Lena Barton - A Story of the Early Settlement in part of Emily Township

By John A. Glass

The first settlers to take up land in the South West part of the Township of Emily, Victoria County, Ontario were a party of immigrants who left Ireland somewhat over a hundred years ago to settle in Canada and grow up with the new world. At that time it took from three to four months to cross the ocean. Then after another tedious trip up the St. Lawrence, and through Lake Ontario they finally landed at Port Hope. Here they entered the bush and after a journey on foot, of about thirty miles due north, carrying most of their effects and provisions on their backs, they came to a small river which they named “Pigeon Creek”, no doubt from the number of wild pigeons and ducks they found there. Here they decided to remain and select their farms. Soon after other settlers followed and it was not long before all the land in that section was appropriated.

The sufferings and hardships endured by the first settlers in Ontario are “are oft told” tales and as they are similar in every part of the Province, it is useless to dwell on them here.

Among the first settlers to arrive was a man named William Cottingham, who, though without education or business training, was naturally a keen, farsighted business man. He selected a farm beside the river or through which the river ran.

When the settlers had their cabins built, small patches cleared on their farms, and commenced raising a few vegetables, and a little grain, a serious problem confronted them, how would they get their wheat ground. Some crushed it between stones, as was done before the times of the Pharaohs, while others of more fastidious taste carried a bag of wheat on their backs to Port Hope, had it ground there and carried it home.

To relieve them of this hardship the Government constructed a dam across the creek where there was a suitable fall, and built a flouring mill. The back water from this dam submerged Mr. Cottingham’s farm who then began negotiations with the Government with the view of buying the mill. Satisfactory terms were arrived at and Mr. Cottingham came into possession of the mill property. This brought some work around the place and a little hamlet soon sprang up.

At first there were about six taverns, one little general store, three blacksmith shops, a large distillery and a small Anglican church. The hamlet was first named Cottingham’s Village, but was changed to Metcalf, then it was discovered that there was already a post office of that name in Canada West, so the name was changed again to Omemee, which it has retained since.

This in very brief was the nucleus of the Town of Omemee which, in spite of many drawbacks, the principal of which were fires which twice almost wiped out the town and destroyed all its old landmarks, has slowly but steadily progressed until at the present time it is quite an important town, with good business blocks, homes and churches. The town is nicely situated; it sits in a valley through which the river runs with high hills to south and west, the one to the south is the highest promontory to which the first settlers gave the name of Mt. Nebo. From the summit can be seen the whole country for miles around, with the river slowly winding its way towards the lake twenty miles below.

When in retrospective moods, in which I occasionally indulge, I sometimes wonder that my memory reverts so often to this old town and its environs. In my early years when I played a barefoot boy around its commons it afforded me little but the pinch of poverty with attendant slights and spurns but it was there I enjoyed the carefree heart, the buoyant spirits, the hope and anticipation of youth, over which poverty holds no jurisdiction or power to suppress.

The following lines, the author of which I have forgotten, appeal strongly to me just here:

“When all the world is old, lad,

And all the trees are brown;

And all the sport is stale, lad,

And all the wheels run down;

Creep home, and take ;your place there,

The spent and maimed among;

God grant you find one face there,

You loved when all was young.”

Lena Barton

Among the first immigrants to settle in the vicinity where Cottingham’s Village afterwards stood was a family named Barton, consisting of father, mother and one little girl named Lena, who was about eight years old when the family settled in the woods. There was nothing particular about the Barton family to distinguish them from others around them. They were industrious, careful people who bore the sufferings and hardships common to all the first settlers with patient fortitude.

Mrs. Barton, though without education, possessed a considerable degree of what is known as good common sense; she was a sociable kind-hearted neighbourly woman who was always ready to lend a helping hand wherever needed, and was well liked in the neighbourhood.

From the first Lena had little time to play with dolls. Her time was too fully occupied playing the role of housekeeper while her mother helped her father to clear a spot in the woods in which to grow something to eat. Lena was taught from her childhood to do all manner of useful work, such as sewing, knitting, making and mending clothes, helping her mother to card and spin the wool for the cloth from which the family clothing was made. As she grew older, she helped her father to plant corn and potatoes, and while he sowed the grain she followed him with a yoke of oxen and a wooden harrow and covered the seed. During the summer she helped to hoe the potatoes and corn and to keep the weeds out of the garden. In harvest time she helped to cut the grain with an old-fashioned hand sickle and carried many of the sheaves to the barn on her back when the oxen and cart were elsewhere busy. In winter along with other occupations she helped her mother to make straw mats, which they traded, at the store, for things they needed.

In early spring Lena ripped the trimming off her Sunday bonnet (no hats in those days), and arranged them in a different manner and adjusted the faded and green veil. She also ripped her Sunday frock apart, washed and ironed it, turned it inside out, upside down, hind side foremost, and reassembled it in order to have it look as presentable as possible. She also made her new frock when she was fortunate enough to have one to make, an incident in her life which rarely occurred, in those days when if a girl got a new frock it created about as much flurry in the neighbourhood as if she was going to be married. The material in the frocks was generally coarse homespun flannel and the girl who could sport on Sunday a gingham or a calico frock was the envied of all the enviers.

When Lena’s new frock happened to come her way, it was cut out by an old frock pattern her mother had used for years to cut out her own frocks by. The pattern was so old and thumb worn that it had to be handled with delicate care lest it fall to pieces while being used. In cutting out Lena’s frock by it, allowance had to be made for her more slender figure. Among those varied occupations and healthy exercises Lena grew up and at the age of twenty had developed into a beautiful young woman. There are no records giving particulars of her personal appearance but it was well known that she was an usually pretty girl, merry, sociable and kind-hearted. Just such a girl who, without the slightest effort on her own part, could compel those with whom she came in contact to become her friends. She was very fond of singing and possessed a full, clear musical voice. Her particular desire was to cultivate her voice or as she put it, “to learn to sing right,” a desire that was never realized for “chill penury” froze it in the bud.

Lean was considered a belle in the neighbourhood and very popular, and because of these advantages, she was not always exempt from the jealousies and criticisms of some of her less fortunate associates. Whatever special gifts of mind nature was pleased to bestow upon her are not known, but one thing is certain, her school training was next to infinitesimal. In her day and surroundings it was difficult if not impossible to obtain an education.

Schools were few, and those that were, were very poorly attended. Many of the first immigrants in the Township of Emily had no school training and did not understand the necessity of teaching the children. There was no law to enforce attendance and so long as there was work for the children at home they were not forced to attend school. Anyone who remembers his childhood can form a good idea of the irregularity of attendance at school under such conditions, especially as discipline was maintained by the constant and unfailing use of the rod. The courses taught were the very simplest. Reading, spelling and writing and arithmetic were about the only branches then taught. Writing was considered an accomplishment which the children did not begin to learn till about the age of twelve or fifteen. At that age they might begin if they had a copy book or paper to write on, which was by no means always the case, as few books as were needed for the studies taught, it seemed a great hardship to some of the parents to furnish them. I can remember when I was a small boy, seeing children going to school without readers, depending on borrowing from their more fortunate schoolmates.

Some years ago an old gentleman who was then eighty-four years old, and who had spent his early years around Omemee, told me that when he was a lad of fifteen years, he worked for a farmer for two weeks for a York shilling with which he wanted to buy paper on which to learn to write. When the two weeks were up the farmer had no money to give him so he had to wait four months for his pay. The York shilling of those days was a small silver coin slightly larger than a dime and worth 12 ½ cents in our money, just think of it! A boy almost capable of doing a man’s work working for a cent a day in an effort to learn to write and the work day of that time was from fourteen to sixteen hours.

It seems to me that if the boys of the present day had to learn writing under such difficulties there would be few of them who could write their names. In those days if a farmer’s son, when he had reached the age of eighteen or twenty could compute the amount he should receive for the load of grain he drove to market, he was considered a prodigy, and was a wonder in the neighbourhood.

The school in the village was considered superior to those in country districts, but in the early days there was little difference in the branches taught or enforcement of attendance. In winter when the larger boys attended it was often a difficult matter for the teacher to maintain order, the boys seemed so crude and untrained in discipline. As an instance there was a family who lived about a mile outside the village. Their oldest son, William, or Bill as he was called, was then about twenty years old, a fine specimen of physical manhood, but his parents were illiterate. Bill had never been to school, knew no more about the alphabet than he did about the nebular hypothesis or the parabola. But Bill heard that some of the neighbourhood boys were going to attend school that winter so after a little deliberation decided to go himself and lay a foundation for a course of reading. Armed with a primer and a lunch in a school bag he set out one morning for the village school. On his arrival he was examined by the teacher as to his efficiency and consigned to the first division, among some little boys who were “larnin’ their letters”. Bill struck it manfully to memorize the alphabet and apply the letters practically to spelling out such sentences as these—“I see an ox”, “Yes, it is an ox”; “Ox go up.” With these problems he wrestled till about two o’clock when the discipline and mental strain became irksome and Bill became restless and commenced teasing one of the little boys sitting near.

The teacher reprimanded him once or twice to no effect and finally called him up for correction. The punishment generally consisted in the culprit holding out his flat hand while the teacher struck it with the butt end of a hickory pointer the size of an ordinary whip stock as many times in his judgment the nature of the offence merited, but Bill resented this familiarity and showed fight. Thereupon the two men clinched and in their tussle through the schoolroom, overturned seats, benches, the teacher’s desk and a pail of drinking water which stood on a stool in the middle of the floor, raising pandemonium in the schoolroom. Frightened girls ran screaming hither and thither to reach a place of safety while the larger boys cheered and laughed with glee. Finally Bill, whose muscles were better developed by hard work on the farm, got the upper hand, forced the teacher out of the schoolroom, and closed the door. He then returned and searched through the debris for his primer and school bag, these secured, he donned his cap and muffler and left the school house to come back no more.

Poor Bill was obliged to worry through the world without the knowledge that reading imparts, and long since sought the quiet sleep where any regrets he may have had concerning educational inefficiency will trouble him no more.

In school sections outside the village the settlers were too poor to pay their teacher a salary sufficient to enable him to pay his board and have anything left, though board was very cheap at the time, so they paid him a small yearly stipend and boarded him themselves. In which case the teacher would remain for two weeks at one house then move to the next for the following two. This itinerancy was continued till all the houses in the school section had been visited then commenced again at number one. This mode of living was called boarding around and while no doubt it had its inconveniences it afforded at least the novelty of variety. One teacher who tried out this method, ran against an awkward or embarrassing experience. He was a new man on the job making his first round of the section. In one of the houses on his beat were three young women of marriageable age. As the teacher was quite a handsome young man, possessed of a social friendly nature, and as the young women considered a school teacher a much more desirable matrimonial find than the ordinary run, he became a favourite from the first, and most of his leisure hours were spent in their company in friendly chat and repartee. The girls’ mother who was somewhat eccentric, was visibly pleased to see the close friendship which so suddenly sprang up between her girls and this most desirable suitor; and saw or thought she saw a wedding in the family looming in the near future. But watch as closely as she might she failed to see that the teacher paid special attentions to any one of the girls.

At length her desire to know which of the girls was the prospective bride got the better of her and she determined to find out, so one day at lunch time when the teacher had been at her home about a week she asked him which one of the girls he was going to marry. This straight question took him somewhat by surprise but without equivocation he told her he was not just then in a financial condition to think of marrying and had no intention of doing so, and that his courtesies to the young ladies so far as he was concerned held no tenderer sentiment than that of good friendship. The evening of that same day when he returned after dismissing school he found all his belongings lying outside on the ground in front of the house and the door locked. As there was no response to his repeated knocks on the door, the only course left him was to gather up his effects and carry them to the next billet where he hoped to find a more courteous reception.

In view of the many obstacles with which she had to content in her efforts to secure even the most primitive rudiments of an education no one will be surprised to learn that Lena was not an accomplished scholar, that she was not familiar with the languages both living and dead, that she could not converse with scholars and educators on literature, art, ethics, philosophy, metaphysics, the psyche, phenomena, etc etc. nor solve offhand problems that have challenged the minds of sages and sophists ever since the infancy of the human race, as heroines of song and story usually can. In truth Lena could hardly be considered a heroine in any sense of the word as heroines generally go; for she had never done anything remarkable to distinguish herself as such. That is, she had never attacked a pack of hungry wolves with a pitchfork and put them out of commission, thus saving the family from a dreadful fate, nor had she, ridden horseback five miles through a forest fire to rescue neighbours “in dire peril”.

No doubt her shapely hand could handle a hoe, a rake or a pitchfork with as much grace and dexterity as the modern graduate of Whitby or Victoria can handle a golf club or a tennis racket. Lena was essentially a girl of her period and environments and if she could read simple sentences miscalling half the words, and write her name in an almost illegible scrawl she could boast of an accomplishment which amongst her acquaintances was confined to a tenuous minority. Her busy useful pioneer life was confined to opening ways, removing obstructions and bettering conditions, that those who followed might enjoy the results of her useful labours exempt from the want and privations that fell to her lot. Therefore, “let grandeur lent with a disdainful smile the short and simple annals of the poor.”

Enter the Hero

George Colby was a young man two or three years older than Lena. His family had come with the first settlers but his father died soon after, leaving a widow and five small children to clear and cultivate the farm as best they could. George was the youngest and possibly spoiled to some extent. He did not take well to farming or, in fact, to work of any kind. When he was about fifteen he apprenticed himself to a carpenter and followed that trade. When he grew up he was the handsomest young man in the section, with a fine figure, dark wavy hair and large dark eyes from which every glance twinkled with humour and good nature. He was fond of telling stories at which he was quite adept, and music seemed to come natural to him. He had learned to play by ear many dancing and other tunes on the violin. He could also sing and dance steps and jigs.

These accomplishments were considered wonderful in his day, and surroundings, and George was a welcome guest at all social functions. But, in spite of all this, George was subject to frailties like other humans. His most pronounced faults were aversion to work, lack of ambition or purpose in life, and a taste for intoxicants which he acquired in early life. Much of his time was spent around the village inn entertaining the guests and hangers-on, with humorous stories and mimicry.

George and Lena had known each other almost fancy but he had taken no more interest in her than in other girls of his acquaintance until one Sunday when they accidentally met at a field meeting. For the benefit of the younger generation it may be well to explain briefly just what a field meeting really meant to the settlers in pioneer days.

The first immigrants who settled in the Township of Emily were for the most part adherents of the Anglican Church. Of course, there were some Roman Catholics, but as these two factions did not mix, like birds of a feather they flocked by themselves, but in different sections. About the time the immigrants were settled in their cabins the Methodist circuit rider made his appearance, and for a long time his work was no sinecure. The Anglican laymen had nothing in common with Methodism and the clergy referred to it in no very flattering terms. The newcomer had no place to hold meetings or preach unless he could prevail on some more liberal minded Anglican to allow him the use of his barn. When the weather was fine in the summer the meetings were held in the open. Those were announced a week or more ahead and were always well attended. They soon became a place where neighbours who did not see each other very often could meet and exchange greetings, talk over plans and future prospects, also hear the news from the old country, if any had come. Many people would walk several miles to the meetings, bringing a lunch. Preaching in the open air was an innovation, the doctrine was new, the preacher was a stranger, and no doubt the people had been cautioned by their minister to keep away from the meetings, all of which would have a tendency to arouse curiosity and swell the attendance.

The meetings were usually held in the edge of a wood or a clearing from which the trees had not all been cut. There were no camp stools or other such luxuries. The people had to content themselves with stones, logs, stumps, grassy banks or any place they could find an improvised seat. The leaves overhead shaded off the sun and the whole scene was enlivened by the voices of innumerable birds, which long since have vanished. Circuit riders of the Methodist church were not all educated men by any means, some of them were but little above illiteracy, but they were men of zeal, courage and integrity, and their simple but earnest exhortations had a wonderful effect on the minds of their hearers; they were no much different from the staid and formal sermons read to them in their churches. Many converts were made at these meetings and it sometime happened that young men of the swaggering sort who “came to mock remained to pray.” Some of these afterwards became exhorters and class leaders in their respective neighbourhoods. The meetings were also the nucleus of many romances which ended in happy marriages, but with the erection of cheap, crude meeting houses here and there in country places, which were thought more practical, the field meetings passed out.

After their meeting on that Sunday, George contrived to monopolize Lena’s company whenever possible, and often called evenings at her home. Mrs. Barton viewed this growing intimacy, if not with alarm at least, with some concern. She liked George in manners, indeed she could hardly help liking him as he was always pleasant and good natured and many a cheery laugh she enjoyed at his quaint jokes and sayings. But George was not the kind of man she desired for a son-in-law or a husband for Lena. She regarded him as a person who looked upon life as a huge joke without a serious side to it. She objected to his idle habits, his want of purpose in life and, above all, she could not think of Lena marrying a man who was in danger of becoming an inebriate. She knew there were other young men in the neighbourhood who were industrious and thrifty; anxious to get on in the world, and who could offer Lena a more cozy home and much better prospects in life. Of these Lena could have her choice just for saying “yes”. Thoughts of this nature oft times occupied the mother’s mind but she held her peace awaiting developments.

These came one evening in October when George called to ask her if she would allow Lena to join a singing class the young folks were organizing in the village, and grant him the favor of seeing Lena to and from the practice meetings. When this proposition was made to her, Mrs. Barton thought the time had come when she should express her sentiments frankly on this whole question, so she kindly but firmly refused her consent. She made it plain to George that his attentions to Lena were not sanctioned by her, and explained to him without reserve her reasons for withholding her approval. She also told him that from that time forth his attentions to Lena must be discontinued. This put an end to the courtship for the time being at least, and George called no more at the Barton home.

Mother Died

The land in the Township of Emily is what farmers call rolling, but in some places the roll is more pronounced than in others, that is the elevations are high, and in early days the low depressions were wet and swampy.

The fall rains and spring freshets filled the swamps with water to such an extent that it was impossible to penetrate them at any time of the year except in winter when the water was frozen. In summer this water stagnated and produced swarms of mosquitoes which, for numbers, size and executive ability, would compare favourably if not carry off the palm from the best specimens that New Jersey has ever been able to produce. In the heat of summer germ-laden fogs would rise from this water during the night and fill the air with fever. In consequence fevers were prevalent every summer and caused a number of deaths. One summer in particular was remembered for many years after as the summer of the great fever when no family was known to have escaped its effects. The common people had no idea of the origin of this scourge, and even if they had they would have been powerless to prevent it, as draining was simply out of the question.

The winter following the fall that Mrs. Barton laid down her decrees to George Colby her health began to fail and early in the spring she contracted fever which proved fatal. When she began to realize that the end was near and the change might come at any moment, she had a motherly talk with Lena. She told her she knew she had but a few hours to live, but she did not fear death. She admonished Lena to live a life of purity and rectitude, to give as much of her time as she could to acts of benevolence, in assisting the needy and unfortunate, and otherwise doing such kindness as she could. She advised her particularly to take a personal interest in the church to attend its services regularly, and to follow its precepts to the end so that when her time came to leave this world, her life might have a joyous ending.

Under other conditions she would welcome a summons that called her from a world that had done so little for her. A world that had robbed her of a joyous youth, such as every child has a right to expect. From infancy she had been denied proper and sufficient nourishment for the building of mind and body. She had been denied mental training, allowed to grow up in ignorance and finally consigned to a life of obscurity, drudgery and want, but as a recompense for those privations had been given a husband and daughter to love. Those were the only objects that bound her to earth and for the sake of those she would live longer, however uncharitable the world should otherwise happen to be. She would live to assist and encourage her good husband who she knew would be so lonely and heart broken when she was gone. Also to counsel and admonish her darling girl, who needed so much a mother’s care and advice in settling herself in life. But if it pleased Providence to remove her to another sphere she would pray, “Thy will be done.” But since she began to realize that the end was rapidly approaching, her mind had been filled with troublesome forebodings.

She could not banish the thought that when she was gone George Colby would renew his attentions to Lena and by his pleasant manners and persuasive words induce Lena to marry him. If Lena would promise she would never marry George Colby it would remove those troublesome thoughts and enable her to die in peace.

All this while Lena sat on a low stool beside her mother’s bed, her body bent forward and her face buried in her hands and while tears trickled through her fingers she promised her mother that she would never marry George Colby. If he ever came into her life again she would treat him as a passing acquaintance, she said. She was not thinking of marrying for her heart was breaking at the thought of having to part with her mother who had always been her close and confidential companion, who had been so loving and so lenient and had made so many sacrifices for her save. She could never refuse any request her mother would make however much it might effect her after life. She would be selfish ingrate if ever she thought of following the fortunes of another and leaving her father in such a plight. She would remain at home and help him on the farm as she had always done. The greatest effort of her life would be to follow the beautiful example her mother had set for her. She would attend church services regularly and follow its precepts so far as she could understand its teachings and be first in her efforts to relieve suffering and distress in the neighbourhood.

Lena might have continued such promises to relieve her mother’s mind of annoying apprehensions but her heart was filled with grief and sobs choked her into silence. The day following this pathetic scene, the mother, happy in the assurance of Lena’s promises, and resigned to the will of Providence, closed her eyes in eternal sleep.

George Returns

Lena had not seen George Colby nor heard from him, at least not directly, from the time he requested permission for her to attend the singing class, until more than a year after her mother’s death. A building boom in Port Hope had attracted carpenters to seek work, and George was one who went. During his stay there he worked steadily and kept straight. When he returned he was wearing good clothes, had a few dollars in reserve and looked his very best.

He had been home but a short time when he renewed his attentions to Lena. At first these were met with an indifference several degrees below zero, but as George persisted Lena’s resolutions were scattered to the winds. In a short time they were better and more intimate friends than they had been before, happy in the thought that they loved each other, but all unconscious that a crisis was near.

While affairs between them were at this stage, Mr. Barton was called from home on a matter of business which would detain him over night. When this news reached George’s ears he was not slow to take advantage of an opportunity, affording him a chance for a long, uninterrupted talk with Lena, so when the shades of evening fell on the day her father left home, he hit the trail for the Barton cabin to enjoy the anticipated visit. Lack of data prevents any record of the conversation which ensued between them, but it is safe to presume that time sped rapidly until the “witching” hour arrived “when church yards yawn,” at this time they were seated in the cabin before an open window, for the night was sultry. Without warning, a missile was thrown through the window which came dangerously near hitting Lena and fell on the floor. George, thinking that some of the boys had come to play tricks, ran out to catch the culprit, but there was no one in sight. The moon, near full, was shining brightly and the night was quite calm. The only sound that disturbed the silence was the distant barking of a neighbour’s dog. In the meantime, Lena had arranged her seat to give her a better chance to see out should anything more occur. When George had searched the premises without effect he returned to report. They then resumed their seats and began speculating on who the intruder could have been when another missile was thrown in. This time Lena looked quickly out and saw her mother standing outside, close to the window with a troubled look on her face and shaking her hand at her in a menacing manner. When Lena saw this apparition, she sprang to her feet, uttered a piercing scream and dropped in a faint to the floor.

It was now George’s turn to be alarmed, for Lena lay at this feet the picture of death, and he did not know if she were dead or alive. He had never heard of such a thing as first aid and had no idea how to act. It was quite a run to the next house, and even had it been but a few rods, he would have been afraid to have left her alone in that condition while he went to summon help.

While those thoughts were passing through his mind he noticed Lena’s hand move. He then raised, supporting her in a sitting position on the stool until she recovered, plying her all the while with questions as to what had happened. When she had recovered sufficiently to speak, disregarding his questions, she told him he must go away at once and leave her. This he at first refused to do, but Lena would accept no compromise and finally told him he must leave without more delay on the penalty of a break in their relations. Seeing she was obdurate, he left, Lena did not wait to hear “the sound of his departing footsteps dying in the distance.” But as soon as he went out she closed the door, bolting it securely. She then fastened the window and retired to her little room, the door of which she also bolted.

It was not so dark in her room but objects could be seen without the aid of candle light, for the moon was shining in through the upper part of the window which threw a spot of moonlight on the floor. As soon as Lena had retired and extinguished the candle light she heard a footstep on the floor outside her room. Glancing at the door she saw her mother appear through it with as much ease as though no obstacle had been in her way. Her face still bore the troubled look and in her hand she carried a goodly sized switch. Slipping to the bed where Lena lay she threw back the light covering and administered several sharp strokes of the switch across her shoulders. She then retired into invisibility and was seen no more.

Next day when Mr. Barton returned he found Lena confined to her bed suffering from a high fever. The hamlet doctor was called who, after a diagnosis, ordered the room kept tightly closed against draughts lest the patient catch cold, and that no nourishment be given but hot broths, gruel or other hot drinks. He then opened a vein in her arm and drew from it nearly a pint of blood, after which he administered a real old allopathic dose of calomel. Then he took his departure, promising to call next day and note progress.

The doctor’s treatment of Lena’s case as reported here, may seem to be slightly overdrawn, but it is a fact that a treatment along that line was a sort of standard there at that time for all manner of physical ailments from an accident to the white plague. If an accident, which was thought at all serious, happened, the doctor was called, and if the trouble consisted of a cut or a bruise he would bandage it, but if no bones were found broken, he would bleed the patient and leave him to his fate. Bleeding was thought to be an infallible panacea for all ills, and calomel was more used as a medicine than any other drug.

This ignorance of the people concerning ills and their treatment no doubt arose in a measure at least from the fact that the doctor, the only one around there at the time settled, knew little more about such matters than the common people. When he settled there he was quite a young man and had no experience. He was not a medical graduate, and had no diploma. He had entered a college in Dublin to study medicine, but soon after met a young girl with whom he became infatuated and they were married. The marriage was a runaway affair, and to prevent trouble with the parents the young couple came to Canada, and by some chance or fate, found their way to Cottingham’s Village, where he started practicing medicine and became very popular.

The doctor was an interesting character and a few words describing him may not be uninteresting. He no doubt belonged to what was known as a good family. He was over six feet in height with faultless proportions. His facial features were strong, handsome and manly and intellectually he was much above the average. His every word and gesture denoted the culture and refinement that comes from generations of habit and careful training. He seemed to hold a sort of hypnotic influence over those with whom he came in contact. He was an interesting talker and considered quite a good public speaker but took little interest in politics and never sought a public office. The doctor was no businessman and seemed to have no instinct or interest in business affairs. In spite of the fact that he was not even a half pledged doctor and had no authority to practice. The people had every confidence in his skill and ability to cure them. If there were any laws at the time in Canada preventing other than regularly authorized physicians to practice they were never enforced in his case, and he remained for a number of years the only doctor in that section.

But after a time the doctor acquired the habit of going too often to the sideboard. As a result his patients were neglected. Another doctor settled in the village and secured this neglected practice. The doctor who had never kept any business account with those with whom he dealt, had few bills to collect and his obligations were not met. In this dilemma he went to the wall financially and otherwise, and died of the white plague while yet in the prime of life.

The news of Lena’s illness soon spread through the settlement and the neighbours began coming to offer their sympathy and assistance. The good women took in the situation at a glance and just there formed themselves into a relief committee to nurse Lena day and night and do her housework until she recovered or the worst should come. A resolution which was well and faithfully carried out. Lena’s illness occurred during a hot wave in mid-August and day after day she lay on a feather bed in a little stuffy room into which a breath of fresh air was scarcely allowed to enter and the only nourishments given were the hot potions prescribed by the doctor. Under such treatment it is not remarkable that she remained almost constantly in a state of delirium. Occasionally she would awaken and become conscious but soon relapsed into delirious ravings. It was in one of these rational moments that she confided to the good friend that watched by her bedside, the story of her broken vow and her mother’s appearance.

But in spite of the doctor’s most expert skill and the tender nursing of kind-hearted neighbours, Lena continued to grow worse and early the ninth morning after her mother’s mysterious advent, just as the sun was rising, her spirit bade adieu to earthly things and passed on to join her irate mother in the unknown and mysterious beyond towards which all mortality is so surely and so rapidly moving.

George Colby, whose affections for Lena were perfectly sincere, was disconsolate at this sudden ending of his love dreams. A few weeks after her demise he joined a party of surveyors and taking all his worldly possessions, tied up in a red bandanna handkerchief, he went to a new settlement in far Western Ontario where no object on which his eye might rest would call up tender memories and where he afterwards married and became a useful and respected citizen.

Lena’s remains were tenderly laid away close beside those of her mother in the little old burying ground that surrounded the Anglican Church in the Village of Omemee, the same church in which she and her mother had so often worshipped.

It seems strange that those in authority have not had more respect for the venerable plot of ground and seen that it was kept at least from desecration where so many bones of the courageous old pioneers both men and women, who were first to open up the country, as well as those of the forefathers and mothers of the hamlet lie buried.

Many years ago the old church was abandoned as a place of worship and torn down. A new cemetery was purchased outside the village and burials were no longer permitted in the church yard, which was deserted and allowed to grow wild. At the present time scarcely a trace of the old church site remains. Trees and shrubbery sprang up and have grown almost to maturity. The old wooden fence which once enclosed this hallowed spot disappeared long since, leaving it an open prey to all manner of desecrations. Domestic animals roam at will where grave mounds once were numerous, and quietly graze above what remains of those who lie beneath. The only indications that a grave yard ever existed on the spot are the old fallen and broken headstones scattered here and there amongst the weeds and grass.

So the exact location of Lena’s, Betty Cooper and of the whereabouts of whose grave an old Scotch epitaph has the following:

The place where Betty Cooper lies is here or hereabout

The place where Betty Cooper lies there, none can find it out

The place where Betty Cooper lies there’s non on earth can tell

Till at the resurrection day when Betty tells herself.

Though I frequently heard he story of Lena Barton when I was a boy and every incident connected with it vouched for with the most vehement protestations as being the truth, pure and simple, yet there has always lingered in my mind a doubt as to the truth of the appearance of Lena’s mother throwing missiles at the young couple through the window or punishing Lena with a switch as she lay trembling in bed. I rather cling to the belief that fever germs had already been doing their work in Lena’s case, and when she had parted with her company and retired for the night she would naturally feel some remorse for having violated her vow to her dying mother.

Search the Ontario Genealogy Website

Historical Visits to Ontario Villages and Towns  Take a trip back in time to the late 19th century and explore the towns and villages where your ancestors lived, loved, laboured, laughed and played.

Ontario Images of the Past   Thousands of Images of City, Town, Village and Country Life

Ontario Land Registry Records Research Thousands of your ancestors and where they lived in Ontario

Upper Canada (Ontario) Newspaper Notices Database 

Ontario (Upper Canada) History and Pioneer Family Research 

Queen's Own Rifles - Old Photos of Members 

Upper Canada District Maps (Circa 1800) 

Upper Canada (Ontario) History Books On-Line Index

Ontario County Directories Victoria, Haliburton, Hastings, Peterborough, Durham, Northumberland, Muskoka, and Old Ontario County

  Central Upper Canada (Ontario) Marriage Database 22650 Marriage Records Indexed 

  Central Upper Canada Baptism Database 25000 Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland Marriages indexed

Upper Canada (Central Ontario) Burial Database 4500 Anglican, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Church of Scotland Burials indexed

  Eastern Upper Canada Marriage Database 1200 Anglican, Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland Marriages indexed

  Eastern Upper Canada Baptism Database 3000 Anglican, Roman Catholic and Church of Scotland Baptisms indexed

  Eastern Upper Canada Burial Database

Upper Canada Land Petitions 51000 Records Indexed

  Upper Canada Land Leases and Miscellaneous Petitions 10000 Records Indexed 

Upper Canada (Ontario) Sundries Database 

  Upper Canada (Ontario) Toronto Insane Asylum Database

  Upper Canada (Ontario) Kingston Insane Asylum Database

  Upper Canada (Ontario) London Insane Asylum Database 

  Upper Canada (Ontario) Malden Insane Asylum Database

  Upper Canada (Ontario) Hamilton Insane Asylum Database

  Ontario Genealogy Historical Newspaper Collection  Historical Newspaper Files from various regions of Ontario 

NEWSPAPER Genealogical and Historical Records - Thousands of entries

  Ontario (Upper Canada) Map Collection  Great site for locating your ancestors in Ontario

Ontario Genealogy Postcard Site - Great old-time landscape views

  Upper Canada and Ontario CRIMINAL Database 

Ontario Genealogy Database Index Site 400 000 Genealogy Records Indexed

 Join the Ontario Genealogy mail list now. Discussion group for genealogy and history of the Province of Ontario post 1867, or join the Upper Canada (Ontario) mail list now, discussion group for genealogy and history of Upper Canada prior to 1867.

Subscribe: Type subscribe in message subject and body.

Ontario Genealogy Mail List

Upper Canada Genealogy Mail List

Need HELP With Your Family Research?...

Northumberland County Genealogy and History

Victoria County Genealogy and History

Durham County Genealogy and History

Haliburton County Genealogy and History

Peterborough County History and Genealogy

Newcastle District (Upper Canada) History and Genealogy

Ontario County History and Genealogy

Upper Canada History and Genealogy

Echoes of the Past - Ontario Genealogy Home

Search the Ontario Genealogy Website