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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“War in all men’s eyes shall be
A monster of iniquity
In the good time coming;
Nations shall not quarrel then,
To prove which is the stronger,
Nor slaughter men for glory’s sake—
Wait a little longer.”


DUNDAS is one of those counties which, with a fairly well distributed rural population, has no great town within its borders. Morrisburg, the largest of its villages, situated in a good dairy country, has a population of about 1700 souls. Its chief industries are poultry-fattening and certain manufactures of iron and steel, including the making of stoves, nails, and tacks.

The German Loyalist pioneers of this county had an interesting history. Their Lutheran forefathers had dwelt on the banks of the Rhine in the “Palatinate.' More than once at the close of the seventeenth century the district was terribly ravaged by the French, and, in 1708 and 1709, 15,000 “Palatines” sought refuge in England, where Queen Anne gave them a daily cash allowance and the use of the army tents from the Tower. The refugees encamped at Blackheath, where they were visited by the Mohawk chiefs, who chanced then to be in England; and from them the distressed Germans received an invitation to take up lands in their territories in the province of New York. In the following year 3200 of the Germans set sail for New York in ten ships, one of which was lost on the way with all on board. The rest of the immigrants were settled by the Governor of New York on the Hudson, where they were employed, not very successfully, in making tar from the pines for the British navy. Afterwards some of their number went to Pennsylvania and more to the Mohawk Valley. Many of the latter served in Sir John Johnson’s Loyalist regiment, and at the close of the war were finally settled on the St. Lawrence in the townships of Williamsburg and Matilda. Here each family soon built a small house and cleared a little plot of ground, living for a time under a kind of military rule.

The settlers drew their lots and obtained rations at Cornwall, to which their descendants still look up as the judicial centre of the district. The pioneers used often to take home their goods on hand-sleighs. At first there was no mill nearer the settlements than one, in each direction, sixty miles away. Occasionally several men, joining together, took down a boatload of grain to be ground at once, but it is no wonder that the phrase “once to church, twice to mill, makes a traveller,” should have become proverbial in the eastern counties. Now, crossed by two great railways, they have easier communication both with the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts than they had a little over a century ago with Montreal and Quebec.

It is indeed astonishing how much travelling was done in the open boats, by blazed trails, and on roughly-cut-out woodland roads. I suppose it was often a ease of necessity rather than choice, for all kinds of business obliged an occasional visit to some centre of trade or to the seat of government, and, despite their amazing ingenuity, there were some necessaries that the pioneers could not make for themselves.

The Dundas settlement had much traffic with Montreal. In winter goods were brought up on the short sleighs with solid runners, known as “Canadian trains.” The shafts were hung by short chains to the bottom of the sleigh and the horse travelled in the middle of the road. If the load was heavy, a second horse was harnessed, tandem, in front of the first. The drivers, picturesquely clad in rough homespun or blanket capotes, gay sashes, red or blue caps and leather moccasins, liked to travel in brigades. Going down to Montreal, though a few of the sleighs might be laden with grain or potash, many would be empty, ar.d the drivers, leaving their horses to their own devices, used to get together in one sleigh to jest and chat and troll out their French songs.

The occupants of a single sleigh dreaded meeting one of these brigades, for the drivers would not turn out of the track for anyone, and if their obstinacy resulted in the upsetting of the other vehicle, the accident was but the signal for delighted jeers. The overtaking of a brigade was no less vexatious for a traveller eager to press on, for often he would have to travel for miles in the rear of the cavalcade before he could get past it.

In summer goods for the west were carted from Montreal to Lachine, and there put on board bateaux or Durham boats to be carried to Kingston or the little intervening ports.

The bateau was a flat-bottomed boat, thirty feet in length and pointed at each end. It was steered with a large paddle, had a movable mast and a square sail, and was manned by six or seven men, who, going against the current, pushed or “set” the boat with long, iron-shod poles. Where the stream ran too fast for this, several of the men went ashore to tow with a rope, but two always remained on board to keep the craft off the rocks. The bateaux, like the "trains,” frequently went up in brigades, so that the crews might help each other.

The Durham boat was a larger vessel, built with a round bow and square stem. It was decked for some feet at the ends and had a gangway at each side for the convenience of the crew in pushing it up the stream. Beginning at the bow, the men set their poles against the bottom of the river and walked towards the stern, pushing with all their might. They returned to the bow, dragging their poles, and the iron-tipped points struck against the stones with a clank that sounded far on a still day.

At night the crews of boats or bateaux bivouacked on the bank, supping on pork and pea-soup and sleeping in the open. In places tow-paths were made and oxen or horses were used to tow up the heavy boats. In going up the Long Sault of the St. Lawrence and the rapids above, the boats were unloaded and the goods carted up. About 1844 three short canals were made along the Dundas shore to overcome different rapids. The passage downstream was comparatively easy, and experienced boatmen took down heavily-laden boats with few accidents. Going down, rafts of timber w ere often utilised for conveying passengers and goods. In the early days a person wishing to take passage up or down stream would watch on the bank till a boat appeared, then, going out in a canoe, would bargain with the captain to be taken on board. Usually there was no difficulty about this, as the passenger always provided his own food and blanket. But some travellers preferred to go up on horseback.

The first vehicles used in Dundas and the district were lumber wagons and ox-carts, with an occasional two wheeled gig, which had a body hung on leather straps and a hood resembling that of a covered buggy*. It is stated in Croil’s Dundas that in 1825 “the three counties” had eleven gigs, eleven pleasure wagons (also with leather "springs”) and one close carriage. The first stage coaches, though ponderous affairs, gorgeously painted, had bodies mounted, like the other vehicles intended for easy travelling over the rough roads, on leather straps.

As late as 1833 a journey from Cornwall to York took eighty-six hours, exclusive of a delay in Kingston of thirty-four hours. After the introduction of steamboats, which at first were anything but luxurious, according to modem notions, people travelled by them whenever possible, but for the greater part of the 3'ear the stages 6till ran until the Grand Trunk Railway was opened in 1856.

Originally Dundas was covered with fire timber. Amongst its trees were white oak and huge pines, much prized by shipbuilders. One of the latter, of such size that it took the united efforts of fifteen or sixteen teams to drag it from the woods, was sold in Quebec for a bowsprit for a sum of $200. Later elm and ash found a ready market, but beach and maple, thought useless except for the making of potash, were rolled together and burned in great piles.

The settlers along that great highway, the St. Lawrence, were far less isolated than many others of the pioneers, but even in their case the education of the children was a difficult matter. For long, there was no school in Dundas, but a good old German went from house to house teaching. His plan was to stay in a neighbourhood for two weeks, and then to move to another. The early settlers had a great reputation for honesty, but their detractors accused them of being too fond of “dancing and carousing.”

During the War of 1812, the inhabitants of the county found themselves almost too much upon the highway Several times brigades of boats were attacked by parties, of Americans, and in November 1813, a hostile army commanded by General Wilkinson, passed through the county, on the way (if the plan had not miscarried) to join General Hampton in an attack on Montreal. Happily, Hampton’s defeat at Cliateauguay by De Salaberry and his resolute little force had utterly discouraged him before Wilkinson, ignorant of the mishap, set out to meet him,

Wilkinson threatened both Kingston and Prescott, but it was in Dundas County that he landed his troops, creating great consternation amongst the country people, though he paid with Spanish dollars for the provisions that he took. Halting at the lower limit of Williams-burgh township, he sent a force to try to capture the Government stores at Cornwall. But the Canadians, mustering every wagon in the countryside, had driven inland with the stores, which at last were carried safely to Coteau.

Meanwhile Colonel Morrison, with a few armoured vessels and a small British force, was hurrying in hot haste from Kingston. Overtaking the Americans at last, he succeeded, on November nth, in forcing a battle on ground of his own choosing at Chrysler’s Farm, just within the bounds of Dundas. The struggle, in which, by the way, the militia of the county gave a good account of themselves, lasted for hours, but the little British force came off victorious, a fact which, with the news of Chateauguay, decided Wilkinson to retreat across the border. After the battle, Chrysler’s farmhouse became a hospital, where friend and foe lay side by side, whilst the dead found a common resting-place in the green fields near by.

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