J. Smyth Carter.

The story of Dundas, being a history of the County of Dundas from 1784 to 1904 online

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Online LibraryJ. Smyth CarterThe story of Dundas, being a history of the County of Dundas from 1784 to 1904 → online text (page 5 of 40)
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were extended to the "raising." A large attendance generally resulted. Two


t>f the beat men were selected as captains and after choosing their assistants
the work started with a vim. The rivalry was keen. As the work continued
the concert tones of "he-o-heave 1" might be heard for some distance. Racing
was to some extent Indulged in, and before the shades of night had fallen the
frame was in its place. Often at the conclusion one of the men would mount
Upon the plate and taking a bottle would swing it three times around
his head and then throw it a distance in the field near at hand. The bottle
was quickly picked up and if unbroken was considered an omen of good luck
and enthusiastic shouts followed. During the progress of the work the
"grog boss'* was quite busy "dispensing his favors, and very few declined
his calls. Unfortunate as it may appear, it is nevertheless true that in
those days whiskey was present ftt almost every bee. The practice had become
general, and those who bravely took the lead in opposing its use did not
escape the ill favor of the "crowd.'* Their fight for the right was, however,
fruitful ; their numbers increased and in this direction Dundas in later years
knade a creditable temperance showing on several occasions, especially in
the Referendum vote of Dec. 4, 1902.

The paring-bee which appeared at a latter date was generally attended ex-
clusively by the youth of the neighborhood* Each of the boys, accompanied
by his peculiar bonne-made paring machine, would bring his best girl.
In the large, comfortable kitchen the work was performed. The boys tossed
the peeled apples from the machines, which were caught by the girls, who
quickly completed the Work. At the close of the bee supper would be served,
following which a social time was spent. Sometimes this latter innovation
assumed the form of a country dance. The good, old-fashioned country
"hoe-down'* afforded recreation and pleasure like nothing else in those
primitive times. If the old folks objected to dancing, a series of games were re-
sorted to, Which necessitated the giving and redeeming of forfeits, intro-
ducing the science of kissing. These old games and customs have been con-
signed to history, except in the case of backwoods settlements.

The frequent gathering at bees served to foster the true friendships and
neighborly interest which made pioneer life tolerable* Those were days
free from arrogance, pride, envy and ill-will which in the social world of
to-day are unpleasant factors. A community of families was then as one
family. A sort of Free Masonry seemed to prevail and each took pleasure in
assisting the other. Outside of their toils the early settlers shared one
another's joys and sorrows. Their visits were mutual and sincere. Separat-
ed, perhaps by miles of forest and with limited means of communication,
they nevertheless appreciated the sanctity of true brotherhood. Over roads
tough and at times almost impassable the settler often travelled many miles


to visit some distant neighbor who welcomed him right royally to his forest
home. Brothers, indeed, they were ; perhaps not by family ties, but none
the less brothers, for were not their hopes and toils identical, their feelings
and aspirations akin ?

While the moral principles of the early residents must be regarded, yet their
reverence for the Sabbath was somewhat lacking. Of course churches were few
and church services not frequent and in this way the Sabbath in many
neighborhoods was a day for visiting. At service it was customary for
the men and women to sit apart on opposite sides of the church.
This old rule seems to have been almost sacred in the minds of the
early settlers. After meeting it was a common practice with some to go to the
homes of their neighbors and spend the remainder of the day. Speaking of
Sabbath observance, one of our oldest residents who to some extent went
the limits of "bush life," tells us that he has often attended Sabbath school in
the log school house where old and young congregated. Later in the day,
however, the youth would engage in a game of ball, while the old fellows
grouped around telling stories, and "keeping tally" of the game.

What reliance these early residents placed in their compatriots may be under-
stood when we say that many of them bought, sold and traded purely upon
honor. Sometimes a note was taken for debt, but oftener it was not.
The vigilance now necessary was not then exercised. Perhaps in the
purchase of a piece of land the deed would remain unrecorded for months.
There was no haste, each trusted the other, and the bond of brotherhood

Before the establishment of the first postoffice in Dundas county the settlers
received but little mail and then often had to pay a considerable sum when
receiving it, as the sender had not advanced the postage. That was the pre-
vailing custom. Often the payment of postage would be an unpleasant call
but a letter from the "auld country" was always welcome. Later the
establishment of a postoffice on the St. Lawrence in Matilda and other
subsequent offices introduced some newspapers into the homes. Yet many of
the settlers were miles from the office, and often the paper would be a week
reaching its destination, being read as it passed from house to house.
The progress was slow, but there was no fault finding and if anything had
occurred of extraordinary significance, the news usually travelled
faster than the paper. Viewed from the conditions of to-day, how
striking is the contrast ! Then a letter to the old country cost one dollar;
now it costs two cents. Then the mail service was tardy ; now daily papers
are received in the majority of Dundas homes, while rural mail delivery is
almost in sight.

Money was scarce in the pioneer days. The store-keeper bought the


settlers' produce but would give them only trade in return, or what was
known as "store pay." Potash was the only cash article on the list. Then,
in selling his goods the store-keeper had a monopoly. There was the "cash
price," "trade price," and "trust price," and often it was unhappy for the
settler if he resorted to the last named. Still after all these farmer store-
keepers were a necessity. Their stores were a sort of commercial
neucleus and they did their best to advance with the times. Along the
front of Matilda and Williamsburgh these trade centres were especially

Maple sugar making in the early days required much labor. The mere sug-
gestion of the term carries with it the memory of the old log sugar-camp, the
wooden spiles, the sap troughs, (large and small,) the huge back-logs, the
blazing camp-fire, as well as the social incidents of the work. Happy
were the experiences of " sugaring-off, " when the youth, from the neigh-
borhood, the boys and the girls, assembled at the sugar-camp to have a
good time. To-day the scene is changed. The mechanical means of stfgar-
making from start to finish are now so complete as to rob the industry of its
former picturesqueness.

The keeping of sheep was a primary necessity. The preparation of the
wool, the picking, dyeing, carding, spinning and weaving were all done by
hand labor. For coloring the cloth various kinds of plants were employed.
For brown, butter-nut was used; for yellow, onion skins or golden rod, and so
on for a variety of colors. The carding mill later came into use and this to a
considerable extent lessened the work. The wool was then made into rolls
and the remaining work performed at home. "The latfcefc 'wa associated
with the time-honored spinning- jenny, first the^ I$*g* ; an<fc r theafttie small
wheel. Yes, and the bright, cheerful girls 'of '-'tfh'osfe v4ays assisted
their mothers in the work, and as they sang and wOrlked the -music
seemed to keep time with the rhythmic humming of the old whee'L' f 'M&flWy a
fond maiden about to depart from the parental roof helped to spin the
delicate thread which was subsequently woven into her bridal robes.

As the fall approached clothing for the family was to be made. The large
web of cloth was taken down and the work began. Perhaps this labor fell to
the lot of the busy housewife, but occasionally a wandering tailor happened
in the neighborhood and did good service. The arbitrary rules of
fashion were not then respected. If the garments were new, warm and
comfortable, the bill was filled. The after-church-post-mortem on new
suits was not then practiced, since the maidens were satisfied with new
clothes although made from plain home-made flannel.

The sons of St. Crispin were chiefly itinerants. Their arrival at the home
was preceded by a general preparation to get shoes made for each member of


the family. The work was done roughly but strong. In exceptional cases
the father served as cobbler for his family.

While discussing a few of the various customs relative to home life it has
Hot been hard for us to discern the great difference between the labor in-
cumbent upon the people of those early days and those of the present.
With due appreciation of the efforts of the pioneers of Dundas, we must in
sincerity hold true their memories. Nevertheless, let us be candid and not
allow our modesty to deter us from asserting that we are truly glad that the
labors of to-day are not so arduous as then, that we have profited by the
experiences of our forefathers.

A certain elderly lady of Matilda, reviewing ye Olden days, brings
to mind many toils and hardships which fell to the lot of the Women then.
Among other incidents she remembers often to have taken on one
arm a basket of eggs and on the other a pail of butter and with that load
walked to Morrisburg, about five miles distant, over roads rough, crooked and
unfit for travel. After disposing of her produce at the store of James Holden,
receiving the regular market price for eggs, about five cents per dozen, and
for butter, about twelve and one-half cents per pound, she secured such pur-
chases as were needed and then with her new load returned on foot to her
forest home, where a multiplicity of toils awaited her. This and
similar experiences prove to us that their domestic lot was no sinecure.

Before closing this part of our subject, perhaps it may be Well to refer to the
present up-to-date farm houses, the clever house-wives and maidens, which
help in a material sense to brighten Dundas homes. With a view to
convenience and comfort the modern farm house has been adequately planned.
In this respect Dundas has kept well to the front. Brick, frame and stone
dwellings, from those of small proportions to the more elaborate,
many really commanding in appearance and grandeur, now occupy the land
of former log-house fame. As one drives through the county the general
appearance is very inviting, and in some instances the homes are ideal.

Parlor, sitting-room, dining-room, spacious bed-rooms, With clothes-room
off each, wide halls, good cellar with walls and floor cemented, and a kitchen
bright, airy, roomy and possessing every convenience, might be said to be
generally characteristic of the majority of Dtmdas farm houses of to-day.
Cisterns, furnishing an ample supply of soft water, are among the
essentials of almost every home. The general equipment is in keeping 1
with this most flourishing agricultural county, and in some instances much
in advance. It may also be said of Dundas home-life that musical instru-
ments are in general favor, pianos and organs leading.

Retrospection is appreciated by all, and especially by the men and women ot


to-day who have occasion to visit "the old home" where their fathers were
reared and where they too spent many happy days. Although the grand-
children of those settlers may now occupy positions of prominence, yet in re -
viewing the past nothing affords them sweeter pleasure than thoughts of
the old home the place they sometimes chanced to visit when they could
persuade father and mother to take them to grandfather's. Here was
joy and sunshine, while a sort of hallowed simplicity characterized their
welcome. Many a day in the mind's fancy we see grandma working at the
old wheel, spinning the fine flaxen thread for family use. Yes>
and she kept everything in order about the cheerful hearth, where she would
sit and knit day after day, turning out scores of thick mittens and warm socks
for her grandchildren. Surely the old home was a heavenly retreat, and
in the work, entitled "Life in Canada Fifty Years Ago," by Caniff Haight, a
picture is presented in the following paragraph:

"The old home, as it was called, was always a place of attraction and
especially to the young people who found good cheer at grandmother's^
What fun, at the small place called home, to have the run of a dozen rooms,
to haunt the big cellar, with its great heaps of potatoes and vegetables, huge
casks of cider and well-filled bins of apples, or to sit at the table loaded with
good things which grandmother could only supply. How delicious the large
piece of pumpkin pie tasted and how toothsome the rich crullers that melted
in the mouth! Dear old bodyl I can see her now going to the great cupboard
to get me something, saying as she goes, Tm sure the child is hungry.' And
it was true he was always hungry, and how he managed to stow away so much
was a mystery. There was no place in the world more to be desired than
this and no spot in all the past the recollection of which is more bright and

The story of social and domestic life in Dundas might form an entire volume.
We have endeavored to refer to some items relative thereto, but as we proceed
the field is ever widening and as our space is already overdue we must close.
The old days, the old homes, the old customs have gone. A new era has
been ushered in. Our present benefits are the fruits of the labors of those
early pioneer workers and their successors. May we be worthy of our
heritage and zealously profit by its blessings.

And oh, the atmosphere of homel how bright

It floats around us when we sit together,
Under a bower of vine in summer weather,

Or round the hearth-stone on a winter's night!



How blest the farmer's simple life !

How pure the joy it yields !
Far from the world's tempestuous strife,

Free, 'mid the scented fields !


BUSH- WHACKING ! Farm-making ! These were terms well descriptive of
farming in pioneer times. The crude conditions lingered long, for even after
the woodman's axe had conquered the forest and the fire had swept along,
leaving great heaps of ashes, the huge stumps stood in apparent defiance.
Fortunately the soil was rich. The implements or means of husbandry were
of the most primitive type. By hand the seed was scattered and then among
the blackened stumps was trailed the huge brush or small tree-top. Sometimes
in autumn the wheat was hoed in by hand. Wooden drags of various designs
were later used. The first ploughs were constructed of wood, with perhaps a
rough iron point made by the local son of Vulcan. Old residents in various
sections of Dundas speak of the one-handled plough.

Shortly after the spring seeding the farmer arose with the sun and quickly
heralded the news, "the grain is up." What a picture for the artist. Over
the landscape the blackened stumps stood out $tiil blacker against the back-
ground of pleasing green. Swiftly the summer months sped and soon the
harvest was ready to be garnered. The sickle was taken from its silent place,
sharpened, and the work began. The cradle and the scythe were implements
of later years. By means of a hand-rake the grain was gathered, while the
forked-end of a sapling peeled and dried in season served as a pitchfork, and
in case of breakage these implements were easily replaced from the neighbor-
ing forest. The village blacksmith was not then consulted. Various methods

AORlCtrLT1TEA.L EVOLtmotf 57

were employed in removing the grain from the field. If the distance was
short, the farmer's back bore the burden, or perhaps a tree-top laden with
grain was drawn to the barn or stack-yard by means of horses or oxen, while
the wood-sleigh formed a sequel to this primitive means. This latter article of
antiquity lingered long as a memento of this period .

Wagons subsequently came into use, and their construction at first was in
keeping with the age. A certain resident of Dundas, who to some extent
went the rounds of brush-harrow days, relates his amateur attempt at
wagon-making. Although hopeful of his genius, the lad's father laughed
him to scorn. Nevertheless the youth set to work. From a hardwood log
he secured four circular blocks. Leaving the bark thereon, holes for the
axles were made. These and other fixtures were soon in place and the wagon
was completed. Its use held such prominence over that of the wood-sleigh
that the father was compelled to acknowlege the genius of the young wheel-
wright. For many years, even after better wagons were introduced, this
particular one was used as a truck, the chief deficiency being the absence of
boxings which caused the axle holes to become too enlarged.

Not every settler at once erected a log barn. Perhaps for many years
the grain was stacked. If he had the requisite thrift and skill, he would erect
one or more "barracks." These consisted of four straight cedar posts about
the size of telegraph poles, set in the ground so as to form a square sixteen or
eighteen feet each way. Around these a light frame surmounted by a
thatched roof was placed, two inch holes about two feet apart were bored in
the upper halves of the posts, and stout pins provided, on which the roof rest-
ed, and could be raised or lowered at will. This seems to have been a device
of our Dutch or German ancestors, and' these "barracks" may still be seen
or could a few years ago, on Staten Island, near New York city, though these
latter were shingled. The handflail was the means of threshing, and in"
stances are related of the grain being pounded out on the level sod. Soon a
threshing floor was constructed near the stack, and in time the log barn arose-
Sometimes but one threshing floor was found in a settlement and there
most of the threshing took place, the neighbors bringing their grain
thither. One of these threshing centres was on the farm of John Marsellis, in
the fourth concession of Matilda. The cleaning of the grain was accomplished
by the "hand fan," assisted by the friendly breezes. All these and sundry
methods of threshing at length were discarded. About 1835 the first portable
threshing mill came into use. Of this mill Mr. Croil says: "It was one of the
American eight-horse power threshers without any separator whatever, the
whole power was expended in turning the cylinder of two feet diameter at
an enormous velocity of 1,500 revolutions per minute. It literally devoured


the sheaves, required ten or twelve hands to attend it, and left the barn in
state of confusion." According to the same authority the first tread mill in
Dundas appeared about 1840 It was worked by one horse and at the primary
trial a sort of John Gilpin episode was enacted. The belt escaped from the
wheel and away went the steed. The men frightened by the tremendous
rattling of the machinery left the barn. Meanwhile the speed of the horse
was increasing until finally the moorings gave way and a hasty departure
followed. According to Mr. Croil there were two hundred threshing mills in
Dundas in the year 1859; these were manufactured chiefly by Paige &
Johnston, of Montreal. Tread mills, some driven by two and others by three
horses, are to-day chiefly used. An occasional steam thresher is found in
operation, but their number in Dundas is not legion.

Although the first settlers arrived in 1784,yet their spirit of conquest was
so evident that viewing the district about 1825 well cleared and well cultivated
farms skirted the St. Lawrence, a good type of buildings were exhibited, while
the back concessions of Matilda and Williamsburg showed the fruits of manly
and persevering effort. Some circumstances then and later had possibly a
reverse effect. The lumber and timber business was to some extent encour-
aged and that industry did not promote the agricultural interests. The
timber season included the winter and spring months. As a rule those who
engaged in that sort of life found it fascinating, especially during the rafting
season. Many of our early farmers made considerable money in this way,
while others paid well for their experiences.

The earlier part of the previous century presents a legion of contrasts. The
stock of cattle then kept was not large; milk was manufactured into butter
which brought a small price. The cattle possessed great freedom as they
roamed through the forest, and ate the various varieties of plant life, among
which was the leek, its odoriferous constituents tainting the milk and
butter. It was customary to attach a bell to the leader of each herd of cattle.
Often the youth of the home in his search for the cows became estranged,
possibly like the Indian, who, terrorized by being lost in the woods, shouted,
"No Injun here; wigwam lost."

The progress of agricultural evolution was indeed gradual. Oxen were in
time replaced by horses. The old triangular wooden drag still tried to con-
ceal its demerits, but the country blacksmiths began to vie with one another
as to who could turn out the best harrow. Better vehicles were soon secured;
buggies were yet to come ; but a comfortable wagon with its erstwhile
spring-pole seat was considered good enough.

Breaking away from of these old associations and passing onward
through the vista of succeeding years we arrive at the conditions of to-day.


In this march the various points of contrast are too numerous to dwell upon.
The old fashioned plough and the primitive cultivators have vanished, while
the best grades of sulky ploughs and other improved forms of machinery now
govern the tillage of our lands. No longer does the sower go forth with basket
in hand to scatter the seed, but for that purpose excellent machines, both
broadcast and drill, are employed. Steel has taken the place of iron in the
manufacture of implements, thus rendering them lighter and stronger. Hand
tools including spades, shovels, hoes and forks, are not so extensively used.
First class mowers, reapers and binders are at the disposal of nearly every
farmer. The binder is annually growing in favor through every section of
Dundas. The introduction of improved breeds of stock has interested many
of our leading farmers. Mr. Croil states that a precedent in this regard was
established by Jesse W. Rose, a parliamentary representative in the early

About the farm an air of prosperity and contentment prevails. Excellent
residences with modern conveniences; fine roomy, well constructed barns and
outbuildings are characteristic of our rural settlements. For many years the
almost universal sale of grain and hay had a tendency to impoverish the soil,
but the great dairying industry of to-day is putting back in the soil the
essential constituents, while the cheese and butter factories are conveniently
distributed in the interest of the farmer. The system is superb. While the
farmer's bank account increases the soil of his farm grows richer.

Closely allied to the interests of the farm was the early introduction of
agricultural societies. Mr. Croil tells us that as early as 1830 a society was
established in our county. One Bartholomew Tench, a Matilda merchant,
seems to have been instrumental in its organization. The first president was
Peter Shaver, the first secretary -treasurer John Flagg. In 1852 it was decided
to do away with the smaller societies and form one grand society for the whole
Eastern District. The first exhibition under the new arrangement was held
at Cornwall in October of that year, with Hon. Philip Vankonghnet, president.

The Dundas County Electoral District Agricultural Society was re-organ-
ized in February, 1853, with Jacob Brouse, president. Since then the Society
has continued to exist with varying success. No records of the early fairs
have been kept intact but for some years the place of exhibition was at Maria-
town, in a field of Jacob Hanes*. The site at Morrisburg was subsequently
chosen. A. G. Macdonell was secretary-treasurer for a number of years
previous to 1880; John H. Munroe served one year, his successor being George
Dillon, who continued in office until 1895, when George F. Bradfield,

Online LibraryJ. Smyth CarterThe story of Dundas, being a history of the County of Dundas from 1784 to 1904 → online text (page 5 of 40)