Reminiscences of Andrew Fairbairn


COPYRIGHT (c) 2007 Michael Stephenson

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VETERANS OF PETERBORO’

Andrew Fairbairn, a Native of the Township of Smith-Has Lived on the Same Homestead for the Past Fifty Years

The Bible, the Bible, blest volume of truth,

How sweetly it smiles on the season of Youth

It bids us seek early the pearl of great price

Ere the heart is enslaved in the bondage of vice

Giving the above stanza as a recitation, Mr. Andrew Fairbairn made his bow to the public sixty-two years ago at a Sunday School entertainment, when he was but eight years old.

It is remarkable how the impressions of youth last even to old age.

The strength and safety of a community consists in the virtue and intelligence of its youth. Youth is the period of building up in habits and hopes and faiths-not an hour but is trembling with destinies! Not a moment, once passed, of which the appointed work can ever be done again, or the neglected blow struck on the cold iron. Burke says: “Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young men, and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation.”

While we admire a youth who has some life in him, we, nevertheless, draw an easy breath if we are assured there is something of the old man in him; but, what a pleasure it is to meet an old man who has not lost his youth.

Mr. Fairbairn is in his seventieth year, having been born March 16th, 1843, but it is safe to say he is as young as many a man at fifty. Age does not depend upon years, but upon temperament and health-some men are born old, while other never grow old. Mr. Fairbairn is happy in the possession of a cheery, optimistic outlook upon life. Truly burdens become light when cheerfully borne.

It must not be inferred, however, that his life has been one uninterrupted stretch of sunshine-far from it. For many years he gazed on the overhanging cloud of hard pioneer life and wondered, with his parents if there would be a silver lining. There were no such things as luxuries in the early days, when his father and mother sought to carve out a home for themselves and their family. The difficulties were great obstacles that would have daunted the hearts of most of the present generation: but his parents were ever hopeful, never looking back, but always looking forward, as into the face of the sun, which, as its brightness increased cast their shadows and burdens behind them. Full well did he realize the hardships and trials that his parents had to undergo, and faithfully he laboured to help them as opportunity offered or fate decreed.

His father, Andrew Fairbairn, emigrated from Stirling, Scotland, in 1825, and located first in the township of Hamilton, between Port Hope and Cobourg. His coming to this country was no ordinary act of courage. He was but a youth of eighteen, a shepherd lad, with little experience in farming, when he forsook the parental roof. As he tended his little flocks on the hills of Stirlingshire, near the field of Bannockburn perchance his visions of the future must have been realistic indeed to have caused him to start out alone to try his fortunes in the New World. For eight years he laboured in the township of Hamilton picking up valuable pointers and earning good money-two very important factors, which entered into the acquisition of his new home in the forest at Lot 26, Con. 9, in the township of Smith, in the latter part of 1832.

In February, 1833, he started south for Port Hope on one of the most momentous journeys of his life: to claim the one who had promised to share his joys and his sorrows. On the 13th of that month Eliza Ann Hagerman, reputed to be the first white child born in the township of Hamilton, became his bride.

They were of that sturdy pioneer type that has accomplished so much in the development of the country. For years they struggled together to wrest from the land the wherewithal to feed and clothe their growing family. Many were the discouragements and trials incident to a new country. Many a time Mrs. Fairbairn rode to Peterborough on horseback for supplies, over roads well nigh impassable, carrying in her arms her youngest child. For a few years they brought their grain to a little mill on Bear’s Creek (near the present site of the Water Work Pump House) to be ground into flour; later on to Peterborough, where the Government had assisted in the erection of a grist mill. Mr. Fairbairn’s knowledge of sheep stod him in good stead. He not only became a successful stock raiser, but was in great demand among his neighbours, especially for shearing their flocks.

Long before his allotted time, at the comparatively early age of fifty-seven, he passed away (June 6th, 1863), leaving, besides his widow, prostrate with grief, a family of eleven children. Mrs. Fairbairn lived to the ripe old age of eighty-four, departing this life on the 19th of April, 1895, having been spared to see the fruits of her hard years of toil. Of the family of eleven there are seven living at the present time, thirty-six grandchildren, and about the same number of great-grandchildren. The sons are: John and Andrew (the subject of our sketch) on the 9th Concession of Smith, Alexander of Lakefield, and Nicholas Hagerman, of Webbwood. The daughters: Mrs. Elizabeth Johnson, of Lakefield; Mrs. James Falls (Hannah), of Bobcaygeon, and Mrs. William Falls (Margaret), of Blackstock.

When twenty years of age Mr. Fairbairn approached his father and suggested that he be sent to school (two miles distant) for two years, and then to Peterborough for one year, accepting this as his share in the estate. The father quite readily agreed, and for three months he was privileged to drink at the fount of knowledge. But, sickness intervened, the father knew that his day was on the wane, and calling his son to his bedside, requested him to share with his brother, two years his senior, the home with its indebtedness and responsibility. Thus ended his schooling, and thus commenced the life he has lived for half a century, every year spent on the old homestead, garnering harvests, everyone of which has netted him a balance on the right side.

While it seems folly to ponder on what-might-have-been, nevertheless it is often interesting to picture in the imagination the possible career of one whose early life was planned for a certain course, but through the intervention of some unlooked-for circumstance has been changed. Mr. Fairbairn had early ambitions for an education. Had this been obtained and his father spared it is more than likely he would have entered the Church. At the age of eighteen, through the ministry of the late Rev. John M. Rodger, he was led to see it his duty and opportunity to identify himself with the Presbyterian Church, then on the 9th Concession of Smith. Mr. Rodger exercised quite an influence in the Fairbairn household. He came to Canada and commenced his pastoral work the same year that Mr. and Mrs. Fairbairn Sr. started their home. He was a Scotchman of Aberdeenshire, therefore their hearts beat as one. His ancestors, for five generations, had been clergymen, so that the Gospel mission appeared an hereditary trait in the character of the family. Little wonder then, that he should influence the heart and mind of the young man, the subject of our sketch, and unconsciously, perhaps, fire him with an enthusiasm, the outcome of which was his business-like proposition to his father with reference to his education.

Another proof of our surmise is the fact that during the fifty years that have followed, Mr. Fairbairn has showed a strong leaning towards Church work in general, with little active attention to municipal or political affairs. For thirty-one years he has been on the Board of Management of the Church at Lakefield, and for a quarter of a century has sat in the Court of Elders. Besides he is a prominent Layman and has had the privilege of attending many conventions both in Canada and the United States. Being a great reader and a close observer, he has the happy faculty of being able to express himself in a clear and forceful manner.

On the 10th of February last he had the pleasure of taking part in the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of his Church by the late Rev. Rodger. A unique feature in connection therewith was the presence of Judge Rodger of Cobourg, a son of the man whose memory will long continue to be reverenced by those who had the happiness of his personal friendship.

Mr. Fairbairn has reached the psalmist’s limit, and in a few days will get his first glimpse into “the evening of life.” His early days were strenuous indeed: the summers spent in work upon the farm, the winters in teaming in the lumber-camps. Half a century has rolled by; changes, almost revolutionary in character, have left their impress. Machinery has transformed farming from slow drudgery to a work of pleasure. Luxuries of the olden days become necessities of the present. The farmer to-day is the king of men. No other occupation compares with it. A single grain of wheat has been of more value to mankind than all the diamond mines of India.

Questioned as to the opportunities on the farm now compared with years ago, Mr. Fairbairn was emphatic in asserting that they never were better. He is of the opinion that if young men would remain on the farm and study its possibilities instead of rushing to the cities, it would be a great deal better for themselves and the country at large. Mr. Fairbairn believes in making home as attractive as possible: a few years ago when telephone connection with his neighbours, as well as with Lakefield and the outside world, was offered, he was one of the first to subscribe.

June 1st, 1870, Mr. Fairbairn chose as his life partner Miss Sarah McKee, who is still spared to him. Out of a family of seven, three daughters and one son are still living, (two girls and one boy having passed over to the great majority). The daughters are: Mrs. C.L. Bickell (Laura), of Toronto; Mrs. Hugh Kidd (Bertha), of Warsaw, and Mrs. John Hampton (Emma Louise), of East City. The son, William Andrew, is with his parents on the homestead, where the grandparents settled just eighty years ago.

M.M.


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