Balsam Lake (Ontario)

These stone walls, which stretch for 3 kilometres, were commissioned by George Laidlaw (1828–1889) on his Fort Ranch property. Laidlaw was born in Scotland and emigrated from there to Toronto in 1855. He prospered as a pioneer grain merchant and wharf owner in the Gooderham & Worts Distillery on the east side of downtown Toronto. Laidlaw was a strong and convincing advocate of narrow gauge railways. Between 1869 and 1883 he negotiated the completion of the Toronto Grey & Bruce Railway, the Toronto & Nipissing Railway, and the Credit Valley Railway.

Around 1871, Laidlaw purchased property from the widow of Admiral Henry Vansittart in Bexley Township on the western shore of Balsam Lake. Here he raised sheep and cattle, which he imported from Scotland and the Jersey and Guernsey Islands.

Also known as the Laird of Bexley, in 1880 Laidlaw commissioned a Scottish stone mason, Mr. Scott, to build dry stone walls to keep the sheep and cattle off the roads. For strength and durability, these structures rely on the skilful placing of stones so that each one is locked securely. This is a specialized trade, and the walls require no mortar. A well-built wall can last more than 200 years with regular maintenance. Unlike wooden fences, dry stone walls also offer shelter for animals and farm workers in bad weather. Some walls were built on the fields as sorting pens and included sheep runs inside the walls allowing the animals to safely cross the main road to fields on the other side. Working with horses pulling stone boats and using local labourers, Scott set a target of one rod (five and one half yards) each working day. With a great deal of skill and dedication, he methodically built more than 15,000 feet of walls. These historic walls still stand today and are believed to be the longest dry stone walls in Canada.