The founding of Gananoque
John Johnson and Joel Stone who got the first two land grants in the 1790’s that became Gananoque, wanted not just rights to the land here. They wanted access to the protected harbour where the Gananoque River joined the St Lawrence. Most importantly though they wanted the rights to the power the Gananoque River could generate. So important was the river that their grants were defined by the middle of it. From the beginning the settlement was focused on commerce and industry not farming so it’s not surprising that the town ended up having a railway during the heyday of rail.
John Johnson got the larger original land grant of 1,000 acres on the east side of the river. Once he built the first grist mill and installed a manager he did little that affected Gananoque’s history. The manager actually had more lasting effect, being recognized for contributing to Gananoque getting its first bridge and school.
Joel Stone, granted 700 acres on the west side of the river was truly a founding father. He was born into a farming family but seems to have planned from an early age to be a merchant. He had an interesting life before he chose to settle in Gananoque but that is a story for another time.
In the first couple of years here, Joel and a group of skilled ambitious tradesmen he selected built grist and lumber mills with dams and canals to serve them. Other buildings soon followed housing the trades of these skilled workers. A schooner the “Leeds Trader” built in Gananoque, was used to transport goods for sale to Montreal and Toronto and to return with supplies.
Joel was not a young man when he settled in Gananoque, and as soon as his son William was of an age to be taking on some of the business responsibilities he did. Unfortunately in 1809 William died of TB. Enter Charles MacDonald. He married Joel’s daughter Mary and became the son Joel needed. Charles and his brother John were leaders in the community and successful businessmen. This helped continue the strong manufacturing growth of Gananoque leading to it being a small town that got the nickname “Little Birmingham”.