The town of Arden in 1936. The church visible on the left side still stands but is abandoned, and the majority of these houses have been demolished. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.
The community was fIrst known as Clear Valley, but changed to Arden when the post office was established in 1865. The name may have been inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s recently-published poem Enoch Arden.
The original buildings, industry and population may have faded, but they are clues to a fascinating history of economic booms.
First came the lumber boom. The area was untouched virgin forest, and lumber companies steadily expanded northward from Lake Ontario to harvest the bonanza. Early settlers were Anglo-Saxons and French, mostly United Empire Loyalists.
In the early 1850s the Rathbun Lumber Company set up just north of Arden, creating many jobs and attracting more settlers, some of whom created grain-growing and dairy businesses. But the clear cutting swept quickly through, and soon lumbering was no longer economic
Then came the railway. In 1882 the Ontario and Quebec Railway built their line through Arden and called the station Ardendale. Now Arden was a thriving railway town, with the line eventually run by Canadian Pacific Railways.
And then came the most exciting boom there is: gold! In the 1930s, gold was struck, bringing prospectors from all over Canada, including at least 50 engineers from all the big Canadian mining concerns. Farmland was quickly bought up by large mining companies and individual prospectors alike. Most town residents had a claim staked out, hoping to sell out at fabulous prices. This gold rush was relatively short-lived, and today many of the buildings erected to house the miners and their families are gone or abandoned.
With lumbering, gold and the railway gone, Arden has settled into a quieter time as a cottage getaway featuring several pottery shops and galleries. Construction of Hwy 7 in 1932 slowly killed the railroad and the last train called in 1967, but the line is now a part of the storied Trans Canada Trail. Nestled on the western shore of Big Clear Lake, Arden is divided by a stream meandering its way to the Salmon River. The area retains the natural charm which has made it a destination for cottagers for over one-hundred years. And the residents are probably just as happy to have the trees still standing, no prospectors trespassing on their property, and no train whistles to break the silence.
A young prospector stakes his claim at Arden in 1936. Toronto Star Photograph Archive.