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Reminiscences of North Sydenham

History is a fable agreed upon, said Napoleon. There could be no more cynical comment upon the reliability of history, yet the truth of it is largely borne out by what historians have had to say about the man himself who made it. Hardly two of them have agreed in their estimate of his character. History is bunk, says America’s wealthiest automobile manufacturer and we might be surprised if we knew the number of wise men who agree with him, to a certain extent at least, when they look around and see the evil ways of men and how they so wantonly have disregarded its plain teachings.

The task of the historian, as one of the greatest of them has pointed out, is traditionally a thankless one. Not for him are the sweets of popular applause, the emoluments of office, the decorations awarded the soldier or the diplomat. Unseen and alone he assumes his voluntary labors. Then commence long toilsome years of the most arduous and exacting research and when this is completed there still remains the tedious routine of arrangement and compilation. At length the result of his labors is given to the world and then he samples the first bitter taste of ingratitude. His facts as he has found them are assailed as distorted and misleading, if not openly mendacious. When he ventures upon the field of deduction from these facts however, where he is a lawful subject for criticism, he finds that there are not two, but twenty sides to every question, and he finds a critic for every side of it ready and anxious to fall upon him and tear to shreds the issue of years of painful effort.

This little volume, however, does not rise to the dignity of history. The author fortunately knows his limitations ; aside from this he has neither the time, the patience or the money to treat the subject as it deserves. It is an attempt to portray the first settlement of the Leith and Annan district in the township of Sydenham, the general appearance of the country when the first settlers arrived, the institutions they founded, secular and religious, the privations inevitable in the lot of pioneers they endured, their social amusements an'd the work they undertook and accomplished.

It is, in short, a retrospective sketch of the first twenty-five years in the life of the community, which, as in the life of an individual, are often the most important. There will also be brief biographical sketches of a number of the most representative men who took an active and leading part in the general affairs of the district and guided its destinies at that time. The importance of the beginnings of things in the lives of men and communities is seldom over estimated.

Men with the true instinct of the artist, with an eye to see and a heart to feel the joys and the tragedies of life have gone into just such country places and, with the materials found there, have woven stories that have stirred the hearts of their fellows to their innermost depths.

Yet even a sketch as limited in scope as the present one will be open to criticism. Anachronisms will be discovered. Errors in time and place will be pointed out. It will suffice to say that the facts as stated therein are as nearly authentic as it has been humanly possible to ascertain them.

It will also be subject to another form of criticism. “What, in the name of common sense,” some will say "is the use of raking up and reviving these memories of seventy and eighty years ago! We are living in the present, not the past. Let us act in the living present then, and leave the dead past to bury its dead. Surely it is vanity and vexation of spirit to indulge something which at the best is only sickly sentimentality, in which there is neither use or profit.”

The best answer to this is that, aside from the interest many good people feel in the lives of their forebears, the generation that has no respect for the memory of its predecessors and feels no pride in their achievements will hardly be accorded any respect by those that follow it. Posterity has always had its rights, even if they have not arrived upon the scene and in turn it will have its duties to perform, altho it may be remarked here that helping to pay the debt incurred in the greatest of all wars does not seem to us as being among those duties. When President Roosevelt first enunciated his far reaching policy for the conservation of national resources as a duty the American people owed to their posterity, he was frequently met with the brutal enquiry from many so-called captains of industry who were exploiting, or rather wasting, the nation’s natural wealth, “What has posterity ever done for us”? It is a bad thing for both men and nations when they begin to live in and for the present moment only. Their finish is not far distant for in the chain of responsibility that links up the past with the future we owe a duty to both and we will disregard that debt at our peril.

It was once said of a great Englishman by one of his countrymen, that it was not so much what he did as what he was that made him great. The pioneers of Sydenham performed a great work, but after all it was not so much what they did as what they were that constitutes their claim to the gratitude of those of us who have come after them. It will always be so as long as example is more powerful than precept.

March 24th, 1924.

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