Author: Keith Millard
As a child, I loved to sit and talk to my grandfather about his life and experiences, and it was easy to do as my grandparents lived right next door on the same farm.
My grandfather was Mitchel Kleinsteuber, born 1899 in the German Settlement located in the backwoods of Hastings County, eastern Ontario, and about 50 miles north of Lake Ontario.
My grandfather's stories included his grandfather (and his 4 brothers, 2 sisters, and their widowed mother) all coming to Canada together in a wooden sailing ship, all the family working together to grow enough to eat, and trying to go to the wooden one room schoolhouse (except every spring when the river flooded, in the fall when harvesting and winter preparations had to take place, and when the snow was too deep in winter).
The German Settlement:
Around 10,000 years ago (give or take a thousand!) huge sheets of ice moved south toward the Great Lakes, scouring the land down to bedrock as it went, and pushing enormous quantities of soil ahead of it. In parts of eastern Ontario the ice almost reached Lake Ontario before gradually retreating and leaving an austere landscape of rocky ridges and outcroppings, rushing rivers of melt water, and the remnants of crushed vegetation and shattered trees.
By 1770 almost all of the 60,000 population of Canada lived east of Lake Ontario and was called Quebec, England had defeated the French, and a few hardy fur trappers and farmers had settled along the north shores of the lake where the land was abundantly fertile and the land teemed with fur bearing animals (beaver and foxes and wolves).
Between 1776 and 1784 almost 60,000 United Empire Loyalists immigrated to Quebec, doubling the population of this British Colony almost overnight. Vast areas of the fertile land adjacent to Lake Ontario was surveyed and parceled out in grants to UEL immigrants. Almost all of these land grants in eastern Ontario were within 10 miles of the north shores of Lake Ontario.
But then in the 1840s and the Irish Potato Famine, more than 100,000 immigrated to Canada, with 60,000 arriving in 1846 alone. Those that survived the journey in the so-called "coffin ships" were given access to land that was less fertile than that granted to the UEL. In eastern Ontario that was the swampy mosquito infested lands 10 to 25 miles north of Lake Ontario.
Enter Henry Kleinsteuber in 1852, eldest son of Theodor Kleinsteuber, a master shoemaker in Gotha, Germany. The next eldest was John Henry Lorenz Kleinsteuber, and he arrived in 1859. In 1861 the brothers were living together in the northern reaches of Hastings County and about 60 miles north of Lake Ontario. In 1866 their father Theodor died of Cholera, and soon two other brothers were dispatched to convey Theodor's inheritance to Henry, and the four brothers decided to purchase two 160 acre plots of "farmland" near Bridgewater, Ontario (a bustling sawmill and logging village) about 50 miles north of Lake Ontario. This property consisted of swamp, rocky ridges and outcroppings, incredibly thin topsoil, small lakes, and the Skootamatta River which ran through the property. This became the German Settlement, and was located about 4 km (3 miles) from the village of Bridgewater, later to be named Actinolite.
In June 1867 the rest of the family (except for one daughter who was engaged to be married) including their widowed mother, arrived from Germany, and their arrival coincided with Canada becoming a self governing country on July 1st of that year.
For the next 20+ years, the entire family existed as a commune, barely growing enough food to survive. Fortunately at least three of the brothers had apprenticed as shoemakers to their father and were able to make enough to survive. At peak the German Settlement housed 50 to 60 people, many of them children, and gradually family members moved away to better farmland or to work in towns and cities.
By 1925 about half of the 2nd generation and most of the 3rd had moved away from the German Settlement, and for the last 40 - 50 years it has returned to its natural habitat except for vacation properties. The actual settlement site is now a gay campground, those good old Lutherans would be spinning in their graves!
Hover over for captions, click to enlarge or to navigate: