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The Pioneers of Old Ontario
By W. I. Smith and Illustrations by M. McGillvray (1923)

Ontario it's Pioneers


Formal history and standard biography play an important part in fostering a national spirit. Canada has an ample supply of such works; but the history of the Beginners of the Nation, the men and women who carved out homes for themselves in the dense forests, on the wide, lonely prairies, and in the stern mountain valleys. Their story can be gleaned only from almost inaccessible nooks, where lies "a veritable storehouse of information" on pioneer days.

At a dinner given in November, 1908, to mark the completion of the first Series of the "Makers of Canada," Mr. John Lewis, the author of "George Brown" in the Series, said:

"There is just one other work supplementary to this which I would like to see undertaken by Mr. Norang, or some other equally enterprising publisher, and that is a history of the unknown -Makers of Canada; the tens of thousands of pioneers who many years ago struck out into the wilderness and converted that wilderness into the Canada which we enjoy to-day."

Almost a decade ago we had the publication of such a series under consideration, but the World War and the consequent. unsettling of business halted our plans. We now launch this volume, the first of a series that will show by what suffering, heroism, and dogged determination the foundations of the Canadian provinces were laid.



In the Spring of 1897 I began a series of trips a-wheel through rural Ontario. These trips were undertaken with the object of obtaining first-hand information, for publication in the columns of The Weekly Sun regarding actual conditions on the farms of the province.

While engaged in that task, and purely by accident, I stumbled on a veritable storehouse of information of another kind altogether. This information was carried in the memories of men and women then still living—memories that went back to the days of the virgin forest, of log cabins surrounded by blackened stumps in the midst of scanty clearings, of bush trails and corduroy roads over which settlers toiled with their grists to distant mills, of old-time logging bees, and of the circuit riders who carried the Gospel message to those real heroes, who at such infinite cost in toil and privation were effecting a conquest in which there was none of the brute triumph of the conqueror or the bitterness of defeat in the conquered.

On the memories of those met with I drew for the material given in a series of pioneer sketches which appeared from time to time in the columns of the press during the period from 1897 to 1914. These sketches, with some further information gathered at a later date, form the basis of what is contained in this volume.

It was Goldwin Smith who first suggested the idea of putting into permanent form the fragmentary accounts of pioneer life which are here offered. The suggestion was made shortly after the sketches began to appear in print. Partly for that reason, but still more because the judgments and ideals which have governed my more mature years are mainly the result of the teaching and example of Goldwin Smith, whose character and aspirations were expressed in the inspired phrase, "above all nations is humanity," this volume is reverently dedicated to his memory.

It is not pretended that what is given even approaches the standard of a complete history of the period dealt with in the life of Ontario. It is hoped, however, that the facts collected may in some measure make easier the task of one, with wider knowledge and greater literary skill, who will some day write a real history of the land in which we live. And there can be no real history of this land unless full justice is done to the memory and service of the men and women who, while suffering unbelievable privations, enduring a loneliness almost too great to be borne, and with hearts aching because of ties broken with home and kindred, laid the foundations of the civilization which it is our privilege to enjoy.

W. L. S.


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