(Photo: One of the colonization roads photographed at the turn of the 20th century. Courtesy of the Archives of Ontario)
Garafraxa Road (now Highway 6) was constructed in Canada West between 1843 and 1848 with the aim of increasing both the human population and the agricultural capacity of central Ontario, which at that time was dominated by dense swampy and/or rocky woodlands and little else. Most of the residents of Canada West were clustered along waterways, most notably the north shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, with very few people willing to take their chances in the wilderness.
The government sought to change this by building a series of so-called "colonization roads" that ran from major populated areas into the bush, often ending at large bodies of water. The Garafraxa Road is a perfect example. It stretched from Guelph in the south -- which represented to northernmost major populated settlement in that region -- to Owen Sound on the southern shores of Georgian Bay in the north. Construction on the road began in 1843 and by 1848, the road had been completed.
But building a road in and of itself was not enough to guarantee settlement. So the government encouraged families to take up farming along the route by granting 50-acre lots to any male settlers of British descent who were over the age of 18 and willing to commit to clearing 12 acres of their lots in addition to building their houses and establishing farms. If they did that, not only would they be granted title to the land they had be given for free, but they would also be eligible to purchase an additional 50-acre lot next to their existing lot for an insignificant fee.
It was a great deal for the adventurous at heart, and many of the early settlers who began arriving in Tehkummah on Manitoulin Island in the early 1870s were among those who took advantage of the government's generosity and claimed Garafraxa Road land grants. Over the ensuing decades, the combination of a navigable road, newly established towns, and cleared farmland would attract a whole new generation of settlers to Ontario's woodlands, resulting in those original settlers profiting from land they had been granted and/or purchased for cheap.
Many cashed out and relocated to Manitoulin Island -- which had begun to open up to settlement in the late 1860s -- including several who would later play a role in the deaths of William and Charlie Bryan. Embittered neighbour Andrew Porter, for example, moved to the island from his hilly, stoney, yet fertile farmland in Glenelg, roughly 50 km south of Owen Sound. Magistrate Charles Boyd likewise farmed a 50-acre lot in Bentinck, roughly 40 km south of Owen Sound. And William Bryan himself was farming on granted land roughly 30 km north Guelph at the opposite end of Garafraxa Road from Porter and Boyd.
They all came together in a small farming community on Manitoulin Island in the mid-1870s and the results, for some, were disastrous.