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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“Secure from winter’s frost and snow—
From bears and wolves, then prowling round—
A home that wealth could not bestow—
Content and happiness we found.”

Joseph Gould.

SIMCOE gave the name of Ontario to a county composed of Wolfe, Howe, Amherst, and other islands, now forming parts of Frontenac and Lennox Counties. But this was very soon abolished, and about sixty years ago its name was given to another county, cut off from York.

It is difficult even to sketch slightly the story of this county within the prescribed limits, not so much because it was the scene of specialty thrilling events, but because one of its sons--Joseph Gould—was blessed with an interest in local history, which impelled him to gather together and record many tales that he heard from the lips of the pioneers.

His own sturdy figure is an interesting one, and we can hardly suggest the story of Ontario County better than by telling something of the life of this man, whose home it was from birth till death.

Gould’s father, a man of Irish descent, was one of the Pennsylvanian pioneers who very early in last century “trekked” northward in their great covered wagons to found new homes in this Province. A nuinber of Pennsylvania folk settled in the township of Uxbridge, after a journey of three weeks, through New York State, across the Niagara River above the Falls, around the head of Lake Ontario to Little York, thence up Yonge Street to Newmarket, before making the final plunge into the scarcely-broken forest. The elder Gould, dissatisfied with the country, worked two years to save a couple of hundred dollars to take back his family to his old home, but he left the money in his master’s hands. He failed, and all Gould could obtain, instead of his two hundred dollars, was a lot of wild land in Uxbridge Township. There he settled, however, and there, on Dec 29th 1808, his son Joseph was born.

In the neighbourhood there were a dozen widely-scattered “ Dutch ’’ families, but not a single white man had taken up laud north of Uxbridge. Indians were numerous and, happily, friendly. In clearing the ground the Pennsylvanians grubbed up the earth with a mattock, and at harvest-time used an American sickle, men and women working together in a kind of useful version of the old game of “ Follow m3r Leader,” with the best worker to set the pace.

In those days neighbours were usually neighbourly, "changing” work and helping each other in all emergencies. People going away from home used to carry horns, so that, if they lost their way in the woods, they could make signals of distress. (Joseph’s mother possessed a sea-shell instead of a horn, and on a calm night the sound from this carried as far as five miles.) Anyone hearing a horn, answered it, according to preconcerted arrangements, and if the member of a family was belated and did not reach home when expected, at nightfall the horn was sounded to guide the wanderer or to give the signal for searchers to turn out. A general “tattoo” was the joyous signal to cease from searching.

These were by no means unnecessary precautions when the woods were scarcely tracked and were infested with wolves and other wild beasts. Indeed, some of Gould’s reminiscences are of a tragic character. He connects a terrible little story with the spot where now stands the village of Beaverton. An ex-soldier, Corporal Crawford, when hunting with an Indian friend, was attracted by the beauty of the situation, and, putting up a little log-cabin, took his wife and two small children to live there, far from any other human habitation. The wife wished to return for the winter to York, but late in the autumn another child was born, and it seemed impossible for her to take the journey with a young baby. The winter proved exceptionally severe. The father was obliged to go hunting to provide for the family. One night he was very late, and his wife sounded the horn again and again. He was indeed scarcely a mile from his home, and had just wounded a buck, when he was overtaken by a pack of wolves and had to climb into a tree. But the wolves took up the chase of the buck, which fled toward the little cabin, and the wife, hearing their howling, and fancying, it was supposed, that they were in pursuit of her husband, opened the door. At daylight the corporal hurried home, to find his little daughter safe under a heavy crib, which apparently had been overturned in the first mad rush of the hungry brutes. But there were many signs that his wife and two little ones had met a fate too dreadful for words. The wretched man lost his reason in the horror of it, but was adopted and kindly cared for by his Indian friends.

But to return to Joseph Gould. He learned his letters by the red light of the huge winter’s fires, bat had little regular education. At first there was no school within reach, and then but a poor one. He read everything that came in his way-—even to Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, and amused himself by making rhymes. The handling of an axe was an accomplishment he acquired early, and he paid for his first pair of boots by cutting seven cords of wood, only to find when he got them home that “one was a number seven and the other a number nine!"

During the War of 1812 new settlers almost ceased to come in, and many Americans returned to the land of their birth. Later the immigration of Americans began again, and Ontario County thus got some useful settlers and a few rogues, whose escapades caused some excitement in the little backwoods settlements. In 1826 came John Plank, a "wide-awake Dutchman,” from New York State, who built a tavern at Uxbridge and a sawmill a little higher up the river, which he afterwards sold to Joseph Gould. By that time the young man had learned the trade of a carpenter, and had prospered as a farmer. The story of his early enterprises and ventures throws much light on the ways of the pioneer communities, but I can only recommend those interested to read "The Life and Times of Joseph Gould" for themselves.

About 1836 Joseph, who, though brought up in Quaker fashion, had indulged very freely in “worldly amusements,” fell in love with a pretty Quakeress, Mary James. She wore the Quaker garb, "rich, plain, clean and tidy' which, in the opinion of her lover, was the most sensible and becoming any woman could wear. After due consideration the young lady consented to become his wife, but a sudden cloud rose on the horizon.

Gould had energy to spare from his multifarious private undertakings for political matters. He worked hard to return Mackenzie as member for York each time he was unseated, and was present when the rebel leader held a secret meeting at Stouffville to discuss plans for the attack on Toronto. Gould remonstrated against violent measures, but marched with his friends to Montgomery’s Tavern, and after the fight, being "on the wrong side of Yonge Street to get home,” was captured in the woods. The jail being crowded, he was lodged in the Legislative Council Chamber. He narrowly escaped being sent to Van Diemen’s Land, but was pardoned by Lord Durham, and celebrated New Year’s Day, 1839, by wedding Mary James. In 1854 he was elected to the Assembly, and died at Uxbridge in 1886.

Gould struggled earnestly for the independence of his county. Whitby, once Perry’s Corners, became county town, but, despite this advantage, its good harbour and the coming of the Grand Trunk Railway, its progress was slow. Perhaps it was retarded by the eagerness of speculators.

The largest town in the county is Oshawa, founded by two brothers named Farewell, who, exploring the shores of Lake Ontario at the beginning of the nineteenth century, paddled their canoe up Oshawa Creek and encamped on its banks. A little later, when going to trade with the Indians on Lake Scugog, they left a man named Sharp in charge of their camp. On their return they found that he had been killed by an Indian; and it was the latter who was embarked with his judge, the Solicitor-General, the witnesses, constables, and other passengeis on the Government schooner Speedy, which foundered in a fierce October gale with every soul on board.

It was after the townships had been surveyed that the dam constructed at Lindsay turned Scugog Township into an island, but the building of a bridge, after it became a separate municipality in 1856, immensely increased the value of the property within it. About the middle of last century the settlements of Rama, begun by British officers, were perhaps the most northerly in the Province. By that time, however, most of the officers had left, and its population consisted almost entirely of Indians, who in 1838 had removed from Orillia.

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