In Month of June 101 Years Ago Five Scottish Families Started Pioneer
Life in Fair Otonabee.
In Chemong Park Today the
Descendants of Duncan Comrie, Duncan Drummond, Peter McIntyre, Archie and
William McNevan, John, James, Helen, Janet and Margaret Miller Are
Many of the early hardships are retold by older members of the first
Landing Near Keene the Little Band of Scottish Immigrants Immediately
Started to Work to Hew Down the Virgin Forest and Erect Small Shanties
For Their Women Folk
(by Jean Campbell)
hundred and one years ago five Scottish families left their homeland and
migrated to Canada, settling in the township of Otonabee in June 1829.
Today, the descendants of those five families are celebrating at a big
picnic in Chemong Park. Those hardy pioneers have descendants living in
all parts of the world. Many have made fortunes, many have become
distinguished in army, church, and state, and many others to-day make up
the very best of the citizens of Otonabee and the surrounding townships.
was a hard lot, With little or no money those hardy pioneers landed on the
shores of Rice Lake and at once set to work in the virgin forest to hew
out a small clearing, build a little shanty for their women folks and sow
a little grain so that they might have bread.
those years they struggled until to-day Otonabee is known as the banner
township of the county of Peterborough.
families, all residents of Comrie and Perth, Scotland, were composed of
Duncan Comrie, who was married and seemed to have been the leader of the
little group of immigrants; Duncan Drummond, Peter McIntyre, Archie
McNevan and his brother, William with his wife and six small children, and
the Millers, John, Peter, James, Helen, Janet and Margaret. All but the
McNevans went first to the Comrie shanty where Samuel Comrie now lives on
the 9th Concession of Otonabee and from there moved to their
own farms as they acquired them.
a short history of the pioneers some of the oldest survivors of the first
generation to be born in Canada were seen, Duncan McIntrye who lives with
his daughter-in-law and three tall grandsons, on the 8th
Concession, is the oldest if the Mcintyres, and it is most evident that he
enjoys nothing more than to spin yarns of those early days. Mrs. William
Campbell is one of the oldest of the millers and when these two get
together it is most interesting to listen to the bygones that are retold.
over eighty with perfectly clear minds and they can make the past live
again by their vivid tales. Their only regret is that although they have
lived to see so many great changes they can scarcely hope to see those
that are coming so rapidly now. What is coming after the automobile and
the airplane? What improvements will there be in the radio? What will
television be like? We have been born 30 years to soon they lament.
the boat coming out from Scotland was a youth about eighteen years, Peter
McIntyre. He used to “mind” the two-year-old Margaret Comrie for her
mother, dandle her on his knee. About fourteen years later he married her!
to herd sheep in the Old County, but out here Duncan Comrie taught him to
make shoes in a little shop just a few steps away from the Comrie home.
When he married he went to live on what is now Mrs. Sandy Stewart’s farm,
but being afraid of the pine stumps he moved to the farm now owned by Mrs.
Jack McIntyre on the 7th line of Otonabee. There they reared a
family of four boys and six girls.
eldest boy, Archie, was murdered in California, and his mother, grieving
over his death, died shortly after. It was at the time of the California
gold rush, and the murderers had planned to kill an old man with whom
Archie lived, to get his money. “Get the old man, but don’t touch the
boy,” had been their instructions, but when they came to the house the old
man was out and the boy alone. A noise started them and they ruthlessly
McIntyre and Miss Kate McIntyre both live in California now, the former
occasionally returning for a visit.
sister, Nellie, married Thomas Thompson and still live on a beautiful farm
overlooking Rice Lake, part of old Captain Anderson’s grant. Her children
went as far afield as India. Daughter Lenore, in the medical service of
the British Army.
Partition in the House.
partition did we have in our house” said Mrs. McIntyre, when I questioned
her about those early days. Two beds downstairs, with a sheet hung between
~ and all the rest bundled upstairs. I wonder we didn’t fall down. We had
no stairs, just a ladder to climb up. “That’s the old home, built in 60 ~
the year the Prince of Wales was in Peterborough, I went up to see him.”
sang before him,” interrupted Mrs. Campbell, “in the court-house grounds.
All the girls were in white dresses with blue sashes.”
first school was in the field opposite Herb Howson’s” continued Mr.,
McIntyre, “I was just counting and I don’t know a person living except
Mrs. Howie who went to school with me. We had just forms in school, wooden
benches with no backs, terribly hard to sit on all day long. Around the
walls were desks slanting down for the older pupils to write on.”
course, I had very little schooling, I don’t remember how old I was when I
left school but I dragged my first fallow when I was only nine. It was
planted with wheat and I had to go over the same piece five or six times,
so it was slow work, I had oxen; I drove them for logging and I was so
small that when a root or stump caught the log of the drag, it would be to
heavy for me to lift and I had to re hitch and have the oxen pull it
was no money for anything in those days” he said.
Peterborough have woolen mills by that time and a thriving industry.” I
Siree. Peterborough was a pretty small settlement then! No, there was no
money. Our people had to ask their friends in Scotland not to write, as
they could not afford the twenty cents necessary to post a reply. There
weren’t stamps then. The letter was folded and the edges held together
with a bit of sealing wax ~ no envelope. ‘Paid’ was stamped on the
right-hand corner and in the left was a round date stamp, ‘Otonabee P.C.’
with say. ‘10 Feb. 1847’, written in by the postmaster.
Drummond’s first taxes were fifty cents.” Yes, I agree it’s a terrible
change nowadays, but maybe it was as hard to get that fifty cents, as it
is to get fifty dollars now. If you raised a sheep, that would do for meat
for quite a while. Before our time, I remember of hearing of people who
planted potatoes, and when the stalks get they dug up the tuber and ate
them! Some boiled wheat and ate it!
you finally got a few cows, where did they pasture if the country was all
forest?” I inquired.
ate the leaves off the small that formed the undergrowth,” he explained,
“then they browsed in the grass so high in the beaver meadow you couldn’t
see them. Besides, there were a few cleared places where the Indians had
camped. I remember when we broke land at our place, it was full of flints
and arrowheads and crockery ~ all broken, you know, but nicely decorated
and burnt very bad. I had a piece made of soap-stone, but somebody took it
away to a museum in Toronto. The Indians had a way of tempering copper
then, but it’s a lost art now.”
you ever afraid of these Indians?” I asked him.
never.” He replied, smiling, It seemed that the only ill ever charged
against the Indians was that of a white baby was carried away by them and
years after this suspicion was strengthened when a band of Indians who
came from Lower Canada had a white girl with them.
ever have any holidays to enlighten your hard work?” I asked.
holidays for me,” He replied; “I’d be burning fallow till ten o’clock at
night sometimes, Mind you, once you started a fire you had to turn it over
two or three times. It didn’t just burn right up. But the big holidays
were May 24 and New Year’s Day ~ you see the Scotch made more of a
festival of the New Year than Christmas.”
no chairs then, our people used to tell us, ‘Stand up and you’ll grow
bigger,’ so we stood even for eating or sometimes got a block of wood. The
bedsteads were all made of boards. There was no plaster so the spaces in
the log houses were stuffed with mud, and in the winter the beds would be
covered with snow that had blown in through the cracks.”
was of no use than. The main idea was to get the ground cleared for the
grain so we burnt thousands of cords of wood. The last wood I drew was to
Keene and I got one dollar a cord for it.”
logging shanties the fire was built in the center and the smoke was drawn
up through huge chimneys made of pine, too. You’d think you would be burnt
out, but no, the flames and all would go up fine.”
bread in these shanties was put into bake kettles with iron lids, set in a
row in front of the fireplace and the ashes raked over them, When cooked
the kettles were taken out and the ashes swept off the covers and I never
heard of a bad loaf of bread. Every loaf was the size of an 10 pound
McNevan Was The Mason
frying-pan had a handle four feet long, so the cook could stand well back
from the heat. Great logs, six to eight feet long were drawn up to the
door with oxen and then rolled in to the fireplace. Archie McNevan was a
mason and he built all the fireplaces in the first log houses. They took
half as much stone as would build a house now, so huge was the chimney.”
I’ve heard mother tell,” added Mrs. Campbell, “that the water would be
boiling at one side of the fireplace and freezing at the other.”
“Pancakes and scones were baked on a lid that was fastened to one side of
the fire and swung over the heat by a crane.”
were no lamps at first, just candles made at home out of sheep’s tallow.
“Yes” said Mr. Mcintyre. “I’ve seen us run out of candles and have to get
a saucer of goose-oil with a wick in it.”
that candle below your nose,” was always the warning given us children.”
Said Mrs. Campbell. “ You see the basement was stuffed with peashaw and
things were hung from the ceiling - hams, and bladders filled with lard –
so if we carried the candle above our head in the natural way, we should
have set fire to the straw. Only the grownups were allowed to light the
kerosene lamps when they first came in.”
Andrews, the minister for fifty-two years, used to say that Mrs. Campbell
had the gift of a Macaulay as a story-teller and here she was reminded of
a funny incident of her childhood.
was a shanty across the field from us which had one of those huge
fireplaces and one Sunday some of the Scotch and Irish youths of the
neighborhood had met there to play cards. William Drummond, Duncan’s Son,
knew of this Godless gathering and stealing quietly upon them, he managed
to climb upon the roof and drop a black cat down the chimney into their
midst. The consternation was terrible. Their guilty consciences told them
it was the devil – they were very supersticious then.
Pra-a-ay,” said Con Hayes dropping to his knees.
Drummond married Helen Miller, in Crief, April 28, 1829, just before they
left Scotland. A family of four boys and eight girls were born on the farm
now owned by William Drummond, a grandson. Their children scattered to the
Canadian West, Denver, Toronto, New York, and even India.
was a weaver in the Old Country and brought out his hempen bags made by
himself. Willie MacDougal got his loom and after him Mrs. English. Duncan
used to cut sticks and whittle them to a point to make pitchforks. The
story is told that he once rolled a keg of nails from Cobourg, which is
twenty-six miles from his house, James Miller carried a bag of wheat on
his shoulders the same distance to Cobourg and carried the flour he had
ground from it home in the same manner. Surely not a crumb was wasted
last of the second generation of Drummonds is Kate, now Mrs. Thomas Laing,
who lives in Toronto, and therefore had no opportunity to enrich this
history with her reminisces.
Drummond recalls his mother telling how she used to be able to see the
deer’s heads over the tops of the pine trees on Peter McFarlane’s hill,
these pines are giants now and form a landmark for miles in each
Mary Drummond tells how old Chief Mosang Paudash used to come up from
Hiawatha to her Mother’s home and tell about the different battlefields.
It was after a great battle on Hatrick’s point that only one girl of a
tribe of Ojibways survived and she swam to Spook Island. It is probably
the same story Kathrine Parr Trail tells in her book, “Lost in the
Worship at Night
Duncan Drummond never went to bed at night till all his children were in.
He would pace up and down the floor to keep himself awake so that he might
have family worship, even if it were twelve or one o’clock. “An out and
out Christian was Uncle Duncan Drummond”, said one who knew him. “I’d
like to know his mate these days.”
returned to Scotland once for a legacy. I imagine the list of things his
friends must have asked him to bring back from ‘home’.
bring four grandfather clocks – just the works, I am told, and Mr. Hastie,
of Lang made the cases.
Comrie had one son; William by his first marriage and a farm was bought
for him on the 6th Line, just north of Keene. When he was
clearing it, he had to walk over three miles every morning. The story id
told that he used to have a goose egg in his lunch. When he married he had
ten children who settled for the most part, a few miles east of their
father. The son William still lives on his father’s farm, while across the
road he was joined some years later by John Comrie, who traces his descent
through Duncan’s Second wife.
tile that the family gathering was first mentioned, there was one person
whom everyone would hoped would be well enough to make the journey to
Chemong. This was “Aunt Mary Ann” as she was called, (Mrs. John Neish) the
last of the second generation of Comries. She would have been the oldest
of all at the picnic.” About a month ago she died.
women carded their wool, spun their own blankets, cured meat, baked bread,
churned butter, besides binding sheaves in the field with babies lying in
the share of a stook. Those were the days when twenty-one sat down to
breakfast – all those on a farm now run by one great-grandson and one
Mrs. Neish’s death, a letter was found among her treasures written by
Uncle Duncan Drummond when he thought he was on his death bed, It was to
say farewell to his Sunday School scholar and give her a last bit of
exhortation and also contained instructions as to who should take over his
work for he was superintendent of the Sunday School. It was undoubtedly
the background of strong, religious principle that gave these men and
women the courage to succeed in face of all the obstacles and hardships.
McNevan was a bachelor and his brother William married and brought his six
children with him from Scotland. They landed at Coldsprings and in six
weeks the father died.
were a hardy race of people, Landing at Quebec with nothing to look at but
trees, no home to go to, but what it must have been like for a widow with
six small children.” Said Mr. McIntyre.
wonder she never forgot the kindness of old Archie Weir, father of
Councillor “Baldy” Weir, who went to live in Ashburnham. At this time old
Archie was driving a stage from Kingston to Toronto, and when he got to a
big hill near Toronto, It was necessary to put on a double team. No doubt
it is what is known as Rouge Hills, on Highway No. 2. When a sporting
American car skims past me at fifty-five miles an hour on that long grade,
I think of Archie Weir and his stage coach toiling laboriously through the
mud a century ago. His route took him from Cobourg to Coldsprings and he
was very good at bringing Mrs. McNevan provisions. “The kindest-hearted
man that ever lived” she vowed he was.
Residence in Otonabee
she moved her little brood to Otonabee to the farm on the 7th
line where Bill McNevan lives now with his mother, fondly known as “Aunt
Jemima” and who is almost eighty-three years of age. In those days the
wolves were fearless and logs were piled against the door to keep them
out. Once a little black dog was torn to pieces by the wolves before it
could be pulled inside to safety. One of the prized possessions of this
family is a shorter Catechism and Westminster Confession printed in
Gibson’s field in Glasgow in 1753.
said before, the Millers went first to Duncan Comries’ as he was married
to their sister Janet. “the blethest lassie in a the toon o’ Comrie.” Only
six weeks after they arrived the boy Peter, aged eighteen died. His grave
is in the park in Peterborough, in front of the new Collegiate Institute,
but no one knows the exact spot now. His brothers and sisters walked home
through the woods after the burial and never spoke a word all the way.
They were broken-hearted at burying their brother in this strange and wild
country. In after years, whenever James was heard to chant “By Babbel’s
stream we sat and wept” his children knew he was recalling the little
procession of mourners at Peter’s funeral.
the Lord’s song shall we sing,
a foreign land?”
Miller married Margaret Wood and to them were born ten children, Six of
there settled on farms near Keene and had large families. These are the
people whom one would see on a Sunday morning driving to Church in great
old family carriages. These are the families that furnished ruling elders
and members of the session to the auld kirk. Mrs. Peter J. MacFarlane is
the only survivor of this family. Like her mother she was a great friend
to the Minister, “Yes, Mr Andrews christened me, “ she said, “Married me,
christened my four children and married my eldest daughter.”
Miller, known as Aunt Peggy” married Andrew Short. Their homestead is on
the 6th Line near the Norwood Road Those fine woods along the
block road belong to them. Their three children are gone, but a
daughter-in-law, Mrs. Richard Short, is a marvel of strength, industry and
wit. She is ninety-four years of age and still makes cloths for her
grandchildren. She declaims he own poetry ~ but she is Irish, Bridget
Sheehan. This reminds me of another very old Irish Lady, wife of a
brickmaker near Hayes’ Tavern. When the neighbor’ children tormented her
she would cry. “Out of this wid ye, ye Hayes, and yes Lynches, and ye
“Scotch pups” were the Jimmy Miller children only two of whom survive,
Mrs. Campbell, of Keene and Mrs. Harry Cruickshank of Toronto. Jimmy
Miller and his bride walked up from Keene to their new home carrying an
axe and a logging chain. What a start in life. When their first house was
being built, everyone was at the raising and when the frame was up, Peter
McNevan leaped to the beam and shouted, “I christen it ‘Breadalbane’”
sorrier every day, Said Mrs. Campbell, “that I did not keep a diary of
the time the railroad was being built – the old Cobourg and Peterborough
one that ran right across Rice Lake and which was an extraordinary feat of
engineering. It ran through our farm and such comings and goings! When the
cholera broke out, eighteen died in one week and they were buried over in
Captain Rubidge’s field, The following spring when a young man was
ploughing the horses broke through into the coffins. They had been buried
too shallow and everyone feared the plague would break out again. Mother
said it was a judgment on them for the way they broke the Sabbath.”
lived before she married father near the Fife settlement,” Mrs. Campbell
continued. “Yes, the fife wheat, - same family – Old David Fife. She told
us about one of the Fife’s having a sick child whom he carried over thirty
to Cobourg to the nearest doctor. The raspberries were growing thick and
the father laid the sleeping child down to appease his hunger. He did not
notice how far he was wandering until he tried to find the baby again.
Only after a frantic search did he come upon it. In Cobourg a woman gave
him a hen which he carried home with the child and the egg it laid each
day helped the child to get well again”
eighteen years ago, Mr. And Mrs. Cruickshank visited Comrie and reveled in
recalling the past with the cousins who had not emigrated to Canada. Mrs.
Cruickshank had carefully carried a large and becoming hat and a pretty
scarf on the entire trip, simply to do honor to her Scotch cousins when
she appeared at church. But on Sunday morning their party was met by old
David Miller’s daughter, with tears in her eyes. She and her father had
had words over a blue scarf which she had choose to match he eyes and to
do honor her Canadian cousins. When she suggested taking the younger
members of the party to a Church where the music was very fine, her father
very sternly said, “You’ll come to the Church of your fathers.”
this sternness was characteristic of these old men, but what could you do
with a family of ten or twelve if you did not keep a tight rein? Even so
they climbed from the windows to go to parties – the sweethearts placed
the ladder to the window and the girls climbed down. It is even said that
when the merrymakers returned, the door was frequently opened for them by
the gentle little mother!”
like to mention another large branch of the Comrie family, the Chases,
Duncan’s daughter Elizabeth, married Parse Chase and had ten children, but
left Otonabee. Three went west to pioneer in their turn in Vancouver,
Rachael, Jerry and Harry. They went there before the fire that destroyed
the city just as it was getting nicely started.
wrote to a cousin, Jennie Lochart Center, Ellen Comrie’s daughter, to join
them and all were there in the great boom days. They can tell tales just
like their grandparents, of how they used to take picnic suppers down to
English Bay where now probably a million-dollar apartment home stands.
Center is one of the most highly respected woman in Vancouver, just as her
mother was one of the best loved in Brandon, in the Middle West, where she
also was a pioneer – but that’s another story.
Charnwood tells how Abe Lincoln was asked for material for an account of
his early life. “Why,” he said. “It is great folly to make anything out of
me or my early life. It can al be condensed into a little single sentence
you will find in Gray’s Elegy. The short and simple annals of the poor.”
That’s my life and that’s all you or anyone else can make of it.
story must close. So many I have not mentioned – most because of lack of
space; some because I have never heard of them; a few because like Abe
Lincoln, their people thought their history to quiet and uneventful to be
worth recording; but who is to judge to the importance to this world of
lives lived in industry and piety?
“Hardworking, God-fearing” – what greater eulogy could we give our
forefathers? In their humility they thought it nothing. We can see how
well they wrought and are proud.