The History of Orono

In 2007 Orono celebrated its 175th anniversary (known as the Terquasquicentennial or dodransbicentennial- no kidding!).  Some communities choose to celebrate their anniversary on the date of incorporation others the date of the arrival of the first settler.  Orono has always chosen the latter and had a huge centennial celebration in 1932.  The main street was decked out with flags, bunting and evergreen arches.  Many special events were held including the colourful Calithumpian parade replete with wild Indians on horseback and Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and her four scantily clad Nubian servants.

It all began in 1832 when Asa and Harriet Baldwin settled on their property, Lot 29, Con. 5 Clarke Township (just north-west of Orono’s business district).  On arrival Harriet went down to the stream for a pail of water.  Here is the story:

“After a few hours of getting acquainted with her new home, Mrs. Baldwin decided to go for a pail of water.  She made her way to the foot of a hill through trees, so thick with leaves as to obscure the sun at midday.  Arriving at the stream she dipped up a pail of water and to her amazement discovered two speckled trout in the pail.  On her return to the cabin she said to her husband, ‘Father, we have come to a land of milk and honey.”

The origins of Orono as a village began the following year in 1833 when Eldad Johns built the first sawmill on the Orono Stream.  He came from a prominent New England family that came to Canada to escape the American Revolution.  He also established a woolen mill and promoted Orono settlement by donating land for the Orono Cemetery and the first school.  He was a charter member of the Orono Sons of Temperance Society.  He never married, and is often referred to as the Bachelor of Orono, but lived with his sister Lucretia Ducolon.  He died at the age of 90 in 1876.  No picture of him is known to exist but stories about him do.  One of these stories relates during an early winter of severe scarcity, wheat prices soared to $2.50 a bushel (a large sum in those days).  Eldad was one of the few men that had grain to spare, but he wouldn’t sell any of it to people with money.  “Go,” said Eldad to these, “and buy from those who have it to sell.  My wheat is all for those who have no money and for them it is without price.”

Other settlers soon followed and the village started to form in the 1840’s.  It’s name was given by a travelling Methodist preacher by the name of Beal.  The local men had gathered in a blacksmith shop to decide on a name for the village.  Jericho, Slab City and Bloomington were all considered.  Mr. Beal mentioned that the lay of the land reminded him of the town of Orono in Maine.  This Orono was named after Chief Joseph Orono, a Penobscot Native who died in 1801 at the reputed age of 113.  So, Orono was chosen and many people have remarked since that time that “Orono” is simply “Toronto” without the “T’s.”  Toronto is itself a native name and one wonders if there is a linguistic connection.

As Orono grew industry followed.  Saw mills, grist mills, cheese factory, furniture factory, evaporator works, foundries and dairies all existed in Orono’s past.  Much of it owned by and promoted by John Waddell.  The Waddell’s were Orono’s leading family for many years.  Their fine home is now the Orono Branch of the Clarington Public Library.  An unusual industry was that of the Harvest Mitt factory.  This was a glove that could be worn by farmers when harvesting their grain.  The grain was often thistle filled and hard on the hands.  The mitts looked not unlike the ones used by fishermen in Newfoundland.  It was like a regular mitt with a place for the thumb, but the main part where the rest of the fingers go was divided to give more dexterity.  This business started when Mrs. Lusk, a widow married John McComb, a man 30 years her junior.  They ran the company together until the advent of the automatic binder made their gloves redundant.

Of course, as the village developed schools and churches were built as well as the Town Hall which is one of Clarington’s historic gems today.  This building is Orono’s second town hall (the first being on Centreview Street) and was built in 1899.  In recent times it has become notable for the filming it has attracted.  Movies such as “The Dead Zone,” “First Do No Harm,” and “Dracula 2000,” as well as television favourite “Wind at My Back” have all used the Orono Hall.  Celebrities from famous Canadian poetess Pauline Johnson to Hollywood stars Shirley Douglas, John Candy and Meryl Streep have trod on its wooden floors.  It continues to be a popular venue for community events and private functions.

Orono today is a quaint village with lots to attract people.  The downtown has become an antique Mecca with over 5 antique shops and a large main street antique event every August.  The Village Bake Shop and Orono Café offer fantastic baked good and delicious meals to locals and visitors alike.  Other shops and services are close at hand and annual events such as the Chili Cook Off and Orono Fair attract large numbers of people.  Orono has retained its small town historic charm.  Whether it’s on your summer holidays, a fall road trip or a close by winter destination Orono has much to offer.

For more information on local history read “Out of the Mists: A History of Clarke Township” by Helen Schmid and Sid Rutherford.  For local history and genealogy requests contact Charles Taws, Archivist, at Clarington Museums and Archives.  He can be reached at 905-623-2734 or claringtonmuseums.archives@rogers.com

“Article courtesy of Clarington Museums and Archives”
“All photos courtesy of Clarington Museums and Archives”