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Fallbrook Farm Heritage Site
Update 19

© Wayne Gates


UPDATE NO.19                                     APRIL 2, 2009


As announced in our last update, we are taking a well earned lull from the political campaign to preserve Fallbrook as a memorial to the first European families of Ballinafad. The Credit Valley Authority is preparing their policy on community heritage projects to orient their working relationship with us. Instead of waiting with sweaty palms, we are pursuing intensely the oral project in partnership with the Scottish Studies Department, U. Of Guelph and with the guidance of our own resident historian- genealogist Joan Kadoke. Many fascinating interviews have already been recorded and others are scheduled. A young, sensitive and talented researcher named Erin has been lent to us by Scottish Studies to help with this task. In the next few updates, we would like to create an online exchange with you. Sharing your memories and in the finest of oral traditions. Stories that were told over the years at family gatherings, around the dinner table or while playing a game of whist. Or reading farmers’ almanacs or diaries found in a dusty attic. Memories inspired by old horse drawn ploughs lying abandoned in the barn. In this series, we make no pretension to historical exactitude. This is not meant to be an exchange of scholarly historical thesis’s but more a chat room format to exchange ideas. Great historical truisms have been proven to be more folklore than real events. Was Henry V111 a brilliant leader ahead of his time or a degenerate, power famished ruffian slowly losing his mind through the ravages of syphilis? So if you have forgotten the precise source or date, the full name or the exact details just say so. As they are repeated, shared and discussed, the blurriness slowly lifts and we get a clearer picture of everyday life way back then. The questions that come to mind are just as important. Possibly someone else can fill in the picture a wee bit more. We wish stories about the Ballinafad community as defined by the village and the thirty or more farms settled in the surrounding hills and dales, so difficult to clear and turn into productive fields. Together lets us try to draw a picture of the life and labour, joys and sorrows of this nascent community, uprooted so abruptly from its original highlander roots.

                BALLINAFAD UNITED CHURCH (founded as a Presbyterian reformist congregation) - Aunt Rachel started going to to the church in 1921 at the age of 4 as she travelled to Fallbrook ever summer after the premature death of her mother, Bessie Sinclair. ‘’We were raised in the church; it was the center of our lives. It held 80 persons and the choir was up in the right corner. There was no community hall in the basement. Community activities, like the summer garden parties were held at the manse on the other side of the Kirkwood general store. Some of my best memories are of sleeping over with the Kirkwood’s in their lodgings over the store. Everyone was busy all summer with the grains but all work stopped on Sunday for church’’. Come hell or high water. ‘’ My father used to say that for many families the church was where they could get warmed up. On cold winter nights, many of the farm houses froze. Warmth was a luxury’’. (Quotes from Rachel McKay-Schwan written during telephone conservation with the author between Owen Sound, Ontario and Kangirsuk, Nunavik. April 16, 2009.)

ON SUNDAY, MAY 3, BEGINNING WITH SERVICE AT 11 a.m. AT Ballinafad UNITED CHURCH, old and new members of the congregation will celebrate another historic anniversary. The service will be conducted by Reverend Jim Kirkwood, great grandson of Donald McKay and Reverend Nancy Monteith. A lunch will follow and than a discussion on the accomplishments of the church and its challenges-past, present and future. The Friends of Fallbrook will be present to hear your memories and stories. PLEASE BRING PICTURES AND MEMORABILIA. A spiritual, social gathering in the tradition of the MANSE garden parties. ALL ARE WELCOME



The McClure’s began the clearing of Fallbrook in the 1850,s. In Tom Murison, s wonderful drawing on the inside cover of his report, we see what the log cabin first looked like. An elderly couple in their fifties with no children, they probably lived in a tent or small shack while they built their sawmill and dug the millrace. Working dawn to dusk. Tom’s coring technique, dendochronology, tells us that McClure cut his trees in the winter of 1857(winter cut trees have no bugs) and built his log home the following summer. He then sawed logs for the community and later converted it to a grist mill. But 10 years later, the McClure’s sold the land and left the region. Although there are many Irish of this name in the region, we have been unable to trace any descendants. Why did they leave? How did they survive? What did they eat in those early days, other than deer, hare, fish and bear? How did they cope with such a difficult life? Did they mingle with their neighbours? Their universe would be no larger than the distance they could cover with a load of logs, maybe 2-3 miles. Ballinafad was a shorter trip with more manageable hills. Without thorough research, we can only theorise about their lives until the end of the century. What images do you have of this period? Diaries are available as firsthand sources as well as the actual legal documents. Much can be discovered in the Scottish Studies archives or this website. Let’s center today’s journey on the pictures you see. 



Marriage of on the left David MacKay to Bessie Sinclair and on the right Brother William MacKay to Sister Jessie Sinclair


        The four young men you see in this picture are, left to right, David, Jack, Robert and Sandy, sons of Donald. It was taken circa 1895. They are dressed in their Sunday best. The highlight of their farm life began on Saturday after the milking was completed by the women after high tea and the cans of milk had been taken out of the cold cellar and taken to the creamery in Georgetown by horse and buggy. Back home after their four hour trip, they would eat a hearty meal of dear or pig. On special occasions, they would congregate at neighbours for reels and dancing. Uncle Sandy’s violin is still used by the Kirkwood family having been bequeathed to them. This in order to mark the longstanding friendship between the families which has been reborn thanks to the Fallbrook saga. Maybe the youth would manage to steal a few intimate moments with the love of their life but they would be under strict control from the women of their family. These young people had naturally been attracted to each other very early in life as they saw each other every day. They walked miles to school (was it Blue Mountain School) or were taken by buggy. Aunt Rachel remembers that many went barefoot. On Sunday, church at Ballinafad was the culminating community event and pivotal to the success of their lives of hard labour and solidarity. Than the family meal and visiting between the different families. The only really free moments for the young when they could fraternise among themselves without adult vigilance. Those of us who have lived on farms since the fifties know that a lot of the fraternising was done in the hayloft. But in a strict Presbyterian community up until our generation, extramarital pregnancies meant banishment for the women. Uncle Sandy and Eggie Cole were neighbours for at least 60 years before marrying!!

        The rest of the week, from dawn to dusk, meant work for these boys and their sisters. The Kirkwood’s grandmother Mary McKay, married to William Kirkwood will tell us later about her daily life. The life of the women merits a book for they are the unsung heroes among those who are unsung. With their aunts, they were the first up, out rounding up the cows for milking and doing the barn chores. Preparing a hearty breakfast of oatmeal, game and lard. Bringing in the wood and maintaining the fire. Filling the oil lamps for the evening. Haling the water from the creek in those early years. No easy task climbing the 30’ embankment without a yoke... No even an Eaton hand pump was strong enough to defy the incline. Later a free flowing creek brought spring water down from the hill behind the house. The men, with the women would than labour in the fields. Working days at pulling out one tree stump or loading the ever sprouting rocks on to the stone boat. Seeding, hoeing, chasing wild animals; a perpetual circle of tasks to which there was no end. Winter was spent lumbering, clearing more land and preparing the firewood. From the beginning of the settlements, the first community building to be built was the church, than the school. Both sexes went to school but how long did they stay before they were needed fulltime on the farm. Few of these youth went on to university until after the 2nd W.W. Still a life that few complained about. Luxuries were few but joys were many. Tragedy struck without warning nor pity. Babies died; women parted prematurely after birthing; young men, their spirits broken by the constant toil, committed suicide. Very similar to the Inuit community where I have had the privilege to live.

                In the wedding picture, you see the children as they become adults and set out on their own lives. On the left is Rachel’s father, David, who married Bessie Sinclair. Than brother William married sister Jessie at the same ceremony. Herein lies the connection to Wilma and Alma Sinclair who together represent 170 years of cultural heritage!!

                David was never happy on the farm and, at 16 was apprenticed to the master carpenter, M. Miller of Silver Creek who he worshiped and from whom he learned the art. They moved to Toronto where David worked making ice boxes than to Owen Sound where he was shop manager at the furniture factory all his working life. David was a dour Scot who believed that happiness was for the afterlife. His descendants suffered the consequences. Wallace and Jessie settled on the neighbouring farm where they lived all their lives. Providence Cemetery in Ballinafad is on a corner of their land. They were fun loving Celts.

        Descendants of all these families, and many others, will be reuniting for the first time in many years to establish new bonds with the present congregation and reconnect with their community roots.

Pictures copyright Bill MacKay


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