THE SUMMERLESS YEAR
references have already been made to "The Summerless Year" of 1816. But
the real story of that season of want and nightmare was related to me by
Benjamin D. Waldbrook, whom I interviewed near Oakville in the first
year of the present century. Mr. Waldbrook's father came to Canada in
1817, when memories of the event were still fresh, and his own
recollections went back to the beginning of the third decade of the last
"The spring of 1816," Mr.
Waldbrook said, "opened with as fair prospects as have ever appeared at
the same season since. But the sunshine of the year's morn was followed
by a long night of black despair. Snow commenced falling in June, and
until spring came again the whole country was continuously covered by a
wintry blanket. Practically nothing was gathered in the way of a crop.
Everything rotted in the ground. There was no flour, there were no
vegetables; people lived for twelve months on fish and meatvenison,
porcupine, and ground-hog being varied with the thin meat of cattle
slaughtered because there was no vegetation to sustain them. Hay was
sent from Ireland to save the stock of the starving people of Quebec;
and some brought here sold for forty-five dollars per ton. Even when
father carne in the following year, flour was seventy dollars per barrel
at Quebec, potatoes were a penny a pound, and the country was full of
stories of the horrors endured during the winter of a year's duration.
"Happily the year 1817 was as prolific as
the year before had been barren. Happily, too, there was a considerable
migration in 1817 from Nova Scotia, which had escaped an affliction that
appears to have been confined to Ontario, Quebec, and the Eastern
States. The newcomers from Nova Scotia brought with them potatoes, that
provided seed not only for themselves but for neighbours in Ontario who
were without seed. These potatoes had a blue point and our Ontario
people gave them the name of `blue-noses.' From the potatoes the name
passed to Nova Scotians themselves. I am told that the people of Nova
Scotia do not like the title. They should be proud of it. The name
recalls the time when help from that province by the sea proved the
salvation of sorely stricken Ontario.
"Even I have been witness of afflictions
little less grievous than those of the 'summerless year,'" continued Mr.
Waldbrook. "About 1833, army worms came in countless millions. They
literally covered the ground and trees were left bare of foliage as in
mid-winter. At the doors of houses they swarmed like bees at the
entrance to a hive.
"About the same time a deluge of frogs fell
upon the land. In the blazing heat of noonday sun these rotted and
filled the air with poisonous vapors. For a time this province was
cursed with a West Indian climate; cholera developed, and people died by
years before this, and prior to the time covered by my recollection, I
have been told that a tornado swept over a section half a. mile wide
about Milton. The tornado was preceded by a roar like that produced by
an unbroken roll of thunder and the earth itself seemed to quiver as
with a convulsion. Cattle, warned by instinct, rushed from the woods to
clearings and crouched close to the ground. The storm broke with an
indescribable fury; logs were whirled from the ground like straws and in
a moment the air was filled with flying debris and dust. A neighbour,
Kennedy by name, had three hundred bushels of ashes in a bin ready to
haul to an ashery. Ashes and bin wholly disappeared together and went
off in the common wreckage.
"There was one humorous episode during the
storm, which narrowly escaped being a tragedy. A young woman, named
Eliza Harrison, was hanging out a washing as the storm broke. The next
thing her mother saw was Eliza and the line of clothes whirling in the
air above the tree-tops amid a cloud of branches and dust. Strange to
say the girl landed in a field several hundred yards away, very little
hurt. Eliza was the pioneer in aerial navigation in America."
Mr. Waldbrook told a couple of bear stories
typical of the times. "In 1829," he said, "when my father was passing
along King Street, Toronto, a bear came out of the woods north of where
St. James' Cathedral now stands. Near Weston a man named Elliott was
attacked by another bear, and in the struggle Elliott choked the bear to
death by forcing his fist down the brute's throat. Elliott's arm was so
badly lacerated that it had to be amputated, Dr. Widmer, whose name was
honourably connected with the early, hospital history of Toronto,
performing the operation."
In Mr. Waldbrook's youth a large part of
Halton was covered with magnificent white oak and the marketing of this
timber gave the pioneers of the county their first start. The timber was
cut into ten and five foot lengths and split with beetles and wedges
into slabs varying from two to five inches in thickness. In spring the
slabs were floated down the river to Oakville and shipped thence to
England, where they were again split with saws in readiness to be sent
to the West Indies to make hogsheads for the sugar trade. "Robert
Sullivan," said Mr. Waldbrook, "was one of the chief operators in the
Halton woods. He was given the name of `White Oak Sullivan' and in turn
he gave Oakville. its name.
"While men were piloting the staves down the
stream, they spent the night in shanties by the side of the river, and
every night was a carouse. During one such carouse a member of the party
was seen to he sitting quietly, taking no part in the proceedings. Next
morning when the other men, even yet partially stupefied by liquor, got
up, the silent one was still there, but little notice was taken of him.
When, however, the men observed that he did not follow them down to the
bank, they went back and found him stone dead. It was supposed that a
blow given during the night's carousal had killed him, but the body was
quietly buried and there was no inquiry.
"Another tragedy was connected with a survey
party. A stranger joined the party one day, and next evening when the
cook was cutting wood to prepare supper the axe glanced and sheared the
stranger's head clear from his body. As no one knew anything about the
man, the body was buried in the woods and thus the incident closed.
"Another tragedy of early days in Halton was
connected with a one-time thriving village' of which nothing remains
to-day. The village was located where Dundas Road crosses the sixteenth.
At one time the village contained a distillery, brewery, saw-mill,
store, and tannery. The decline of the place began when the principal
owner, a man named Chalmers, while under the influence of liquor, signed
a cheque for ten thousand dollars, and, in remorse for his act,
"Oakville was an Indian reserve until 1827. Although the place got its
start from the stave trade, the boom came when the Russian war raised
the price of wheat. Farmers from as far off as Garafraxa brought their
grain here then, and I have seen fifty or sixty teams waiting at one
time to unload.
"During that period new barns were erected everywhere, and, as saw-mills
would not pay over twenty-five cents for the two first logs from a pine
tree, the best of timber went into these. Barn-raisings were community
events and whiskey was in abundant supply. I have seen half-tipsy men
swarming all over the skeleton structures, but never saw a serious
accident. At these raisings, the barns were christened like a ship at a
launching, but whiskey instead of wine was used at the ceremony. Once,
at a raising near Ancaster, I saw a man, bottle in hand, run up the peak
where two rafters joined. There, balancing on one foot, he sang out:
"It is a good framing
And shal] get a good naming.
What shall the naming be?"
"When the prearranged name was shouted back
the man on the rafters so declared it as he cast the bottle to the
ground. Was the bottle broken? No, indeed! As it contained the best
liquor supplied at the raising, care was taken to see that it fell on
soft ground, and the moment it fell it was surrounded by a crowd of men,
still thirsty despite the liberal libations already supplied."
Mr. Waldbrook, in dealing with conditions
existing prior to 1837 said: "In our section people paid from a dollar
and a half per quarter to six dollars per year, for each child sent to
school. Their ordinary land tax amounted to twelve dollars per year in
addition to this. That does not seem a great deal to-day, but it was a
very heavy burden for men, starting on bush farms, who sold their wheat
for three York shillings a bushel and dressed beef at a dollar and a
half per hundred-weight. What made the situation more irksome still was
the fact that the Canada Company was holding unimproved lands, on which
no taxes at all were paid, at eight to twelve dollars per acre. When
Martin Switzer of Churchville went to Toronto to pay his taxes to
Treasurer Powell of the Home District, he entered complaint against
these conditions. He figured up the tax paid in his own township and
said that he could not see what the people were getting in return, since
they were left without bridges even, save such as they built for
think' said Switzer, `some of this money must be misappropriated in
here, my man,' Powell insolently responded, `your business is to pay
taxes. It is for the gentlemen here in Toronto to say how they shall be
spent, and if I hear any more such seditious language from you I shall
have you put in York jail.' "
Switzer spread the story on his return home,
and anger, savage enough before, was fanned into a white heat. It is no
wonder that the people rose in arms. They would have been less than men
if they had tamely submitted to the insolence and incompetence of office
to which they were being daily subjected.
Mr. Waldbrook told me that lie knew the names of those who had sheltered
Mackenzie in his flight through Halton after the affair of Montgomery's
Tavern, and that he even knew the woman who gave the leader her dress
for disguise. But, despite my gentle pressing nearly seventy years after
the event, a request for names was refused.
A. CHINGACOIJSY VILLAGE
Few men witnessed more varying stages of the
pioneer period than did Abraham Campbell, whom I met at lot twenty-eight
on the first concession of Chingacousy in July, 1899. Mr. Campbell spent
his life on the farm on which he was born when Chingacousy was the
farthest settlement north of the lake. As a child and youth he saw other
pioneers pass his door on their way to the virgin forests of Dufferin,
Grey, and Bruce. He was witness of the annual summer pilgrimage of the
men from the newer lands of the north to the older settlements of the
south in search of employment in which they might earn bread for the
winter. As the forests of the northland were pushed back before the
attack of the axe-men, he viewed the winter procession of teams by which
the gain of the north country was hauled toward lake ports. To all this
Mr. Campbell was able to add what his father had told hint of days prior
to the period covered by his own recollection, the period when even the
Niagara district was young. His father as a youth was at Queens-ton
Heights, Stoney Creek, and Lundy's Lane, and one of the most prized
possessions of the Campbell homestead, when I was there in 1899, was an
iron pot, eighteen inches in diameter, captured from the American forces
at Stoney Creek, and still doing duty in the Campbell homestead over
eighty years later.
Mr. Campbell's father and six brothers took
up one thousand acres in Chingacousy about 1820, after having Journeyed
from the old family home in Lincoln County by an ox-team. From
Cooksville to their locations, the way led over a road made through the
bush with their own axes. A quarter of a century later Campbell's Cross,
on the highway connecting north and south, was a scene of bustling life.
"There was a tavern there containing
eighteen rooms," said Mr. Campbell, "and in those rooms I have known
twenty or thirty people to be accommodated over night. As late as two
o'clock in the morning I have seen the bar-room so full of people that
one could not get near the bar itself. There were three stores in the
village at that time, and they were all busy places. Whence did the
business come? Largely from the north country, which by that time had
begun to produce a surplus. I have seen as many as one hundred teams
arrive with grain in a single day. Part of the grain was bought by local
merchants and teamed by them to Port Credit for shipment by water. Some
of the farmers hauled their own grain all the way to the lake port.
"Teaming this grain was real labour. Between
Chingacousy and the north, hauling was possible only in winter, and even
then twenty-five to thirty bushels made a load. In coming down the
Caledon mountain it was necessary to put a drag on the sleighs. Those
who did their own teaming to Toronto or Port Credit frequently used
ox-teams and sleighs to Campbell's Cross and then borrowed wagons for
the journey to Toronto. On some of these journeys the snow was up to the
backs of the oxen when north of the Caledon mountain, while south of our
place the animals wallowed to their bellies in slush and mud. Some of
these northern farmers came from as far back as Owen Sound with grass
seed, venison, and pork for sale, the round trip occupying well over a
week.. At times the nights were spent in the bush while sleet or rain
beat in through the partial covering afforded by the forest. But the
people were happy with it all. Return cargoes usually consisted of
groceries and a half-barrel of whiskey, and as long as the latter kept
the interior warm, exterior cold did not matter much to the hardy men of
period covered by my earliest recollection bears and wolves were common
in Chingacousy. I have more than once seen cows come home with flanks
and udders so badly torn that the animals had to be killed. During the
'thirties, 'forties, and 'fifties, the father of Kenneth Chisholm, who
for years represented Peel in the Legislature, made staves from the oaks
that then covered a good deal of the township. The staves were hauled to
the Credit by oxen, floated down the stream to the Port, and thence
shipped to England. About 1860, while I was assisting in removing an old
oak stump, we unearthed a tool that had been used in splitting staves.
"One of my earliest election recollections
is connected with the contest in which Colonel Ed. Thompson defeated
William Lyon Mackenzie in the year before the Rebellion. That was the
most exciting electoral battle we ever had. The electors of Caledon,
Chingacousy, and Toronto townships all went to Streetsville to vote. The
polls remained open for a week or two and for most of that time my
father was engaged in hauling Tories to the voting place. On the last
day of polling five or six teams were massed and, headed by bagpipes,
took the last of the voters to the poll.
"When the Rebellion came, it was real civil
war, one neighbour watching another. From the shelter of a hedge father
and I saw a dozen of Mackenzie's supporters passing in twos at night.
The Government's supporters marched in daylight. There were no actual
conflicts in this neighbourhood between the rival factions, but fighting
was narrowly averted on some occasions. Captain Sinclair had a party of
Mackenzie's partisans in his home at Cheltenham, when they were
surprised and taken prisoners by a company under command of my father.
Most of the arms of Sinclair's men were stacked in the middle of the
room, and one of my brothers rushed in and grabbed these before the
other party knew what was happening. Notwithstanding the surprise and
loss of part of the arms, it required a good deal of persuasion to
induce those who still retained weapons to give them up."
The excitement attendant upon Mackenzie's
last contest before the Rebellion was paralleled by an election that
took place in Peel about 1848. In this election George Wright and
Colonel William Thompson split the Tory vote and Honourable Joseph
Morrison (afterwards appointed a judge) slipped in between them. Bars
were not closed on polling day then and whiskey flowed as freely as the
waters of the Credit. Single fights occurred every few minutes while the
battle at the polls was on. Sometimes these single fights developed into
conflicts between factions, and when this happened men quit using their
fists and started for the most convenient bush to cut clubs. One of the
most serious of these rows took place at Caledon just before the polls
closed. James Thompson was deputy returning officer and Mr. Campbell was
poll clerk. When the place got too hot for the officials, they grabbed
the poll books (it was open voting then) and bolted. A howling snob
followed them for half a mile, but the deputy and poll clerk at length
found refuge in Philip Chamber's tavern at lot nine, concession one,
Caledon, and there they declared the poll duly and legally closed.
Robert W. Brock, whom I met at Belfountailn
about the same time that I had the interview with Mr. Campbell, gave
some further information of early days in Peel and Dufferin. ''At. the
time of my earliest recollections,' Mr. Brock said, ''the Centre Road
had displaced the first concession of Chingacousy as the leading highway
to the north. In the late 'sixties, I have seen that road black with
teams, and traffic going on day and night. This continued until the old
narrow gauge T. G. & B. was built to Owen Sound and markets were opened
at Orangeville, Shelburne, and Dundalk. Then the glory of Churchville
and Streetsville began to wane.
"Many years before the opening of the
railway, a man named Frank had a grist-mill at Belfountain and people
from as far north as Meaford and Owen Sound brought their grists to the
mill on jumpers or home-made sleighs hauled by oxen. Much of the way was
over a blazed trail and the journey could be made only in summer, the
roads being impassable in winter. My wife's brother, Samuel Eagle, was
then living near Bay view, about nine miles from Meaford. He frequently
walked to his father's place at Belfountain, spending three or four days
on the road and sleeping at night in pine thickets with a fire at his
feet to frighten away-wild animals. From Belfountain his father drove
him to Toronto to purchase groceries, and these my brother packed on his
back from Belfountain to Bayview. Eagle's nearest neighbour at that time
was three and a half miles and the next seven miles distant.
"After a time one of the Bayview settlers
secured a coffee-mill and neighbours came from miles around to use this
in grinding their wheat. That was tedious work. I have heard Eagle say
he would sooner chop all day in the bush than grind half a bushel of
wheat in the old coffee-mill. In the course of time Eagle purchased an
ox, fitted it with Dutch harness, and used this to haul his grists to
Belfountain. At last an enterprising man arranged to erect a mill at
Bayview, and the whole neighbourhood turned out to assist in the
erection. Despite my brother-in-law's early poverty, he left an estate
of forty-thousand dollars when he died at eighty. And notwithstanding
his early hardships, his doctor said that be would have lived for a
century had death not come as the result of an accident."
A third story was supplied by Peter Spiers,
of Mayfield, with Peter's maternal grandfather, John Bleakley, as the
central figure in the tale. Mr. Bleakley was with Sir John Moore at
Corunna, and with Wellington at Salamanca. Like a number of other old
Peninsular and Waterloo veterans, Bleakley came to Canada when his
fighting days were over, and lie was one of the first settlers in
Chingacousy, locating on lot seven on the fifth concession.
"When my grandfather settled here," Mr.
Spiers said, "it was a common thing for settlers to get lost in the
bush, and to guide the lost ones in finding their way out of the forest,
my grandfather was often asked to sound a call on the trumpet he had
carried with the Royal Artillery in Spain. At a later date he used his
trumpet for another purpose. When taking a load of chickens, butter, and
garden truck to Toronto he would carry his trumpet along, and with this
he would sound the `assemble' on nearing the old fort. where a British
garrison was then maintained. The soldiers, thinking that it was their
own trumpeter, would rush to the parade ground. Catching sight of the
wagon they would shout: `Oh, it is our old friend Jack!' and the load of
provisions was soon disposed of to them."
WHEN THE FROST CAME
"And then the frost came." To understand
even partially the meaning conveyed in these words one must have a clear
mental picture of the surroundings when the calamity occurred.
The time spoken of was three-quarters of a
century ago. A young coupleJames Buchanan and his wifehad established
themselves on the fringe of the swamp which then extended up through
Amaranth and Luther. Their home was a cabin in the woods. It was all in
one apartment, barely as large as the dining-room in some of the houses
you may find in the same section to-day. The walls were of logs, with
the bark still on, and the spaces between the logs were partly filled
with moss. The roof was made of basswood logs split in half. The floors
were of split cedar. During the winter the snow lay in heaps here and
there over the floor and even on the bed after a night's storm.
In the spring, after a winter spent in
chopping out a clearing, the husband had gone down to "the front,"
around Brampton or Cooksville, to earn money by working for farmers
whose holdings were fairly well cleared, leaving the wife at home to
plant and hoe the potatoes and see that cattle were kept out of the
little patch of wheat growing amid the blackened stumps of the previous
year's clearing. The grain had almost reached the ripening stage; there
was every promise of an abundant supply of bread at least for another
the frost came."
What that meant only those who have been through the experience know.
The wheat could not be sold; it was useless for bread, and there were no
hogs available to turn it into bacon. The bears would have destroyed the
pigs if any had been there.
"Did that occur in more than one season?"
The question was put to Mrs. Buchanan.
"In more than one year? The same thing went
on for years, and years, and years," the voice ending almost in a wail
as memories of the bitter days cane back in a flood.
"Not only was our own wheat ruined," said
Mr. Buchanan, as he took up the thread of the story, "but the calamity
extended over a wide neighbourhood. I have paidfrom money earned by
toiling in the fields of Peeltwo dollars a bushel for wheat which, when
ground, would not make bread that was fit to eat."
"And when we had bread we had nothing else
in the way of food," continued his wife. "For a whole year the first
settlers lived on bread without butter, and tea without milk or sugar.
We had cows, but, when I was left alone, they wandered off in the bush
and went dry. Hens we brought in again and again, but the foxes took
them before we got any eggs.
"It was not so much the deprivation that
hurt as the shame of our poverty when strangers came our way. One day,
during the time conditions were such as I. have described, I was at the
washtub when three men, who were hunting, called. One of them said that
if they had dinner they could go on hunting until night. I thought it
was a pretty broad hint, but I kept on washing and never let on, as I
was ashamed to ask them to share such fare as we could offer. Then they
came into the house, and once again said that if they had anything to
eat with them they would not go back. But I said nothing, and at last
they went away. I was sorry then that I had not offered them such as we
had to give, but at the time I simply could not do it for shame's sake."
Then Mrs. Buchanan proceeded to tell of the
conditions under which they first moved to their forest farm in
Amaranth. Their old home was down in Lanark. The last part of their
journey, from Cooksville to Amaranth, was made by stage to Orangeville,
and from Orangeville to their new home, a distance of ten miles, on
foot. Orangeville was then a mere opening in the woods. There were two
little stores, ten feet wide by eighteen feet deep, and two taverns very
little larger. From Orangeville to the location selected was bush all
the way, and Mrs. Buchanan had to remain with a brother close at hand.
Mr. Buchanan felled the trees out of which the cabin was built. Even the
floor and the door, made of split cedar, were fashioned with an axe,
and, when Mrs. Buchanan joined her husband on the twenty-first of
December, there was two feet of snow on the ground. There the first
winter was spent, the husband toiling during the day felling trees, and
in the evening husband and wife sat together with nothing but the open
fireplace to give light.
"When we came in," said she, "we brought
webs of flannel and fulled cloth with us, and from these I made the
clothes we wore. I took raw wool, carded it, spun it and made mitts and
sold them, making dollars and dollars in this way. I plaited straw hats
and sold them, too. When I wanted groceries I had to walk to Orangeville
for them. Many and many a time have I walked that ten miles and back,
leaving at nine in the morning and returning at three or four in the
afternoon, without anything to eat in the interval. Even when we got
better off, and had cows and oxen, things were hard enough. For butter,
taken to Orangeville with an ox-team, we never got more than a York
shilling in the early days.
"Fortunately there was little sickness then,
and for such as occurred simple remedies sufficed. Catnip and tansy tea
were available in every cabin, and for boils we had salve made from the
ever-ready balm of Gilead. The greatest hardship was in the lack of
schools and churches. For years we were wholly without schools, and
church services, held at infrequent intervals, took place in the homes
of settlers. Yet with all the periods of loneliness and all the scanty
fare of the early days, I cannot say we were unhappy. There were
compensations for the hardships. We were young, hope remained even amid
the disheartening effects due to untimely frosts, and we were borne up
by the fact that we were building a home."
The reward has come; homes have been
created; killing frosts are no more; fruitful fields are seen where
forests were. There are schools, roads, churches, and all other
improvements incident to civilization. But do those who have come into
the inheritance fully appreciate
the patient toil and determined heroism by
which that heritage was won? Do they realize by what privations and
suffering the foundations of Old Ontario were laid?
PUSHING THE WAGON UPHILL
"It really seemed when we settled down here
in a hole in the bush, as if we could never make a home of it, roads
could never be built, and we could never experience here even the
measure of comfort enjoyed in England."
The speaker was the maternal ancestor of the
Tuckers of Wellington County and the time July, 1899. It was no wonder
that there was discouragement in the beginning. When the Tuckers moved
into Wellington the townships of Peel, Luther, and Maryborough were
solid bush. Their journey thence had included boat from Toronto to
Hamilton, the Brock Road from there to Guelph, and through unbroken bush
from Elora to Bosworth. Brock Road itself was but a mud highway, and
when the team hauling the Tucker belongings stuck on a hillside,
neighbours had to be called on to assist in pushing the wagon to the
top. A wagon was used as far as Elora, but after that a jumper was all
that could be hauled through the bush. The r1'uckers first crop was
harvested with a sickle. At the beginning of the life on the bush farm,
it cost a dollar a barrel to have flour hauled from Elora to Bosworth.
Equally toilsome were the experiences of the
Donaldsons at Reading on the borders of Dufferin and Wellington
Counties. When this family moved in about the middle of last century,
there was only an odd clearing between Reading and Ballinafad, and
Oakville, the nearest real market, was two days distant. Some villages
between Reading and Oakville were, however, more prosperous then than
now. Ballinafad had two hotels and a blacksmith shop; Hornby two hotels,
two stores, and a smithy; and Oakville, where wheat from the north was
loaded on schooners, was a rival of Toronto itself as a shipping port.
THE SCOTCH BLOCK
"Old Boston Church," in the Scotch Block of
Esquesing, may be considered the cradle of Canadian liberty. At a time
when England was in the grip of the reactionary forces developed during
the Napoleonic wars, when the Family Compact ruled in Canada as barons
of the old world ruled in the Middle Ages, when even in the young
republic to the south something of the old spirit of aristocracy still
survived, the most advanced principles of the democracy of to-day were
written into the deed of gift conveying the site for the church that is
the Faneuil Hall of Canada. The deed in question was granted by John
Stewart, the father of The Scotch Block. It was made in favour of "The
United Presbyterian Church, formerly the Missionary Synod of Canada, in
connection with the United Secession Church of Scotland." The three
first trustees under the deed of gift were William Michie, James Hume,
and Peter McPherson. The instrument under which they were appointed
provided, however, and here the spirit of democracy begins to reveal
itself,that the trustees should hold office only for a specified time
and that on the expiration of the period the congregation should be free
either to re-elect the retiring officials or to choose others in their
stead. The only restriction placed on the choice of trustees was that
such officers should be members,"members" being defined as those "who
had been admitted to the Lord's table and were on the communion rolls of
the church." The deed went further than making provision for periodical
elections; it provided also that any trustee could be deposed before the
expiration of his term, at a meeting called for the purpose and on the
majority voting yea. There you have, written in a church deed a century
old, the principle set forth in the recall plank in the U.F.O. platform
of to-day; a feature still considered radical by present day political
did the declaration of the right of the people to govern themselves end
even here. The grant specifically stated that the congregation might go
so far as to change the form of worship in the church on a two-thirds
majority calling for such change.
The spirit written into that deed, the clear
enunciation of the principle of government by the people for the people,
seems to have entered into the minds and hearts of the whole community.
Certain it is, at least, that nowhere in the Upper Canada of that day
did the champions of responsible government receive stouter support than
in The Scotch Block; and, when hope of securing redress by agitation
seemed at an end, The Block contributed its quota to those who stood
ready with Lyon Mackenzie to give the final proof of fidelity to a cause
held more important than life itself. It is not surprising that a son of
the man who gave the site for "Old Boston" was among the prisoners
confined in Fort William Henry after the collapse of the rising of
'thirty-seven. Neither is it surprising to learn that he was one of a
number who dug their way out through a wall four and a half feet in
thickness and, after securing a boat, made their way across the St.
Lawrence to American territory.
For this story of The Scotch Block I had to
depend, in the main, on the instrument conveying the site on which
Boston Church stands and on the records carved in moss-grown headstones
surrounding the sacred edifice. This is because the story was not
written until 1918, a century after the formation of the settlement, and
by that time even some of those of the third generation were in the
"sear, the yellow leaf." But the parchment, yellow with age, and the
lettering carved on granite or marble slabs are sufficient of themselves
to enable one to form a mental picture of the men and women who blazed
the trail into Esquesing. In every sentence written on the parchment
there breathes the spirit of freedom first inhaled amid Scottish hills.
Every headstone beneath the shelter of the church bears testimony to
that heart-felt affection, ceasing only when life itself ceased, for the
land of brown heath and shaggy wood beyond the sea.
Over the grave of John Stewart is recorded
the fact that the father of The Block was born in Perth and was
descended from the Stewarts of Drumcharry, Rossmount, and Duntaulich,
that he migrated to Canada in 1817, and that he died in 1854.
Other stones mark the last resting-place of
Isabella, wife of Alex. McQuarrie; Margaret Dillies, beloved wife of
Duncan Stewart; of James Laidlaw and John Anderson. In not a single case
did I fail to find beneath a name of the dead the place of birth in
Scotland. "Native of Morayshire," "born in Ettrick Forest," "native of
Appin," "born in Bradalbine," "born in Perthshire, parish of Canmore,"
were among the records noted.
The Stewarts, McColls, McPhersons, Lyons,
Gillies, Murrays, Sproats, and others, who moved into the wilds of
Halton in the second decade of the last century, rendered a great
service in transforming a forest into fruitful fields. Infinitely
greater was the service performed in lighting here the torch of liberty,
a torch which, though growing dim at times, has never been wholly