The Last Stagecoach Driver in Lanark County





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

Hogging Buffalo Robes will not be Tolerated on a Stagecoach

So Where was McGonigal’s Livery Stable?



About lindaseccaspina

Before she laid her fingers to a keyboard, Linda was a fashion designer, and then owned the eclectic store Flash Cadilac and Savannah Devilles in Ottawa on Rideau Street from 1976-1996. She also did clothing for various media and worked on “You Can’t do that on Television”. After writing for years about things that she cared about or pissed her off on American media she finally found her calling. She is a weekly columnist for the Sherbrooke Record and documents history every single day and has over 6500 blogs about Lanark County and Ottawa and an enormous weekly readership. Linda has published six books and is in her 4th year as a town councillor for Carleton Place. She believes in community and promoting business owners because she believes she can, so she does.

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