Settler’s Stories……. Smiths Falls Record

Settler’s Stories……. Smiths Falls Record



Perth-Warren McCarthy Hardware store. c1890 —Vintage Smiths Falls & Perth


Among many interesting articles in the fiftieth anniversary edition of The Record-News, of Smiths Falls, Ont, is one concerning the trials of the courageous pioneers of a hundred years ago. These men, women and children came by ship from the Old Country to Quebec, then took steamboat to Montreal, and then drove along the St. Lawrence up to their destinations in the Ontario woods.

Little more than faint, scuffed impressions in the thick carpet of dead, mouldering leaves, the twin ruts wound in a crazy, twisting trail through the virgin forest They seemed to have their origin not more than one hundred yards to the right and they disappeared from view behind a screen of huge trees blocking off the world a score of yards in the other direction. It was a world of green loneliness. Only the dark brown trunks of the maples and the straight silver spires of the birches broke the shifting emerald symphony which blotted out blue sky overhead and sodden brown earth hidden below tangled grass so tall that it reached to a man’s waist.

The silence was intense, terrible. A leaf rustling in a bare breath of a breeze broke like a cry in the stillness and the tiny whisper was magnified to monstrous proportions. A bright sun beat down from the cloudless skies but only an occasional thin pencil of light penetrated the thick canopy of foliage and in these beams dust motes swirled lazily. The heat was intense and the very blanket of leaves which shaded the glen from the blazing sun contributed to make the air stifling, almost unbreatheable.


Vintage Smiths Falls & PerthSmiths Falls-Building docks at the Kilmarnok locks about 10 miles east of town near hwy 43. August 1898 –Vintage Smiths Falls & Perth

From far off a faint rumble sounded and the noise grew slowly in volume, the echoes rushing on ahead as if to warn wary forest creatures of the approach of danger. The rumble disintegrated in a series of sharper, more distant sounds, the plop-plop-ployety-plop of hoofs smashing down on the pulpy roadway; the creak of harness leather; the dry rattle and piercing squeak of a protesting wagon hurtling over the rocky trail at amazing speed. A flash of chestnut rough through a break in the Going leaves and the horses were in view. They rocketed around a bend, pounded past and disappeared ahead. After them came the wagon, tossing and leaping in its wild sway but before it plunged into the depths of the green sea ahead the bronzed face of its driver, a pipe clenched in firm, white teeth, as he lashed the straining animals was clearly revealed.

From the depths of the swaying vehicle three other faces emerged. A man, tall, straight, strong, gazed thoughtfully at the green world of the glade, his face expressing no emotion. A woman, young and fair, looked with frightened eyes and turned to take the small boy in her arms lest his soft body be smashed against the side of the wagon in fits of erratic tossing. The boy alone was smiling, his brown eyes looking on a world bristling with interesting possibilities of fun and frolic. Then a bend in the trail swallowed up the party. The echoes dimmed and the glen became again a place of dead, mysterious silence.

And so another old country family passed through the wilderness of Leeds County a little more than one hundred years ago on their way to establish a home in this section of the Ottawa Valley. Today woods have been cleared and over the same trails travelled by the settlers’ wagons stream-lined automobiles hurtle at a mile-a-minute rate, travelling on smooth concrete or asphalt pavement through cultivated lands and past modern farm buildings and up-to-date towns.



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Vintage Smiths Falls & Perth Smiths Falls- Joshua Bates’ and Truman Ward’s Wool and Grist Mills on Old Sly’s Road with the CNR train bridge in the background. c1870 —Vintage Smiths Falls & Perth

At the present time when the Record-News celebrates the completion of fifty years of progress it is interesting to go back to the pioneer days of Lanark County, days when Perth was a government settlement, Smiths Falls little more than a halting place in the wilderness and Ottawa merely a collection of huts and small buildings known as Bytown.

The Rideau settlements were evolved between the years 1815 and 1851, centering about Perth, Richmond, Lanark and Smiths Falls and about that time General Gore received instructions to “make a purchase of four or five townships in the rear of those mentioned in the margin (being the townships of the County of Leeds) you will immediately communicate the same by wampum to the chiefs of the Chippewa and Messesauguay Nations, owners of the said lands, and inform them previous to your making a provisional agreement that the King, their great white father, will make an establishment on the land described to which I am confident no objection will be made.”

The first settlements were of a military nature and located at Perth and Richmond, followed by the settlement of Lanark village by Scottish weavers and farmers. Later came the Influx of Irish settlers from the famine stricken Emerald Isle. Much of the original land allotments were to early soldier settlers, many of whose descendants still reside on the original homesteads. Representatives of practically every regiment and service in the army of that day were among the early settlers and some were French soldiers, said to have been captured from Napoleon s army and permitted to enlist in the British forces for service in America.



Perth-Haggart’s Dam c1907. The dam is located where the Tay River splits into the North and South branches at the end of Mill St. The Tay Road Dam flows into the North branch and The Harrgart Island Dam flows into the South branch. –Vintage Smiths Falls & Perth

The trip inland of the early settlers and their varied impressions of the new world are of fascinating Interest to present day residents of the Eastern Ontario district. In a letter written Settler’s from Perth on October Story. 3rd, 1820, to his father, William Miller, one of the pioneers, stated: “I got my land and money and everything as was said. My farm Is 20 miles from this town in the township of Dalhousie. I am just going off Monday to build my house. If I have time I will cut some hay yet and get a sow but this I cannot say until I get my house. 2 Is what we paid from Quebec to Perth Government settlement. In this town there are six or eight large stores where you can get anything as you or I could In Glasgow. It is only four years since Perth was a wilderness of woods. I have called my farm Whitolee.



Perth-A cement gang working on the construction of the Christie Lake Railroad. c1905–Vintage Smiths Falls & Perth


We came from Quebec to Montreal in a steamboat and land carriage from that to Lachine and from there in boats to Prescott and from there to Perth in wagons and such horses for running I never saw in my life. I got my wife, family and baggage in a wagon and I thought when they started the men were mad for they went off like shot out of a gun and up hill and down dale wore all alike. They were most of them farmers and I told them if that was the way that we were to run our homes that way it would kill them. I have gotten today farming utensils of every description that I need. Thanks be to God for being as fortunate as I am.” But while stout-hearted William Miller thanked his Maker for his good fortune others found the Canadian wilderness terrifying as is evidenced by the following extract from the diary of one John McDonald:

“We arrived in Quebec on June 25th, 1821. and left next night in a tremendous storm of thunder and lightning, the most dreadful I ever saw or heard. Arrived in Montreal 24 hours later after uncommon heavy rain drenching our clothes and spoiling our meal and bread. At Montreal we carried our luggage from steamboat to abundant wagons and so on to Lachine. Here we waited four days for a boat.”

The trip up the St. Lawrence to Prescott was described as being very slow, against strong currents where horses had to pull the boats up stream in some places. After travelling slowly this 120 mile leg of their journey, they arrived at Prescott and there several members of the party died of fever and the effects of the rough journey. From there the pioneer band wound on to Brockville and then started back through the wild country.

“That night we slept in a barn amongst new hay,” McDonald records, “And in the hay we felt some reptiles and were afraid of snakes having seen many on the road.”

Many entries were devoted to the rough journey to Perth and the heart-breaking progress was reported in detail, wagons being mired and upset. Reference was made to the “terrible silence and stifling air” of the immense forests which hemmed them in on all sides and not the least of their worries were mosquitoes, described as follows:

“In addition of these difficulties we had to encounter another mosquitoes. Whenever they sting it pierces through the skin. I have had my legs pierced all over with the fangs of these tormenting insects, causing you to break out as if with small-pox.”



Perth-The steamer Olive plying her trade on the Tay Canal. c1898–Vintage Smiths Falls & Perth

More cheerful, hopeful and apparently content was James Dobbie, Scottish newcomer to Canada who stated in a letter dated Lanark, Upper Canada, April 24th, 1826:

“I and my family are still taking well with this country and I really do bless God every day I rise that he was pleased to send me and my family to this place. I have put up a very handsome new house with the assistance of 15 young men. The taxes, which all go for schools and bridges, are trifling: 3d for each milk cow, 4d for every ox and Id for every acre of cleared land.”

In 1822 the district of Bathurst was formed with Perth the judicial seat. Lanark, Renfrew and part of Carleton County with Bytown were included roughly in the district. The first judge was His Honor Jonas Jones, born of U.E. Loyalist stock in 1791. He had served as cavalry officer during the War of 1812 and was called to the bar in 1815 and became the first judge. It is related that one of his ancestors during the American revolution was hanged three times and as many times cut down before life was extinct.

Perhaps the greater The Rideau undertaking of the Canal early days was the building of the Rideau Canal under Colonel John By. of the Royal Engineers. As early as 1790 plans were submitted to the Imperial Government for the building of a waterway to link Kingston with the Ottawa river and during the war  and the importance of a back door to Montreal was realized.

In 1825 a Commission of Royal engineers came out to study plans and later Col. By took charge. The tremendous task was commenced on September 21st. 1826. In those days no steam shovels or powerful trucks were available and the heavy, sticky clay was removed entirely by hand, shovelful by shovelful. Many times disappointments tested the courage of Col. By and his men. Huge dams gave way during the winters and on being rebuilt were swept away by spring floods but By remained undaunted and is reported to have said,

“I’ll build them again and again and make them stand if they have to be built of half crown pieces.”

For the entire distance of 126 miles between Ottawa and Kingston there were 47 locks and 24 dams, 11 of which were of stone. Substantial blockhouses were erected at each of the 22 locks. The building of the canal took a heavy toll of life and great numbers deserted or fell victims of fever. Only promises of land grants as rewards kept desertion down to a minimum. In five years Col. By accomplished the almost miraculous task of building the canal through a forest of wilderness and the excellence of his work is evidenced in the fact that much of the original masonry is still serving today.




One of the First Settlers of Drumond from the Massacre at Culloden

The Old Settlers Weren’t so Old After All

Dear Lanark Era –Lanark Society Settlers Letter

Ramsay Settlers 101

Lanark County 101 — It Began with Rocks, Trees, and Swamps

Rock the Boat! Lanark County or Bust! Part 1

It Wasn’t the Sloop John B — Do’s and Don’t in an Immigrant Ship -Part 2

Riders on the Storm– Journey to Lanark County — Part 3

ROCKIN’ Cholera On the Trek to the New World — Part 4

Rolling down the Rapids –Journey to Lanark Part 5

A Town Founded by Women and Gossip

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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