Pioneers of Old Ontario
By way of Yonge
WHEN YONGE STREET WAS AN
"When I first knew
Toronto there were not more than two or three brick buildings between
the market and Yonge Street. There was not a building of any kind on the
west side of Yonge between Queen and Bloor. Yonge Street north of
Toronto was not then the straight highway it is now, but twisted and
turned in all directions to avoid the hills. About Unionville the
country was covered with magnificent pine. People wondered how they
would ever get rid of it all, and trees, as straight as a ruler and as
free from blemish as a race horse, were cut down and the logs burned in
heaps. Ropes and harness were made from home-grown flax, and almost
every home had its wheel and loom where clothing for the family was
made. The first cooking stove seen in Markham, brought in by a Yankee
peddler named Fish, did not have an oven attachment but only holes in
which pots could be placed.. Bread was baked in pans set in coals. A
black-ash swamp near Unionville was full of wolves. In the evenings
bears came into the oat fields, and, gathering the heads together in
their fore paws, feasted in peace on the ripening grain."
All this was given from
the personal recollections of Simon Miller, who was living in Unionville
in 1898. Through his immediate ancestors Mr. Miller was connected with
the very earliest stages in the history of what is now the metropolitan
district of which Toronto is the centre. One of his most prized
possessions was a document dated "Navy Hall, 29th of April, 1793,"
signed by J. G. Simcoe, the first governor of Upper Canada, and
addressed to the officer commanding at Niagara. This document was a
command to the officer in question "to permit Nicholas Miller, Asa
Johnson, Jacob Phillips, Abraham and Isaac Devins, and Jacob Schooner"
to bring in free of duty from the United States "such goods and effects
as household furniture, chairs, tables, chests of clothing," etc. The
Nicholas Miller mentioned in this document was the grandfather of Simon,
and Isaac Devins was the grandfather of Simon's wife.
The original home of the
Millers was lot thirty-four on the first of Markham, the Yonge Street
farm later on occupied by David James. This and the old John Lyon farm
were the first two for which patents were issued in Markham. The log
cabin built on the Miller lot was probably the first house erected in
Markham, and the body of Grandfather Miller, who died in 1810, is
believed to have been the first buried in the old cemetery at Richmond
Three of Simon Miller's
uncles on his mother's side took part in the War of 1812-15. These were
Kennedys, after whose family the old "Kennedy Road" was named. One lost
a leg at Queens-ton while charging with Brock in an effort to recapture
the gun taken earlier in the morning by the Americans and then turned
against the British. A Major, of the well known family of that name in
Pickering, had a piece of flesh flicked from his leg by the same
discharge. Mr. Miller's mother heard the explosion when the old fort at
York was blown up as the Americans entered the town after capturing it,
and Mr. Miller himself as a lad heard the boom of the first gun fired in
the skirmish at Montgomery's Tavern in 'thirty-seven.
"After school had been
hastily dismissed on the latter occasion and 1 was on my way home," said
Mr. Miller, "I met a company of Highlanders headed by skirling bagpipes
coming out of Vaughan, on their way to join Mackenzie, but as the latter
was already in retreat they were too late for the affair. For weeks
afterwards loads of prisoners passed our door on Yonge Street on the way
to Toronto to stand trial for high treason. Many of those in charge of
the prisoners had themselves been implicated in the rising and took this
means of turning aside suspicion from themselves. The worst of the
direct effects of the rebellion was not the tearing of men from their
families. It was the feuds, lasting for years, which originated at that
time. Years afterwards, `you are a rebel' or `the son of a rebel' was
the signal for a fight. When men gathered at grist-mill or for the
annual `training day' the whiskey hardly started flowing before a fight
commenced in some corner, and in a short time the row became general.
"One of the worst
consequences of the freedom with which liquor was to be obtained at this
period," continued Mr. Miller, "was seen in the case of the Indians. All
the Indians of that day from the Lake Simcoe and Georgian Bay country
came to Toronto once a year to receive money and goods, which the
Government gave them in return for the surrender of their lands. I have
seen them coming down Yonge Street in twos and threes, magnificent
specimens of manhood, their head-dresses decorated with eagle feathers,
and carrying war spears in their hands. Too often they went back in a
very different condition. The white man knew the Indian's fondness for
whiskey, and whites waylaid these children of the forest and supplied
them freely with firewater in exchange for the goods the Indians had
received from the Government. Frequently, by the time the red men
reached Thornhill on their way home, they had neither goods, blankets,
nor money, and had to beg food for maintenance on the rest of the
journey northward. Notwithstanding the manner in which they had been
robbed, and the fact that they were armed, I never heard of a white man
being killed by them. Eventually, however, the scandal became so great
that the Government adopted the plan of carrying the annuities for the
Indians to their reserves and paying them there.
"In 1822, and again in
1823, grandfather and father found it necessary to go to Philadelphia to
look after some property interests that had not been disposed of when
the family left Pennsylvania. Both journeys were made on horseback.
Three years later a third journey was made to the Quaker city, but this
time in comparative comfort. From Buffalo to New York passage was taken
by Erie Canal boats, and from New York to Philadelphia by ocean vessel.
When I went to the States in 'forty-seven, I took boat from Toronto to
Lewiston, from Lewiston to the Falls by horse-car with the horses driven
tandem, and from the Falls to Buffalo by a train which ran on wooden
rails covered with strips of iron."
Henry Horne, for many
years postmaster at Langstaff, in a pamphlet published in the last
century, gave some particulars of the difficulties encountered in travel
at a still later date than that mentioned by Mr. Miller. 'Tr. Horne made
a trip to Toronto in the fall of 'fifty-two by the section of the old
Northern Railway then open. There were no passenger cars on the line.
Passengers had to stand up, and when the engine required water the train
was held lip while the crew dipped the necessary water from open ditches
beside the track.
When the Millers and
Devins first settled in Markham there was no grist-mill anywhere within
reach and all the flour used in the neighbourhood was ground in a
coffee-mill Grandfather Miller had brought with him from Philadelphia.
At a later stage a man named Thorne established a hundred-barrel mill
and general store at the place which bears his name. Big as his mill
was, it was unable to cope with the trade that came to it. "I have
seen," said Mr. Miller, "a procession of wagons loaded with wheat that
kept the mil f. running until ten at night. Thorne was a kind-hearted
man, and many poor settlers in Adjala, and Tecumseh were indebted to him
for the flour necessary to carry them through until the following
harvest. His end was an unhappy one, though. Embarrassed by unfortunate
speculations in wheat he committed suicide.
Burials were simple
affairs among the pioneers. In one case the body of a man who had no
relatives in the country, was enclosed in a coffin made of slabs split
from a basswood tree and buried on his own farm. In fact a number of the
first settlers were interred on the lots taken up by them. When the lots
afterwards changed hands the bodies were in some cases removed. In
others, agreements were made for the maintenance of the burial plots.
But who is to enforce such agreements when even the descendants of the
original owners of the property are far away? Inevitably the ground made
sacred by the dust below will come under the plow, and some day, when a
ditch is being dug or a foundation laid, men of a new generation will
wonder what tragedy was hidden with the bones then brought to light."
THE QUEEN'S BUSH
When I was a boy "The
Queen's Bush" was frequently mentioned in conversation in much the same
way as "The Peace River Country" is now. The term was then -applied to
the Huron tract, a territory stretching from about Goderich to Georgian
Bay, and in which settlements were just beginning to be formed. The
territorial description was a moving one, however, and was applied
generally to any lands which were still largely in possession of the
Crown; and, as lands passed from the Crown into the hands of settlers
moving west, and still further west, the description moved with the tide
The story that follows
was told to me in 1906 by John Claughton, who remembered when the name
of Queen's Bush covered territory as far east as the township of
Uxbridge. The conditions under which I fell in with Mr. Claughton were
in themselves a striking illustration of the marvellous change wrought
in Ontario in the course of one lifetime. I was on my way from Barrie to
Whitby, driving on that occasion, when night found me with a very tired
horse, near Epsom, in the township of Reach. There was not a house of
public accommodation within miles, and yet Mr. Claughton, who proved the
Good Samaritan in a time of need, remembered when Epsom had two hotels;
Prince Albert, three; and Utica and Manchester, two eachall the places
named being within a few miles of each other.
"At that time," said Mr.
Claughton, "farmers from Georgina, Brock, Uxbridge, and Scott all teamed
their wheat to Whitby or Oshawa. When this traffic was at its height
there would be a string of teams stretching as far as the eye could
reach and all moving south. It was almost impossible to drive north then
because of the traffic moving in the opposite direction. That was when
the old plank road extended from Manchester to Whitby. Much of the plank
for that road was cut in the Paxton mill at Port Perry. There were five
toll gates on the highway, and the toll for the round trip was three
York shillings. [A York shilling, equivalent to twelve and one half
cents, was a common unit of calculation in early days.] The wheat taken
over it to Whitby was shipped to Oswego and thence to England. The wheat
taken to Oshawa was ground in the Gibb's mill."
Mr. Claughton's memory,
and what he had heard from his parents, covered a period antedating even
the time of the old plank road. He told how the Paxton's, when they
first settled near the site of the Dryden farm, had to drive thirty
miles to Toronto for household supplies.
"I can remember," he
said, "when what was practically a solid bush extended all the way from
Epsom to Port Perry. I have seen mast timber, seventy to eighty feet
long, taken out of Reach, four or five teams being required for the
hauling. I have seen the best hardwood sold in Whitby at a dollar a
cord. I have seen ten acres covered by great bonfires in which the best
of pine, elm, and maple were burning. When, after such prodigal waste,
timber began to grow scarce in the neighbourhood, people went to `The
Queen's Bush' in Uxbridge township and helped themselves, there being no
one there to say them nay.
"One night, after having
left Uxbridge at eight o'clock, I heard a pack of wolves howling in the
Black River swamp. There were many wolves in the swamp on the thirteenth
of Reach and sheep had to be penned up at night for protection. A man
named Shaw was on his way home carrying a heavy Bible lie had borrowed
from a neighbour when he meta bear. He dropped the Bible and ran, the
sacred volume being recovered unharmed next day. One Sunday, when I was
out walking near Epsom, three deer suddenly rose up in a small clearing
almost in front of me.
threshing-machine used in the neighbourhood was one of the old
`pepper-mills.' One man raked the straw as it came from the cylinder, a
second raked it a little further, and a third pitched it to one side. If
there were more than one day's threshing, the grain on the floor had to
be cleaned up before threshing could go on."
"Where are the pioneers
and their descendants`?" I asked.
The answer came in
something like a wail: "Gone, gonegone almost to the last man and the
last woman. The bodies of the pioneers lie in neglected or forgotten
cemeteries. Their descendants have been scattered as if by the four
winds of heaven. In many cases even the names are forgotten. Of the
families living between Whitby and Oshawa in the 'forties I do not
believe one remains to-day. Between Manchester and Whitby it is much the
same. Only two or three remain between Epsom and Manchester."
Still, although so few of
the children or grandchildren remain where their families first settled,
there is occasional evidence of a tie yet connecting them with the place
where the light of day was first seen. One such evidence I found near
Gamebridge while on this same journey. There a school library had been
provided by the late Andrew Gunn, one of the founders of Gunns Limited,
in memory of boyhood days spent in the bush when his father settled on
the east side of Lake Simcoe. At Utica, again, I had seen "Memory Hall,"
which had been erected by T. W. Horne, one of the contractors for the
building of the King Edward Hotel, Toronto, this being Mr. Horne's
contribution to the community life of the section his parents had helped
A STURDY YOUNG TRAVELLER
This story has its
beginning in Scotland; it touches North Carolina, and has its closing
scenes in the township of Eldon. It begins with the eighteenth year of
the past century, and almost the whole period is covered by a life that
had not, when the story was told in 1910, run its course. Colin McFadyen,
believed to be the oldest resident then in Eldon, at that time in his
ninetieth year, but still bright of eye and with none of the ashen hue
of age, gave the particulars.
Shortly after the end of
the Napoleonic wars times were desperately hard in the old land and men
began to turn their eyes in the direction of the New World, where people
were fewer and opportunities greater. Among those who looked abroad were
Mr. McFadyen's father and some of his friends. They finally determined
to start for Wilmington, Delaware, where an acquaintance was already
engaged in the woollen industry.
"It was no palace steamer
in which father and his friends arranged to make the journey," said Mr.
McFadyen. "It was an old sailing ship that had years before been
condemned as unfit for the carrying of passengers. Our people did not
know this at the time, and gladly paid the seven or eight pounds per
head demanded for their passage to America. The vessel, although very
old, was a fairly good sailer. Once during the voyage another craft was
seen to be following. Fearing that she might be a pirate, the captain
put on full sail and the possible enemy was left `hull down.' The old
vessel proved more seaworthy than was expected, as she was able shortly
afterwards to ride in safety through a West Indian hurricane.
"At length Wilmington was
reached, but the place did not suit the people, and they determined to
go on to North Carolina, and it was there that I was born. Eventually
they tired of Carolina. Although my uncle held slaves, my father
objected strongly to the system, and he objected also to taking the oath
of allegiance to the United States, as he was being constantly urged to
do. Attention was thus naturally directed towards Canada and one of the
party was sent to spy out the land. The investigation proved
satisfactory and, in 1828, a party consisting of my father (Archie
McFadyen), Archie McMillan, Colin Campbell, and their families
determined to set out for the north.
"It was a genuine trek.
The whole distance was covered in wagons, the men and boys walking
alongside the rude vehicles. I walked every foot of the way myself,
although then only nine years old. The journey from Carolina to Hogg's
Hollow, where we first located, occupied seven weeks, and on only two
nights did we have the shelter of a roof. One of these two nights we
spent in a vacant house. Where did we sleep the other nights? On the
ground, with a blanket beneath and the blue sky above. If it looked like
rain we crawled under the wagons, which were covered with canvas. One of
my brothers was born on the waythat occurred in Virginiabut this was
allowed to delay us for only one day.
"Yes, the road was none
too smooth," Mr. McFadyen went on. "We climbed mountains, up the face of
which the horses could barely haul their loads. In going down the other
side the men had to apply brakes to prevent the wagons from running on
top of the animals. We crossed rivers, sometimes over bridges, but
frequently at fords. In many cases bridge tolls were levied not only on
teams, but on pedestrians as well. In order to reduce the charges we
sent the wagons over the bridges, while the men and women in the party
crossed on the backs of horses as these swam the streams.
"We crossed the Niagara
River at Black Rock, the crossing being made in a ferry worked by horses
with treadmill power. When we reached the Humber River, six miles out
from Little York, as Toronto was then called, we found the bridge gone,
and we had to wade the stream. While crossing the water came into the
boxes of the wagons, and in going up the opposite bank it seemed at
times as if the horses would fall back on top of the vehicles."
The party finally reached
Hogg's Hollow and settled there for a year. Then they set out for their
permanent home in the township of Eldon. This was the worst of the whole
journey. Once, when they struck a cedar swamp, the wagons sank to the
axles and a whole day was spent in going four miles. The Horses were
barely able to pull the wagons through the slime, and the men had to
carry the luggage on their shoulders. The wagons could not be taken
beyond Uxbridge, the rest of the way to lot seven on the first of Eldon
being a blazed trail. All told, five days were spent in making a journey
that an automobile would cover now in less than two hours of a summer
"There was not a tree cut
on the place when we arrived," said Mr. McFadyen as he proceeded to tell
of conditions in the new home, "but in three days we had a cabin built.
It was of course made of logs, with the spaces between the logs filled
with moss and the roof made of split basswood. As we had no feed left we
had to get rid of the horses, and father traded one for a steer and
twelve bushels of wheat. He borrowed a yoke of oxen to bring the wheat
home. This was ground into flour between two grindstones that were made
to revolve with a crank turned by hand. The wheat was poured by hand
through a hole in the upper stone. Between dark and bedtime enough would
be ground to provide for the next day's needs. Later on we thought we
were well off when we got a coffee-mill to do the grinding.
"It was hard enough to
get along in the early days. Potatoes and corn were our chief reliance,
and the only ready money was earned by sailing on the lakes. We found
work enough at home, however,cutting down trees in winter, splitting
rails and fencing in spring, and burning fallows in summer. The last was
hard work. I was my father's principal helper, and we had to keep moving
the burning logs closer and closer together while the heat of fire and
sun combined caused the perspiration to pour from its in streams.
"It was a lawless time,
too, in the early days. Dougall Carmichael, my mother's brother, came
out to us in 1832. He walked from Sutton by the road, after having his
goods landed at Beaverton. When he went to Beaverton to secure the
goods, some men there began shooting and my uncle, fearing for his life,
fled. Returning later he found a chest broken into and sixty sovereigns
and some clothing stolen. Years afterwards, when I was returning from
Mount Albert, where I had been with a load of grain, a man told me he
knew of the robbery and that the robber had buried the gold under his
hearthstone near Beaverton.
"Another time when I was
driving to Toronto with a load of grain l had with me a couple of wolf
skins, which a man in Toronto had agreed to buy. I had stopped at
Markham to feed the horses. That was in the days of the `Markham gang'
and Markham had a bad name. Consequently while waiting in the hotel
until my horses were through feeding, I kept my eye on my sleigh. But a
cutter drove up alongside as i watched, my skins were whisked into it
and the rig was out of sight, before I could pursue."
']'his reference to the
wolf skins naturally brought up hunting stories, and once Mr. McFadyen
got started on this line the stories came thick and fast.
"When father killed the
steer we had secured in exchange for one of our horses, he found it
necessary to go to a neighbour's for salt with which to cure the heat.
When on his way back, and in the middle of the `big swamp' of 'fhorah,
there was a sudden and terrific howling from a pack of wolvesa howling
that seemed to make the woods fairly tremble. Father dropped the salt
and ran back to the neighbour's, where he stayed all night. W lien lie
returned to the place where he had dropped the bag, he found the ground
tramped up as if a herd of cattle had passed by. There must have been a
large number of wolves in that pack.
"The wolves were
particularly destructive on domestic animals. A three-year-old steer
belonging to the McMillans was pulled down in a swampy place, and all of
the animal eaten except the portion under water. No less than eighteen
sheep belonging to us were killed in one night.
"In order to check the
marauders I bought a trap and caught one wolf with it. I set it again,
but the next wolf carried the trap away with him. I followed the trail
with a dog, but could get no trace of either wolf or trap. I then
secured another trap, fastened it with a trace-chain, and in this I
captured a number of the beasts. Generally a wolf was badly cowed by
being caught a.nd I could dispatch the brute with an axe; but one fellow
that I found soon after the trap teeth had been sprung on him was very
fierce, and I had to stand at a safe distance and shoot him with a
rifle. Finally one big wolf actually smashed the trace-chain and got
away with the second trap. I followed the trail until I could see the
bushes shake in which the brute had hidden. I fired at the spot, and
then, when I saw the bushes move a little further on, aimed at that
point and fired again. Everything then seemed quiet and I got down on my
knees and peered under the bushes. The wolf was lying there all right,
but I fired another shot to make sure, and then brought him out. `Ve
received a bounty of six dollars for each wolf killed, but one dollar
had to be paid a magistrate for the certificate on which payment was
made. The hides were of no value if taken in summer, but there was
always sale for a good winter pelt."
Mr. McFadyen's adventures
were not confined to wolves. Many a bear also fell before his rifle.
Once, he treed a bear in a big elm and with the first shot put a bullet
through the animal's heart. On another occasion he wounded a bear, and,
as it was getting dark, he was unable to follow the trail. Next morning
the hunt was resumed and bruin was seen seated by a punk- log and using
the powdered fibre as a salve for his wound. "It seemed almost cruel to
kill the animal under such circumstances," said Mr. McFadyen in
describing the adventure to a friend. "But when the excitement of the
chase was on, and I remembered the havoc wrought by the black-coated
enemy, I did not stop to think of this, and a second shot finished the
Sometimes the hunter
found himself hunted. One Sunday, as Mr. McFadyen was on his way to
church, he saw a bear and two cubs in the oat field. The old bear ran
off and Mr. McFadyen tried to catch one of the cubs, but lie was glad to
abandon the effort when he found mother bruin after him. On another
occasion Colin McLachlin, a neighbour, shot and wounded a bear. When he
endeavoured to dispatch the animal with an axe, the bear knocked the axe
to one side and grabbed McLachlin's thigh. A brother, who fortunately
happened to be present, then seized the axe and killed the bear with a
stroke. But even in death the animal held on, and it was necessary to
pry the brute's jaws apart before the thigh on which they had fastened
could be released.
A little thing like
lacerated flesh did not count in those days. People were inured to pain
and all were qualified to render first aid to the wounded. Once, when a
neighbour's head had been laid open with an axe, Mr. McFadyen himself
sheared away- the hair and patched up the wound.
On another occasion a
settler was so badly frozen that a number of his fingers had to be
amputated. A doctor from Newmarket was called in to perform the
operation. The charge was forty dollars. Later on it was found that
sufficient had not been taken off the little finger, but it was
considered hardly worth while to risk having to pay another forty
dollars for a trifle like that. Accordingly a neighbour sharpened a
jack-knife and a chisel; with a few deft cuts the flesh was laid open
with the knife, turned back with the fingers, and then, with one stroke
of a hammer on the chisel, the protruding bone was cut off with neatness
and dispatch. The skin was next put back in place and homemade salves
did the rest.
Mr. McFadyen's stories of
hunting adventures did not all have the scene laid in the wilds of Eldon
and Thorah. When he was living in North Carolina, great black snakes,
not poisonous, played havoc with the family's flock of chickens. One
night his sister heard a commotion in the poultry yard and on going out
found a snake in possession of a chicken and in the act of climbing a
tree with the prey. Miss McFadyen seized a pitch pine torch, and with
this burned the snake so badly that it dropped the fowl and wriggled up
the tree. Next morning the snake was still in the tree.
At another time the
mother of the family went to the meat-house for a piece of meat. As she
was in the act of looking up, a rattlesnake struck at her foot. There
was no fainting, not even a shriek; instead there was a quick motion of
the hand, the rattler was seized by the tail, a motion as in "cracking"
a whip followed, and net a very much surprised rattler lay on the ground
with its back broken.
TEAMING GRAIN AND
"There were seven of us,
father, mother, four boys and one girl, when we moved into Thorah in
1831," said Alex. McDougall. "It was September when we arrived, and the
chill of autumn was already in the air. There was not a tree cut on the
place, outside of the small space covered by a little shanty in which we
were to lodge, and it was too late to produce food to carry us over the
winter. In order to provide for his familvI was then a lad of
fourteenfather took jobs threshing grain with a flail. His lay was in
wheat, and the nearest point at which wheat could be ground into flour
was at Newmarket. We boys, in the meantime, were busy with our axes, and
by spring we had chopped fifteen acres of bush.
"Some of neighbours were
worse off than ourselves. One man, with nine children, was forced to
carry all the grain he used that first winter to Newmarket on his back,
and to carry the flour back in the same way. He was kept going and
coming all winter, because no sooner had he carried in one load of flour
than he had to start back for another.
"Even after we had begun
to produce a surplus of grain on our place it was still hard enough for
us to live. All of the first crops were cut with the sickle and threshed
with a flail. The grain was cleaned by throwing it up in the air from a
sheet. The surplus wheat was sold at fifty cents per bushel, but
sometimes it, was so rusted that we could not sell it at all. A little
later on Beaverton traffic was diverted from the Newmarket route towards
Whitby, and our wheat was sold at Manchester at the end of the old
sixteen-mile plank road leading north from Whitby. In order to make the
journey in one day with a team it was necessary to start at four o'clock
in the morning, and even then we did not reach Manchester until dark.
The return journey was not made until next day. I have seen sixty teams
in Manchester over night. There was plenty of stable room for the
horses, but the men had to sleep two or three in a bed and, in some
cases, on the floor of the bar or sitting-room. Frequently good wheat,
marketed at such cost in hard labour, was sold at sixty cents per
bushel. Grain of poorer quality, or not so well cleaned, sold for less.
"Everything in the way of
supplies was scarce in the early days. I have known people to drive up
here from Cannington to get straw with which to carry their stock over
until the cattle could get out and browse in the woods. Still there was
no actual suffering from want of food. If one had a little surplus,
those who were short were always welcome to share in the bounty. Then
the woods were filled with deer, and Indians brought us fish from the
lake, which they exchanged with us for flour and pork.
"One of the great
privations at the beginning was in the long intervals between regular
religious observances. I remember when we were crossing the ocean,
William Hunter, who afterwards settled in Chingacousy, came to our
quarters and had prayers with us every night and morning. After we
arrived at our new home the first regular services were held by the Rev.
Mr. McMurchy, who came over from Eldon township for the purpose. John
Gunn, father of the founders of Gunn's Limited, was a volunteer helper.
He made a regular practice of reading Scriptures and praying with the
old people of the settlement, who, owing to growing infirmities, were
unable to attend the regular church services that were held. Daniel
Cameron was another who helped in this same way."
"When church services
were held, people travelled as much as thirty miles to take part," said
Angus McDougall, the son of the speaker. "I have known them, even in my
time, to come in lumber-wagons from as far as Sutton on the south,
Uptergrove on the north, and Woodville on the west to the old stone
church at Beaverton. Their earnestness was shown not only in the
distance they travelled but in the patience with which they sat through
services lasting from eleven o'clock till four, while their simple faith
and devout thankfulness were voiced in the Psalms which filled the old
church with a stern melody. Duncan Gillespie was the precentor. He read
the Psalms line by line, and then led the congregation as they sang in
praise and thanksgiving. The favourite Psalms were the one hundred and
third and one hundred and twenty-third:
`Bless, O my soul, the
Lord thy God
And not forgetful be,
Of all the gracious benefits
He bath bestowed on thee.
Who with abundance of good things
Both satisfy thy mouth
So that even as the eagle's age
Renewed is thy youth.' "
Those who had not met him
outside of his Toronto home would never have dreamed that Donald Gunn,
one of the first members of the firm that is now Gunn's Limited, had
gone through an experience little different from that of Mr. McDougall.
Straight and active as a man of thirty, when nearly seventy, and with
the calm of one upon whom care had never rested, he was far from looking
the part of a pioneer who had borne the burden of the old-time harvest
and the fierce heat of the logging bee that preceded ii. Still there
were few men who had a larger part in the trials and privations of the
days that are gone. The John Gunn, referred to by Mr. McDougall, was his
father, and Donald was one of nine sons whose axes cleared the old
homestead that now forms the basis of Dunrobin farm north of Beaverton.
Day after day he swung
the cradle, leaving four or five acres of levelled grain to show for his
day's work. In the beginning he did more than this. He put in ten hours
a day cradling on the farm of Colonel Cameron, and did the cutting at
home in the early morning and late evening. In all this he was well
aided by another member of the familyDr. Gunn, famous all over the
Huron tract for his skill as a surgeon.
"The flail had pretty
well gone out before my time," said Mr. Gunn, "and the sickle was a
thing of the past. But I have teamed a good many hundred bushels of
grain to Manchester or Whitby that had been cut with a cradle.
When we teamed all the
way to Whitby, our practice was to make Manchester the first stage of
the journey, and then double up the load there and let one team take it
the rest of the way. The start from home was made at midnight, and
Manchester was usually reached at daybreak. Fifty-five bushels was a
load, and we frequently sold, for fifty or sixty cents per bushel, wheat
that had been cut with a cradle and hauled all the way to market. I have
seen as many as seventy of these grain teams at Manchester in a day, and
a dozen men have frequently had to sleep on the floor in a room fifteen
by fifteen. Manchester, which you might go through now almost without
knowing it, was then the greatest grain market in Canada. Mr. Currie,
father-in-law of Colonel Paterson, K.C., was one of the principal
buyers; the father of Dr. Warren of Whitby was another; and Adam Gordon,
who owned the farm afterwards belonging to 'Bay-side' Smith, and now
part of the hospital site on the lake shore at Whitby, was a third. Mr.
Perry was amongst the later buyers. Drinking was as common there as it
was at other places in Ontario at the time, and few of those who
marketed the grain, at such a cost in labour and for so little in
return, went home sober.
"I generally managed to
have a load both ways," went on Mr. Gunn. "On my way back I picked up a
cargo of oats, pork, etc., and brought it to our home in Thorah, on the
way to the lumber camps in Magnetewan. The start from home for the
lumber camps was usually made at four o'clock in the morning, in the
midst of intense darkness, and with the thermometer not infrequently
ranging around thirty below zero. I always carried shovels, because it
was often necessary to dig through snow five feet deep in order to allow
teams, met on the road, to get past. No, I never felt cold. I wore
mocassins, and a plaid over the chest, and always walked when going up
hill. These trips occupied three days going and three days returning."
"I remember another kind
of experience in the deep snow of the early days," put in Airs. Gunn,
who had been listening to the story of hardships in which she shared.
"It was shortly after we were married. We had gone down to Stormont on a
visit to my old home. A great storm came up while we were there, and Mr.
Gunn decided to leave me with my friends a while longer, but to start
for home himself. He left at nine in the morning, and after plowing
through the snow for a mile, managed to get back to where I was stopping
at two in the afternoon, and had to remain there for a fortnight before
the road was opened up."
"As there were nine of us on the home place, and it was only a hundred
acre farm, we had to engage in a lot of outside work in order to make
money to keep things going," Mr. Gunn went on. "I made a heap of money
with a team of horses taken into the lumber camps to skid logs in
winter. After doing this I have come home in March and helped to cut
down twelve or thirteen acres of bush before spring. Before the railway
came through here I teamed store goods to Beaverton from Belle Ewart
across Lake Simcoe on the ice, the goods having been carried as far as
Belle Ewart by the old Northern. The first time we went to Toronto from
here, we went by the old Emily May to Belle Ewart, and from there by
Of Mr. Gunn's father and
his work, I heard more from Mr. Gunn's old neighbours than from himself.
Mr. Gunn, the elder, was not only a minister to the spiritual wants of
the people in the days spoken of, but he cured the bodily ills of the
afflicted as well. Although not a physician he had an extensive
knowledge of medicine, possessed a rare skill in simple surgery, and
cared for the sick and suffering over an area of twenty-five miles.
He was, too, the first man to put an end to the use of liquor at logging
bees. It was the practice at all loggings of that time to divide the
fallow off in sections, and for each gang engaged in the work to try to
get its section finished first. The whiskey pail was always at hand to
keep the workers keyed up to the highest pitch. One day on the Gunn
farm, while a particularly keen race was on between the rival gangs, a
man shoved a log from his section to that of the rival gang, and was
caught at it. The blood of all the gangs, hot with the race and still
further heated with the liquor, was at the boiling point already and the
attempted cheating started a fight on the spot. Mr. Gunn, then in his
prime, jumped between the fighters, and holding each at the end of a
powerful arm shook both into submission. Then, mounting on a log-heap,
he gave all the men a quiet talk, and declared his intention of never
again allowing liquor at a logging on his place. He kept his word, and
by so doing helped not a little in the spread of temperance reform over
the whole neighbourhood.
On the Gunn farm there is
a little "city of the dead," that dates even farther back than does that
which lies under the shadow of the old stone church. In this older place
of burial lie representatives of another people, who spoke another
language. It is the resting place of Indians who had gone to the happy
hunting grounds before the white man came. The graves are located along
the banks of an old water-course, and are shaded by the cedar, elm, and
balsam, which line one side of the driveway leading to the family
residence. A great balsam marks the head of a grave in which rests a
chief's daughter to whom the call came in girlhood's prime. Many years
ago, before the Indians of the Lake Simcoe reserve were converted to
Christianity, members of the tribe made regular pilgrimages to the place
for the purpose of engaging in pagan rites in the presence of the dead.
Later on, when the homes of the white men began to dot the cotuitr y the
Indians ceased to visit the place.
It was at that time a low, swampy neighbourhood, and before it, was
cleared up there frequently appeared before the gaze of alarmed settlers
a fitful phosphorescent glow dancing over decayed logs. The belief was
spread that it was the spirits of departed red men looking for the
mourning relatives who came no more. But, with the clearing of the land,
the uneasy spirits of the woods disappeared, and now the dead lie silent
and still while the night wind sighs in the swaying tops of the
evergreens above. 'There they lie:
"Unknown and unnoticed.
Daily the tides of life go ebbing and flowing beside them;
Thousands of throbbing hearts where theirs are at rest and forever,
Thousands of aching brains, where theirs have ceased from their labours,
Thousands of weary feet, where theirs have completed the journey."
here and there over,
nearly the whole of Ontario, the pioneers found traces of Indian
occupation before the coming of the white man, Few localities had a
richer store of reminders of a passing race than the township of
Nottawasaga. When the Mad River covered the present site of Creemore and
deer licks existed on the Currie farm near that village, this township
was a favourite fishing and hunting ground for the Indians. On the
Melville farm on the fourth concession, a plow one day struck a soft
place in the ground and search revealed a collection of parched corn,
and cakes burned hard as bricks. On almost every farm in the township
tomahawks or Indian pipes have been plowed up. Regular Indian burying
grounds were located on the town line of Nottawasaga and Sunnidale, and
on the second and fourth of the former township. In these graveyards
were found masses of bones, together with kettles, beads, and weapons.
One of the strangest finds was in the Indian graveyard on the second
concession of Nottawasaga, consisting of a number of sabres, tied
together, which apparently had never been used. A pioneer took three of
these sabres to serve as a trap for deer that had been feeding on his
oat crop. He set the sabres point upwards, covered with light brush as a
screen, at a place where the deer had been jumping into the field. Next
morning an animal was found impaled, but unfortunately it was the best
horse on the farm. It is said that another of these old sabres, which
doubtless came from France, served for years as guard for the portals of
an Orange lodge. It was surely a strange fate which caused this sword,
probably blessed by a Jesuit priest for service in the hands of a
soldier of Catholic France, to become a prized possession of a lodge
devoted to the perpetuation of the memory of King William.
BUILDING IN A HURRY
At the beginning of June,
1899, one of the pioneers of the Islay settlement on the east side of
Lake Simcoe was still in the flesh in the person of John Merry. At that
time all the lots between one and five on the seventh of Eldon, save
one, were in possession of direct descendants of the men who had settled
on them sixty years before, at a time when the country for miles around
was solid bush. Of the toil endured by the pioneers on the last stage of
the journey to their destined home in Eldon I was told by Donald
McArthur, a son of one of the original settlers.
"From Toronto to Holland
Landing teams were employed in carrying the belongings of our people,"
said Mr. McArthur. "But the people
themselves walked every
step of the way, the horses having all they could do to haul the freight
over the great hills and across hollows where the mud was nearly knee
deep. At every hill, indeed, teams had to be doubled up. From `The
Landing' to Beaverton open boats were used. It was after Beaverton was
left behind that the greatest toil was experienced. For fifteen miles
through the bush there was nothing but an Indian trail, and over that
distance our people carried their bedding and other belongings on their
"Quick work was done,
when the locations on which our people proposed to make their homes were
finally reached. Rude shanties were put up on one day and equally rude
fireplaces were constructed outside for cooking. Next day stone
fireplaces were built inside and the smoke from these was allowed to
escape through a hole in the roof, no chimneys being yet in place. The
`chinking' of the log walls was not completed until the approach of
winter made this imperative.
"When the first grain
crop was harvested, the nearest place at which it could be ground was
the old `Red Drill' at Holland Landing, and the grain sent there had to
be `packed' as far as Beaverton. The settlers generally went in couples,
each man carrying a bushel of wheat on his back. On the return journey
the carriers depended for food on bread made on the way from the flour
they carried with them.
"Wolves were a great
source of worry and loss. One morning my mother turned our sheep out of
the pen at daybreak and a belated wolf destroyed six of them before the
flock could be rounded up. The brutes even attacked the cattle at times,
but they made little by such attacks when a number of cattle were
together. In these cases the cattle formed a circle with cows and calves
in the centre, the oxen with lowered heads forming the outer circle.
Against that defence wolves attacked in vain.
"The first Presbyterian
minister in the section was the Rev. Mr. McMurchy, and by him most of
the children were baptised. Later on these same children formed new
unions under his benediction. The usual practice in connection with
weddings was to have banns published on three successive Sundays, and on
the Wednesday following the last announcement the wedding would take
place. All weddings were real community affairs. The women of the
settlement went the day before to bake and assist the bride. On the
evening following the ceremony the fiddler mounted his bench, and from
before sunset until the sun rose again flying feet kept time to the
MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT AND
From James St. John, who
was nearly ninety years of age and still with intellect wholly
unimpaired when I interviewed him in the township of Brock in 1900,
information was obtained concerning the annual township meetings of the
"When it came to the
making of laws," began Mr. St. John, "the general practice was for some
one to propose a rough outline of what was desired. This was reduced to
writing by a magistrate present, who afterwards mounted a wood-pile and
read the formal document which was then submitted for ratification by
the assembly. One of the first of the local laws in Brock provided that
fowl, which continued to trespass after warning had been given to the
owner, might be shot by the party on whose land the trespass occurred.
When this measure was
being read for the
approval of the meeting someone asked what was to be done with the
carcasses of the fowl shot.
"`Eat them,' I said from
a side bench.
"`Eat them,' repeated the
magistrate as if reading from the formal document.
"At once there was a rush
for the wood-pile on which the magistrate was standing, and the wood,
the reader, and the crowd were thrown into one tumbled mass. But it was
all done in good nature, and was merely one of the ways in which animal
spirits expressed themselves at these annual meetings."
Mr. St. John also told a
story of an old-time parliamentary election that reads, in some
respects, like a news item of U. F. O. activity of the present time.
"We had," lie said, "been
electing lawyers year after year and found that these hardly noticed us
after election day was over. In order to devise means of changing all
this we held a meeting in our township and decided, by almost unanimous
vote, that we would elect a farmer in the then pending election. Two
candidates were in the field, Hartman, a Reformer and farmer, and Scobic,
a Conservative and lawyer. The latter was a very clever talker and
succeeded in persuading all of those who had attended the meeting,
except myself, to go back on the decision reached and to support him.
Notwithstanding the defection of Brock, however, Hartman was elected,
and he proved one of the best representatives who ever sat for the
"Polling in that election
took place at Newmarket and continued over two days. During that time
both candidates kept open house. No strong liquor was supplied, but beer
was as free as water. Still, notwithstanding the abundance of liquor and
the excitement of the election, 1 did not see a single fight during the
Telling of an incident of
another kind, Mr. St. John said: "Indians- were numerous all over the
Lake Simcoe district, and in early spring eight or ten camps were formed
by these on my father's farm while the squaws engaged in basket-making.
The -Indians were all ardent `Queen's Men' and would not hear a word
spoken derogatory of Victoria the Good, who had then recently ascended
the throne. One of the settlers, McMaster by name, for a joke, made some
slighting remarks about royalty in the presence of a group of these
Indians, and they threatened to kill him. Taking refuge in our house, he
got me to hide him under a pile of straw in the sleigh and drive him
past the Indian camp to his home. When driving past the camp an Indian
jumped on the sleigh for a ride and sat down on the straw, not knowing
I1 e Master was underneath. When McMaster at last got out near his own
door, after the Indian had disappeared, he said he had been almost
smothered under the straw. But he was cured; he never tried another joke
with the Indians."
When Mr. St. John entered
Brock with his father, in 1821, there were only three other settlers in
the township. Mr. St. John was then twelve years of age, and from that
time until his ninetieth year he worked almost continuously. Part of his
labours consisted of chopping the bush from three hundred acres with his
Speaking of the early
struggles, Air. St. John continued: "We worked hard, and for limited
rewards, but never suffered want. My first crop of fall wheat had just
nicely headed out when a foot of snow fell. Fortunately there was no
frost and the wheat afterwards yielded an aver- age of forty bushels per
acre. vI cut that crop with a reaping-hook, threshed it with a flail,
cleaned the grain with a borrowed fanning-mill, and hauled it to
Stouffville with oxen. And what do you think I got for the grain on
deliver? Three York shillings a bushel, with half of that in store pay,
and I had to wait three months for the `cash' half of it!
"The very next year,
however, the price of wheat went to two dollars and a half per bushel.
Afterwards it sagged to between one and two dollars and then, when the
Russian War came, it rose above two dollars and a half. One winter, when
wheat was quoted at about a dollar a bushel, I arranged to market the
twelve hundred bushels that I held from the previous season's crop.
After hauling out one load one of my horses broke a leg while playing in
the yard and I was not able to resume marketing before the following
June. The loss of the horse, in the end, proved a most fortunate
accident as, when I did sell my wheat, the price was one dollar and
"These occasional high
prices, and the uncertainty of them, were really a most unfortunate
thing for the country. Farmers assumed obligations in order to buy more
land for wheat growing, and this sent land prices up to speculative
levels. I could have sold our farm then for one hundred dollars an acre,
whereas, after prices dropped, I could hardly have secured sixty
dollars, although in the meantime the farm had been greatly improved.
The worst effects, however, were felt by merchants, many of whom went
mad in grain speculation. One of the heaviest plungers was a man named
Laing, in Whitby. I have seen him come from the bank with a stack of
bills as big as a hand satchel, and this would not last him over three
hours while his buying ventures were at their height. When wheat dropped
to seventy-five cents, he failed and many failed with him.
"In the period I speak of
(this was before railways were built in Ontario, Victoria, and Peterboro
Counties) Whitby was one of the greatest grain markets in the country.
Wheat from all around the east side of Lake Simcoe was teamed there. The
work of teaming was facilitated by the improvement of the road from
Brechin to Manchester with the county's share of the Clergy Reserve
Fund, and the building of the plank toll road from Manchester to Whitby.
When that plank road was at its best a team could haul from one hundred
to one hundred and forty bushels of wheat at a load, but the hard
surface proved as injurious to the feet and legs of horses as concrete
pavement does now. At that time as many as fifty teams might be seen in
a string along the old Centre Road; at Manchester fully two hundred
teams were assembled at one time; and at Whitby sleighs extended for a
mile from the harbour front up into the town. Many a good horse was
fatally chilled while waiting on the ice for the unloading of the grain
"It was the opening of
the main line of the Grand Trunk, combined with the existence of an
excellent harbour, that made Whitby in the 'fifties and 'sixties the
market for all the country tapped by roads leading to the north. I well
remember the day when the line was opened. It seemed as if the whole
surrounding country emptied itself into Whitby on that occasion.
Every hoteland there
were then six in the town and three at the harbourwas filled to
overflowing, and the streets were lined with empty wagons and buggies
whose owners were off to Toronto on the excursion of their lives.
"At a still earlier date
than this, when the country was first being settled, wolves were
numerous in the ravines about Sunderland. One day I heard some of these
after our sheep. Without waiting to get my gun 1 rushed to the defence
of the flock and jumped on the back of a wolf I found attacking a fine
ewe. The brute was so surprised that he ran for the bush without waiting
to see what had dropped on him. The ewe was somewhat mauled, but I
doctored her with turpentine and not many days afterwards she gave birth
to a pair of fine lambs. After I had released this ewe from the wolf, I
went at a second of the marauders, which was attacking another of the
flock, and beat him off with a fence rail. I was a little too late in
this case and the second sheep died of her injuries."
Nor were animals the only
victims to be attacked by wolves. R. L. Huggard, when living in Whitby,
told me that James Lytle was once treed by wolves near Kendal in Durham
County. "After climbing the tree," said Mr. Huggard, "Mr. Lytle broke
branches and, using these as clubs, tried to drive the wolves away, but
when the animals snapped at his feet he was glad to climb back to safety
and remain on his perch until the besiegers disappeared with daybreak.
When at last Lytle, almost frozen, did get down lie found the snow
around the base of the tree packed as hard as a sleigh track.
"More fortunate was a man
named Morrison who lived near Uxbridge in the early days. This Morrison
was a famous fiddler and his services were in great demand at the winter
dances. Frequently, after the dancers had gone he tramped home alone.
One winter night, as he was trudging along with his fiddle tucked under
his arm, he was surprised by a pack of wolves. A roofless old shack was
near at hand, and up to the peak of the rafters scrambled Morrison.
Whether from a sense of humour or riot I do not know, but, as the cold
increased, Morrison bethought himself of playing a tune for the howling
pack below. So he took his fiddle from his case and struck up a lively
tune, when, to his utter astonishment away scampered the brutes at
topmost speed into the bush. He had many a laugh afterwards as he
thought of himself on that cold still night. beneath the
bright winter stars
fiddling away from his lofty perch. Unconsciously he had stuinbled upon
what has become a well established fact that wolves are terrified by the
strains of a violin. He never wanted for protection against wolves when
on his lonely night tramps after that."
It may very well be added
here, in connection with reference to township meetings, that Colborne
was one of the first townships to be municipally organized in the Huron
Tract, convenience of access to the port of Goderich having facilitated
early settlement there. In the last June of the past century, thanks to
the courtesy of Henry Morris, of Loyal, I had the privilege of going
over the first records of Colborne 's municipal governinent. These
records began with the fourth of January, 1836, whn the pioneers of the
township met at the Crown and Anchor )lotel kept by the father of Mr.
Morris in the then village of Gairbraid, to start the municipal machine.
The meeting was held in accordance with "the terms of Statute V, William
IV, Chapter 8." Under the terms of that statute, the annual township
meeting held at the beginning of the year not only elected
commissioners, as the township councillors were then called, but the
several township officers, from clerk to fence-viewers, as well.
Election troubles of a
kind for which Huron has since been famous began early in the county's
history. At this first township meeting in Colborne, J. C. Tims and John
McClean were candidates for the clerkship, and Daniel Lizars, who was in
the chair, declared the latter elected. Thereupon three of the votes
cast in this election were objected to and a scrutiny called for, the
final result being that McClean was declared to have a majority of two.
Even this did not end the matter, because later on proceedings were
taken against one of those present for having voted "contrary to the
terms of the statute in that case made and provided," and in due course
a tea-pot belonging to the offender was seized to satisfy the law's
demands, the said tea-pot being held until one of the commissioners put
up security for the fine imposed. Troubles over the clerkship, having
once begun, continued intermittently for a couple of years. McClean
resigned the day after the meeting at which he had been elected, and the
township commissioners appointed his rival Tims to fill the vacancy. On
October 25th following, Tims resigned in turn, and James Forrest London
was appointed. London served until April 25th following, and then he,
too, resigned, and A. R. Christie was made clerk.
The annual township
meeting of the 'thirties of the last century did more than elect a local
government and officials. It also made laws for the governance of the
municipality. At the first township meeting for Colborne, one of the
laws passed declared that "bulls and stallions shall not be free
commoners," and that "stray dogs found at large should be liable to be
impounded." A "legal fence" was defined as one six and a half feet high
with not more than four inches space between the rails for the first two
feet, and that for the next two feet the space should not be above five
inches. At the third annual meeting, held in 1838, one of the laws
passed in public meeting assembled declared that cattle of "the habit
and repute of being breachy" should not be permitted to run at large.
Shortly after the
township government was organized, a commissioner complained of the
blocking of certain roads through trees having fallen across the same.
One of the cases of which complaint was made was that wherein a "large
maple" had fallen from lot one, concession three. Two other complaints
were also lodged concerning trees which had fallen from lands belonging
to the Canada Company. In all cases complained of the owners of the land
were called upon to remove the obstructions. The Canada Company, through
Thomas Mercer Jones, claimed non-liability. The statute of the day, it
appears, attached liability only to "enclosed lands," and as the Canada
Company's lands were not "enclosed," and, in fact, had no improvements
on them, exemption was claimed. Thus the actual settler, who was living
on and making more valuable the hundred acres held by him, was liable
for trees falling from his place blocking the highway. A great
corporation, that held thousands of acres which were being made more
valuable by the labour of others, claimed exemption from the same
liability because its property was not enclosed. It is not surprising
that the Canada Company was even more unpopular in the early days of
Western Ontario than some other corporations operating have been since
The Crown and Anchor
Hotel in which Colborne's first municipal government was formed
disappeared long since. The village of Gairbraid itself, like many other
hamlets of pioneer times, has also disappeared, and for about half a
century a one-time scene of bustling activity has been part of a plowed
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