Canada Hill is a wooded, serene part of town, but was once the site of a rowdy party and an incident that led to its unusual name. Haley Pal / For Lakes Region Weekly

Most of us are familiar with areas of town such as North Windham, Windham Center and South Windham, but there is a place at the end of Highland Cliff Road that many people may not know very much about.

The Canada Hill section of town is a bit more remote and has an interesting history. It came to be during prehistoric times when an upheaval in the Earth’s surface formed a 350-foot hill.

In the 18th century when our town was being settled, this was a pristine and secluded location of which the primary occupants were wild animals. Deer, lynx and bear roamed its granite slopes and made their homes in the wooded wilderness. Brooks and streams were bustling with activity as beavers busily built their dams. It was an idyllic setting where majestic peaks offered picturesque panoramic views of forests, winding streams and distant mountain ranges. But in around 1754, things were about to change.

That is when one of Windham’s earliest settlers, William Campbell, moved onto the easterly side of the hill with his wife Rachel. After Rachel’s death in childbirth, he married Elizabeth Brown, a local “healer” who used herbs and tinctures to cure illnesses and help mend broken bones. Due to the superstitions and fear of witches at the time, this kept the family pretty well secluded as few people came to call. They did have one neighbor by the name of Ichabod Hanson who built a log cabin on the hill. He was a farmer and a trapper, and it is said he paid off his farm by destroying a beaver dam one winter and killing the entire beaver community for their pelts. The area wildlife got him back, though, when several of his sheep were massacred by wolves.

Then, in 1763, 18-year-old settler William Mayberry, also known as “Cash Bill,” moved onto the base of the hill with his young wife Jane. He soon began building what would become a substantial farm. It was at the farm’s barn-raising party that Canada Hill got its name. It was a rowdy affair that summer day in 1770, and the rum was flowing freely throughout the day. One of the revelers, William Elders, being a wee bit intoxicated, decided to climb a tall tree on the property. As he sat in the lofty treetop, the view was a spectacular sight.

“I can see all over the world,” he declared, “all the way to Canada.” He then smashed his rum bottle against the tree – and Canada Hill was born.

William and Jane went on to raise 11 children on the hill, which was still very much a wilderness. Moose would sometimes graze with the family’s cattle, and wolves, lynx and bear were often seen on the farm, some of which were responsible for the slaughter of a number of the family’s cattle. One warm June day, a group of the Mayberry children ventured out to pick some wild strawberries. In the process, little Betsey Mayberry spotted a bear sleeping on the roots of a large pine tree. She and her brothers ran home to tell their father of the incident and William promptly set a trap for the creature.

The next day, 12-year-old John Mayberry went out to check the trap to see if it had sprung. In the distance, he saw the wounded bear limping into the woods. The boy ran home and got his father’s flintlock, found the bear, fired the gun and killed “the varmint.” Jane was torn between being appalled by John’s recklessness and being proud of her young son’s bravery. The family dragged the dead bear home with a hand sled and, according to John, “many a good meal was had of him.”

The flavor of Canada Hill has changed over the hundreds of years that have passed since those early New Marblehead days. Today, family homes and a new housing development dot the wooded landscape. It does still maintain a sense of serenity nonetheless; a quiet, peaceful spot for the local residents who call this iconic place their home.

Haley Pal is a Windham resident and an active member of the Windham Historical Society.

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