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The Stories of the Counties of Ontario

“The lochs and lakes of other lands,
Like gems may grace a landscape painting,...
But ours is deep, and broad, and wide,
With steamships thro’ its waves careering,
And far upon its ample tide
The bark its devious course is steeling,
Whilst hoarse and loud the billows break
On islands in our own broad lake!”

Thomas M'Queen.

THE Huron County seal is dated 1841, but the emblems that it bears suggest pioneer days, as well as the easier periods after the woods had been laid low. Upon a shield of gold and blue is first a bare and brawny arm wielding an axe. Next is a plough, and finally a wheat-sheaf, while a laurel bough on the left and a spray of oak leaves on the right all but encircle the whole. In one respect, perhaps, the wheat-sheaf was an even more appropriate symbol for the county a decade ago than it is now, for it is said that at that time a thousand bushels of grain were marketed in Goderich for every hundred to-day. This only means that the farmers of Huron are becoming more alive to the advantages of mixed farming, are raising more stock than formerly, and are even beginning to make a serious business of apple-growing.

Long before 1841, what is now Huron County was included in the Huron Tract or District, the settlement of which began about 1827, when the town of Goderich was founded by Dr. Dunlop and John Galt, Commissioner of the Canada Company. It was a period when thousands of immigrants were arriving annually in Canada, and the lands of the Company, scattered through the more settled districts, were speedily taken up, but the settlement of the Huron Tract was slow, and the immigrants who did settle there were often disappointed and dissatisfied. The bridges, roads, and mills, liberally promised by the Company, often proved lacking altogether, or were very poor, and, chafing against such conditions, a party was soon formed amongst the settlers in the Huron Tract, in strong opposition to the Company and its representatives. John Galt did not long remain in its service, and Dr. Dunlop soon became the head of the anti-Company party.

Principal Grant (in his preface to Miss Robina and Miss Kathleen Lizars’ In the Days of the Canada Company, which is a veritable mine of information on the Huron pioneers and their times) says that Galt was too big a man for the Company, which distrusted him, and showed its distrust by sending out an accountant to be a sort of spy upon him. Galt was, perhaps, somewhat egotistical and self-sufficient, but at least he was “a man of ideas,” and he did good service to Canada in bringing out people “of the right stock.” In physique he was himself a magnificent specimen of humanity, being almost six feet four inches in height, and broad in proportion. In complexion he was fresh-coloured, and his hair was black and his eyes keen. He was convinced of the necessity of roads, and Principal Grant says that the road he cut, nearly a hundred miles in length, between Lakes Huron and Ontario, is “one of his best monuments.” For the making of this highway Galt was allowed only three thousand pounds, but by paying the settlers whom he employed partly in land he was able to accomplish the work. It was, however, but a narrow track, and after a storm was often obstructed by huge trees that had fallen across it.

The directors of the Company wished Galt to change the name of his little new town of Guelph to Goderich. To mollify them, the novelist bestowed the latter name on the infant port of Lake Huron. From the first it was chief town of the district, as it is now of the county. Perhaps Dunlop—“Tiger” Dunlop, he was nicknamed, from his exploits in hunting big game in India—ought to be counted founder of Goderich, for it was he who led a party through the woods, fixed on the site of the town, and had a log-house built on the rising ground above the River Maitland, so named in honour of Sir Peregrine Maitland, the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada. A little later John Galt, sailing in the Government gunboat Bee, from Penetanguishene, doubling Cabot’s Head, which he called "the Cape of Good Hope of the Lakes," and examining the coast with a telescope for possible harbours, saw “a small clearing in the forest, and on the brow of a rising ground a cottage delightfully situated.” While he was debating whether this could be the location of Dunlop, the vessel was met by a canoe, “having on board a strange combination of Indians, velveteens, and whiskers," and Galt “discovered within roots of red hair the living features of the doctor.”

Except for the last brief period of his life, when acting as Superintendent of the Lachine Canal (an office said to have been given to get him out of Parliament, where his sharp tongue was an annoyance), the old “Tiger” identified himself with the Huron district. At the roomy log-house of “Gairbraid” he and his brother, the Captain, kept “bachelor’s hall.” About 1833 a Highland dairy-woman, Louisa M'Coll, came out to them from Scotland. She was something of a character, and when asked how she came to this country used to reply: "Oh, indeed, shuist by poaste!” She was devoted to “the deare gentlemen,” but (the story goes) gossip started, and, both being unwilling to let the girl go, the doctor told his brother that they would toss up to see which should marry her. The Captain won—which is not surprising, seeing that the doctor tossed a double-headed penny— so “Lou’’ became, by a marriage in which “Black Jimmy,” the butler, officiated, Mrs. Dunlop. It was of doubtful legality, so the bride wisely insisted on having the ceremony repeated in more regular form at a later date. She continued to serve and look after both brothers to the end, but failed to check their too convivial habits. The Captain died first, and was buried by the river, with a cairn to mark the spot. Some time later came the news that the doctor, then in charge at Lachine, was dangerously ill, and the faithful “Lou” journeyed to his bedside, nursed him till the end, and then in the Indian summer set out to bring back his body to his old home. At Hamilton it was given a temporary resting-place in Sir Allan M'Nab’s plot, but when winter improved the roads, “Lou” continued her doleful journey with the heavy leaden coffin, and at last laid the doctor in the grave next to his brother’s beside the Maitland. Still the old “Tiger” lives in the pioneer legends, and his queer, energetic personality meets us at every turn in The Days of the Canada Company. It was the doctor who, when there was but a ferry over the Maitland, drove “an inoffensive cow” into the stream and crossed upon her back. It was he who took vengeance upon Galt’s bugbear, “the Cockney accountant,” by persuading a servant and Major Strickland (who, by the way, took service with the Canada Company in 1828) to howl like wolves while the innocent-seeming “Tiger” was guiding the wretched new-comer through the dense woods to Goderich. But Dunlop’s love of a practical joke was equal to his love of strong drink.

In the latter taste he was not singular, and, like other counties, Huiron seems to have been fairly flooded in the early days with cheap whisky and more costly imported intoxicants. Almost at the beginning of things the thirty white men, then at Goderich, spent “a night of terror," because five hundred Chippewas on the flats below were engaged in a great drinking bout.

The pioneers of all ranks wee chiefly of a hardy, adventurous type, and many even of the gentlemen chose to affect in dress and behaviour the fashions depicted in such books as those of Fenimore Cooper. But, though red shirts and unconventionable manners were in vogue, “society” in the restricted sense was not lacking in the “backwoods” of Huron. “A fat, dark little Baron” from Belgium was amongst the early speculators in land, and was duly succeeded by a much handsomer heir, who caused a flutter by his good looks, his high play, and great flirtations. Then there was the “Colborne (Township) clique” of Scotch gentlemen, who made common cause against the Canada Company, And (to name but one more) there was Van Egmond (descendant, it is said, of the luckless Count who figured in the history of the Dutch Republic). He left the farm, where was grown the first wheat cut in Huron, to lead the rebels in 1837, but on the day of his funeral, his son, true to his adopted country, refused to allow a volley to be fired over the grave—because, as he said, his "father was Mackenzie's general.”

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