Part 7

By Mr. J. B. Fairbairn, P. M.

I go farther down the stream. Leonard Soper bought the property so long in the possession of his descendants in 1805. What a spectacle met his eye when he first beheld it in all its pristine beauty, - the tall pine and hemlock stately elm, widespreading beech and charming maples, the banks of the crystal stream covered with cedar, spruce and the endless variety of shrub composing the underwood. But the ordinary man is so eagerly in search of the material things with which we are clothed and fed, that the chance are he did not realize the beauteous things around him.

The hardships of pioneer life in Darlington were mitigated by the easily obtained addition to the food supply which lay at his hand in the lake, streams and woods. He built the first sawmill in the township a year afterwards, near the site of the present Caledonia mills of the John McKay, Limited.

Timothy Soper, his son, succeeded him and was one of the historical persons of the very early settlement. He was a man of few words, self-contained, and more of a thinker than a talker. He afterwards erected a grist mill, and at one time ran a tannery. When I first remember him he had large means, owning besides the home property lands in Clarke and Hope townships; but in the ups and downs that come to most of us the latter marked the ending portion of his journey. Bad judgment in endorsing other people's notes brought about the sad change and no doubt embittered the last years of his life. He lived to be a great age.

The Sopers had wonderful physical strength and powers of endurance. Their ancestors must have been giants. I will now refer to at least three of the grandsons.

George Washington Soper is on a farm not far from the home of his predecessors. He has only one arm, having lost the other through a gun accident in early life, yet he can do the work of two men with the remaining limb, and is a fine specimen of a well built man.

Frank Soper came into my in 1852. After serving his time as a student he went to Prescott in the telegraph employ, and was at Cornwall during the Fenian troubles. Restless full of nerve force and ambitious he studied dentistry afterwards graduated in medicine and is now in full practice in New York.

Armond Soper, the youngest, followed his brother and became my assistant, and for years he remained with me. A more true and faithful servant never entered into any man's employ. During a long severe illness of mine, extending over a year, he was in full charge. You could trust your all in his hands. His subsequent life would afford material for a high-class novel, it was so full of thrilling incidents. Suffering from an acute form of rheumatism, he went to California and was sometime in Riverside. Society at that time was rough indeed. He saw many deeds of violence perpetrated in the Golden State. Dr. Gordon Emery a cousin of Mr. W. J. Jones of the Standard Bank, was also then a resident of Riverside living by himself on a small ranch, having been compelled to change climate on account of his health.

After Armond returned to Canada he again went south. Having in the meantime married a lady in Port Perry, he took her and his little son with him. He soon got employment on one of the lines as operator. There was a vacancy in Kentucky on the railway running through the wild mountainous region of that state but they could not get anyone daring enough to fill it, one after another having been driven out by the lawless crowd. He accepted the post. The manager accompanied him to the scene of operations and remained some days until he should get a knowledge of the work. The first Sunday after their arrival a man called at the station to get some freight but, as Soper had been brought up in a land where the Sabbath was observed, he politely declined to accede to the request and offered to be there early the following morning to accommodate him. When he told the manager what had taken place, he warned him to look out for squalls. Sure enough at dinner next day - they all boarded at the same hotel - this disappointed Sabbath breaker sitting nearly opposite to them made some insulting remarks and said he would not be long there. The manager quietly and unobserved slipped a pistol to him under the table and said in a whisper, "damn him - hoot him". However, Armond took a wiser course and determined, whatever might arise to avoid the use of firearms, and during his stay of over a year he never carried a weapon about him.

The moonshiners, i.e. the ilicet manufacturers of whiskey, ruled with undisputed sway. They were a low lot of whites and negroes fit for any brutality. From custom it became the rule to give up one day in the week to complete idleness. It was called Nigger day. Then they had a regular Saturna'ia: the devil let loose! They gathered in large numbers into the villages giving full rein to their evil passions. Life was of no value. They would shoot at sight on any pretext. He saw numbers killed. The station house was riddled with bullets.

This awful experience to'd so heavily on Mrs. Soper that they were compelled again to seek the land of their birth. Sometime before leaving he determined to try and bring about a reformation and with characteristic zeal at it he went, seconded by some three people who sympathized with the movement. He got up a subscription list and by persistent effort, raised enough to build a small place of worship. The passengers on the trains assisted materially. Prior to this they ran out every man who attempted to hold religious service of any kind. Thus it came about that a Bowmanville boy became to them more than a benefactor, and left a monument behind him in the life of some of the people more enduring than marble.

The following shows the reckless way in which even the officials acted: - a poor fellow was caught stealing tobacco while on his way to St. Louis. The detective wired ahead and the train was met by a policeman. The unfortunate offender offered some slight resistence to his arrest and was shot there and then.

During the last few years of his life Armond resided in Port Perry. The liquor law there was not properly enforced. He took up the cudgels and used every effort to have it properly carried out. As might have been anticipated, he gained the ill-will of those in the business and was once assaulted with great violence by a big ruffian twice his size, one of the law-breakers, His death arose from a tragic circumstance in turning off the gas at a hotel in Toronto where he was stopping. He made a mistake, was found unconscious but was after great efforts restored to life again. He never recovered from the effects and finally was carried off by paralysis.

Next - Bowmanville and Darlington History Part 8

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