Pioneers of Old Ontario
Up Bruce and Huron
KINGSTON ROAD A SEA OF MUD
This story, which had its
beginning in the neighbourhood of Brockville, was told me one June
evening in 1898 by R. McLean Purdy as we sat together, where Eugenia
Falls marks the opening of the picturesque valley of the Beaver. Mr.
Purdy was boric near Brockville, but in 1.837 the family decided to move
to where Lindsay now stands.
"From Brockville to
Cobourg the trip was made in comparative comfort by steamer," Mr. Purdy
began, "but after leaving Cobourg it was one trouble after another and
each succeeding trouble seemed a little worse than the one just
surmounted. Kingston Road appeared to be a bottomless sea of mudmud
which might have served for plastering houses but was a most
unsatisfactory material for road-making. The first stop was near Port
Hope, and there some of the family belongings, which were too heavy to
move further in the then state of the roads, were temporarily stored
with a relative. Our second night stop was at Oshawa, which was at that
time just being `hatched out.' Next day we drove fifteen miles to Lake
Seugog, and the following night people and horses were sheltered in the
same buildingthat is, if the place deserved the name building. Earth
formed the floor, there were great open spaces between the logs of which
the walls were built, and we could count the stars overhead by looking
up through the breaks in the roof. Luckily there was no rain that night.
Next day men, women, and horses were once more close companions, all
being herded together on a flat-bottomed boat for the voyage over Lake
Scugog. Scugog then no more deserved the name of lake than the shelter
of the night before deserved the name of house. It was a mass of marsh
and grass, the only clear water being that in the channel followed by
the scow. Camp was pitched on Washburn Island, and next day we reached
our destination at the point where Lindsay is now located. A relative,
Wm. Purdy, was living there. His father, Jesse Purdy, had lived on the
Hudson before the American Revolution, and was given four hundred acres
in return for building the first mill in Lindsay.
"The whole place was a
tangled mass of cedar and hardwood; but visions of the future were
present, and the remaining two hundred acres forming the townsite of
to-day were sold in half acre lots at twenty and thirty dollars with
five acre park lots at proportionate prices.
"In 1854, T moved to
Meaford, following the route north of Seugog, south of Lake Simcoe, and
up through Nottawasaga to what is now Duntroon. Duntroon has been a
place of many names. When I first reached there, a man by the name of
McNabb was keeping tavern and the place bore his name. Obe Wellings
bought the tavern later, and the name of the locality changed with the
change in ownership of the hostelry. Altogether there were at least a
dozen changes of name before Duntroon was finally hit upon. Continuing
on our way we found fairly good sleighing over the Blue Mountains, but
when we struck Beaver Valley we were once more in liquid mud. The Parks
and Heathcotes had settled in the valley before us and there were a few
buildings in Meaford, one of these being occupied as a store by one of
my brothers. Living in Meaford then were Wm. Stephens, D. L. Dayton,
John Layton, and Philip and Frank Barber. After remaining a short time
at Meaford, I pushed on to Eugenia Falls, where I made my permanent
"At that time, which was
before the Northern Railway had been extended to Collingwood, supplies
for Meaford were teamed from Barrie to Willow Creek, and from there they
were floated down the Nottawasaga River to its mouth. They were then put
on board bateaux, which, waiting for favourable wind, hugged the shore
of Georgian Bay to Meaford.
"In the first years of
the settlement, incoming settlers provided a sufficient market for the
products of those who had arrived earlier. When a surplus was produced
we had to team our stuff to Toronto, the journey occupying several days.
Wheat disposed of, after all the labour involved in production and
marketing, sold for a dollar a bushel. Return loads consisted of such
things as salt, bought at from two dollars to two dollars and a half a
barrel; calico, at twenty-five cents per yard, and tea, up to one dollar
"The first Houses in the
valley consisted of two rooms, one above and one below, the upper floor
being reached by a ladder. Instead of chairs we had benches made of
split slabs. Beds and tables were made of the same material.
"A colony of beaver had a
dam where Sloan's mill was afterwards built, but these timid animals
left soon after white men began to come in. Near where Kimberley
afterwards sprang up was a favourite resort for both deer and wolves,
the ground frequently being tracked like a cattle-yard. Once, when I had
occasion for some reason to retrace my steps, I found that a wolf had
been stalking one.
"In the early days of the
settlement, the men, after putting in their spring crops in the scanty
clearings, went off in twos and threes to earn money in the more
advanced settlements at `the front.' Meantime the women remained to keep
lonely vigil in the log cabins, while the night wind was pierced by the
howling of wolves in the neighbouring forest. Frail in body some of
those women may have been, but granite in spirit they all were."
Shortly after his arrival
at the Falls, Mr. Purdy began securing records for what he called "The
Eugenia Falls Album." In this album visitors who went there during a
period covering nearly half a century were asked to record their
One of the first entries
was made by Joseph Wilson, of Nottawasaga, and James Perry, of Essa, who
built a saw-mill at the Falls in May, 1858.
On June 8th of the same
year, R. L. Tindall, "Minister of the Gospel, Melauchthon," ventured the
prediction that "some day this will be a place of resort and of much
business." N. C. Gowan, a son of Ogle R. Gowan, who was a visitor in
1860, also hazarded the role of prophet when he wrote,---` `God has done
it nobly, wisely,
well; a city here will
rise." Both prophesies have been fulfilled, in part at least. This
beauty spot is a "place of resort," and, if a city has not risen at the
site, power generated at the Falls, and carried by that most mysterious
and wonderful of agencies, the electric wire, is used in turning the
wheels of industry in a dozen urban centres.
There are hundreds of
pages in the Album with sentiments grave and gay expressed thereon, one
of the best being that left by Silas Hallett, of Ravenna, who visited
the Falls in 1888. "This is a day that will never fade from my memory."
Mr. Hallett voiced what every man, capable of appreciating Nature's
works, must feel on visiting Eugenia, one of the most beautiful scenes
in all Ontario.
John Sewell, who went
into Euphrasia in 1845, told of one incident that furnished a striking
mental picture of conditions in the country south of Meaford at that
"One day when my brother
and I were out setting mink-traps, a man suddenly rose up before us and
I was a good deal more scared than I would have been had a bear appeared
in place of the man," said Mr. Sewell as I chatted with him one evening.
"I did not suppose that there was any other than my brother and myself
for miles around. The stranger said his name was Ellwood, that he was a
trapper, and that his home was in the United States.
"Fifteen years later than
this, when Samuel Wylie settled near Woodhouse, the seventeen mile drive
to Meaford was considered a long day's journey, and over part of the way
horses were up to their middle in mud. One family that came in about
that time had to cut up cotton bags to make clothing and another was
forced to subsist for some time on turnips. Some food, however, was
cheap enough. At the Chantler store in Meaford salted suckers could be
bought at a dollar a barrel, and salmon as long as a man's aria cost ten
cents. But dollars and cents were scarcejust how scarce is indicated by
the fact that one year's taxes for the whole township of St. Vincent
amounted to sixty-three dollars, thirty-seven and a half cents. Robert
Mitchell was the first collector for the township, and he had to pay the
taxes over to the treasurer in Barrie. Once, when Mr. Mitchell was about
ready to start off for this purpose, he discovered that the wallet
containing the tax money was missing. Looking about he saw his old sow
with the purse in her mouth, scattering the money over the snow. The
bills were recovered but the small change was lost."
The extension of the
Northern Railway to Collingwood made easier the task of settling the
Georgian Bay townships west of that point; but even then the hardships
and dangers were trying enough. When the mother of J. W. Patton first
went as a young woman to Rocklyn, in Euphrasia, she journeyed by rail to
Collingwood. A letter sent in advance asking her brother-in-law to meet
her at Rocklyn had not been delivered, so the remaining twenty miles, a
good deal of the way through the bush, was begun all alone and on foot.
At a still later date, when Mrs. Patton desired to visit her old home,
she and her husband carried their child while walking to Meaford,
thirteen miles away, to take boat for Collingwood. On the return
journey, no steamer being due, Mrs. Patton and another woman engaged
passage by small boat from Collingwood to Meaford. "A storm came up
while we were on our way," Mrs. Patton told me, "and I had to use the
baby's hat in baling out the boat. My clothes became so soaked with
water that I could hardly move, and I thought that each wave as it came
would engulf us."
PAYING TAXES WITH HAY
Most of the records of
the early days in 1-Huron on which I have drawn, were obtained from
those of the second generation. But I found one man, Moses Pierce, of
McGillivray township, who could tell of what "these eyes have seen and
these ears have heard."
"I had been living in
Markham township," said Mr. Pierce, "and in my early days Yonge Street
was fairly passable only as far north as Thornhill. Passengers could
ride that far by stage; but on going further they not only had to walk,
but at intervals had to assist in prying the stage out of bog holes with
handspikes. When I left for the Huron tract, the usual means of making
the journey was by boat from Toronto to Hamilton and after that it was
ride by wagon or foot it. We took wagon from Toronto to Hamilton, and
that was a three days' journey. London to Clandeboye, twenty miles, took
another day. For the last five or six miles to the place where we
settled, we had to zig-zag through the bush with an ox-team.
"The land in that section
belonged to the Canada Company and the price was from three to ten
dollars per acre. This may seem to those of the present day a low price
for land, but where was the money to come from?
Even oak timber was
unsaleable here then. Some of the finest oak that ever grew was split
into rails to make snake-fences, and the timber was still sound as a
bell fifty years later. Other equally good oak was rolled into log-heaps
and burned. Those logs to-day would be worth more than the cleared farms
on which they were burned. To give you an idea of how scarce money then
was I may mention one incident. An Indian offered the entire carcass of
a deer he had shot for a dollar, but there was not a dollar between our
place and the town-line to make the purchase.
"Yes, deer were plentiful
then. I have seen five on our farm at one time. Wolves were numerous,
too, and once a pack of these brutes kept the Gamble boys prisoners all
night in a bush where they had been making sugar.
"Two acres of the bush
had been thinned out before we went on our place, but the shanty was
without a door, and a hole in the roof, besides serving for a chimney,
furnished the only sunlight. There was not a nail or piece of metal in
the whole structure. Some of the cabins in the neighbourhood were so
built that oxen could haul logs right up to the fireplace.
"The family bed in the
first cabin was provided by boring holes in one of the wall logs,
driving stakes in these supported by posts at the outer end, and laying
on top slabs split from basswood with the smooth side up. As the family
increased the bed was widened.
"In the first ten years,
although wheat was sown year after year, few settlers produced enough
for their own bread. The grain would give excellent promise at the start
and then the rust would come and destroy it. After the rust came the
midge, and this continued until we secured midge-proof wheat. Naturally
flour was a scarce article. When one neighbour secured a bag or two,
this was shared with others, and, when the flour was gone, it was a case
of potatoes and corn. Even potatoes were scarce at times. When nuts
failed, the squirrels ate our potatoes, and more than once the
seed-cuttings were destroyed before they had time to sprout. The flour
that was obtained was secured at the cost of heart-breaking toil. One
couple sixty years of age, carried their grist nine miles on their
backs. A Scotch girl walked eight or ten miles to our place and carried
one hundred pounds of flour home on her back. Her way led through an
unbroken bush, in which you could see only a few yards ahead and wherein
you had to be careful of your bearings to avoid getting lost. When my
crops failed, in order to earn money enough to keep things going, I
would help my neighbours with their building all day and do my own
logging after night fall. At times after chopping all day, I have made
barrels during half the night."
William Pierce, a son of
Moses, gave a touch of humour to the story of the past. "The first
school I went to," said William, "was held in a log shanty, twelve by
fourteen feet. The teacher was in the habit of getting drunk, and, when
he was incapacitated, his wife took his place. At noon hour, on my first
day at school, she locked us in, as she said, to prevent the bears from
getting us, while she went to. dinner. Tiring of the confinement before
the hour was up, we determined to get outside. The only means of exit
was a hole in the gable end of the shanty, and we could not climb up the
log wall from the floor to reach that opening because the spaces between
the logs had been neatly chinked up. This difficulty was gotten over by
one boy standing on the shoulders of another and so reaching the top
log. Then he pulled the others up in turn and all slipped out of the
hole in the gable end. In a little while a cry was raised that the
teacher was coming, and then the boys clambered up the outside like a
lot of bears, slipped in through the hole to their seats, where they
were found quietly in place when the teacher opened the door."
Linwood Craven, like his
neighbour, Moses Pierce, was one of the originals and, like Mr. Pierce,
could tell of the almost unbelievable hardships borne by those who
blazed the way. In the case of Mr. Craven, indeed, the hardships began
with his arrival in Canada in 1842. Smallpox was raging in the country
in that year and Mr. Craven contracted the disease while in Montreal.
"After I recovered I was almost ready to go back," Mr. Craven told me,
"and I set a stick on end in the street and decided that if it fell to
the east I would go back and if it fell to the west. I would stay. My
wife was determined to remain in any case, and so it was perhaps
fortunate that the stick fell to the west. I exchanged my sovereigns in
the office of Mayor Beaudry. The last I saw of the yellow coins they
were laid out in the form of a horse-shoe in the mayor's window.
"When I settled in
McGillivray, there was not a white settler between our place and Lake
Huron save fora little French community about Brewster's Mills on the
lake shore. There were numerous Indians, though; and one of these, old
Chief Petanquet, once, while drunk, laid my jacket open with a knife.
Seizing an axe, I said that I would cut him down if he did it again.
That sobered him and he apologized, at the same time giving me his knife
as a pledge of future good behaviour."
The goddess of chance
appears to have been frequently called upon to settle the choice of
first location. Norris and Sallows, two neighbours, flipped a coin for
first choice in Colborne. The first of the Snells and a neighbour drew
lots in Hullett. Craven said that he would give or take a quarter with
`Big Jim' Robson for first choice in McGillivray. "When Robson took the
quarter I felt certain that he did not intend to remain," said fir.
Craven," and sure enough he never came hack after locating.
"When I arranged to put
up a shanty, although it was only eight logs high, neighbours refused to
assist until I provided a gallon of whiskey. After the shanty was up, it
was `short commons' for us all for some years. For tea we used burned
bread, and peas for making imitation coffee. When our first child was
born, there was not a pound of flour in the house, and, when I went to
neighbour after neighbour with a pillow-slip to borrow soiree, I found
plenty of corn-meal, but no flour. At last I was able to get a little
from Robert Armstrong; but this was only enough for the mother of the
babe, and I had to do with corn-meal for six weeks.
"That winter I chopped
eight acres, and next spring my wife and I logged most of it by hand. I
cut the logs in short lengths so that they would be easier to handle,
and cut the trees off close to the ground so that stumps would not be in
the way of cultivation. It was certainly no light winter's work, to cut
up the trees, many two and three feet through, growing on eight acres.
After the land was cleared, we had to carry rails by hand for fencing;
but the slowest work of all was raking up the leaves.
"When our first grain was
harvested, it was put in a stack near the cabin and there was no place
to thresh it save on the cabin floor. I carried in one or two sheaves at
a time, and in threshing I had to stand between two of the split logs
forming the roof so that the flail would not hit the ceiling. Meantime
my wife covered baby with a blanket to prevent the dust from choking
him. When the grain was threshed, we had to drive six or eight miles to
the mill and, short as that distance was, two days were spent going and
coming. Sometimes we had to go a second time for the grist at that.
Once, when a party of four of us were going to Brewster's mill, eighteen
miles distant, we ate the small lunch carried with us in going. On
arrival at the mill, Brewster told us that lie had no food either to
give or sell. There was, however, a pot of potatoes boiling on the stove
and an Irishman in the party seized one of the potatoes. That and a
squirrel which we caught had to serve us until we reached a tavern on
our return trip. "On the same journey I carried an axe on my shoulder,
and a man named Train, following behind, laid his lower lip open when he
stumbled against it. 'Without a word of complaint, he split a leaf from
a plug of tobacco, drew the cut together, and came on as if nothing had
"Yes, the rust played
havoc with all of us in the early days of wheat-growing. Had it not been
for the introduction of Egyptian wheat,
which proved rust
resisting, I believe many would have starved. We were all hard enough
pressed as it was. One year, when my tax bill came due, I could not meet
the bill although it was only two dollars. In order to raise the money I
took a load of hay to London, twenty-five miles away, by ox-team, spent
two days on the way, and sold the load for exactly the amount of my
"Our first Methodist
preacher was named Case. He and a mulatto, a Baptist, preached in the
same cabin. The Methodist had no horse; even if he had possessed one he
could not have taken it over the roads as they then were, and so he
walked to his several appointments."
"When my father settled
on lot twenty-seven on the seventh of Hullett, he was the `farthest
north' white man in Western Ontario," James Snell told me. "The upper
part of Huron and the whole of Bruce were covered by an unbroken forest.
Father's worldly goods consisted of the axe on his shoulder and a
quarter in his pocket.
"Even two years later
than that, when he married, it was often potatoes and cabbage for meals
one day, varied by cabbage and potatoes the next. One neighbour was
without flour for two weeks. Once, when an attempt was made to bring
flour overland by way of Clinton, the supply was all gobbled up before
Clinton was passed. A neighbour carried half a barrel of flour on his
back from Clinton to his own home, a distance of three miles. William
Young, of Carlow, spent his first weeks in the shelter of a tree; and
flat stones, taken from the bed of a creek, formed the fireplace in
which his food, mostly game and fish, was cooked. One day, father, on
his way home, met a bear at a point where the road was very narrow.
Father stepped on one side, the bear responded by stepping to the other,
and so each passed on his wayan exhibition of good manners of which
father frequently expressed his warmest appreciation.
"The land in our township
was bought at from three to twelve dollars per acre, depending on the
quality of the timber. That was merely the first cost. To clear ten
acres of black ash swamp on our farm cost twenty-five dollars per acre;
and after that there was the stumping, stoning, fencing, draining, and
building. They tell us Canadians are a great people. They should be.
They are the descendants of the greatest stock the world ever produced.
None but men of strong arms and brave hearts could have accomplished the
work that was accomplished by the pioneers of Old Ontario."
How well that work was
accomplished and to what extent the children of these pioneers were
worthy of their ancestors, is shown in one case by the history of the
Snell farm itself. A little over half a century after the first tree was
cut on the farm, stock produced there captured twenty-one prizes, eleven
of these firsts, at the Chicago World's Fair, the winnings being made in
open competition with communities that had three centuries of
civilization behind them.
"My father moved to Huron
in 1835," said Henry Morris, another Colborne township pioneer. "At that
time there were only three houses in Goderich. In one of these, a log
shanty, father spent his first night with a pile of shavings for a bed.
Father and his brother chose as their location in Colborne, lots six and
seven on the ninth, tossing a copper for first choice."
Mr. Morris told an
interesting story of the clock his father took with him to the township,
which clock was still keeping perfect time when I talked with him
sixty-five years later. "The clock was made in Germany," said Mr.
Morris, "and belonged to a man for whom father worked near Hamilton. It
had been sent to a watchmaker's for repairs and father was told that he
could have it by paying the charges. The offer was accepted, and in the
next sixty-five years it was repaired only once."
PACKING GOODS AT SEVEN
"Our family arrived at
Kincardine township at three o'clock in the afternoon of a March day in
1851, and our first task was to clear about five feet of snow out of the
shanty that was waiting for us. This shanty had been built by my brother
in the previous autumn; but the one door had not been hung, or the walls
chinked up, which accounted for the accumulation of snow. Although I was
only seven at the time, my task was to assist the other children in
gathering moss to block the spaces between the logs forming the walls of
the shanty. Next I was sent to cut hemlock boughs, and these, spread on
the earthen floor and covered with blankets, formed our bed. Another
blanket closed the doorway." Thus Neil McDougall began his story.
"Next day we put in one
window and built a chimney formed of sticks and puddled clay. Fire in
the open hearth soon baked this clay as hard as brick. A permanent door
was made of lumber brought with us, but basswood logs were split to form
the floor. A space was left before the fireplace and this was afterwards
filled in with cobble-stones.
"Our family, coming
originally from Scotland, had spent some time in Brock township. The
journey from Brock to Kincardine was made in a sleigh by way of the
lower end of Lake Simcoe, Orangeville, and the town of Durham. At
Durham, we were detained by a storm for three days, sleeping meantime on
the floor of a shanty belonging to a man named Hunter. At the town of
Kincardine, or what is now the town, the sleigh was left behind and the
remaining ten miles made on foot, each one of the party carrying some of
the household effects. My share, although, as I said, I was but seven
years of age, consisted of the tea-kettle, tea-pot, and a blanket. An
older brother carried the family table. Not a tree was chopped along
that ten miles and the snow was from four to five feet deep in the
"In the previous fall, my
brothers had left a yoke of oxen with a man at Priceville, who promised
to keep them over winter for their work. The keeping was so badly done
that when we picked them up on our way, one gave out on the road and
afterwards died and the other was kept alive only by feeding it scones;
we had no hay.
"Owing to the crippling
of our ox-team, we had to do our spring logging by hand. We possessed
only an acre of clearing that spring, but next fall that acre was
literally covered with nice mealy potatoes. During the summer, John
McPhail, a neighbour, purchased another ox and that made a yoke for our
joint use, the first ox-team in the section. We bought a cow, too, and
during the next winter the cattle were maintained on a few turnips, a
little oats, and the browse in the bush. The cattle seemed to know that
meal time was coming when they saw the men start for the bush with axes,
and they followed after. A tree was no sooner down than the animals were
feasting on the juicy sprouts of the top. They actually came out fat in
"At the beginning, all
our supplies were packed from Kincardine, ten miles away, and it took
two bushels of wheat to buy a pound of tea. With boots at seven dollars
per pair, you will not be surprised _when I tell you that some went
barefooted in winter. When cattle were killed, we took the skin from the
bend at the knee to make moccasins. Sometimes, owing to rough weather,
supplies of flour at Kincardine became exhausted, and then the settlers'
food was limited to potatoes and fish. Occasionally, in winter, the fish
gave out, too; and then it was potatoes and cow-cabbage. Some families
lived for weeks at a time on these, with a little milk and butter added.
The cattle fed on cow-cabbage, too. These plants grew to a height of
about two and a half feet, and cattle would eat all they could hold in
half an hour. At times, when we could not get our wheat. ground we
boiled it whole for food.
"The Rev. William Frazer,
a Baptist, who had a small grist-mill, was a missionary as well as a
miller. For twenty-five years he preached in the little community,
walking eight or nine miles to keep appointments, which I never knew him
to miss, rain or shine, winter or summer; and he never took a dollar in
pay for this service. He served for a time as inspector of schools in
addition to his other work.
"There was not it doctor
within sixty miles; still I never knew of a death in child-birth. Cuts
were common when the bush was being cleared, and were treated with
"Two or three families
were dependent on one cow for their milk in the early years," said
Charles McDougall, an older brother of Neil. "In the first two years, we
never once tasted meat, and our tea was made by using burned bread
crumbs. Scones were fashioned on a rough board split from a basswood
log. People in the township of Bruce, to the north of us, were still
worse off. I have seen them drive past our place with oxen drawing
home-made wooden carts that frequently got stuck in the mud holes. The
people of that township, like ourselves, had to go to Kincardine for
their supplies; but in their case the journey extended over two or three
A typical incident of
pioneer days in Bruce County was mentioned by Mr. McDougall. In a year
of scarcity three men started for Ash-field, two townships away, to
secure potatoes. Growing hungry by the way they stopped at a cabin to
ask for food.
"I have only enough in
the house to make supper for the children," answered the woman who came
to the door.
"Then we cannot take
that," said the men.
"But you will," was the
instant response. ''My husband has gone off for flour, which he will
surely get, and the children can wait until he returns. Come in and
Another touching story of
a father's devotion was told by Mr. McDougall.
`'Among the first
arrivals in Bruce were six families from Tyre, Scotland," said he. "When
the party arrived at Walkerton, the nine-year-old daughter of Donald
McKinnon became ill and the father paused in his journey to nurse his
sick child, while the other members of the party pressed on to
Kincardine. After the child partially recovered, the father took her on
his back and started after the others, wading the Saugeen River on the
way. But the child died almost as soon as Kincardine was reached, and
her body was the first one laid in the old cemetery where the
Presbyterian Church now stands. Grief and the hardships of the trip
proved too much for the father, and he also succumbed shortly
One can almost believe
that, in the days which followed, others in the party envied the two who
had fallen at the threshold of the new settlement. Home and kindred were
beyond the sea, all was new and strange, and before the scanty means of
livelihood brought from beyond the seas could be added to by production
in the new home giant trees had to be cleared away by men who did not
know how to wield an axe.
IS IT WORTH WHILE?
"Is it worth while?" The
question was asked by Peter Clark of the township of Culross between
sixty and seventy years ago. It is no wonder Mr. Clark thus queried. It
was the depth of winter. The habitation occupied was a log shanty twelve
feet by sixteen feet, the spaces between the logs being filled with mud
plaster. The only company he had was W. H. Campbell, and there was not
then a single house in Teeswater. The site of Wingham was still part of
the original forest; Lucknow was not even a cross-roads; and all about
was unbroken bush.
Mr. Clark's experiences
before reaching Bruce were also such as to produce a feeling of
pessimism. From London to Clinton he and his companion, Campbell, had
tramped forty-eight miles over mud roads in one day in the previous
autumn. Clinton to Goderich, over still worse roads, was covered in a
second day. Goderich to Lucknow, over country almost without roads,
occupied the third day, and, on the fourth, the site of Teeswater was
reached over blazed trails. There the night was spent in the woods. This
was on the ninth of September, and from that time until October, when
their rude cabin was finished, the forest furnished the only shelter Mr.
Clark and his companion had. Is it any wonder that the companions asked
themselves if there would be any roads, neighbours, schools, churches
and the other necessities and comforts incident to civilization? It is
not surprising that for a time, Mr. Clark decided it was not worth
while; and, after distributing his immediate belongings among his
nearest neighbours, he started for Goderich to visit an old schoolmate,
H. D. Cameron, then principal of the school in that town. At Mr.
Cameron's solicitations Mr. Clark tried for a teacher's certificate,
and, passing the necessary examination, secured a school at WVawanosh.
That was the turn of the tide for him. While teaching at Wawanosh, he
visited his farm in Culross often enough to hold it under the conditions
of the grant. Later on he taught the first school in Teeswater, but
eventually settled down on his farm.
It was, however, a long
and dreary wait for the things that came later. "In the beginning," Mr.
Clark said, "I more than once packed one hundred pounds of wheat on my
back to the nearest grist-mill, and that mill was thirteen miles away.
Once, after assisting at a raising two miles from my farm, I lost the
blazed trail in the woods while going home in the dark and lay down to
spend the night in the bush. Awakened by the howling of wolves, I
started a fire to frighten the animals off and then lay down and slept
on until morning.
"My greatest scare,
though, occurred in that first fall. We had plenty of game, but were
often down to our last crust of bread. Campbell on one of these
occasions decided to go to Riverdale for flour and other provisions. He
started on a Monday expecting to return next day, but when he did not
get back on Wednesday nor even on Thursday I fairly shook with terror. I
feared that Campbell had been drowned, and that I would find it
impossible to give a satisfactory explanation of his disappearance. In
imagination I could even see the sheriff and the hangman's noose; but at
last I heard a great splashing down the river, and in a short time
Campbell himself appeared."
While almost all the
pioneers whom I interviewed, told of the spirit of mutual helpfulness
that prevailed in the early days, there were occasional references to
displays of meanness and selfishness. One incident of this nature
occurred when two travellers were going south on the road leading from
Dufferin to the front. One traveller was on foot and one in a sleigh. As
the latter caught up to the pedestrian a request for a ride was curtly
refused. The one on foot, in the then state of the roads, was able to
travel as fast as the one in the sleigh, and as the parties passed and
repassed each other repeated requests for a lift, or even for the
privilege of hanging on behind, were denied. But just retribution was
not long delayed. Both travellers reached the same tavern as night came
on. The one on foot was known there; the man driving was unknown. The
footsore pilgrim told his tale, and the churl with the team was promptly
cast into the outer darkness where he belonged.
Mr. Clark told of a
somewhat similar experience. "On the way back from the distant mill,
with packs of flour on their shoulders, the first settlers naturally got
hungry by the way," said Mr. Clark. "On some occasions, on dropping into
a wayside cabin, even the privilege of making scones from their own
flour was refused. But this was a rare exception and was more than
over-balanced by the open-hearted hospitality in other quarters. John
McBain and his wife were a particularly generous couple. No traveller
was ever permitted to pass their door while hungry, and a bed was always
at the disposal of one who appeared as darkness approached. Many of the
Culross pioneers had reason to bless the McBains.
"Another of the
whole-hearted ones was Samuel Woods. In their second year some of the
settlers did not have even potatoes. Samuel, whose home was in a hollow
log, had not so very many himself, but he was always ready to share up
with others. Whenever a hungry one came along, Sam just pointed to the
potato patch and told the visitor to help himself."
The question, "Is it
worth while?" which Mr. Clark asked himself shortly after the middle of
the last century was well answered before that century ended.
Well-tilled fields had then succeeded the tangle of the forest; stone
and brick residences had displaced the log shanties; and a community had
been built up in which the homely virtues of the pioneer period did not
disappear with the coining of prosperity.
COW-CABBAGE FOR FOOD
"I moved into Kinloss in
the same year 1854 that Mr. Clark moved into Culross," said Mr.
Corrigan a friend of Mr. Clark. "In one respect a more unfortunate time
could not have been selected for making the venture. The Russian war had
forced wheat up to two dollars and a quarter per bushel and our people
had not yet begun to produce wheat. It had forced pork up to ten and
twelve dollars per hundred weight and the settlers were buyers, not
sellers, of pork. As few of them had more than fifty dollars to start
on, you can imagine how far their available funds went in the purchase
of necessary food. As a matter of fact many were compelled to subsist
for weeks on cow-cabbage, a vegetable that then grew wild in the woods.
This cabbage was not unlike lettuce, and boiled with pork was a real
luxury; but few had money to buy the pork.
"Then, a year or two
later, just when our people were beginning to get on their feet, and
wheat in the newly made clearing was seemingly about to yield an
abundant harvest, one night's frost blighted the whole prospect. Not a
bushel of wheat was harvested in the settlement that year.
"The hardest blow of all,
however, was sustained through an act of the authorities. The Government
of Sandfield Macdonald had aided the people with loans of money and seed
in the year when frost came, and in. 1868-69 the Government ordered that
the interest, which had been allowed to accumulate while people were
trying to regain their feet, as well as the principal, must all be paid
off at once. It was reported, whether truly or not, that the Government
was impelled to this action by financial interests in Toronto, which had
just received large sums of Old Country money to be loaned. In any case
the people of Bruce rushed to these money-lenders for funds to meet the
demands made upon them. Loans obtained from these lenders were repayable
in annual instalments and the interest figured out at about twelve and
one half per cent. Scores of those who had struggled through the trials
of the pioneer period, who had borne up even in the year when their
wheat was destroyed by frost, now with old age approaching went down
beneath the load of the mortgage. They were forced to sell their
belongings and move to the United States. `Only for the mortgages we
could have pulled through,' was their bitter cry. It was a cruel blow,
and Canada lost many good citizens at that time.
"In one respect we were
favoured," continued Mr. Corrigan with a smile. "Most of those who
settled in Kinloss went there in the prime of life. There were few
children to educate or aged to care for. But for this I do not know how
any would have pulled through. Death came occasionally, even to a
community in which the death rate was low because of the ages of those
composing it, and in the absence of regular cemeteries, most of those
who died were buried on the farms their labour had been helping to
create. One such burial-place was located on one of my own farms.
Facilities for marriage were as scarce as facilities for burial. When my
wife and I were married we had to go to Owen Sound for the purpose, and
we spent. two days going and a like time returning.
"The infrequency of
religious services also bore heavily on the pioneers. This hardship was
felt with especial severity by the Roman Catholics, who were fewer in
numbers than the Protestants. Our first priest had his headquarters in
Owen Sound. He was able to visit us only once a year, and the entire
journey from Owen Sound was made on foot.
"Our first wheat was
cleaned either by sifting it through a screen or placing it on a sheet
and then shaking the sheet so as to throw the grain up in the air and
allow the wind to carry off the chaff. When fanning-mills came in, they
were taken from farm to farm as threshing outfits are now."
The Corrigans had an
easier time of it in Bruce than most of those who pioneered in that
county, because before going there, they had pioneered in Hastings and
had accumulated twenty-three or twenty-four hundred dollars - quite a
fortune for that day.
"But we had our share of
it when I was a lad in Hastings," Mr. Corrigan concluded. "I have heard
my father say that be had to tramp twenty-five miles to buy a pipe, and
that when he first settled in Hastings his worldly possessions consisted
of an axe, a ham, and a five do]-tar gold-piece. We moved from Hastings
to Kinloss in a covered wagon, a month being spent on the way. We had to
stop over for two weeks at Cooksville owing to one of our horses having
been injured by a kick, and it was while there that I had my first sight
of one of the first great labour-savers; a mowing-machine.
I believe ours was the
first wagon to enter Kinloss; and that wagon, which had a canvas cover,
formed our habitation until a shanty was erected."
"A LITTLE PIT SORE APOOT
To the late John S.
McDonald, one of the most thoroughly upright men who ever sat in the
Legislature of Ontario, I was indebted for some reminiscences of early
days near Ripley.
Mr. McDonald came from
Ayrshire in 1854. After spending some fifteen months in Ancaster, he
determined to make a new home in the township of Kincardine. His route
lay through Galt, Stratford, and Goderich, and eight days were spent in
making the journey with horse and ox-teams. "Galt," Mr. McDonald said,
"was then a small village; but Stratford, which had lately been swept by
fire, held a thousand people, while Goderich boasted of nearly two
thousand inhabitants. From Galt to Goderich the road was all mud or
corduroy, and it was with difficulty Mrs. McDonald held her seat in the
wagon as it bumped over the roughly laid logs.
"The slow rate at which
the journey was made may be illustrated by one incident. When a short
distance on our way, I inadvertently left my watch at Black Creek and
did not notice the loss until four miles further on. I at once started
back on foot to recover the time-piece, the remainder of the family
meantime continuing northwards. After I had secured my watch, the stage
carrying the mail came along, and loping to join nay family more quickly
by this means, I jumped on board. I soon saw, however, that I could walk
faster than the stage was being driven, and so jumped off again and
resumed walking, catching up with the others on reaching Hunter's
Corners, as Seaforth was then called.
"The country was fairly
well-settled as far as Stratford; but from that place to Goderich the
clearings were small, and the townships of Kinloss, Ashfield, Huron, and
Kincardine, while mostly taken up, were still covered with forest. From
Belfast to our new home, a distance of eighteen miles, there was no
roadway whatever, the only guide to the lot being a blaze left by
surveyors; and over the last twelve miles of that blazed trail Mrs.
McDonald carried an infant in her arms.
"It was fall when we
reached our home in the bush and the first winter was spent in making a
clearing. In spring, after burning the slash and putting in a crop, I
tramped all the way back to Ancaster to earn enough to see the family
through the following winter, Mrs. McDonald and the children meantime
spending three weary months with the nearest neighbour.
"In the fall, with my
cradle on my back (there were no self-binders in those days), I tramped
home to harvest our own little crop and prepare for winter. The purchase
of groceries necessitated a walk of eight miles each way. The Harris
mill, twenty-two miles distant, was the nearest point at which we could
obtain flour, and that meant two days in going and coming.
"For four successive
years I spent the winters in chopping, the springs in burning and
seeding, and the summers in working for other farmers at 'the front.'
Then it seemed as if at last. I could venture to put in the whole year
at home with my family. I had seven acres in wheat and some other crops
as well, and it looked to me like the dawn of prosperity. But, just as
the wheat was ripening, the whole prospect was blighted in a single
night. Frost came with the darkness, and wheat, potatoes, and all else
went down in one common ruin.
"Without wheat to
harvest, there was no use in remaining home any longer; and so once more
the weary pilgrimage to the front was undertaken and fall and winter
were spent in earning money, not only to carry the family-through the
winter but to buy seed for the following spring. The set-back left us
very nearly where we had started, and it was eight long years after our
first winter in the bush before I was able to spend all my time on our
own farm. Even after that there was constant danger of frost and
sometimes more or less severe loss was sustained. Indeed, it was not
until the bush fires of the 'sixties burned off the black muck on the
surface that June frosts ceased to be a source of worry.
"It was not alone the
lack of knowledge of how to use the woodman's axe that was against the
emigrants from Scotland when they settled in the forest then covering
Huron and Bruce," continued Mr. McDonald. "Many of the newcomers were
from the Island of Lewis and had been fishermen in the old land. As
fishermen their periods of labour had been governed by the weather. When
nature favoured, it had been long periods of arduous toil for them,
while with foul weather came complete cessation from labour. The habits
these fishermen had inherited from their forefathers they brought with
them to the Canadian bush. During inclement periods when others were
preparing for the fine days to come, these would be resting. That, of
course, militated against success under the changed conditions
prevailing here. It was marvellous, though, what these men could endure.
I remember one of them carrying a hundredweight of flour in a barrel on
his back from Kincardine. He might. just as well have carried it in a
bag, but he put it in a barrel because the barrel was given him. That
awkward load he carried for fourteen miles through the bush simply to
add a wooden barrel to his store. At the end of the journey, when asked
if lie was tired, he said: 'No, but she'll be a little pit sore aapoot
the back.' "
Mr. McDonald in
describing his experiences in cleaning wheat, said: "We used a `wecht'
for that purpose. This was a sheep-skin with the wool removed. The skin
was tacked to a wooden rim, something like the end of a drum, but the
skin was slack, not tight. We used this as a scoop to lift the grain
from the bin and then allowed the grain to fall on a sheet Plaid on the
ground, the wind blowing off the chaff as the grain fell. One day, when
we were about out of flour, there was no wind. When a breeze came up
with the sunset, I began cleaning and kept at the work, by the light of
the moon, until two in the morning. This job followed a full day's
threshing with the flail; and before daylight next morning I was off
with my grist to the Harris mill, twenty miles away.
"All the settlers from
our section took their grain to that mill. The grist was carried on
jumpers and usually only two or three bags were taken at a time. One day
was spent in going to the mill, the grain was ground at night and the
return journey made next day.
"When we took our grist
to the mill," Mr. McDonald went on, "we spent the night at a log tavern
while waiting for it to be ground. We climbed a ladder in going upstairs
to bed, and, when in bed, the roof was just above our heads. In the
morning the ceiling was coated with frost where the cold air had come in
contact with the warm air exhaled from the men's lungs. Our cow-hide
boots, in which we tramped through slush in going to the mill, would
also be found frozen as hard as bricks, and we had to thaw them at the
stove before we could put them on."
Patrick Cummings, when
warden of the County of Bruce, told me the following story of "the
religious mill.'' ''The `religious mill' was the Shantz mill at Port
Elgin, operated by a man named Leader. The miller refused to run a
minute after twelve o'clock on Saturday night. On one occasion, during a
period of special pressure, a helper in the mill proposed to run right
through the last night in the ,reek in order to catch up. A man who
happened to be present at the time, for a joke on the helper, put some
wet grain in the hopper as the clock was nearing the midnight hour.
Exactly on the stroke of twelve the wet grain struck the stoles and the
mill stopped dead.
"`I told you,' said the
joker, `this was a religious mill and would not, under any
circumstances, run on Sunday.' "
The miller, his latent
superstition aroused, was struck with awe and never after that did he
even think of attempting to run the mill on Sundays.
A BOAT BUILT AT KINCARDINE
The family of Hugh
Murray, of Underwood, moved into Bruce in the "famine year." "It was not
the freezing of the wheat alone that caused suffering among the people,"
said Mr. Murray. "The grasshoppers ate the pea crop and squirrels
scooped out the potatoes, leaving nothing but empty shells. If it had
not been for the corn and wheat supplied by the Government, I do not
know what the settlers of that day would have done.
"Then, when we began to
produce again we were handicapped by the lack of a market. It was a
godsend to the new settlement when G. H. Coulthard, from near Manilla,
started business in our section. Inc bought anything the settlers had to
sell, but his chief service to the community was in establishing a
market for ashes and cord-wood. What we received for these products
seemed like `found money.'
'But people worked for
that `found money,' all right," added Norman Robertson, who at the time
this story was told was County Treasurer of Bruce. "I have seen as many
as twenty Highland women, in single fyle, on the way to the ashery, each
carrying a two bushel bag of ashes from the burned fallows. These loads
were carried as much as six or eight miles and the ashes were sold on
delivery at twopence per bushel, while cord-wood went at seventy-five
cents to one dollar per cord."
In the sunnnier season,
the River Saugecti was made use of by a number of Bruce pioneers in
reaching the interior of the southern parts o that county. Other
pioneers, landing at Southampton from lake vessels, made their way up
the river in canoes. "The current was too strong to paddle against,"
Thomas Bryce of Dumblane told me, "and so one man had to walk along the
shore and pull the canoe with a rope while another held the craft off
the land with a pole. Many went up as far as Paisley, a distance of
fifteen miles, in this way. My people came in the other way. Striking
the river at Walkerton we built a raft, placed our supplies on it, and
floated twenty-one miles down stream to our destination. Several other
families did the same. Each family built its own raft, and when the
journey was completed, the raft was left to float at will on down the
Mr. and Mrs. Cook were of
those who came in by way of Southampton in 1851, and Mrs. Cook had with
her four children, aged from one to eight. "Whatever will you do with
these poor little chicks up here?" was the first greeting she received
on landing. It is no wonder solicitude for the children was expressed.
"The shanty to which we went had a bark roof and this roof leaked so
badly that when it rained my husband had to hold an umbrella over us
when we were in bed," said Mrs. Cook. "The floors were made of such
lumber as drifted ashore from passing vessels. Once, when the children
were ill, my husband went to Port Elgin, five miles away, to get a
little milk for them. On another occasion a friend brought in a chicken
all the way from Owen Sound, but unfortunately the flesh spoiled with
the heat during the journey and could not be used."
Captain McLeod, of
Kincardine, in speaking of those pioneers who came in by way of Lake
Huron, said that the passenger rate from Goderich to Kincardine was
fifty cents and the freight rate on goods from Windsor to Kincardine six
dollars per ton. The captain and his brother built the first vessel put
together at Kincardine, a little craft of eight or ten tons.
"We cut the planks for
that craft with a whip-saw," the captain told me. "I bought the whip-saw
in Goderich for five dollars and carried or trailed it all the way to
Kincardine. A platform was built on the side of a bank and supported by
posts. Beneath this platform was a pit six or seven feet deep, and, when
sawing, my brother stood in the pit while lie pulled down on the saw,
and I stood above to pull up. After finishing our boat, we cut all the
boards for flooring, roof, gable ends, and windows for a house eighteen
feet by twenty-four and got a yoke of nine-year-old oxen for our pay. It
was a fair day's work to cut from two hundred and fifty to three hundred
feet of lumber in a day with a whip-saw, but some days, when everything
was running well, we got up to four hundred."
John McNab, a son of the
first Crown Lands Agent for Bruce, gave a vivid description of three
scenes in the early history of the section.
"In my youth," said Mr.
McNab, "the county ended at Southampton on the north, the peninsula
above that still being in the hands of the Indians. Once a year Captain
Anderson came up from Toronto to distribute annuity money among these
Indians. His route was by rail to Collingwood, boat to Owen Sound, and
from Owen Sound to Southampton with Indians
who carried his luggage.
I have seen as many as nine hundred of the red men gathered to meet the
captain and receive their annuities, while the harbour was dotted with
small craft, owned by traders waiting to exchange their goods for the
money the Indians were to receive.
"Later on, when the
Indians surrendered their lands, these were put up for sale, buyers
coming from Toronto and equally distant points. In the excitement of the
auction some wild bidding occurred, the offers in many cases being more
than the land was worth. Some of the purchases were afterwards thrown
back on the hands of the Government and in other cases a reduction in
price was made.
"The crowd that attended
the auction of the lands in the peninsula was well nigh paralleled by a
previous rush. Several townships were opened for sale in South Bruce in
1854, and in September of that year two thousand people came into
Southampton. They slept in camps outside the village; and at night their
blazing camp fires were like those of a besieging army. By day the
gathering was like a congress of nations. Highlanders, Englishmen, and
Germans were intermingled; and the Gaelic, English, and German tongues
were heard in the different groups. A remarkable thing, both in
connection with this gathering and the annual payment to Indians at an
earlier date, was that although on both occasions whiskey was
everywhere, I did not hear of a single quarrel.
scene occurred in the spring of the year when the Indians came down from
Manitoulin to sell their maple sugar. The journey was made in
mackinaws,open boats with a schooner rig; and the sugar was carried in
mococks,containers made of birch bark each holding from twenty to
thirty pounds. I am told that this sugar eventually found its way to a
Montreal refinery, from which it emerged at last as ordinary commercial
"After the incoming
settlers had located their lands, they frequently tramped forty or fifty
miles in order to make their payments at the Crown Land office in
Southampton. Not a little of the money used in making payments was
English gold, and this was usually carried in belts next the person.
Those carrying their money in this way would, on arrival, go into a room
off the office, strip, remove their belts and then come back to the
office and pay over their money."
A story very similar to
that told by Mr. McDonald was the one given me about the same time by A.
Livingstone, who was then living a little west of the town of Durham, in
the neighbouring county of Grey. When Mr. Livingstone moved to his new
home from Toronto in the late 'fifties, it was necessary to make the
journey in winter because roads were impassable in summer. "Orangeville
at that time consisted of a store, one of two taverns, and a few
houses," said Mr. Livingstone. "There was a fair road from Orangeville
to Durham, but from the latter place there was nothing but a `blaze' to
mark the road to the lot I had selected, four miles west. Our nearest
neighbour was three miles off in the bush; and, although a little
milling was then done in Durham, most of the wheat grown in our township
was taken to Guelph, fifty miles away, to he ground.
"The first spring after
our arrival, we planted potatoes in the little clearing made during
winter, and then I and my two brothers walked down to Vaughan to earn
money with which to buy supplies for the following winter. It took us
three days to cover the distance. In the second spring, we had nearly
fifteen acres ready for crop, and after putting this in oats, barley,
and potatoes we once more proceeded south to spend the summer in
Vaughan. This practice continued for three or four years, but after that
we were able to spend all our time at home."
Hardships were not,
however, at an end even then. Durham Road, now one of the finest
highways in the province, was at that time mud and corduroy. "In the
spring," said Mrs. Brigham, a neighbour of the Livingstones, "the logs
were frequently afloat in the water, and in passing over a place like
that we had to jump from one log to another. There was no bridge over
the Saugeen west of Durham, but a tree which had fallen across the
stream afforded a reasonably safe passage for people on foot." The first
team of horses was taken in by William Hopps, the year after the
Livingstones arrived. For the first few years, however, some of the
settlers did not even have oxen, and all the operations on bush farms,
from logging to harvesting, were performed by hand.
"In the beginning, too,"
Mr. Livingstone said, "our buying and selling was all done locally,
incoming settlers providing a market for the surplus produced by those
who had gone in ahead. Where marketing was confined to such narrow
limits, there was bound to be a glut at one time with a shortage at
another. When there was a surplus our produce went for a song; when
there was scarcity famine prices prevailed.
One summer when flour
vent up to nine and ten dollars per barrel, people who could not pay the
price were obliged to use corn-meal. Even corn-meal was almost beyond
the reach of those, who, to buy food, worked on the road at seventy-five
cents per day and boarded themselves. Many, indeed, were obliged to
mortgage their farms and all their belongings. In not a few cases
mortgages were foreclosed and families after years of toil were forced
to move away.
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