Yesterday, I posted a story about the lone sewing needle being available in our rural towns in the 1800’s. I also post on my old Cowansville High School Facebook page and two former students came forward with amazing stories from the past.
For Canadian school kids, our history involves tedious tales of explorers lugging canoes between mosquito-infested rivers as they contemplate what or whom to eat. Apart from the odd skirmish between the French and English, stories of fur trading routes being established and canals being dredged are among the juicer bits. But what about the real stories like the sewing needle, and walking through the swamp and hunger? What are some of the real stories?
From Those Darn Kids from Cowansville High School I got some great stories
Rob Forster— I remember what I believe was a true story about one pioneer mother sending a kid miles through the woods, a full day’s journey, to bring back some fire from another homesteader after his theirs had gone out. The reason was that the father had taken the family flint and steel off on a trip of some sort and that was why they couldn’t restart the fire themselves. The child started out for home carrying a torch but came back with coals wrapped in birch bark, which of course were just as useful. He had some help from some native people along the way who showed him how it should be done.
There’s an Eastern Townships story about two men who were out chopping wood when they spotted a bear at the edge of the clearing. Being 19th century men, they didn’t flee or take photos, they chased the critter down with their axes and killed it for food. I don’t think that was anything very unusual for those days because it seemed the only reason the story got written down was that one of the men had his heel clawed by the bear and was off his feet for a few days.
Rupert H Dobbin— Another one you don’t expect: During a winter famine a family had only one week’s supply of food left. The husband went on a one week journey to get food. There were terrible storms and he was delayed for two weeks. After end of the first week food ran out. The cat, who up to then only slept by the stove, appeared each morning with a rabbit. When the husband finally made it home through the snow, expecting to find the family all starved, found them well fed. The cat went back to sleeping next to the stove. (apparently recorded in a family journal from eastern Ontario in the mid-1800’s)
Here’s another one: Years ago when writing a paper for my prof., I went to Brome Historical and spoke to, yup, *Miss Phelps. She loaned me a journal from the 1800’s. In those days of logging and land clearance, somewhere around Mansonville, they couldn’t keep a teacher for the one-room schoolhouse. The kids were too unruly. A young man, who had an education, came through town looking for work. He agreed to teach. School was assembled and his confidence kept all in order for a couple of days. Third day an older student began to cause a disruption. A large knife appeared in the beam beside his head. The teacher simply said, “Bring that knife up here and place it on the desk”. No further problems with discipline. Apparently they respected him because they finally had a teacher who spoke a language they understood.
*Who was Miss Phelps? Just like everyone no matter where you were we at Cowansville High School loved Miss Phelps. She died at 105 in 2013 and you can read about her here.
How about this Canadian story? From Mental Floss
Arguably the most famous elephant of all time, Jumbo was a prime London attraction before PT Barnum purchased him from Queen Victoria against the wishes of weeping youngsters who sent thousands of letters in protest. Nonetheless Jumbo was sent across the pond to become part of Barnum’s traveling North American circus—and Canadian history.
The latter would never have happened had Jumbo not died in a small town in Ontario in 1885, killed, according to reports, by an oncoming train. That small town, St Thomas, would feast off the death—both literally and figuratively—for years to come.
The Ottawa Citizen published a letter in which a woman recounts her great-grandfather’s memories of the day after the crash. Local butchers cut up the carcass so that taxidermists could stuff its hide and its skeleton could go on display in a museum. No instructions were given for the meat, which was put in a giant funeral pyre for fear it would rot. The tantalizing smell of roasted tusker filled the air and many, the woman’s great-grandpappy included, came by with a fork and dug in.
A century after that feast in 1985, St. Thomas reaffirmed its auspicious ties to the elephant’s violent death by unveiling a life-sized statue of the beast during a rollicking “Jumbo Days” celebration. The town’s Railway City Brewing continues that tradition, oddly proclaiming that, “When you raise your glass of Dead Elephant Ale, you will enjoy everything that Jumbo was and became.” An exploited animal and the strangest Canadian lunch meat ever? No thanks!
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