By Mrs. James McDonald, Chatham
Daily Planet, March 5, 1904
I was born
in Scotland almost eighty-nine years ago, and it was
there that I met and was married to James McDonald. Sixty-two years ago we
decided to come to Canada and establish a home and this we did, bringing
the family which then consisted of two children, with us. We were
accompanied by my brothers. We settled downfirst in New York State, but
shortly afterwards we came to Canada accompanied by one brother, Duncan,
who died two years after arriving in Kent while my other brother remained
in New York State.
We arrived here in the morning and
the whole of that day was taken in building a hut to live in. By the time
the night came the house was completed. This remarkable house was situated
on the same site where our brick home now stands in Harwich, four miles
from Chatham but now not a trace of it remains. Our present house is the
third of which has stood on this site. It might be interesting for the
present generation to know that we built this house of basswood logs piled
together as there were no nails to bind them together. Instead of lumber
for flooring, a long basswood log was procured and split into lumber and
nailed down with wooden pins.
Our first crop consisted of a few
potatoes and a small amount of wheat. Both myself and my husband worked in
the bush. Of course, the work of clearing the farm was done very slowly as
the ground was very swampy. Our farm consisted of forty-five acres and
Duncan McDonald took up the adjoining forty-five acres. There were no
roads then and the only guide at night to a persons home was the shining
of a light from the persons hut, through the trees.
I notice a great change in the
county now. There was not quite as much style then as there is now. If a
person had a good big bowl of mush and milk and a biscuit they were
exceedingly well off. Food was very scarce, and added to that the work was
far harder than it is now.
We were two or three years working
here before we could get a team of oxen and ten years before we had a span
of horses, and when we wished to draw anything to town through the bush we
were forced to borrow a wagon from a man named Donald McQuarrie, who owned
the only wagon and most of our hauling was done with a home-made sleigh.
I tell you we had potatoes then, far
better than the ones grown today! The way they were planted was to dig a
big hole, then throw in the potatoes then cover them up with earth. Corn
and wheat were planted with a hoe and cut with a cycle or scythe, and
later on cradles came in. I remember the first reaper I ever saw, and it
was a nine days wonder. It took ten or twelve men to run it. The first
threshing machine I ever saw just separated the grain from the stalks and
it took three or four men a week to clean a good days threshing. Of
course there were no barns and we were here two years without stock. Then
we got one cow, and my husband chopped wood for another man and got
When the gravel road between Charing
Cross and Blenheim was put through my husband was for two months working
Wolves and Indians were everywhere,
although I did not see many wolves. They would not come near any place
where there were human beings. The Indians, however, were different. They
would camp any place in the woods, and often they would come to your door
and ask for food. They generally got it, as they were dangerous enemies,
and the people were very hospitable. The Indians were not dangerous except
when they had too much whiskey
and there was lots of that going around. They would get
intoxicated and whoop around through the woods all night. I never heard of
anyone being injured by them, but it was not very comforting to hear them
yelling at night.
I got lost in the bush twice. When a
person went for a walk it was necessary to leave a trail of branches
behind you so that you could trace your way back. My brother, when he was
building his house, walked for half a day around through the bush and
could not find his way out. People were very hospitable then and we
considered people in Dover our next door neighbours.
I remember distinctly the first
brick house that was built in Chatham. It was owned by a man named Eberts
and served as a residence and general store. It was situated on King
Street. The first grist mill was known as Holmes (McGregors) and was
situated on McGregors Creek and run by water power. It was located near
the Pere Marquette bridge. Some of the farmers near here used to skid on
the ice to Windsor with their grist and in the open season they went in
huge canoes. The first Hotel was Taylors Tavern. It was a large frame and
log structure and many a dance was held there.
You never saw white sugar then. You
made your own out of maple syrup. Tea was made out of coffee, oats and
burnt bread. Bears were scarce where the settlers were and I did not see
many. There were lots of turkey and deer but they soon disappeared when
the settlers began to come in.
It was a surprising thing to see a
man putting up a frame house. In the houses we lived in you could see the
stars blinking in through the roof. Still it was not cold in winter as the
bush tended to keep the atmosphere warm. Of course I spun all of the
clothing we wore. After the yarn was spun we took it to a weaver, brought
back the cloth, and made our clothing. There was not much money then and
all of our shopping was taken out in trade. Six shillings paid for a cord
of wood, and we made money by selling wood at $1.00 per cord.
Everything was done by bees then - and jolly good times
we had at those bees. They generally ended up with a dance and I dont
think people ever enjoyed themselves more than we did at those bees.
Yes, we had to work hard in those
days. Many a time I put my children to bed and then worked with Mr.
McDonald until midnight burning brush and clearing off a home, and then I
would come into our old log house just as happy as a queen.
My husband died about sixteen years
ago and I have a brother in Australia and a brother and sister in
Scotland. Ive enjoyed the best of health and am quite lively for my age
even though Ive not been out of the house since last October. I love to
sit here in my favourite chair by the window. Every Christmas we hold a
reunion and last Christmas there were twenty-six present! There is always
dancing and two years ago I surprised everyone when I danced the Highland
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