When one is asked to write an account of the history of any community, I suppose one is expected to begin as far back in the past as possible. So I am asking the forbearance of readers while I go back in time some years before the white man, or even the red man, lived among our beautiful hills.
Whence came these hills and dales? Away back in the days when the earth was younger, a great and massive glacier covered our district for many thousands of years. As it slowly pushed southward, it pushed a great mass of stones and finely pulverised rock (earth) ahead of it. In time the climate changed and the glacier melted, leaving great heaps of soil piled up into tremendous hills. Strangely, all the hills were much the same shape, rounded and with fairly steep sloping sides. Down where Cobourg is today, lay a great lake much larger and deeper than it is now. The margin of this old Lake Ontario reached almost to Camborne and we see evidence of it on top of what is now known as Behan's Hill where the ancient waves cut into the hillside and left a boulder-strewn beach which forms a part of similar beaches extending to Toronto and beyond. In a little cove on this lake shore, other beaches were laid down which, when the old lake found an outlet at a lower level, became Camborne's well-known gravel pits. As the climate warmed and the hills became drier, vagrant winds brought seeds of trees and herbs to clothe the hills and vales in dark forests of oak and pine and other trees. Then the animals and birds came back to possess the land where their forebears had lived long centuries before. In time came the first man to look on this goodly land. He was no agriculturalist but a hunter and stole silently up and down our valleys intent on food and raiment which the Lord had provided for him in due season. After many centuries, the white man came and it may be that some of Champlain's friends looked down from the hilltops into our pleasant land.
But we are only interested in the history of Camborne from the time our forefathers left "the old country" and came over to our district - the "Promised Land" - "the land whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of Heaven; a land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year." (Deuteronomy, Chapter II, verses 11 and 12.)
Why did they leave their homes and friends to travel over thousands of miles of stormy seas and up the mighty and raging river to establish themselves and their families here? it is a large question and difficult to answer.
Most of Camborne's early settlers came from either Ireland or England with a scattering of Scotch folk sprinkled in to sort of leaven the whole mass. Therefore there might be many reasons for their coming. Many of the neighborhood people came from Cornwall in S.W. England and hence the name Camborne, after the town of that name in Cornwall, would help to remind them of the old home most of them would never see again. Indeed, one part of the township is called "Cornish Hollow" even to this day. Probably the chief reason was overcrowded living conditions in those days, though today a great many more people live in that county. It was also true that the system of tenant farming then in vogue in England and Ireland was irksome and unpopular to most of the farmers over there. In a few cases crop failure drove the people to emigrate. But for whatever reason, out they came during the 1820s and 1830s in many thousands. Hamilton Township received its fair share, and by 1850 most of Camborne's area was settled by people more contented with their lot than they had been in the old land. Most of the farms first settled by the pioneers were much smaller than those of today; thus the districts of Camborne and Glourourim had a larger population than now. In 1850, in an area of 1200 acres, there were nineteen well established homes, each containing from three to eight children in addition to the parents. This was not a part of the village of Camborne but an area which is farmed today. As nearly as I can estimate, the people on this twelve hundred acres numbered about ninety-two. Today the same farms have only nine houses and the population is thirty people. At the turn of the century, fifty years ago, these same farms supported a population of fifty-one in eleven houses and five houses were empty. So it can be readily seen that the population of this district has declined over the century and even in the last fifty years. A century ago, the average farm was less than sixty-four acres in size or about ten per cent of a square mile. Today the farms have increased in average size to 133 acres or more than double in size. What applies to this area no doubt applies to other parts of the township. But as a friend of mine in Camborne would say, "Look at the larger production of today compared with then. People are smarter than they were a hundred years ago." We won't go into that angle of the argument further but will leave that to him and his cronies.
There is no doubt about the greater production today per capita than then. One hundred years ago, the work of producing a crop was laborious. At that time the cleared land was nearly as large as today but no modern equipment helped the farmer. In putting in the crop, he possibly had a yoke of oxen to pull what machinery he had. The harrows were of the old fashioned wooden type in which iron teeth were hammered through a wooden frame. Since a seeder was not available, the seed was broadcast by hand. As oxen were slow, it took a long time to get the crop into the ground, but the land was rich and the crop was large in spite of difficulties. When it came to reaping the harvest, they had to use simple machinery. Most of the hay crop was cut with a scythe, raked with a simple wooden hand rake, just as their fathers had done it in the old land. Likely as not, this crop was all unloaded by hand as hay forks or slings had not yet been invented. It took days to clear a ten acre field, even with the help of many hands. In cutting grain, the cradle, a tool like a scythe with fingers, was used by those who had strength enough to use this heavy machine. Yet there were many men who had this strength. Gabriel Orr of Glourourim on one occasion (1864) walked into a field of wheat of seven acres at sunrise and before night fell he walked out of the field with all the wheat cut. If any readers think that was not so very much, just try swinging a scythe for even half a day cutting weeds and judge for yourselves the strength and ability needed for a task like that. The work of harvesting that field was far from done with the cutting. Next it had to be raked into sheaves which were tied by hand with a twisted wisp of the straw, and none wasted either. The sheaves were stooked and left in the fields for at least a week before the ox-cart drew them into the barn, a job that required two or three days more. All the sheaves were laid in the mow by hand as they thought it had to be done in one particular manner in order that the grain would "sweat" properly. Later when all outside harvest work was completed came the time of threshing. No gigantic machine moved into the barn but a very simple machine of two moving parts was operated by one-man power. The flail was made of two hardwood sticks held together by leather thongs. The grain was spread evenly on the barn floor and struck repeated blows with one end of the flail while the other end was held in the hand. Even skilled threshers were able to thresh only a few bushels in a forenoon. The grain was shaken through a sieve in an open doorway on a windy day and was then ready for market when bagged. Marketing was still another problem, but we will not go into that at this point.
What did they do in the winter? Most early settlers had land to clear and trees to cut for firewood, lumber, and timber. The "bee" was a recognized institution of that time. Hence logging bees were common. Large crosscut saws were rarely seen but every man was a competent axe-man. Nearly every bee was a test of skill and strength. Gabriel Orr was the acknowledged champion of our neighborhood. I have often heard my father tell of the time when some choppers from Gore's Landing undertook to show him up at a chopping bee near Camborne. Gabriel, in his quiet manner, sized them up and when the tree was felled, he mounted the butt log and started to chop through the two foot log. His competitors jumped on the log, strung along at four foot intervals, and started in. The result was never in doubt. Gabriel finished his log first, got down and went around above the man at the far end of the line, started in and finished that cut before his nearest opponent had finished his first cut. The feat of "butting" and "topping" his competitors made him the acknowledged champion. Camborne heard no more of other champion axe-men. I'll admit, he couldn't do the work as fast as a chain-saw would today but he did pretty well for those days. He, and others too, would cut a cord of wood (a pile eight feet by four feet by four feet) in the forenoon and take it to town in the afternoon, receiving the magnificent sum of $3 for their work from the lordly merchants there. This would be for "body" wood, not small branches as it might be today. Gabriel's prowess was in part due to the axe he used. No other man, not even members of his own family could use that axe. Its edge was ground to amazing keenness by Gabriel himself. That axe could `bit' into a hardwood tree and take out a chip in a blow or two that would make several fair sized stovewood sticks. I have, on more than one occasion, proved the fact by actually splitting them up when I found them in the woods. The ladies of the early Camborne days were seldom far behind the men in feats of skill and endurance. Many and many a paring bee was held to peel and core baskets of apples in the fall so that they could be dried and used for making apple sauce in winter when fresh apples might freeze in the cellars of the early days. Bees were held from time to time for such things as carding the fleeces in preparation for spinning the wool into yarn on the old time spinning wheels. Many a mile must have been walked in moving back and forth in drawing out and spinning the carded wool. This was merely a part of the day's work. When it came to real walking, many a time the housewife would think nothing of walking a couple of miles along the wooded road to visit a neighbor friend, carrying her knitting. How the needles would fly as their tongues flew, too, catching up or passing on the news of family and friends. How they could knit too. I have heard it said on reliable authority that a certain lady of this part had been known to walk from her pioneer farm home to Cobourg, a distance of at least eight miles, carrying a basket of butter or eggs on each arm and plying her knitting needles as she went along. It was an all day trip and no doubt the good lady took time to have a wee visit with friends as she journeyed. She knit one stocking, started a second on her road into town and completed the second stocking on the way home, with her baskets on either arm, now filled with groceries or pieces of calico. [The woman in question was Mary (née Moorehouse) Jibb (1812-1888).]
This illustrates nicely the skill, endurance and speed of our pioneer grandmothers or great grandmothers. When at home, she had none of the modern labor-saving devices to help her with the daily work of cooking, washing, churning, clothesmaking, weaving, or other household tasks that fell to her lot from day to day. Certainly she had no idle moments to get into mischief. If she had an idle hour or so, a bee to quilt or sew carpet rags at a friend's house filled in the unused hours. In time of sickness, which often came with distressing suddenness, she was the nurse and doctor, too, for the neighborhood. Her homemade remedies and practised hand often brought relief to the sick person until the doctor might be able to get there over the terrible roads of a hundred years ago. Epidemics of contagious diseases were common and swept through a family or group of people with tragic results, for their causes and treatment were unknown in those days. Once an epidemic started, it usually ran its course. Sometimes all the children of the family might die, bringing tragedy into the home that had troubles enough already. Yet in spite of the hard work and trouble, the pioneers of Camborne and Glourourim lived happy lives and in many cases lived to a ripe old age comparing favorably with the life-span of today.
What of the home itself, where all these activities were centered? The original home was one that was built in a hurry out of fallen trees with a slanting roof, that is, one wall was higher than the opposite wall. This type of house was referred to as a "shanty". Perhaps it had a window, but more likely not. It had a door of sorts of course. For a door itself, a blanket was hung over the opening if available. The floor was the earth itself and a heap of pine boughs served for a bed. A fireplace of stones and a chimney of small logs on end, set in a circle, completed the heating equipment. As soon as possible a more permanent and better home was built. This home usually was built of logs, though some were of stone or frame. May I be permitted to say that I live in one of these earlier log houses, though it is somewhat disguised today from its earlier appearance. This house, as built in 1834, was a rectangular box-like structure of hewn oak, ash and pine logs. In hewing a log, a broadaxe was used. When the limbs were removed from the fallen tree, it was ready for the work of the expert axe-man. First a "chalk-line" mark was made on the trunk along its length. Then the hewer took a sharp axe and cut notches into the side of the log just about the depth of the chalk-line. This was a help to the hewer at his work. The broadaxe was well called "broad" for its blade was at least a foot long and the handle was bent slightly so that the hands of the user would not be bruised. An expert could hew so closely to the line that the hewn face of the tree would be perfectly straight, hence the term of "hewing to the line, let the chips fall where they will". Then the other side or trunk was hewn, too. The ends of the logs were cut in such a way that at the corners of the house the ends dovetailed together and interlocked tightly. In our house, there is one pine log thirty-four feet long which reaches from one end of the house to the other. The hewn face exposed is more than two feet high. So the log originally must have been about three feet thick. This log is found next to the top log on that side of the house. It must have taken a great deal of time and effort to place it there. All the other logs were hewn in a similar way so that the log walls were a foot thick or more.
On renovating the house last year , we found that the logs on each side of a door were identical which seems to prove that the builder who helped my great grandfather in its construction must have stood back and studied the "box" for a while before cutting out the doors and windows. I can't say that he was an expert in that work for no two doors or windows were of exactly the same size. Rafters for the roof were squared from small pines about four inches square. Roof boards were wide, some as wide as twenty-two inches and from twelve feet to sixteen feet long. A big fireplace occupied one end of the house fitting into whatever room it could. It was fed with large sticks of wood. We would call them logs today. Floor joists were large timbers called "sleepers", the ends of which fitted into notches in the bottom logs called "sills". In the course of many years, these sills sometimes rotted out giving the house a noticeable tilted appearance. Strains developed as a result. Doors and windows fitted poorly. Sooner or later in family discussions, the poor old house became condemned and in time was replaced by a more up-to-date home of brick or frame. As likely as not, the new house was larger than the old log house, because families in the 1870s were still much larger than today. Sometimes the vaulting ambition of the owners of the new house demanded that it be "better" than that of the neighbors. Hence, all sorts of "fancy work" was added, both inside and out, in an effort to keep ahead of the "Jones's". The old log house gradually fell into decay. Today so far as I know, I live in the only original log house in the township.
|Contributed by: Rob Lean,
Originally published in Coburg Sentinel-Star.
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