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


[Named after Scotland's patriot, Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie.]

Extract from the Report of County Valuators, 1879.

"This township has a large amount of heavy clay land, with portions low and wet, also a considerable amount of swamp. A portion of the township, is broken up by the Saugeen River. The largest amount of good land commences at the south-east corner and runs north-west until it strikes the township of Saugeen. It is very well watered and has a large amount of mill property. Its average price is $28.33."

Extract from the Report of County Valuators, 1901.

Elderslie is a fair average township with very little, if any, waste land. It is well watered; good buildings and orchards are the rule. There are three railway stations in the township, namely, Paisley, Chesley and Dobbinton. The large swamp in the centre of the township is being cleared up and it will not be long until it all becomes good grazing land. There are a few stiff clay sections that take down the average somewhat, and we might say is the only serious drawback to the township. The Saugeen River breaks a portion of the township towards the south-west, as also does the Teeswater River. The rate per acre for this township is $32.70; of this amount the village property is equal to 54 cents, per acre.

Elderslie received its first settlers on April 18th, 1851, when Simon Orchard and his family, after floating down the Saugeen River on a raft from Walkerton, landed where the village of Paisley now stands. Three weeks later Samuel T. Rowe, with his family, followed his old friend in the venturesome voyage down the Saugeen and settled alongside of him. As the circumstances connected with the settlement of these two pioneers of the township are given pretty freely in Chapters X. and XXIX., the fact of their settlement at this early date is here only mentioned. The lands in the south-western part of the township were the first to receive their quota of settlers. This was owing to the facility of access afforded by the Saugeen River, which permitted them to float down its waters on rafts, thereby conveying them, their families and effects from the vicinity of either Hanover or Walkerton.

The survey of this township was performed by G. McPhilips during the summer of 1851. Elderslie was classed among the school lands of the province, and was opened for sale on July 30th, 1852. [See Appendix J.] The first person who is entered in the books of the Crown Land Office as a purchaser of lands in Elderslie was John Fraser, for lot 34, concession A, the date being December 6th, 1852.

The first to follow Messrs. Orchard and Rowe in taking up lands in the township were David Lyons and Thomas Hembroff, who settled on the north branch of the Saugeen River at that point afterwards to be known as Lockerby. In a footnote [2] is given an account of their settlement, condensed from a narrative published in the Paisley Advocate in 1896. The house which Thomas Hembroff put up on lot 2, concession 7, is said to be still standing and to be in good condition, being the oldest house extant in the township of Elderslie. By the end of 1851 four log shanties had been built in Elderslie, but only the families of Orchard and Rowe spent the winter there. The next addition to the group of pioneer families settled in Elderslie was possibly made by the arrival of Henry Brown. The story of his settlement and also of the early days of Elderslie, appeared in the "Souvenir Number of the Chesley Enterprise," published at Christmas, 1902. By permission of the editor, an extract from Henry Brown's narrative is here given:

[Footnote 2: David Lyons and Thomas Hembroff learned of the excellent prospects for settlers in Elderslie through a brother of the last named, who had been engaged with the survey party under Mr. McPhilips. These two men lost no time after the survey was completed in selecting a point at which to settle. They were at that time residing at Chatsworth, in the neighboring county. One morning in October, 1851, saw them leaving home loaded with necessaries for a stay in the bush. Travelling south they at length reached the north branch of the Saugeen River; following it, partly on foot and partly by canoe, they arrived at the county line. Owing to the amount of driftwood met with in the river there they had to pursue the rest of their journey altogether on foot, following the course of the river. Being satisfied with the location where the sixth concession crosses the north branch of the Saugeen River, they, after doing enough work to secure for themselves a squatter's claim, returned home, to return in the following month with necessary supplies. The families and effects of these men were brought into the bush in May of the following year. The first stage was by team from Chatsworth to Hanover. There a raft, 12 x 30 feet, was constructed, and on it the families and their belongings were placed. It took two days to complete the voyage. A shanty, about sixteen feet square, was put up that summer, in which both families lived. About a year and a half later Mr. Lyons again placed his family on a raft and floated down to Southampton, where he engaged in saw-milling. Unfortunately he was burned out, when he then returned to Elderslie. The first shanty these men erected was utilized as a schoolhouse, the first in the township, the teacher being Mrs. Thomas Pearce, a sister of the present township clerk, J. C. McIntyre.]

"In the early fall of 1852 the writer (Henry Brown) and a young man named Robert Cochrane walked from Durham to visit their old neighbors, Rowe and Orchard, and see the much praised new country. With Simon Orchard as pioneer guide we located lots 1, 2 and 3 on the 2nd and 3rd concessions, went home and returned in November to take possession. Having got our outfit to Walkerton (at that time containing two stores and a post-office), we made the usual raft and started down stream. That was 50 years ago, but the memory of that voyage still lives fresh in my mind. The river was very low; neither of us had ever been on a raft in our lives before or knew how to handle one. We got stuck on bare and fast on stones, and there was nothing for it but to jump into the water and pry the raft clear. Night found us about the 4th concession of Brant, soaked in ice cold water to the armpits. Our matches had got wet in our pockets, but luckily our powder was dry, so with the gun and some batting from a corner of a quilt we soon started a fire and dried ourselves, made a bed of brush and each of us rolled in a blanket. We went to sleep and awakened in the morning with six inches of snow on top of us. Next day we had better luck, and struck Deer Rapids (so called by the surveyors from the number of deer seen standing in the water to protect themselves from the flies). By good chance we found the blaze and got to Rowe's at dark, two tired and hungry men. Next day, with the help of Rowe and Orchard, we raised our shanty, 12 by 14, floored it with split basswood, and roofed it with scoops. This, to the best of my knowledge, was the fifth shanty in Elderslie. Shortly after Cochrane went home and I stayed till midwinter and did my first chopping. Wolves were plentiful. One night when getting in my wood a pack came hunting up the river. They killed a deer a few yards from the shanty and kept howling around all night. In the morning I went and looked at the place. Some bloody snow, a few tufts of hair, and scraps of bone was all that was left of the deer. On the whole it was a pleasant two months; with a few good books the solitude had no terrors for me.

"In 1853 the Clements and others from Holland came and settled on the 10th and 11th concessions, and Mr. Green, Wm. McBride and the McCartneys from Esquesing settled on concessions 'A' and 'B,' south of Paisley. The same year the Gillies family had located a large block on the 6th and 7th concessions, soon followed by the Taylors, Blues and other old neighbors from Argyleshire. On the 8th and 9th concessions the McDougalds, McNeils, Galbraiths, Munns, Curries and a whole colony of natives of the island of Colonsay settled clear down to the Elora road. Thus we see that the Scottish element figured largely in the early settlement of Elderslie. I have before me the collector's roll for the year 1854 (issued from Arran, to which we were attached)., which unfortunately is the only one of the early records to be found. On it are 65 names and of these 26 have the prefix "Mac," 11 being McNeils, and many others spoke the Gaelic. The collector was an Arran man. There was no assessment, the names evidently being copied from the agent's book. No assessor could have found his way through Elderslie in the spring of that year. There was nothing but the surveyor's blaze to guide you, and if you lost that you were, too, as many a one found to his sorrow. The roll was made out in Halifax currency and the tax was 10 shillings and 6 pence (equal to $2.10) for every 200 acres, and $1.05 for every one hundred acres, every lot being the same value. This roll was returned to the treasurer of Arran on 23rd of June, 1856, with "not paid " marked against one-half of the names. "In 1853 Mr. Rowe built a commodious tavern of hewed logs on the site where the Central Hotel now stands, which gave ample accommodation to the rapidly increasing travel, and Mr. Valentine had got his sawmill running, which enabled the settlers to erect better buildings. In 1854 the great rush began. Early in the season the McBeaths arrived and located the lands on the east side of the river, which they still occupy. At the same time Mr. D. Porter arrived from Peterboro'. He took up eight lots, and on his return home started the great rush of Peterboro' men, the McDonalds, McGregors, Balfours, McLaggans, Lillicos, Fortunes and others, who settled on the 1st, 2d and 3rd concessions. Mr. Porter's old friend, Andrew Dobbin, followed and took up 1,000 acres around where Dobbinton now stands. The same year Thomas Orchard built the first store (now occupied by R. Scott, seedsman) and opened out a general stock of hardware, dry goods, groceries, etc. That fall the great land sale at Southampton took place, and in the rush every lot was taken up. So great was the number of those who passed through Paisley to attend the land sale that in two days Mrs. Rowe cooked and served the carcass of an ox, while Mr. Rowe attended to the liquid portion of the business. Two large sugar kettles, one with beef and the other with potatoes, were kept boiling all the time. It was a great strain on the resources of the Paisley of that day, but as Rowe had a good stock of cattle and a field of potatoes it was simply a question of killing and digging. By what device the liquid stock held out has always been a mooted question."

Prominent among those who settled in Elderslie in 1853, but omitted in the list given by Henry Brown in the foregoing extract, were Donald McIntyre, for four years reeve of the township, and Alexander Elves, a member at one time of the Township Council, now a resident of Paisley, and Hugh McDougald (lately removed to Owen Sound), who took up land in Elderslie in 1853. At that time he was but eighteen years of age. Sufficient work to establish his claim to the lot was all he did at first. His actual settlement dates from 1856. At the age of sixteen he worked for his uncle, Donald Currie, in Saugeen. He relates that while there he on one occasion went to Southampton for a supply of flour, which he purchased of James Calder. Shouldering his load, he followed the blazed path through what is now the village of Port Elgin. Halting at "Lochboie" McLean's tavern to rest he met Peter Smith, who noticed that the load was too much for the lad, so good-heartedly he shouldered it himself, in addition to his own similar load. Of the crop of wheat Mr. McDougald grew in 1858 he sold enough at 50 cents a bushel to pay that year's taxes, holding the rest until 1859 ("starvation year"), when he obtained $2 a bushel for it. Mr. McDougald for seven years held the position of deputy reeve of Elderslie. Another prominent man was John McDonald, who, as councillor and reeve, sat in the Township Council for nineteen years. It was in April, 1855 that he took up his lot, No. 34, concession 7. His son William, publisher of the Chesley Enterprise, has followed his father in obtaining municipal honors, and was warden of the county in 1905. This list of early settlers we close with an example of fortitude in enduring the hardships of clearing a farm in the backwoods. Neil Munn, in 1855, moved with his wife and family from Esquesing to Elderslie. Upon arriving at Paisley their trials began. There was no bridge over the Saugeen, and they had to cross the river at Rae's, to take the roundabout way to their land on the 6th concession. One of the horses of the team they had engaged to bring them and their effects up from Erin village broke its leg at the "Hog's Back," while near the end of their journey, yet their progress was very much delayed by the accident, and the final stage rendered very laborious. Mrs. Munn was obliged to carry her young son all the way in her arms. Prom the time of reaching their new home until 1860 Mr. and Mrs. Munn steadily and patiently applied themselves to the duties of clearing their farm and rearing the little family growing up around them, but in that year a heavy stroke of affliction fell upon the household when Mr. Munn was paralyzed by a tree falling upon his back while working in the bush. He survived the accident for fourteen years, but was a bedfast cripple until he died in 1874. Mrs. Munn bravely and successfully shouldered the responsibility of carrying on the farm and supporting the family after the accident, battling with Christian fortitude against great odds until relieved by the assistance of her growing sons.

At the time the pioneer settlers of Elderslie entered that township there was no road nearer it than the Durham road, running east and west through the southerly part of Brant. In the summer of 1851 (as noted in Chapter V.) the Crown Lands officers asked for tenders to cut a road, which they called the Durham and Southampton Road, through to the boundary of Elderslie. Very little more work to improve the roads was done until 1854, when the Bureau of Agriculture, which had assumed the duty of seeing after the construction of colonization roads, proposed a scheme, alluded to in Chapter V., which would give Elderslie the Elora Road and one along its southerly boundary. The Elora Road, as originally planned, entered the county at its south-east corner, and passed diagonally through Carrick to the corner where the four townships of Carrick, Culross, Brant and Greenock join, thence northerly along the boundary between the townships of Brant and Greenock, Elderslie and Saugeen. The surveyors who laid out Brant and Elderslie must have reported to the department the difficulties of constructing a road on the boundary of the townships near the point where the Teeswater and the Saugeen unite. These views being accepted by the department, J. H. Price, Commissioner of Crown Lands, wrote to George McPhilips while he was engaged in making the survey of Elderslie, under date of July 14th, 1851, as follows: "Previous to surveying the river, mark out a line for a road from the rear of Brant to the Saugeen River in Elderslie, in the general direction marked in red on the accompanying sketch, selecting the best site for bridges over the Mud River and River Saugeen, and making the necessary sinuosities to avoid hills and swamps. The line is not to be the boundary of the lots, but you will deduct the area of a road, one chain in width, from the contents of the lots it passes over." Almost simultaneously with this letter George Jackson, Crown Land Agent at Durham, advertised for tenders to cut a road through Brant a mile and a quarter east of the intended Elora Road, but in line with the road laid out by Mr. McPhilips as above. When the Bureau of Agriculture took up the construction of colonization roads, and possibly unaware of the surveyors report, it announced the Elora Road as per original plan. It is but a fair inference to suppose that when David Gibson surveyed it he saw the reasonableness of accepting the road already cut out, which has since been known as the Elora Road.

The early municipal life of Elderslie is a blank until the year 1854. Prior to that year it was nominally a part of the municipality of the united townships in the county of Bruce, as referred to at length in Chapter IV. In 1854 Elderslie was united to Arran for municipal purposes.[See Appendix P.] It was in this year the first assessment of the township was made, which, as equalized by the County Council, amounted to £7,037. On September 20th, 1855, the United Counties Council passed a by-law dissolving the union of Elderslie to Arran, to come into effect on January 1st, 1856. Thomas Orchard was the returning officer at the first municipal election. The polling booth was at Rowe's tavern, Paisley. The names of those elected as councillors were: George Williscroft, Charles Ginty, John Gillies, Robert Falconer and S. T. Rowe. These at their first meeting, as the law was then, elected S. T. Rowe as reeve. George C. Urquhart was appointed township clerk; Thomas Orchard, township treasurer; Donald McIntyre and John Henderson, auditors, and Hugh McDougald, and Samuel Scott, assessors. The total financial expenditure made by this Council for the year 1856 was only £107 l4s. l½d. In a footnote ]2] are to be found the names of the various reeves of Elderslie. An examination of Appendix M will enable the reader to see the relative standing and development of Elderslie with neighboring townships in their early days.

[Footnote 2: Names of the various reeves of Elderslie: S. T. Rowe, 1856; John Gillies, 1857 to 1873; Archibald Ewart, 1874, '75, '76; Henry Brown, 1877, '78, '85, '86, '87; George Thompson, 1879, '80, '81, '82, '83, '84; Donald McIntyre, 1888, '89, '90, '91; James Shouldice, 1892, '93, '94, '95, '96; John McDonald, 1897, '98; D. N. McIntyre, 1899, 1900; James Clements, 1901, '02; David McBeath, 1903, '04; George McKay, 1905, '06.]

The Municipal Council of Elderslie has during half a century guided the affairs of the township with a wise hand. Among other matters, the drainage of the swamp in the centre of the township was recognized to be a necessity, so as early as 1877 debentures were issued for about $2,000 to prosecute this work. This was supplemented in 1883-84 by two other issues of debentures, one for $4,474 and the other for $2,100. When the Stratford and Lake Huron Railway asked for a bonus, the Council submitted to the ratepayers a by-law authorizing the issue of debentures for $45,000 to aid the project, [$10,000 of this was a sectional grant, levied on that part of the township afterwards incorporated as the village of Chesley.] which was carried by a majority of 77. In 1875 the township gave a municipal centre to the township by the erection of a township hall on lot 15, concession 6, at a cost of nearly $2,000. The Township Council has been aided in its efficiency by its officials, who deserve to have their names remembered, for they have done their part faithfully in attending to the business of the township. Their names are given in a footnote. [List of township treasurers and clerks from 1856: Township treasurers —Thos. Orchard, 1856-'59; Dr. S. D. Crawford, 1860, '61; M. McMillan, 1862-'65; Geo. C. Urquhart, 1866-'72; Wm. W. Hogg, 1873-1901; S. M. Ewart, 1902-1906. Township clerks—George C. Urquhart, 1856-'61; P. Featherstonhaugh, 1867; P. H. Sinclair, 1868; Daniel Sinclair, 1869-'71; Ed. Saunders, 1872; S. Shannon, 1873-'76; D. McKechnie, 1877-'92; J. C. McIntyre, 1893-1906.] Elderslie plumes itself on having paid off all debenture indebtedness, and also in that no licenses for the sale of liquor are issued within the township.

The first school in the township was opened in 1855 at Lockerby, and was taught by Miss McIntyre (afterwards Mrs. Thomas Pearce). [Thomas Pearce was one of Mr. McPhilips' chainmen in the survey of the township. When married, in 1856, to Miss McIntyre, the young couple walked all the way to Southampton so that the ceremony might be performed by a Presbyterian clergyman.] In 1856 Miss Falconer (afterwards Mrs. Thomas Fleming) taught a small school on lot 11, concession 5. The following year the Township Council took action in regard to schools that can best be described by an extract from the report of Local Superintendent McNaughton, for the year 1857, as follows: "The township of Elderslie has done admirably in the way of school buildings during the past year. Although the newest of three townships under my charge, it is now the first with regard to school-houses. This may be attributed in a great measure to the wisdom of the Township Council offering certain sums of money to each section, on condition that a schoolhouse be erected within the year. The result is there is not a single section without a schoolhouse." The staff of teachers in the different school sections in 1858 consisted of Miss Eliza Stewart, Paisley; Mr. Murray, Chesley; Archibald Ewart, S. S. No. 6; Donald Gillies, S. S. No. 5; J. C. McIntyre, S. S. No. 4; Miss Jane Porter, S. S. No. 2; Malcolm Munn, S. S. No. 10; James Saunders, S. S. No. 7.

Although to-day there is not within the township of Elderslie an unincorporated village of any pretensions, it has nourished and witnessed the swarming off of two of the busiest villages of the county, Chesley and Paisley. The development of these two villages sealed the hopes and fate of two other places that were sanguine of becoming in time the trade centres of their respective localities, namely, Lockerby and Scone. The settlement at Lockerby by Thomas Hembroff is mentioned in the first part of the chapter. The water-power at this point was early made use of, and a grist mill was in operation there about 1856, within a short time of that at Paisley. A little earlier than this a rumor spread that the Elora Road, about to be opened up, was to be brought up the side line at lot 5 as far as the 6th concession, then to turn west to the township boundary, [There may have been something in the rumor, as the engineer in charge of opening the Elora Road purchased lots 16 and 17, concession B, and lot 16, concession "A" (where the road would make the turn). Presumably he bought on speculation.] passing through Lockerby. At the time the grist mill was built George Jardine had portions of adjoining farm lots surveyed into village lots. Plans of this survey were scattered far and wide, and every effort made to boom this town on paper into tangible being, even going as far as the holding of a sale of lots at Hamilton. All Mr. Jardine's efforts were fruitless, the Elora Road was cut so as to pass through Paisley, and Lockerby never developed. In 1866 Jardine and Hembroff were engaged in a lawsuit as to the ownership of the mill and adjacent property. Jardine, thinking that if he were in possession of the mill his claim would be more firmly established, one day in the fall of 1866 went to it when no one was about, pried open one end of a board and sought to enter through the opening. In some way he failed to keep the boards apart, and they coming together, he was caught like a mouse in a trap, and, unable either to extricate himself or to make himself heard, was held until death relieved him from his sufferings. The water-power at Lockerby is now made use of by Donald McIntyre to supply electric current for lighting purposes to Paisley.

Scone began to take form and put on the appearance of a village before Chesley—ultimately its successful rival—was thought of. The founder of the village, Thomas Bearman, came to Elderslie in 1854. Being possessed of means, he purchased about seventeen hundred acres of land in Elderslie and Sullivan, started a sawmill about 1856, a grist mill some years later, and also a potash factory, and opened a store. In 1858 a post-office, bearing the name of Scone, was opened. Thomas Adair (who owned the most north-easterly lot in Brant), was the first postmaster, but he soon left the locality, and the post-office was moved to the house of Thomas Bearman, his successor. The little village flourished until, overtopped by the growth of Chesley, all hopes for its development vanished.

One of the most noted men Elderslie has had was John Gillies, who for seventeen years was reeve of the township. His portrait, with a biographical sketch, are to be found in Chapter VI.

Owing to the large emigration to the North-West provinces, Elderslie has suffered marked loss in population. In 1881 the census returns showed Elderslie to have 3,273 inhabitants. The assessors return for 1906 gives a population of 2,018, less than 62 per cent. of what it was a quarter of a century previous. This but illustrates what has been going on all through the county. The youth of its population is moving to the West to establish homes for themselves there.


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