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Canadian History
The Pioneers
by Angus A MacKenzie


Our thanks to Anne McClaughry for sending in this material for us to use.

The following comments were not included in the story "Marsboro Then and Now" because they apply, not only to those who settled in Marsboro, but also to a great extent, to all the Highland Scots who settled in the townships of Lingwick, Winslow and Hampden as well. The condition under which they lived, worked and struggled to survive were, in the early days, similar in almost every respect. The obstacles they faced, and eventually overcame, were the same, they spoke the same language, (gaelic) belonged to the same religious denomination, shared the same traditions, customs, and beliefs, as well as the physical strength and indomitable spirit of the Scottish race. There was also a great deal of blood relationship among them, many families having relatives scattered here and there throughout all of the four townships.

The history of those early years is as misty as the glens and mountains of their native land, and to the inhabitants of the rest of Canada, then and now, the state of the early settlers in the Part of the Eastern Townships of Quebec, which was settled by gaelic speaking Highlanders during, the eighteen hundreds is as little known as that of Barnes or Sumatra, of both they have heard a little and perhaps guessed a lot. They are completely ignorant of the manners, customs, habits, traditions, wants, and hardships which were faced by those courageous men and women, who at the outset, had heard little and knew less at times about the severe climate of this new land, its great distances and vast forests. Its long winters, deep snows and often bitter cold. Who knew nothing about clearing the forest from the land, but who nevertheless changed the forest into farms, built homes and roads, and became communities of independent and happy people.

They left practically no written records of those early years. They were not, it seems, interested in history as it might concern themselves. They were only interested in the present and the future, in the making of homes, shelters for themselves and their families. In pocessing land on which crops could be raised for food, and in preserving and observing their religious beliefs, and their own conception of what religion and christianity should stand for.

What is now known of their history is only scraps of information which has been handed down by word of mouth from one generation to another, and has become dim, and perhaps distorted with the passage of time. While a good part of it is still remembered by many surviving members of the second generation, there seems to have been no effort made at the time to record events as they occurred. Any attempts to do so now can only be a feeble, and certainly an inaccurate account.

At the beginning there was the forest. Everywhere, vast, silent, majestic, sometimes beautiful, at time menacing, but always indifferent. Challenging this forest was man. With little more than his physical strength, courage, endurance and purpose to back him, he attached the forest and mastered it. While it may be taken for granted that he at times must have been bone weary, there is no evidence that he, at any time, sank below the soles of his shoes in the well of discouragement.

The first task to face those hardy people was the building of homes-houses. Those houses were built either in small natural clearings or on land from which the trees had been removed. Built of round spruce logs, whose ends were notched in such a way that the side and end logs fitted at the corners in such a way that nothing short of an earthquake could shake them apart. They were, of necessity, rather small. The space between the logs was chinked with moss and the cabin covered with a roof of split cedar shingles. A door, sometimes with wooden hinges, as well as a window or two, was placed in the wall and a floor of split logs or lumber (if available) laid down. Wooden pegs were sometimes used during the period when nails could not be procured. There would be no plumbing and only a minimum of furniture, some of it very likely home made in those cabins, and they would not be very warm even though they were heated by two wood burning stoves, a cookstove and a large box-stove, which could accomodate large chunks of split hardwood. The stoves of that day were not very effecient. The beds were not equipped with bedsprings but had wooden slats placed between the sideboards on which a straw filled tick was placed. These ticks were made of very strong linen, tailored to fit the bed and with a long slit down much of their length on one side. Through this slit, clean fresh straw was stuffed at least twice a year until the tick was buldging full. The slit was then closed and securely fastened with cloth strings. When filled with fresh straw, these ticks would make an interesting rustling sound whenever the occupant changed his or her position. They were very comfortable, and there are many alive today, including this writer, who have slept peacefully and comfortably on a straw filled tick. Years later, bed springs and mattresses stuffed with cotton waste became available and replaced the straw filled tick.

Those cabins all had dug cellars underneath for the storage of vegetables, crocks of packed salted butter, as well as anything else that required careful storage.

Water, always a necessity, was often a problem. It was obtained, when possible, from cold springs or clear running streams, but it often happened that water in the form of a spring or stream was not to be found near where the lay of the land dictated that the house should be built, which meant that a well, sometimes more than one, and often to a considerable depth, had to be dug in order that a sufficient supply of water for both the house and the farmstock could be found. The water had to be carried into the house in pails, after being drawn from the well, as well as being drawn from the well for livestock. Eventually pumps were installed in deep wells arid other ingenious methods of transporting water evolved. Flumes or spouts for bringing water from a distance were made by cutting slender tree lengths and hollowing them V-shaped and fastening them together end to end. Watering and feeding troughs were also made from hollowed logs, and these troughs were placed, at a later date, along the roadside wherever water could be conveniently brought to them in spouts, so that horses could take a drink at intervals while being driven on the road. Another method of carrying water from a distance was the, so called, pumplog. In this case, medium size logs were cut into short lengths, a hole was bored the length of the log by means of a long auger, one end was holled in a V-shape and the other end pointed to fit into the hollowed end. Joined together, the logs in effect became a pipe, and buried in the ground, would carry water a long distance and last for many years.

For some time at the beginning of the settlements, the settlers had few tools of any sort. The principal one being the axe, and with this they cut down the trees and cut them into manageable lengths to be piled up for burning, as well as all the other jobs that could be done with a sharp edged instrument. The advent of the broadaxe, however, brought about a minor revolution in the building of houses. This instrument, with a blade approximately twelve inches wide, could be used to hew four sides of a log to a plane. First a strip of bark was peeled off the full length of the log, a chalkmark was then snapped on this strip from end to end, the rounded side was lightly scored with an axe, and it was then hewed to a smooth plane by an expert with the broadaxe. It is said that some men became so expert with this instrument that they could split the chalkmark the full length of a log. From then on, all buildings were built of four sided smooth faced logs.

On the inside of those log walls, holes were bored into which wooden pegs were driven on which to hang clothing and any other articles which needed to be kept out of the way at times. The two man crosscut saw also arrived on the scene a way back at some dim time in the history of this period and became one of the most useful and labor saving implement in their possession for many years.

After a great deal of backbreaking labor, patches of land were cleared of trees and grain was scattered between the stumps, the grain was covered as much as possible by dragging and scratching with the limbs of trees. The grains sown were barley, buchwheat and oats along with potatoes. Barley and potatoes, in that order, were by far their most important crops. The barley and other grains were cut with a sickle or a scythe and threshed with a flail, and the grain, after being well dried, was taken, sometimes many miles, to a grist mill where it was ground into a coarse flour and afterwards cooked into scones on the surface of the stove. Those barley scones were made and eaten for many years as a main item of food as wheat flour was unavailable much of the time. Buchwheat was treated in the same way as barley and was a staple part of their diet, though to a lesser extent than barley. Oatmeal porridge was, of course, a standard breakfast food in every home. Oats were grown as food for cattle and horses, the grain being fed to the horses, after the settlers had moved up from oxen to horses.

Potatoes, of course, were a very important food item, and great care was taken both in growing and storing them, together with other vegetables.

The problem of getting their grain to a grist mill was a serious one, as there were very few such mills located within easy reach. Those mills were all operated by water power with an overshot or undershot, water wheel driving the grinding wheels. We may take it for granted that the settlers had very few domestic animals during the first few years, as they would have neither adequate shelter or food for them, but they would all have one or two cows for which they would, somehow, find winter feed while they foraged in the bush during the summer. As time passed and the acreage of cleared land increased, it became possible to raise a certain amount of timothy hay with which to winter feed stock. The hay was cut with a scythe, gathered by means of a hand rake and pitch fork, and stored in a log barn or, in some cases, possibly stacked.

As their supply of grain and feed grew, the settlers increased their livestock in proportion, mainly sheep and cattle, with a pig or two and a flock of hens. Good quality cows were important, not only because of the milk with which they supplied the homes, but because of its by products, butter and cheese. After the milk was drawn from the cow it was strained and poured into a can which was then placed in a well or spring of cold water. After being immersed for several hours, the cream all rose to the surface, the skim milk was then drawn off through a tap at the lower end of the can. The cream was then allowed to become slightly sour, after which it was made into butter by being churned either in a crank—operated barrel churn or in what was known as an "up and down" churn. Some of this butter was made into one pound prints to be sold or exchanged for goods or groceries at the nearest store, and some, after being well salted, was packed in earthern crocks for winter use when milk and cream were seldom plentiful. Cottage cheese was also made from the skim milk, but the bulk of the skim milk was fed to calves and pigs.

There would be a few animals added to their stock each year through natural increase, and there would be some steers or heifers for sale to a butcher or cattle buyer each fall to augment their income. Sheep were very important and highly regarded as a source of income, not only for their wool, but because sheep are prolific and lambs commanded a good market and a good price in the fall of the year.

The sheep were sheared early in the summer following lambing. The wool was then washed, dried, carded and then spun into yarn on a foot operated spinning wheel to be knit into socks and mittens. The older ewes would be sold in the fall and occasionally, one would be butchered for mutton. Whenever a sheep was butchered, its hide was stretched out and nailed to the side of the barn, or to some other convenient wall, until thoroughly cured. It was then trimmed, sometimes dyed, and became either a floor rug or a winter seat cushion for a sleigh. Pigs were raised for bacon, ham, and salt fat pork which was used in the making of "pork and beans".

A flock of hens furnished eggs for cooking, as well as a few extra for sale or exchange. Those early settlers were thrifty, frugal and abhorred waste of any kind. The women, particularly, were expert not only in the prevention of waste but in getting the best possible value from whatever came into their possession as well as combining a number of things together to make into something entirely different -- such as home made soap and home made sausages. They were expert knitters, clever needlewomen who made their own clothes as well as their childrens, and often their husbands as well. They also fashioned quilts, made pillows and pillowslips and many other articles for use in the homes, besided the mending of clothes which is a part of raising a family — especially of boys.

A great deal of outside work also devolved on the women. When the men’s work on the land was pressing, the women not only worked with the men but took over many of the tasks usually performed by the men, such as milking cows, feeding calves, chickens and pigs, together with cooking the family meals and caring for the children. The lot of the pioneer wife was especially hard in the winter. There was very little return by way of cash from the labor expended in clearing land and attempting to create farms and establish homes in a hardwood forest, but a certain amount of money was essential, and in order to acquire this needed money, the men were forced, for a number of years, to seek winter employment in the lumber camps of the state of Maine, leaving their wives with the whole responsibility and care of the home, family and livestock. The distance between homes was very often considerable and the roads in winter would be little more than trails through the woods and the snow, so that not only was the work they were called upon to do strenuous, but the responsibility was great, the life was a lonely one, and in case of sickness or accident, help was hard to get. During those early years medical attention was hard to get as doctors were few and distances great over poor roads. Consequently, there was seldom a doctor in attendance at or during childbirth, only what was known as a midwife. From all this we must acknowledge that while we may well look on the men of that era as having been heroes, we must admit that the women were even more heroic. It is also a fact that despite the lack of medical attention at childbirth, infant mortality was very low, and families were large.

Sawmills were eventually erected in several places throughout the area some by lumber companies, and some by individuals. The early ones were driven by water power and were equipped with either a "slash" or a circular saw. The "slash" saw operated up and down, cutting on the down stroke, and was primitive and slow. The circular saw however, was quite fast and efficient, and by bringing their own logs to the mill, the settlers could acquire as much sawn lumber as they needed by paying for having it sawn. With the coming of the sawmill and plenty of lumber, building began in earnest. Large houses were built which were finished with lath and plaster as time went by. Those houses lacked many of the conveniences of the modern home, such as plumbing, etc, but were a far cry from the little log cabins. Big heavy timbered beams were also erected for the storage of hay and feed and the housing of livestock.

One of the most important men in any community, and the most in demand for many years, was the carpenter. Those men were nearly all self-taught, but extremely clever with tools and did remarkably good solid work, much of which is standing to this day as firm as the day it was built. Another equally important man in a pioneer area was the blacksmith with his forge, bellows, hammers, chisels and tongs. He was the man who spliced and mended broken machinery, tightened wagon tires, shod horses and performed many other miracles. The blacksmith and his smithy were an indespensable part of pioneering life.

It is difficult, if not impossible, for anyone in this age of ease, comfort and convenience, to even faintly visualize the conditions under which the early settlers lived and labored while they struggled to establish homes in what was, at the time, an extremely hostile environment. Nothing which they had experienced in their native land had prepared them for the experience of cutting down the hardwood forests of Canada, but they had been accustomed all their lives to hard work and certain privations and had become inured to both. What they accomplished was not done overnight or in a few short years, but was the lifetime work of what appears to us now, to have been a race of giants.

By looking at a few dates we may get some idea of the time it required for those people to tame the forest and possess the land, and by attempting to describe the manner in which it was done, we may get a vary vague idea of the hardships and backbreaking labor which were involved.

I do not know exactly when the first Scottish settlers arrived in Lingwick, but it is on record that the first Highlanders came to Winslow in 1851, and I believe that some had come to the Western part of Hampden at that time, or shortly before, while the first families came to the shore of Lake Megantic in Marsden in 1856. By the year 1900 most, if not all, of the land which eventually became cultivated farms had been cleared of the forest, but it was some years later before much, if any, of the land had been brought into a condition, which made it possible to employ a mowing machine to cut the hay.

First of all, the trees had to be cut down, and this was done with the axe as they did not at the beginning have the crosscut saw, the branches were cut off and the trunk cut with the axe into lengths that would be piled on top of each other to be burned. Each man cut down the trees on as large an area as possible on his own lot during the year, and in the spring the neighbors would pool their labor to pile the logs for burning. Grain would then be scattered on the ground between the stuimps and covered by dragging stiff branches of trees over it. Later on, spike tooth harrows drawn by oxen came into use. Grass seed was also sown along with the grain. Potatoes were planted in depressions formed in the ground by digging with a grubhoe or similar implement. The grain, when ripe, was cut with a sickle, made into sheaves tied with whisps of straw, and threshed with a flail.

The sickle was soon replaced by the scythe, and after some years, the horsepowered threshing machine replaced the flail.

After the trees had been cut down and the timber burned, it was many years before the stumps became decomposed enough so that they could be pulled out of the ground by the roots, and the process of cutting down trees and burning the timber went on year after year until clearings of many acres in extent had been formed, and in the meantime, as many stumps as possible were being pulled up and burned. After they had cleared what they believed to he enough land, they were faced with the task of removing all the rest of the stumps and preparing the land for the plow. This was not easy as many of those stumps were very hard to uproot and some stood like sentinels in the open for years after the fields had been plowed.

Removing the stumps was only the first operation in transforming many acres of stumps into smooth fields and faras. Much of the land was very stoney, and infested with large boulders. The settlers had by now each become the owner of a team of horses, which they had been using for various purposes, among them now was the gathering of stones. The loose stones on the surface were loaded on a stoneboat and taken to a selected spot where they were placed in the form of a stone wall or fence. The field was then plowed and the many stones turned up by the p!ow were dragged away. It became necessary to repeat this operation each time a field was plowed so that, after some years, the stone walls would stretch for long distances and in various directions on each farm. It was jestingly said of one area, at the time, that there was enough stones there to build another Aberdeen. During this period any land that was plowed was cultivated with springtooth harrows, and after raising two successive crops of grain, one each of oats and barley, it was seeded down to timothy. The resulting hay, as well as the oats and barley, was cut with a scythe, gathered up with a handrake and carted to the barn, the grain to be threshed and the hay and straw to be fed to the cattle and horses during the winter months.

The threshing machines of that time were horsepowered. Two horses walked endlessly on a steeply inclined beltlike platform called a treadmill which kept rolling out from underneath them while they walked on and on. and on, always uphill, with sweat rolling down their flanks. Cogs on the underside of the treadmill planks connected with a shaft which drove a large pulley which was connected to the separator by a long belt. Because there were not many of those machines in the area at that time, it was sometimes well into the winter months before everyone could get their crops threshed. The job of threshing required a large crew of men, and for it, and other types of work needing many hands, such as cutting firewood, house or barn raising, and many others, the settlers had a method of pooling and exchanging labor which was convenient, effective and economical.

Split cedar rail fences, known as snake fences, had to be erected around pasture lands and along roadsides, and this was a large undertaking as it required a great many rails to erect those long fences, all of them having first to be split, then taken from the bush to the spot before being set up. The snakefence was replaced in later years by a monstrosity known as the barbwire fence.

While all this was taking place, the settlers, who had now become taxpayers, were building roads. Each man’s lot of land was valued at its presumed worth, and each had to pay the assessed amount of tax by working a stated number of days on the road each year under the direction of an appointed foreman. Roads were built and repaired by backbreaking labor with pick and shovel, and crowbar, together with horse drawn scrapers. In fact, everything was done the hard way because no other way was known at the time.

In an attempt to arrive at a fair estimate of the time it required to wrest a farm from the forest in those longago days, I shall refer briefly to the experience of my own parents, Mr, and Mrs. Murdo P. Mackenzie, who came to Canada from the island of Lewis in 1873, and settled on 200 acres of land in the "Big Woods" of Marsden in 1876. By 1900 all the land he wished to clear, had been cleared of trees and much of it free from stumps, but while some of it had been plowed, none of it was yet smooth enough to permit the use of a mowing machine. The hay was being cut with a scythe, and in places where the stumps were still numerous, it was still being gathered with a hand rake, though the horse drawn rake was in common use by that time. It was, however, several more years before the mowing machine came to be in general use. Also about this time the disc harrow took the place of the springtooth for cultivating the land.

From the foregoing, it might be assumed that life for those people was a grim and joyless existence with all work and no play, but while it must certainly have been grim enough at times, it was not without its light moments, its joys, pleasures and rewards. The naturally buoyant temperament of the highlander demanded expression in community gatherings of various kinds, and while some might be of a serious nature, others would be tuneful and filled with mirth and happiness.

Among such gatherings would be the quilting party (with or without its Nellie) when after a long spell of sewing, the quilt was folded away and the evening devoted to mirth, feasting and song. Neighborly visiting was also a source of pastime at any time of the year. There were many poets, with many degrees of talent throughout the Scottish settlement during those years. Foremost among them were Findlay MacRitchie of Red Mountain, Lingw’ick, and his nephew, Angus MacKay of North Hill, Lingwick. Angus MacKay wrote under the name of "Oscar Du", and has been called the Canadian Robbie Burns. There were many other poets, of lesser fame, but who were also well known at the time.

There were few musical instruments in the early days except the violin or "fiddle", but there were many "fiddlers", and how they could "fiddle"!

In later years the piano became quite common and eventually, the organ even found its way into the church, but only over the violent objections of many of the older people who did not think that any musical instrument possessed sufficient sanctity to become a part of church furniture or worship.

Weddings of course, were the social highlights of the year when the bride’s parents put on a feast and the festivities would begin in the middle of the afternoon and continue until the early hours of the morning. At weddings, it was customary to pass around some potent brew at more or less frequent intervals until everyone became in the mood to sing and be merry. In those days, everybody sang whether they had a singing voice or not, but there was many wonderful singers among them, and some knew as many songs that they could go on entertaining a group for hours on end.

Another interesting custom was serenading. If, as seldom happened, the bride’s parents failed to provide the customary wedding feast, the young bloods — and some older ones — would gather at some appointed place armed with a variety of noise makers, such as circular saws, bells dispans and anything that would in anyway make a noise. Thus equipped, they would surround the home of the newlyweds and proceed, and continue to create such a din, that in self defence, the newlyweds would be forced to invite then into the home, give them food of some sort and permit them to frolic as long as they wished. A good serenade was sometimes more fun than a wedding feast.

There would also be surprise parties, box socials and ice cream socials, and dances at intervals during the year at which the young people let off some steam and surplus energy. All of which helped to keep Jack from becoming a dull boy.

One of the outstanding characteristics of those people was a ready wit and keen sense of humor which could see the amusing aspect of all but the most tragic circumstances. Another was their faithfulness to the church, which was spoken of as the means of grace, and their regard for their neighbor, as well as their care for the widow and the orphans. They were always ready and willing to come to the assistance of any one in any sort of trouble to the limit of their own resources.

Along with the poets already mentioned, there were many other men who were noted for some particular or outstanding gift, or gifts, which they possessed. Among them were "Big Angus the Singer" of Lingwick. Famous for the majestic voice with which he led the church singing. Donald MacLeod of Winslow, who not only possessed the strength of a giant, but was also a poet and singer of note as well as a fervent and passionate evangelist. He was the man who built the first saw mill in Marsboro, and was an inventor and man of many parts. His brother, D.L. MacLeod of Milan, who at one time operated a hotel, general store and sawmill in the village of Milan, besides having a finger in many other pies. He also loved to drive a four horse team tandem. There were also many others whose fame was not so widespread, but who were well known and respected as leaders in their own communities.

The story of Donald Morrison — The Megantic Outlaw — has been told and written. The C.B.C. has made it into a slanderous TV picture which contains practically none of the truth, and is an insult to the memory, not only of Donald Morrison, but to those loyal friends who were protecting him while attempting to see that justice was done.

Like all communities, large or small, those communities had a sprinkling of characters who were thought to be just a trifle odd, because of some habit or custom of theirs which differed from those of the majority, but any seemingly strange behaviour was always tolerated with the utmnost good nature even though it might occasionally cause someone a slight inconvenience, and any person who appeared to be even slightly below normal intelligence was regarded as a ward of the Almighty.

As honesty was an outstanding characteristic of the Scottish Highlanders, the shady character was almost unknown, though the quick witted smart trader lived on nearly every farm, and while hardly anyone objected to taking an occasional "wee Drappie", overindulgence in liquor was severely frowned upon, and anyone doing so, lost status in the community.

Along with an almost universal belief in second sight, or extrasensory perception, many of the older highlanders held a strong superstitious belief in, and fear of ghosts, signs and omens, and there were certain people who laid claim to seeing a ghost almost everytime they went outside on a dark night — it seems ghosts could only be seen on very dark nights; and by a person who was alone at the time — The belief in ghosts seems to have died out many years ago, but the belief in second sight is still held by many people and its existence has never been satisfactorily disproved.

Both men end women were extremely strong and hardy. Some of the men in particular being exceptionally powerful, they delighted in performing feats of strength wherever a group was gathered together, and especially at gatherings such as picnics, which were often held during the summer months at a lake shore or other suitable spot, where friendly competition would be keen and where some remarkable performances often took place.

The country was well stocked with game in the early days, deer, bear, fox, rabbit and partridge being plentiful, but few of the early settlers possessed guns of any kind, so the game flourished for many years, until the arrival of the rifle, when it began to nosedive steeply and has never recovered.

Wild fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries were plentiful in most areas, also beechnuts and hazelnuts. Apples were successfully grown in some sections, but were a near failure in most parts of the settlement.

During those years there were men which were called "Peddlers" who travelled on foot through the countryside carrying two large heavy packs. One pack would hold an assortment of rather shoddy clothing, while the other would be full of a variety of trinkets from fine tooth combs to cheap razors which they offered for sale. These men were all said to be Jews or Syrians and undoubtedly filled a need, but what was most remarkable was the fact that after tramping like pack horses through the countryside for a few years, they would suddenly blossom out with a clothing store of their own in some nearby town.

Much of those townships which were at one time peopled by Gaelic speaking Scottish Highlanders is now populated by French Canadians. The Townships of Marsden and Winslow, with the exception of perhaps one or two farms, have been entirely taken over by the French. Parts of both Lingwick and Hampden have also been taken over, but there are still a large number of Scottish people living in both Lingwick and Hampden.

The descendants of those Gaelic speaking Highlanders are now scattered throughout the length and breadth of the land. They are to be found in almost every province in Canada and throughout a great deal of the United States. While many grandchildren and great grandchildren may know where their family first took root in North America, most of them have never seen any part of it, and perhaps are not greatly interested. But to those who have seen and still remember, there comes moments of nostalgia for the scenes, the people, and the life that was once so familiar and so happy.


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