novel of the three generations of the McGregor family and their life in
Southwestern Ontario from the 1840s to the 1920s is a classic tale of
"Black Jim" McGregor was only a
small boy when he arrived with his father, the reprobate Rory, his mother,
and his brothers and sisters, on the Huron Tract (that area of
Southwestern Ontario where towns like Guelph, Stratford, Clinton, and
Goderich are today). But he was to spend the next seventy years there and
witness first-hand the struggle to turn some of the wildest land in the
country into pleasant farms, villages, and towns. As a young man he roamed
the country with a framing gang, raising barns and homes, and then, with
his lively wife Janet, he created his own farm out of the Ontario bushland.
Through Jimís eyes these indomitable people, who faced the wilderness with
such wry humour and matter-of-factness, come to life.
As well as telling a cornpelling
story about the people who settled the Huron Tract, The McGregors
is full of accurate, fascinating details about pioneering: about how the
first crops were harvested, the huge barns raised. and the homes built;
about how quilts, furniture, and fences were made; and about the strong
sense of community that held everyone together.
McGregors is also about how a community is created,
about how people start to take root in a placeóto take from the land a
sense of character as well as a livelihood. It cuts across the
generalities which abound about pioneer life in this country and gives us
an accurate picture of a time in our history when, farm by farm, street by
street, a nation was being built.
Laidlaw was himself a descendant of the pioneers that he writes about in
this book. In fact, this story is based on the memories of his
grandparents, as well as on his own recollections. And while The McGregors
is bound to be of special interest to people living in the towns, cities,
and farms of Southwestern Ontario, it is also a must for people who love
old-fashioned novels that celebrate the timeless virtues of family, home,
Jacket illustration by
Jefferys Courtesy, The Public Archives of Canada.
This book is dedicated to the
courteous, friendly people who lived in the area described herein during
the 1930s and the 1940s.
My purpose in writing the book was
to give a partial history of this part of South Bruce and North Huron
counties through an imaginary account of a manís life from the 1850s to
the 1920s. The names of the characters were chosen at random and have no
connection with any real persons, living or dead; the village is a
combination of Lucknow and of Blyth where I grew up.
I have tried to give an account of
what it must have been like for the first settlers, of how they lived and
worked and what they worked with. As the book progressed I was able to
rely on my own memories and impressions, but the early pages are largely
based on memories of conversations with parents and grandparents. Nothing
much has been written of the history of this area as yet and I think it is
important to make a record before the lives of these people have been
forgotten. If reading The McGregors gives pleasure to a few, that is all
the recompense I ask.
Thanks are due to my wife, Mary
Etta, who corrected my spelling, and to my daughter, Alice Munro, without
whose encouragement this book would not have been written.
Robert Eric Laidlaw