Inducted: November 14th, 2017


HarryForbes.jpgIn the 1880's, Harry Forbes and his supporters pushed successfully for a drainage system in Tilbury East Township, against much opposition from local council.  The resultant Forbes Drainage Scheme reclaimed 5000 acres of prime agricultural land and led to two other drainage schemes in Kent.

Harry Forbes was born on October 7th, 1836 in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.  He married Patricia Kiever and had four children, Isabella, Jennie, Fannie and Charles.  After the death of his wife, Patricia, he married Maria Stewart and had one child, Elizabeth.  He died on January 24th, 1908.


Harry was a farmer all his life starting at home with his father.  When he moved to Canada, he was a member of the military volunteer forces of Canada with a company in Tilbury East under the command of Captain Martin.

He purchased 100 acres of land in Tilbury East Township, about a mile from Fletcher, and in 1892, he sold that property and bought 700 acres in Jeannette's Creek.  He also co-owned and operated a stave mill in Fletcher for four years.

Athough Harry hoped to cultivate his farm with crops, pasture his cattle and harvest marsh hay, he soon discovered that the land was too wet to do any of these things.  So, he built a dyke of the surrounding peaty mould and installed a pumping unit to keep it dry.  Unfortunately, the materials he used for dyking were too light to prevent leakage.

He studied the whole area and found that the high water in spring was due to the rapid drainage of water from the plains land of Raleigh and Tilbury East.

He appealed to the township council to work on an extensive ditching and pumping project for the entire area of Jeannette's Creek in order to reclaim the land for farming.  However, there was no interest.

In July, 1884, he put forth a petition to the township council under the Municipal Drainage Act to have drainage of the land by a system of banking and pumping stations.  The matter was directed to the solicitor to determine if it was council's responsibility to protect the lands in question.  The petition was not submitted to council at that time.

With his Scottish tenacity, Harry continued to push for this project, and in March of 1885, he once again submitted a petition to council.  The County Engineer was directed to make a survey and report.  The report was adopted by a by-law and passed in August, 1885.  Some councillors fiercely opposed and appealed, and through a technicality, the by-law was overturned and the $4,000 cost was assessed against the township.  Forbes and his supporters appealed to the Courts to compel the township to provide drainage outlets for the submerged lands, and they won.  The upland owners had to construct outlets at a cost of $9,000.

In January, 1887, the petition was presented, the engineer's report made, and the by-law passed.

In July of 1887, work began on the 'Forbes Pumping Scheme'.  Dredging was done for drains and heavy embankments were made.  A steam-operated wooden dash wheel operated by a 100 horse power engine moved the water.  The wheel was 28 feet in diameter and 6 feet wide with a dip of 9 feet.  This wheel could throw out 3,000 barrels of water with its 3 revolutions per minute.  Work was completed in 1888.  A second pumping station equipped with two steam driven pumps was later added to the scheme at the other end of the internal drain to improve water movement.

The Forbes Drainage Scheme was gigantic and very innovative.  5,000 acres of prime farm land which was previously under two feet of water, was now reclaimed for use.

Jeannette's Creek became known as 'Kent's Little Holland'. The value of the land went from $2 an acre to $40-$50 per acre.

The engineer on the project claimed that the project cost just over $56,000, and reclaimed land was worth $125,000.  There were also extra costs for road and bridge construction.  In 1892, that reclaimed land produced over 15,000 bushels of wheat.  The success of this project led to two similar drainage schemes in Kent County.

The Forbes family belonged to the Presbyterian Church of Tilbury Village, and Harry started the first Sunday School for the children, and his wife was their first teacher.

Harry was a member of Fletcher's Workmen of Valetta and a trustee of the Order.  He was also a member of the Forester Lodge, and for 18 years, he was trustee of the Fletcher School and SS #7 Jeannette's Creek.