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Reminiscences of the Early History of Galt and the Settlement of Dumfries in the Province of Ontario
Chapter XVI


Disruption of the Church of Scotland—First Fire Company formed— Its officers—Erection and burning of the Dickson Mills—Galt Thespian Amateurs—A Monk who was not solemn—The Elections of 1841 and ’44 —Local leaders of the two Parties—Mr. Francis McElroy—How Bums was quoted for the Bible—Webster beats Durand by eight votes—The Dumfries Courier started in 1844—Origin of the Galt Reporter—Discussion, in 1845, between Dr. Bayne and Dr. Liddell—Erection of Old Knox Church—Dr. Bayne’s death—His successor— Other Ministers of Galt—New Schools and Teachers.

The summer of 1842 witnessed the departure of the Rev. Dr. Bayne on a visit to his native land. He went partly on account of his health, and partly to fulfil a commission from the Provincial Presbyterian Synod, to induce ministers to come out and occupy the many fields of usefulness opening up in Upper Canada. The agitation of the disruption of the Church of Scotland was then approaching a crisis. Dr. Bayne was present at the famous discussions in Edinburgh in the spring of 1843, and under his leadership, in 1844, the disruption of the Church in Canada also took place.

The first Fire Company was organized in Galt early in 1843. A small engine was procured from New York City, and proved a rather poor affair; but its arrival in the village was deemed an event of no slight importance, and much interest was manifested in getting up the Company, nearly all the leading citizens enrolling their names as members. The first officers elected were as follows:—

Chief Engineer—Mr. James K. Andrews.
First Lieutenant—Mr. Timothy S. Treadwell.
Second Lieutenant—Mr. Sydney Smith.
Secretary—Mr. Henry McCrum.

From its organization onwards, Galt Fire Company rendered good service for many a year, costing the village little except the engine-house and apparatus, and a modest sum occasionally for the bright scarlet coats in which the members used to delight to appear. The first time the services of the company were required was not long after its formation, when the dwelling of Mr. Isaac Sours, on South Water Street, took fire, and was totally consumed. Hand-engines were used until 1873, when one of ^Ronald and Co’s steamers was purchased at a cost of $4,000, and the company placed on a new basis, the members being decreased in number and paid a small honorarium for their services.

The foundries of Galt, which have for thirty years been among its principal manufacturing establishments, took their rise about this period. The one on Water Street (now Cowan & Co’s), was begun by Mr. Duncan Fisher, in the fall of 1842, and Crombie’s Foundry, which was first situated on the north side of Mill Creek, immediately south of the Dumfries Mills, commenced easting during 1844. This was the origin of the Dumfries Foundry, now owned by Goldie and McCulloch, the high reputation of which extends to every Province of the Dominion. The removal from the east to the west side of the river took place in 1847. The first steam-engine erected in Galt was placed in Elliott’s Distillery in the winter of 1844, and it was also the first one constructed by Mr. John Gartshore, of Dundas. Since then the number of steam-engines turned out of the foundries of Galt has been legion.

By agreement with the Dicksons, Mr. James B. Ewart of Dundas, commenced to erect the well-known Dickson Mills during the year 1842. The work was promptly and efficiently done, and at the same time a woollen mill and saw-mill were put in operation adjoining them. Two gentlemen who have ever since been prominent citizens of the town came here as employees of Mr. Ewart, within the grist mills were completed. These were Mr. Adam Ker, who was manager of the business, and Mr. Richard Blain, who acted as chief miller.

These mills had not been many months in operation, when misfortune overtook them. During the month of November, 1843, a fire broke out in the woollen mill, which stood between the grist and saw mills. The fire bell promptly rang the alarm; the villagers were soon upon the spot. But the little engine then in use proved inefficient. In spite of the most energetic efforts, which were successful for a time, the fire spread to the eaves of the grist mill, and by degrees the large and valuable buildings became a mass of flames. This was the most extensive fire which had ever occurred in Galt up to this time, and the reflection of the flames was seen for a long distance. Mr. Ewart had, under his agreement, to rebuild the mills again at his own expense.

This locality appears to have always had a weakness for theatricals, for an organization under the modest title of the “Galt Thespian Amateurs” was effected during the summer of 1843, and broke out into open performance towards the fall months. The chief Thespians were Messrs John Dodds, James Allen, John Scott, Dominick Ramore, Henry Smith, James Smith, Archibald Buchanan, Wm. Snow, Wm. Hearle, Jesse Thornton, Henry Aldous, and Washington Wood. These gentlemen took the different characters in the plays, Mr. John McAuslan acted as prompter, and the orchestra, and a capital one it was, was composed of Messrs. Glennie, Pembroke, and Wilsden, who will be remembered by those with good memories, as most excellent musicians.

The Thespians played in the old Firemen’s Hall, and invariably to crowded houses. Among the plays they presented were: The Castle Spectre, with Strap, the Cobbler, as an after-piece; next came The Mountaineers, with the farce of The Devil among the Crockery, the very name of which threw the garcons of the village into a state of excited interest ; and then followed The Secret Panel, The Illustrious Stranger, No Song, no Supper, and several others of an amusing character.

The scenery was well painted. Mr. Glennie, who had accommodated the pioneer company six or seven years before, furnished a library, grove, and kitchen scene. The drop curtain was painted by one Telfer, and was an elaborate affair, consisting of a well executed picture of Edinburgh Castle, with a dragoon on a black charger in the foreground, below the towering castle walls.

Mr. Dodds was the leader and chief spirit of this amusing combination, and he and several others took their parts remarkably well. In the play of The Castle Spectre. the chief characters were taken as follows : Earl of Osmayj —John Dodds; theMonk—John Scott; Motley, the Jester— James Allen; Lord Percival—James Smith (then a elerk with John Davidson); Sabi Saib, the black slave—Dominick Pamore; Angelica—Archibald Buchanan ; and the Cook—William Hearle, or, as he was generally known, Billy Hearle.

It is impossible at the present day, when so many entertainments of all kinds are open to the public, to realize the intense interest and amusement which these performances created. The villagers constantly turned out in full force, and the comedies which were presented, created a merriment which was as universal as it was unaffected.

Among not a few amusing characters presented by the Thespians, probably none was more successful than that of the Monk, in the play of the Spectre. As already stated, this part was taken by the late Mr. John Scott, and it was an open secret that he had borrowed from a leading Barrister a pair of pantaloons of inordinate dimensions, in order to make a successful get-up. Mr. Scott stood considerably over six feet high, and was a man of splendid physique—when, therefore, he walked from behind the scenes, in all the disguise of the Monk, and with the unmentionables aforesaid stuffed out to their utmost capa city with three or four large pillows, the audience were almost convulsed with laughter, which burst out afresh for several minutes at every effort of the Monk at locomotion!

The Thespians continued to amuse the community for two or three years, and occasionally performed on the Fair day afternoons for the gratification of the country people.

“A little nonsense now and then
Is relished by the wisest men.”

After the union of Upper and Lower Canada, which took place in 1841, the County of Halton was divided for electoral purposes into the East and West Ridings of Halton. Galt and Dumfries were attached to the latter, which returned Mr. James Durand as its first representative. When the elections for the second Parliament came on in 1844, the bitterness between the two political parties was still quite marked all over the Province. The Conservative leaders, prominent among whom were such eminent men as Messrs. Daly, Viger, and Draper, backed up by Sir Charles Metcalfe, were warmly opposed by Messrs. Baldwin and Lafontainc, and a severe struggle took place at the polls. Nerved into action by the improved position and prospects of their opponents, the Tory party was unusually determined and energetic.

In the West Riding of Halton, Mr. James Webster, of Fergus, was brought out against Mr. Durand, the sitting member. Among the chief supporters of the former gentleman, were Messrs. Shade, Dickson, Rich, Chapman and Ainslie, and of the latter, Messrs. Burnett, Cowan, Elliott, Clemens and McElroy. This contest became exceedingly warm in Galt and neighbourhood, and it has always been alleged that, in the heat of the excitement, undue means were used in Waterloo and Wilmot, to prevent the Pennsylvanian electors of those townships from recording their votes. In those days polling places were few and far between, and it was difficult to get all the votes recorded in time. As these townships were strongly in favour of Mr. Durand, the Reform candidate, some of the agents of Mr. Webster were accused of using various stratagems to delay the voting, even going the length of swearing old, grey-headed men, that they were twenty-one years of age. How far these statements may be true, it is now difficult to determine, but certain it is that this election aroused indignant feelings among the peaceful settlers of those townships, who recount the circumstances to the present day.

This election had, however, its amusing incidents also. Mr. Francis McElroy, to -whom reference has already been made, then kept a Temperance hotel at the head of Main Street (now the North American Hotel), and carried on blacksmithing on the opposite side of the road. Mr. McElroy, who still enjoys a green old age in Michigan, was a good speaker, and besides his advocacy of Temperance, which he was the first to uphold in Galt—and under great discouragements—he took a lively interest in political reforms. He took the stump on behalf of Mr. Durand, and for many years afterwards an incident which occurred during a speech he made in Preston, was often rehearsed by Mac’s companions when they wished to take “a rise” at his expense. Like not a few other orators, Mr. McElroy frequently wound up his speeches with a scrap or two of poetry. On this occasion, after entertaining the good people of Waterloo for about an hour, he entered upon a vigorous and carefully considered peroration in denunciation of the wrongs which he considered the electors had suffered at the hands of the Tory party, which eventually reached a climax b}> his exclaiming: i In the language of Holy Writ:

"Man's inhumanity to man,
Makes countless thousands mourn.’”

Mr. Burnett, who was sitting close to the flushed orator, pulled his coat tails and hastily whispered: “Man, Mac., that’s not from the Bible—that’s Burns!” “Whist —whist—whist,” replied Mr. McElroy, with perfect selfpossession and inimitable good humour, “Don’t say a word, and no one will ever know the difference!”

When the polling came off it was found that there was a majority of eight in favour of Mr. Webster. He was declared duly elected by Mr. A, D. Fordyce, of Fergus, the Returning Officer, and took his seat when the Legislative Assembly met in Montreal, on the 28th November following.

Mr. Durand entered a protest against Mr. Webster’s return, and the House appointed a Committee of investigation. Messrs. John 0. Hatt, Miles O’Reilly and S. B. Freeman, of Hamilton, were subsequently appointed Com missioners to visit the riding, and take evidence in regard to the charges alleged against the sitting member’s right to the seat. Among Mr. Durand’s charges was one that certain Deputy Returning Officers had allowed seven women to vote for his opponent, and much amusement was created at the time of the investigation by the examination of witnesses as to whether they were really women or not.

How they failed in their duty does not appear from the Journals of the House, but the Commissioners were subsequently called to the Bar of Parliament, and admonished by Mr. Speaker for their action as Commissioners. After a tedious delay, the petition was thrown out, and Mr. Webster confirmed in his seat.

During the summer of 1844 the first newspaper ever published in Galt saw the light. It was called the Dumfries Courier, and thirty-five years after its publication, as the copy before us witnesses, it presents a very faded and unattractive appearance. It was published by the easy-going, genial but shiftless “Ben” Hearle, who felt his bosom swell with pride when he was called the editor, but who performed little but spoke much of the onerous duties of the chair editorial. Indeed, from “ Ben’s” easygoing habits, it is very doubtful if there would have been any editorials whatever on some occasions, or in fact any Courier at all, but for the fact that Mr. Peter J affray and sons had arrived in Galt from Shrewsbury, England, shortly after the office was opened, and were induced to take an active part in getting out the paper.

The advertisements* are the most attractive reading in the Courier at the present day, telling as they do of many well-remembered persons then in business in the village, but now alas! scattered—some removed to other parts of Canada, some in distant lands, but by far the major portion of them gone to “the land o’ the leal.”

Poor “Ben” and the Courier came to grief in the fall of 1847, after which Mr. Jaffray began the publication of a small sheet in the building at one time owned by Dr. Miller, behind Mr. William Osborne’s present property on Main Street. This sheet was called the Galt Reporter, and on the succeeding January, the office was removed to the property of the late Mr. James Ainslie on the corner of Main and Ainslie Streets, where Messrs. Ainslie and Jaffray printed the paper during the two succeeding years.

One of the most interesting gatherings which ever took place in the history of Galt, was when, in 1845, Dr. Liddell, Principal of Queen’s College, Kingston, and Dr. Bayne, publicly discussed the disruption question. It came off in St. Andrew’s Church in the presence of an immense, deeply interested, and well-behaved audience. The discussion was exceedingly able upon both sides, but Dr. Bayne had the advantage of having the most popular side of the question, at least so far as this community was concerned.

The foundation of old Knox Church, near the market —removed in 1878—was laid during the same year. It was erected by Dr. Bayne and the major part of St. Andrew’s Church congregation, who gave up all connection with the Church of Scotland at the disruption. In the foundation stone were placed copies of the Toronto Banner, containing a full account of the discussions of the Presbyterian Synod of Canada at the time of the disruption, the Toronto Colonist and other papers, together with the principal coins of the realm. The building was a large but exceedingly uncouth stone structure, which remained one of the landmarks of the town until its demolition.

From the time of the disruption until his death, Dr. Bayne was regarded as the Father of the Free Church of Canada. This sad event occurred on the 3rd November, 1859. He was suddenly taken ill when about to start away to preach a Thanksgiving Sermon for the Rev. Mr. McLean, of Puslineh. He had his overcoat upon his arm ready to depart, when he first complained of illness, and ultimately was compelled to retire to bed. Dr. Miller was then called in, but no fears were entertained that the reverend gentleman was in a dangerous state. After divine service in Knox’s Church, the Rev. A. C. Geikie, his assistant-minister, asked him to partake of some refreshment. This he declined, and on Mr. Geikie going to repeat his request sometime afterwards, he found him apparently asleep, and considered it prudent not to disturb him. About five o’clock, Mr. Geikie, who was devotedly attached to Dr. Bayne, entered his apartment again, and was surprised to find him still lying in the same position. Becoming alarmed, he approached the bed, when to his surprise and sorrow, he found that his friend was sleeping the sleep of death. He had evidently died suddenly and without a struggle. His whole attitude was perfectly natural, and his features bore more the appearance of sweet, refreshing slumber, than that his spirit had winged its flight to another world. He was never married and only in his 53rd year.

The death of Dr. Bayne1 caused a profound sensation far beyond Galt and neighbourhood, and the funeral was unusually large and solemn. “Such an occasion,” said one of his co-presbyters, as his funeral obsequies, Galt never witnessed. The number of his brethren in the ministry who attended—and it would have been greater had time allowed others to come from greater distances— showed-the respect and attachment with which he was regarded by them, and many a sorrowful countenance betokened that a loved and lamented one was gone. The Suspension of all business, and the streets lined with crowds of females and children, and the vast procession —composed not only of the office-bearers of the congregation2 and his brethren in the ministry, and his own afflicted Hock, but of persons of all denominations, showed that his death was regarded as not only a sad bereavement to his friends, his congregation, and his Church, but as a public loss of no ordinary nature.”

At the following annual meeting of Knox’s Church, held on the 8th March, steps were taken to erect the fine monument to Dr. Bayne which now stands near the entrance of Galt Cemetery, and the following tribute to his memory was unanimously adopted by the meeting :—

“This congregation, now assembled in annual meeting, and for the first time since the death of the Rev. John Bayne, D. D., our late honoured, beloved, and lamented pastor, feel that we cannot allow this occasion to pass without in a special manner recording our estimate of him who so long went in and out among us, and for whom we mourn this day, because we shall see his face no more.

“It is not our part to speak of his influence and usefulness in the Church at large, great and acknowledged as these were; nor is this the time to dwell on our high estimate of his mental and moral excellencies as a man. To us rather belongs the duty of speaking of him as our pastor, and we feel how unable we are adequately to do so. For nearly a quarter of a century he dwelt among us, devoting to our service his great and sanctified gifts while in the freshness of youth, and though urged to change his sphere of labour, continuing in maturer years to toil for those to whom he at first came.

“Through all this prolonged ministry, we ever found him a kind friend, a wise counsellor, a faithful preacher of the everlasting Gospel, a consistent follower of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To us he was truly an ambassador for Christ, beseeching us in Christ's stead to be reconciled to God, and exerting an influence far and wide, which, blessed by the Holy Spirit, has, we believe, borne much fruit, and respecting which it is our prayer, that, ever more and more blessed, it may bear fruit many days hence to the good of souls and the glory of the Redeemer.

“But a ministry so lengthened, powerful, and honoured, needs not our commendation. While living he cared little for human praise, and our part now is only to make a tearful record of his surpassing worth, and our exceeding loss. A wise God has removed him at a time when we fondly hoped he might long continue and break among us the Bread of Life, as in days gone by. That removal was sadly sudden; the dispensation is surrounded by clouds and thick darkness ; but in the midst of sorrow, we desire to acknowledge the righteous sovereignty of God, to repose in his unerring wisdom for guidance, and to say, “the will of the Lord be done.”

“This congregation also desires, while thus recording our grief for our own loss, to convey our sincerest sympathy to the relations of our late pastor. A congregation deprived of such a pastor can estimate the grief of sisters deprived of such a brother. Our prayer is, that God will sustain them in their affliction, while we remind them of the consolation of mourners who know that ‘ those who sleep in Jesus, will God bring with him.’ ”

It was not until the spring of 18GI that Dr. Bayne’s successor was found. Knox’s Church congregation then gave a call to the Rev. John Thompson, D.D., of New York City. The Rev. Messrs. McRuer, of Ayr, and Gillespie, of Blenheim, with Mr. James Cowan, of Clochmohr, were appointed commissioners to press the acceptance of the call upon Dr. Thompson and the Presbytery of New York. They were successful, and Dr. Thompson and family shortly afterwards took up their residence in Galt. He continued pastor of Knox’s Church for many years, but ultimately returned to the scene of his former labours in New York City, and is now filling a charge in Scotland in connection with the Established Church. He was a cultivated and exceedingly genial, kind-hearted man, who left many pleasant memories behind him. He was succeeded, in I860, by the Rev. James K. Smith, of Brockville, who has ever since, with the exception of a short interval, continued to be the pastor of the congregation.

St. Andrew’s Church continued to be well sustained after the disruption, and in September, 1846, decided to give a call to the Rev. Mr. Dyer, whom Mr. James Croil, in his history of the Presbyterian Church in connection with the Church of Scotland, describes as “the sailor, an orator of high degree—an enthusiast, a sensationalist—altogether a very extraordinary man.” Mr. Dyer was, undoubtedly, a man of great natural gifts, and received a call from Fergus as well as Galt. It appears Dyer had come from the Maritime Provinces, and one day a person from that quarter met him in a store in Galt, and was surprised to hear people call him Mr. Dver. The stranger, after making some inquiries, revealed that his real name was Weaver, and that he was living in Galt under an assumed name. This unexpected denouement led to Mr. Dyer’s abrupt disappearance from the locality.

“Having written a farewell letter to the congregation of Galt,” says Mr. Croil, “he left precipitately. He is supposed to have resumed his avocation as a sailor, and to have been drowned at sea..........

In November, 1848, the Rev. John Malcolm Smith, an ordained minister of the Church of Scotland, was inducted into St. Andrew’s Church. In 1850 he was appointed to the Chair of Classical Literature and Moral Philosophy in Queen’s College. In his stead, the Rev. Hamilton Gibson, afterwards of Bayfield, came in November of that year. He remained nine years. Mr. Robert Campbell, now of St. Gabriel’s, Montreal, was ordained and inducted to Galt, on the 10th April, 18G2, and was translated to his present charge in December, 1866. Soon after this the congregation gave a call to the Rev. James B. Muir, of Lindsay, who was inducted in the March following. Mr. Muir is now settled in Huntington, in the Province of Quebec.

Before leaving the subject of churches, it may be mentioned that a number of the members of the United Presbyterian Church of Canada erected a new church in Galt in 1857. It was called Melville Church, and the first pastor was the Rev. John James (now Dr. James, of Hamilton), who had just previously arrive J from Glasgow, Scotland. He was succeeded in 1862 by the Rev. William T. Murdoch, whose sad death on the 21st of January, 1870, at the early age of thirty-four years, profoundly touched the feelings of the community. The remembrance of his rare talents and many fine traits of character wall long live green in the memories of those who best knew him.

In consequence of the resignation of Mr. John Gowinlock, the teacher of Galt public school, who was quite advanced in years, steps had to be taken by the trustees in the fall of 1845 to secure some person to fill his place. The board was then composed of the Rev. M. Boomer, Rev. James Strang, John Miller, Robert Gillespie, and David Potter. They advertised for a teacher, and as it was customary in those da}7s for the trustees to examine the applicants, it was an important day at the old school-house when the various teachers presented themselves. A clever, but rather lively young Irishman named Kelley, was chosen by the trustees. He only held the school for a short time, when he was succeeded by Mr. Robert McLean. This was during the summer of 1846, and Mr. McLean continued to act as Principal of the school until the close of 1855—between nine and ten years—when he resigned, Mr. Alex. Young being appointed to fill the vacancy.

The services of Mr. McLean3 as a teacher in Galt, although well remembered, are deserving of a passing tribute. He brought to the discharge of his duties much ability and enthusiasm. He introduced anew and better system; he elevated the standard of education, and increased the interest of both pupils and parents in their studies. His success was, therefore, marked, and many of his old pupils will ever hold him in grateful remembrance for the love of knowledge which his enthusiasm as a teacher imparted to them.

A new stone school-house was erected in 1849. This building, which still stands immediately east of the Town Hall, where it does duty as a poultry and vegetable market, was in turn discarded for the present Central School over twenty-two years ago—so swiftly does time fly ! Nor has the old original rough-cast building, so long familiarly known as “Gowinloek’s School,” disappeared. It still stands at the head of Main Street, where it is now used as a blacksmith’s shop—-

“And the children coming home from school,
Look in at the open door;
They love to see the flaming forge,
And hear the bellows roar,
And catch the burning sparks that fly,
Like chaff from the threshing floor."


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