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Reminiscences of the Early History of Galt and the Settlement of Dumfries in the Province of Ontario
By James Young (1880)


It has frequently been suggested to the writer to collect in some permanent form the fast-fading Reminiscences of the early history of Galt and the settlement of Dumfries, in whose atmosphere he has lived from childhood. A few months leisure during the past summer and fall, was devoted to this purpose, the result of which is the present volume, which, with some misgivings, is now laid before the public.

It is not claimed that the settlement of Dumfries and Galt has varied much from that of other parts of Canada, or that their history has been marked by many events of historical interest. But it is hoped it will be found not uninteresting, even to persons unassociated with the locality, as picturing some phases of Backwoods Life in Canada half a century ago, and as illustrating what communities and individuals may accomplish by honest industry and thrift, to better their fortunes in a new land.

These Reminiscences, however, will be chiefly interesting to the remnant—alas! constantly growing less—of the early Pioneers of the settlement, and their descendants. Imbued with profound respect for the time-scarred Veterans who transformed Galt and Dumfries from a wilderness into what they appear to-day, the writer has aimed, however feebly, to exalt their arduous life-work, and preserve the names and memories of many of these good men and true, who, with the other early Pioneers of Canada, are believed to be its true heroes.

In proceeding with the work, more difficulties were encountered than had been at first foreseen. Very little in the way of reliable records was available. The facts and dates of the earlier circumstances had necessarily to be obtained from some of the oldest Pioneers, and the-memory, after the lapse of fifty or sixty years, is not always reliable, particularly in regard to dates. Reference to some persons and circumstances may have been overlooked which ought to have appeared—indeed, one of the difficulties in dealing with the sober circumstances of every-day life in a new settlement, is to decide between what is too interesting to omit, and too trifling to appear. Care has been taken, however, to verify all material statements, as far as data could be found, and to present them as accurately as possible.

As the names of my Mentors are mentioned in one way or another in several places, it is unnecessary to do more here than to thank them, which I do most heartily, for much information and assistance zealously rendered.

The little volume has been hastily written, makes no pretensions to literary excellence, and no one is more conscious than the writer of its deficiencies, both in matter and form. It is hoped, however, it will be welcome as a humble tribute to his native place, that it may help to preserve the memory of the men and the circumstances, however unpretending, connected with the early history of Galt and the settlement of Dumfries, and, it may be, brighten a leisure hour or two in its perusal.

“Thornhill,” Galt, Christmas, 187U.


Chapter I.
Dumfries originally Indian Lands—The Iroquois or Six Nation Indians— The brave Thayendanega (Col. Joseph Brant) their Chief—Dumfries purchased by Philip Stedman, in 1798—Ninety-four thousand acres for £8,841—Stedman dies Intestate—The Hon. William Dickson—A glimpse of his Character and History—Duel with Mr. Weeks—How Dumfries was obtained by him.

Chapter II.
Absalom Shade— A man on whom Nature had left an imprint—Meeting with Mr. Dickson at Niagara in 1816—Shade fails to get a contract, but finds a home in the Wilderness—Earliest settlers in Waterloo Township —Dickson and Shade visit Dumfries—They follow the Indian trail— The valley in which Galt stands selected for a Village—Its Natural Beauty—A Colisseum in Leaves—Shade returns to the Wilderness.

Chapter III.
Difficulties of the new Settlement— The first building erected—Mr. Dickson actively engages in inducing Settlers to take up lands—The old Ruin with a History—A rough and ready Grist Mill—Population.an_181Z=-The Branchton settlement—The Village of “Shade’s Mills” in 1820—Hoisting the Stars and Stripes on the new Grist Mill- -Nearly a serious affray —The price of land sixty years ago.

Chapter IV.
The progress of Settlement slow—Physical features and soil of Dumfries - Remarkable Geological character of the rocks underlying Galt—Energetic efforts to attract Scottish settlers—The Ettrick Shepherd offered I a farm in Dumfries—John Telfer visits Scotland as agent—Poverty of the first settlers—Log Houses chinked with clay— New buildings—Visit V of John Galt, Esq, in 1827—Its object—How Galt obtained-its name— Mr. Dickson removes from Niagara—A Highland acquaintance.

Chapter V.
The Trading period of Bush life—Money scarcely ever seen—Marriage under difficul ties -The want of roads oppressively felt—The terrors of Beverly Swamp—Early stories of the Benighted Region—Mr. Shade determines to float the produce of the Settlement down the Grand River— Galt's first and only Fleet—The “Arks” as a freight line.

Chapter VI.
Canadian Back wood’s life—Its merry-makings and jolly character—Bear and Wolves—Mr. Bruin, a slandered animal—Singular Bear Hunt in Galt, in 1834 --Winter the liveliest season of the year—Christmas shooting matches for Turkeys and Geese—Early Drinking customs—“In Devitt’s fall, we sinned all”—Temperance Reform.

Chapter VII.
Character of the first Settlers of Dumfries—Education and Love of Knowledge—A Debating Society forty-five years ago—the names of its members—Subjects discussed—Would an Iron Ship Sink or Swim?— The Society’s Annual Dinner—Making a Haggis with Dundas oatmeal—The courage and energy of the early Pioneers—A tribute to their memory.

Chapter VIII.
Early Churches and Schools—Rev. William Stewart arrives about the Fall of 1831—First Presbyterian Church in Galt—Early Missionary Visits —Rev. James Strang—St. Andrew’s Church begun in 1833—The old-fashioned Camp Meetings—Divine Service in West Dumfries—What fashionable Church-goers will be surprised to learn—“O why will ye die, O House of Israel”—The early Schools of Galt—Mr. John Gowin-lock—Glimpses of School Life forty years ago.

Chapter IX.
Galt in the Spring of 1834—Its principal Citizens—New arrivals—Dr. Miller—Improving prospects of the Settlement—A travelling Menagerie visits the Village—A fearful calamity comes swiftly and fatally down— Terrible ravages of the Cholera—Graphic description by Mr. Alex. Burnett, written at the time— Painful incidents of the fearful ordeal— 'The Village left a pitiful scene of mourning and woe.

Chapter X.
From the time of the Cholera to the Rebellion—The population—Business of Galt improving—Break-up of the old-fashioned Mercantile monopoly —Early prices - The Dutchman’s one per cent—Richard Irwin—Names of prominent Galtonians who arrived during this period—Rev. John Bayne—A great man who prefers the backwoods of Canada to the intellectual centres of Europe—Erection of the King’s Arms Hotel and other ancient land-marks—Early Musicians—Construction of the Macadamized Road—Galt dam—Unrealized projects.

Chapter XI.
Material Progress begets new ideas—Public Meeting - Formation of Galt Subscription and Circulating Library in 1836—Full List of its members —Sweet and sad Recollections of by-gone days—A valuable institution —Curling on Altrieve Lake with Maple Blocks—Galt Club Established in 1838—The Drama in Halt’s early days—Rob Roy and Bailie Nicol Jarvie as done by leading villagers — Comical incident not in the play.

Chapter XII.
Early Municipal Government—The old annual Town Meetings—A baker’s dozen of .settlers meet in 1819—First Officers elected for Dumfries— Amusing Enactments—Early efforts at public speaking—The perplexed Chairman and how he opened the Meeting—Three Township Commissioners elected in 1836—Their names^Polling for District Councillors in 1842—The greatest day Galt had ever witnessed—First School Commissioners—Introduction of our present Municipal System—First Councils of North and South Dumfries.

Chapter XIII.
First Parliamentary Elections—Political Issues of the day—Richard Beasley and William Scollick elected for Halton, 1825—Growing opposition to the Family Compact—William Lyon Mackenzie —The Members elected for Halton in 1828 and 1830—Mr. Shade returned in place of the Hon. James Crooks in 1831— Mackenzie speaks in Galt in 1833- -Burned in effigy by Conservative opponents—Arrival of Sir Francis Bond Head at Toronto—The Halton Elections of 1834 and 1836—Mr. Alexander Burnett—“ Liberty Cottage’’—Upper Canada on the brink of Revolution.

Chapter XIV.
The Rebellion breaks out - News of the Battle of Gallows Hill received in Galt with surprise—Public feeling in Dumfries—The Union Jack taken off Mr. Dickson’s house at night—The men of Dumfries called upon to muster—The bridge guarded by Galt Volunteers under Captain Rich— Men drilling for Duncombe’s Army near Ayr—Arrests made by Galt _ .and Fergus Volunteers near the Blenheim line—A Wife worth having— Samuel Lount said to have been hidden near Galt—The Galt Volunteers - at Navy Island—Restoration of peace and order.

Chapter XV.
Visit of Sir George Arthur to Galt in 1839—Rather a cool reception—First Durham Meeting said to have been held in Galt—Memorable Meeting in Dundas—Procession from Dumfries and Galt—Speeches by Messrs. Burnett and Benn—The struggle ends in the triumph of Responsible Government—Dinner to the Hon. Wm. Dickson in Galt—Full report of his speech—The other guests present-First Agricultural Society— Its Officers—1840 — The Rev. Dean Boomer—Galt Society in a flutter over a dashing young Englishman — The Western Advertiser that never appeared—The Knights of the Round Table—A most heartless swindle.

Chapter XVI.
Disruption of the Church of Scotland—First Fire Company formed- Its officers—Erection and burning of the Dickson Mills—Galt Thespian Amateurs—A Monk who was not solemn—The Elections of 1841 and ’44 —Local leaders of the two Parties—Mr. Francis McElroy—How Burns was quoted for the Bible—Webster beats Durand by eight votes—The Dumfries Courier started in 1844—Origin of the Galt Reporter— Discussion, in 1845, between Dr. Bayne and Dr. Liddell—Erection of Old Knox Church—Dr. Bayne’s death—His successor— Other Ministers of Galt—New Schools and Teachers.

Chapter XVII.
Galt becomes an Incorporated Village—Population in 1850— Other villages of Dumfries—Early reminiscences of Paris. St. George and Ayr—Visit of Lord Elgin to Galt in 1849—First Councillors of Galt—Reeves and Municipal Officers—The Dumfries Reformer—The County Town struggle—Berlin carries off the prize—Public meeting—Reform dinner to the Hon. George Brown—The Ferrie and Tiffany election—First great Fire in Galt—The Collegiate Institute—Dr. Tassie—The Railway era opens— Turning the first sod of the Galt branch—Municipal rejoicings.

Chapter XVIII.
Great prosperity of Galt from 1850 till it became a Town— Principal Manufactures and Business firms—It is called the “Manchester of Canada”— Effects of the Crimean war— Reminiscences of the old Militia muster— Amusing incidents—Formation of the Mechanics’ Institute--Some familiar faces now nearly forgotten—First officers elected—Early lectures by Galtonians in “Noah’s Ark’’—Splendid lecture course in 1855-’56, and afterwards—Growded meetings—Excitement and fun now preferred to lectures—What does it poitend?

Chapter XIX.
Opening of the Great Western Railway to Galt—The Galt and Guelph line —The McCracken affair—Warm municipal struggle, in 1855, over the erection of the Central School—Mr. Peter Cook—William Lyon Mackenzie’s last visit to Galt—His Homestead Fund—Enterprising spirit of Galt at this period—Proposed Galt and Saugeen Railway—£15,CC0 voted to aid the enterprise —Bears seen in Dumfries as late as 1856— Meeting in 1856, to authorize the erection of a Town Hall and Market —Second great Fire in Galt.

Chapter XX.
Galt becomes a Town in 1857- The election of the first Mayor and Corporation—Names of those elected—The first School Trustees—Municipal Celebration in May—Description of the procession—Galt Rifles, Artillery Company, Firemen, Oddfellows, and Sons of St. George- Mayor Lutz lays the foundation stone of the Town Hall and Market—The official document read by Mr. Ker—The Mayor’s speech—Their testimony to the great prosperity and enterprise of Galt at this period—Lunch at the Queen’s Arms—The celebration closes amidst much enthusiasm.

Chapter XXI.
Concluding remarks—Contrast between the past and present—Young Galtonians who have won something of success or distinction—The Hon. Wm. Dickson lives in Niagara till his 77th year—How the early Pioneers regarded him—Mr. Shade’s closing years—He survives with all his natural characteristics until 1862—His life-work—What may justly be said of its effects upon Galt’s prosperity—Mr. William Dickson—The wealth and prosperity to which Dumfries has attained—Galt at the present day—The true heroes of Canada.

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