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Descendant of Otonabee Pioneers Hold Family Reunion
From an Article from “The Examiner” – June 8 1930 – Page 8
Thanks to Leslie for sending this into us

In Month of June 101 Years Ago Five Scottish Families Started Pioneer Life in Fair Otonabee.


In Chemong Park Today the Descendants of Duncan Comrie, Duncan Drummond, Peter McIntyre, Archie and William McNevan, John, James, Helen, Janet and Margaret Miller Are Celebrating


Many of the early hardships are retold by older members of the first generation.


Landing Near Keene the Little Band of Scottish Immigrants Immediately Started to Work to Hew Down the Virgin Forest and Erect Small Shanties For Their Women Folk


(by Jean Campbell)

  One hundred and one years ago five Scottish families left their homeland and migrated to Canada, settling in the township of Otonabee in June 1829. Today, the descendants of those five families are celebrating at a big picnic in Chemong Park. Those hardy pioneers have descendants living in all parts of the world. Many have made fortunes, many have become distinguished in army, church, and state, and many others to-day make up the very best of the citizens of Otonabee and the surrounding townships.

  Theirs was a hard lot, With little or no money those hardy pioneers landed on the shores of Rice Lake and at once set to work in the virgin forest to hew out a small clearing, build a little shanty for their women folks and sow a little grain so that they might have bread.

Through those years they struggled until to-day Otonabee is known as the banner township of the county of Peterborough.

  The five families, all residents of Comrie and Perth, Scotland, were composed of Duncan Comrie, who was married and seemed to have been the leader of the little group of immigrants; Duncan Drummond, Peter McIntyre, Archie McNevan and his brother, William with his wife and six small children, and the Millers, John, Peter, James, Helen, Janet and Margaret. All but the McNevans went first to the Comrie shanty where Samuel Comrie now lives on the 9th Concession of Otonabee and from there moved to their own farms as they acquired them.


Oldest of the McIntyres

In giving a short history of the pioneers some of the oldest survivors of the first generation to be born in Canada were seen, Duncan McIntrye who lives with his daughter-in-law and three tall grandsons, on the 8th Concession, is the oldest if the Mcintyres, and it is most evident that he enjoys nothing more than to spin yarns of those early days. Mrs. William Campbell is one of the oldest of the millers and when these two get together it is most interesting to listen to the bygones that are retold.

  Both are over eighty with perfectly clear minds and they can make the past live again by their vivid tales. Their only regret is that although they have lived to see so many great changes they can scarcely hope to see those that are coming so rapidly now. What is coming after the automobile and the airplane? What improvements will there be in the radio? What will television be like? We have been born 30 years to soon they lament.

McIntyre Family.

On board the boat coming out from Scotland was a youth about eighteen years, Peter McIntyre. He used to “mind” the two-year-old Margaret Comrie for her mother, dandle her on his knee. About fourteen years later he married her!

  He used to herd sheep in the Old County, but out here Duncan Comrie taught him to make shoes in a little shop just a few steps away from the Comrie home. When he married he went to live on what is now Mrs. Sandy Stewart’s farm, but being afraid of the pine stumps he moved to the farm now owned by Mrs. Jack McIntyre on the 7th line of Otonabee. There they reared a family of four boys and six girls.

  The eldest boy, Archie, was murdered in California, and his mother, grieving over his death, died shortly after. It was at the time of the California gold rush, and the murderers had planned to kill an old man with whom Archie lived, to get his money. “Get the old man, but don’t touch the boy,” had been their instructions, but when they came to the house the old man was out and the boy alone. A noise started them and they ruthlessly shot Archie.

  Peter McIntyre and Miss Kate McIntyre both live in California now, the former occasionally returning for a visit.

  Another sister, Nellie, married Thomas Thompson and still live on a beautiful farm overlooking Rice Lake, part of old Captain Anderson’s grant. Her children went as far afield as India. Daughter Lenore, in the medical service of the British Army.


Not a Partition in the House.

  “Not a partition did we have in our house” said Mrs. McIntyre, when I questioned her about those early days. Two beds downstairs, with a sheet hung between ~ and all the rest bundled upstairs. I wonder we didn’t fall down. We had no stairs, just a ladder to climb up. “That’s the old home, built in 60 ~ the year the Prince of Wales was in Peterborough, I went up to see him.”

  “Why I sang before him,” interrupted Mrs. Campbell, “in the court-house grounds. All the girls were in white dresses with blue sashes.”

  “The first school was in the field opposite Herb Howson’s” continued Mr., McIntyre, “I was just counting and I don’t know a person living except Mrs. Howie who went to school with me. We had just forms in school, wooden benches with no backs, terribly hard to sit on all day long. Around the walls were desks slanting down for the older pupils to write on.”

  “Of course, I had very little schooling, I don’t remember how old I was when I left school but I dragged my first fallow when I was only nine. It was planted with wheat and I had to go over the same piece five or six times, so it was slow work, I had oxen; I drove them for logging and I was so small that when a root or stump caught the log of the drag, it would be to heavy for me to lift and I had to re hitch and have the oxen pull it back.”

  There was no money for anything in those days” he said.

  Didn’t Peterborough have woolen mills by that time and a thriving industry.” I asked,

 Unable to Pay Postage

  “No, Siree. Peterborough was a pretty small settlement then! No, there was no money. Our people had to ask their friends in Scotland not to write, as they could not afford the twenty cents necessary to post a reply. There weren’t stamps then. The letter was folded and the edges held together with a bit of sealing wax ~ no envelope. ‘Paid’ was stamped on the right-hand corner and in the left was a round date stamp, ‘Otonabee P.C.’ with say. ‘10 Feb. 1847’, written in by the postmaster.

  “Duncan Drummond’s first taxes were fifty cents.” Yes, I agree it’s a terrible change nowadays, but maybe it was as hard to get that fifty cents, as it is to get fifty dollars now. If you raised a sheep, that would do for meat for quite a while. Before our time, I remember of hearing of people who planted potatoes, and when the stalks get they dug up the tuber and ate them! Some boiled wheat and ate it!

  “When you finally got a few cows, where did they pasture if the country was all forest?” I inquired.

  “They ate the leaves off the small that formed the undergrowth,” he explained, “then they browsed in the grass so high in the beaver meadow you couldn’t see them. Besides, there were a few cleared places where the Indians had camped. I remember when we broke land at our place, it was full of flints and arrowheads and crockery ~ all broken, you know, but nicely decorated and burnt very bad. I had a piece made of soap-stone, but somebody took it away to a museum in Toronto. The Indians had a way of tempering copper then, but it’s a lost art now.”

Page 4

  “Were you ever afraid of these Indians?” I asked him.

  “Oh no, never.” He replied, smiling, It seemed that the only ill ever charged against the Indians was that of a white baby was carried away by them and years after this suspicion was strengthened when a band of Indians who came from Lower Canada had a white girl with them.

  “Did you ever have any holidays to enlighten your hard work?” I asked.

No Holidays Then

  “No holidays for me,” He replied; “I’d be burning fallow till ten o’clock at night sometimes, Mind you, once you started a fire you had to turn it over two or three times. It didn’t just burn right up. But the big holidays were May 24 and New Year’s Day ~ you see the Scotch made more of a festival of the New Year than Christmas.”

  “We had no chairs then, our people used to tell us, ‘Stand up and you’ll grow bigger,’ so we stood even for eating or sometimes got a block of wood. The bedsteads were all made of boards. There was no plaster so the spaces in the log houses were stuffed with mud, and in the winter the beds would be covered with snow that had blown in through the cracks.”

  “Timber was of no use than. The main idea was to get the ground cleared for the grain so we burnt thousands of cords of wood. The last wood I drew was to Keene and I got one dollar a cord for it.”

  “In the logging shanties the fire was built in the center and the smoke was drawn up through huge chimneys made of pine, too. You’d think you would be burnt out, but no, the flames and all would go up fine.”

  “The bread in these shanties was put into bake kettles with iron lids, set in a row in front of the fireplace and the ashes raked over them, When cooked the kettles were taken out and the ashes swept off the covers and I never heard of a bad loaf of bread. Every loaf was the size of an 10 pound cheese.”

Archie McNevan Was The Mason

  “The frying-pan had a handle four feet long, so the cook could stand well back from the heat. Great logs, six to eight feet long were drawn up to the door with oxen and then rolled in to the fireplace. Archie McNevan was a mason and he built all the fireplaces in the first log houses. They took half as much stone as would build a house now, so huge was the chimney.”

 “Yes, I’ve heard mother tell,” added Mrs. Campbell, “that the water would be boiling at one side of the fireplace and freezing at the other.”

  “Pancakes and scones were baked on a lid that was fastened to one side of the fire and swung over the heat by a crane.”


No Lamps Then

  “There were no lamps at first, just candles made at home out of sheep’s tallow. “Yes” said Mr. Mcintyre. “I’ve seen us run out of candles and have to get a saucer of goose-oil with a wick in it.”

  “Keep that candle below your nose,” was always the warning given us children.” Said Mrs. Campbell. “ You see the basement was stuffed with peashaw and things were hung from the ceiling - hams, and bladders filled with lard – so if we carried the candle above our head in the natural way, we should have set fire to the straw. Only the grownups were allowed to light the kerosene lamps when they first came in.”

  Old Dr. Andrews, the minister for fifty-two years, used to say that Mrs. Campbell had the gift of a Macaulay as a story-teller and here she was reminded of a funny incident of her childhood.

  “There was a shanty across the field from us which had one of those huge fireplaces and one Sunday some of the Scotch and Irish youths of the neighborhood had met there to play cards. William Drummond, Duncan’s Son, knew of this Godless gathering and stealing quietly upon them, he managed to climb upon the roof and drop a black cat down the chimney into their midst. The consternation was terrible. Their guilty consciences told them it was the devil – they were very supersticious then.

  “Let us Pra-a-ay,” said Con Hayes dropping to his knees.

The Drummond Family

Duncan Drummond married Helen Miller, in Crief, April 28, 1829, just before they left Scotland. A family of four boys and eight girls were born on the farm now owned by William Drummond, a grandson. Their children scattered to the Canadian West, Denver, Toronto, New York, and even India.

  Duncan was a weaver in the Old Country and brought out his hempen bags made by himself. Willie MacDougal got his loom and after him Mrs. English. Duncan used to cut sticks and whittle them to a point to make pitchforks. The story is told that he once rolled a keg of nails from Cobourg, which is twenty-six miles from his house, James Miller carried a bag of wheat on his shoulders the same distance to Cobourg and carried the flour he had ground from it home in the same manner. Surely not a crumb was wasted then.

  “The last of the second generation of Drummonds is Kate, now Mrs. Thomas Laing, who lives in Toronto, and therefore had no opportunity to enrich this history with her reminisces.

  John Drummond recalls his mother telling how she used to be able to see the deer’s heads over the tops of the pine trees on Peter McFarlane’s hill, these pines are giants now and form a landmark for miles in each direction.

Page 6

  Miss Mary Drummond tells how old Chief Mosang Paudash used to come up from Hiawatha to her Mother’s home and tell about the different battlefields. It was after a great battle on Hatrick’s point that only one girl of a tribe of Ojibways survived and she swam to Spook Island. It is probably the same story Kathrine Parr Trail tells in her book, “Lost in the Backwoods.”

Family Worship at Night

  “Uncle” Duncan Drummond never went to bed at night till all his children were in. He would pace up and down the floor to keep himself awake so that he might have family worship, even if it were twelve or one o’clock. “An out and out Christian was Uncle Duncan Drummond”, said one who knew him.  “I’d like to know his mate these days.”

  Duncan returned to Scotland once for a legacy. I imagine the list of things his friends must have asked him to bring back from ‘home’.

  He did bring four grandfather clocks – just the works, I am told, and Mr. Hastie, of Lang made the cases.

  Duncan Comrie had one son; William by his first marriage and a farm was bought for him on the 6th Line, just north of Keene. When he was clearing it, he had to walk over three miles every morning. The story id told that he used to have a goose egg in his lunch. When he married he had ten children who settled for the most part, a few miles east of their father. The son William still lives on his father’s farm, while across the road he was joined some years later by John Comrie, who traces his descent through Duncan’s Second wife.

“From the tile that the family gathering was first mentioned, there was one person whom everyone would hoped would be well enough to make the journey to Chemong. This was “Aunt Mary Ann” as she was called, (Mrs. John Neish) the last of the second generation of Comries. She would have been the oldest of all at the picnic.” About a month ago she died.

  These women carded their wool, spun their own blankets, cured meat, baked bread, churned butter, besides binding sheaves in the field with babies lying in the share of a stook. Those were the days when twenty-one sat down to breakfast – all those on a farm now run by one great-grandson and one tractor.

  After Mrs. Neish’s death, a letter was found among her treasures written by Uncle Duncan Drummond when he thought he was on his death bed, It was to say farewell to his Sunday School scholar and give her a last bit of exhortation and also contained instructions as to who should take over his work for he was superintendent of the Sunday School. It was undoubtedly the background of strong, religious principle that gave these men and women the courage to succeed in face of all the obstacles and hardships.

  Archie McNevan was a bachelor and his brother William married and brought his six children with him from Scotland. They landed at Coldsprings and in six weeks the father died.

  “They were a hardy race of people, Landing at Quebec with nothing to look at but trees, no home to go to, but what it must have been like for a widow with six small children.” Said Mr. McIntyre.


  Little wonder she never forgot the kindness of old Archie Weir, father of Councillor “Baldy” Weir, who went to live in Ashburnham. At this time old Archie was driving a stage from Kingston to Toronto, and when he got to a big hill near Toronto, It was necessary to put on a double team. No doubt it is what is known as Rouge Hills, on Highway No. 2. When a sporting American car skims past me at fifty-five miles an hour on that long grade, I think of Archie Weir and his stage coach toiling laboriously through the mud a century ago. His route took him from Cobourg to Coldsprings and he was very good at bringing Mrs. McNevan provisions. “The kindest-hearted man that ever lived” she vowed he was.

Took up Residence in Otonabee

 Very soon she moved her little brood to Otonabee to the farm on the 7th line where Bill McNevan lives now with his mother, fondly known as “Aunt Jemima” and who is almost eighty-three years of age. In those days the wolves were fearless and logs were piled against the door to keep them out. Once a little black dog was torn to pieces by the wolves before it could be pulled inside to safety. One of the prized possessions of this family is a shorter Catechism and Westminster Confession printed in Gibson’s field in Glasgow in 1753.

Buried In Central Park

  As I said before, the Millers went first to Duncan Comries’ as he was married to their sister Janet. “the blethest lassie in a the toon o’ Comrie.” Only six weeks after they arrived the boy Peter, aged eighteen died. His grave is in the park in Peterborough, in front of the new Collegiate Institute, but no one knows the exact spot now. His brothers and sisters walked home through the woods after the burial and never spoke a word all the way. They were broken-hearted at burying their brother in this strange and wild country. In after years, whenever James was heard to chant “By Babbel’s stream we sat and wept” his children knew he was recalling the little procession of mourners at Peter’s funeral.

  “Oh how the Lord’s song shall we sing,

   Within a foreign land?”

  John Miller married Margaret Wood and to them were born ten children, Six of there settled on farms near Keene and had large families. These are the people whom one would see on a Sunday morning driving to Church in great old family carriages. These are the families that furnished ruling elders and members of the session to the auld kirk. Mrs. Peter J. MacFarlane is the only survivor of this family. Like her mother she was a great friend to the Minister, “Yes, Mr Andrews christened me, “ she said, “Married me, christened my four children and married my eldest daughter.”

Page 8

  Margaret Miller, known as Aunt Peggy” married Andrew Short.  Their homestead is on the 6th Line near the Norwood Road Those fine woods along the block road belong to them. Their three children are gone, but a daughter-in-law, Mrs. Richard Short, is a marvel of strength, industry and wit. She is ninety-four years of age and still makes cloths for her grandchildren. She declaims he own poetry ~ but she is Irish, Bridget Sheehan. This reminds me of another very old Irish Lady, wife of a brickmaker near Hayes’ Tavern. When the neighbor’ children tormented her she would cry. “Out of this wid ye, ye Hayes, and yes Lynches, and ye Scotch pups,”

  The “Scotch pups” were the Jimmy Miller children only two of whom survive, Mrs. Campbell, of Keene and Mrs. Harry Cruickshank of Toronto. Jimmy Miller and his bride walked up from Keene to their new home carrying an axe and a logging chain. What a start in life. When their first house was being built, everyone was at the raising and when the frame was up, Peter McNevan leaped to the beam and shouted, “I christen it ‘Breadalbane’”

Old Cobourg Railroad

  “I’m sorrier every day, Said Mrs. Campbell,  “that I did not keep a diary of the time the railroad was being built – the old Cobourg and Peterborough one that ran right across Rice Lake and which was an extraordinary feat of engineering. It ran through our farm and such comings and goings! When the cholera broke out, eighteen died in one week and they were buried over in Captain Rubidge’s field, The following spring when a young man was ploughing the horses broke through into the coffins. They had been buried too shallow and everyone feared the plague would break out again. Mother said it was a judgment on them for the way they broke the Sabbath.”

  “Mother lived before she married father near the Fife settlement,” Mrs. Campbell continued. “Yes, the fife wheat, - same family – Old David Fife. She told us about one of the Fife’s having a sick child whom he carried over thirty to Cobourg to the nearest doctor. The raspberries were growing thick and the father laid the sleeping child down to appease his hunger. He did not notice how far he was wandering until he tried to find the baby again. Only after a frantic search did he come upon it. In Cobourg a woman gave him a hen which he carried home with the child and the egg it laid each day helped the child to get well again”

  “About eighteen years ago, Mr. And Mrs. Cruickshank visited Comrie and reveled in recalling the past with the cousins who had not emigrated to Canada. Mrs. Cruickshank had carefully carried a large and becoming hat and a pretty scarf on the entire trip, simply to do honor to her Scotch cousins when she appeared at church. But on Sunday morning their party was met by old David Miller’s daughter, with tears in her eyes. She and her father had had words over a blue scarf which she had choose to match he eyes and to do honor her Canadian cousins. When she suggested taking the younger members of the party to a Church where the music was very fine, her father very sternly said, “You’ll come to the Church of your fathers.”

 Page 9

“I believe this sternness was characteristic of these old men, but what could you do with a family of ten or twelve if you did not keep a tight rein? Even so they climbed from the windows to go to parties – the sweethearts placed the ladder to the window and the girls climbed down. It is even said that when the merrymakers returned, the door was frequently opened for them by the gentle little mother!”

  Chase Family

 I would like to mention another large branch of the Comrie family, the Chases, Duncan’s daughter Elizabeth, married Parse Chase and had ten children, but left Otonabee. Three went west to pioneer in their turn in Vancouver, Rachael, Jerry and Harry. They went there before the fire that destroyed the city just as it was getting nicely started.

  They wrote to a cousin, Jennie Lochart Center, Ellen Comrie’s daughter, to join them and all were there in the great boom days. They can tell tales just like their grandparents, of how they used to take picnic suppers down to English Bay where now probably a million-dollar apartment home stands.

  Mrs Center is one of the most highly respected woman in Vancouver, just as her mother was one of the best loved in Brandon, in the Middle West, where she also was a pioneer – but that’s another story.

 Leed Charnwood tells how Abe Lincoln was asked for material for an account of his early life. “Why,” he said. “It is great folly to make anything out of me or my early life. It can al be condensed into a little single sentence you will find in Gray’s Elegy. The short and simple annals of the poor.” That’s my life and that’s all you or anyone else can make of it.

  And my story must close. So many I have not mentioned – most because of lack of space; some because I have never heard of them; a few because like Abe Lincoln, their people thought their history to quiet and uneventful to be worth recording; but who is to judge to the importance to this world of lives lived in industry and piety?

  “Hardworking, God-fearing” – what greater eulogy could we give our forefathers? In their humility they thought it nothing. We can see how well they wrought and are proud.

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