Mount Nemo

The name Mount Nemo may be found on the map of Hamilton and district, way up in the hills. But the post office is a thing of the past, having given way to the more popular rural mail delivery and there is still nothing to mark the place except a district of fertile farms and about 120 residents all told.

Mount Nemo is really a cross roads point on the Guelph Line, five or six miles above the Dundas Highway and about 20 miles from Burlington. Most of the people there identify themselves with either Nelson, Waterdown or Lowville as to church affiliation, but the school house, formerly used as a Sunday school, erected in 1879, is known as the Mount Nemo School Area 1, Nelson Township, over which there has been such a bitter controversy between ratepayers and school board.

There is also a Mount Nemo Farm Forum, the main social activity of the community, where questions of importance to the farmers are discussed. Reginald Coulson is the president of the Forum and Mrs. Elmer Foster, the secretary.

A large Boy Scout camp called Camp Nemo, faces the mountain of the same name. It is operated by the Hamilton District Boy Scout Association, and is used winter and summer. Gordon Wilson of Boy Scout Headquarters, Hamilton said there was about 4000 nights of camping a year on the grounds, used by some 8000 Scouts, Cubs, leaders and the Mothers’ Auxiliaries. This camp grew from an apple. It was established entirely by the fund derived through the annual Boy Scout Apple Day. It is available to all Scouts in Ontario and elsewhere. Some having come from England, the southern States and Mexico. Primarily, a week-end camp, it is also the site for the holding of training courses for leaders and other activities.

The boys and the Scouters have been assisted in many ways by the farmers of the community, who help them dig out of snow drifts in the winter and provide facilities for emergency calls throughout the year. Many Hamilton boys visit the place and explore the surrounding countryside. From Mount Nemo one may look across the valley to Rattlesnake Point, where, according to legend, LaSalle, the great French explorer was bitten by a rattler.

One of the most enticing spots for adventure is the Bear’s Gap at the end of the escarpment, where there is a huge crevice in the limestone rock, clean from the top of the mountain to the bottom, with a few caves extending through under the overhanging precipices. The Bear’s Gap was so called due to an incident many years ago when a bear, silhouetted against the skyline was too quick for a shot from a gun in the hands of a farmer whose pigs had been the victim of this wild creature. The bear bounded down over the mountain through this split in the rock, but was shot down before it reached the bottom by the late John Kenny, grandfather of Sidney Kenney, Guelph Line, Burlington. It continued its descent by rolling over and over. Mr. Kenney had two choices in order to save the meat and hide of the animal. Either he had to scale the face of the mountain, or bring the carcass up through the rock ravine, both dangerous procedures for anyone. He chose the latter, lugging the 250 lb. bear up through the cap, a treacherous journey. Finally he reached the top, dragging the bear and from that day the opening has been called “The Bear’s Gap”. John Kenney was born in 1795, so it may readily be seen that the name has stuck for a long time.

The Bear’s Gap may be reached through the woods on the farm of Wilfred Coulson and the trip is worth every bit of the hard going. In the thickets of the trees, the gap looms dark and menacing, but as the eye travels to the cool depths, a patch of sunshine may be seen at the bottom where the final opening stretches out on to the plain below, throwing into relief a treacherous descent which may be followed by the more venturesome. The limestone rock falls away part way down, revealing a winding passage back underneath the mountain into a cave from which there is a further drop and a faint trickle of a spring may be detected. One wonders what upheaval of nature has caused this huge crack to follow such a route. But just beyond the gap through the trees there is a small clearing at the sharp edge of the cliff, and from this prominence may be seen one of the most glorious panoramic views on this or any other continent. Spreading out in far directions lies a valley of farm land, the golden fields of grain waving richly in the sun, the scene constantly changing as fluffy white clouds travelling across the sky cast temporary shadows over the fields and orchards, deepening the colour and causing the watcher to wait almost breathless for the gold to come back which it does presently. Like a magnificent piece of architecture, the design of the fields is shown as a man’s endeavour to gain the best from the soil, and against the summer’s heat, opens a vista never to be forgotten. It is with reluctance that one turns back to the dark of the woods through which the return must be made, unless equipped with wings to soar out over the landscape.

Way back when it was desired to name a post office for district, the residents and authorities were at a loss for a name. They wished to retain identity with the mountain, but no one could supply a name, till the Latin word “Nemo” meaning “no one” was hit upon, hence Mount Nemo.

John Kenny was believed to have been the first settler in the area. Others of early vintage were David Auckland, John Coulson, John Colling, John Millar, John Foster and his brothers. Elmer Foster a former deputy reeve of Nelson Township, recalled that his grandfather, John, had come to the district with several of his brothers. His great grandfather was buried at sea on his way to Canada, and never saw the land which was to be later developed by his sons.

John Colling used to drive the stage coach from Milton and carried the mail to Mount Nemo Post Office, of which the late Ed Thomas was postmaster, with Mrs. John Smith also at one time carrying out these duties. There was a small store connected with the post office.

In the good old days there was a union Sunday school carried on at the schoolhouse where Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Baptist, possibly some Roman Catholics and those of other denominations would meet. The late John Sheppard was superintendent of the Sunday school for years. He was the father of Harold Sheppard, Burlington, Vern Sheppard, Nelson, Mrs. Percy Lee, Nelson, Miss Ethel Sheppard, Nelson and Mrs. George Stock of Waterdown. The late John Sheppard who was an uncle of John Sheppard, the present oldest resident was also truant officer for the day school. The late G. H. Harbottle was a teacher in the Sunday school and his wife, still a musician, played the organ. Speaking of those times, Mrs. Harbottle said, “to be a teacher leaves many days in happy retrospect”. She paid high tribute to her husband’s ability as a Sunday school teacher. Then, everybody went to Sunday school and it formed the main social life. “Now, the young people don’t care about that sort of thing”, she said. Other well known workers were Alfared Harris, father of J. J. Harris, Thomas Bellm, who still takes the occasional pulpit, and others.

Mrs. Bert Smith, formerly Margaret (Maggie) Millar, is one of the best known residents of the Mount Nemo district, and an authority on some of the early history of the place. She told about the time her father, John, operated a stone quarry from which the stone was drawn for all concessions and township roads, including the Dundas Highway, or as it was then known, The Street. It was a big business and all items were hauled out by teams. Mrs. Smith remembers when her father went across the ice on Hamilton bay to the market. Upon the return trip the horses jumped a crack in the ice to bring them all home safely. Her father was fatally injured at the quarry he loved so well. Raymond Millar, who owns the quarry property, was also badly injured in the unfortunate accident there. Frank Millar, who is on the Spectator staff is the nephew of Mrs. Smith. The house where she lives is 125 years old. It was once owned by the late John Reilly whose daughter became the wife of the late Dr. Anson Buck, famous Palermo physician. Charles Millar of Burlington is also a member of the late John Millar’s family.

Wilfred Coulson, whose farm is just around the bend, next to the home of Dr. C. K. Stuart, a Hamilton physician, is one of the most colourful residents of the district today. Born on the place 75 years ago, he has resided on the locality ever since, having raised a large family. Active for his years, he can point out the places where huge trees have been felled, the pump in his back yard and pour you out as cold a dipper of water as you would wish, and particularly welcome on a warm July day. May apples, just ripening in July, he said, are good to eat and an excellent means of quenching the thirst. His son, Stanley and grandson, Reginald, help with the haying and Mr. Coulson views with satisfaction the wide fields of the homestead, the first house of which was a log cabin.

The late Samuel Thomas, who became a well known collector of antiques, some of which he gave to the Brant Museum at Burlington, was a grandfather of Mrs. Elmer Foster.

Mike Romanicki operates a small garage and refreshment booth at the corner of Mount Nemo and lives in the house where the post office used to be. At one time a toll gate stood at the cross roads, but little of that remains in any one’s recollection.

Of recent date, some interested people were casting their eyes on Mount Nemo as a place for an airdrome and landing field, but so far negotiations to this end have not been carried out.

Source: The Hamilton Spectator, August 1952
Taken from Nelson Women’s Institute Tweedsmuir History – Book 3, pg. 22-24