Where in Canada: Ghost Towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country

Former railway point turned ghost town, Swords, Ontario is the haunting focal point of this Where in Canada. Author Andrew Hind gives us a tour into the once-lively and now abandoned town, one of the many vanished villages featured in his new book Ghost Towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country (Dundurn Press). 


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The former hamlet of Swords is wrapped in a ghostly shroud. Time has passed this village by. Instead of the hum of sawmill blades echoing up from Maple Lake and the jingle of harnesses as a coach passes by, you hear only deathly silence. Swords is a ghost town.

There is no turning back. Time doesn’t work that way. But I decided to resurrect Swords, if only on the printed page, in my latest book.

The lakes of cottage country are lined with fabulous cottages that speak to joyful summers. Away from the summer homes, however, the backroads are littered with the detritus of ambitions unrealized: ghost towns, communities that lived for a time and then perished. I explore thirteen of these vanished villages within Ghost Towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country (Dundurn, 2023).

I try to imagine the community as it once was. In cottage country that generally means rocky pastures and fields of grain, the whine of a sawmill, wagons rattling along rutted roads, weathered faces smiling and waving in greeting. It pains me to think of the many who gambled their futures on the failed promise that the forest could be transformed into thriving farms.

In many ways, Ghost Towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country began at Swords four decades ago. During a cottage ramble, my siblings and I trekked along an abandoned railway bed (formerly the Grand Trunk Railway, now the Seguin Recreation Trail) and stumbled upon an abandoned general store. The paint was peeling, the front porch creaked ominously with age, faded signs hung from the walls. We learned the store was from a former community with the evocative name of Swords. This fuelled my young imagination. My interest in ghost towns was born.

Swords General Store

Town of Maple Lake (with Swords General Store in the background)

Swords, I would later learn, began in the 1890s under the name Maple Lake Station. The hamlet was huddled around the railway crossing, from which the sawmill on the shores of the nearby lake shipped lumber to market. Beside the tracks stood the general store—the Walmart of its day, shelves lined with anything a resident could reasonably want. The Maple Lake Hotel welcomed stage travelers, summer tourists, and lumbermen. A school was built.

Swords Maple Lake Hotel

A school in Swords

The village was growing, but it rested upon the flimsy foundation of logging. The soil here is nutrient poor, so farms were hardscrabble. Men—and indeed some women, as camp cooks— supplemented the meagre gains from their homesteads by working at the mill or in logging camps over the winter.

In 1925, the railway decided to rename the station to avoid confusion with another stop of the same name. Thereafter, both the railway facility and the village it served would be known as Swords, honoring the family that owned the store and hotel.

Though unrelated, the name change marked a downturn in the hamlet’s fortunes. The logging industry was on its last legs. People began to give up the ghost and move on in search of new opportunities. The village atrophied to only a few scattered farms. The old general store continued to serve the dwindling population, resisting the tides of time that was sweeping away the little village. It was a fight it could not possibly win, and by the early 1960s this final remnant of Sword’s heyday had closed as well.

Swords had become a ghost town.

And yet, some relics remain. The general store that first captured my attention is still there and is undergoing welcome but halting renovation. To the south is the school, built in 1904 and lovingly cared for as a community center. A short hike east along the railbed leads to a towering railway trestle spanning a ravine.

All reminders of a once thriving hamlet.

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Andrew Hind is the author of thirty books on local history, travel, and more. He writes regularly on Ontario’s cottage country and has columns in Muskoka Life and Parry Sound Life. He lives in Bradford, Ontario.

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Ghost Towns of Ontario’s Cottage Country is available for purchase here on All Lit Up or find it at your local indie bookstore using our Shop Local button.

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