Margaret Simpson, Simpson’s Inn

Courtesy of the Community Archives of Belleville and Hastings County

Built Circa 1820

By all accounts Margaret Simpson was a remarkable woman. She emigrated from Scotland with her first husband, John Russell and four children in 1791. John died soon after their arrival in Canada and she married James Simpson.

In 1797, the Simpsons leased land from the Anishinaabe people and built a small log home and tavern along the east side of the Moira River.

In the tavern’s early days, patrons drank homemade beer from a wooden keg that sat in the middle of the room on an earthen floor. As business improved, the family built a new frame tavern, complete with stables and outbuildings.

Sadly, James Simpson died in 1802, leaving Margaret and her six children to fend for themselves. In order to continue the business, Margaret needed a tavern licence, and she became the first woman in the district to obtain one. In 1820, she and her son built the inn shown in the photo.

In the early days of Upper Canada, inns and taverns were not only way stations for anxious settlers arriving in a vast wilderness and watering holes for thirsty customers from all social ranks, they were also the economic, military and political centre of fledgling communities. The people who gathered at the tables of Simpson’s Tavern and Inn are the characters who make up the history of Meyers’ Creek and Belleville.

The success of Margaret Simpson’s establishments reflects her uncanny business acumen in a man’s world, as well as her hospitality and kindness. One small example: Reporting on the death of a local shipwright, The Kingston Gazette wrote, “Much praise is due to Mrs. Margaret Simpson of Belleville…for the kindness and attention manifested in this poor man in her house [inn], whilst sick, and the decent manner in which the funeral was conducted, at her expense.”

Margaret Simpson was indeed a touchstone in the wilderness.

[Spring 2022 departments]