Saturday, 25 February 2012

175th Anniversary of Anne Langton's Arrival on Sturgeon Lake!

The Sturgeon Point History Project is pleased to support and promote the activities of the historical orangizations around Sturgeon Lake.  This press release was issued by the Fenelon Falls Museum on 24 Feb 2012.

Anne Langton, self-portrait, c.1833
Archives of Ontario - Ref No. F1077-1-0-2

Anne Langton, Gentlewoman Artist and Pioneer Settler:  the Fenelon Years

On May 24, 1837, Anne Langton, her parents and aunt, sailed for New York City on the packet ship Independence. After they arrived in New York, the family took a leisurely trip towards their destination, the Kawartha Lakes, arriving in mid-August. They stopped en route to shop on Broadway, toured scenic towns along the Hudson River, and visited with other genteel families. They brought with them supplies and furnishings that would allow them to live a comfortable life, relative to most of their neighbours, at their new home, Blythe, built for them by Anne's brother John on the north arm of Sturgeon Lake, south of Fenelon Falls.
Anne Langton was a well-educated gentlewoman whose artistic and literary accomplishments have provided residents and cottagers in the Kawartha Lakes, researchers, art enthusiasts, and readers of early Canadian history with an unparallelled record of early settlement on Sturgeon Lake.  Anne's letters home to her older brother William described every facet of Anne's experience in the 'backwoods', and frequently included postcard-like sketches illustrating her surroundings.  Anne Langton's letters and journals were preserved by her family and made available for all to enjoy in A Gentlewoman In Upper Canada, recently republished by the University of Toronto Press.
A student of Swiss and Italian masters, Anne's sketches and paintings from this period vividly portray the landscapes that settlers created as they chopped farms from the forest. Her sketches reflect the rugged countryside, stumps, cabins and camps she knew. It is the privilege of the City of Kawartha Lakes to possess a significant collection of Langton's work that defines a pivotal period in the history and environment of the Kawarthas.  Predating photography by a generation, Langton’s art provides almost the entire visual record of this era, and its value to the historical researcher rivals its interest to art enthusiasts. Some of her better known pieces include panoramas of the Fenelon Falls countryside and early village scenes, views of the Langton estate at Blythe, Mississauga encampments, nearby farms, and the interior of Blythe.
In 2012, the 175th year since her emigration, Anne Langton's legacy will be celebrated in and around Fenelon Falls through a series of artistic, literary, social and recreational activities, to which the public is invited.  Langton's artwork will be featured in an exhibition curated by Barbara Williams at the Fenelon Falls Museum's newly-created Langton Gallery between May and October. Williams, Langton authority and editor of the revised edition of A Gentlewoman In Upper Canada, will share her knowledge about Anne Langton at different venues throughout the year.  Aspiring artists in the community are also invited to learn to paint in Langton's style at a free workshop with Len Harfield on Friday, April 27th. 
Despite the difficulties of their new lives, the genteel settlers of the upper Kawartha Lakes formed a close group of friends that gathered frequently to play games like cards, chess, and backgammon; and discuss politics, business and the old world.  Anne enjoyed leisurely activities in the backwoods. In addition to the time she spent painting and sketching, she frequently went exploring, and was taken by boat on exploratory trips to destinations such as Balsam Lake.
Numerous troubles made living on Sturgeon Lake far from the comfortable life that the Langtons had once enjoyed in England. One of the privations that most bothered Anne was the cold. She complained repeatedly about the inhospitable conditions in Blythe. Built with unseasoned (green) timber, the house was draughty once the timber shrank. Even though the Langtons burnt as much firewood as two large trees per day, it was common in the winter for their home to be below the freezing point. Much of Anne’s time was spent putting wood on the fire, struggling to keep the house decently warm for the 'old folks'.
In Anne's letters to her brother William, she often described recreational activities, but Anne found that she was working very hard in the backwoods.  Although servants assisted at Blythe, the Langtons endured continual turnover of staff and could not secure enough help to free them from domestic labour. Anne baked, butchered, preserved food, sewed, glazed windows, made candles, cleaned and even drove a sleigh. While these activities were in stark contrast to her previous lifestyle in Europe, she did not seem to have minded this transformation. She mused to her brother about one of her servants seeing her while she worked, but assured him that she would not lose her feminine grace.
Anne Langton's experiences in the Kawarthas will be brought to life by Barbara Dunn-Prosser this summer in her new one-woman show Wood Notes Wild:  a dramatic and musical presentation based on the journals of Anne Langton's "A Gentlewoman in Upper Canada", to be launched at St. James Anglican Church on July 7th.  A special dinner at the Fenelon Falls Legion on August 18th will afford the opportunity to enjoy cuisine typical of the Langton era, and St. James Anglican Church in Fenelon Falls, established through the efforts of the Langtons, invites the public to a re-created 1837 service on August 19th.  You may also wish to view the Langtons' Sturgeon Lake neighbourhood on a guided cruise of the historic waterways on Saturday, September 8th.   
Anne taught many of her neighbours’ children by running a school in Blythe house, meeting two or three times a week, usually for an hour. Many of her pupils came to school not knowing their letters. Anne found her students challenging, and attendance was spotty.  Nonetheless, she sought to ensure their education, and in July 1841, used a small inheritance to purchase land to erect a school. Anne also made her books available as a circulating library, although she had few patrons.
Anne was not able to remain in the area that she chronicled. In 1846, an ague epidemic struck the settlers on Sturgeon Lake. Anne's aunt and mother died. It ended all work at Blythe and convinced the Langtons to retreat to Peterborough until the atmosphere cleared. Anne survived her bout with the illness and sailed for England, where she remained until 1850. John then convinced Anne to help raise his family, which included seven children. Together they lived first in Peterborough, then Toronto, Quebec and Ottawa.
Join the Anne Langton 175 Committee in celebrating the rich legacy of this early gentlewoman, artist and pioneer settler this year.  Visit the Fenelon Falls Museum's British Empire afternoon teas, enjoy an old-fashioned Strawberry Social on July 1st, come to Family History Day – A Day in the Life of Anne Langton, or enrol students in pioneer summer school.  You can also obtain your own commemorative Anne Langton souvenir when you mail a letter at the Fenelon Falls Post Office:  Canada Post will cancel your mail, upon request only, with a decorative stamp canceller commemorating the 175-year legacy of Anne Langton in Fenelon Falls.  For more information about these and other events and activities, contact the Fenelon Museum at 705-887-1044 or go to

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