It has frequently been
suggested to the writer to collect in some permanent form the
fast-fading Reminiscences of the early history of Galt and the
settlement of Dumfries, in whose atmosphere he has lived from childhood.
A few months leisure during the past summer and fall, was devoted to
this purpose, the result of which is the present volume, which, with
some misgivings, is now laid before the public.
It is not claimed that
the settlement of Dumfries and Galt has varied much from that of other
parts of Canada, or that their history has been marked by many events of
historical interest. But it is hoped it will be found not uninteresting,
even to persons unassociated with the locality, as picturing some phases
of Backwoods Life in Canada half a century ago, and as illustrating what
communities and individuals may accomplish by honest industry and
thrift, to better their fortunes in a new land.
however, will be chiefly interesting to the remnant—alas! constantly
growing less—of the early Pioneers of the settlement, and their
descendants. Imbued with profound respect for the time-scarred Veterans
who transformed Galt and Dumfries from a wilderness into what they
appear to-day, the writer has aimed, however feebly, to exalt their
arduous life-work, and preserve the names and memories of many of these
good men and true, who, with the other early Pioneers of Canada, are
believed to be its true heroes.
In proceeding with the
work, more difficulties were encountered than had been at first
foreseen. Very little in the way of reliable records was available. The
facts and dates of the earlier circumstances had necessarily to be
obtained from some of the oldest Pioneers, and the-memory, after the
lapse of fifty or sixty years, is not always reliable, particularly in
regard to dates. Reference to some persons and circumstances may have
been overlooked which ought to have appeared—indeed, one of the
difficulties in dealing with the sober circumstances of every-day life
in a new settlement, is to decide between what is too interesting to
omit, and too trifling to appear. Care has been taken, however, to
verify all material statements, as far as data could be found, and to
present them as accurately as possible.
As the names of my
Mentors are mentioned in one way or another in several places, it is
unnecessary to do more here than to thank them, which I do most
heartily, for much information and assistance zealously rendered.
The little volume has
been hastily written, makes no pretensions to literary excellence, and
no one is more conscious than the writer of its deficiencies, both in
matter and form. It is hoped, however, it will be welcome as a humble
tribute to his native place, that it may help to preserve the memory of
the men and the circumstances, however unpretending, connected with the
early history of Galt and the settlement of Dumfries, and, it may be,
brighten a leisure hour or two in its perusal.
Dumfries originally Indian Lands—The Iroquois or Six Nation Indians— The
brave Thayendanega (Col. Joseph Brant) their Chief—Dumfries purchased by
Philip Stedman, in 1798—Ninety-four thousand acres for £8,841—Stedman
dies Intestate—The Hon. William Dickson—A glimpse of his Character and
History—Duel with Mr. Weeks—How Dumfries was obtained by him.
Absalom Shade— A man on whom Nature had left an imprint—Meeting with Mr.
Dickson at Niagara in 1816—Shade fails to get a contract, but finds a
home in the Wilderness—Earliest settlers in Waterloo Township —Dickson
and Shade visit Dumfries—They follow the Indian trail— The valley in
which Galt stands selected for a Village—Its Natural Beauty—A Colisseum
in Leaves—Shade returns to the Wilderness.
Difficulties of the new Settlement— The first building erected—Mr.
Dickson actively engages in inducing Settlers to take up lands—The old
Ruin with a History—A rough and ready Grist Mill—Population.an_181Z=-The
Branchton settlement—The Village of “Shade’s Mills” in 1820—Hoisting the
Stars and Stripes on the new Grist Mill- -Nearly a serious affray —The
price of land sixty years ago.
The progress of Settlement slow—Physical features and soil of Dumfries -
Remarkable Geological character of the rocks underlying Galt—Energetic
efforts to attract Scottish settlers—The Ettrick Shepherd offered I a
farm in Dumfries—John Telfer visits Scotland as agent—Poverty of the
first settlers—Log Houses chinked with clay— New buildings—Visit V of
John Galt, Esq, in 1827—Its object—How Galt obtained-its name— Mr.
Dickson removes from Niagara—A Highland acquaintance.
The Trading period of Bush life—Money scarcely ever seen—Marriage under
difficul ties -The want of roads oppressively felt—The terrors of
Beverly Swamp—Early stories of the Benighted Region—Mr. Shade determines
to float the produce of the Settlement down the Grand River— Galt's
first and only Fleet—The “Arks” as a freight line.
Canadian Back wood’s life—Its merry-makings and jolly character—Bear and
Wolves—Mr. Bruin, a slandered animal—Singular Bear Hunt in Galt, in 1834
--Winter the liveliest season of the year—Christmas shooting matches for
Turkeys and Geese—Early Drinking customs—“In Devitt’s fall, we sinned
Character of the first Settlers of Dumfries—Education and Love of
Knowledge—A Debating Society forty-five years ago—the names of its
members—Subjects discussed—Would an Iron Ship Sink or Swim?— The
Society’s Annual Dinner—Making a Haggis with Dundas oatmeal—The courage
and energy of the early Pioneers—A tribute to their memory.
Early Churches and Schools—Rev. William Stewart arrives about the Fall
of 1831—First Presbyterian Church in Galt—Early Missionary Visits —Rev.
James Strang—St. Andrew’s Church begun in 1833—The old-fashioned Camp
Meetings—Divine Service in West Dumfries—What fashionable Church-goers
will be surprised to learn—“O why will ye die, O House of Israel”—The
early Schools of Galt—Mr. John Gowin-lock—Glimpses of School Life forty
Galt in the Spring of 1834—Its principal Citizens—New arrivals—Dr.
Miller—Improving prospects of the Settlement—A travelling Menagerie
visits the Village—A fearful calamity comes swiftly and fatally down—
Terrible ravages of the Cholera—Graphic description by Mr. Alex.
Burnett, written at the time— Painful incidents of the fearful ordeal—
'The Village left a pitiful scene of mourning and woe.
From the time of the Cholera to the Rebellion—The population—Business of
Galt improving—Break-up of the old-fashioned Mercantile monopoly —Early
prices - The Dutchman’s one per cent—Richard Irwin—Names of prominent
Galtonians who arrived during this period—Rev. John Bayne—A great man
who prefers the backwoods of Canada to the intellectual centres of
Europe—Erection of the King’s Arms Hotel and other ancient
land-marks—Early Musicians—Construction of the Macadamized Road—Galt
Material Progress begets new ideas—Public Meeting - Formation of Galt
Subscription and Circulating Library in 1836—Full List of its members
—Sweet and sad Recollections of by-gone days—A valuable institution
—Curling on Altrieve Lake with Maple Blocks—Galt Club Established in
1838—The Drama in Halt’s early days—Rob Roy and Bailie Nicol Jarvie as
done by leading villagers — Comical incident not in the play.
Early Municipal Government—The old annual Town Meetings—A baker’s dozen
of .settlers meet in 1819—First Officers elected for Dumfries— Amusing
Enactments—Early efforts at public speaking—The perplexed Chairman and
how he opened the Meeting—Three Township Commissioners elected in
1836—Their names^Polling for District Councillors in 1842—The greatest
day Galt had ever witnessed—First School Commissioners—Introduction of
our present Municipal System—First Councils of North and South Dumfries.
First Parliamentary Elections—Political Issues of the day—Richard
Beasley and William Scollick elected for Halton, 1825—Growing opposition
to the Family Compact—William Lyon Mackenzie —The Members elected for
Halton in 1828 and 1830—Mr. Shade returned in place of the Hon. James
Crooks in 1831— Mackenzie speaks in Galt in 1833- -Burned in effigy by
Conservative opponents—Arrival of Sir Francis Bond Head at Toronto—The
Halton Elections of 1834 and 1836—Mr. Alexander Burnett—“ Liberty
Cottage’’—Upper Canada on the brink of Revolution.
The Rebellion breaks out - News of the Battle of Gallows Hill received
in Galt with surprise—Public feeling in Dumfries—The Union Jack taken
off Mr. Dickson’s house at night—The men of Dumfries called upon to
muster—The bridge guarded by Galt Volunteers under Captain Rich— Men
drilling for Duncombe’s Army near Ayr—Arrests made by Galt _ .and Fergus
Volunteers near the Blenheim line—A Wife worth having— Samuel Lount said
to have been hidden near Galt—The Galt Volunteers - at Navy
Island—Restoration of peace and order.
Visit of Sir George Arthur to Galt in 1839—Rather a cool reception—First
Durham Meeting said to have been held in Galt—Memorable Meeting in
Dundas—Procession from Dumfries and Galt—Speeches by Messrs. Burnett and
Benn—The struggle ends in the triumph of Responsible Government—Dinner
to the Hon. Wm. Dickson in Galt—Full report of his speech—The other
guests present-First Agricultural Society— Its Officers—1840 — The Rev.
Dean Boomer—Galt Society in a flutter over a dashing young Englishman —
The Western Advertiser that never appeared—The Knights of the Round
Table—A most heartless swindle.
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 Burns 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
Galt becomes an Incorporated Village—Population in 1850— Other villages
of Dumfries—Early reminiscences of Paris. St. George and Ayr—Visit of
Lord Elgin to Galt in 1849—First Councillors of Galt—Reeves and
Municipal Officers—The Dumfries Reformer—The County Town struggle—Berlin
carries off the prize—Public meeting—Reform dinner to the Hon. George
Brown—The Ferrie and Tiffany election—First great Fire in Galt—The
Collegiate Institute—Dr. Tassie—The Railway era opens— Turning the first
sod of the Galt branch—Municipal rejoicings.
Great prosperity of Galt from 1850 till it became a Town— Principal
Manufactures and Business firms—It is called the “Manchester of Canada”—
Effects of the Crimean war— Reminiscences of the old Militia muster—
Amusing incidents—Formation of the Mechanics’ Institute--Some familiar
faces now nearly forgotten—First officers elected—Early lectures by
Galtonians in “Noah’s Ark’’—Splendid lecture course in 1855-’56, and
afterwards—Growded meetings—Excitement and fun now preferred to
lectures—What does it poitend?
Opening of the Great Western Railway to Galt—The Galt and Guelph line
—The McCracken affair—Warm municipal struggle, in 1855, over the
erection of the Central School—Mr. Peter Cook—William Lyon Mackenzie’s
last visit to Galt—His Homestead Fund—Enterprising spirit of Galt at
this period—Proposed Galt and Saugeen Railway—£15,CC0 voted to aid the
enterprise —Bears seen in Dumfries as late as 1856— Meeting in 1856, to
authorize the erection of a Town Hall and Market —Second great Fire in
Galt becomes a Town in 1857- The election of the first Mayor and
Corporation—Names of those elected—The first School Trustees—Municipal
Celebration in May—Description of the procession—Galt Rifles, Artillery
Company, Firemen, Oddfellows, and Sons of St. George- Mayor Lutz lays
the foundation stone of the Town Hall and Market—The official document
read by Mr. Ker—The Mayor’s speech—Their testimony to the great
prosperity and enterprise of Galt at this period—Lunch at the Queen’s
Arms—The celebration closes amidst much enthusiasm.
Concluding remarks—Contrast between the past and present—Young
Galtonians who have won something of success or distinction—The Hon. Wm.
Dickson lives in Niagara till his 77th year—How the early Pioneers
regarded him—Mr. Shade’s closing years—He survives with all his natural
characteristics until 1862—His life-work—What may justly be said of its
effects upon Galt’s prosperity—Mr. William Dickson—The wealth and
prosperity to which Dumfries has attained—Galt at the present day—The
true heroes of Canada.