Pioneers of Old Ontario
Religion and Law
A HEAVY HANDICAP
"I can remember," said
William Allan, of Churchill, "when taverns were to be found at almost
every corner of the Penetang' Road between the town-line at the lower
end of Innisfil and the north end of the township. There was one at
Croxon's Corners, at the town-line; one at Cherry Creek; two at
Churchill, on the fourth; one at the fifth; one at the seventh; two at
Stroud; one at the twelfth; and one at Pains-wick, on the thirteenth.
These were all along the leading road in the township. Others were
scattered here and there, at other corners, off the main highway.
"The drinking habits of
the people were in keeping with the number of taverns from which liquor
was supplied. Fighting was a natural consequence of this excessive
drinking. Liquor flowed with special freedom during elections, and fists
and sticks formed the ultimate argument in the political controversies
of the day. Nor were elections the only cause of quarrels. An incident
of an international character once occurred at the old Tyrone tavern at
the corner of the fifth. An American lumber firm (the Dodge) was engaged
in cutting pine from our old place for the mill that was then in
operation at Belle Ewart. The firm had a number of Americans in its
employment and one night, a fight began at the tavern between the
Americans and a number of Canadians. The former soon got the worst of it
and were driven for shelter to their camp across the way. There was one
negro in the American party, and he came in for some of the hardest
knocks. People say that after the scrap was over, it was hardly possible
to tell which was his face and which was the back of his head. If a
white man had received such a pounding, his head would have been reduced
to a pulp. A few years ago when Wightman Goodfellow tore down the old
tavern, bloodstains, resulting from this and other fighting, could still
be seen on the walls.
"Churchill, known in the
early days as Bully's Acre, was another great place for fighting. At the
old show-fairs you might see a scrap at any time you chose to turn your
head in the direction from which the noise was coming. There is, by the
way, an interesting story of the manner in which Churchill got its name.
The first church in the neighbourhood was at the sixth line. A
tavern-keeper located on the salve corner and named his place `Church
Hill Tavern.' Believing the fourth line corners a better location lie
later on moved there and carried his sign with him, and thus the name
`Churchill' was transferred from the sixth to the fourth.
"Nor was the consumption
of liquor confined to taverns. At almost every store a pail of liquor
and a cup stood on the counter and all comers were at liberty to help
themselves. No logging-bee could be field without an abundant supply of
the same sort of refreshment, and after the bee was over, men fought or
danced as fancy moved themprovided they were not by that time too drunk
to do either.
"Where did the money come
from to pay for all the liquor consumed? It came from the sweat-stained
dollars that should have gone to the creation of homes; women were
robbed of their due, and children of their heritage, that liquor sellers
might wax fat. I have been told that the man who kept the old Tyrone
tavern at the fifth, was able to supply his boys with two or three
watches each from among those that had been left in pawn for liquor. Nor
was this all. Many a good farm was drunk up over the bar in the old days
and the owners and their children were forced to begin life over again
in a new location."
EARLY TEMPERANCE WORKERS
"When I was a young man,"
said Neil McDougall, who has already been quoted, "it was considered the
proper thing to call one's companions up for a drink whenever a bar was
reached, and there was then a bar at almost every cross-roads. The man
who did not take his liquor was looked upon as a milk-sop."
"There was a recognized
rule in connection with early drinking customs," J. S. McDonald, who has
also been previously quoted, added. "At loggings the rule was a gallon
of whiskey for each yoke of oxen at the bee. Of course, the whiskey was
not all consumed at the bee. The supply lasted until well into the
night, when dancing succeeded the labours of the day. Still, with all
the drinking, I do not remember seeing any one very drunk."
"But if the men did not
get drunk they sometimes quarrelled," interjected William Welsh. "At one
logging, which I attended on the first of Huron in 1863, two men
quarrelled over a race between their oxen in getting the logs together.
The angry discussion continued while the men were in the field and was
resumed at the supper table, where the two sat opposite each other. The
quarrel reached its culmination when one, rising to his feet, struck the
other full in the face. In a moment the table was overturned, dishes and
victuals were on the floor, and the two men were fighting back and forth
among the wreckage.
"Even some of the
ministers opposed the temperance cause in those days," Mr. Welsh
continued. "One of the first to introduce a change was the Rev.
Alexander Sutherland, a Presbyterian divine, who came into the Queen's
Bush in the 'seventies. This minister not only preached temperance to
the men in their homes but he went to the bars and induced men sodden
with liquor to o home and sober up. In 1864, a young Methodist
missionary, either Marshall or Maxwell by name, formed the first
temperance lodge, at a place that was then known as Starvation, but is
now Pine River. The influence of these two men was simply amazing. It
was largely as a result of their efforts that a community once much
given to drunkenness, is now noted for its sobriety."
Others of those
interviewed gave much of the credit for the change to the children of
the pioneers. These, seeing the evils of drunkenness in their elders,
were ready converts to the gospel preached by devoted clergymen such as
the Presbyterian and Methodist ministers named above.
German settlements were
formed in Bruce about the same time that the Scotch pioneers settled
there. Fifty years later these German communities were, in the matter of
social customs, much the same as they were at the beginning. Even in the
earliest days they were not given to excessive drinking. Neither did
they later on abandon drinking altogether. Beer was to them what whiskey
was to the Scotch, and men do not get drunk on beer taken as a beverage
like tea. In these German communities, the evils of drunkenness not
having been witnessed, the cause of total abstinence did not make
headway later on; and, until prohibition came, those of the second
generation continued to use beer as their fathers and grandfathers had
used it before them.
Bruce and North Simcoe
did not hold any pre-eminence in the number of drinking places in the
pioneer period. Twenty years ago John Langstaff told me that he
remembered no fewer than fifty-eight taverns on Yonge Street, or nearly
two per mile. Eleven of these were inside what, in 1900, were the city
limits. About Thornhill and Richmond Hill the country was cluttered with
drinking places, and Bond Lake, Wilcox Lake, and the Pinnacle had one
each. Their numbers thinned out towards Holland Landing, but at "The
Landing" itself there were three. The greatest development of the Yonge
Street, tavern trade occurred between 1837 and 1847. With the opening of
the Northern Railway, and consequent falling off in traffic by road, a
decline set in.
"While the tavern-keepers
prospered the distilling interest prospered as well," said Mr. Langstaff,
"and at one time I could count the sites of no fewer than nine
distilleries between 'Toronto and Richmond Hill. A distillery was not a
very elaborate affair in those days, a roof, a few round logs, and some
tubs being about all that was called for in the way of equipment. The
most important consideration was a good spring, and a farm that had such
was considered a favourable site for a distillery."
One of the first of the
old taverns was built at Elgin Mills. There, lot fifty-one was taken up
by Bolsar Munshall in 1793, and twenty-five years later Aaron llunsllall
established a tavern on the place. A daughter of the first Munshall
married a man named Wright, and theirs was the first white child born
north of Toronto.
The best known of these
old hostelries," said Mr. Langstaff, "was of course, Montgomery's
Tavern. Montgomery, on being pardoned for his part in the rebellion,
afterwards established the Franklin House in Toronto and died in Barrie
in his eightieth year. Another famous place was the old Red Lion.
Polling was held at the Lion in the election of 1832, following
Mackenzie's expulsion from the Legislature in 1831. Forty sleighs
escorted Mackenzie to the poling place, and in the first hour and a half
one hundred and nineteen votes were cast for him to one for Street, his
opponent, and then the latter `threw up the sponge.' On lot thirty-five,
north of Thornhill, was the Yorkshire House, and connected with this was
a mile race track."
The humorous side of
old-time drinking customs has been referred to more than once. Let Mr.
Langstaff tell something of the tragic side: "A stranger," said he
"disappeared from one of the old Yonge Street taverns at which he had
been stopping. Four young men were suspected of murdering him, but, in
the absence of proof, no arrests were made. Two of the suspects,
however, afterwards committed suicide by hanging. A number of idlers
were spending the day in a bar-room, and one offered to treat the crowd
if another of the party would go across the street and put a certain
question to a man standing there. The wager was accepted, but no sooner
was the question put than a fight began between the questioner and the
one questioned. An unlucky blow killed the latter and the slaver ended
his days in the Kingston penitentiary. I have seen four landlords
carried to premature graves from the Ship Hotel, Richmond Hill. Three
landlords of another tavern died of delirium tremens. There were seven
boys in a household wherein, in accordance with the customs of the day,
an open barrel was kept in the cellar. One of the boys was found dead in
the woods with a bottle by his side; a second, while on a spree, was
choked to death by a piece of meat he was eating; a third was found dead
in a stable where a keg of whiskey was kept; a fourth, as a result of
excessive indulgence, lost his power of speech; and a fifth left for
The tragedy of this
household was in a measure paralleled by the tragic history of a
blacksmith shop which Mr. Langstaff 's father owned. One tenant of this
shop, with the help of his wife, who was a milliner, became the owner of
a shop, a home, and two thousand dollars. Then the man began to drink
and, in a few years, home, shop, and money were all gone. The second
tenant of the Langstaff smithy had been a hard drinker but, at his
wife's solicitation, had
sworn off and made the wife custodian of the family purse. One day, when
a burning thirst came on, the man asked his wife for a shilling to buy a
drink, and was refused. In a fit of rage the man cut his throat with a
razor and died eight days later. A third tenant of the shop went to
Toronto for a spree before taking possession, and, while on this spree,
fell down a stairway and broke his neck.
York's first hanging,
too, was directly traceable to drink. Two men, Dexter and Vandaburg,
were neighbours and friends. Dexter invited Vandaburg, who was cradling
in an adjacent field into the house to have a drink. Angry words
followed the drinking and Vandaburg was shot dead by Dexter. The latter,
after due trial, was sentenced to be hanged. The scaffold was erected in
a public place with steps leading up to the platform. When Dexter was
brought to the foot of the structure he refused to mount the steps. Even
Bishop Strachan's soothing plea of, "Do go up, Mr. Dexter!" failed to
move him. Eventually a cart was brought and Dexter, placed in this, was
driven under the scaffold, and on the noose being adjusted the cart was
withdrawn. The usual inquest in such cases was held while the body lay
on the currying-board in Jesse Ketchum's tannery and afterwards the
body, not even boxed up, was taken home by Dexter's own team and buried
on his own farm, a few rods from Yonge Street.
"One of the saddest
tragedies of the period when taverns and distilleries were more numerous
than schools are now, was connected with the death of a young lad," Mr.
Langstaff stated. "This boy had gone with his father to a nearby
distillery to get a keg of whiskey for harvest. Other men were at the
distillery at the same time, and all, in accordance with the usual
custom, helped themselves at the open tub over which a cup was
conveniently hanging. While the men were otherwise engaged, the boy,
unnoticed by them, went to the tub, helped himself and died directly
after reaching home."
In addition to these
tragedies the drink habit interfered sadly with the training of the
young. Even amongst school teachers drunkenness was common in the early
days. One of the Bruce pioneers told of his school being closed for days
while the teacher was on a spree.
A TEMPERANCE TOWNSHIP
About 1868 descendants of
the Oro pioneers undertook in turn the work of pioneering in the country
adjacent to where the Nottawasaga River enters Georgian Bay. Among those
who took part in this movement were the Langmans, Cottons, Andersons,
Lockes, Hunters, and Camerons. 'These locating in what was then unbroken
bush, formed the settlement of which Crossland is now the centre.
"When en we located,"
said Noah Cotton, one of these Flos pioneers, "there was nothing but a
lumberman's road to Elmvale, five miles away. In the first fall after
our arrival we managed to get in five acres of fall wheat. Although we
suffered nothing like the hardships met with by the first settlers in
neighbouring townships that were opened up at an earlier period, we had
it hard enough. On my way home from Elmvale with my first grist I had to
drive a good part of the way through mud that in many places flowed over
the top of the jumper. The tails of the oxen, standing out straight
behind, actually floated over this slimy mass and the bags of flour were
coated with mud.
threshing-machine in the section was owned by a man named Richard
Whittaker, and four oxen provided the power for operating it. When
anyone wanted the machine he had to haul it to his own place. Almost
every night, after working in the field all day, John, a neighbour, and
his men came over to my place for a stag dance in the evening. With an
old violin I furnished music for the others. One night, when John was
putting in a few extra touches on the dance, there was a sudden crash
and the fancy stepper shot through a hole in the floor into the cellar.
He had stepped on a knot that extended almost all the way across one
board in the floor and this gave way under his weight. But, bless you,
that did not stop the dance. With a yell like an Indian, John jumped out
of the cellar and in a moment was at it again, harder than ever.
"No whiskey was ever seen
at raising or bee in this section. Twelve years before we came here a
temperance lodge had been formed at Colin Gilchrist's home in Oro. My
brother. sister, myself, and others joined that lodge, and we brought
our principles with us. To that fact is largely due the prosperity of
Mrs. Cotton told of the
woman's side of it. "I was here two weeks before I saw another woman,"
she said. "My first visitor was Miss Langman, and she had to tramp two
miles throe h the bush in order to make the call. She blazed the trail
with a draw-knife as she came so as to be sure of finding her way home
again. One night while my husband was away, an Indian, who had been
hunting all day without
success, came in and
asked for food and shelter. I was frightened at first, but, after
eating, he curled himself up beside the stove and slept quietly until
"One of the most serious
dangers to which the early settlers were exposed was bush fires," she
continued. "Some years after the work of clearing had been carried on in
Flos, bush fires swept over the township. Henry Thurston had the hair
burned from his head as the flames swept past him, and my husband,
caught in a roadway with a roaring furnace in the bush on each side,
threw a blanket over a child in the bottom of the wagon and then raced
for life to the open clearings beyond. At least one life was lost,
William Kerr being burned to death while fighting off the fires that
menaced his buildings."
VIRTUES AND FAILINGS
The Rev. John Gray, the
first Presbyterian minister in Oro, had as his field not only this one
township, but all the territory from Barrie on the south to Nottawasaga
Bay on the north, with part of Mara on the east side of Lake Simcoe
thrown in for good measure. The nearest Presbyterian place of worship to
the south was the old sixth line church in Innisfil. To the north was
the unbroken wilderness that then extended all the way to James Bay.
In covering his field in
summer Mr. Gray rode fifty miles on horseback over roads where stumps
and swails made travel difficult, and in the intervals preached two or
three times on week days and held four services on Sunday. In winter,
when driving in a cutter, he frequently had to get out and make his way
through the soft snow in order to permit a team hauling a load to pass.
"But there were
compensations," Mr. Gray told me twenty years ago in his then
comfortable home in Orillia. "The people were eager for the gospel. When
Dr. McTavish, of Beaverton, administered sacrament at old Knox, the
first Presbyterian church in Oro, people came from Mara and Rama as well
as from Medonte and Orillia to attend. When the doctor had sacrament
service in his own church at Beaverton people travelled fifty and sixty
miles to take part in the services. To provide accommodation for those
from a distance every house was thrown open, and, if that did not prove
sufficient, barns were opened as well."
Mr. Gray, besides
ministering to the spiritual needs of his flock, also assisted in
meeting their educational requirements. For a time he served as
superintendent of schools; not infrequently, after inspecting a school
during the day, he held religions service in the same building in the
evening. Nor were religious meetings confined to schoolhouses and
churches. One of the regular services was held in the room of au i old
frame tavern which then occupied the site where the Orillia House now
This recalls the fact
that in Oro and adjacent townships there was, in the early days, the
same remarkable combination that existed about. the same time in
Bruceintense religious feeling with an ardent love for "old Scotch."
This is not surprising in the case of the pioneers of Oro, many of whom
had been engaged in the distilleries of Islay before coming to Canada.
At weddings, baptisms,
and funerals alike whiskey flowed freely. In fact on one occasion those
called in to assist at a funeral became so drunk that they could not
bury the corpse. Once, too, when Mr. Gray was about to perform a
marriage ceremony, the bridegroom took him to one side and asked him to
overlook the customary fee for the time being as he "had to pay four
dollars for a barrel of whiskey," and that took all the money he had. "A
barrel was the regular allowance for a wedding at that time," said Mr.
"Those who entered the
northern part of Simcoe when I did, about 1850, had it hard enough, but
those who came in thirty years earlier had it much harder," Mr. Gray
continued. "I have heard the first of the Drurys and Sissons say that at
times they had to depend on wild fruit for a large part of their
While Mr. Gray was the
first Presbyterian minister in Oro, he was not the first to carry the
Gospel into that township. The first regular clergyman in the township
appears to have been the Rev. Mr. Raymond, the organizer of a settlement
formed at Edgar by runaway slaves thirty odd years before the American
Civil War broke the chains of slavery in the South. "Mr. Raymond," said
Mr. James Smith, a pioneer of Oro, "like Mr. Gray, was a roan of varied
gifts. Largely by the work of his own hands he built the Congregational
Church at Edgar in which he afterwards preached for the coloured people.
He also taught school. in Orillia during the week, including Saturday
forenoon, and then walked to Edgar to preach on Sunday. But walking was
nothing to him. One morning lie started from what is now the east end of
Barrie and reached Toronto on foot before sunset.
"The most picturesque
figure in this negro settlement, which at one time included over
twenty-five large families, was a negro preacher named Sorrocks. This
man, himself a runaway slave, had a wonderful influence over his people
and during his frenzied preaching some of his hearers became frantic and
tried to climb the walls of the church on the way to heaven. The
greatest time of all with them was the service that watched the old year
out and the New Year in. That continued from dark till dawn.
"At one of these midnight
services," continued Mr. Smith, "three young white men from Crown Hill
caused a disturbance and the preacher called on a Brother Eddy to eject
the intruders. Brother Eddy advanced boldly towards them, but, as he
came near, one of them, rising to his full height of six feet and more,
'Going to put me out?"
"Brother Eddy, after
looking the giant up and down and studying the situation decided not to
try it, but instead asked for a chew of tobacco.
"Still these negroes were
rather dangerous customers at times. After living for years in what was
then the wilderness north of Barrie, they seemed to revert in a measure
to the savage nature of their African ancestors, and it was a risky
thing to insult them. They were particularly touchy on any matter
relating to their colour.
"In the days before the
Civil War destroyed the slave-holding aristocracy of the South, some of
the Southern planters occasionally came up to the Lake Simcoe country to
hunt deer. When one of these Southern hunting parties reached Belle
Evart a big negro from Edgar, his eyes blazing with savage hate, jumped
on a member of the party, a Southern youth, and would have torn him limb
from limb had not others interfered. The explanation of the attack was
that the negro had been this white man's slave and, while a slave, had
been cruelly horse-whipped by his master.
"They were good axe-men
and useful at loggings," said Mr. Smith, "but poor farmers. The land
they chopped over on their own places as a rule soon grew up again as
thick as before. But they were good workers when employed by-others. One
of the community, Mrs. Banks, had a rare skill with herbs and was the
`medicine man' of the neighbourhood. When sickness occurred, the whole
community came to see the sick one and incidentally to share in the
provisions they knew the whites would supply."
Mr. Smith, from whom
these particulars of the Edgar negro settlement were obtained, was the
grandson of a man who had his wrist disabled at Quatre Bras just before
Waterloo. As partial compensation for military service the grandfather
received the grant of an Oro bush lot, and to this he removed in 1831.
In moving to his farm this old soldier had to follow the usual Yonge
Street-Lake Simcoe route of the time to Hawkstone.
"From Hawkstone," the
grandson told me, "my grandfather and his family tramped over twelve
miles through the bush, carrying their belongings on their backs. In
lighting a fire they used a flint and punk. Grandfather's nearest
neighbour, when he settled on his lot, was a negro a mile and a half
away. The nearest white was Smith of Dalston, six miles distant. He had
to carry his wool to Newmarket to have it made into cloth and his grist
to Holland Landing to be ground. He had the choice of two markets for
his produceBarrie and Penetang'. At the Thompson store at Penetang' he
could get just enough cash to pay his taxes; the balance due on his
produce had to be taken out in trade. At Barrie lie could not get even
as much cash."
Mr. Gray also threw
interesting light on the origin of some place-names in the country about
the upper end of Lake Simcoe. As elsewhere stated, a number of
Peninsular War veterans were pioneers in the Lake Simcoe country, mid
among these Spanish terms were as common as French expressions among the
Canadians who were in the mud of Flanders at a later day.
"Oro," said Mr. Gray, "is
Spanish for gold, and Peninsular veterans seeing the gold-like yellow
sand on the shore of Lake Simcoe applied the name to Oro. `Orillia,'
again, is Spanish for coast and hence the name given to Orillia town and
township. I cannot, however, account for the names Rama, Mara, and
Thorah. These are of Hebrew origin, llama meaning `high'; Mara,
'bitter;' and Thorall, `the law.' The only possible explanation that
occurs to me is that a Jew may have been engaged in the survey of those
PIONEER CAMP MEETINGS
It was in the last (lays
of May, 1898, that I visited the township of Clarke and chatted with
many old people in the neighbourhood. Best remembered amongst these are
H. L. Powers, Samuel Billings, - Thomas Thornton, John Bigelow, Simon
Powers, Lewis Clark, John Parker, Aaron Davis, Joseph Fox, John
Gardener, Thomas Hooper, Thomas Patter-soil, Robert Burgess and his
wife. These were the last of the Clarke pioneers. Of the fourteen whose
names are mentioned none remain alive to-day, with the exception of
Simon Powers, the father of Arthur Powers, one'of the most untiring
workers in the interests of the U.F.O. The first decade of the present
century witnessed the departure of practically all that remained of
those who had first-hand knowledge of pioneering days in what is now
known as Old Ontario.
"Norman and Saxon and
Dane are we," sang Tennyson in his greeting of Princess Alexandra when
she came from her home in Denmark to wed the late King Edward then
Prince of Wales. Of equally mixed, and at least equally honourable
ancestry, are we in Canada. One illustration of this is given in a
fragment of the family history of the one from whom I received most of
the facts herein given. H L. Powers' paternal grandfather, of English
ancestry, served in Washington's bodyguard in the American Revolutionary
War. His maternal grandfather Larue, of French ancestry, fought for the
King George of that day and had his property in the Thirteen Colonies
confiscated for his pains.
In compensation Larue was
given two hundred acres for each one of the several members of his
family in Canada. One of these children, the mother of H. L. Powers,
received as her share two hundred acres now forming part of the site of
the city of Ottawa. Mr. Powers was, however, born in the state of New
York, but early in life settled near Brockville, removing in 1832 to
what was then the wilderness of Clarke, where he and his connections
later on largely aided in turning the forest into fruitful fields.
"Our family had one team
of horses and one yoke of oxen when they started from Brockville, and
nine days were spent on the journey to where the village of Orono now
stands," said Mr. Powers. "They were obliged to cross the Trent River in
a scow, and narrowly escaped drowning in doing so. On the last stage of
the journey they had to cut a road for four miles through the woods in
order to reach the future site of Kirby. Orono was then a hemlock bush.
The only settlers in the neighbourhood were two families of Baldwins and
an old bachelor named Eldad Johns."
A bear was treed and shot
the day the Powers arrived, and Mr. Powers' first night was passed in
the lee of a fallen pine with the boughs forming a roof. The first
Christmas day was s~)eut in packing flour from Munro's Mill, near
hew-castle. Mt'. Powers, his father, and two brothers each carried a
load home on his back.
The fraternal spirit of
the early days is shown by the action of Eldad Johns, the bachelor of
Orono. During one winter of real scarcity, wheat soared locally to two
dollars and a half per bushel. Johns was one of the few men who had
grain to spare, but none of this was for those with money. "Go," said
Johns to these, "and buy from those who have it to sell. My
wheat is all for those
who have no money and for them it is without price."
The electric lights which
now illuminate the village streets were not even dreamed of in the days
of the pioneers. "Those who had tallow candles were the fortunate ones,"
said Mr. Powers. "Many depended on wicks set in oil held in saucers, or
more frequently still on the blazing logs in the open fireplace.
"There were, however,
luxuries even in that day," he continued. "Maple sugar was made by all
the settlers, some families putting down as much as seven hundred pounds
in a season. There were no apples, but there was something else just as
good. The pumpkin bee was a social function, and lads and lassies
gathered from miles around to peel and string pumpkins for drying, just
as those of a later generation had their apple-paring bees. And what
delicious pies those dried pumpkins did make!"
Hunting was a source of
pleasure as well as of profit to the pioneers. Cyrus Davidson, a
celebrated marksman of the pioneer period, brought down seven deer in
one day, and Mr. Powers' father shot one hundred and nineteen in all,
his one great regret being that he was not able to make it the even one
hundred and twenty.
But the dancing! "Once,"
Mr. Powers resumed, "when father, my brother, and myself were on our way
home from Port Hope we stopped at a hotel where a dance was in progress.
The landlord told us to join in. Scarcely had we entered the room when
two girls came up and invited us to be their partners. (We did not wait
for introductions in those days.) The dance was the 'opera reel,' with
girls on one side and boys on the other in parallel lines. It was while
holding opposite lines that the fancy steps were put in. My brother was
one of the best fancy dancers I have ever seen, and after the girls saw
how he could `step it off' we had no lack of partners for the rest of
the evening. I sometimes served as fiddler at local dances, and even yet
I can see the bright-eyed girls, clad in homespun, as they swung in the
arms of the swains of long ago.
At a later period came
the camp meetings, and these were at times scenes of the most intense
excitement. The sermon, and it was the real old-timer with plenty of
brimstone in it, was followed by singing, and during the singing sinners
were urged to advance to the penitent bench. `Come Sinners to the Gospel
Feast' and `Blow Ye the Trumpet Blow' were among the favourite hymnal
appeals to the ungodly. The fierce urge of the sermon and the passionate
call of the singers stirred the massed audience to a state of
indescribable excitement. I have seen people literally fall over each
other while the anguished wails of repentant sinners mingled with the
voices of the singers and the weird sound of the wind in the tree tops.
"The most exciting time
of the kind I ever experienced was at an indoor revival, held by a man
named Beale, at Orono in 1843. This man warned the assembled hundreds to
prepare for the end of the world, which he declared was then at hand.
One man actually tried to climb a stovepipe on the way to heaven and one
woman went raving mad."
But there was another
side to these religious upheavals of the 'fortiesa side furnished by
some who persistently remained without the fold. At one camp meeting,
held near Myrtle, in Ontario County, a rowdy led in a gang of toughs
bent on disturbing the meeting. "A magistrate who happened to be on the
grounds swore in a dozen of us to keep the peace," said Mr. Powers. "As
soon as sworn in we went over to the intruders and escorted them to the
open road. When we reached the road one of the specials, a big muscular
chap named Mosher, who either had not been converted or had backslidden,
went up to the bad men and quietly remarked: `Now, if you chaps have not
had enough, I will take you on one at a time and lick the crowd.' The
challenge was not accepted and there were no more attempts to disturb
that particular meeting.
"These old-time camp
meetings, were held all the way from Orono to Whitby neighbourhood.
Jacob Purdy's bush on the seventh concession of Clarke provided one of
the camp sites. Among the preachers were Bishop Smith and Solomon
Waldron of Mallorytown, Mr. Pirette of Whitby, and Charles Simpson of
Mr. Powers led the
singing at many of these gatherings. I heard him sing some of the old
hymns when he was well past three score and ten, and even then his voice
was clear as a bell. The Briggs family of Whitby were also among the
famous camp-meeting singers of the 'forties and 'fifties.
Speaking of religious
services in the early days, Mr. McDougall of Bruce County once said to
me: "In the evening the family sat around the open hearth, where the
great logs blazed, and sang Psalms learned in Scotland. On Sundays
father and mother walked ten miles to church. Communion services were
held at Kincardine once a year, these services lasting from Thursday to
Monday. To these services people came from a distance of twenty or
thirty miles, many of them along blazed trails, over swails knee deep in
mud, d, and 1liroughl slashes where wind storms had left trees in a
tangled mass. No building in Kincardine was large enough to hold those
who came and services were held in the open. Rector McKay was precentor
and the whole congregation joined in the singing, that familial' Psalm
of faith and trust being their favourite:
"The Lord is my Shepherd
I shall not want.' ''
EXCITING SERVICE IN A MILL
"One of the first places
open for service was Calder's mill in Beaverton," said Mr. McFadyen, to
whom we have listened before. "One Sunday I arrived a little late and
the building was already crowded. I had just taken my place near a set
of stones, the Psalm had been given out, and Precentor Gillies was
leading the singing, when there was a noise of grinding and wrenching
and the next moment I found myself at the edge of a small precipice.
Below was a tangled mass of timber, boards, and struggling humanity,
while the noise of breaking timbers was succeeded by the shrieks of the
"The floor of the mill
had given way under the weight of the assembled congregation. Strange to
say the only casualty was a broken leg, Miss McCrea being the victim.
The minister on that occasion was the Rev. Mr. Galloway. An uncle of Mr.
Galloway, of Beaverton, and Colonel Cameron, who owned part of what is
now the Gunn farm, took charge of the work of rescue.
"At the beginning there
were long intervals between regular services, and during these intervals
the people met together, in the home of one or other of the neighbours,
to read the scriptures and sing psalms. Regular services drew
congregations from the whole country for miles around, the people
walking bare-footed, In order to save their shoes, until within a short
distance of the place of assemblage, and then stopping to put on their
footwear that they might enter the sanctuary decently shod.
"Frequently service was
held in the open woods. On such occasions the men gathered on Saturday
to clear out the underbrush and prepare rude seats for the congregation.
Never have been witnessed more impressive services than those that came
with the succeeding Sabbath. No cathedral could boast pillars equal to
those formed by the giants of the forest; no vaulted arch fashioned by
man so impressive as the leafy canopy above, while the rude altar was
glorified by shafts of gold as the rays of the afternoon sun shot
athwart the trees. The gentle breeze that stirred the pine tops created
a melody deeper and sweeter than that produced in response to the touch
of the player, and as the voices of the great congregation rose in
ever-swelling volume, the earth and all that lived therein seemed to
join in the song of praise. It was no formal service then; the
declaration that `The Lord is my Shepherd' expressed a living belief in
an over-ruling Providence, and eyes were lifted unto the hills around in
expectation of seeing the ever-present help in time of need."
The old days are gone;
the woods are gone; the pioneers themselves rest in the shadows of the
old stone church; but the memory and influence of these simple,
believing pioneers will remain long after even the church itself has
crumbled into dust.
EARLY RELIGIOUS REVIVALS
Frequent reference is
made in these sketches to the intensity of the religious fervour
prevailing in Ontario within a period roughly extending from 1830 to
1850. A partial explanation of the phenomenon may be found in the
conditions then existing. The tide of emigration from Europe was at its
height. Family and community ties with the old land were being forever
broken; hardships of many kinds pressed with crushing weight upon the
pioneers. The loneliness of isolated families was beyond description.
The dense forests, the great lakes and rivers, and the dread
magnificence of nature were all calculated to make a deep impression on
minds peculiarly susceptible to spiritual influences. Perhaps never were
the comforts of religion more deeply felt, even by the Jews during the
One of the most
extraordinary pleases of the wave that then swept over Ontario was seen
in the Millerite frenzy of the 'forties. Some first hand information
regarding this was obtained from Charles Allin, then living in
"Two brothers named Huff
represented the Millerite movement in the district covering Newcastle,
Orono, and Kirby," Mr. Allis said, "These men used a blackboard in
connection with their preaching and that blackboard was covered with
figures and Scriptural texts. From the evidence thus graphically
presented they proved conclusively, to their own satisfaction at least,
that the end of the world was at hand. Many shared their belief and as
the appointed day approached the excitement was intense. Even when the
day arrived and the predicted event did not occur, the faith of the
Millerites was not shaken. This continued faith was based on an
ingenious explanation given by the leaders. They said that they had made
the same sort of miscalculation a man would make in counting the steps
from his door to the gate post, by including the doorstep itself in the
number. They made a new calculation, with allowance for this sort of
error, and declared that the soundness of their new prophecy was beyond
question. As the second day approached, excitement, high enough before,
reached the point of madness. But there were mockers even then. A few
evenings before the day named for the final crash, some of the boys from
the village loosened the pegs of the gigantic tent in which a lot of
shouting Millerites were assembled, and shouts and screams were
smothered under the collapsed canvas structure. A day or two before
this, as we were chopping in our woods, one of the Huffs approached and
'You may chop and you may
You may plough and you may sow;
But you certainly shall not reap!'
"I know we did reap,
though" added Mr. Akin with a smile, "because I cradled most of the
resultant crop myself."
THE CAVAN BLAZERS
"`The Cavan Blazers' were
the social regulators of the early days in the northern part of Durham,"
said George Berry. "Now-a-days it is all law, law, law. If any little
dispute occurs between neighbours, or if some one is acting in a manner
injurious to the community, the magistrate and constable must be called
in. `The Blazers' settled all such matters in the early days without
delay, without cost, and with less of ill-feeling than follows upon
legal proceedings now. Not only that, but they made the punishment fit
the crime in the case of men whose offences could not be reached in the
"For instance there was
one mean and generally disagreeable fellow, whose conduct was such as to
call for a little discipline. In those days they teamed grain to Port
Hope, more than twenty miles distant, and loaded their wagons the night
before so as to get an early start the next morning. This man had a
wagon load of grain all ready to go to market. When he got up in the
morning lie found the wagon, still loaded, astride the ridge of the
barn. He may not have enjoyed the work of getting the wagon and bags
down from the roof, but he was a better citizen afterwards.
"Then there was a
postmaster who insisted on pasturing his calf on the roadway. A nearby
church and adjoining cemetery were both open to the road, and the calf
would go into the graveyard and feed on the long grass. Then, as a chill
came on with the night, it would lie on the warm steps of the church and
leave them in a most filthy state by morning. `The Blazers' stood it as
long as possible, and then one Saturday night something happened. When
the storekeeper got up late Sunday morning, he found the calf boxed up
in a large crockery crate in front of his store door and the crate
securely anchored with some heavy stones and a block of timber placed on
top. The lesson was effective. There was no more desecration of the
place of burial; and the church steps no longer required scrubbing every
Sunday morning before service.
"`The Blazers' had their
own method of punishing contempt of the court they maintained. One man,
forgetting the respect due so useful and august a tribunal, had the
temerity to express, in a letter, sentiments which `The Blazers' thought
derogatory to their dignity. One evening, as he was walking home along
the concession line, he found himself unexpectedly in the midst of a
group of figures that appeared from the gloom of the fence corners. He
was first requested to eat his own letter, and the request was promptly
complied with. Then he was asked, and again no special urging was called
for, to hold up his right hand and repeat a solemn declaration that `I.
A. B., am the greatest liar on top of earth.'
"On another occasion,
'The Blazers' came in for what they considered unjust censure. In this
case the criticism was given in the course of a sermon by a preacher in
the neighbourhood. The preacher also happened to be going along the road
a short time afterwards, and he likewise found himself in the midst of a
group of stalwart figures that appeared from the surrounding gloom. He
was asked to get out of the buggy. He got out. He was requested to kneel
in the dust of the roadway. He kneeled. Then he was requested to pray,
not for the conversion of `The Blazers,' but for the success of their
efforts to maintain order and promote good citizenship in their own way.
"A widow had a cow that
was almost as great a nuisance as the storekeeper's calf. It carried a
bella jarring, jangling bell, that kept the whole neighbourhood awake
at nights. One Saturday night there was an unusual calm; the bell had
disappeared from the cow's neck. Next morning it was found hanging from
the middle of a telegraph wire that ran opposite a church in which the
sermons were of the two hour order. That Sunday, the preacher had
scarcely reached the `firstly' when a gentle breeze sprang up and jang-clang
went the bell as it swayed on the wire. The sermon proceeded, but before
it was fairly in the `secondly' stage, the wind had increased and the
jang, clang, clang, brought the discourse to an abrupt and unusually
early ending. `The Blazers' got their two birds with that one shot,"
chuckled Mr. Berry, "the cow no longer disturbed the night, and from
that time on the sermons in that particular church were of moderate
"`The Blazers' were fine
workers and had their own peculiar sense of humour. One night, while out
on some other business, a quiet young roan happened to be going the same
way on horseback. He, too, suddenly found himself in a bunch of men on
the roadway. Their unlooked for appearance rather alarmed him at the
start, but their quiet demeanour and gentle conversation reassured him,
and he thought he must have struck a lot of neighbours going home from
prayer meeting. When he got into the stable, with a light, he found that
the tail of his horse had been as neatly shaved as ever a chin has been
shaved since by a barber with all the accessories of electric light and
upholstered chair. "'The Blazers' were all Orangemen, and there was only
one Roman Catholic in the whole township. One year, as harvest season
approached, this man was taken ill and was unable to care for his
ripening crop. It was then that `The Blazers' showed the warm heart
beneath the sometimes rude exterior. They went one night and cut and
shocked the ripening grain on the farm of their sick neighbour. A few
nights later they returned and hauled the grain into the barn.
"Sometimes in their
enthusiasm for good fellowship `The Blazers' committed pranks from which
the settlers suffered loss. A farmer's wife had a turkey gobbler of
which she was inordinately prouda regular forty pounder. One night she
heard a gentle flutter and squawk in a nearby tree in which the turkeys
roosted. Going to the door, lamp in hand, she stood revealed in the
flickering light. A few feet from her, hidden in the shadow, stood a man
with the gobbler's head safely gathered up in his armpit, and the fat
body of the bird pressing warmly against his side. The thief had a sense
of Humour, too. `Don't bother to bring a light, madam,' said he, `I've
got him.' "
Mr. Berry had another
story to tell of the early daysa story which may not be strictly
accurate, but is too good to omit.
A preacher, having lost
his voice, took up a bush farm. He had chopped and burned one small
corner and had everything prepared for his spring seeding. His oxen,
Buck and Bright by name, were in the bush, the old three-pointed drag
was ready, and the seed was in the bag. But during the night before the
seeding, Buck died and Bright alone was left.
"Never mind," said the
ex-preacher hopefully to his wife; "if you sow the grain Maria I will
yoke myself with Bright and we will pull the drag."
The yoking was effected
and the first round started. There was a slight up-grade to the back of
the field but on the return the ground sloped downward. Whether it was
the lighter haul down, a furry ground-hog, or a belated realization of
the sort of yoke-mate he had, is not known, but anyway Bright started on
the jump and the ex-preacher had to jump, too. Maria, dropping her pan
of wheat hurried to head them off.
"Don't get in the road,
Maria," shouted her spouse as he ran for life dodging blackened stumps
at the same time, "Don't try to head us off; we're running away."
At the end of the
clearing Bright and his human yoke-fellow ran fair into a brush heap and
were `fetched up all standing.' Maria, badly winded, got there almost as
"Unhitch Bright, Maria,"
gasped the husband, "I'll stand."
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