In August 1842, a young English traveller and sportsman, John Godley, visited Kingston. Military officers talked about great deer hunting, and recommended “a hospitable farmer of the name of Knapp, who lives on Lobra lake, has hounds, is well acquainted with the country and the sport (…)”. Great expectations soon collided with grim reality.
With a friend, D___, John hired a wagon for the eighteen mile trip. The “best part of the road was corduroy (…) the rest of it was generally a mere cut through the forest, in the midst of which the stumps were still standing, the surface being further diversified by holes, in which our equipage might almost have been buried bodily”. About the return trip, Godley was equally sardonic:-”(…) those who know what a Canadian wagon and a Canadian road are, will not be disposed to envy us.”
They arrived at a frame house on the shores of Lobra (Loughborough) Lake, described as “a beautiful lake, twenty miles long, but narrow, and studded with hundreds of small, rocky, pine-covered islets.” The Knapp family soon got their guests some fish for dinner, accompanied by brown bread and water.
The ferocity of the flies stunned Godley. “We had a pull on the lake, a bathe, a cup of tea, and so to bed. And now comes the dark side of the picture:–that night was indeed a night of horrors — I had not got into bed, but wrapped myself in my plaid and lay down on it; not, however, to sleep. I verily believe there is no species of creeping, crawling or flying insect which had not its representative on my person, nor was there one quarter of an hour’s intermission of (saving your presence) itching and scratching.”
On their second night, the torture was even worse. Godley and D__ decided to sleep in the kitchen – Godley on the table, D__ on a bench:”(…) in vain did we endeavour to escape from our relentless persecutors, and this manoeuvre had only the effect of adding hard lying to our other discomforts.” By the third night, they were so tired that they were almost able to sleep through the clouds of mosquitoes that were barely noticed by their hosts.
The bright side — fishing. “There are (…) immense quantities of fish in the lake, principally black bass, which (…) are caught of three or four pounds weight: altogether, it must be, when there are no mosquitoes, a most desirable sporting ‘location’.”
Godley noted the living conditions:
“Our host lives very well, i.e., plentifully, but in the most primitive manner. He is not much of a farmer, and produces no more than is necessary for the consumption of his family: his live stock consists of six cows, two horses, and a good number of pigs and poultry: the visits of sportsmen like ourselves, and occasional speculations in lumber, give him what money he requires for clothes, &c., and he has venison and fish for the taking. What more does he want, as far as worldly goods are concerned?”
Setting this story in the local context, Godley’s hosts were Samuel Knapp, Sr., and his wife, Mary Ansley. In 1817, Amos Ansley ( Samuel’s father-in-law) had put up a sawmill on the creek that ran down from Loughborough Lake to Dog Lake. The settlement was called for a time, “AMsley’s Mills.” Ansley never got title to the land, probably stemming from his active participation in the Robert Gourlay political conventions. The Government proclamation that convention delegates would be ineligible for land grants meant that it would have done Ansley no good to apply. The VanLuven family eventiually took title.
The rest is history.
Source: John Robert Godley, Letters From America, Vol. 1, London, John Murray, Albermarle Street, 1844. PP A3 – 272. Letter VIII, KIngston, pp. 122-131.