Rathbun Company


From a Hastings County directory of 1868-1869, this map shows the street plan of the village of Mill Point, later to become the town of Deseronto.

Mill Point in 1869

It is interesting to see how few streets were laid out at that time: Thomas Street, which now runs the entire length of the town, was only two blocks wide in 1869. Centre and Prince Streets were yet to be established and there were no roads north of Dundas. In 1869 the village did have a Third Street, however, which is more than the town can boast today! Compare this plan with the appearance of the town in 1962:

Deseronto lots, 1962

In 1869 the industrial core of the village was firmly in the southwest corner, where the steam saw mill, wharf, post office and ship yard can be seen. The H. B. Rathbun and Son advertisement from the 1869 directory neatly summarizes the firm’s interests at this date:

1869 advertisement for H. B. Rathbun and Son

The 1869 map also shows the location of Deseronto’s first church, at the top of [St.] George Street, close to the current location of the Presbyterian Church of the Redeemer. The Union Church had been built in 1868 as a shared place of worship: the Anglicans had a service there in the morning, the Presbyterians in the afternoon, and the Methodists in the evening.

Only one residence is marked on the earlier map: presumably that of the Rathbun family. At this period, Edward Wilkes Rathbun (1842-1903) had taken over the day-to-day running of H. B. Rathbun and Son, due to his father’s ill health. E. W. Rathbun built the Deseronto firm into a hugely successful business, becoming a millionaire in the process. While other family members built houses on Dundas Street, away from the busy industries of the waterfront, E. W. Rathbun liked to be close to his concerns. His Main Street home was a substantial property, as this photograph shows:

E. W. Rathbun's house on Main Street, Deseronto

This house no longer exists. To the front, it looked out on Central Park (now the Rathbun Memorial Park), which was laid out at E. W. Rathbun’s expense. He brought in A. J. Hopkins, a landscape gardener from Oswego, New York, to do the work.  The back of the house would have afforded good views of the Rathbuns’ industrial empire along the waterfront of the Bay of Quinte: Edward Wilkes Rathbun was clearly a man who liked to keep a close eye on his business!

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Did you miss the chance to explore Deseronto’s Doors Open sites on May 28, 2011? Or perhaps you weren’t able to visit all of them?

Fear not! We’ve made all the Deseronto site brochures available here for you to look at. Just click on the images below to get a large version that you can print off or read online.

Deseronto Cemetery [site 22]
Camp Rathbun [site 23]
St. Mark’s Hall [site 24]
Grace United Church [site 25]
Public Works Garage: former aircraft hangar [site 26]
Naylor’s Theatre [site 27]
Deseronto Post Office [site 28]
Deseronto Town Hall [site 29]
Rathbun Memorial Park [site 30]
McGlade Funeral Home [site 31]
Foresters’ Island [site 32]
Former industrial sites [site 33]
Church of the Redeemer [site 34]
St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church [site 35]
Founding of Deseronto [site 36]

In the days when logs were floated down rivers to be processed, it was important for the lumber companies to reliably identify whose logs were whose. The Timber Marking Act was passed in 1870 and required logging firms in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick to register a unique identifying mark and then to stamp the cut trees with that symbol. Between 1870 and 1990, some 2,200 timber marks were registered.1 Failure to register and use a timber mark incurred a fine of $50, while wrongly applying a mark to someone else’s logs was also an offence, with a fine of up to $100.

Rathbun Company timber mark stamping hammer

This week, the archives heard from Peter Haughton of Bristol, Quebec, who has come into possession of a timber mark stamping hammer with a Deseronto connection. The hammer’s mark (a six-pointed star) was registered by Deseronto’s H. B. Rathbun & Son on July 18, 1870. Mr Haughton has been kind enough to share photographs of the hammer and also of the relevant page of The Lumberman’s Timber Mark Guide, which lists all the marks that the lumber companies had registered.

Timber marks registered in July 1870

The page shows that the Rathbun Company had registered four different marks in 1870: perhaps a reflection of the scale of the timber limits that were being exploited by this firm. By 1890 The New York Times described the Rathbun Company as “the most valuable lumber manufacturing concern in Canada”.2 It also (slightly less accurately) located Deseronto “a few miles east of Toronto”.

1The Timber Marking Act is likely to be repealed, as logs are no longer transported down rivers in this way. A consultation on the proposal to repeal the Act is available from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
2The New York Times, November 4, 1890 ‘A big syndicate deal

On this day in 1892 a concert was held at the Deseronto Opera House[1] by the Edith Ross Scottish Concert Company, who were invited to perform by the St. Andrew’s Society which had recently been formed in the town. According to the Tribune which was published on the next day:

The following lines, composed by Mr. A. D. McIntyre, the talented secretary of St. Andrew’s Society, as a welcome to the Edith Ross Scottish Concert Company, were read by him with great effect at their entertainment in the opera house last night:

Miss Edith Ross and Company,
We kindly welcome you,
And hope our hearts you will engross
With song and music too;
We trust that ye will feel at ease,
Just as you would at home,
And may our toes and fingers freeze
If we give cause to blame.

We hope that you will soon again
Revisit our good town,
Which surely in a year or so
Will be a city grown;
For we have here the energy
And everything beside
To make Deseronto go ahead
At ebb or flood of tide.

I’m sure if you took twa’ three days
To look our works around,
That you would wonder where on earth
Their likes could e’er be found;
With basswood, pine and oaken logs
Your brain would sure be tossed,
And round great piles of every kind
Of lumber you’d get lost.

You’d see the logs a rolling up
The runway from the dam,
Sliced into lumber instantly;
I tell you it is gran’
To see the slabs thrown, lightning speed,
From sound and healthy pine,
And in the finer part that’s left
Behold a nine by nine.

The Factory you’d visit too,
Where they make sash and door,
And ship them to Australia
And other countless shores;
Then you would ramble to the wharf,
Where ends the B. of Q,[2]
Its rails and solid bed stops short
When Jamie Stokes[3] they view.

And now you jump upon the train,
No trouble in the least,
And step off on the platform
At Deseronto East;
Blacksmith, Machine and Loco Shops
Are now left far behind
With Car Works and the Shipyard, full
Of crafts of every kind.

The Cedar Mill you’ve also passed,
Where ties are made and shipped,
And where the Shipyard’s sturdy oak
Is often sawn and ripped;
Another mill you have sped by,
Where shingles are the ware,
And now from off this platform,
Behold the Grist Mill there!

Here you can buy the purest flour
That ever yet was made,
And Oh! you’d open wide your eyes
Surprised at Richard’s[4] trade;
The wheat is brought by great shiploads
And by the Railway too;
But come a little farther down,
The Burners we will view.

Here’s where the refuse is all burned,
The sawdust and the dross
To wondrous chemicals are turned
That nothing go to loss;
And if you look away beyond
The Refuse Docks appear,
Which, in the summer, are filled up
For winter work and cheer.

And still a little farther down
The Secret Works you see,
Where one of Scotland’s honored sons[5]
Practises chemistry;
And right behind, encircled neat,
The Gas Works you espy,
From whence our streets and ilka house
Receive their light supply.

And yet a wee bit farther on
Red Terra Cotta stands
In its artistic excellence
Pourtrayed by Hynes’[6] hand,
Who pounds and moulds it with his fist
This and the other way,
And then brings forth a matchless bust
In Terra Cotta clay.

But what’s the use in trying thus
Our industries to name,
For it would take a week or more
To numerate the same:
Imagination needs must fly
Far North, South, East and West,
In town and city, bush and plain,
You see the Rathbuns’ Crest.

Again, a welcome please accept
From old St. Andrew’s boys,
Who wish ye “Merry Christmas”
And many earthly joys;
And as you travel through this world
Do not forget, we pray,
The thriving town and leal hearts
On Quinte’s famous bay.

This poem is a wonderful snapshot of the industries along the Deseronto waterfront in 1892. According to the 1901 census, Archibald Duncan Macintyre was an accountant who was born in Scotland on 3 March 1859. We can surmise from the contents of his poem that he worked for the Rathbun Company. He came to Canada in 1876. In an account of the first annual St. Andrew’s Day dinner (November 30th, 1892), the Tribune described Macintyre as “a true and loyal Highlander” and a man of “poetic genius”. A few years later, he had become the Chief of the Sons of Scotland and the Archives holds this photograph of him:

Photograph of Archibald D. Macintyre, c.1902

Photograph of A. D. Macintyre, c.1902

Macintyre died in William Street, Trenton, on December 13th, 1921. His occupation was given as “Filing Clerk, C.N.Ry [Canadian National Railway] Stores”. He had been living at that address for three years before his death. He was, however, buried in Deseronto’s cemetery: an event that also took place, coincidentally, on December the 15th.


[1] At this date the Opera House was on the upper floor of the Baker Block on Main Street
[2] The Bay of Quinte Railway
[3] James Stokes was listed in the 1891 census for Deseronto as ‘wharfinger’: the man in charge of the day-to-day business of the wharf. He was 42 at the time of the census. He died in Toronto on April 4, 1913, aged 64.
[4] This was presumably Richard Rayburn, the flour mill manager, according to the 1891 census.
[5] The 1891 census lists 41 year-old William D. McRae as “Superintendent, Gas and Chemical Works”. McRae was born in Scotland.
[6] Michael J. Hynes, artist and manager of the Terra Cotta works

In the summer of 1907 Harold McMurrich Rathburn took a trip across Canada from Deseronto to Edmonton. He took his camera with him and Deseronto Archives holds the negatives that Harold made. Luckily, the negatives were kept in two albums which were indexed by their owner, giving us useful information about the subjects of each shot. His journey took him first by steamer from Owen Sound to Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay). Below is the view of the American Soo Canal that he shot from the deck of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s steamship Alberta near Sault Ste. Marie.

"Entering American Soo Canal"

"Entering American Soo Canal"

Harold and his companion, Harry Jones, seem to have made some business-related visits while in Port Arthur. The picture below shows them standing with another man in front of an elevator which belonged to the Canadian Northern Railway. At this time, the Rathbun Company ran the Bay of Quinte Railway in Deseronto and surrounding areas, so this visit might have been related to the company’s railway interests.

"Harry & H.M.R. at C.N.R. [Canadian Northern Railway] Elevator"

"Harry & H.M.R. at C.N.R. Elevator"


The two men continued their journey on the Canadian Northern Railway which had reached Edmonton two years previously. Harold took photographs of a number of buildings in Winnipeg and Edmonton and also several snapshots at Warman Junction in Saskatchewan, including this charming photograph of a group of men watching a boy with a gopher.

"Boy with gophir"

"Boy with gophir at Warman Jct."

We are gradually digitizing all of the Harold M. Rathbun negatives and many of them are now available on our Flickr pages.

In the early twentieth century the Rathbun Company had numerous industrial interests in the town of Deseronto which developed from the firm’s lumbering business in the late 1800s. Two of the Rathbun’s (perhaps) less well-known ventures were the experimental farm and gardens either side of Boundary Road at the eastern edge of the town. This newspaper advertisement, taken from the edition of The Tribune published on this day in 1903, shows some of the range of plants available for purchase from the Company’s gardener (the aptly named Mr Potter).

One of the images we added to the Archives’ Flickr account last week was this view of Deseronto’s waterfront, looking west from Mill Street:


The name of the vessel sitting on the marine railway is tantalisingly almost visible (click on the image for a larger version), but not quite. Are there any experts on Great Lakes vessels out there who can help us to identify this ship? The photograph is not dated, but is likely to have been taken in the first decade of the twentieth century. It is part of the Floyd Marlin collection, which was donated to Deseronto Archives by Sally and Wally Vick.

POSTSCRIPT: The vessel has been identified by Deseronto historian, Ken Brown, as the Armenia, one of the ships belonging to the Deseronto Navigation Company.

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