the Tay A Tale of the transplanted
Highlanders by Josephine Smith (1901)
Low in a sandy valley spread
An ancient borough rears its head,
Still as in Scottish story read
She boast a race To every nobler virtue bred
And polished grace.
PERTH, county seat of
Lanark County, Province of Ontario, is the outgrowth of the dovetailing of
two issues confronting the Secretary of War, and the Secretary for the
Colonies, after the hostilities in which England was engaged from 1812 to
The first, engaging the War
Department,—how and where to place the discharged officers and soldiers in
a self-sustaining position at the least possible outlay, while securing
the comfort of the disbanded troops. The second, a question with which the
Colonial Department had to deal,—how to settle as rapidly as might be the
Province of Upper Canada with a loyal English-speaking people.
For more than fifty years
England had held Canada, yet very little emigration had followed that of
the United Empire Loyalists in 1784. The now independent United States of
America were rapidly filling with a sturdy, independent, liberty-loving
people. A letter of that date says they were "holding out great
inducements to agriculturists from Europe." Therefore, it behooved the
Home Government to bestir itself if it expected to hold what it had cost
much blood and treasure to obtain.
The land was fertile and
well watered, with many repetitions of what Captain Justus Sherwood
describes, in a report of a trip from Glengarry to Kingston (or Cataraqui
it then was) in 1783, "The very best site for a mill I ever saw."
But the romance and love of
adventure which had, during the French regime, induced scions of noble
houses, with a desire to add to the glory of La Belle France, to brave the
dangers and endure the loneliness and privations incident to a removal
from a civilized land to a trackless wilderness, had died out. Nothing now
but promises from a responsible source of better homes than those left
behind would induce anyone, high or low, to become settlers in Canada,
about which very little was known in Great Britain.
So the two heads were "put
together" (and two heads are always better than one), and out of the inner
consciousness of the War and Colonial Bureaux, Perth was evolved.
Late in the month of May,
1815, three transports, the Atlas, Batiste Merechant, and Dorothy, sailed
from Greenock with three ships' loads of Scotchmen, their wives and
children. They reached Quebec the middle of September, and had the
discomforts of their long voyage added to by the ship going aground before
they reached Sorel. Tradition says the ships were chartered by Government
at so much per month until they again reached Greenock; those who made the
trip stoutly affirmed there was no other reason for the voyage consuming
the time it did, than a desire on the part of the owners to make as many
months as possible. Too late to proceed to their future homes, they were
quartered for the winter at Brockville and at Prescott in a stone building
still standing at Buckley's Wharf in Prescott, while a few single men went
The 18th of April, 1816,
they were established on their lands; all but the very small children
having walked from Brockville over a "blazed" road (that is, notches cut
in trees to mark the way).
They set to work
clearing—felling the trees and piling up logs—letting the sunlight in on
the ground. Then hoed in wheat and oats—a plough would not have had room
among the roots and stumps; and if it had, they had no horses to draw it;
planted potatoes and made a kitchen garden, living the while in brush
tents. Very few had time to get up their log shanties until fall.
In June the Glengarry Light
Infantry Regiment of Fencibles, the Canadian Fencibles and the De
Watteville Regiments arrived. A town plot was laid out, the Tay was
bridged, the woods rang with the sound of the axe and the hammer.
This was the birth of the
"Settlement on the Rideau."
The exact population in the
fall of 1816 is given in a letter in the Addenda, also other interesting
information regarding conditions at that date.
Perth is not all Scotch,
many valuable Irish settlers came in 1816. The ships Canning, Duke of
Buckingham, and Commerce brought hundreds from both Ireland and Scotland
in that year. They settled in Elmsley, Burgess, Drummond, Bathurst and
But the first settlers were
Scotch, many of them Highlanders; they gave the town its name and
character; and one finds many there, proud of their origin in the Emerald
Isle, speaking with a Scotch burr. The hail town minds ane o' the tartan.
With two such sponsors to
guard its minority, the infant village was bound to grow up a credit to
itself and them. Still, from a voluminous correspondence (part of which is
appended), there seemed to be occasions when both guardians and ward had
their little troubles. It was a Military Settlement under control of the
Commander of the Forces, whose headquarters were in Quebec. There was no
rapid transit in those early days ; in winter a horse and sleigh were the
quickest means of locomotion. There seems, from correspondence, to have
been strenuous efforts put forth for the comfort of the settlers. But with
conditions as above, what wonder is it that minor officers grew to feel
that the so-called "Indulgences" proceeded from them personally, and that
they acquitted themselves accordingly; forgetting that the forbears of
those forming the "Settlement on the Rideau" had been part of the body
politic in the old country, and were now simply receiving instalments of a
debt owing them.
There were some glaring
instances of favoritism, and lots were reserved for absentees, thus
retarding cultivation of soil and growth of neighborhood. Then, for
certain officials, there were long weary trips for which they received
nothing but travelling expenses, no pay whatever being allowed for time.
Stores were hauled from Fort Wellington, fifty-four miles away ; when
there came a time of scarcity those in charge had to suffer with the rest.
But the "hungry time" did
not last many years as will be seen from correspondence in 1827 in
Addenda. In five years every man had what he came for, a home of his own,
his deed in his pocket. The Memorial re a member of Parliament brought to
hand the wished for proofs of ownership.
In twenty-one years petty
mistakes of officials, who were only human and prone to err, were
forgotten, the infant had reached his majority, a wide-awake, earnest,
self-assertive man, with resources that made him feel very sure of the
That there is mineral
wealth there the most superficial observer will remark on trips through
the environs, that the manufactures and those of its younger sister,
Lanark—also a Military Settlement—are of a high grade of excellence, you
may determine by buying a garment made from cloth of their manufacture and
finding yourself tire of the pattern long before a thread gives way.
That it is a goodly place
in which to spend a week or a lifetime you will say after you have once
Therefore, looking at the
Perth of to-day, we cannot but commend the far-sightedness of the
Secretaries who stood sponsors for the Settlement, and for the paternal
care and attention they gave it, we give them their meed of praise. But
the spirit that made Great Britain mistress of the seas came with the
settlers. That is what made the Perth of to-day.
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