The Last Stagecoach Driver in Lanark County

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Franktown Road in Carleton Place- see the carriages and a stagecoach on your left. Photo from the Edwards family collection at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum

Perth Courier, November 19, 1909

Last Remaining Pioneer Stage Driver Is Dead

Patrick Spence, one of the best known men in eastern Ontario, died at his home in Perth on Monday afternoon.  He had been failing for some days and the end was not unexpected.

Patrick Spence was born in the north of Ireland in 1822 and came to America when a lad of 13 in company with the father of William and John McLenaghan.  He was thrown upon the mercies of the world when a lad for his parents died during those dark days of famine in Ireland.  He did not have any brothers or sisters and his sole relative on this continent when he reached here was an uncle in Ogdensburg, New York.  To him he went but the spirit of independence was strong within him and young Spence started to learn his living.  Horses were his passion.  Evan as a lad of ten years, in his native country of Ireland, he drove stage coaches and when he reached Ogdensburg he secured employment as a stage driver there and at Potsdam.  Upper Canada attracted him and he came here and established a stage route between Perth and Brockville.  In this business he continued until the Brockville and Ottawa Railway was built when he devoted his time and interests to livery.   Many of our citizens and those who lived here years ago still remember the old days when Pat Spence drove up from Brockville and on Wednesday the Courier was speaking with one who can remember the first time he went out to Kitley with the gentleman whose funeral he was attending that morning.

Mr. Spence was one of the last surviving stage drivers of the old pioneer days in the 19th Century.  He went his way for years as a young man through a trackless bush between here and the front and he has seen the whole district cleared, settled and grid ironed with all the improving equipment of modern civilization.  Mr. Spence was as well known along the route as he was in Perth.

When the coaching days were gone, Mr. Spence permanently established himself in Perth.  He married in May of 1858 Ann Murphy, sister of John Murphy of Rideau Lake who was present at the funeral.   Their first home was on Herriott Street in a house between the Ferrier and Riddell properties.  Here he conducted a livery stable.  Later he moved to his present home on Drummond Street where for long years his livery stables were kept.  He kept good horses for he thoroughly understood them and enjoyed good commercial and traveler’s trade. At the time of the American Civil War, Mr. Spence contracted to supply the Federals with horses and hundreds of animals passed through his hands for service in the State’s civil disturbances.

Mr. Spence loved horses.  He knew them like a book and always had a remedy for any of their ailments.  It is no exaggeration to say he had no peer in this country as a reinsman.  Thousands of horses passed through his hands during his lifetime but in all the long years he spent with them he never had a team he liked better than Frank and Prince.  They were a handsome, intelligent span.  Sympathy between them and their owner seemed human.  They were guided as much by his voice as by his hand and on one occasion their quickness to respond to his voice was the means of saving him and them from a gang of thieves.  It was the night of the burglary in the Meighen Brothers’ store.  Mr. Spence was returning from a trip to Westport and in the darkest hours of night he had turned on to Gore Street.  When opposite the home of James Callahan, he noticed three fellows separate and approach him on the road.  At the critical moment he called upon his team and the response they gave him knocked one of the thieves against the fence and left the other two behind.  Mr. Spence let his horses run to Cox’s Corner where he quieted them again by word of mouth.

Were the anecdotes Mr. Spence could narrate of the life of the leading men and women of Brockville and the Johnstown district chronicled the present generation would possess a volume rich in historical matter.  The deceased was honored and respected in all sections by men of all parties and beliefs.  It was his privilege in the olden days to drive the leaders of the two parties.  It did not seem natural unless he was the driver to either the Conservative of Liberal aspirant.

In connection with his livery, Mr. Spence drove a hearse for years before he engaged with Mr. D. Hogg for whom he drove for 32 consecutive years only retiring four years ago.  In that time the deceased has attended about 4,000 to their last resting place. He was present when the first corpse was laid in Elmwood Cemetery and also at St. John’s Cemetery and he has witnessed the transformation of these cemeteries from vacant fields or bush lots into silent cities of the dead.

Mr. Spence lived an unostentatious life for 87 years.  He never had an ill word for any of his neighbors and abhorred pretense.  He was kind of heart and considerate always and the quiet, helping hand he gave was none the less efficient because he gave assistance quietly.  He never took any part in municipal matters and his politics were not generally known but it is understood he leaned towards the Liberals.

Coming to this country a poor orphan boy but with an honest heart and mind, he has parted from this life leaving a most comfortable competence for his next of kin.

Mr. Spence is survived by his aged widow and one son John at Wayside and one daughter, Mrs. C.J. Foy of town.

The funeral took place on Wednesday morning to St. John’s Church and cemebery and was very largely attended.  The pall bearers were Messrs. James Allan, Allan Grant, Timothy Horan, Michael Murphy, Joseph McBain and Mr. P. Adams.

Related Reading

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So Where was McGonigal’s Livery Stable?

 

 

About lindaseccaspina

Linda Knight Seccaspina was born in Cowansville, Quebec about the same time as the wheel was invented and the first time she realized she could tell a tale was when she got caught passing her smutty stories around in Grade 7 at CHS by Mrs. Blinn. When Derek "Wheels" Wheeler from Degrassi Jr. High died in 2010, Linda wrote her own obituary. Some people said she should think about a career in writing obituaries. Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa from 1976-1996. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off she finally found her calling. Is it sex drugs and rock n' roll you might ask? No, it is history. Seeing that her very first boyfriend in Grade 5 (who she won a Twist contest with in the 60s) is the head of the Brome Misissiquoi Historical Society and also specializes in local history back in Quebec, she finds that quite funny. She writes every single day and is also a columnist for Hometown News and Screamin's Mamas. She is a volunteer for the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum, an admin for the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page, and a local guest speaker. She has been now labelled an historian by the locals which in her mind is wrong. You see she will never be like the iconic local Lanark County historian Howard Morton Brown, nor like famed local writer Mary Cook. She proudly calls herself The National Enquirer Historical writer of Lanark County, and that she can live with. Linda has been called the most stubborn woman in Lanark County, and has requested her ashes to be distributed in any Casino parking lot as close to any Wheel of Fortune machine as you can get. But since she wrote her obituary, most people assume she's already dead. Linda has published six books, "Menopausal Woman From the Corn," "Cowansville High Misremembered," "Naked Yoga, Twinkies and Celebrities," "Cancer Calls Collect," "The Tilted Kilt-Vintage Whispers of Carleton Place," and "Flashbacks of Little Miss Flash Cadilac." All are available at Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Linda's books are for sale on Amazon or at Wisteria · 62 Bridge Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada, and at the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum · 267 Edmund Street · Carleton Place, Ottawa, Canada--Appleton Museum-Mississippi Textile Mill and Mill Street Books and Heritage House Museum and The Artists Loft in Smith Falls.

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