The Bay of Quinte

By Robert B. Townsend

The Bay of Quinte is an arm of Lake Ontario, "a hundred mile Z shaped scroll of olive green water running from Twelve O'clock Point, at the east end of the Murray Canal, near Trenton Ontario, to Forester's Island (Capt. John's Island), near Deseronto Ontario, then down Long Reach to Picton Bay, then up Adolphus Reach to Collins Bay near Kingston Ontario, or out the Upper Gap to Lake Ontario.  The bottom bar being the Adolphus reach, running down to Kingston and the open lake, the diagonal being the Long Reach from Picton to Deseronto, and the upper bar leading through the Telegraph Narrows on past Belleville and Trenton to the Murray Canal and so to Presqu’ile Bay and Lake Ontario. 


A hundred miles through the sheltered Bay of Quinte, where it is safe for those that follow the channels to navigate a boat of 10 foot draught.  It is not blessed with the seas and roll of the open Lake Ontario, but the short chop of some wide parts of the bay, notably Big Bay, can be quite uncomfortable at times.


On one side are the counties of Northumberland, Hastings, Lennox & Addington, and on the other side the County of Prince Edward, '.the Island County.' 1048 square kilometres of agricultural and scenic beauty which projects out into the vastness of Lake Ontario.  The bay's narrowest water is Long Reach between Deseronto and Picton where the east west axis of the bay veers sharply south west around Capt. John's Island (Foresters Island)." - Captain John was the Mohawk Chief 'Deserontyon' after whom the nearby town was named.


The Bay of Quinte is a summer paradise, with birds singing all day long in the woods on either bank, and good fishing in every nook and cove.  Sometimes the shores are steep-to, as at Glenora with its Stone Mill and Lake-on-the-Mountain.  From the deck you could, in schooner days of old, pick blueberries from the limestone crags.  Elsewhere are stretches of shoal water and marsh, haunts of ducks.  Rich farming country surrounds the Bay, with brisk towns, large and small like Bath, Picton, Deseronto, Nappanee, Trenton, Belleville and lesser known, but at one time very important "bay ports" such as Rednersville, Northport, Shannonville, Port Milford and Coles Landing. 


In winter the Bay of Quinte freezes over, its shores high and low, mantled in snow, its waters a firm pavement for over 100 miles. In the 'old days' more teaming was done on the Bay than on the Dundas highway or the Adolphustown Road which paralleled it.  The Bay was more level and less drifted. Now it is home to snowmobiles, fishing huts and cross country skiers.


The Bay of Quinte was the first highway in old Upper Canada, now the Province of Ontario, a thronged highway for both steam and sail.  In winter its frozen-solid surface gave a level track for the teams of the pioneers.  In summer its reaches, coves and windings offered sheltered passage for canoes, bateaux and rafts.  The bulk freighting was done in the early days by the sloops and schooners. Steamers with their massive steam engines and machinery to drive the side paddles, and their need for coal storage facilities, were more suited to carrying passengers.  Crossing of the bay was by ferry at a point where its shores were closest together.  Every reach had its wharves and warehouses, and the farmers teamed in their barley crops and shot them into the schooners' holds, sometimes by the shovelful, sometimes by wheelbarrow, sometime through square chutes built out from the warehouse, as at Rednersville - sometimes by troughs formed of the vessel's own sails, stripped for the purpose and stretched up the high bank.