Residents and users of Devil Lake will be familiar with many of its landmarks and place names, but may not be familiar with the historical connection to those names. This article will describe a few such connections. Let’s start with the name of the Lake itself.
The name of our lake is certainly unusual. Canada has an estimated 31,752 lakes larger than three square km., and 9% of the country’s huge land mass is covered in lakes. Despite this, there are only five lakes in all of Canada named Devil Lake: one each in BC, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and ours. It is not known how long our lake has had its name. Samuel Benson surveyed Bedford Township in 1824, and the name and correct location are clearly indicated. There are no earlier maps of the area, and no earlier written documentation of the lake’s origin. Also, it is not known why the lake was so-named. There are several theories, none proven. There is a rocky formation on the mainland, close to the northern end of Miller Island, which was a popular swimming and diving spot for area residents in the past. It contains an underwater cavern named by locals “the Devil’s Oven”. On a cliff near the entrance to Lost Bay is another rock formation, and if the sun is at the correct angle, one can see what looks like the devil’s face in the rocks. Some say that you can see the outline of the devil in profile when you look at the shape of Devil Lake on a map, with the mouth opening around Frontenac Provincial Park and the tail ending at Bedford Mills. Regardless, it is clear that, despite the sinister-sounding name, residents are fiercely proud of their lake, one of the prettiest in eastern Ontario.
Buce Bay is located at the northwestern end of Devil Lake and, near its northern end, a creek flows from Christie Lake above into Devil Lake. The creek is a mere shadow of its former self. Alexander Buist was born in 1816 in Scotland and emigrated to Canada in 1832. In 1841, Benjamin Tett Sr. entered into a partnership with Buist to operate a sawmill at the outlet of the creek at Christie Lake. There, he built a dam, a sawmill which harnessed the water power of the rapidly flowing water into the creek, and a timber slide. Large quantities of timber were either milled at Buist’s mill or the logs were sent down the slide to be milled at Tett’s sawmill at Bedford Mills. The partnership was dissolved in 1843, but Buist was retained as sawyer until about 1850. The mill was eventually closed by Tett, and Buist found his way to Simcoe, Ontario, where he died in 1907. The 1878 Meacham map of Bedford Township shows the currently-named Buce Bay as Christie’s Bay. It is not known if the bay was ever named Buist Bay, but the 1927 topographic map of the area shows it as Buce Bay. While modern cartographers may have attempted to rename it based on history, they missed the mark slightly.
Just to the south of Devil Lake, within the boundary of Frontenac Provincial Park, is a small lake named Tetsmine Lake, adjacent to the Park’s Tetsmine Lake hiking loop. It is located close to the site of a large mica mine operated during the 1890s and early 1900s by Benjamin Tett’s sons, John Poole and Benjamin Tett Jr. Early maps of the area clearly show that the name was (correctly) Tett’s Mine Lake, but modern topographic maps show it as Tetsmine Lake. Over many years, several Tett descendants have attempted to have this mis-spelling corrected, to no avail. Another mark missed by cartographers.
Many residents of Devil Lake will be familiar with this landmark, near the southwestern most part of the lake across from the former Michael’s Cottages. It is so-named after the Antoines, a family of Algonquin origin who settled there after moving from the Sharbot Lake area. Francis Edward Antoine and his wife Letitia Whiteduck were recorded as trading at Benjamin Tett’s store at Bedford Mills as early as 1843. They lived in a cabin at Antoine Point the rest of their lives. Francis is said to have drowned in a canoeing accident in Devil Lake in about 1880, and he and his wife are said to be buried on the Point. The last descendant of Francis Edward Antoine to live at the Point relinquished his rights to the property in 1913 and moved to Sharbot Lake, to another Antoine Pont located there. His was probably the last Indigenous family to remain in the area of Devil Lake.
This bay was the launching point for many thousands of pine and hardwood logs cut over the course of almost 100 years by loggers working for Benjamin Tett, later the Chaffeys, and finally by Benjamin Tett’s sons before they were sent down Devil Lake to the sawmill at Bedford Mills. The logs were cut in the forests to the south of Devil Lake (much of it in what is now Frontenac Park) by loggers (some professionals, often from Lower Canada, and others local farmers) who lived in shanties during the winter during logging season. The logs were skidded, initially by oxen and later by horses, to “Tett’s Farm”, located just to the south of Hardwood Bay. They would be stored there over the winter, then assembled in the early spring into huge log booms for their final journey down the lake.
This bay, located immediately to the west of Parker Bay, is so-named because there is a narrow inlet into the bay, and the two heavily treed points of land on either side of the inlet effectively hide the bay entirely as one approaches it from the water. At one time not long ago, the bay was not so lost. In the 1960s, a fire destroyed most of the trees of the southern point of land at the inlet despite valiant efforts by local residents to bring the blaze under control. Over the ensuing years much of the tree cover has returned, but long-time residents know that it is not as lost today as it used to be.
John Parker was a farmer and woodsman who lived in a cabin above the bay. Benjamin Tett’s day book ledgers record Parker as working in one of his winter shanties cutting logs for his sawmill. Parker was born in about 1814 in Ireland, and although it is not known when he came to Canada, it is known he died in 1889 in Frontenac County.
Located just west of Vanderbilt Island is Steamboat Island. One of the industries at Bedford Mills was a thriving shipbuilding business, commenced by the Chaffeys in 1854 and continued by the Tett brothers in the late 1800s. One ship built there was the Mary Bedford, a steam barge built in 1883 by the Tetts for use on Devil Lake, principally to transport cordwood. The ship was taken out of service in 1888. Tett family lore suggests that Steamboat Island was so-named because the Mary Bedford tied up there at night during the logging season.
The Mill Pond
The northernmost bay of Devil Lake is The Mill Pond. It was originally named Lock Creek, as it truly was a creek. Benjamin Tett established a dam and sawmill in about 1830 at Bedford Mills at the outlet of the creek, where there is a drop of some 30 feet into Loon Lake below. Over the next 18 years Tett improved the sawmill, adding additional, newer, and larger saws, all still driven by water flowing from Lock Creek. With each improvement came a requirement for a greater head of pressure to drive the saws and, as a consequence, the dam was made progressively larger and deeper each time. As a result, Lock Creek became increasingly flooded, resulting in the large bay we know today with depths up to 50 feet. At the southernmost part of The Mill Pond, across from the dam, is a small bay known by locals as Barry’s Bay. It is named after James Barry, who lived in a cabin on the bay and walked around the pond to Bedford Mills where he worked as the blacksmith at Bedford Mills in the 1850s. No further information is known to the author about Barry.
While it is not comprehensive, I hope that this article gives the reader a glimpse of the history behind many familiar Devil Lake names and landmarks. Some familiar names are not included, such as Miller Island, Turnip Island, and Papoose Island, as I am not certain of the history behind those names. Another chapter to this story remains to be told.