Early days of Gananoque and Front of Leeds and Lansdowne Township
Excerpts from the Gananoque Reporter
(Available on microfilm at the Gananoque Library and at Queens University, Stauffer Library; full index, created by Mary Griffin, available at the Gananoque Library)
Transcribed by Paul Côté
The following items name some of the early settlers of the area and, just as importantly, give researchers a feel for the era in which their ancestors lived. They are written by people who lived at that time or shortly after. Note: the original spelling of Lansdowne had no 'e' on the end.
Saturday, May 19, 1888
EDITOR REPORTER. - It is with much pleasure that I notice you are publishing sketches of the early days in Leeds and Lansdowne, and I can assure you they will prove very interesting to very many readers of your welcome paper. And with your permission I will contribute a few short articles descriptive of those good old days.
In this, I shall speak of that portion of Lansdown formerly known as the "Irish Woods". That locality was settled in 1820. The first settler was Mr. R. Taylor, grandfather to the present MP for South Leeds. Then came the Bradleys, Johnstons, and Websters. Those families, obeying the command, began to increase and multiply, particularly the Taylor family, insomuch that in 1830 the locality was renamed the "Taylor Settlement", and was known near and far by that name for at least a quarter of a century.
In 1836 the first school house was built on the site where the Union Church now stands. It was a free country there then. No school laws to mystify parents; no Municipal Councils to promise and never perform; but the neighbours just turned out one fine morning, and brought their axes and yoke of oxen. Some felled the trees in the bush, the oxen hauled them to the spot, four "handy" men were selected to do the cornering, others rolled up the logs, and in a short time the school house was built. The writer, among many others afterward, graduated at that seat of learning. As there was no school tax, there was no wood; so we - the scholars - cut the wood in the mornings. The boys chopped it, and the girls carried it in. The architect was a far seeing man, and very wisely left the logs on the walls round on the inside of the house, so that for many years we could hew off dry wood therefrom.
About the time the school house was built, Methodist Missionaries came in and arranged to hold a meeting in it. The writer was then "a lump of a boy", and was detailed to hitch up a yoke of steers and haul the Missionaries and some members of the family with whom they were guests, to the school house, one and a half miles distant. While the meeting was going on the steers were unhitched from the sled and chained to a tree. It was a very cold night; and after the service the steers were quickly hitched to the sled, the Missionaries and others got aboard; and a start was made for home. The steers were not well broken, the driver had to run alongside and hold the nigh steer by one horn to keep them going straight. But they were cold and eager to get home, and got running so fast that they were hard to control. Before going very far they ran straddle of a stump on which the sleigh struck, the chain broke, and off went the steers like two antelope, leaving the Missionaries and others on the sleigh, with the mercury (if any such thing was known at the time) below zero. The driver ran after the steers, and on reaching home found they had "turned the yoke", so nothing could be done but throw them a fork of hay and go to bed. Hours afterwards the Missionaries and friends trudged home on foot, and found the driver in bed, and, if not asleep, doing some good snoring.
Now, half a century has rolled around, and what a change! Houses, Lands, Schools, Colleges, Churches, Roads. The steers of yore have given place to fine horses, and all other things have changed in like manner. And while all that is mortal of those early settlers is lying in the cemetery near the site of "The old school house," their children and children's children are enjoying a degree of independence and comfort which, on reflection should make them feel proud that they are the sons of the first inhabitants of "The Irish Woods".
In 1837 the settlers were called upon to defend their homes from foreign invasion, and right willingly they responded to their countries call. In the middle of one cold dark night, Capt. Earl knocked loudly at the door of Lieut. Webster, and told him to "warn out" his Company at once, as the Yankees had taken Prescott. Immediately all was bustle. The Company was warned during the night and rendezvoused at the house of the Lieut. Next morning, preparatory to starting for Brockville. Most of the women and children assembled there also, and between the weeping of the women, the crying of the children, and the confusion attendant on mustering a raw Company, it was a scene not easily forgotten. One man was detailed to remain in the "settlement" to cut wood, feed cattle, and take care of the families, while all the others marched off to Brockville to be mustered in. There was at that time only one copy of a newspaper taken in the Irish Woods, and that was the Brockville Statesman. But what was lacking in news was more than made up in rumors. All kinds of rumors were afloat, much to the discomfort of those who remained in the settlement. However, the war over, all returned to their homes, many of them afterwards to fill honorable and responsible positions in life. All have since been called hence, and fill honorable graves, among which the writer loves to linger, to revive those old memories that should ever be held sacred by the sons of the Early Settlers of the Irish Woods.
Saturday, June 2, 1888
To the Editor of the Reporter
I wish to make a few remarks with regard
to the early settlers of Lansdown. In the first place I see by "Agricolas" letter that the Earls, Taylors, Bradleys and Johnstons were the first settlers in said locality. These may have been contemporaneous with some of the first settlers, but not the first. My first settlers in Lansdown were the McNeils, of whom no mention is made. Alexander McNeil, I think was the name of the first settler, and grandfather to William, Abraham, Bruce and Wallace, all of whom now reside in Lansdown. Christie McNeil came to Lansdown in the year 1801 to meet her brother, who had preceded her several years previous to this date. Miss McNeil brought with her a fine side saddle, imagining that when she came to Canada riding on horseback would be the principal amusement. But sad to relate, at that time there was not a single horse in this part of Canada, and had there been such an animal, and had a person been so foolhardy as to have ventured out into the bush on horse back, the chances were, that they would have been devoured by wolves or bears. Miss McNeil came out from Scotland, Perthshire, in the year 1801 and in the same ship with old uncle Johnnie Kincaid, Grants, and an old gentleman called Andrews. I think the later gentleman settled also in Lansdown. I could mention a host of old settlers in said township, and give their history pretty accurately, but I wish it to be perfectly understood that the McNeils were in Lansdown more than 20 years previous to the settlers mentioned in the history of the Irish Woods. I would be very happy to know the real name of that Irish Woods historian. I am not a very old man, but I have taken considerable pains to feel through many years antecedent to my time and I love to dwell on these old men of the war of 1812 and more so on the old pioneers who first felled the big trees of the forest and brought the wilderness into subjection. Could "Agricola" inform me where the first post office was established at the period of which he speaks?
Signed JT Dickey, Yonge Front
Saturday, July 7, 1888
IN AND ABOUT DULCEMAIN AND THE OUTLET
To the Editor of the Reporter
DEAR SIR - I was glad to see that my last letter brought out a response from my old friend J. T. Dickey, who I believe, did not notice that I was referring to events that transpired in and about the "Irish Woods".
The first post office in Lansdown was located at George McKelvey's on the front road [Transcriber's note: now Highway #2]. Mr. McKelvey kept a tavern just East of the side road that leads to the present village of Lansdown, half a mile distant. He also owned the land on which part of the village now stands.
In 1826 the "Kidd Road" was located and partially cut. It left the front road near Cook's tavern, between one and two miles West of McKelvey's, and ran North to the Outlet of Charleston Lake, through what was then a dense forest. This road was looked upon at the time as a mighty public work - a sort of Pacific Railway of that time. The late Capt. Thos. Kidd did much to promote and push the road through. And shortly afterwards he and his brother John settled on farms one mile North of the Outlet across the bay, and were the first settlers in that region. They were progressive and pushing men.
About those days, Gananoque began to loom up and take rank as a milling and flouring centre. Among her other enterprises, the Messrs. McDonald conceived the idea of establishing a line of boats to run away into the interior of the country. Capt. Kidd, the commander of the first boat, was instructed to follow the Gananoque River to Marble Rock, thence North and East to the Outlet; there he was to make a bold dash through the unknown waters of Charleston Lake, and try to strike Charleston, at which place immense quantities of wheat were supposed to be stored awaiting to be shipped by this line of boats to the "Big Mill" at Gananoque. This line ran for some years, bringing down wheat, potash and other products, and taking back other merchandise. It was looked upon at the time as quite as great an enterprise as to bring wheat from the head of Lake Superior now. At the time those events were transpiring rumor reached the Irish Woods (for even in those days there were rumors) that a line of boats had been established from Gananoque to Charleston. The settlers were much astonished, but pleased at the same time, and with their usual pluck and energy decided to cut a road forthwith to connect the Irish Woods with Kidd Road at some point south of the Outlet. That road left the 4th concession at Johnston's Corner, ran west and north, and tapped the Kidd road at Dulcemain. It is known to this day as the "Keating road", and was for forty years the muddiest road in Canada, until "California Webster" grouped it into his "Grand Road Scheme". Since that you could whip a top on it. That road did much to open up Dulcemain and cause it to be settled.
In 1832 the late Robert Webster erected a saw mill at the Outlet, which also did much to help get the section at and about the Outlet settled. A post office was established there known as "Mount Webster", but has since been removed to Warburton.
The first settler in the 6th concession was the late David Shipman; and the writer followed a trail through the sixth line before any white man attempted to settle there.
Mr. Editor, I well know you are not a pessimist; and some time I hope to take you in a buggy and drive with you over these roads, which I have been describing, that you may see with your own eyes what industry and frugality can accomplish in one short lifetime. Then a wilderness! Now, splendid roads, highly cultivated farms, elegant houses luxuriously furnished, evidences of taste and refinement in all their surroundings, owned and inhabited by the sons of "Early Settlers". And amidst all this material progress you will behold the true elements of the people's greatness. Schools and Churches stand thick through all these neighborhoods, the people worshipping beneath their own vine and fig tree, and enjoying all that man is permitted to enjoy here below.