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History of the County of Bruce, Ontario, Canada
Township of Amabel


"Amabel''—''Named after Lady Amabel, sister of Lord Bury and wife of Sir Edmund W. Head—Lord Bury seems to have imposed his family names on the peninsula"—"Nothing but Names."

Extract from the Report or County Valuators, 1879.

"Amabel.—There is a considerable amount of ordinary land on the south side of this township, the north side is mostly rock, interspersed with lakes and swamps; the east end is wet, sandy land; the west end sandy hills. It has a considerable amount of village property. Its average price is $11.58."

Extract from the Report of County Valuators, 1901.

"This is the most southern township of what is now known as the Bruce Indian Peninsula. While there are a number of very good farms in this township, the large majority are the reverse. There is a great deal of rock from the 10th concession north, and thousands of acres are almost valueless, indeed, as you will observe by our figures, that a large number of lots are set down as of no use whatever at present, and no prospective value. The northwestern part is sand and considerable of it hilly; it is almost unproductive and has a deserted appearance. A great many of the small habitations being unoccupied, people have existed on these lots so long as the timber lasted, after which they got up and left them. We see no bright future for this section.

"There are a few hundred acres about two miles south-west of Wiarton as good as any we have come across in the county. The soil of the southern half of the township is fairly good, but a great deal of it is hilly, and roads are hard to make on this account. Amabel is well watered, the Sauble River enters at the south-east and merges with the waters of Lake Huron at the north-west. There are a number of other small streams that give an abundant supply for stock, etc.

"The rate per acre for this township is $13.26; of this sum the village property amounts to $1.21 per acre."

Following the chapter on the Indian Peninsula it seems appropriate, in taking up the history of each municipality in the county separately, to commence with those situated in the Peninsula; which arrangement the author will proceed to carry out, commencing with the most southerly of them, the township of Amabel.

As stated in the preceding chapter, this township was surveyed in 1855, and the lands therein offered for sale, September 2nd, 1856, by auction at Owen Sound. Unfortunately for the development of the township, large tracts of land were purchased at this sale by speculators, with the result that it was a long time before the effects were overcome of the mistaken policy which had permitted lands to be sold without conditions of actual settlement being attached.

David Forsyth is credited with being the first settler in the town-ship, he having squatted on some land near Elsinore before the Land Sale. The next settler was James Allen, [James Allen came from the north of Ireland in 1832, when a boy six years of age, with his parents, who settled in Peterboro' County. In 1850 he moved to the county of Grey and was reeve of the township of Holland for a year or so. As stated above, he settled in Amabel in April, 1857. He took an active part in municipal affairs, filling the office of reeve of the united townships of Amabel and Albemarle for the years 1867, 1868, 1869, and after the separation of the townships was reeve of Amabel from 1870 to 1879, inclusive, and also for the years 1884, 1886, and 1887. The fact that for sixteen years he filled the highest position in the township tells its own tale as to the merits and popularity of Mr. Allen. He died April 4th, 1895, aged 69.] who settled on lots 9 and 10, concession A, in April, 1857. The village of Allenford which developed there preserves the name of its founder. The settlement of the township along the south and south-eastern parts was made as rapidly as could be expected when remembering that large blocks of land were held by speculators. The first to take up land in the vicinity of Colpoy's Bay was William Bull, [Mr. Bull was a native of Essex, England, where he was born September 17th, 1823. He came to this country in early life and was married at Ottawa, in 1844, to Ann Barward. Moving to the county of Perth, he first tried his hand at farming, giving it up to teach school at Mitchell, and later at Owen Sound. In the spring of 1857 he settled near Colpoy's Bay, on the twenty-fifth concession of Amabel, the pioneer settler of that part of the township. Mr. Bull was the first clerk and treasurer of Amabel, filling the first-named office for nineteen years, from 1861 to 1879, and the office of treasurer from 1861 to 1867. The Government engaged Mr. Bull to make the first revaluation of lands in the peninsula. In 1882 Mr. Bull received the appointment of Indian Agent at Cape Croker, which office he held until the time of his death, which occurred May 17th, 1884.] who settled in the spring of 1857 north of Wiarton, on the boundary line betwixt Amabel and Albemarle. In the fall of the same year he had as a neighbor Alexander Greig, who settled on lot 14, concession 25. As he was one of the first to settle in that part of the township, and as his experience was also that of many who settled in that vicinity, the following narrative, based on a sketch written by himself some years prior to his death, is here given: Alexander Greig was born in Scotland in 1832 and came out to Canada with his bride in 1857. He was present at the Land Sale held at Owen Sound in September, 1857, and purchased the lands he subsequently occupied, both in Amabel and Albemarle. Going back to Collingwood, where his household effects were, and securing necessary supplies, he and his wife sailed from there by schooner for Colpoy's Bay. Great was his surprise and disappointment to find, on his arrival, that Wiarton existed only in name. Finding a deserted surveyor's shanty, the women of his party were placed therein for shelter. The only settler in the locality was William Bull, but as he was absent when Mr. Greig and party arrived, the place seemed " a lone, vast wilderness." Following the surveyor's blaze they were enabled to locate their lots. That fall they assisted Mr. Bull in taking up his crop of potatoes, which service Mr. Bull reciprocated by assisting them to cut a road through the bush to their lots. Owing to his inexperience as a woodsman, it took four or five weeks to construct their first shanty. Some time in the month of October, Ludwick Spragge and his father came in a boat from Owen Sound to Mr. Bull's to fetch his bride to Owen Sound to be married. Mr. Greig took passage with them, with the purpose of securing a stock of supplies for the winter. The return party consisted of Messrs. Greig, Bull, Andrew Horn and William Patton. An overloaded boat and heavy weather resulted in their being shipwrecked on the Keppel side of Colpoy's Bay, and in losing nearly everything they had purchased. Not to be daunted, and also forced by the necessities of the case, Messrs. Bull and Greig built a boat and started in November on a second trip to Owen Sound. They again met with very severe weather, which severely tested their frail craft and their seamanship, and placed them in danger of a second shipwreck. However, they returned to the bay in safety, and by Christmas were comfortably settled for the winter. A big hemlock stood back of the shanty they had erected; a severe storm which visited them about this time threatened to fling to earth this monarch of the forest, and the household were filled with dread lest it should fall on and crush their dwelling. As soon as the weather calmed we started, said Mr. Greig, to "beaver" the hemlock. It was the first big tree any of us had attempted to cut down, and so we worked all around it just as a beaver would do, until it was about to fall. We were beginning to congratulate ourselves as to the result of our labors, feeling sure it would clear the shanty; but as fate would have it, as it fell it struck a stout sapling, which diverted its fall so that it struck the roof of our shanty, breaking it in but doing no damage to the walls. After this accident the house could never be made comfortable, and we had to build another one. That winter we made a contract with Hugh and William McKenzie to chop five acres. The result was a good object lesson in the work of a backwoodsman. They took us along and showed us how to fell a tree, how to trim off and pile the brush so as to make it fit for burning, besides other things every skilled. woodsman should know. The trees then felled were, says Mr. Greig, the first large trees I ever saw cut down with an axe. By the following midsummer eleven acres were ready for logging, and in the fall of 1858 Mr. Greig thrashed with a flail twenty-five bushels of wheat and ground the same in a coffee mill. The first assessor, T. Roberts, made his rounds in May, 1859. Mr. Greig's assessment was $200 real, and personal property nil. In 1861 he took thirty bushels of wheat to Owen Sound by boat, but to his great disappointment there was no market for it there. He could not sell it for either cash or trade, and had to leave it at a mill to be ground into flour. The County Council did something that year in opening up the county line, and shortly after a market for grain was established at Owen Sound. About this time a flour mill was erected by Ludwick Kribs at Colpoy's Bay. Unfortunately it lacked a smut machine; as a consequence the flour there ground was mixed with particles of smut, and the bread made from it looked as if it were varnished with black lead. No ill results, however, followed the eating of it. It was in the early sixties before Mr. Greig received cash for any produce grown on his farm, an experience common to all in the early settlement days. After the many hardships endured and overcome Mr. Greig passed away, some forty-five years after he had settled on his bush farm.

The following are the names of those who are credited with having entered the township in the first year of its settlement: James Allen, Thomas Knox and John Griffin, in the vicinity of Allenford; David Forsyth, near Elsinore; James Howe, William Burwash, William Carson, Isaiah Wilmont, John Murray, Andrew and Angus Mcintosh and James Rushton, near Chesley Lake; William Simpson and Henry Lewis, at Parkhead; and as neighbors of Alexander Greig, on the north boundary, William Bull, F. Thompson, Andrew Home, William Patton and James Henderson. The early settlers who came in shortly afterwards were: William White, John and Ed. Loucks, Andrew Kidd, R. Rutherford, Joseph M. Gunn, E. Webster, Thomas Ireland, John Aikens, Robert Fraser, Thomas Cascaden, Edward E. Bolton, Thomas Innis, James Montgomery, S. Nelson, S. Burrows, George Wain, [George Wain was drowned while crossing the Saugeen River on the ice. He was collector of taxes; his roll went with him into the river, and also the team and its load. Weeks after his body and the roll were found. This sad event occurred April, 1864.] Donald McLeod, James Mason, B. Evans, P. Arnott, William Evans, H. Kirkland, E. Blakely, D. Berry, W. Driffel, P. Anderson, Peter Brown, Robert Davis, William Sharp [First postmaster at Allenford.] and Thomas Askin. The settlement of Amabel Township has been by no means rapid, as the following census returns show: In 1861 the population was 182, in 1871 it was 1,805, in 1881 the number was 3,046; this rose in 1891 to 3,890, but in 1901 a decrease is shown, the population being only 3,587. The paucity of the population throughout the Indian Peninsula for some years after being open for settlement is evidenced by the fact that at the general election of 1867 the only polling booth north of Arran on the Peninsula was at Parkhead.

For a long time Amabel fared badly in the matter of roads, in fact, it was not until the scheme for a system of gravel roads for the whole county was carried out that the township possessed a good road. In 1865 the road variously known as the North Gravel Road, or the Owen Sound post road, was chopped and cleared. In the same year Denney's bridge was erected. These two improvements gave ready access to Southampton. In the following year this road was gravelled. It seems strange that this important highway should have been delayed so long in being opened. The "B" line, one concession to the north, being cleared earlier, the traffic passed over it westward, by way of the "Gimby Trail," to Southampton. A word about the "Gimby Trail," [To make this old Indian trail passable for sleighs, a contract was let in 1855 to a man of the adjoining township of Derby, named Gimby, whose name was bestowed upon the trail. It is said that a wheeled vehicle never passed over it, only sleighs in winter and ''jumpers'' in summer.] which was the sole route for east and west travel between Owen Sound and Southampton prior to 1852, and for the settlers along the front of Amabel for many a day. This trail, which at the best had only some underbrushing done to distinguish it from the rest of the forest, struck out from the Saugeen Indian village almost due east, and entered Amabel at the "B" line, then bending towards the south-east and cutting across farm lots, it reached a point a little west of where Elsinore now is, thence along the front of the "Half-mile Strip" to about lot 35, when the trail passed into Arran. Keeping well to the south of the bend of the Sauble and crossing the river at lots 29 and 28, at a point known as "Driftwood Crossing," the trail again reached the front of the lots on the "Half-mile Strip," and then followed the general course of the present gravel road until the county line was reached. Through the township of Derby the trail followed rather a zig-zag course until near Owen Sound.

The township of Amabel, for municipal purposes, was attached to the township of Arran in December, 1856. This union lasted for four years. In 1861 the townships of Amabel and Albemarle were separated from Arran and formed into a separate municipal corporation. [The by-law effecting this being passed by the County Council, September 26th, 1860.] This union was dissolved, after existing for nine years, and as a separate municipal corporation Amabel has existed since 1870. The separation of Amabel and Albemarle from Arran resulted in a long and expensive lawsuit over the proper amount of indebtedness to be assumed by the young municipality just entering into corporate existence. This matter is more fully referred to [Also see 15 U. C. Chancery Report, p. 701, and 17 U. C. Chancery Report, p. 163.] in the chapter on "Arran." The first Council of the united townships of Amabel and Albemarle was elected January, 1861, and consisted of Ludwick Kribs, James Allen, William Simpson, William Burwash and Edward E. Bolton. Mr. Kribs was chosen reeve, William Bull was appointed clerk and treasurer, B. H. Murray, assessor. The assessment roll for that year contained only 63 names, with an assessment of only $21,600. The development of Amabel is shown by contrasting these figures with the assessment of 1903, which is $676,805. In the same connection the following items from this last-mentioned roll are interesting: Acres of cleared land, 25,397; swamps and waste land, 28,918 acres; woodlands, 6,764 acres. The following are the names of those who have been reeves of Amabel from the first. As reeves of the united townships of Amabel and Albemarle: Ludwick Kribs for 1861, 1862, 1864, 1865 and 1866; James Howe, 1863; James Allen, 1867, 1868, 1869. As reeves of the township of Amabel: James Allen, 1870 to 1879, inclusive, and 1884, 1886 and 1887; David Porter, 1880, 1881, 1882, 1883, 1885; Joseph M. White, 1888, 1889, 1890, 1891; Thomas Askin, 1892, 1893, 1894, 1895; William Beatty, 1896; J. E. Campbell, 1897, 1898; Joseph B. Chambers, 1899, 1900; Cecil Swale, 1901, 1902; John Robinson, 1903, 1904, 1906, and John Armstrong in 1905. It would be like the play of "Hamlet," with Hamlet left out, if in writing the history of the municipal affairs of the township of Amabel the name of B. H. Murray, the present township clerk, was left out. As recorded above, he was the first assessor of the township, a position he held for twenty-one years. He was collector one year, and also received the appointment of township treasurer, but resigned on being offered the clerkship in 1885. This position he now holds. Mr. Murray was born in Sutherlandshire, Scotland, September 21st, 1840. He came with his parents to Canada in 1857, settling in Amabel that year. Mr. Murray's long association with the municipal affairs of the township has made him an invaluable officer. Allenford has been his place of residence for a number of years. There he conducts an agency and conveyancing business. Active and enthusiastic in all work he undertakes, and maintaining the goodwill of the community, it is the wish of all that he may be enabled to fulfil his many duties for years to come. The township of Amabel has not always been as fortunate in the trustworthiness and efficiency of its officers as in the case of the one just recorded. It is regrettable to have to record that the township has lost heavily by trusted officials. In 1890 the collector of taxes, who had filled this post for some years previous, was a defaulter to the extent of about $2,000. His estate yielded something, but as the costs of a lawsuit to collect the same were heavy, the net loss to the township was not far from the above-mentioned amount. In February, 1902, a fire of unaccountable origin consumed the house of the then township treasurer, and with it, so he claimed, about $2,500 of township funds. The township undertook to recover from the guarantee company, which had given a bond securing the municipality. A compromise was made between the corporation and the company by the latter paying $500 in full of all claims. The township lost in this instance, it is supposed, about the same as in the case of the collector of taxes.

While writing upon the municipal affairs of Amabel, the liberal action of the township in granting a bonus to the Stratford and Huron Railway Company must not be overlooked. A bonus of $40,000 was granted in November, 1878, but nine months later, when it was seen that more assistance was needed to complete the construction of the railway to Wiarton, an additional grant of $3,000 was made, the total being $43,000. Of this large sum Wiarton assumed $4,000 on its incorporation as a separate municipality. The Township Council failed unpardonably, in the first years after the debenture by-law came into operation, to provide a sinking fund to pay the debentures at maturity. It was 1885 before the nucleus of a sinking fund was made. The consequence of this neglect was that when the debentures fell due in 1898, there was only $21,200 on hand to meet them. Recourse was made to Parliament, which passed an Act [61 Vic. Chap. 37.] authorizing the issue of $21,800 worth of debentures to supply the deficiency in the sinking fund. The railway has proved of great benefit to the township, supplying it with five stations from which produce might be shipped. Large as was the bonus given, the township has been fully recouped therefor.

The first school in the peninsula was on concession B, Amabel, north of Elsinore, which was opened in 1863. In the succeeding year a second school was opened, this at Chesley Lake, and in the fall of 1865 a third, this latter at Allenford.

In the original survey of the township of Amabel two town plots were laid out, both near the northerly end of the township. Of these, Oliphant is near the westerly terminus of the "Diagonal" road (which road extends from near Owen Sound to Lake Huron in the vicinity of the Fishing Islands). The other town plot, Wiarton, is situated on the county line at the point where it touches Colpoy's Bay. This town has been successfully developed, and demands a chapter of this history to itself, so that here it will be no more than mentioned. "Oliphant" was named after Laurence Oliphant, who in 1854 was Superintendent-General of Indian Affairs. As related in Chapter L, he in that year negotiated with the Indians the surrender of the Saugeen Peninsula. This town plot has been a disappointment, never developing even into a village. Being close to the Fishing Islands, hopes were entertained as to its becoming a business centre; when these failed to materialize, after some thirty years of waiting, its numerous town lots were re-surveyed and made into park lots for farm purposes. The locality attracts summer visitors from Wiarton and other places, who have erected summer cottages in which they may enjoy the healthful breezes that blow over Lake Huron and the restful environment of the place. The post-office of Oliphant was established in 1874.

"Allenford" (named after James Allen, as previously stated), [This point wag known by the Indians as " Drift Wood Crossing."] was surveyed in 186?, and its post-office was established in 1868. [This, however, was not the first post-office in Amabel, which was the one established in 1865 at Elsinore, of which D. McLeod was the first postmaster.] It is situated about half-way between Southampton and Owen Sound on the North Gravel Road, and has a railway station. This little burg has not made much progress of late years, and it is difficult to assign a reason therefor. Its present population is about 250. The Methodist congregation at Allenford erected their first church building in 1873, the Presbyterian theirs in 1875.

Regarding the origin of the name "Hepworth," bestowed on the largest village in the township, Mr. John M. McNabb, of Southampton, in a letter to one of the local papers, states that: "The original owner of the land on which Hepworth stands belonged to a William Plews, who proposed laying out a town plot on his property. Being at a loss for a name, he asked the Rev. Mr. Green (a Methodist clergyman) to suggest one. Mr. Green at once said, ' Why not name your town "Epworth" after the birthplace of John Wesley?' Mr. Plews, being an Englishman, pronounced the name as if the initial letter was an 'H.' Unaware of the error, the name stuck, hence 'Hepworth.'" This thriving village contains a population of six or eight hundred, lying partly in the county of Grey and partly in the county of Bruce. It commenced to take form about the middle of the sixties. In 1866 [Two years previous to Wiarton obtaining postal service.] a post-office was established there, which received its supply of mail matter from Owen Sound. The nucleus around which the village started was the hotel, a large log building, erected by William Spencer. William Plews was also a hotel-keeper in the early days. His business was bought out by William Driffel, who surveyed and offered for sale a number of lots that form part of the town plot. Thomas Briggs was the first one to establish a store at Hepworth, Mr. Driffel following his example shortly afterwards. The establishment of the post-office contributed to the centring of business there and the place very soon began to rapidly develop, being the distributing point of a section of good farming country which surrounds it. The railway materially added to the prosperity of the village, enabling a ready shipment to be made from the several saw-mills established there. The town really received its chief impetus from the presumption that it was to be the centre of an oil district. In 1890 a man who had had considerable experience in the oil fields of Canada and Pennsylvania happened to visit Hepworth, and expressed his firm opinion, after examining the surface indications, that there was an underlying oil-bearing strata of rock. William Driffel and William Beacock undertook to sink a well, but lacked in capital and proper appliances. The next step taken was to form a company. The first attempt, however, was unsuccessful. In 1897 Mr. E. P. Roe, principal of the public school, renewed the agitation to organize a company to bore for oil. Mr. Roe, having at one time resided at Petrolea, was satisfied from past experience that there were indications that a supply of oil existed underneath where the town lay. His enthusiasm was contagious, and a company was established with a capital of $2,000. This company drilled a well to the depth of 1,326 feet, when some of the tools were lost in the well; the company's funds at the same time were exhausted, and the well was therefore abandoned, although the indications of oil near at hand were plentiful. The next person to take up the matter was Mr. John Caldwell; he and Mr. Roe organized a new company with a capital of $4,500. The result was that on August 22nd, 1900, the drill opened a vein which has yielded gas in large quantities. This natural gas has been used to a large extent, both for heating and lighting purposes, but it has not been piped to other points for consumption. The Standard Oil Company of America took a great interest in the prospects of oil in this field, and it is said has secured leases to the extent of about 20,000 acres of land adjacent to Hepworth. It also sunk wells in this vicinity at different points, but the resuit has been the same everywhere; there is gas to be found, but no oil. So far there has been little return for the large expenditure and outlay of labor and capital made in the search for oil. Other names that might be mentioned in connection with Hepworth besides those already mentioned are: J. E. Murphy, C. H. Witthun, Robert Halls, J. E. Campbell, Dr. Frank Campbell, James Vance and Edward Brigham. Hepworth was erected into a police village by county by-law, passed December 14th, 1899.

The following incident, which had some laughable features regarding it, involved a portion of the township of Amabel, and is but little known. A firm calling itself "The Lake Publishing Company," of Toronto, issued a circular worded as follows: "On or about the 1st July, 1892, the Lake Publishing Company will issue the initial number of The Lake, a magazine which will prove to be without a peer in Canada. Without loss of time we propose making the following unparalleled offer: To the first 3,000 subscribers who send us $3.00 we will mail one copy of the magazine for one year, and give them a warranty deed of a lot, 25 by 120 feet, in Huron Park. . . Huron Park adjoins the town-plot of Oli-phant, overlooking Lake Huron. This is one of the most delightful locations along the shores, of this charming lake, directly opposite the well-known Fishing Islands of Lake Huron, with bass and other fishing unexcelled on the great lakes. Remember, there are no blanks, the magazine alone is worth the money, but this is our method to save time in introducing it to the public. A first-class publication and a lot with a clear title for $3.00" How long the magazine was published the author is unable to say. The company had about twenty-nine acres of lot 48 in concession "D," divided into blocks of the size mentioned. Some of the owners of these seemed to have had exaggerated ideas of their value, as the author is aware of some of them being mortgaged to the extent of $3,500. To any one acquainted with the value of land in that vicinity the whole affair seems farcical.

The mills, run by power derived from the Sauble Palls, have been operated by different parties since the first settlement of the township, but never with very satisfactory results. The McLean Brothers, Hector, Lachlin and Hugh, possibly operated the mills for the longest period of any of the proprietors. One interesting fact in connection with their possession of this property was their purchase of the little steamer, Water Witch, mentioned in the chapter on "Paisley." This steamer, some 40 feet long and 8 feet wide, was transported by the McLean Brothers, on two sleighs, in January, 1883, from the Saugeen River to Boat Lake. They used it for a number of years in towing logs on Boat Lake, Pike River, and Lake Sky. This vessel, for many years the sole representative of steam navigation for commercial purposes on the inland waters of Bruce, now lies, or did until lately, a dismantled and rotting hulk, near the exit of Boat Lake.

Each new settlement has had its tragedy. Too often they are unknown and unrecorded. Mr. B. B. Miller, of Wiarton, has supplied the author with the particulars of one in which an Amabel settler figured. It was in the fall of 1868 that George Fathergill bought a farm in Amabel, near Boat Lake. He came from the vicinity of Whitby, and was, for a backwoods settler, very well off. After a short stay on his farm he went to Owen Sound, presumably to draw some money from the bank and purchase fall wheat for seed. Returning in a sail-boat to Wiarton, the crew and passengers of which consisted of Fathergill, George Brown the postmaster at Owen Sound, one John Robinson, of Owen Sound, lately arrived from New Orleans, and a man named Kennedy, the boat was seen to enter Colpoy's Bay in the evening. Next day the boat was found on White Cloud Island right side up, and in it Kennedy, lying dead. A dog was found on the island which had been in the boat; also a gun. None of the other three persons were ever heard of again. A suspicion of foul play to get Fathergill's money was felt, but nothing has ever developed to clear up the mystery.

In a local history the origin of the names borne by certain places is of interest; to those already given in this chapter the following are added: Lake "Gould," named after George Gould, who conducted the survey of this part of the township. He afterwards held the office of county clerk for many years. Lake "Chesley" and Lake "Spry" each bear the name of a member of the surveying party under Mr. Gould. "Elsinore" is a name given by Mr. Sweetman, the post-office inspector, suggested by the historic spot in Denmark of this name being visited by some members of the Royal Family at the time the post-office was opened.

Visitors to Main Station Island have wondered and questioned as to who it was that erected the massive stone buildings, the ruins of which are to he seen there. This question has been thoroughly discussed in Chapter III., on "The Pioneers." Other municipalities in the county may find many things to boast of, but Amabel, in the possession of these ruins, has the proof that the exploiting of her natural resources attracted the first of the pioneers of Bruce.


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