From Almonte Gazette, 1969
by Hal Kirkland
The people of Bennies ' Corners always said that the Bairds were proud
and aloof, or as one neighbor lady who remembered the Baird sisters put it,
"they were uppish."
Of course they all came from Scotland; the Sneddens, Toshacks, Gardners,
Steeles, Naismiths, Waddells, Grahams, Cochrans, Youngs, Philips - and the
Bairds too, who came from Glasgow. Perhaps these Scotch felt that they were
entitled to pass judgment on one of their own. All of these family names are
still familiar in this district - all except the Bairds. The last of the Bairds
died at Bennies' Corners, in the year 1900.
When John Baird emigrated to Canada in 1829 he left his wife and four
children in Scotland. He also left numerous creditors in and around Glasgow. But
he did expect to see his wife and family again - in Canada. And they did come
out after he was established in this new land, even though Mrs. Baird was
reluctant to leave the comforts of her home in the city.
If ever a man established himself in a hurry it was John Baird. In an
incredibly short time he had built himself a huge two and a half story flour
mill, a store and a dwelling, all solid stone buildings.
The mill and the store are still standing, after almost 140 years. The
mill, named by John Baird; "Woodside Mills" is now the Mill of Kintail
(The Tait McKenzie Memorial) and the store is now the attractive residence near
the entrance gate to the Mill of Kintail. The Baird residence which was
dismantled and razed is completely gone. It was located about where Mr. Wilbert
Monette's barn now stands.
The neighbors at Bennies' Corners who were still living in their original
log houses and struggling to clear more land must have marvelled at the audacity
of this man Baird coming in and straightway putting up such grand buildings. He
would have had to hire stonemasons, millwrights and laborers to put up the mill
and skilled craftsmen for the rich cherry woodwork throughout the rooms in the
dwelling. They concluded that he must have brought out a lot of money from
Scotland or else had some mysterious method of financing beyond their ken. But
they never knew for certain.
However we now know a little more about the Bairds than these neighbors
did. Mrs. Baird kept the letters that her husband had written to her while he
was alone in Canada and she was in Glasgow. These letters were found, probably
in the drawer of a desk that someone purchased when the Baird household effects
were sold in 1900. Appropriately, these letters are now in the Pioneer Museum at the Mill of Kintail the
mill that John Baird built.
The letters were written in the year 1830. This writer has no inclination
to quote indiscriminately from these letters written by a husband to his wife.
Still I think that without violating good taste a few passages of a general
nature can be selected because they are authentic accounts of conditions and
problems faced by the Bairds and the other Scotch settlers at Bennies’
Corners. Anyway, John Baird did not indulge in sentimentality. he was a very
In the first letter to his wife Isabella John writes, “I cannot endure
the idea of allowing you and the family to come here. I am sure none of you
would like it, although I could make a living yet it would be such a living as
you would not like. It would not afford an opportunity of the family obtaining
such an education to enable them to provide for themselves to which I had my
views directed in coming here, and not the wealth as has been stated to
you." What he meant by the reference to wealth remains enigmatic.
In his next letter (a letter was usually six weeks and sometimes longer
in reaching its destination) he is talking of going back home. "I will sail
for Scotland about 1st June. God willing, I will be in Greenock about 10th or
15th July. I saw Mrs. McFerson. She told me yesterday that she would sell the
shirt off her back to go home; but her husband will not consent, because as he
says, he will not go to be driven around as a porter, not having a trade."
Times were bad in the British Isles. But John Baird apparently still
owned property in Scotland because he says, "I still feel convinced that
the estate will turn out greatly superior to what has been stated of it."
All the same he suggested that she "take a small house."
He indulges in a little self pity for which he can be forgiven. He says,
"Tell them (the children) I undertook this journey looking to their
benefit. Supposing I was worth £20,000 I would give the half of it rather than
undergo what I have done these last 8 months, but it is little compared to the
anxious and sleepless nights I have had, fearing and doubting how you all are. I
have suffered severely these four weeks past for want of letters. Within these
four months I have lost at least 11/2 stones weight, although in good
He was always anxious about the children's schooling. He writes, "I
hope Isabella can go through the Bible and Psalm Book now well. I trust John is
a good scholar. I am quite sure William will not disappoint me. Keep him at his
counting, writing and bookkeeping."
Well, spring came in Canada and John wrote, "I like this country
greatly better than I did." He tells her, "the strawberries grow here
in the fields and there are immense quantities of large plums in the woods, much
larger than you have. Since April came in the weather has been fine. April and
May are like Scotland in July."
Again he mentions the immoderate drinking by the settlers. He says,
"it is no uncommon thing when a man passes a neighbor's house at night
perhaps with three gallons of whiskey to finish it that night." In a
previous letter he said, "it is the worst whiskey you can have any
conception of at 2/6 a
But a year later, in his store at Bennies' Corners, John Baird himself
was selling whiskey to the settlers. The price had gone up according to his
daybook, which is also in the Pioneer Museum, he was selling whiskey at 3/9 a
gallon. Perhaps it was a better grade of whiskey. To those with some knowledge
in these matters it may be of interest to know that a gill of whiskey was 4d.
and that a gill is 1/4 pint.
The remaining letters are mostly concerned with detailed instructions
about preparations for the voyage over. He
advises them to purchase warm and sturdy clothing and it is interesting that he
admits “my clothes are all too fine.”
In one letter he informs her casually, as if an afterthought, “ I have
bought 200 acres of as good land as is in Ramsay. The Indian river runs through,
about one half size of Clyde; a
waterfall of 10 feet; a fine mill seat and store.” It is odd that he never
mentioned this before as the records show that he had bought the land from the
canada Company more than a year previously.
Apparently he did not tell his wife everything. Just the important things
- such as not to forget the gingerbeer and to get her chairs packed with cross
spars of wood and Janet’s and Jean’s pictures must be packed with cotton
waste and the piano must also be carefully done and strong. he sent the poor
woman long lists of goods she must buy and have shipped to Canada for the store
at Bennies' Corners and told her exactly how much to pay for a dozen shawls or a
dozen handkerchiefs, how much a yard for various kinds of cloth and so on.
Furthermore he specified the merchants or agents from whom the items should be
purchased. This would be a new and novel experience for the genteel Isabella
Baird. I wonder, how she made out?
There is no record of when Mrs. Baird and the children finally set sail
for Canada. She was in no hurry and you cannot blame her. The children were in
their teens except William the youngest, and all of them were attending good
schools. Jeannie, the eldest, was a gifted musician and was studying in Ireland,
probably at a young ladies' convent school.
However, we do, know that
the mill and the store were soon going concerns and that Mr. Baird was doing
very nicely. But he was never satisfied. Years later he acquired a grist mill in
Almonte and his son William came in from Bennies' Corners to manage it. After
that, he built a two story mill in Almonte, the bottom story, stone and the top
story frame, which he rented to Gilbert Cannon for the manufacture of woolen
goods. This mill was on the bank of the Mississippi about opposite the parking
lot of Harry's Motor Sales.
This venture marked the beginning of the decline and eventual end of the
Baird Fortune. He became involved in lengthy and costly litigation over water rights in the Mississippi. This and the
fact that his Bennies' Corners mill was becoming obsolete because he was still
operating his flour mill with burr stones while others were converting to the
roller method. One of the millstones is now part of the McKenzie Memorial on our
Town Hall lawn.
From now on the plight of the Bairds is a sad story, Mrs. Baird died in
1857. In the same year John advertised that he had for sale pork, flour and
oatmeal. In 1860 the mill was up for sale. John Baird died in 1867 in the 88th
year of his age. After the grist mill in Almonte failed William went back to
Bennies' Corners and passed away there. The other
This writer is indebted to Mrs. Hollie Lowry and Mrs. Peter
Syme for the little that is now known of the last days of the Baird
sisters. The two spinsters stayed in their beautifully furnished home at
Bennies’ Corners, aloof, with no friends and no means. If it had not been for
their close neighbours, Mrs. John Steele and Mrs. John Snedden, the proud and
pennyless sisters literally would have died of starvation.
Both sisters were highly intelligent, but were considered eccentric.
Jean, the musician, died first and Isabella was alone until she passed away in
1900. Mrs. Syme, who was then a small girl named Mabel Snedden, remembers taking
food to Isabella, a task which she did not relish as there were usually a sheep
or two and a flock of hens in the house. The hens had no respect for the fine
furniture and roosted on the piano. Isabella, unkempt and listless, would be
reclining on the settee in her expensive bonnet and fine silks.
And sadly so ended the last of the proud and aristocratic Bairds of Bennies’ Corners.
Received from: Don & Fran Cooper - [email protected] Posted: 24 March, 2006