Pioneers of Old Ontario
By W. I. Smith and
Illustrations by M. McGillvray (1923)
Formal history and
standard biography play an important part in fostering a national
spirit. Canada has an ample supply of such works; but the history of the
Beginners of the Nation, the men and women who carved out homes for
themselves in the dense forests, on the wide, lonely prairies, and in
the stern mountain valleys. Their story can be gleaned only from almost
inaccessible nooks, where lies "a veritable storehouse of information"
on pioneer days.
At a dinner given in
November, 1908, to mark the completion of the first Series of the
"Makers of Canada," Mr. John Lewis, the author of "George Brown" in the
"There is just one other
work supplementary to this which I would like to see undertaken by Mr. Norang, or some other equally enterprising publisher, and that is a
history of the unknown -Makers of Canada; the tens of thousands of
pioneers who many years ago struck out into the wilderness and converted
that wilderness into the Canada which we enjoy to-day."
Almost a decade ago we
had the publication of such a series under consideration, but the World
War and the consequent. unsettling of business halted our plans. We now
launch this volume, the first of a series that will show by what
suffering, heroism, and dogged determination the foundations of the
Canadian provinces were laid.
In the Spring of 1897 I
began a series of trips a-wheel through rural Ontario. These trips were
undertaken with the object of obtaining first-hand information, for
publication in the columns of The Weekly Sun regarding actual conditions
on the farms of the province.
While engaged in that
task, and purely by accident, I stumbled on a veritable storehouse of
information of another kind altogether. This information was carried in
the memories of men and women then still livingmemories that went back
to the days of the virgin forest, of log cabins surrounded by blackened
stumps in the midst of scanty clearings, of bush trails and corduroy
roads over which settlers toiled with their grists to distant mills, of
old-time logging bees, and of the circuit riders who carried the Gospel
message to those real heroes, who at such infinite cost in toil and
privation were effecting a conquest in which there was none of the brute
triumph of the conqueror or the bitterness of defeat in the conquered.
On the memories of those
met with I drew for the material given in a series of pioneer sketches
which appeared from time to time in the columns of the press during the
period from 1897 to 1914. These sketches, with some further information
gathered at a later date, form the basis of what is contained in this
It was Goldwin Smith who
first suggested the idea of putting into permanent form the fragmentary
accounts of pioneer life which are here offered. The suggestion was made
shortly after the sketches began to appear in print. Partly for that
reason, but still more because the judgments and ideals which have
governed my more mature years are mainly the result of the teaching and
example of Goldwin Smith, whose character and aspirations were expressed
in the inspired phrase, "above all nations is humanity," this volume is
reverently dedicated to his memory.
It is not pretended that
what is given even approaches the standard of a complete history of the
period dealt with in the life of Ontario. It is hoped, however, that the
facts collected may in some measure make easier the task of one, with
wider knowledge and greater literary skill, who will some day write a
real history of the land in which we live. And there can be no real
history of this land unless full justice is done to the memory and
service of the men and women who, while suffering unbelievable
privations, enduring a loneliness almost too great to be borne, and with
hearts aching because of ties broken with home and kindred, laid the
foundations of the civilization which it is our privilege to enjoy.
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