is currently being developed and will feature a mannequin based on a photo of John Adam Burritt and artwork by muralist Gary Larose. Cameron remains a quiet and spacious place to live.

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