The importance of water to the success of pioneers and early settlers cannot be overstated. Water and access to water could be the difference between eking out a living and a prosperous life.
Water was and is crucial to everyday life, as a food source, raising livestock, crops, commerce, travel and more. Nelson Township is and was blessed with numerous creeks, streams, wetlands and of course the Twelve Mile Creek. Proximity to Lake Ontario elevated the desirability of the area for settlement. The creek running through Concession II, NS (New Survey) and Kilbride, Cumminsville and Willbrook no doubt was a contributing factor in the birth of the villages and it ensured their prosperity even though they were within a kilometer of each other.
Today, villagers simply refer to the creek as just ‘the creek’ or sometimes ‘Kilbride Creek’. However, early in its history, it was known by other names depending on the location.
In September of 1853, William Panton and Francis Baker had a vision of creating a village. They purchased land and hired Samuel Peters, Provincial Land Surveyor to lay out a plan for the Village of Kilbride. The creek flows through the centre of the village. It is interesting to note that a saw mill was located at Ann Street at Lots 11 and 12 on the east side of Rebecca Street (Cedar Springs Road). Former Kilbride residents often tell stories of a slaughter house that was located there. This would make sense as when the lumber industry declined, other uses for the prime creek locations would be developed.
Further down the creek at East Street, now known as #8 Side Road, there was a second saw mill. The most interesting fact is that on that 1853 plan of Kilbride, the creek is labeled as ‘The Brittas’. William Panton’s son, S. P. Panton wrote an article entitled Haltonian Days of Yore on May 12, 1938 while he was in San Francisco. In that article he spoke about his father and Francis Baker having 3 saw mills, “of the jig saw type” along British Creek. No doubt he was referring to Brittas Creek but his memory had transposed the name to the similar sounding ‘British’. He mentioned that his father had also built a planing mill in Kilbride which unfortunately and not surprisingly, burnt down.
Panton and Baker were Irish immigrants as were many of the others who came to the area. They hailed from County Wicklow and Dublin and their families often spent time together at Manor Kilbride where the Baker country home was located. Manor Kilbride was southwest of Dublin. The Panton’s estate was located nearby at Three Castles. On the north border of County Wicklow, about a 30 minute drive south of Dublin, is a small, rural village known as Brittas. Its location in the foothills of the Dublin Mountains would make it a beautiful and memorable spot. On the Irish Sea coast there is also Brittas Bay. Its beautiful beach makes it a popular vacation spot. It is very conceivable that Panton and Baker were responsible for naming the creek in honour of a lovely family memory or location of importance just as they named the village. It may alternatively have been named by other Irish immigrants who had settled further north of the Kilbride area and the use of this name was just continued by Panton and Baker.
The name Brittas Creek was also documented in A Sketch of the County of Halton, Canada West written by Robert Warnock, Common School Teacher in 1862. That book has a description of ‘streams of water rising in or running through the Township’.
The head waters for The Brittas are somewhere in the north of Nelson Township just south of the Nassagaweya Township border. The property where the creek appears to begin belonged to a George Barber and was in Concession III. The 1858 Tremaine’s Map of the County of Halton does confirm the name. Brittas Creek appears on that map in Concession I at Lots 11 and 12. As the creek flows south through Kilbride (Concession II) it continues on and through Cumminsville on to Willbrook.
The Village of Cumminsville was surveyed in 1857 by Winter & Livingston who were also Provincial Land Surveyors. This plan was done at the request of Titus Geer Cummins after whom the village is named. John Angle Cumins had purchased 50 acres of land in Lot 8 in 1834. His son, Titus, purchased an additional 50 acres adjacent to his father’s on Lot 9 in Cumminsville. This land was purchased from his father-in-law, George Will, in 1842.
This activity was quite a bit earlier than the official establishment of the village of Kilbride. In that survey of 1857 the creek is labeled as Limestone. The word Creek does not appear after. However, there was already a Limestone Creek that has its start in north Nelson Township and crossed what is now Derry Road just east of Guelph Line. It is labeled on the 1858 at Limestone Creek on the Tremaine map. On the north half of the creek, approximately at the location of what was Main Street in Cumminsville, there was a grist mill. Further downstream, there was a woolen mill. The short road leading to that mill was labeled as Factory Street.
In the 1869 Province of Ontario Gazetteer and Directory, the creek is referred to as Mill Creek. It is not known how that name appeared to be associated with the creek although it does make sense. There is also a listing for William Tait who is the owner of Victoria Mills. It is unknown what type of mill this might have been.
Just a few years earlier, in November of 1853, Wesley Case Will had developed plans for a village named Willbrook. He engaged a Mr. Prosser to survey the village. On this survey, the creek is named Coxe’s Creek before it flows into the Twelve Mile Creek. Dr. Leslie Meszaros, a local filmmaker documented the early history of the area through film. One film that has been screened a number of times in Kilbride, most recently by the Kilbride History Group, is entitled Coxe’s Creek. To date, it has not been discovered where or in whose honour the name Coxe came from. A search of the land records for the area during the mid 1800s has not turned up landowners by that name. There are several theories however. One is that it was named after an early tenant who may have rented or leased in Willbrook and had a relationship with Will. Another theory is that the name was one that reminded Wesley Will of a place or a family in his family’s home country. His family came from Berks County, PA although Wesley was born in Upper Canada. It does appear that Wesley was thoughtful in his naming of the creek. On the south side of Twelve Mile Creek in Willbrook, the creek takes on the name Kelly’s Creek. Charles Kelly Esq. purchased land in 1853 just to the immediate east and south of Willbrook. Here again, one can assume that there was a relationship or even friendship between Will and Kelly enough so that the creek was given the Kelly name.
What is certain is that the creek has provided much to the Villages with respect to water power for the myriad of mills, water to assist in firefighting that was a constant threat to homes and businesses and endless joy to the villagers.
Contributing Author: Helen Callaway