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Thorning Revisited

by Stephen Thorning - 1949-2015

Augustus Jones determined present-day county boundaries

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.

Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.

The County of Wellington, in co-operation with the affected municipalities, is in the process of establishing a consistent name for the road along the western boundaries of West Garafraxa and Eramosa Townships (this took place in 1995).

The proposed name, Jones Baseline, recognizes Augustus Jones, the surveyor who laid out this line in the fall of 1792. Few people are aware of the importance of Jones, or the significance of this line, which is the basis of all later surveys in this area.

Augustus Jones became a surveyor in 1787, and was appointed a Deputy Provincial Surveyor. On instructions from Lt. Governor John Graves Simcoe, he surveyed the line that marked the eastern boundary of lands purchased from the Mississauga Nation. This line was to run from Burlington Bay northwest to the Thames River. As it turned out, this was a geographic impossibility.

Fortunately, Jones’ original notes have survived, and they provide a day-by-day account of his work. Jones began the project at Niagara, where he put together a team of 13, including seven First Nations men.

The actual survey began at the Richard Beasley property on Burlington Bay on Sept. 16, 1792, and proceeded north 45 degrees West. A week later the party had the line surveyed as far as the Speed River at the boundary of what was later Eramosa township.

The party stayed here for a week, while a few men went back for more supplies. Not only did the party need to survey a straight line through solid bush and swamps, but they also had to carry all their supplies with them. It took a week for the men and additional supplies to return, and Jones resumed his work on Oct. 1.

The party completed its work to the Conestogo River near Arthur in seven days. This week is of great interest to residents of Centre Wellington, since the survey notes provide the earliest description of the area.

To Jones and his party, the interior of southern Ontario was largely unknown. For example, Jones misidentified the Eramosa River at what was later Eden Mills as “the N. branch of the Grand River now the Ouse.” The Grand appears on many early maps as the Ouse River. He notes that this river (now the Eramosa, or south branch of the Speed) was about 50 feet across, with a stony bottom.

Jones described the land north of the Speed as smoother than the first part of the survey, allowing better time to be made. Farther along, he proceeded alongside the Speed River for some distance, crossing it three times. According to Jones, this was “one of the SW branches of the River Ouse (Grand)...This creek spreads among the trees ... maple and beech, loose deep soil.”

Farther along, they encountered three small streams and a cedar swamp in what is now the First Concession of West Garafraxa.

On Oct. 5, 1792 the surveying crew reached the Grand River where, 41 years later, Fergus would be founded. Jones and his men were the first white men to see the river since Father Jean de Brebeuf passed through in November 1640.

Here they descended the hill near what is now Scotland Street. The river here was about 100 feet across.

Jones noted “the banks on both sides are about eight feet high of hard rock, a line of hemlock and cedar on the banks.” This area is now partially submerged under the pond behind Wilson’s Dam, and the water is now about 125 feet across. There are still many cedar trees in the area.

Proceeding on, the party encountered a couple of swamps and many hemlock trees. Four miles from the Grand, Jones crossed a creek 50 feet across, running to the south. This was the Irvine. As he neared the Conestogo River, Jones noted the forest contained fir and tamarack trees.

When he saw the Conestogo, Augustus Jones believed he had reached the Thames. His First Nation assistants argued with him, but their knowledge of the local geography was no better. They thought the river ran to Lake Huron. Obviously, they were confusing the Conestogo with the Maitland, a few miles to the north.

Jones concluded the survey of the baseline at the Conestogo. On reflection he realized that whatever this river was, it wasn’t the Thames. He wrote, “Finding that the last creeks crossed had a general course to the NW with the accounts given by the Indians who are acquainted with the country, I thought best to change my course to the SW to come upon the heads of the waters of the River Thames.”

The line that Augustus Jones surveyed, running from Burlington Bay to Arthur, determined the shape of later surveys on both sides of it. The Jones Baseline is the western boundary of Halton County, and in Wellington it is one of the boundaries of Puslinch, Guelph, Nichol, Peel, West Garafraxa and Eramosa Townships.

Following the survey of the Baseline, the next major surveying project was to define the boundaries of the land grant to the Six Nations Indians. Originally, this was to run to the headwaters of the Grand, but at the time neither the British authorities nor the Six Nations realized that the course of the river extended into the Mississauga Indian Territory.

As a consequence, the Six Nations grant extended only to the Baseline, now the Nichol-West Garafraxa boundary. Together, the Baseline and the Six Nations grant necessitated the irregular shapes of the townships surveyed later, and which had to fit around these two surveys.

Augustus Jones deserves a prominent place in the history of Ontario. During the 1790s he was one of about 20 Deputy Provincial Surveyors, but he surveyed about a quarter of the townships laid out during that decade.

He was born in New York State, and came to Canada with his Loyalist parents in the 1780s, settling in the Niagara peninsula. As a surveyor, Jones quickly gained the confidence of Governor Simcoe. This fact, combined with his remarkable stamina, accounts for the large amount of work he did for the province.

As well as forming connections with Simcoe and his circle, Jones also formed a close friendship with Joseph Brant, the Mohawk chief. This relationship was strengthened when Jones married a Mohawk woman. The couple had eight children, several of whom achieved prominence later in life.

Concurrently with his marriage, Jones had a relationship with a Mississauga Indian woman that produced two more children. This affair, which was widely known at the time, cost Jones his connections with the elite of the province. A later Lt. Governor, Francis Bond Head, denounced Jones publicly as an adulterer.

Augustus Jones conducted few surveys after 1798. The cause was a dispute over the rights of the Six Nations to sell their land. Simcoe and his successors claimed they could not sell land without permission of the government. Joseph Brant believed the Six Nations had the same rights to sell as other Loyalist land grantees.

Jones strongly supported Brant’s position. Although the government relented in 1798 and allowed the Six Nations to sell some of their land, Jones’ outspoken opinion on the matter cost him further government work.

Augustus Jones spent the rest of his life farming, near Stoney Creek and later near Paris, where he died in 1836. The work he did 200 years ago determined the eventual geographic and political boundaries of Centre Wellington and much of southern Ontario.

(Note: Wellington County History, the annual journal published by the Wellington County Historical Society, contains a more detailed account of Jones, written by Thorning, in Volume VIII, 1995. The full article is on the Wellington County Museum and Archives website (

*This column was originally published in the Fergus-Elora News Express on Feb. 1, 1995.


Vol 50 Issue 09


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