Everybody howl for Dogs Nest: Historical hamlet in Norfolk County wants back on the map

·4 min read

On paper, David Oliver lives in Woodhouse Township, just east of Port Dover.

But at heart, he’s a Dogs Nest man.

“This was one of the first really significant communities in Norfolk County,” said Oliver, president of the Dogs Nest 1851 committee, a group of locals working to ensure the memory of their historical hamlet is not lost to time or swallowed up by development.

Founded in 1851, there are almost as many stories of how Dogs Nest got its unusual name as there are people still living within the village’s historical boundary.

Most variations end with someone — a teamster hauling freight, a drunken stranger — passing out at a tavern and awaking to find he had bedded down near a dog and her brood of puppies. Later asked where he spent the night, the bewildered traveller replied, “In the dog’s nest.”

Less apocryphally, the Dog’s Nest tavern featured a painting of a dog and her pups.

Or the name could have been inspired by hunting dogs, as Dogs Nest was the go-to place for visiting hunters to down a tankard or two before venturing into the forest in search of wild deer.

“That was also part of the draw, besides being a spot to rest the horses on the trip from Dover to Hamilton,” said Mary Field, a Dogs Nest committee member whose great-grandparents were among the pioneers who settled the area in the early 19th century.

Early entrepreneurial ventures included a general store and Porter Sawmill, which centuries later is still a thriving family business.

The rise of the automobile left Dogs Nest in the dust, as travellers no longer needed a stop along the bumpy Plank Road to wet their whistle or stay the night. The hamlet’s two hotels are long gone, as is the post office, a church and a service station where Field bought ice cream as a child.

These days, besides a few houses and about 20 residents, Dogs Nest counts among its landmarks a towing company and several large barns. But that could soon change as development along Highway 6 pushes Port Dover’s urban boundary toward the hamlet.

“Now we don’t want to stand in the way of progress, but we don’t want the area that we consider Dogs Nest to be gobbled up and no one ever know the significance of it,” Oliver said.

“We want to make sure Dogs Nest isn’t forgotten.”

To keep their home on the map, the committee is raising money for a new road sign by selling clothes emblazoned with the Dogs Nest logo and hosting Dogs Nest Day on July 16 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Misner Towing on Highway 6.

The community event features live music from Doppelganger, Eight Miles to Dover and House Milner and a barbecue furnished by DeKoning Meats, a family butcher shop whose owners support the cause.

“Some old-timers come out and tell some wonderful stories. It’s just fantastic,” Field said.

Locals with ancestral roots in Dogs Nest are united in their desire to preserve the history of their crossroads community. Where they differ is how to spell its name.

“Here comes the problem,” Oliver said.

Some quibble over Dog’s or Dogs’, while Oliver prefers the name styled as one word — Dogsnest.

“There is no perfect spelling, I’ll say,” he smiled.

“I think we had settled on two (words),” Field said, before adding a new wrinkle.

“As long as it’s The Dogs Nest, I’m happy with it, however it’s spelled.”

Google Maps puts Dogs Nest — no apostrophe — where Highway 6, Concession 2 and Marburg Road meet. That’s where the new road sign will go, and hopefully where it will stay.

Dogs Nest signs were routinely stolen until the government — fed up with their signs ending up in souvenir hunters’ garages and basements — stopped replacing them in the mid-1980s.

“Let’s face it, it has one of the most unique names out there,” Oliver said.

“Apparently there’s still some (signs) sitting around in the odd man cave, I’ve been told,” Field added.

Oliver and his wife, Cheryl, renewed the push for a new sign when they moved to the hamlet in 2013.

Norfolk council has said the decorative metal sign — which will be roughly eight feet across by three feet high — can go on an unused road allowance at the end of Marburg Road, pending final approval from the provincial transport ministry.

The committee will pay for the installation and maintenance of the sign, which will be securely bolted in place to deter theft. Oliver expects the project to cost around $10,000.

Field sees the new sign as a tribute to the perseverance of the “truly rugged and independent” settlers who forged a village out of the forest.

“It was people doing the best they could with what they had, with none of the amenities we have today,” she said.

“It’s a survivors’ story, the Dogs Nest.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator

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