Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Green Grow the Rashes, O: Schooner Days DXLIX (549)
Publication
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 8 Aug 1942
Description
Full Text
Green Grow the Rashes, O
Schooner Days DXLIX (549)

by C. H. J. Snider

Above the treasure of Golden Point long teasing Port Union

_______

FOR many years there stood, on the edge of the bank where old Port Union's three shy streets hurry away from Lake Ontario, a fisherman's cottage with a long sloping roof. When the railway came in 1856 it cut this "lone shieling" off from its neighbors. It was eventually burned down. There are one or two small buildings on the narrowing strip between the lake and the rails yet, with even room for a garden, but the original cot or hut mentioned has vanished.

It was occupied by an old timer, said to have been "Dutch," and of the jolly name of Portwine. This may have meant that he was one of the Palatines who came to Canada in the Loyalist migration, or a descendant of the Dutch colonists of New York State, called "Yankee Dutch" commonly, or one of the "Pennsylvania Dutch" who came to Canada West in considerable numbers after the revolution; or simply a Hollander. Whatever his origin, he had been a fisherman, and his nets and lines provided a good living for his family in the hew land. His wife helped him, both in catching and marketing his fish among the farmers or in the growing city of Toronto. The pair were quiet, industrious, and well regarded and reared a fine family. Even in their seventies they were notable for their good hauls of herring and "frosties," a local name for what may have been the shad whose silver bodies dot the lake every year at this season. They had a large heavy six-oared boat which was much in demand for picnic parties to Rosebank at the mouth of the Rouge and other camp sites.

LORDS OF A TREASURY

Although always willing to help, and so handy with tools that several of the small houses in the vicinity. were built or repaired by the senior Portwine, the family kept to themselves, and were reputed by their neighbors to also keep to themselves the secret of a buried treasure, which they had discovered while trapping muskrats in the Highland Creek marsh.

Poor indeed in imagination is that lake port which has not fabulous riches buried or sunken in its vicinity. It may be the mythical golden altar furnishings of the Sulpicians or the Jesuits, the fancied paychest of the British army retreating from Toronto, the "treasury" the French never had but buried all the way from Niagara to the sea, or the lucre the Americans could not find (because there was little) in their invasions in the War of 1812. Later it became the silver dollars and golden eagles "rich Southerners" were supposed to have buried in British soil when the cause of the Confederacy was toppling.

Schooner Days knows of at least a dozen reputed treasure sites on the lake shore. Only two of these qualify for Thomas Richard Henry's reticent description as "producing mines," and Port Union has, or had, one of them.

A man still in his sixties tells of being present at an argument among this fisher family of his generation. The patriarch appeared to be greatly incensed because, after landing the night's catch of fish and turning it over to two young shavers to clean or market, he came forth at noon to find the fish spoiling in the sun and no sign of his children or grandchildren except that the long-handled family shovel was missing.

"They're in the marsh again," said he, and threatened dire consequences. Thereafter two of the boys appeared, strolling down the railway track from the Highland Creek fill, half a mile away. They carried an old bag and a muddy shovel, and were muddy to their eyebrows. He started to berate them, pointing to the spoiling fish. They shook the bag out on the railway track and he seemed mollified.

There fell from the bag a number of metal objects, black with mud and oxidization, but apparently, from the sound they made as they fell on the cinders, of silver.

SILVER HOARD?

The uninvited spectator was sure that one of the pieces was a bowl or butter dish and that the other was a large soup ladle. Other things he could not distinguish clearly, but they were smaller. He gathered that the children were in the habit of working a private mine or treasure cache in an eyot or spot of solid ground in the midst of the great bulrush field through which the Highland Creek winds to Lake Ontario. The creek is only a step across at its bar-bound mouth now, but it must have been of impressive dimensions long ago, judging by the height of the piers of the Canadian National Railway bridge, which succeeded the original Grand Trunk. The creek mouth was a bay before the railway was built, probably ten or twelve feet deep inside the shore line, with a bar outside, where the silt of the river water met the lake waves and settled to the bottom.

OLD HARBOUR FILLED UP

When the railway line was built, a large fill was projected along this bar, leaving an opening where the west bank of the creek rose steeply to form the ancient Centre Point, midway between Toronto and Whitby. This opening was bridged across. There may be ancient cribs yet buried under the fill, forming its foundation. A long line of cribbing was built from the end of the fill eastward almost to Port Union, to protect the shore from erosion by rain and the lake waves, for the line was built clear to the edge of the bank. Half the stone filling of these cribs disappeared by night back into the holds of the stonehookers who had earlier filled the cribs by day, and the old timbers have washed out in places, but the remains are easily traced. The fill choked the mouth of the creek and it became a swamp.

Before the railway came—or Port Union was built—the mouth of the Highland Creek was a harbor of sorts, affording shelter for large rowed boats and small schooners.

A point or headland in the many twists of the creek between the Kingston road and the lake, a mile away, is still known as Golden Point, from the tradition that either the British pay chest was buried there in Sheaffe's retreat from York to Kingston or—the favorite theory— that a pursued vessel came up the creek in war time and jettisoned her treasure there, intending to return for it when the coast was clear. She escaped out of the creek, but was either sunk or captured and the treasure and the secret of its hiding place were both lost.

Wreckage of vessels has been seen in the Highland Creek Valley among the bulrushes. This was forty years ago, said to be from the schooner Marysburg, wrecked west of Port Union twenty years before. Much of her hull at this time lay on the beach outside the fill. There was then extant, the indefinite story of a vessel, French, English or American, having been chased into the creek by hostile forces and having been scuttled or having buried treasure, to keep it from falling into enemy hands—the recognized pattern of so many lake treasure trails.

GREAT ANCHOR'S FIRST PORT?

The mouth of the Highland Creek is said to have been a landing place for military stores being brought up from the sea in the War of 1812. The great anchor at Holland Landing, which has been a local world-wonder for a hundred years, is one of the items of war-like equipment landed here, according to tradition. Pierre Le Peletier, anglicized to Peter Pilkey, the man who lighted the fuse which blew up Fort York in 1813, was in charge of the land transportation of this anchor. It proceeded slowly, by drags, sleighs and ox-teams, and the freight charges on it are said to have been £700. For how far is not specified. The anchor had to come from Woolwich arsenal and was abandoned in the bush near Holland Landing, being discovered there in 1837 by Abram Block, father of the late Abram Block, J.P., of Port Credit.

The probability of the enormous anchor having been landed at Highland Creek does not seem to be great, for it was much more easily handled by water than by land, and as it had come by water up Lake Ontario, it is altogether likely that it would continue on by water, in some vessel's hold, until it reached the old Commissary wharf at the site of the John street waterworks in Toronto. From there it could be loaded for the toilsome journey up the military road called Yonge street with less difficulty than in the Highland Creek, where it would have to be hauled up steep hills on the road Asa Danforth had cut through. To land at Highland Creek involved fourteen miles more of arduous shore travel; but there may have been special circumstances compelling it. The vessel may have been forced in there, or wrecked. The anchor was intended for the new naval arsenal at Penetanguishene.


Creator
Snider, C. H. J.
Item Type
Clippings
Date of Publication
8 Aug 1942
Language of Item
English
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.7677807376131 Longitude: -79.1451268041992
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.7744491967414 Longitude: -79.1344189814758
Donor
Richard Palmer
Copyright Statement
Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Contact
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Email:walter@maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca
Website:
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Green Grow the Rashes, O: Schooner Days DXLIX (549)