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Mar. 21, 2003

How a Township Got its Name

More detailed information on some of the interesting people who gave some of our townships their names may be of interest. Most of our townships were named shortly after they were surveyed and generally before there were local people important enough by provincial standards to be chosen. I recently wrote about Robert Klock, the first Federal Member of Parliament from Nipissing who came from a successful lumber family in Cameron Township and had a township named after him in the Temagami area. It is interesting to note that as late as 1973 a township east of Elliot Lake was named Monestime, after Mattawa Mayor Dr. S.F. Monestime.

Calvin Calvin Township, west of Mattawa, was appropriately named after Deleno Dexter Calvin, who never visited the township but was one of the top lumbermen in the province at the time he was chosen. Today I will look at the life and times of D.D. Calvin as an example of one of the men who had a township named after him.

Deleno Dexter Calvin (1798-1884) at his home on Garden Island with some of his children. Queen's University Archives.

Deleno D. Calvin was actively involved in the transportation of squared timber in New York State when he looked to expand his horizons in 1836. He found the perfect relocation where the Great Lakes entered the St. Lawrence three-km south of Kingston, Ontario, on the sixty-five acre Garden Island. There was an excellent harbour on its south-east side where Calvin could unload his loads of logs from the lower Great Lakes for trans-shipment on the St. Lawrence. These timbers were organized into rafts and were taken by his men, who lived on them for weeks to Quebec City, 350 miles away for shipment to England.

Calvin eventually bought the whole island, moved his wife and six children from a previous marriage there, and built a self-contained community. They had their own school, post office, custom office, farm, bakery, library, fraternal societies and general store. He even printed his own money so his workers could buy at his general store. There were no churches because Calvin, who was quite religious, did not want any conflict among the wide number of nationalities he had hired. By the 1860s Calvin had six more children and the community had grown to 750 people.
Map of D. D. Calvin's Garden Island near Kingston Ontario. Queen's University archives.
To get his squared timber from various lumbermen, he reached as far into the Great Lakes as Michigan and Minnesota, using his own ships. Because the squared timber business was seasonal, and because he needed ships for his own use, Calvin began to build ships each year in the off season for himself and others. He was a very progressive businessman, and used all of the latest technology, building his own boilers and making his own hardware and sails. To make the rope for the rafts, he went from hand work to the use of horses and eventually to steam. When a depression hit in the 1870s he reduced the wages of his workers so he didn't have to lay any people off. In 1877 when the economy picked up, he took on one of his most ambitious projects, a huge sea going ship The Garden City, to carry his timber to England.

Calvin was a bit of an eccentric and there were stories about how he was very negative about people that bit their fingernails or had dogs. When unions came in and his sailors tried to join he fired them, and brought in new sailors from Scotland. When they tried to unionize, he fired them, and changed his sailing ships to barges and built a powerful tug named the D.D. Calvin and towed the barges, reducing the need for manpower.

Clavin was referred to as "the Governor," which became even more relevant as he developed his own political interests beyond Garden Island where he was Reeve and Magistrate. He became the Reeve of a larger area and a county warden re-elected three times. He became a friend of Sir John A. Macdonald and served on a canal commission, where he apparently supported the interests of the farmers over the people who used the St. Lawrence. When he became a provincial Member of Parliament in 1868 he was elected, and acclaimed on a second occasion, and after a loss was re-elected twice. His parliamentary experience was the main reason that Calvin Township was named after him. When Calvin's second wife died he married a third time and had two more children, with only six of the fourteen reaching maturity. He died in 1884 at age 86, a very wealthy man with additional property in Quebec City and in the U.S. The family ran the business until the start of WWI. Garden Island remains in the family as private property today, with many leases provided to cottagers.

The Calvin Township history book Calvin Remembers has a chapter on their namesake. Lynx Images, in their book Mysterious Islands (1999) and their video of the same name produced in association with the History Television channel have good segments on Garden Island and D.D. Calvin. The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes at Kingston has a display on Garden Island and D.D. Calvin. For those interested in shipwrecks, many of Calvin's old ships were scuttled and lie in the shallow waters around the island.

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