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Canadian History
A History of the Perth Area

By J.G. Harvey, K.C., 1936.

Transcribed by Charles Dobie from an original typescript which was recently donated to the Perth Museum. This seems to be an address to a meeting of the Lanark Oldtimers Association, which was active in Winnipeg.

Coming to the old County of Lanark. Let me first remark that the Province of Manitoba owes much to the old county. Many of the early settlers of Manitoba came from there. The county was represented amongst the soldiers that came in Lord Wolseley's little army to quell the First Riel Rebellion in 1869/70. The late Dr. C.N. Bell, who died a short time ago, was one of these. Then the first Lieutenant- Governor of Manitoba, Hon. Alex. Morris, came from Perth. He was Lieutenant- Governor from 1872 to 1876. The first Lieutenant- Governor between the Great Lakes and the Rocky Mountains. That is, the first that got here and actually functioned. The Honorable Mr. McDougall turned back at Pembina. Then in the 1870's and early 80's a great many settlers from Lanark County came to Manitoba. So much so, that it was a common saying that "every third man you met on the streets of Winnipeg, came from Lanark". The others probably coming from Bruce or Gray.

As at present constituted the County consists of four towns: Perth, with a population of 4,000; Smiths Falls with a population of 8,000; Carleton Place with a population of 4,000; and Almonte with a population of 2,500; and the Townships of Bathurst, Beckwick [sic], North Burgess, Dalhousie, Darling, Drummond, North Elmsley, Lanark, Lavant, Montague, North Sherbrooke, Pakenham, Ramsay and South Sherbrooke. The County contains 1200 square miles, or 766,000 acres within its boundaries. It is bounded on the East by the County of Carleton; on the North by the County of Renfrew; on the West by the County of Frontenac; and on the South by the County of Leeds. All pretty much as they were originally surveyed and subdivided.

By way of introduction, I may say, that the settlement of Lanark County really begain in 1815. In that year "the Settlement forming on the Rideau River" as it was officially referred to (and which soon became known as "Perth Military Settlement") began to function under Military direction. Several townships were surveyed to facilitate the location of farms for military and other settlers; and the site of the future Town of Perth, which had been chosen as the headquarters of the Military Establishment was surveyed in 1816. The military regime lasted until 1824, when settlers were granted municipal rights, i.e., 'the right of self government'.

For many years Perth was the military, judicial, political and social capital, not only of the County of Lanark, but of the whole of the Ottawa Valley, north and west, until owing to the construction of the Rideau Canal, and the development of the lumber industry further north and west along the Ottawa, it finally was eclipsed by the town called "Bytown" -- the present City of Ottawa, the Capital of the Dominion. But for many years the people of the town of Bytown, while it was still 'Bytown' had to come to Perth for their law and justice, for the law courts of the whole great district were located there.

The first official reference in regard to the settlement of Lanark County (that is found) is a letter from the Adjutant General's Office dated, Quebec, Aug. 15, 1815, and referred to the appointment of Staff Surgeon Thom, "to take the Medical Charge of the Establishment forming on the Rideau".

This was just after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo -- and just after our own Canadian people had defeated the second attempt of the United States to forceably annex Canada -- the period of Queenston Heights, Lundy's Lane and Chrysler's Farm.

That year 1815, and subsequent years, saw great activities in the survey of the boundaries of Lanark County, and the surveying of the county into townships, and the townships into what they called "concessions" and the concessions into lots.

For the county was not surveyed into ranges, townships, sections and quarter- sections as was later done here in the West. The boundaries of a county having been fixed, the county was divided into townships -- the townships were not always the same size -- having surveyed main roads and cross- roads through them. The main roads were placed so far apart as to leave room between them for lots or farms. The main roads through the townships were those upon which the farms were to face; and ran north and south, or east and west, or as the circumstances dictated. The land between the roads was called "concessions".

The concession was then bisected lengthwise, and the land on each side of this middle line was surveyed into lots or farms -- so that each lot or farm had a frontage on a main highway or road -- the lots facing on two different highways being back to back, one row of lots facing on Road No. 1, and the other row of lots facing on Road No. 2, with the back of the lots joining one another along the middle line of each concession. The lots usually contained 100 acres, and were what a settler could get for a homestead or farm. At least that is the way it has been described to me.

The townships as well as the counties were named, but lots and concessions were numbered. The lots being numbered '1, 2, 3', etc; and the concessions were also numbered in another way as, 'first, second, third', etc. The names given to the counties and townships were usually those of places in the Old Country, or persons of prominence there or here. For example, the County of Lanark was named for the County of Lanarkshire, in Scotland. The Town of Perth after the Town of Perth in Scotland, The Township of Bathurst was named after the the Earl of Bathurst, for a long time His Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies; and under whose especial patronage, the first Scotch Colony of settlers was organized; and through whose influence at Court the interest of the Prince Regent was secured and orders issued whereby these immigrants obtained from the British Government -- not only free passages and land grants, but also free rations for the first year, and free tools and implements with which to start life in the bush.

The Township of Burgess was named after the Earl of Burgess. The Township of Drummond was named after Sir Gordon Drummond, an officer who had attained great military distinction. And the name of the Township of Elmsley is said to be a corruption of the name "Helmsley" -- a village in Essex, England. They apparently dropped their "aitches" in those days also.

In 1815 and 1816, and for some time after, the rush of settlers was so great that the surveyors could not keep up with the work of providing surveyed lots quickly enough for the settlers; and many of them had to go into the bush and pick out locations and, as we say, "squat" on them, with the hope that they would afterwards find that they were on lots. There is a letter on record, dated Pike River, Apl 27, 1816, from one Alex. McDonald to Sir Sidney Beckwick [sic], a high official in the Foriegn Office, London, England, regarding the survey, (it is easy to see where the Township of Beckwick [sic] got its name). [Correct name is "Beckwith" -- Ed.] Pike River was the original name of the river upon which the Town of Perth is situated, but the Scottish settlers did not allow that name to remain long. And three weeks later, another letter was sent from the same Alex. McDonald to the Quarter- Master General at Quebec, and is dated from Perth on the Tay; the town and river having received their new names from the Scottish settlers.

The first Scottish settlers came in 1816. Amongst those who settled in the first concession of the Township of Bathurst, were: James Miller; John Simpson; Wm. Spalding (one of whose descendants is the present Post Master at Perth); John Hay, John Ferguson; William Holderness; James Bryce; Francis Allan; Thos. Cuddie; James Fraser; John McNee; John McLaren; John McLeod; Thos. Scott; Thos. Barry; and John Ritchie. No wonder it was called the "Scotch Line"! Others settled in the Townships of Burgess and Elmsley.

 Closely following these Scotch settlers, came the Irish Protestant settlers, who settled in the Townships of Drummond, North Elmsley and South Sherbrooke, and spread over into the Counties of Carleton and Lennox. These Irish settlers were of a hardy vigorous people and counted much in clearing the land and breaking up the soil for cultivation, and conquering the natural stubborness of a land where rocks, swamps and a wonderful growth of trees -- hemlock, maple, oak, birch, pine, etc. -- met them at the start. They generally brought their Orange affiliations with them; and as a body belonged to the Anglican Church. But owing to the scarcity of Anglican clergymen, much of the advantages of, and opportunities for, religious worship was supplied to these settlers by preachers of the Methodist denomination, and a great many of them became permanent members of the Methodist Church.

I must not forget to mention that in the year 1816 also came the "Perth Military Colony" -- a name given to a body of soldiers, who having been honorably discharged from military service, were sent in to take up land in Lanark County. They settled chiefly in the Township of Drummond. Amongst them were: Ensign Gould, of the Veterans; J. Balderson of the 76th. Foot Regiment (after whom Balderson's Corners was named); Thos. Bright; Henry McDonald; T. McCaffery; John G. Malloch (afterwards Judge Malloch); James McGarry; Peter Campbell; Donald Campbell; and Peter McLaren.

Many of these early settlers lived in tents, or bark huts during their first summer, until the trees could be felled and hewed into logs and built into cabins against the cold of winter.

For some time the only yoke of oxen in the district belonged to James Bryce on Lot 12, of the first concession of Bathurst. Most of the supplies, except those sent in by the Government for rations etc., had to be carried in by the settlers on their backs from the nearest settlements -- which were 20 miles away to the south, (towards) the St. Lawrence. Some idea of the state of the settlers can be gathered from the fact that the first assessment made in 1817 showed but one cow in the Township of Bathurst. Almost unbelievable!

In a word, up to the early years of the last century the County of Lanark, as the whole of the Province of Ontario to the west and north of it -- was uninhabited -- except for bands of Indians, few in number. There was neither city, town of village in it. No church or school house, or dwelling house or farm. No cattle or horses, or cultivated fields; nor a made road. The land was in many places rough, rocky, and swampy, and in many places covered with the primeval forest. Just in the state that nature had made it and left it.

Then immigration began. The County of Lanark was settled by people from the British Isles. They came to the land that I have just described -- without wealth -- with very little except their courageous hearts and determined spirits and their desire and ambition to become the owners of land -- freehold land -- upon which they could build homes for themselves and their families, and out of which they could get a free and independent living for themselves and their families.

The Picture -- the description of these early settlers; of their voyage across the ocean, which sometimes took months; of their arrival in Quebec; of their journey to the County of Lanark; of their reception there; of their search for land not yet taken up; of their selecting and obtaining their locations; of their subsequent vicissitudes; of their labor; their inconveniences; their hardships; their successes and their failures; their joys and their sorrows -- has been painted many times, much better than I can attempt to do, or would have time to do tonight. Suffice it to say, that tree by tree they hewed down the forest, they cleared the land, they built themselves homes, they planted grain, they raised cattle and horses, they built villages and towns and churches and school houses and roads. They organized themselves into municipal organizations, into County organizations, and into a Province; and they introduced British law and justice.

In a word, they made the uninhabited wilderness a place of habitation, and where only wild animals had roamed, the laughter of children was heard. These settlers came, men and women, from a civilized well- settled country, with all its conveniences, and took possession of the wilderness and conquered it.

It was a wonderful thing that these old settlers did, as wonderful a thing as has been done in the world. I do not say that it was more wonderful, for in other parts of Ontario, other settlers from the British Isles were going through the same experiences. But it was as wonderful as anything that has been done. And we are descendants of these people.

 It may be of some use for us to ask ourselves: Are we worthy descendants of these people? Or have we deteriorated? Do we lack their courage? Do we lack their determination? Do we lack their intelligence? Do we lack their desire and ambition to make free and independant homes for ourselves? Are we facing the vicissitudes and difficulties of our lives in our times and circumstances as we ought?

We are living in times and circumstances which are vastly changed from theirs.

If I were asked: "What is the greatest difficulty that we have to face today (that is with reference to material things as distinguished from spiritual or moral things)? What is the greatest issue with regard to these material things? What is it about them that is the greatest cause of unrest and discontent amongst our people?"

I would answer those questions by saying: "The unjustly, unnecessarily, unequal distribution of the wealth of our country amongst our people."

 NOTE: I say, "unjustly unequal distribution" -- for there is and always has been, and always will be a "justly unequal distribution". That cannot be prevented so long as human beings are what they are and Providence rules the earth.

But there is an unjustly, unnecessarily, unequal division. Can we descendants of such a people as I have described, face our difficulties as they faced their difficulties, and overcome them as they overcame theirs? Have we the courage, the determination and chiefly the intelligence to do so?

Our fight is not one of physical force against the forces of nature. The trouble is that we have harnessed the forces of nature -- water power, steam power, gasoline power from oil drawn from the depths of the earth; and electric power drawn from the air, or from who knows where -- and we have invented so many labor- saving devices, and we have set all this power and these devices to do our work for us, and have put ourselves out of work.

Our scientific progress has far exceeded our sociological progress and we are floundering around in a state of affairs that we do not yet understand. Have we sufficient intelligence to overcome the situation?

As far as the unjustly unnecessarily unequal division of the wealth is concerned, the British people have found a partial way out. It is by the people, the common people themselves, going into business on a huge scale on their own behalf, managed and directed by themselves; not by their financial magnates, or party politicians, but by the common people themselves.

Over eighty years ago there began in Great Britain a movement called "The Consumers' Co- operative Society" movement. It has grown until today one half of the people of Great Britain are members of the Society. It grew not as a political thing. It grew without the aid of party politicians. In fact, it grew in the face of their opposition, as well as the opposition of commercial and financial magnates.


Because the people, the common people of Great Britain went into business on their own behalf -- not as a political party -- not as Liberal, Conservative, Labour or Communist -- but as a business -- a purely business affair -- to be conducted on business principles and free of and apart from party political agitations, prejudices and strifes.

The growth and existence of the Consumers' Co-operative movement in Great Britain is the most dramatic social, economic, financial and commercial incident of the 19th. and 20th. centuries.

And do we hear any of our party politicians, political leaders or party newspapers in this country explaining it to our people or advocating its adoption in our country? No. Why? Because it would destroy the prestige of those leaders and newspapers, if the common people were to get away from their control, even to that extent.

 If the Members of this Association have an hour and a half, or two hours to spare some evening, I would be glad to speak to you about the Consumers' Co-operative movement in Great Britain, and suggest to you how it could be introduced to Canada.

J.G. Harvey, K.C.
Winnipeg, Man. Oct. 23rd. 1936

For further information on this area do visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Web Site

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