Part 1

It is a common expression that the course of true love never runs smoothly and however that may be, the generations of sturdy men and women who came here to first people this district had ways and means of their own of surmounting worst difficulties that seemingly blocked their way. Further the determination and impulses early led in the race is no doubt bearing fruit on the Flanders battlefields to-day, where the Canadians are easily the most eager and determined troops to “carry on.”


It is a well-known Presbyterian Divine who tells the story, whose name were it divulged, would be a household name in many homes. My parent’s wedding, he used to remark in an appreciative way, had a touch of romance about it. My mother and father were betrothed in the Old Land and expected to be married shortly. Her parents, however, wearied by the demands of Highland landlords decided to emigrate to America. My father had been very ill of fever and was at the time slowly recovering. It was accordingly narrated that he should follow his prospective bride and her people to this country and that the wedding should take place in Canada. It was a great disappointment to my father, so much so, in fact, that the day before that set for sailing, he roused himself and set out alone on foot for the place of embarkation nine miles distant. He accomplished the journey and went through the marriage ceremony, but he suffered a severe relapse and his life was only saved by the tender nursing of his young bride during the ten weeks of ocean voyage.


It was the summer time when they arrived in this new country. The young husband worn with sickness and suffering, but both possessed of strong wills, heroic faith and indominitable perseverance. They went to work together to build a log shanty and hew out for themselves a home in the dense forest. The nearest neighbour was two miles distant and I have heard my mother tell, how, when the fire went out, she had to go that far to get a “brand” to rekindle the fire in their huge fireplace, which occupied one side of the room. Their log cabin was only 12 by 10 feet, and nine or ten feet high. The roof was constructed of basswood logs, hollowed out and laid along side of each other with the hollow up. Then other logs similarly hallowed were laid on these with the hollow side down, as to overlap those underneath. It was claimed for these roofs that they were waterproof, but they were by no means proof against the fierce driven snow, and the inmates would waken sometimes in the morning to find the bed covered with the beautiful flakes. It was claimed, however, for these early residents they seldom had colds or coughs, but developed instead healthy muscles and stout lungs.


The ladder that led to the loft above the pioneer log houses of the country has long been regarded as quit a novelty by later generations, but even that is modern compared with the means of ascending to the upper storey of this primitive dwelling. The younger members of the family climbed to the loft above, which was their sleeping quarter by means of pegs driven into the wall. The crevices between pegs in the wall were filled with moss obtained from the trees and were daubed with soft clay. There was one window of four panes of glass, six by eight inches each.


This was the home of a fair young bride of twenty-three years. Her nearest neighbour was two miles away and the first winter she was of necessity much of the time alone. Her husband, in order to obtain flour, went fifteen miles to a neighbour's threshed the wheat with a fail and carried the flour home on his back. In after years she would tell the story to wondering grandchildren, listening eager eyed. Pastor of Knox Presbyterian Church told of her being alone one night when the wolves came howling around her home. Courageously she seized a burning brand from the fire and chased them away. A bear, however, at the same time succeeded in carrying of their one pig. In one corner of the room was the spinning wheel at which she worked industriously spinning yarn, sometimes until late at nights. Then during the winter months the loom was set up and her husband, after a busy day felling trees in the woods or threshing grain with a flail, would work at his loom. In the home, a family of eleven children, six sons and three daughters grew to manhood and womanhood and five of the sons entered the Christian Ministry.


Discussing the past of an old resident says considerable has been said of the strictness of family discipline, but as compared with the insubordination of these days it was a good thing. In our home we children were obliged to get wood in on Saturday for Sunday’s use and even the water. Our shoes, too, must be cleaned ready for Sunday, when we dressed in our best to attend whatever service there might be. If we had stricter family discipline these days regarding the Sabbath, there would not be much need for the Lord’s Day Alliance.


In the early days when Port Hope or what is now Port Hope, was an Indian Village known as Ganaraska, the good chief Wanokjachoo, who was head of the tribe inhabiting the territory from the Humber River to the Bay of Quinte had his headquarters there for at least part of the season. A settler by the name of Benjamin Wilson made his home near Oshawa in 1794. Soon after he had set up his log cabin it was looted by the Indians. Wilson accordingly set out in his skiff for Ganaraska to lay the matter before the Indian Chief. The Chief received him cautiously, and afterwards returned with him to the looted cabin. He then sent orders to those who had robbed the house to return the stolen goods accompanied by presents of furs. Thus was summary Justice meted out by an Indian Chief.


But there is also evidence that occasionally in other courts of justice the man who defied the law got what was coming to him in an altogether unexpected way. To illustrate this it is necessary to glean from the records of some of the earliest courts in the district what has been handed down from generation to generation. It is said that a burly transgressor was brought fore Squire Frederick Green of Pickering upon one occasion charged with assault. He treated the court with high disdain accompanied by the most abusive language. Squire Green accordingly asked his colleague if there was not some way of putting a stop to this. The latter replied that he might call out the “posse committees,” whereupon Squire Green quickly laid aside his magisterial dignity.

“The posse committees” (blank, blank)” said he, “This Court is adjourned for five minutes while I settle with the scoundrel.”


Some of the early lawmakers of the townships have left some amusing records. One such in 1812 for Pickering Township according to some old data of an Ontario County citizen, says -

“Our town officers were put in by the quarter sessions for the year 1813 by reason of the war that was declared against us by the States in the year 1812.”

Later there was the following:

“By some reason our town meeting was omitted in the year A.D. 1814, and our town officers put in to the same manner.”

But perhaps the shortest and most flexible by-law ever passed by a council was: “Voted that our fences is to be naborly and lawful.”



Early History of Cobourg and Northumberland County

Part 2

County Officials Were Few and Far Between in 1825 - Early Road Making - First Toll Taken on Port Hope-Cobourg Road

An old resident of Ontario County telling of conditions there in 1825 made the statement that neither that nor adjacent counties were exactly crowded with officials. The nearest revenue or customs officer to them was Hon. Wm. Allen of York (Toronto). If a man wished to get married he had to journey to Andrew Mercer of Toronto for a license. To register a deed one had to visit Stephen Jarvis at Toronto. And if a man were killed in Ontario County there were only four coroners available, all of whom resided in Toronto. Similar conditions prevailed in other counties no doubt. Up to the year 1842 our municipal government was of the old town meeting type, when all householders were expected to attend at the courthouse or some other central place on the first Monday in January to elect a clerk, path masters, pound-keepers, fence viewers and an assessor and collector. These were the principal officials of any municipality. They all held office for one year and were eligible for re-election. In the year 1841 a bill was passed creating District Councils, this municipal body to be composed of two members from each township. The District Council existed until 1850. It may be interesting to note in passing that Wm. Weller and John Creighton were the first representatives elected from Hamilton Township. Then in 1850 a new law creating county and township council came into force. Before County Councils were established the Quarter sessions had power to lay out and open roads, and to grant sums of money to repair roads and bridges. The rest of the work had to be done and the roads kept in repair by Statute Labour. Early residents of Hamilton and other Northumberland County Municipalities walked, in some instances, the 70 miles to Toronto to get a deed of their farms and what is more they did not seem to regard the one hundred and forty mile jaunt as any great feat.

Wagon Broke Down So They Stayed.

Speaking of early school days in Ontario County it is recorded that John Ritson and Reuben Hudson were the first two schoolmasters in the district. Greatly incensed at their treatment in the vicinity of the Ottawa River, where they were offered land instead of money after half a year’s service, these two men journeyed west on the Kingston Road to a point now within the environment of the town of Oshawa, where they settled, “because their wagon broke down.” Upon the land, which these two men refused, in payment stands now, it is stated, the principal business section of Ottawa.

No Millions For Victory Bonds in Early Years of 19th Century

It would not have been easy to float a Victory Loan in those good old days when a man with one hundred dollars in cash was considered something of a capitalist. James Wetherel, who died in extreme old age, is said to have received the munificent sum of one dollar for driving a herd of cattle one hundred and twenty miles from Brock Township to York.

James Mc-------- “At Home”

An old store kept by an eccentric Scotsman had a sign at the front with the proprietor’s name on this wise “James Mc-------- at home.” In this log structure James received many callers and yarns were spun the same as they are to day in many a country store. But instead of receiving cash for his wheat, potatoes and dairy products, the farmer exchanged them for tea, molasses, calico and other household needs. With a public house or tavern every few miles on all of the traveled roads there was no lack of adventure, and the stories told in the village stores of eighty and ninety years ago were such as to make the exploits of Robin Hood sink into insignificance. One old resident of the Midland District states that on a sixteen-mile stretch of road, and the only means of reaching settlements farther back, there were fourteen taverns. This was the reason that many a public gathering was turned into a Donnybrook scrimmage before the day was over.

Joseph Smith Had Mission In Ontario County.

It is probably not generally known that Joseph Smith, the Mormon leader, before his pilgrimage to Utah, held meetings in this district. In Ontario County it is stated that the earliest school house in the district, situated just this side of the town of Oshawa, was used for his purpose, the founder of the Mormons preaching there occasionally, and exploiting his views, which however, found little sympathy from the sturdy settlers of the locality.

Early Road-Making.

Probably because the automobile has come to stay, and because good highways are not acknowledged to be one of the very best assets to any community, road making is a very bad question to day. In the early days, however, they were only regarded as a possible medium of access from one point to another. When our forefathers came here they found that the Indians had well defined routes of travel by water and along the shores of the lakes. Their journeying from one of their stopping places to another had left fairly well market paths through the woods, while they also had their “carrying places” where necessary portages were made. Consequently many of the first roads were made to follow the old Indian trails. The main rods were at first marked by the blazing of trees, then boughs were trimmed off and after a bit a wagon road was made, with its accompanying corduroy section where ____ ____ ______ ____ _____ ____ _____ ____ shoulder graded with earth. In 1798 an American named Danforth made a contract with the Upper Canada Government to open a road from Kingston to Aucaster at the head of Lake Ontario. Some time later this road was built and is still our main traveled road.

Toll First Taken on Port Hope - Cobourg Road in 1848

For seventy years citizens traveling to and from Cobourg and Port Hope have fumbled in their pocket and purses for a dime or more as a tollgate came in sight and passed it on to the waiting gate-keeper. At first this was submitted to as a necessary accompaniment of good roads, but late years the general public has rebelled against it, although we still have these relics of antiquity with us. In earliest years also the tollgate was not unusual institution along in much traveled state routes, but in one locality after another they have passed with other primitive modes, until in Northumberland County alone of all of Upper Canada there exists today these relics of a ruder time. In the year 1847 Acts of Parliament were passed for the Cobourg and Port Hope gravel road, for the Cobourg, Grafton and Colborne gravel road, for the Cobourg and Rice Lake plank and Ferry Company, and for the Baltimore gravel road some time afterwards. The Cobourg and Port Hope gravel road was made in the summer of 1848 and toll was first taken on this highway in October of that year. The Cobourg and Grafton road was planked when first made, but the plank soon wore out and it was necessary to gravel it. Needless to say, lumber was not the dear commodity in those days that is now but even then it was found expensive to keep up. Seventy years have brought many changes although the tollgates are still with us. It was a notable day in Cobourg when the plank road was first opened, with a steady stream of vehicles of almost every description passing to and forth the town. The Cobourg and Rice Lake road, a highway of much interest to local motorists was at first planked to the bridge on the 3rd concession, and the remainder of it was gravelled. This road proved costly to keep up and the company finally abandoned it in 1881.




Part 3

Old settlers in Northumberland used to tell of a severe storm that swept through this district some time before the year 1950. Trees were felled and in some places houses were carried away. To the west and north of us in Reach Township a farmer was boiling something in a big potash kettle swung over a fire in the yard. The kettle along with fences, barn and stacks was carried away. The following day a hunt was instituted for a lamb that was heard bleating and it was discovered safe beneath the big kettle in a neighbouring field.

When the Indians Ate the Bannocks

A writer in the Orillia Packet in telling of pioneer days graphically gives “Grandmother’s story” of a momentous day when Indians visited her home and ate her bannocks. A visit from some dozen or so Indians was by no means unusual in the pioneers’ days.

Later they continued their visitations bringing articles of their craft for sale, such as baskets, both fancy and useful, and even doll cradles and toys for the children. But the occasion upon which Indians visited “grandmother” was a nerve-racking one for her, for now could she know whether they were kindly disposed or not? This is how the story is told in the Packet:

Grandfather laid his specs on the window ledge, leaned back in his armchair, and gazed meditatively at the ceiling.

“Yon tale about the pot o’gold,” he remarked suddenly; “I’m thinking twill set folks a wondering about the early days.”

“Aye,” grandmother answered, following his thought; “but they willnaken what the early settlers went through, nor what we weemen put up with.”

“So long as I live,” she went on, “I’ll not forget the day you’d gang to Orillia for flour, and the Indians came and ate up all our bannocks.”

Grandmother had often told us the story. It happened in the fall, on a day when grandfather, driving his oxen tandem-fashion because of the narrow blazed trail, some sacks of fall-threshed wheat slung across their backs was plodding through the bush over the ten mile journey to the Orillia settlement. Grandmother, a young woman then - kept the children close to the little log cabin. A solid wall of trees came to within a few rods of the front door, while a mile of tangled underbrush lay between them and their nearest neighbour. The busy housekeeper was baking bannocks from the scrapings of the flour bin when suddenly, without the slightest warning; a band of Indians stalked through the door and squatted in a semi-circle before the open fireplace. The isolated mother was terrified; realizing a fight was out of question. Diplomacy seemed to be the best move. Taking the piping hot bannocks though hindered by the whimpering children who clung to her skirts, the courageous woman began to break them into portions and hand to her unbidden guests. The bannocks disappeared instantly. Her visitors made signs that a further supply would be appreciated. There was nothing more to give. A pan of milk was therefore brought out and it began to share the fate of the buttermilk cakes. Then a young brave, the only one of the party wearing a feathered headdress - whose eager eyes had been taking in every detail of the room, jumped to his feet, stepped over to the fireplace and took down from the wall grandfather’s flintlock.

“I thought sorely our end had come,” grandmother declares.

But the young warrior, evidently proud of his knowledge of firearms took the gun out of it case, looked it over, and then passed it along the row of squatting redskins. Amid grunts and gestures the gun went from hand to hand, each member of the group in turn squinting along the sights and snapping the old fashioned hammer on the flint. The examination over the young man hung the gun in its place. One of the older men, looking at grandmother and her speechless brood, grunted a few times, made signs that evidently conveyed their thanks and the party filed out as silently as they had come, and disappeared in the woods. The most welcome sight for the frightened household that day was the vision of the leading oxen he plodded up to the home door at dusk.

“We were so overjoyed,” said grandmother, “that we didna properly appreciate the pound o’ four shilling tea from Athenius King’s, or the old country letter, on which daddy paid a shilling postage from old man Slee’s post office on the Couchiching shore.”

The First Settlers in Brighton

Miss L. E. Singleton died in Brighton some little time ago at the age of 88 years. Her grandfather, the late Capt. John Singleton, came to Thurlow in 1786 accompanied by a brother officer Lieut. Ferguson to engage in the fur trade with the Indians. They built a log house at the mouth of the Moira River, which for a time bore the name of Singleton River. The Indian name of the river was Sagonaska. At that time no other human habitation existed nearer to them than the Mohawk Settlement.

After making many trips with bateaux to take in the necessary supplies the two men completed their plans for taking in their families. In September 1789 Captain Singleton, his wife and child, the latter being not yet two years old, Lieut. Ferguson and his wife and a man, who worked for them named Johnston with his wife, set out from the pioneer home in a bateaux for Ernesttown and Kingston. The women were to visit at Ernesttown, while the men went on to Kingston to purchase necessary supplies. Soon after they left on their trip Captain Singleton was taken ill. The party stopped at the Mohawk Settlement where an Indian doctor gave him some medicine, but he continued to grow worse and then they reached Ernesttown, where there was a U.E.L. settlement he was very ill. Captain Singleton died nine days later. Johnston, the servant, contracted the disease and also died.

Lieutenant Ferguson went on to Kingston exchanged the furs, which they had procured in trade with the Indians, for a barrel of flour and the party returned to Thurlow. The young officer’s days were, however, also numbered, and in a few weeks time he passed away also. The three widowed women and little child were then left unprotected in a vast wilderness of woods, with but scanty means of subsistence. It was not long before it was found necessary to measure out the barrel of flour by cupfuls. Captain Singleton’s little son grew to manhood, and married Margaret Canniff, daughter of James Canniff, a U.E. loyalist of Adolphustown and they were the first settlers in what is now the village of Brighton.

One Presiding Elder for Upper Canada

Two of the earliest ministers to Upper Canada were Elder Ryan and Andrew Pringle. They traveled over roads indescribable to visit the homes of the early settlers. Elder Ryan was in 1810 a presiding Elder in the whole of Upper Canada, and later for the Bay of Quinte district. He traveled, it is estimated, 4,000 miles each year and received, it is stated, $80 for himself and $60 for his wife and provisions for his family.

The First Ferry Boats.

As is well known the Second Battalion of the King’s Royal Regiment, which was famous in the rebellion in 1773, had allotted to it the Township of Ernesttown. In the year 1802 Samuel Corn, a resident of Wolfe Island, presented a requested to the Court of Quarter Sessions, which by the way met in Paul Huff’s barn, to be allowed to run a ferry between Wolfe Island and the American shore. A ferry was ready in operation between Wolfe Island and Kingston. These boats were of rude construction.

They were made of pine, put together with wooden spikes and ran by the wind or oar. Often when there was but a single passenger, a log canoe constituted the ferry. The far, which was regulated by the Quarter Sessions, was fixed at five shillings a passenger, and the manager of the ferry was expected to be equally attentive at all hours to the call of a single passenger or a great number, and was required to be ready at short notice to ferry passengers, cattle or goods. This ferry was the early means of communication between the eastern part of Upper Canada and the friends whom the U. E. Loyalists had left in the United States.

The Children of Peace

In 1801 there came from New York State to Canada David Wilson; the found of a religious sect called “The Children of Peace.” He was accompanied by his wife and two small children. They had a stormy voyage and suffered shipwreck, and the only thing saved of their cherished belongings is said to have been the rim of a spinning wheel. They finally reached a point near Toronto, and found themselves in a settlement of the Society of Friends or Quakers. The arrival of Wilson was the nucleus of a new cult, called “The Children of Peace,” and derisively by some of the “Davidites.” This sect isolated themselves in a settlement in what is now York County and surrounded by woods, wolves and Redmen, reared their families in the fear and admonition of the Lord. At first meetings were held in Mr. Wilson’s log house, but later a log building was procured to be used as a place for meetings and later a more pretentious building was built. After Mr. Wilson’s death in 1866 the organization was gradually absorbed by other religious bodies. Mr. Wilson, however, left behind him a little volume entitled “The Children of Peace,” which in some respects anticipated some of our more modern thought. In it he states that he believes that “a union of sects to be nearer the design of Omnipotence than when they are one against another.”

The Earliest Observance of Decoration Day

Whether our observance of Decoration Day is a custom that has been handed down from this pioneer denomination is not known, but certain vice for their departed members which was held at midsummer in the burying ground adjacent to their place of worship, and no other religious body is known to have followed such a custom. They also had two “Feasts,” the one held at Easter and the other corresponding to our harvest home festivals, and a service of song on Christmas morning. Their memorial service, however the prototype of our Decoration service, was featured by a procession and led by some form of a musical band.

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