Reminiscences of North Sydenham
Chapter IV — The First Settlement


When our memories turn backward and pass in silent review the events of the last eighty-five years we find it at times almost impossible to conceive of the changes that have in that time occurred in Grey County. It seems hard to credit the fact that in the year Queen Victoria ascended the throne, not a tree, so far as is known, had been felled in Sydenham township. Eighty-five years, while a long life is not an extraordinarily long one. Yet such a life would cover in its span all the changes we have seen and heard of and known in the history of Sydenham.

Of course our expansion, owing to our geographical position, has not been remarkable. Chicago, which was then to all intents a frontier town of about thirty-five hundred souls, was in 1887 incorporated as a city. It is now mounting steadily to the three million mark. Sydney and Buenos Ayres, the largest modern cities under the South era Cross, have become so in the last fifty years. But we do not live in Chicago and are only mildly interested in Sydney and Buenos Ayres. It is the changes in our immediate surroundings and with which we daily come in contact, that grip our attention. Distance does not lend enchantment to the view, in this respect at least.

It was in 1840 that John Telfer, an extraordinary and even remarkable man, was authorized by W. B. Sullivan, of the Crown Lands Department in Montreal, to proceed to the head of Owen Sound (which is properly speaking not a sound and should never have been named so) via the line of the Garafraxa road and there assume the duties of Crown Lands Agent, for the district about to be thrown ©pen for settlement. The letter in which Mr. Telfer is apprised of his appointment and given instructions as to his duties is a formidable looking document, bears the seals of the Department and is bound in colored ribbon. The margins are almost as large as the space given to writing, almost every sentence is paragraphed by itself and the lines are fully one half inch apart. The time is coming when it will be regarded as an important historical paper in the annals of Grey County, if it is not so already. As it outlines clearly the plan upon which the whole country contiguous to Owen Sound was settled and the duties imposed upon homesteaders, beside throwing many interesting side-lights upon the coming of the first white settler, and as the Garafraxa was the road by which practically all the first pioneers came to North Sydenham, it has been deemed appropriate to append it in full. The communication follows :

Crown Lands Office, Montreal Sept. 25th, 1840

To Mr. John Telfer

Sir :

I have the honor to inform you, that His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor has been pleased to direct the opening of a main road from the Township of Garafraxa to the head of Owen Sound, upon Lake Huron.

It is proposed by the Government to place an agent at the Settlement at the northern end of the road and one at the southern end near the Township of Garafraxa.

You have been selected for the superintendence of the northern settlement, and as I have signified this to you personally and have received your verbal acceptance of the office, it becomes my duty to detail to you the views of the Government and the (duties you will be expected to perform.

In the first place I have to refer you to an extract of a report made by Mr. H. I. Jones in an inspection of the Portage road from Coldwater to Machadach Bay, arid I would observe that as the northern end of the main road about to be opened can at present be approached by settlers only from the water, it is of consequence that the portage road should be placed in a state of repair as far as the season of the year and the limited means at my disposal will permit. You will therefore peruse the report of Mr. Jones and contract with some person or persons near the road to do such part of the work as can be accomplished this year, reporting to me immediately the particulars of the contract for my approval and sanction.

The contract price will be paid by me upon your requisition and certificate that you have inspected the work and that it has been performed according to the contract and I would have you keep within the expenditure recommended by Mr .Jones.

When you have placed the work on the portage roa'd in progress you will proceed forthwith to the head of Owen Sound, when you will meet with Deputy Provincial Surveyor Rankin, at present employed in surveying land along the line of road and who is authorized to make out the plan of a town-plot at the head of the Bay. You will select a place for a building for a place in which you will reside and immediately cause the same to be erected. It should be large enough for your residence, for stores of supplies and a temporary shelter to settlers and workmen until they shall have erected shanties for themselves which you will of course see done as soon as possible. .

It has been suggested to me that the most comfortable and convenient shape for the log building you are required to erect will be two apartments of twenty feet square and placed within about ten feet of one another. The space between being covered and the doors opening into the passage thus formed, which passage will answer as a place of storage for many articles not liable to be made away with.

If the building should be found too small it will be easy to add to it by the erection of more apartments upon the same plan, having a continuation of the passage between them.

I have further to inform you that it is the intention of the Government to open the road along the line surveyed by Provincial Surveyor Rankin, whom you will find on the ground and who will give you any information as to the direction of the road.

The kind of road to be laid out may be described as follows :

That is to say it will be 66 feet in width.
The trees in the centre to the width of 22 feet to be chopped level with the ground.
At the sides, 22 feet in width each, the trees to be cut at the ordinary height.
The trees not to be felled out of the road, or if so felled, to be drawn in.
The trees cut down to be logged and burned in the sides of the road.

The price to be paid for opening the road, under ordinary circumstances, when on the one hand there is no natural prairie or lightly timbered land and on the other when no causewaying or bridging or levelling is required will be at the rate of thirty-two pounds ten shillings per mile.

The parts of the road which form exceptions to this rule you will make special contracts for, reporting the same to me.

Money will be paid to contractors at this office upon your transmission of the contracts with your certificate that the work has been inspected by you and found to be duly performed according to contract.

During the winter you will get out timber for a sawmill and gristmill to be erected in such a position near the head of the Sound as may be selected for the purpose by Mr. Rankin. As it is not improbable but that some private individual may choose to erect mills at his own expense and as I am desirous to economize the funds placed in my hands to the extent of my power I am desirous to postpone this wish until as late a period as will be consistent with proceeding with the erection of the mills in the spring.

I am further to inform you that it is the intention of the Government to locate upon free grants of land to the extent of fifty acres each such heads of families or single men, who have heretofore received no grants of land from the Government as may be willing to accept the same upon the strict terms proposed and who may appear capable of undertaking the settlement and of carrying it through successfully.

Many of the settlers will probably apply at this office for authority to be located. To those whom I shall approve of I shall give authority addressed to you and you will place them upon land as you shall be directed.

When any of them shall apply to you, you will enter the application in the form annexed to these instructions, showing the age of the applicant, his place of birth, his length of residence, the number of his family and his pecuniary means if he has any. You will keep an entry in a book of such applications and transmit to me slips copied from the book, upon which you will receive authority for making the location.

You will particularly explain to the locators that they are not to expect assistance from the Government and recommend them not to locate unless they can from their own resources maintain themselves and their families until crops can be raised from the land.

Upon the approval of the survey to be made by Mr. Rankin I shall furnish you with maps and the lots reserved will be open for sale or location, you keeping in view that closeness of settlement is the object of the Government and that detached locations cannot be allowed.

As regards sales of land I shall in due season furnish >ou with separate instructions.

In contracting for the opening of the road you will prefer such persons as shall engage to take land in the whole or in part for the work to be performed, on condition of actual settlement.

You will furnish yourself with a supply of provisions, sufficient for the winter. That is to say, one hundred barrels of flour and fifty barrels of pork, also with axes, spades and other necessary implements. These you will distribute in payment for work upon the roads, or for money at such rates as will cover the cost, transport and wastage. You will make out a regular monthly report of your proceedings and transmit the sums to me as opportunity shall offer, and when you are in doubt as to your proceedings you will apply to me for directions.

You will explain to all applicants for locations that if it shall be discovered that any person has before received a grant of land from the Crown his location shall be considered void and that this point will be strictly investigated upon return of the locations.

The conditions upon which the applicants shall be located will be as follows: 1st; The locater is to reside upon his location; 2nd, If he wishes to be absent for any time he is to apply to you stating his desire, the occasion and the intended length of his absence and you will give him leave if the occasion be legitimate and proper; 3rd, If any locater shall abandon his lot without leave or shall fail to return to it in due season the lot is to be considered vacant; 4th, No patent will be issued for any located lot until one third of the land shall be cleared and under crop; 5th, The time given for this clearing will be four years from the date of the location after which time if the clearing be not made the location will be considered forfeited.

You will furnish strict accounts in duplicate with duplicate vouchers for your expenditure, in money or otherwise, and you will furnish your requisitions, contracts and other documents in duplicate.

Your remuneration will be at the rate of ten shillings per diem while employed and you will be allowed from the provisions in your custody two pounds of flour and two pounds of pork per diem.

In consequence of the road varying from a right line and of the base line being straight some of the first lots will slightly vary in quantity but locaters must understand that the lot granted is in satisfaction of a location more or less, and if you find lots greatly to exceed or be under the quantity of fifty acres you will reserve them for sale.

As the road is completed you will cause grass seed to be sown upon it and make a charge for the expenditure.

I have the honor to be, Sir

Your most ob’t Servant

W. B. SULLIVAN.

The first thing that will strike the reader’s mind will in all probability be that for a man who was paid the modest sum of ten shillings a day Mr. Telfer was given wide discretionary powers in his new office. He is ordered to report regularly to headquarters in certain matters. But in all minor questions, and some of them not so minor, his word was law among the homesteaders. He was never backward in enforcing his authority among them and the five or six years following his arrival at Owen Sound were about the most strenuous in his adventurous life. Vexatious discussion was constantly arising among settlers who thought they had not been given a square deal. Mr. Telfer was one of the most roundly abused men in Canada, but lie was not a sensitive man and rather enjoyed a fight. His battles with the world had taught him a system of attack all his own and almost always he gave a little better than he got. With his activities at Owen Sound we are not concerned however. Six years after his arrival there, or in 1846, he moved down to Leith and with his coming commences the history of the village. It took its name, of course, from the seaport of Auld Reekie, from the vicinity of which many of the new settlers were coming, if not from Edinburgh itself. The name of the village and Mr. Telfer’s intention of coming to it eventually seem to have been in the mind of that gentleman from the time of his first arrival at Owen Sound. Had he ha/d his way Owen Sound would have been given the name of Edinburgh, but local pride and the customs of a new land were too strong for him and his wishes were ignored. Had the Athens of the North found its original site at the very head of the Frith of Forth, the analogy in the sense of relative geographical position between the two Scottish cities and their would-be prototypes in Canada would have been striking and complete.

When Mr. Telfer moved in, the site of the village-to-be was still in its natural state. What induced him to come in is not clearly apparent. There was no natural harbor and it was not until thirteen or fourteen years later the first dock was built. But it is surprising, when looking through the newspapers arid legal documents of the time, to notice the importance the early settlers attached to water power. There was little use of growing wheat unless they had mills to grind flour out of it. A harbor could not have been made at Leith without vast expenditures for dredging, docking and a breakwater, and the steady lowering of the lake levels since the early sixties would have made such expenditures endless. The first engines made in Galt were built in 1844 by the Crombie firm and these would have been available; seeing so much free fuel was to be had everywhere one sometimes wonders why they were not utilized but the pioneers never bought them when a stream could be dammed and the water power used instead. The stream at Leith was at that time a large one. It entered the bay at a point just south of where the dock was afterwards built and was known as the Water o’ Leith. There was a good water privilege back from the bay a short distance and here Mr. Telfer immediately erected a grist and flour mill. It was at first only about half its subsequent size, had two run of stones and was substantially built as one may see upon examination, for it is still standing. The dam, however, gave a great deal of trouble at first. It persisted in leaking, but this was in time overcome. A Mr. Fairbairn was given the contract of building it and many of the first settlers in the village found their first employment there in its construction. No record of the price survives but it must have been insignificant when compared with building costs to-day. It was a time when men did business on very little capital,—on a shoestring, as we say nowadays. Wages were low where they paid at all; a man’s stout arms and an ability and willingness to use them were his best assets.

What was known as the Mill House was shortly afterwards built, about twenty-five yards north of the mill. It is now the same as though it had never been, having been razed about fifty years ago. Here, about 1850, the first store keeper kept his stock in trade,—a gentleman named Wylie.

The town plot of Leith was surveyed in 1851 by William Smith, Deputy Provincial Surveyor. The old men were seeing visions and the young men dreaming dreams of a future metropolis and the streets were given euphonius and historic names by Mr. Telfer. Those running northeast and southwest, commencing at the waterfront, were named respectively: Huron, Buchanan, Princes, Queen, John, and Brant. The Leith Walk ran southeast from the waterfront, starting from the future dock and merging into the road to Annan. The remaining streets running in the same direction and on the northeast side of the Walk were named; Market, Wallace, Thistle, Bruce and Moore. Princes Street was named for the classic throughfare in Scotland’s metropolis, Wallace and Bruce streets for her national patriots, Thistle street for her national emblem, Moore street for the Irish poet, Brant for the great Indian chief of that name, and so on. A large space on the northwest side of Princes street and between Wallace and Thistle was reserved for a market place but never functioned as such. Forty years ago it was a huge gravel pit and is now covered with the quick-growing cedar.

In 1853 Mr. Wylie erected a store at the corner of Princes street and Leith Walk, with a storehouse at the rear but separated from it by a short distance. The intervening space was filled by a residence erected for him there in the early spring of 1854 by Messrs James and Allan Ross, both of whom had worked on the construction of the Owen Sound jail the previous year. These two also helped in the erection of the Leith distillery, referred to later. Late in 1854 they also built a large two storey frame residence and store directly opposite Mr. Wylie’s buildings for Peter Marshall. This latter site is now covered by the residence of Oliver Cameron. The Ross brothers also built frame houses for Robert Grierson, Henry Taylor and John Turnbull. The last named house went up in smoke one day a few years ago ; the Grierson residence was bricked over and is now occupied by Mr. Couper and Henry Taylor’s house was sold soon after its erection to Peter Burr arid is still occupied by his son, W. N. Burr.

In May, 1855 James Ross, Sr., and his sons James and Allan formed a partnership under the firm name of James Ross and Sons, and rented the Marshall store for two and one-half years. They carried on a general store business there until late in 1857, when they bought out Mr. Wylie and moved across the street. Here they continued in business until 1875 and their trade must have been a considerable one. In one year in the early seventies they sold over one thousand dollars’ worth of tobacco and if they sold other goods in proportion, it is evident their turnover was considerable.

Both these store buildings were later destroyed by fire. The Marshall building made a merry blaze one night in the late summer of 1880, while it was standing empty. Some people were uncharitable enough to think it did not take fire accidentally. It was a large high building, big enough for a small boy to get lost in, as one of them who still survives can testify. The Wylie store and residence was burned one day in April, 1888, while occupied by David Ross, and with it were burned many records that would have been useful in such a work as the present one. Fortunately some of them were saved. Its site is now occupied by the place of worship of the Baptist congregation in Leith.

The first “institution” known as a tavern was erected (about one hundred and fifty yards northeast of the mill, on the Leith Walk, on the left hand side of the road while going to Annan. The exact date has been lost in the mists of time. It was a large building for the time and was built so well and withstood the ravages of the years so successfully it is still standing. One of its early features was a large bar in the front facing the Leith Walk, with a storage room for beer. This bar sometimes presented scenes of the most animated activity, scenes that would have pained the heart of the prohibitionist, with men busy on both sides of it. The present occupant of this building is Mr. Charles Kemp, who came to the village in 1891 and assumed charge of the mill. He ground the last grist there in the late summer of 1921 and the machinery that had rumbled for seventy-five years was at last silent. The building was dismantled, the machinery taken out and sold and the old mill still stands as a relic to remind us of its former glory and the very earliest days of the village, when the hearts of the pioneers beat high with the hope it would yet be a city. Mr. Kemp’s regime had extended a little over thirty years and a more faithful or trustworthy miller never served a community in such a capacity.

Just east of this, the first hotel in the village, and distant about thirty yards from it stood another large one storey log tavern, first built for and occupied by William Glen. It was a rambling affair but very commodious. Mr. Glen was among the earliest settlers and while in middle life succeeded to a large estate in Dumfries-shire and the title of Glen-Airston. His heirs still own this site and a large lot adjoining, and from the manner real estate values have, since the outbreak of the Great War, been jumping in Leith it may yet be well worth owning. The hotel was torn down about forty years ago to provide fuel for a brick kiln. So was its large stable, also of homely log construction, which stood directly opposite it on Princes street, and for the same purpose. A few yards directly southwest on the same street stands a small log building, occupied until thirty-four years ago by the Misses Easton. It then stood empty for twenty-five years, when it was sold for seventy-five dollars and renovated into a summer cottage called Blarney Castle. It as built in 1857 from cedar logs cut on the lot on which it stands. Today it would probably bring twelve times seventy-five dollars. The destiny of this building and of the log one alongside it remind one of their counterpart in Scripture where two men reaped in the same field. The one was taken and the other left. Want of fuel sacrificed one and high building costs saved the other.

Immediately adjoining the Water o’ Leith on the opposite side from the Leith Walk and fronting on the Bay Shore Road is a large tract of land which was not included in the original town plot. The soil is almost pure sand and some large pines once grew here. Until about thirty-five years ago it was the scene of all the athletic sports of the village and was used frequently for a picnic ground. A prettier spot for such events could hardly be found but latterly it has been turned into a golf course. Time out of mind it has been known as the Old Distillery Field ; it is probably about fifteen acres in extent. Here, in the seventies and eighties, were played all the cricket matches, when the game flourished in Leith. The annual excursions of Owen Sound’s combined Sunday Schools were also accommodated within its bounds in monster picnics that were the big events of the year. The last one of these came in 1885.

In the south corner of this field, a distillery was built “in the early days,” which will sound like a vaguely indefinite period. But the evidence as to the exact date of its erection has been so contradictory and confusing that no positive opinion on that point is ventured. As far as can be ascertained however, it was between 1854 and 1858. After our experience in trying to find out the exact time we are not surprised that two creditable witnesses will go into the witness box and each swear solemnly and conscientiously to facts, as he believes them, that flatly contradict one another. With the strange perversity of human nature we pass up recent events as not worth remembering until they have conceded into the dim and misty past and then, when they are all but forgotten, we raise heaven and earth to find out what really happened at such and such a time. Nor does it appear who it was built for. William Wye Smith, an early historian of the county, says it was built for James Wilson of Galt, but this has been disproved. Nobody was keeping track of current events at the time, probably because they never imagined for a moment these local events would ever be of historical interest. They were all engrossed in the all-absorbing task of making a living and getting ahead in the world, as we are today. We are not so very much 'different, in many respects, from the people of seventy years ago after all.

Sometimes great movements and great events have their origin in trifling incidents which everyone overlooks at the time these incidents happen. It is perhaps as well we are not eternally oppressed with a sense of responsibility for our slightest action.

Benjamin Franklin, while he was yet a printer and at some time before the American Revolution kept a small ledger of his personal expenses, which in some way became lost. He made diligent search for it himself and failed to find it. It was known after he died this book was lost, and search was made for it by relic hunters at different periods until last year, when by the merest chance it was discovered in a garret in Boston. It immediately sold for twelve thousand dollars.

The two leading papers in Auckland, N. Z., now a city of one hundred and seventy thousand, in 1923 celebrated their sixtieth anniversaries, one within six weeks of the other. They published splendid anniversary numbers, both of which it was our good fortune to have mailed us. These are mainly historical retrospects of the city and environs, from its founding until the present day. When it came to a narration of events in the forties and fifties of last century, of buildings that were built only to be destroyed by various means and business men who flourished at that time, in short, events of purely local interest, these two great papers had to depend almost entirely upon the memory of an aged lady, a Mrs. Hope, who still survives there.

These two incidents are cited as a comment upon the mutability of human affairs and the difficulties encountered by the relic hunter and the historian when they start delving into the past to unearth its secrets or treasures.

The main fact about this distillery then, was that it was built, even if the building date has been lost. It was a large two storey wooden building, on the Water o’ Leith strangely enough, as an engine furnished the motive power. It was of the old vertical frame, butterfly value type, built by the Crombie firm in Galt. The new equipment was all first class for the time and the whiskey turned out by the new industry was also first class, if we may accept the testimony of people who should have been connoisseurs in that respect. Extensive cattle sheds and hog pens were added as outbuildings and here the mash, after it had been thoroughly drained, was used to fatten the stock. Sometimes the head distiller, a man called Sibbald, had fits of aberration however, and it was fed to the steers and hogs with startling and spectacular results. A drunken hog, according to some of those who witnessed the consequences of these lapses of memory, is the most comical sight in the world, almost as comical as the sight of a human hog who deliberate^ drinks himself into a state of beastly insensibility is loathsome.

The second distiller was a Mr. Rochester, who was in charge several years. However, the distillery, which seems to have been the only one at the time in this part of Grey County, was short lived. According to W. W. Smith, it was closed in 1865 and had been for a year or so. It was demolished shortly after that date and no sign of it remains. The whiskey manufactured there retailed at Leith and Owen Sound at from forty to sixty cents a gallon. Henry Baker had an agency in Owen Sound, where the demand for it was brisk. It was in great demand at bam raisings and other like events. The fanner who refused to furnish whiskey for his bam raising was esteemed a tightwad. A pailful was placed on a piece of squared timber at a raising and every one drank ad libitum. It must have been good liquor for one recoils at the thought of what would happen were the same procedure followed today with the vile concoctions called whiskey.

As illustrating the quality of “pure Leith whiskey” the following true story was given us quite recently by an old lady, now in her eightieth year. When about fifteen years of age she was sent down from Annan, with a companion about the same age, by a farmer who was raising a bam, for a pail of stimulant for the occasion. The road from Leith to Annan was at that time only a path through the woods; the day was rather warm and the shade pleasant. They reached the distillery, filled the pail and started homeward. When about half way to Annan they bethought themselves of trying the liquor to see what it tasted like. They found the taste sharp, but not unpleasing and each took a little drink. This was followed a few minutes later by one a little larger. No more was partaken of but the young ladies experienced a delightful exhilaration, followed by a dreamy languor. A little later one of them suggested that they take a rest in the shade. They lay down and in a minute both were fast asleep. When they awakened they felt no bad effects of their nap and it was not until years later that the truth dawned upon them, they had been hopelessly drunk. Mrs. C- told this story with a hearty gusto as a joke on herself.

In 1858, Allan Ross built a mill for his father, James 1 Ross, Sr., on what was known on the first maps as Keefer’s Creek, half a mile northeast of Leith. This mill was built for a woolen mill but never operated as such. The machinery was bought from a mill on the same stream, about three quarters of a mile east of Annan and built for John Wilson. After installing this machinery, the owners changed their minds, bought five thousand logs in Sarawak and made plans to operate a saw mill. This idea was in turn abandoned and at last oatmeal machinery was set in place and the mill commenced grinding. Allan Ross, having built the mill, was made head miller by his father arid ground oatmeal successfully for eleven years. The frequent change in plans was due to faulty engineering in the dam. A huge overshot wheel was first put in position, but it was found to be so big there was almost no head of water on it. This was taken out and a pit dug at the foot of the flume, a turbine wheel was placed there and everything worked satisfactorily. Oatmeal was shipped to all parts of Ontario, to New York, and some consignments were even sent to Edinburgh. This latter, however, seems like carrying coals to Newcastle. The stream commenced drying up in the summer months and in the early seventies the mill was shut down for goo>d. The machinery was removed thirty-five ^ago and in 1902 the mill was torn down. Its site is now occupied by a honey extracting plant owned by Mr. Frank Showell.

There was no dock at Leith until shortly before 1860, but soon after Mr. Telfer came some piles were driven close to shore near the mouth of the Water o’ Leith. A landing-place was made on this and a large batteau built, which was rowed out to the small steamships that occasionally called and took off the passengers. The MacNeil family, coming in 1855 from the eastern end of Ontario, were landed in this manner. They came on the steamer Kaloolah. We were told by one of the sons in this family, that the first money he ever earned was in unloading lumber at Leith for James Ross, Sr. The schooner on which this lumber was loaded approached as near the shore as her draught would permit, there being no dock to tie up to, and the lumber was thrown overboard to float ashore. All trace of the piling which marked the site of the first landing place has completely disappeared, although diligent search has been made for it in recent years.

One most unusual fact about the village may be noticed here. From the days when the first pioneers set foot in it until the present moment, there has not been a solitary case of drowning, either there or in the immediate vicinity. There have been narrow escapes but the victims always managed to elude the jaws of the trap. Considering that it was bounded on one side by the bay and on the other by what was once a deep stream and mill dam, in both of which the opportunities were never wanting, the record seems remarkable indeed.

By an oversight we have omitted mentioning in its proper place the building of a large tannery on Keefer’s Creek, by James Ross, Sr., a few yards west of the oatmeal mill previously spoken of. He had designs of making a tanner of his son John, but that young man had plans of his own and, in 1867, he joined a large party of Canadian emigrants who set out from Galt, with New Zealand as their objective. His brother Andrew was also of this party, most of whom pioneered in the Waikaito district, North Island, and became prosperous farmers there. The new tannery was never operated and now not a trace of it remains.

Some years after the opening of the Ross store, on Princes Street, and the building of the first dock, this firm built a large storehouse for grain just northeast of their place of business, on the site now covered by the large driving shed owned by the Baptist congregation. A great deal of grain was handled here, the queue of wagons waiting to unload often extending far down the street, but about fifteen years after its erection the building was jacked up and moved down to the waterfront to a new site just east of the dock. Standing beside it, but nearer the dock was another smaller storehouse owned by Adam Ainslie. Both buildings had the hewed barn frame which was the vogue when they were built. The first was torn down about thirty years ago and the second in 1915. Across the road from these on the Leith Walk was a large hay shed which has long disappeared also.

From the above it will be inferred that the grain trade at Leith must have reached considerable proportions. There was no port of call on the east shore nearer than Meaford, so the little village had a large territory to draw from in the shipment of grain. As many as three schooners lay at the dock at one time waiting for their grain cargoes. Much of this was taken in part or whole payment of farmers’ store bills at the Leith and Annan stores of the Ross firm. No figures are available of the yearly shipments. Prices were low and currency scarce and this grain trade was virtually carried on by barter.

The first hotel keeper in the village was James Burr, who was mine host in the public house built on the Leith Walk, referred to above. Mr. Burr came up from Elora shortly after Mr. Telfer came to his new possession, but soon changed his occupation to farming and settled on the farm on Concession A. later owned by Donald Cameron. The first white child born in Leith was of the feminine gender; she still lives in Owen Sound, but information on this point is so vague that nothing further in regard to it is ventured and the reader may take what has been given for what it is worth. Peter Burr came in 1855, and for a few months that year shared his house with the Reverend Robert Dewar. He erected a blacksmith shop beside his house and this building still stands. He was a first class blacksmith and soon gathered a flourishing trade.

The cooper’s trade must have been a flourishing one also about this time and later, for in the early years of the village there were no less than three of them there. The first one, and one of the very first settlers in the village, was Robert Vail. The Vails can rightfully claim to be the oldest family in what are now St. Vincent and Sydenham townships. The head of the family came from Toronto, and was said to be a well educated man and engaged in the newspaper business on the small scale then prevailing. He settled, or rather camped, at the point that yet bears his name and must have led what was truly a life in the wilderness, as there is evidence that he was in that neighborhood in 1825, or fifteen years before Owen Sound saw its first settler. He claimed that he had trapped up what was afterwards the Sydenham River as well as the Water o’ Leith in the winter of 1825-26. This story has, of course, never been verified but that he followed trap lines through these then unbroken wilds nearly one hundred years ago seems to be an established fact. He seems to have been the type of man for whom the wilderness and its dangers had a sort of stern fascination and probably he enjoyed life as much or more than some of us who pride ourselves upon our ultra-refined civilization.

Another cooper was a Mr. S-who was a good mechanic and would have prospered, had not domestic infelicity broken up his home. He built a roughcast house in tha village and some time afterwards became hopelessly deranged. The house is still standing, but has long been deserted. Still another cooper was John Mitchell, whose business was much the largest of the three. These coopers catered to local custom only and made fish kegs, butter tubs, barrels,-in short anything with staves in it that the farmers wanted. They were all-round mechanics and made the finished article from the trees felled, sawed into stave lengths and split by themselves. The factory operative of today would be as helpless as a baby were he confronted with such a job. “Min was min in thim days” as the Irishman said.

All the houses built at that time had hand split lath and shingles. A man would go out into a promising tract of cedar in a swamp, run up a little shanty and start shingle making on his own. There was no question as to his getting all the patronage in the home market, because it was impossible to buy anywhere else. Our shippers complain loudly today of excessive freight rates. How would they like it if the railroads were suddenly wiped out of existence? Our freight rates are, on the average, considerably lower than in the United States, but the cost of living is higher than there-in other words the purchasing power of the dollar is lower. But if the railroads were destroyed to-morrow we would be in no worse plight than Canadians of 1850 were, when there were only sixty-six miles of track in the whole of Canada. And after the first shock of inconvenience had passed we would begin to learn the lesson that people can get along with little above the barest necessities when they are compelled to. Scripture to the contrary notwithstanding, we shall persist in the belief that a man’s happiness consists in the abundance of goods he possesseth. Somehow we all have the secret belief that is is a mark of inferiority and degradation if we cannot “keep up with the Joneses.”

It’s no in titles nor in rank;
It’s no in wealth like London bank,
To purchase peace and rest;
It’s no in making muckle mair;
It’s no in books, it’s no in lear,
To mak us truly blest;
If happiness hae not her seat
And centre in the breast
We may be wise, or rich, or great,
But never can be blest:
Nae treasurers nor pleasures
Could make us happy lang;
The heart aye’s the part aye
That makes us right or wrang.

This same spirit of keeping up with the Joneses has possibly caused more heart burning1, jealousy and misery of mind than all other human passions combined. It pervades all classes of society from the highest to the lowest and the few that are exempt from it are of all men to be most envied. Perhaps it is part of the price we pay for what we call modern progress. For all the comforts, conveniences, inventions and discoveries that have made present-day life so seemingly easy we may be sure that Nature, if not one way then in another, exacts her price. We have it on a very high authority, the Declaration of Independence of the American Colonies no less, that the pursuit of happiness is among the inalienable rights of man. The pursuit, mark you-not the gaining of it, for it is to be doubted if any man was ever truly and entirely happy, at least for any length of time. It was never intended, in the divine scheme of things, that one generation of men should be happier than another and they never are. These people who flourished in Sydenham sixty and seventy years ago, for one thing, knew nothing of what we call the spirit of unrest then. There is a good deal of truth in the homely old saying that what we do not know will never hurt us. If they lacked the one thousand conveniences and comforts that modern progress has bestowed upon us, they also lacked many ills of flesh and of the mind these same things have brought in their train. One hundred years from now the people will wonder how we ever managed to exist on the earth, just as we wonder how the people of eighty years ago ever got along. They managed to get along all right and to extract as much happiness from life as was possible under the circumstances. Are we doing any more ? And in some respects their civilization was more advanced than ours. When their armies went to war they fought with some show at least of chivalry. They did not kill their enemies wholesale by means of poison gas, or starve whole populations by means of an infamous blockade. They did not gather in the great cities by tens of thousands and pay five hundred thousand dollars to two low browed human brutes for pounding one another into insensibility, or at least attempting to. Maybe you will say they did not do these things because they did not know how. Well, we have learned how and are we any the happier for it? “He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.” The question as to whether the pioneers in their day were happier than we are now has always seemed to us a useless and meaningless one. If the debit and credit sides were struck and an average taken it would be found they were as happy as we are, but no more so. The secret of happiness lies in every man’s own heart if he only knows how to hunt for and find it.

One of the early shingle makers was a character known as Doctor Scott. He came into the settlement with the first pioneers and it was at once recognized that his early training and education had been of the highest order. Nobody knew if he had ever held a doctor’s degree; he certainly never practised medicine in the neighborhood. He was a “down and outer” and owed his descent to liquor. When sober he had the easy, genial courtesy and well bred dignity of a gentleman to the manor born. When drunk he was a raging fiend who would even descend to wife beating, and as he was a large powerful man nobody cared to cross him while in his cups. When he first came to the locality he made shingles down near Squaw Point and back from the bay a short distance. The shingles he carried down to the landing at Butch art’s sawmill, on his back. As he was chronically destitute, Thomas Rutherford gave him space at the back of his farm on which to build a shack, and by many other acts of kindness strove to wean him from his evil ways. It was no use, however. He suffered a paralytic stroke as the result of a violent debauch and was found by Mrs. Rutherford lying across the floor of his shack all alone, his wife having left him. He died a few days later.

It was such cases that gave a great impetus to the movement for temperance reform.

The above mentioned sawmill was built by David Butchart just east of Squaw Point, some time in the early fifties, possibly even earlier. An engine supplied the power. The logs all came in by water and the lumber left the same way as there were no land roads to the mill. Mr. Butchart was a man of considerable enterprise as he also conducted a cheese factory on his farm. Both buildings have long since been torn down, although the ruins of the sawmill’s foundation are still visible. Mr. Butchart had fourteen of a family ; they moved to Manitoba in 1879 when the west was beginning to open up.

Another character in the village’s early history was an Englishman called William S-. William was a large man with a large family and he had an appetite that gained for him a sort of gentle notoriety. It could not justly be described as fairy-like. He seemed to be very susceptible to changes in temperature and on a cold winter morning when going out to cut wood was wont to don about four or five shirts to stave off the momentary discomfort of the frosty air. As the forenoon progressed and the fires of internal combustion steadily mounted under the stress of exercise, these shirts were one by one discarded, until at last only an undershirt covered his torso and the space immediately surrounding him looked like a Monday morning’s washing.

One Easter Sunday, William attended Divine Service, just after having partaken more generously than wisely of a homely food which from time immemorial has been popular at Eastertide. He was observed to be in a somnolent state even before the opening psalm. Five minutes after the service started he had the Seven Sleepers backed off the boards and was a thousand miles deep in a sea of slumber. Luckily he did not snore. Everyone looked for him to waken at the end of the sermon. Not so, however. A prayer followed the sermon, the closing psalm was sung, with some extra volume thrown in for the benefit of the sleeper who by this time was the cynosure of all eyes, and the benediction was pronounced. The soporific still had him in its power and it was only when Walter MacNeil walked over and shook him violently by the shoulder that reason ascended again her sleep-shattered throne and the dreamer swam slowly back fnto consciousness.

“It was the eggs,” said William, and everybody believed him. It is curious how such little incidents stick in the minds of people who witness them, trivial though they may be, and the amusement they get out of them in after years.

Turning now to Annan we find that in 1850 the only building then standing there was the log schoolhouse, to which extended reference has been made elsewhere. It stood on the southwest corner of the school lot and has been described by an old pupil as a large log building which in winter time seemed impossible to keep warm for some reason or another. There are no dates available in connection with the buildings that were afterwards erected. The generation of men in the building trades who built them have passed on and those who remember their building could almost be counted on one’s ten fingers and thumbs and their memory is the only guide to be relied upon in the matter. The second building, accepting this as an authority, that rose in the clearing at “the Corner” was a large two storey rough cast double house that stood directly opposite the school on the road leading to Leith but facing on the Lake Shore Line. It had the hewed barn frame common to the period and was substantially built. Two gentlemen, Vanwyck and McKinnon, here kept the first store in Annan, handling everything that could

be exchanged in the neighborhood for money or some of the lighter kinds of the farmer’s produce. In that part of the house next the road to Leith Mr. Vanwyck first kept hotel in the village. The next storekeepers in the same building were Messrs Rixon and Lemon, who did business for only a few years. As head clerk and general factotum they had a gentleman named McGillivray, who seems to have been “the life of the business.” William Speedie was next in succession as a general storekeeper in the same location; he afterwards built a store and residence for himself farther down the street on the Lake Shore Line and moved into it. Here the Annan post office was kept for many years; just how many is uncertain. A newspaper clipping of May 24th, 1899, states that Mr. and Mrs. Speedie had dispensed the post there for thirty-six years, which would fix the date on which they took charge as 1863 and as the said statement appears in an address accompanying a presentation to Mrs. Speedie and is signed by four old citizens of the neighborhood, one one would suppose it to be reliable. William W. Smith, on the other hand, says in his gazetteer published in 1865 that Leith was then the post town for the village, which was known as Leith Corner, and Mr. Smith is generally reliable too. Such discrepancies will help the reader to take a tolerant view of such little inaccuracies as appear in a work like the present one. Mr. Speedie, who was the second school teacher at Annan, kept a general stock of merchandise and gave excellent service as a postmaster. On the lot between the post office and the schoolground James Davidson built a stone cottage, which has in later years been enlarged and is now occupied by Robert Day. On the next lot north-east Doctor Allan Sloane, who graduated from Toronto University in 1865 and immediately came to Annan to establish a practise, built a brick residence and dispensary which was in the middle nineties destroyed by fire. He then replaced it with a larger one which is still standing.

The second place of business at Annan was a (for the time) large frame two storey building built directly op-opposite Vanwyck’s Hotel and on the Lake Shore Line. Thomas Vickers here kept a store of the usual type found in the country villages and ran it in connection with a cheese factory, also his own. It was afterwards used for a great variety of purposes until one Sunday a few years ago, when it furnished an hour’s sensation by making a merry bonfire. Across the street from it on the Leith road a frame store building was built by the Telford brothers, James and William, and rented by the Ross brothers, David and Hugh C, who had previously kept store in the Vanwyck building. They moved into it and here James Ross and Sons, which firm succeeded the Ross Brothers, did business until 1888. It has had a long list of proprietors since and is at present the repository of His Majesty’s mails for the village. Fifty years ago it was the general trading place for the news and views of half the township. Everybody knew the proprietors and they knew everybody. In fact the average country store was at that time as interesting a place as one would care to visit. A conversation casually started would end up in some strange and fearsome subjects sometimes, but generally on the comparative merits of the Honorable George Brown as exemplified in the Toronto Globe and that wily old leader of the grand old Conservative party, Sir John A MacDonald. Those were days when a man was either straight Grit or Tory and noses could be counted at the polling booths as confidently as a farmer now counts cattle in a barnyard. There were no third parties to confuse calculation or becloud the issues and the man who professed complete independence in political thought and in the marking of his ballot was regarded by his neighbors with suspicion, as not being quite right above the neckband.

Shortly after the first settlement a mill was built on Keefer’s creek, about three quarters of a mile east of the village. The exact date of its erection it has been found j impossible to determine but it was sometime between 1846 and 1849. The builder and proprietor was John Wilson, an engineer who came up from Kingston with his family, one of whom, James, afterwards became its head miller. John Wilson seems to have been a man of considerable information on many subjects beside milling. There was a fine head of water at Wilson’s Falls, the name given the site of the mills, for there was more than one of them, a sawmill being built after the flour mill, on the opposite side of the stream from it. Woolen mill machinery was installed in the upper storey of the flour mill and for several years a carding trade was carried on. The sawmill disappeared long years ago although there are several old barns still standing on the Lake Shore Line the lumber for which was sawn there. The flour mill is still standing, though considerably reduced in size. Wilson’s Falls was the scene of two drowning accidents in the earliest days, one of them of a girl who was dragged into the fall while attempting to fill a pail of water.

The flow of water in this stream was always a source of mystery to all who knew it. It was a stream which did not grow larger as it approached its mouth and the Wilson mills continued running long years after the oatmeal mill near Leith, which has been referred to, had closed its doors for lack of motive power. It was noticed by the earliest settlers that shortly after the surrounding country was cleared up the lower end frequently dried up in the summer months, when other streams were running full. There are crevasses along its bank for a considerable distance below the falls and possibly much of the water escaped into these to find its way by some underground passage to the bay. The first pioneers found it a fine trout stream and up until about forty-five years ago its mouth was the scene every spring of a large Indian encampment, when the sucker season was at its height. The trout long ago succumbed to the ravages of the angler, the Indian encampments are rapidly becoming only a memory and even the sucker seems to be deserting it.

We are told that the historian Gibbon took thirteen years to write his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. There is no positive data on the subject, but possibly H. G. Wells took thirteen months to write his Outline of History. The story of the gradual decline in the fortunes of a country village could probably be compressed into thirteen minutes. A brief period of prosperity still awaits the village of Leith however, and to this an equally brief chapter will be devoted later on. After that-well, as Lockhart says, “the muffled drum is in prospect.”


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