This July long weekend marks a special anniversary and commemorates 150 years of Canadian history and identity. But did you know that Coboconk predates Canada by 16 years?
Founded in 1851, the small village of Coboconk is one of the oldest settlements in the north of Kawartha Lakes. Deriving from the First Nations phrase “Quash-qua-be-conk”, meaning “where the gulls nest”, Coboconk is rich with history! The town was developed in a very successful era of lumbering, making lumber Coboconk’s primary industry. As early as 1851, the year that Coboconk was founded, the lake and river system acted as a major highway for the booming lumber industry. From the small village, thousands of saw logs would make the journey to neighbouring towns such as Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls via the river systems, even travelling as far as Peterborough.
The fresh water of Balsam Lake and Gull River has always held a major role in the community, and is still recognized for its importance today. It is now recognized that Coboconk is home to the highest body of fresh water from which one is able to circumnavigate the world. This means you are able to reach all four oceans by starting in Coby without ever needing to touch land! In 2008, the wharf on Balsam Lake was made official as Canada’s Fresh Water Summit. To commemorate this historical event, Coboconk hosts the annual Canada’s Fresh Water Summit Festival for a weekend full of family fun. This year the festival takes place during the Canada Day long weekend to not only celebrate Canada’s Fresh Water Summit, but to also celebrate the important role of Balsam Lake in Canadian history.
In addition to the fresh water systems, Coboconk was also home to another natural element that proved to be incredibly beneficial to the village and surrounding areas: limestone. The large lime kilns at Coboconk were built for converting limestone into agricultural and building materials. It was also crushed for gravel for the purpose of road building. As a soft stone, it was often carved into building blocks--some of which are still part of original buildings within the village today such as the old Coboconk Jail House built in 1884. The kilns were also used to provide bricks for organizations such as The Toronto Brick Company and the Canada Lime Company. The limestone business was such a crucial part of Coboconk history that the community developed a nickname over time—“the Limestone Village”. While many of the mills in the Kawartha Lakes have been demolished, the remains of the limestone kilns in Coboconk serve as a testament to the booming industry that once served the area. Remnants of the kilns can still be seen and have been in place for over 130 years overlooking the village of Coboconk.
This Canada Day, we celebrate 150 years of Canadian history. And we also celebrate the many years of First Nations history that pre-date the birth of Canada.