Do the 1920’s sound too remote for reminiscences called forth by B.C.I.’s 50th Celebrations We hope not, for many boys and girls who attended the old school, burned down in 1929, are now the white haired men and women who share the pleasures of the 1980 Reunion.
From Lyn and the neighbouring country-side the daily journey to school was first made by horses, generations of horses, we suppose. Horses who grew so wise about the gateways to stop at, that, if the teenager holding the reins was absent minded, they continued to halt there long after the passenger had graduated. The early morning drive through the woods on the Lyn Road, or, for a change the Howard Road, and the more relaxed return trip between four o’clock and six must have trained eyes and hearts to an appreciation of the seasons as they turned. We noted trillium’s in the spring, the best orchard, for a few stolen apples, beechnuts in season, the purple asters and red leaves of autumn, and the beauty and brilliance of frosty February mornings.
Of course, there was a lot of fun and some practical jokes to entertain us on our daily drives home. A favourite punishment was to push someone off the sleigh to walk a mile or two. Sometimes passengers craftily exchanged seats so that young sweethearts could ride together. Certain drivers pitted their horses against other horses in a brief race, although no horse on his school route was ever intended to be run! Even the deep pitch holes dug out in the snow and ice early in the winter, no paved roads then, provided us with laughs! One load of boys and girls became a secret society called “The Naughty Nine”, had a club pin, and enjoyed occasional Friday evening parties at members’ houses.
The school year demanded stamina, patience, and faithfulness to the task of getting an education; it also demonstrated the importance country parents placed on education for their children. Fathers who supervised the daily departure at 7:30 in the morning, mothers who placed a hearty lunch in our hands…….Years later, we thank them again for their encouragement.
The Principal we remember with great respect and affection from those early years is the late A.J. Husband, a firm, kindly, and cultured gentleman whose invariable morning greeting to us from the country, on very cold days, was, “Make sure you are good and warm before you go into your class.” He was an excellent teacher of English, French, German and Ancient History. Other names come to mind – Miss Giles, Miss McCormack, Mr. Somerville, Mr. Butcher (beloved by his Latin students), Mr. Thompson, Mr. L.S. Beattie, Miss Marjorie Lewis and Miss Mabel Roberts. Each old girl and boy will add to that list The school curriculum was perhaps too rigidly academic, discouraging indeed to those who found Latin a chore and needed a practical course of study. The hour’s drive home prevented any participation in sports and games. After eating a cold, if not frozen lunch in a classroom left open for us, we had little recreation except two noon hours a week in the gymnasium for the girls, (the boys had three), and a stolen few minutes of dancing, if the door was left unlocked. But in that generation we did not know we had rights to be pressed for; we knew only that we had duties and responsibilities. What a meek lot we must have been! Probably our worst misdemeanour was to leave school at noon one day in early September to attend the Rural School Fair at Tincap!
Those who remember going to B.C.I. in the 1920’s will have their own stories to tell. Good times with good friends, we like to recall them.
(this story was written for the 50th B.C.I. Celebration in 1980. It was published in the “Reunion Edition” of the B.C.I. 1980 Yearbook “The Boomerang”)
The Presbyterians of the Lyn district held their first service in the ball-room of the Brownton Hotel. It was conducted by the Rev. William Smart, who was one of the pioneers of religion. A Sunday school was organized by Mr. Smart and Adiel Sherwood, who was sheriff of Brockville. Services were held occasionally in the Methodist Church and later in Pergau’s Hall, until a church was built.
Lyn congregation was only a mission until 1855. Rev. William Smart arrived in Brockville in October 1811 and commenced his ministerial labours there, extending them to Yonge and Augusta. After Mr. Smart left, the ministerial services were conducted by the Rev. Mr. McMurray and later by Rev. J.K. Smith of Brockville. The first minister of Lyn was the Rev. Robert McKenzie, who remained from July 5, 1859 until 1862. He was succeeded by the Rev. John Burton, who was called to Prescott February 4, 1868, and later to the Northern Congregational Church in Toronto. Then for six years the Presbyterians were without a settled minister, until the year 1874, when the Rev. Archibald Brown was called and settled here.
The Lyn section of the Presbyterian congregation resolved in the autumn of 1874 to build a church, the work being started in April, 1875. The donor of the building site to the Presbyterian Church was James Cassels, M.D. of Quebec. Robert Cassels was chairman. The building committee was composed of James Cumming, Chairman, Robert Bryson, Treasurer, John Halliday, James Bulloch, James Hamilton, Archie Davidson, Peter Purvis and John McNish. The architect was W.G.Thomas of Montreal, contractors were Hugh McKay and Joshua Franklin, the mason and plasterer William Whitton and carpenter Edwin Bagg. The building was to be of stone in Gothic Style. The auditorium was to be sixty by thirty-four feet, the vestry in the rear was to be ten by sixteen feet, and the tower fourteen by fourteen feet. The total cost was to be about four thousand dollars.
On Friday, May 7, 1875, the cornerstone was laid by the Rev. William Smart, assisted by the Rev. Archibald Brown Rev. James Hastie of Prescott and the Rev. John Burton of Belleville. Copies of “The Brockville Recorder”, “The Weekly Monitor”, Montreal and Toronto newspapers and the current coins of the Dominion were deposited in the stone.
The tower, at first, was about the height of the main roof, but later was completed to its present height by Joseph Hudson, a stone mason of Lyn. At first, the choir seats were arranged just inside the church, with a space in the centre for the small organ then in use. My first recollection of the interior of the church was the choir seats. These with the little organ placed directly below the stained glass window and the organist facing the entrance met your gaze as you entered the church. The aisle behind the pews separated the choir from the congregation. These seats are still there, but the space taken by the organ has been filled in. Sometimes when there was an evening service, the younger boys occupying these were a disturbing element to the minister.
The congregation was seated facing the pulpit, with their backs to the choir. The pulpit, a wonderful piece of cabinet making, was built by Mr. John McNish, an uncle of the late George A. McNish, and brother of his father, James McNish. Some years later the choir was moved to chairs behind the pulpit and another organ was installed. Then the Board of Managers decided that a pipe organ should be bought. This always seemed an unwise move to many of the Presbyterian congregation. A second-hand organ filled the choir loft completely, except fora narrow passage at one side, where the pumper could squeeze in to the long lever at the back of the organ, get off his coat and work the twelve foot shaft up ad down until the bellows was full of air. If you got too much pressure, one of the pipes would whistle. This disturbed the congregation, and did not ad to the solemnity of the service. Later the bellows would start leaking air; then someone would have to take off the front panels, crawl in and try to locate the leak.
It was a hard job to pump the organ. A pumper was usually hired to do this work but after a few services he would quit. Then one of the younger members of the congregation would volunteer to do the next pumping, but usually that member was not on hand the next Sunday and another was asked to pump. An amusing incident happened one night, when a special meeting of the congregation had been called for some purpose or other. At the end of the meeting the minister announced a closing hymn. The organist, Mrs. Ernest Cumming, pressed on the keys, but no sound came. She tried again. Still no air. Then she slid off the stool, walked to the end of the organ and looked back into the narrow passage. There sat the pumper, braced with his back to the wall and fast asleep! The congregation, by this time very quiet, heard her, in a stage whisper call. “Tommy! Tommy! Give us some air!” Tommy woke and grasping the lever, pumped. Each stroke of the lever hit the side and bottom of the slot that the lever worked in. The pumper explained that he had been at a party the night before, to account for his condition. He writer did his share of pumping, and felt a great relief when the old organ was removed and an electric organ installed.
During the pastorate of the Rev. C.E.A. Pocock, new acetylene lights were secured These gave a splendid light, except for an occasional whistle when a bit of an obstruction in the burner meant getting out the stepladder, placing it under the offending light and turning off the valve in the pipe. Meanwhile the minister waited.
After the passing of Mrs. Cumming, first wife of Mr. James Cumming, he presented a marble baptismal fount to the church in memory of his wife. The minister at that time, Rev. J.J. Wright, boarded with the caretaker of the church, Mrs. John Armstrong. Her two youngest boys, Allan and Robert, had, a few Sundays previously witnessed a baptism. They had just been presented with a lovely collie pup, and decided that it should be baptized. Securing some water, they poured it into the font and were just about in the act of immersing the pup’s head when the church door opened and the minister walked in and stood looking, as they thought, directly at them. Keeping quiet, they finally got down behind the font and waited. The pup whined a little but evidently the visitor did not hear him. He finally turned and walked out to the street. That night the boys were late for tea, having decided to keep out of sight until Mr. Wright had left to make a call. Expecting to get a lecture from their mother they walked in, but no mention of the incident was made. They decided Mr. Wright was a good sport and would not tell or else he had not seen them. I asked the lads many years later what they were going to name their pup. They said, “Lucky”.
The seats in the church at first were built in lengths that extended from the aisles at each side. Usually two and sometimes three families occupied one seat. If you were late for church you had to push past the family occupying the end of the seat. Later on it was decided that the seats should be rearranged. Messrs. Archie and James Greer did this work. Some of the seats were cut in two, the end cut at a bevel, new ends of ash put on, each seat given additional lip to make it wider, and the aisles moved to their present location. Each short pew was fastened to the side wall. This provided a splendid arrangement, as a small family could use one of these. Then the members drew lots to get their pew.
During Mr. Pocock’s pastorate the Board of Managers decided a furnace was necessary, as the old chimneys built in the walls of the church were leaking and the stoves in use did not give enough heat. A furnace man who was consulted advised making a passage from the back of the cellar, removing earth enough to go through with wheelbarrows and excavating for the furnace room a space ten feet square and ten feet deep. Also, at this time, an outside chimney was built from the ground. A cement floor was laid in the furnace room with a three foot cement wall enclosing it. When the furnace was put in it proved very satisfactory except that there was no drainage, and one day after a heavy rain we found some water on the floor.
The Managers arranged to have a ditch dug from the pond to this spot, but some said the cellar was too deep and was lower than the pond itself. We finally put a level on, and having proved that we had six feet of fall, we started to dig the ditch. It was Saturday night, the men were now under the building, and the work went more slowly. It started to rain, but at six o’clock quitting time the men were about five feet from the furnace room. When I went into the cellar about seven o’clock there was a foot of water on the floor. After consulting the minister, as I knew we could have no fire if we could not get rid of the water, I went out to see one of the men who had been working on the ditch, but he would not come back. Then I again went back to the basement. There in the water stood our minister, Mr. Pocock, with a pair of rubber boots on! He had made a trough reaching to the unfinished ditch. There, dipping with a pail and pouring the water into the trough, he declared that it was not going to beat him, and he would have a fire in that furnace before the morning. I hastened down the street, called Mr. James Cumming on the telephone and told him what our minister was doing. He called back. “I’ll tend to that!” and in half and hour he had four of his men with rubber boots on finishing the drain. Then he ordered Mr. Peacock to go home and prepare his sermon, while he stayed to see what the men started. Of course we had a service the next day.
Fourteen years after Church Union in 1939, it was decided to excavate and put a Sunday School room under the main floor. A contract was let and the work started. Six or seven feet of earth had to be removed by wheelbarrow before anything else could be done, then the basement walls were found to extend just four feet below the floors. A bit of skilful engineering then was started. Workmen would measure off eight feet in length of the basement wall, then remove all the earth under the wall for four feet, build in the stone and cement foundation, and pass on eight feet further, taking out another four feet of earth. This was continued all around the foundation. Every precaution was taken not to disturb the upper walls, with such success that not a crack developed. After hundreds of tile had been laid from wall to wall and connected with the original drain to the pond, cinders were spread over the cleared ground. A cement top was laid over this and finally wooden floors were put down. The furnace was rebuilt, another entrance opened behind the tower into the Sunday school room and the work was all completed in the stipulated time. I have seen many difficult contracts executed, but the building of the walls under the old foundation was a feat worthy of mention.
For a small village church our United Church in Lyn has unusually beautiful windows. The largest one, the Cassels memorial window, was installed when the church was built. Representing Jesus, the Light of the World, it is a beautiful piece of work in an arched opening, about twelve feet high and eight feet wide. The McDonald window, behind the pulpit, over the choir seats, also distinctive for its rich, glowing colours was likewise installed when the church was built in 1875. No more memorial windows were given until February, 1944, Mr. T.J. Storey put in a window in memory of his wife. In May, 1945 another was given to the church in memory of Mr. Clayton Taylor by Mrs. Taylor and her daughter, Mrs. Josephine Taylor Macdonald. In June, 1945, two more were given; one in memory of James Cumming by his family and another in memory of the Stewart and Morrison families by Hon. H.A. Stewart, KC of Brockville. After the death of Mr. T.J. Storey, a window in his memory was given by his daughter Mrs. Douglas Cole and her husband in May 1949. Following this in February, 1952, Mrs. F.W. Moffatt gave another stained glass window in memory of her parents Mr. And Mrs. James McNish.
Other valuable and beautiful gifts have been made to Christ Church in Lyn at various times. A communion table was given in 1920 by Mrs. Horton Rowsom and her brothers and sisters in memory of their father and mother, Mr. And Mrs. David Thompson. In January 1950, the children of Mr. And Mrs. James Neilson gave silver offering plates in memory of their parents. In 1939 when the church was renovated, new electric fixtures were presented by Dr. Gordon Richards of Toronto in memory of his father and mother, Rev. J.J. and Mrs. Richards.
Now I shall close with a final word about the ministers who have served our church over the years. After Rev. Archibald Brown, already mentioned, came Rev. J.J. Richardss, Rev. J.J. Wright, Rev. Charles Daly, Rev. C.E.A. Pocock, Rev. D.M. McLeod, Rev. A.W. Gardiner and Rev. W.T. McCree. In 1925 with Church Union it was decided that the United congregation should worship in the former Methodist Church, and this plan was followed until 1939. During those year our minister were Rev. F.G. Robinson, Rev. R.A. Delve and Rev. A.S. Doggett, under whose leadership the congregation in 1939 moved back to Christ Church which was redecorated and renovated. The large bell from the Methodist Church was brought over and placed in position in the tower where it still calls the congregation to worship. In 11940 Rev. H.B. Herrington succeeded Mr. Doggett and in July 1942, Rev. C.K. Mathewson came to the congregation where he and his sister, Miss Nan Mathewson, still ably minister.
My first recollection of Lyn was about the year 1876. Word had come to the farm that the many cords of tanbark piled on what was afterwards the ball grounds was on fire. I was too young to go to Lyn that night and could only stand in our yard and see the smoke and tongues of flame shooting skyward. Tanbark was used in the tanneries in the village, and the loss of this bark was a serious blow. It was ground and placed in vats, the hides were thrown in, and water poured on them. However, the burning of the bark compelled the tanneries to close down and I do not remember that they ever operated again.
Lyn about that time was a thriving village. A saw mill, fed from the pond behind the stores and through the by-wash besides the post office, consisted of an upright saw driven by an over-shot water wheel and was managed by men by the name of Armstrong, Jerry and Robert. Another mill near the flour mill was operated by a Mr. Weeks and Norman Field, who operated a cheese factory in the summer.
There was a woolen mill under the hill also, which a Mr. Burris had charge of, and carriage and paint shop behind the building that housed the fire engine. The latter was in charge of Henry Storey, and the former run by a Mr. Wilson. Before I was fifteen, these firms were all out of business, largely because of the failure of the water power.
My school days, divided between the Howard school and later the Lyn school, where I had as chums Maurice Brown, Ernie Gardiner, Jack Halliday, Trevor Grout and Byron Haskin, were very pleasant memories. The teachers were anxious that we get through the Entrance and on to the Brockville High School, and I think we all did our best at the examinations. But the Horton School (in Brockville) at that time was no place to go to write. I remember I was so cold at this December examination that I could hardly hold my pen, much less do anything worth while at answering the questions. I think Trevor Gout, my desk-mate at school, later judge Grout of Brampton, was the only one who passed.
The next summer I was working hard to try again when I had to leave school and go to work on the farm. A Business College course later gave my sister Lou and me some knowledge of book keeping, which we found very useful in after years.
Marketing the produce of the farm gave me a break from the usual routine. Apples, potatoes, green corn and even pumpkins were in demand, and one summer we had a wonderful crop of Strawberries, Father had contracted with a fruit firm in Montreal to take all the berries. I think the price was eight cents a box delivered at Lyn station. However, at the height of the season this firm wired to send no more berries as they were going bankrupt. They had paid all they owed us up to this time, so Father said we would have to sell them on the streets of Brockville.
One day I had disposed of one fifty-four box crate on the street and had just opened the other. I remember I was on a street just east of William and running at right angles with this street when an engine came puffing along on the C.P.R. tracks. My horse started to run but he was headed east, and I knew he could only go around that block and would come back on to William street. So I turned back, ran over to this street and met him. The crate of berries by this time was standing nearly on its end, but as I had fastened down the lid, I found a lot of the boxes empty and the contents piled there, and pretty well mussed up. A woman had wanted to buy my whole crate previously, so I went back to her, told her what had happened and offered her all I had at five cents a box – we could count the empty ones. She agreed, and produced a large dish-pan, a bread pan, and a wash boiler. When I went back next day she was still picking over the strawberries.
But to get back to memories of the village. One day in the spring of 1884, March 28th to be exact, a farmer living at Seeley’s, John W. Booth, came in on horseback, another Paul Revere, rode up to the door of the Post Office, and called out, “Mr. Mallory, get ready! The dam at Lee Pond has gone out and the water is coming. I am telling you to get ready!” Then he went through the village and down to the grist mill to warn them there. At first it was thought it was all a hoax, but going to the pond at the back of the store the men saw muddy water coming down. With boards and bags the doors were barricaded, and in a few minutes the rush of water two feet deep came, tearing up the stone of the street and washing everything movable down to the valley below. The bridge at the foot of the mill hill was carried away, floated across the flats to about where the B&W station now stands, and lodged against a couple of trees.
I remember when the waters subsided, Tom Hudson came for my father, and together they managed to get the bridge and with long poles floated it back to the side of the road, and next day with moving jacks drew it back on its foundations. The village stores were in a sorry mess. Water and mud had gone over the top of the barricade and into the interiors. At the blacksmith shop, wagon wheels, parts of milk wagons and the various collection of machines had been left outside; later some of those were found on the flats below the mill; others were never recovered.
The blacksmith shop was the usual gathering place for the farmers on a rainy day, each one bringing a horse to be shod or wagon wheel to be repaired, and many a story was told to the amusement of the village loafers. In front of the old box stove there was always a long bench and it was usually occupied. Sometimes a checker board was produced and a couple of the old men started a game. One player, more skillful than the other, near the end of the game would seem to have his opponent all bottled up. Then someone would draw his attention to someone passing along the street, and with a piece of stick would move one of the checkers, so that when the players looked back at their game it had a different aspect. Another, a habitual loafer, usually was on this bench, and the boys, securing some thumb tacks, would put them through the tail of his coat and into the edge of the bench, so that when he would be called to the door by one of these same boys, the bench went with him, tipping over the checkers and players at the other end. Other times they would fill his overcoat pockets with small iron scraps, heavy enough that when he attempted to move he would drop back again on the bench.
Lyn, like many other villages, had its usual number of characters. One couple I remember particularly. The husband was a small man, not too industrious. The wife was tall, angular and quite masculine. One day the husband had bought a load of wood from a farmer, who was unloading it at the side of the house when the wife appeared. Standing there with her hands on her hips she said “My man how much did you pay for that wood?” He replied, “Three dollars.” “Well” she said “it ain’t worth it” and went into the house. The farmer, looking at the husband said “Well?” The husband said. “Yes, guess you will have to do as she says.” In a few minutes he walked over and looked up in the farmers face. “Say, its awful provoking, ain’t it?” he said.
Years later while I was carrying on my work in the village, a farmer from Caintown, whom we will call Jack, came in one afternoon, saying that they were boiling sap that day in his bush. He invited the four lads in the shop u that night to have sugar. Of course they went, taking a lunch with them. During the early part of the night, when the sugar was about ready, one of the boy’s said it would be great if they just had some fried chicken to eat with their lunch. Jack at once spoke up and said “You know my neighbour has a dandy lot of Rock chickens, nearly full size now, and if a couple of you lads go out to the road and into John M’s hen house, just pick one off the roost and I will clean and fry it for you. I have lots of butter and some corn meal here to sprinkle over the frying pan.” Away they went and soon back with a four pound bird. Jack had a kettle of hot water ready and he doused it in, then proceeded to pluck off the feathers, saying as he did so. “My! won’t John M. be mad when he misses this chicken!”
“But,” he sad, “maybe we had better burn these feathers for fear someone should come in and see them.” The fried chicken was just right. When the boys were no longer hungry and the syrup was ready to be taken off they cleaned up the chicken bones, burned them and went home,
Next morning Jack watched for his neighbour, John M. to go to his hen house. He came out with a pan of feed, went in to his chickens, and finally came out and went into the house. Jack thought “Well, he has not missed the fowl or he doesn’t care,” and at last he decided to feed his own flock. Walking over to his hen house he noticed some footprints in the dirt, then going to the door and stepping inside he noticed that his hens were making a fuss as though they had been scared. Looking around then he saw why John M. Had gone so quietly into his house again. The chicken that he had beheaded and plucked was not John M’s! It was one of his own!
It was nearly a month before Jack came into the village, and the first greeting he got as he tied his horse was from across the street. It was one of those boys who had helped to eat the chicken, and he said “Hello Jack! When are we going to get some more fried chicken?”
The flour mills built in 1857 by the Coleman Company when Lyn was a flourishing manufacturing centre, later went into bankruptcy and were taken over in 1876 by James Cumming acting for the bank. He later purchased the whole property and carried on the business successfully doing custom grinding, manufacturing several popular bands of flour and furnishing employment for about twenty men.
James Cumming’s son Gordon, associated with him until the former’s tragic death in 1916, carried on the business until 1933 when severe competition from larger manufactures compelled the Lyn flour mills to close.
In the first chapter I mentioned the fact that the loss of the tan bark by fire caused the two tanneries to close down. However, another custom tannery located west of the village, at the foot of a lane running down across the line of the Brockville and Westport Railway, past the home of Nathan Purvis, was in operation for a considerable period after the larger tanneries closed.
Henry Booth, the proprietor, lived in an ancient frame house just across the lane from the Purvis home. He used hemlock bark for tanning, and the mill for grinding the bark was powered by a long wooden shaft similar to the ones on horse powers of that time. That is, one horse was used to turn the mill, by being hitched to the end of the shaft and walking in a circle round and round. Mr. Booth was considered an expert at tanning calf-skins and cowhides. The finished leather was taken to the shoe shop of Peter Pergau, who fashioned it into boots for his customers. The walls of this tannery are still standing, a reminder of an industry long since gone.
Harness leather was also manufactured in two flourishing shops, one, Norman Coleman’s and the other Sels Orton, who had a shop across the street from the present blacksmith shop.
Another industry, and undertaking establishment, did a good business. Edward Bagg had a workshop on the corner behind the home of Mrs. Blake Mott, and furnished caskets of his own manufacture.
The old tannery at the foot of the hill below the upright sawmill was leased to the G.F.C. Eyre Mfg. Co. About the year 1901. This firm did a good business manufacturing wooden dry measures, cheese boxes, hub blocks for carriage wheels, and wheel barrows. They also had a saw mill for custom sawing and cut cedar shingles. This carried on for five or six years, employing twelve or fifteen men, but financial difficulties looked and the firm went out of business. N.R. Gardiner bought the machinery and did business for a few years, but a dispute over the lease compelled the closing of the factory, and Mr. Gardiner removed the machinery and sold it.
The Lyn Last Works, started by Bulloch and Coleman, manufactured boot lasts, boot trees to form the long boots then worn, and dies for cutting the soles for the shoes. Mr. Coleman passed away and James Cumming carried on with Mr. Bulloch for several years finally selling out to his son, A.E.Cumming, who overhauled the building and machinery. For many years it provided paying employment as a lot of men did piecework and became very skillful at their job.
Logs were purchased during the winter and later cut into short lengths, then split in sizes to be turned into lasts. These blocks were stored in an airy dry barn to season for three or four months, then carried to the factory. But the maple was fast being used up locally and blocks had to be purchased from Quebec. This difficulty finally compelled the factory to close, and threw ten or more men out of employment. The building was later sold to the Brundige family of Frankville, who conducted a custom saw mill until the building burned on March 29th,1924.
At one time a stave factory was located just below the last factory. They manufactured staves for all types of barrels. This building burned on May 7th 1862.
Another industry which had been doing a good business from about 1890 to 1920 was the Lyn Foundry, owned by George P. McNish. He manufactured land rollers, hand cultivators, plows, root cutters and feed cookers, but competition by larger concerns finally compelled the closing of this business. For a few years Alba Root carried on a business in a red building at the edge of the canal finally moving his cheese box equipment to Greenbush about the year 1902. Henry Graham, who owned a portable saw mill and tractor engine, leased the building formerly used by N.R. Gardiner and in 1912 did custom sawing.
After the spring cutting was finished, the traction engine was driven up the hill past the old shoe factory, burning slabs for fuel and emitting sparks from the smoke stack along the way. On one of these trips sparks ignited the roof of the shoe factory, but a heavy shower coming at just the right time saved the building. However on a later moving, May 11, 1914, the shoe factory was not so fortunate. Long vacant, it burned fiercely, a strong east wind carrying sparks over the village. The old carriage shop, later a cheese factory, next caught fire, then Stack’s ice-house and across the street the George Hensby house occupied by William Young, caught fire and burned. The roughcast house on Main Street next to the canal was on fire but was saved. R.F. Tennant’s verandah started burning and the steps were destroyed. Sparks carried by the gale set fire to the barn and stable of John Serviss behind the residence now occupied by James Manhard and Florence Roberts Next went the house and shed of Dave McCrady. The fire engine from Brockville arrived in time to save only the kitchen of the McCrady house.
But to turn to pleasanter things. I have many memories of the concerts given by local talent, when John Square, our painter and decorator would impersonate Harry Lauder and give some of his very popular Scotch songs. During spring cleaning, john Squire was a most unpopular man among many housewives, who had been promised immediate work by John, and then waited in vain. But all was forgiven him at our annual library concerts, when his Scotch songs delighted us!
I can still remember him with Cora Morrison, now Mrs. Burnham, and Catherine Neilson Gray, doing a pretty piece of work together.
The Minstrels in black face comprised the following boys: Arthur Hudson, Frank Stafford, Willie Clow, Willie McNish, Lorne Cumming, Jack Cumming, John Square and one or two others. What nights! What fun at the preceding practices! Mrs. Ern Cumming was always our pianist, and her home was always open house to those boys.
Many stories are told of practical jokes played on the local inhabitants. One of these was at a time many years ago when there was a very hotly contested election in the offing. Mr. Armstrong, a prominent Liberal, was waiting at the Post Office for his daily paper, The Globe, then strongly Liberal, whose editor, George Brown, wrote many campaign editorials.
Thee Mail and Empire was tossed to Mr. Armstrong. Not looking to see what paper it was he started reading, and seeing a bitter article condemning the Liberal organization, he threw down the paper, turned to his companion, and said, “Did you see this? My God! Has George Brown gone crazy?”
One story that Father enjoyed telling was the following: One summer a number of residents of the vicinity decided that a trip to Charleston Lake would be in order. Securing a three seated democrat wagon and team, eight or nine farmers left for the lake, and enjoyed a week’s holiday camping. On their trip home they decided to go around by Farmersville, now Athens, and have a picture taken of the group. I do not remember all of the group but my father was one of the ringleaders.
Mr. Kenneth Morrison, a prominent Scotsman and a wonderful athlete, said. “Well, boys, if we are going to have our pictures taken I am going to change into a clean pair of trousers.” Stopping the team, Mr. Morrison climbed out and took off his trousers, handed them up to his seat mate and reached for another pair. The driver, watching the performance, struck the horses with the whip and away they went, leaving the Scotchman paint-less. Well, he started running after the wagon, and the driver would almost stop to let him in, and away they would go again. Naturally, Mr. Morrison got mad, and threatened to exterminate the whole crowd when he got hold of them. Then someone called out, “Oh here comes a buggy with a woman in it.” “What will I do?” said the victim, and they advised him to get behind the rail fence, which he did. They finally let him have his trousers, after making him promise not to wreak his wrath on the driver!
From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
In my youth, Harper’s hill was all that could be desired as a spot to spend an afternoon on. At first the big hand sleigh at the farm was the only means of conveyance, but many times, unless the snow was pretty well packed and frozen, the runner would cut through and you usually got a tumble and a skinned nose in the bargain.
My first toboggan was a very crude affair – just three or four barrel staves laid flat and cleats nailed across at each end. This was very speedy but it was a problem, as it would turn around on the hill and carry you down backwards. Later on I secured a thin board about fourteen inches wide and four feet long. The front end was thinned down and the half of a cheese box band was nailed on the under side with a cleat across the other end of the board. Another cleat was nailed across the back. This toboggan proved very satisfactory and would carry two or three quite comfortably.
Through the winter, the road in front of our farm house would drift high with snow, and teams passing over it often got stuck or tipped their loads over, and we were called out to help them. On one occasion a team from MacIntosh Mills got stuck and we boys took shovels to help them out. The mills at that time were doing a big business making toboggans. After we had helped him through the banks. Tom Stevenson, the driver of the team said “Well boys, I have no money but if one of these toboggans happens to slide off my load I guess it will be yours.” And it slid off!
These toboggans were well constructed of narrow slats, steamed and bent to the proper shape, with cleats across the rawhide thongs binding the slats to the cleats. A little grove was cut underneath so that the cords would not be damaged when used. Our toboggan proved very satisfactory but was not big enough. Harper’s Hill by this time had become very popular and young folks gathered nightly to enjoy the sliding. As we had packed the snow and made a good track clear to the creek, we could cross over it and go up the bank, usually at a pretty good speed.
Sometimes, unfortunately the toboggan would leave the track and carry us to a point on the creek where the ice was not solid. On one occasion I was steering, at the back, when this happened. As we neared the edge of the ice, I fell off, the toboggan and the two in front passed over the creek, but did not go clear up the bank, and slid back with the end of the toboggan going through the ice. Of course the water was not deep and the girls waded to the shore. When they missed me they had thought I had gone under the ice and they started to yell. But I was safe and they were wet!
Te foundry man in Lyn, a very handy fellow who could do wood work, said he could make us a good strong toboggan. Instead of making his of narrow slats he made it in three sections, each seven inches wide. The cleats were securely with screws, countersunk in the boards, and the boards at the front as usual steamed and bent, and secured with wire to the first cleat. This proved a very satisfactory process and we gave the speedy new toboggan a good trial on Harper’s Hill.
One night a couple of my uncles came over with their families and decided to take a ride down the hill. I still have a vivid recollection of Uncle Bidwell Billings, who always wore a felt hat in the winter. As the toboggan gained speed his hat blew off, and I can still see his long hair and whiskers as he went past me down the hill. That same night my other uncle, Herb Billings, decided to have a ride. He was sitting up on the toboggan near the back, and as the toboggan gained speed down the steeper part of the hill he got scared and put his feet out to stop it. When they caught in the snow he was lifted clear and landed face downward and hands outstretched, the result being a skinned nose, forehead and chin. We had to take him to the doctor for repairs. About this time the boys decided to build a slide in Lyn, and in the fall of 1887, cedar posts and lumber were donated and the slide erected, on the hill just west of where the Storey barn now stands. It was a splendid structure and on down the hill the boards were put on their edge to form a channel for the toboggans and their surface was well ice. You could go up the steps at the back of the slide, assemble your load at the top, get a push from the starter and in a second you were down in the flat and across the pond, even to the edge of Cornell’s woods. Sometimes though after leaving the boarded side of the slide, your toboggan would jump the track and head for the cat-tails which covered you with the fluffy tops until you looked like as if you were in a feather bed. The foundry man did a big business making these toboggans for a while. Nearly every family in the neighbourhood secured one.
Another slide was erected on Schofield’s Hill, Brockville, just behind where a gasoline station now stands. This was a splendid structure with two slides; at night when it was lighted with torches beside the track it was a gorgeous sight to see boys dressed in blanket suits and toques, swiftly speeding down the hill and across the pond. I enjoyed one night on this hill, my cousin, Eck Kilborn, had a good toboggan and we four, my cousin Joe Clark, later a prominent politician in the West, Bob Geddes, and I had a wonderful evening. Another slide in Brockville was built on what was known as the Lacrosse Grounds.
The slide in Lyn did not last long. In 1889 this district was visited by a severe windstorm. Roofs were blown off barns, trees uprooted, and the Methodist Church, not then in use, was blown down and the slide a few rods from it, was levelled to the ground and never rebuilt. The posts and lumber afterwards were used to build sidewalks in the village of Lyn. The wrecked church was rebuilt at Glen Buell, with the brick and other material that was salvaged and fit for use. This church still stands, with a record over its door stating it was erected in 1890.
The natural slide at the farm is gone. The demand for building sand has meant that trucks have been hauling for four or five years from he hillside, and now only mounds of earth show where we raced down on our toboggans many years ago.
From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
I never seemed to have much luck at this sport. As a boy I could go down to the creek and over to the falls, where with a can of worms I could catch a dozen bullheads, which when cleaned and ready for the frying pan were about the size of sardines. In the spring, by walking along the bank of the creek, I could see nice big red-fin suckers basking in the sunlight, and once or twice, a two foot pike; but a bent pin on the end of a string was no way to catch them.
I remember going with my Aunt Belle to the Brooks Farm just east of Butternut Bay, on the St. Lawrence River. As she wanted to go fishing we went down to the boathouse and got the boat into the water. I did not know much about rowing, but my aunt said we should not go fast to troll, and we didn’t. I usually bumped the oars together and pinched my fingers, but we got along very well. All at once she said, “Oh, I have a bite!” But it was a false alarm. In a few minutes she called again, “I have another bite,” but again no luck. It was hard for me to keep the boat on a straight course, but she warned me if she hooked a fish I was to keep on rowing.
Again she called, “I have got something this time!” I kept on rowing, but it was getting so exciting that I could hardly keep the boat out in deep water. All at once, about twenty feet behind the boat, the fish jumped and tried to shake the hook from its mouth, then went down under again. My aunt kept pulling in the line, and was just in the act of lifting the big fish over the edge of the boat when it gave a flop, its tail struck the side of the boat and the line broke. She leaned over the edge and saw the big fish swim away!
My aunt had become so excited that she was hysterical and just sat there and cried. We certainly had lost a big fish, as I had caught a glimpse of it as its head appeared above the water. As we had lost our tackle and our fish we went ashore and back to the house. For weeks she could hardly talk of anything but the big fish she had lost.
Years later, my brother and I had a similar experience outside of Mallorytown Landing about the year 1933. We had hooked a big maskinonge, but just when we got it up beside the boat the line broke. This exciting event was witnessed by the occupants of another boat, and the item was printed in the local paper, where I found it among other articles a few weeks ago.
Jones’ Creek, below the old mill was the mecca of local fisherman, and many tales of big catches. Practical jokes played on unsuspecting fisherman always added zest to the stories told after one of these outings. One, as told by my cousin Burt Billings, seems worth repeating.
He and his cousin Herb Blair drove to the Mills one night, tramped along the bank to the big rock, where they proceeded to try their luck with worms for bait. Herb seemed the lucky one that night as he hauled in a dozen or more big bullheads. Burt’s luck was different. For an hour he sat there and did not get even a bite. Finally he called to Herb that he was going down near him, to try again. Of course Herb objected, saying if he came down there neither would get a bite, but Burt came just the same, and in a few minutes he hauled in a nice fish! A few minutes later he got another, while Herb’s luck changed. Burt kept on till he had a nice catch of fish and finally Herb said he was tired and was going home. Winding up his line and going back to gather up his fish, on a string, in the dark he could not find where he had placed them; finally he gave up and started for his horse. Burt, gathering up his catch, followed him and they drove home, Herb all the way bemoaning the loss of his fish.
Burt got out first and as Herb started on, Burt stopped him saying “Oh Herb I guess the joke is on you. It was your fish I was catching all the time and you can take them home. I just picked one from your lot each time I hauled that piece of stick from the water.”
At one time at Yonge Mills there was a long channel or sluice-way; at the head of it you could take up the planks or gate and let the water pour down the passage to the pool below. In the spring the boys would go there, open the gate so that the fish would swim up this runway in droves; then, with a plank placed across this stream near the lower end and a large hoop net placed in the water and held by one of the boys, the rest of the fisherman would go up stream, shut off the water and catch the returning fish in the net.
One night my partner Bob, four other lads and I drove to the Mills. They had put the net in three or four times but as the season for suckers was about over had no luck. Finally they said “Bob, you hold the net and we will try again. We will take the poles and splash the water and surly some will go down.”
In the darkness with Bob squatting on the plank holding the hoop of the net the boys went up and started splashing. Finally they heard Bob yell, “Come on down quickly! The net must be full! I can hardly hold it. Hurry, Hurry” The lads rushed down, and all together they lifted the net from the water and dumped its contents on the grass but there was no sound of fish flopping. Bob lit a match and held it over the empty net. There were no fish there but the skeleton of a calf, which the boys had thrown into the stream above!
From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
In the ordinary herd of cattle on the farm there were very few thoroughbreds and in the spring it was the custom to keep the offspring of only the best cows.
A neighbour, wishing a good calf to raise could usually get one for the asking; all others were fed for a few weeks for veal or slaughtered. At the present time many whole herds are thoroughbred animals and young calves not needed on the home farm are sold for prices ranging from twenty-five to fifty dollars each.
My job was to dispose of the unwanted calves, and rather than kill them I would try to feed them for a few days and sell them to a drover, who usually called about once a week. It was sometimes a difficult feat to teach a young calf to drink from a pail, as usually it would it would put its nose down to the bottom of the pail, give it a bunt and over would go the milk on the floor or on your clothes.
One week when I had missed the drover he left word he would be at the C.P.R. dock the next day, and would take the two calves I had. As I did not care to kill them I decided to load them in the spring wagon and go to town with them. Tying their feet and then tying the caves themselves, I started.
A cousin, Annie Slack of Lansdowne, who was visiting us, decided she would go along. It had been raining and the roads were muddy, but all went well until, passing along King St. (Brockville), just opposite Gilmour & Co. office, someone called from the sidewalk and pointed to the back of the wagon. Looking around I saw one calf, hanging, its body suspended behind the box and its feet tied to the other calf. I stopped the horse and handing the reins to the girl I jumped out and ran around behind. I was too late. The other calf had struggled and both had fallen to the street. Brockville streets in the spring were not the clean paved thoroughfares of the present day. Then they were covered with a couple of inches of mud and filth in which the calves were lying. A few years previously we had brought a long black fur coat. It had always been a couple or three inches too long for walking comfortably but I never had it shortened, and this day I had worn it, as the weather was still cold. The horse was a bit nervous as a crowd was beginning to gather to watch the fun.
I stooped over, gathered the calves in my arms, and was just straightening up to land them in the wagon when the horse made a step ahead. I attempted to move up also but my foot caught in the front of my coat and down I went full length, my arms still around the calves. My cap fell off, and finally freeing myself from the calves which were struggling and splashing in the mud, I saw that my driver was so convulsed with laughter that she could do nothing with the horse. Hailing a passing team I got the man to come and hold my horse. He backed the wagon nearer to me, and this time I managed to land my load in place.
It must have been a very amusing scene for those on the board side walk, but I did not see much fun in it and got away and down to the dock and rid of my load. When I got home and told my parents, I said “Never again! The calves can die of old age before I ever try that again.”
From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
The modern way of caring for the hay crop seems a far cry from the old way in which the weather had a lot to do with curing and stacking.
The horse fork for unloading was a wonderful improvement, as before it was installed, one man passed the hay to a scaffold at the big beam of the barn and another passed it on up to the man in the hay mow. With the horse fork, when help was scarce and a horse was trained to draw the load, one man could unload his wagon alone, the hay being left to be spread around later.
My first memory of haying time was when we had the old wooden horse rake, which I have described in another article. I have heard Father say that for a couple of years after coming to the farm he cut the hay and grain by hand. However, for cutting the grain a cradle was used. This consisted of a scythe with extra prongs, nearly the length of the blade, one above the other, that caught the grain when it fell and laid it in neat shape the heads all pointing one way. Thus the one following to bind the sheaves could, with the aid of a wooden hand rake, draw it together, make a band of a handful of the straw and with a neat twist of the ends secure the sheaf and leave it to be stoked up.
About the year 1870 we purchased a new mowing machine. It was manufactured by Cossitt Bros., then of Smiths Falls, (later moved to Brockville) and sold by Edward Glazier. This was a great improvement on the hand cutting. The frame was made of oak, and for thirty-five years it did all the cutting of hay on the farm. A year later a reaper attachment was purchased. This consisted of a platform fitted to the cutting bar and bolted to the frame of the mower at the back; an iron wheel at the other side of the platform carried its weight, and a reel similar to the ones used on the binder of later years held the grain to the knives. On the centre of the platform a post secured with a saddle and breast-plate, so that a man could stand and support himself in the saddle, rest his chest against the breast-plate and with a fork gather the grain from the knives, pass it over to his left until he had enough to make a sheaf, and then with his fork, place the bundle behind the mower, ready to be tied. This mower is now in the museum of the Experimental Farm at Ottawa, with a lot of other farm machinery of ancient manufacture.
Later a self-raking reaper was purchased, but the bundles of grain still had to be tied by hand. As binders were beginning to be used locally about the year 1892, a second had Chatham binder, a cumbersome machine, with a wooden frame, was secured and the three neighbours, Father, Horton Rowsom and Will Morrison, managed to get it in working order. It cut the grain on the three farms but the next season the knotter refused to work. The lever that started the tying part having been damaged, the result was that the grain would fill up the knotter and the lever would have to be pulled by hand.
Horton Rowsom had a hired man, Ed Haywood. He tied a strong chord to this lever, walked along beside the knotter and when enough grain was in place would pull this cord. So Ed had a job, and all through the harvest he walked around the field pulling the string. Ed was a war veteran from the British army, who had come to Canada One day he ran away with a woman, went over the river and they were married. Ed said afterwards, it was awful rough crossing the river and it had been rough ever since! His wife finally left him, and he made his home with the Rowsoms.
In 1894 I had a trip to Manitoba with Horton Rowsom and Stewart Morrison, on one of the Harvest Excursions. There I had a chance to see the new Massey-Harris and Deering binders in operation. The next year a Massey-Harris binder with sheaf carrier was purchased and this served the three of four farms cutting the grain for many years
But to get back to the haying…. A new steel horse rake was bought about the year 1875. It also was a Cossitt rake and we were all very proud of it. However, five years later the hired man took old Tom, one of our team, to the field to do some raking after supper. Finishing this he drove the horse to a windrow of hay and left him, while he went on to cock up the raked hay. Tom (the horse) was not used to being in the field without his team mate and decided to leave for home. He took a straight course, the wheel went over a stone pile, and the teeth dropped down making such a clatter that it scared Tom and started him running. We children were outside the fence of the lawn rolling on the slope at the side of the road when we heard Tom coming. The wheel struck the gate post as he came on the road, and the axle broke. Fortunately we knew enough to get inside the fence as he crossed the road and passed right over the place where we had been playing. Striking the rake against a telephone pole, he left the remains of the rake there and went on to the stable.
Later, the 14 acre field back of the woods had yielded a great crop of hay. Father had it all ready to stack and secured a couple of extra men and team. All that day I had been on the horse rake following the wagons to clean up the rakings. At four o’clock Father said “Walt, you hitch the horse on the spring wagon, go to the house and bring out our supper. Your mother will have it ready.” Driving across the woodlot and into the meadow I soon reached the house where mother gave me a couple of market baskets all covered with papers and a table cloth, and I drove carefully back to the field.
I will ever forget that supper. The men came in, sat round on the ground, the cloth was spread and the basket unloaded – warmed up potatoes, smoked ham, just fried and tender, eggs, fresh buns and in the end of the other basket a large dinner plate of pancakes, each one the size of the plate and covered with butter, then spread with soft maple sugar, to make a pile at least six inches high. Father cut into them as you would a layer cake, each serving the width of a piece of pie and half the depth of the pile! Again they came back for more until the plate was clean Then we finished with a pot of tea and a jug of coffee. It was pretty hard for the men to move very swiftly after such a supper. I think I had two helpings of the pancakes. But by dark the three stacks of hay were finished, the poles were placed on them and we were ready for home. Is it any wonder that the memory of that day and that supper has been with me all these years?
From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
In Lyn the cheese factory was located at the foot of the Jarvis Hill, just across the creek from the tan-bark field where they used to play ball. One road led around the corner at the hotel (Stacks), down the mill hill, across a little bridge and along the ban of the creek. The other road turned at the schoolhouse, down the Jarvis hill, past the old barn and on to the factory. At first Father had made a cart with the two wheels of the old wooden horse rake, a wooden axle and long shafts running back to about the back of the wheels. A platform of boards was nailed to the shafts, and the springs taken from an old army wagon, and secured in the centre on the axle and the ends fastened underneath the shafts. For a seat an abandoned bee-hive was used, cleats were nailed on the inside and a loose board laid in. When I got groceries at the store, I could just lift up the board and drop the parcels into the box. There was room on the platform for only one large milk can, which was all that was needed at that time. The horse I was given to drive was one that was hard to make trot, for just as soon as she was stirred up a bit she would break into a canter, with the result that the shafts were bobbing up and down and your neck would get sore trying to keep your head steady.
One morning going through the village I had my sister Lou along, and as we went past the post office the horse was doing the regular canter but with not much speed. As I came back up into the village and stopped for the mail, the constable, Tom Hudson, came over to the cart and said “My boy, if I see you going through the village as you went this morning, I will take you to jail!” So I always watched after that for Mr. Hudson.
It was fun to see the milk wagons coming along the gravel pit road, and then hurry along and up around the school-house and down the Jarvis hill, and to get in ahead of them at the factory. But one morning as I was going around that way, I saw ahead of me down near the foot of the hill another milk cart. The driver Bob King had been to the factory and unloaded his milk, and had gone up to the village for some bread, and was returning to the factory to get his whey, as he had come in on the gravel pit road. Hurrying along down the hill I yelled to the driver to get out of my way but he did not have time, and as I went by him the hub of my wheel caught the rim of his wheel and tipped his cart over on its side. I drove on down to the factory and got in line, then went back to help the lad whose cart I had tipped over. I do not think I have ever heard anyone use as many cuss words as he did that morning! I dare not go near him, but held the horse by the head while he straightened the cart up. For several days I kept out of his way.
The next year my father secured a spring wagon, took the box off and built a platform with room for three or four cans. I had been cautioned to drive carefully, as I was drawing a neighbour’s milk also. For some time I did very well, but one morning on arriving opposite the town pump a big load of milk came down the hill from Seeley’s and on to the main road ahead of me. This was too much! I stirred up my horse and caught up to the load, and was passing just before we came to the hotel on the corner when I was crowded to the sidewalk with both the front and hind wheels on the walk. As we neared the corner the road was lower and the wagon began to tip, with the result that it finally went over on its side and the cans fell to the ground. Fortunately the neighbour’s milk can went clear over and finally landed right end up, so that very little milk was lost from it. One of our own cans that had a very tight cover did the same, but the third can landed on its side and nearly all of its contents poured on to the ground.
Of course a crowd arrived on the scene at once and the wagon was righted. I watched for the constable, but he was not up yet, so I did not go to jail. However, I had to draw our neighbour’s milk nearly all summer for nothing, to pay Father for the can I had spilled.
From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
The only log canoe that I can remember appeared first on the Lyn pond. An Indian had brought it down from the back lakes, portaging it from back of Temperance Lake, through the canals, over the dams, and finally pulled it up on the shore behind the Lyn post office. He later traded in the village for groceries, and one day when in the village the grocer asked me whether I would like to buy it. This I did, and drew it home to the farm on the milk wagon. As it was late in the fall I did not have a chance to try it our, but that winter I scraped and sandpapered the outside of the canoe. In the spring my mother gave me a collection of paint cans, each containing a small quantity of paint, which I poured all together and stirred well. The resulting colour did not prove very attractive, being a pinkish yellow. However, with great care I puttied all the cracks, then applied the paint, giving it two coats. I saved a small quantity of red paint and this I used to mark a band along the top edge. On the bow I painted the name “Daisy”, and it was ready for the water. One day when father was away I hitched the grey mare to the stone boat, loaded the canoe on and started to lead the horse down the hill to the creek. I had not put a bridle on her but was just leading her by the halter. As we went down around by the barn she got a glimpse of the canoe behind her, and started to run. I hung on as long as I could but finally had to let her go. She ran along the edge of the gravel pit and the canoe rolled off and over and over to the bottom of the hill. I finally caught the mare and got her back in the stable, then went down to examine my canoe. On its was down the hill it had struck a boulder which had opened up a crack in the bottom. Securing more putty I wedged and plastered the break as best I could, but had to wait for the putty to dry. When all was ready I dragged my canoe into the water and tried it. It did not leak very much, and another application of putty completed the job.
Anyone who has never tried to keep a log cane right side up would be surprised how easily it tips over; I got wet several times before mastering the art of paddling. I suggest that if you want to try you should get on a floating log, put your feet in the proper position sit down and see how long you can balance yourself ! We had a lot of fun that summer with the canoe. We could go swimming, get into the canoe, one of us at each end and then try to tip it over by leaning over the edge, the other boy leaning the opposite way, then the first one would straighten up and over would go the canoe before the other boy would have time to save himself, both usually getting wet.
That summer a few families of Indians came to the neighbourhood to pick strawberries for the farmers, one group living in the little house on our farm. One Sunday two young squaws from the house decided to go for a boat ride. One of them was soon to be married and had bought muslin for a dress. Mother had cut it out and sewed it on our machine, and it looked very neat on the Indian girl, but of course she must put it on for the trip in the canoe. There was only one paddle, and as we sat on the hill watching them, the girl with the paddle put the end of it towards the shore to push the canoe out; the end of it stuck in the mud and as she pulled to release it , it came loose sooner than she expected. Over the canoe went ! They were a sorry looking pair of squaws as they got on their feet and waded to shore, their long black hair hanging about their faces and down their shoulders ! They never tried the canoe again, and in a week or two went back to their homes in St. Regis.
The log canoe proved the source of a lot of fun that summer, and many children of the neighbourhood learned to handle it, which was of some benefit to them when later they paddled the lighter cedar canoes manufactured in the factories.
I do not remember what became of my canoe, but think it broke away and ws dashed to pieces by the flooded stream later that fall when it was carried down the lower rapids.
From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
It was nearly the end of July 1881. The hay crop had been all taken care of when Father and Mother decided to take a holiday and drive to Gananoque, a town about thirty miles west, to visit her sister. It was a three hour trip with horse and carriage, and was undertaken only about once a year.
When returning they had brought with them a cousin, Vernon Taylor, a boy about my own age. As usual, the creek was the great attraction. A raft which I had constructed a few weeks previously was anchored in the shallow water, and next afternoon we played around with it for quite a while. Then we decided to build a wharf to moor the raft to it. Securing an axe from the barn we sharpened the end of a couple of sticks and drove them into the bed of the creek a couple of feet from the bank, put a board on its edge from one stake to the other and secured it with some stones. Next we took the raft, paddled it up the creek to a spot where a heavy bank of sods hung down to the water, the earth underneath having been washed away by the spring floods. We could break off a chunk, put it on the raft and continue till we had a load, then shove them to our wharf, pile them like stones on one another until we had a solid foundation above the water level.
The day was warm and sunny. Since I had been in the water nearly every day, I had a pretty good tan. My cousin, although he had to wear a bathing suit at home, also had a fairly brown skin, but as we were playing in a secluded part of the creek, we decided he also would not wear his suit; therefore before the end of the afternoon he had acquired a pretty good sunburn. Finally at the call for supper we climbed the hill to the house and soon afterwards were in bed.
Next day was a holiday. The Farmers’ Picnic was to be held at St. Lawrence Park, a short distance west of the Brockville cemetery. My cousin had complained in the morning of being uncomfortable from the sunburn he had received the day before, but went with us to the picnic.
Tablecloths were spread on the grass under the trees, and dinner was served, everyone sitting around tailor fashion and enjoying the many good things from the lunch baskets, all but my cousin, who protested he did not care to sit, but leaned against a tree to eat his lunch.
In the afternoon there were swimming races, boat races, and a lot of other fun, but Vernon would not even get in a boat, as it hurt him to sit down, he said. It was a wonderful afternoon. The men got a long rope; choosing sides till twelve men were selected for each team and then had a tug of war. It was a great day, but to soon we were loaded onto the wagons, all but the big boys and girls who were staying for the evening to enjoy a dance at the pavilion.
Next morning my cousin’s sunburn was hurting terribly and he had me examine him to see what was causing the trouble. When I found two water blisters nearly as large as his hand, I understood why he preferred to eat his lunch standing up the day before.
While we were playing around the yard one of us suggested we have a tug of war, the same as they had had at the picnic, but as there was no one to take hold of the rope we had found in the shed we tied one end to the top of the lath fence at the side of the house. Then we took hold of the other end and started pulling. My cousin was behind me and as the laths would bend we would brace ourselves and give another pull, the same as the men did….. Unfortunately, there was a limit to the strength of the laths, and all at once they broke and we sat down in the driveway, my cousin giving out a horrible yell as he struck the ground. The blisters had broken! In a couple of hours he felt quite comfortable, but after that he always wore his bathing suit when we went out on the raft.
For information on St. Lawrence Park look under Along Hwy 2, St. Lawrence Park on this website
From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
Our old farm house was situated on the south side of the Lyn road. It had been re-modelled about the year 1871, and with lots of apple trees around it was a very pleasant spot to be brought up in. South of the house and on the side hill were the barns; the hill below was quite steep, ending with the sandpits that dropped away sharply to the creek.
To stand near the house and look south across the valley was always a pleasure, and in the spring to the east of the barns you could hear the roar of the falls a quarter of a mile away. The water flowing down and across the flat below the sandpits was always cool, as Father said it was fed from the springs away below the gravel pit bordering its banks; and at one spot where there was a bend, our swimming hole was located.
It was the mecca for all the boys, and in the summer evenings you could run down the hill hide your clothes behind a bush, and for a half hour enjoy the clean fresh feeling of a good swim. Then, putting on only what was necessary, you made your way to the house, and with fresh clothing you were ready for anything. Sunday morning was usually the time that more of the boys gathered for a cooling dip. We always tried to get down there first, as we had to hurry to be ready for church, but a lot of the boys who had other views regarding this spent an hour or two in the water.
There was always another reason why we wanted to have our swim first; if these boys arrived before you were dressed, a handful of mud or sand tossed your way hit you with a splash and sent you back in to clean up again. But the tough guy who started this was usually the last one to get dressed, as repeated attempts were usually failures, and finally you saw him race over to where his clothes were, grab them and run for the woods, where nettles were most abundant.
It was a great spot in the spring when the snow was melting. The stream always overflowed its banks, and driftwood, pieces of boards, and fence rails were salvaged, pulled back from the shore and later were made into a raft. The pieces of boards we nailed crosswise with some nails we had secured from where an old barn had been torn down. These nails were nearly all made by hand and hammered out square, and the ends pounded to a point, with the head left a bit larger. It was not known when this barn had been built and no one could remember when it had ever been used.
The stream or creek, above our lot rambled and twisted its way for a quarter of a mile through the woods, having tumbled its waters over the falls, that at one time furnished power for a mill located below and at one side of the narrow flume. The flume had been cut through solid rock with the help of hand drills, blasting powder and chisel. In our boyhood it was a great place to spend an afternoon, fishing for bullheads below the falls, and playing around the few remaining timbers of the old mill that was still standing. I remember tracing an abandoned road from the mill to the bank of the stream above the falls, where at one time a bridge had crossed the water. The road then ran on to the main concession or street. Below our farm and on for a bit the creek wound its way around trees, protruding rocks and bushes to a deep gully worn through the rough rocky bed of the stream. In the spring you could stand on the bank and see large red fin suckers dashing through the running water to the quieter pools farther up, and many times were treated to a nice dinner of fish caught in these rapids.
As the flooded flats cleared and the stream went back to its natural course we built our raft, fastening a long rope on one end so that one of us could go aboard and pole across the creek, while the other boy hung onto the rope, fastened another rope in place and towed our raft from each side up as far as we could go. It was great fun! Reading David Harum and his experience driving horses or mules hitched to the end of a tow rope, hauling barges on the Erie Canal always reminded me of these days with the raft.
My sister’s birthday came in April, and Mother had a party for her. A few of the boys too were invited, but instead of staying at the house and playing there, they all wanted to go to the creek. My raft had been securely tied to a tree along the shore, and they all wanted to play with it. I had told them that it was not safe for more than two or three at once, but they would not listen, and four stepped on. They used with poles out from the shore and when the current caught it away they went down stream, laughing and yelling. All went well. It was always a tricky job to steer around the crooks and rocks on the bank, and they were nearly down to the lower log where they would have to stop, when the raft caught a rock, swung around and struck again and it was all over! I managed to salvage the broken boards and the rails, but the bys were wet right to their armpits! Their good clothes of course were soaked, so we went back to the house. One of the lads who did not live far away went home. I can see him yet plodding along with the water gushing from his boots at each step.
The three others, well, Mother found enough clothing for them and their garments were hung around the kitchen stove to dry. Mother told them she ought to make them put on the girls’ clothes as punishment, but it nearly broke up the party.
There was another swimming hole above the falls to which the big boys at noon would run from school, for a dip before one o’clock. One day I went with three or four of them, not to swim, but to play around on a flat rock at the edge of the deeper water. Getting too near the edge I slipped and down I went. I can still feel the weeds at the bottom of that hole at my feet I came to the top but down I went again. Next time, as I came up I heard one of the boys yell “he’s drowning!” Well they dove in and got me out, laid me with my face down hill and was I sick! I went back to school that afternoon and had a horrible head-ache. A neighbour heard about it and told Father. He said. “All right boy, I am going to teach you to swim!”
Father in his younger days was an athlete; he could play ball, swim well and could do a perfect dive. I have heard him tell of going to the river, climbing up the high rock overlooking the swift water of the Needle’s Eye, and after diving into the swirling current he would swim down to the eddy below, then go back and do it all over again. He could turn cartwheels, do hand springs and walk all over the flat on his hands.
We were all in the water one day. (You could go back a couple of rods from the bank, take a run and jump, and land in two or three feet of water.) All at once I heard a loud splash, and looking round, saw Father in the water. I knew it was of no use for me to try to get away, he caught me and before I left the creek that day I could swim.
Years later when the family were all home for a holiday, we went down to the swimming hole, eighteen of us, enjoyed a swim and then sat on the bank and told others of the fun we had when as children, we took our bath in the swimming hole at the creek.
From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
It was nearly the last week of haying. Father and a neighbour, Chris Bateson, had done this work together on both farms, and I drove the rake.
This day we were on our neighbour’s farm, and I was following the wagon, cleaning up the rakings. I remember I had gone over a small clump of grass and had wondered why the mower had missed it, when all at once my horse started to switch his tail, kick and shake his head. I did not realize what was wrong until I felt a sting on my bare leg, and looking down, saw a swarm of bumble bees. My rake was about half-full of hay, which was rolling over and over in front of the teeth, and each time it came over, more bees came from it. I had raked into the nest, pulled it into the hay, and was rolling out more bees at each turning. By this time my horse had started to run away, so I dumped out the hay and away we went down the fields. Fortunately there was noting in the way, so I hung on and let him run guiding him enough that we finally came to a high rail fence, and I got him stopped. We had left the bees still flying around the hay, and next day I went over and burned or smoked them out.
The foundry man in Lyn was of an inventive mind. One day he had been out in the country delivering a cultivator, and in the deal had secured three hives of honey bees. Bringing them home, he had placed them on a long bench at the edge of the garden.
Later on he was called form the shop with the news that he bees were swarming, and going to the garden found the whole swarm had lodged on the limb of an elm tree about ten feet from the ground. Backing up his spring wagon under them and placing a couple of packing boxes in it, he fastened a market basket on a short pole, tied a cord to the end to the limb and climbed up on the boxes. He held the basket under the bees and started jerking the cord, the bees dropping in bunches into the basket. All went well until he made a misstep, tipped over the boxes and fell on the floor of the wagon, with the basket of bees tipping over on him. I was talking to his son a short time ago. He gave me a part of the story, but he said he ran from the scene as his father fell, so that he could not remember any remarks that came from the occupant of that wagon !
There always seemed to be a fascination for some people in keeping bees, and my partner decided he was going into the bee business. Procuring one hive to start with, he placed it in his garden, under a small apple tree, between the house and barn. The weather turned warm and one day his bees swarmed, and lit in a limb of the apple tree. He had prepared for this event, had a large straw hat fixed up, with a netting around the rim and a cord to tie it around the neck. He had tied cord around the legs of his trousers at his boot-tops, his wife had placed a pair of leather gauntlets on his hands, tying them tightly at his wrists, and he was ready to get the swarm into the new hive already placed in position.
Stepping up to the limb he proceeded to shake it gently, the bees dropping around the hive, and some, of course, dropping around his boots. He was careful not to step on them. All at once he started to yell, and ran for the house. In moving around he had stepped on one of the ends of the bow-knot of the cord tied around his trouser leg, loosened it, and the bees had crawled up inside stinging him around the waist-band. He was met at the door by his wife, who told him not to come in there as the baby was asleep in the kitchen.
Then he turned and started for the barn but remembering his horse was loose inside, he again turned, ran out to the street and across the canal. His hat by this time had come off and was hanging behind his head with the netting still over his face. At that time the steps to the work shop were outside the main building, and up these steps he ran and into the room above. Wondering what the mater was, I followed him. Then he yelled “Don’t come in here”
He found a wood chisel, cut the strings on his gauntlets and the one on the other pant leg and finally got those trousers off and beat off the bees that still insisted on staying with him. Finally he went home and to bed. There were over twenty stings around his waist ! His wife had to go to the druggist for a remedy, but he was quite ill for a day or two.
Later he decided that bee-keeping was not in his line, and made someone else happy with his bees.
From the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings
My cousin Eck Kilborn, a boy of about my own age, and doubly related to me, (his mother was a first cousin of my father and his father a brother of my mother), was an only child and so for companionship was always ready to come to my house. We were great chums, and I am sorry to say we seemed to get into more trouble than any others of my family. His home was about four miles from mine, and he was always planning, when we were together, some reason for my going home with him.
One day he and his father and mother came to our house, driving a team of horses on a lumber wagon with a high box. They had a spring seat raised up and resting on the side board of the box. A heavy buffalo robe was thrown over the east, hanging down in front and behind and touching the floor of the box.
My Cousin suggested that, about the time they would be ready for home I get into the box, crawl under the seat inside the robe, and lie down on an old cushion he had put there for me. At last they were ready, and I climbed in and we started off. We had decided I should crawl out when we were well on our way and too far from my house for me to be returned. All went well, although the stone road was so rough that I got a lot of bumps on the way down. My cousin said he would kick the robe with his feet when it was time for me to appear, and I watched patiently for the signal. Finally it came. I crawled out in front of my aunt and uncle. It was too late for them to turn back and take me home, so they decided to drive on and send word to my grandfather’s that I was with them.
My family missing me, started to search the barn, down at the creek and at the neighbour’s. Finally word came to them that I had hidden in the wagon and was at my cousin’s. My parents came down that night for me and as punishment I had either to take a thrashing or agree not to go to my cousins for two months. I was just a little fellow only seven years old, so finally I took the strap, on Eck’s advice.
One day my cousin came to see me, driving with his parents in their covered buggy. It was quite new, and had such high wheels that to climb in you needed a box to stand on. They had unhitched the horse, and left the buggy in front of the barn. My sister, my cousin and I were playing around it and as there was some mud on the wheels we decided to run it down to the creek, going around by the cow path and on down where it was not to steep. My sister climbed up in the seat, the back curtain of the top was rolled up and I got in and held up the shafts, my cousin pushing behind. Finally as we moved off, he climbed up on the axle and stood looking through at me in the shafts. The buggy gained speed. I tried to make the turn and keep in the track but fell. I hung on to the shafts and was dragged down almost to the high edge of the gravel pit where there was a drop of about forty feet to the boulders and water below, when the ends of the shafts started digging into the ground. I still hung on and finally we stopped…
They had to hitch the team to the back of the buggy to get the shafts out of the ground and haul it back up the hill. My sister was crying and I was muddy and scared. One shaft was splintered but they took a strap from some old harness and wound it around and put some tacks in to get home. I had already suffered my punishment as I was sore and sick for a week- but we didn’t wash the buggy!
My cousin Eck was a great one to go exploring wherever there were old machines or iron stored. On one of his visits with us we went up into our shed, that later was moved away to make room for the more modern woodshed. There were a couple of scantling nailed against the end of the building and cleats nailed on making a ladder to climb up to the little square door opening into the upper floor, It was quite a feat to go up this ladder, open the door and climb in.
We three, my cousin, my sister and I were all up there. Eck was pulling out an old piece of iron that lay on the floor. The sap buckets made of wood at that time, were piled one above the other on the floor, and as he pulled again, he tipped over the pile of buckets. Al at once there was a loud buzzing, and a cloud of bumblebees swarmed around our heads. My sister was nearest the door and she tried to get down the ladder, but got several stings before getting outside. I took off my new hard sailor hat and started fighting the bees with it. My cousin headed for the door and he got his share of stings. When I finally got down, all that was left of my new hat was the brim.
It was a warm rainy day in August. To deaden the stings, my sister said to go out and get some mud from the road, put it on the spots and let it stay there for awhile. The road at that time had been covered with red cinders from the Chemical Works, and the mud from these left a red stain on everything it touched. But we did not care! We started daubing our stings with mud so that when we were through we looked like spotted tigers. We went into the house, and didn’t we get it! “Where in the world have you been and what has happened?” my mother exclaimed.
When later I rescued the crown of my hat, Mother sewed it to the brim and I had to wear it like that all the rest of the summer.
As told by Marble Billings many years ago, about 1879
Shortly after I was married and moved to my farm east of Lyn, I was called to the door one morning in November by a neighbour, William Judson, who said that he had left his horses out in the back pasture the day before, and finding a couple of inches of snow on the ground next morning had started out to bring them home. On arriving at the pasture, which also contained a growth of shrub trees, he found his horses in a very excited state, running around with heads and tails up, snorting and very scared. His dog, which had preceded him into the grove, started barking and growling, running around a clump of bushes, and finally with an awful howl, started for home.
On approaching a little nearer the grove, he saw a large black bear digging in the leaves for some wild apples that had fallen from a small apple tree growing there. At once, realizing he could do nothing alone, he had hurried to me to bring my dog and a gun, a muzzle-loader shot gun, which I first loaded with buckshot. Then I routed out another neighbour, Clark Clow, also Firman Judson, and Henry Rowson, who each had shot guns, which were soon all loaded with buckshot or bullets. Then we started back to the pasture.
Of course our several collie dogs were all excited at seeing the guns being loaded, and upon arriving at the grove, the dogs got the scent of the bear aand started tracking him along a ditch that crossed the side road and into the Rowsom woods. Soon they caught up to him, barking and racing towards him, when suddenly Mr. Bear turned and gave one of the dogs a cuff with his paw, and started chasing them. By this time we were getting pretty close to him and one man fired. The bear then turned, and coming to a big elm tree that had proved the tallest in the woods, he started to climb it, keeping on the side farthest from the hunters. Up and up he went and finally stopped where there were a couple of big limbs branching out making a little shield for him from the shots now being fired. Finally, when a well aimed shot penetrated his ear he squealed, and started backwards down the tree again.
Mr. Rowsom finally fired. The bullet penetrated his brain and he fell backwards to the ground. I had not fired my gun before as I knew it would have been of no use, but when the bear struck the ground I ran up and held the muzzle of my gun to his head, but the bear was dead. By George ! We were an excited bunch.
We got a wagon and team into the woods and loaded the carcass on. Putting the side board up so that it would not roll off, we drove up to Lyn to the hay scales which at that time were at the side of the street opposite the Baxter Block. We had covered our prize with blankets and we were over to the store and asked whether they would come and weigh our bear. Of course everybody laughed for they thought it was a joke. But when we lifted off the blankets and side board there was a mad rush towards the wagon.
Our bear weighed over four hundred pounds, and we sold the hide for seven dollars. I have always been sorry I did not buy it myself, as it would have made a lovely sleigh robe.
I have heard my father tell this true story many times, and always it was so real that we children listening were very much disturbed by it, especially when it was told to a neighbour about our bed time.
One spring, when I was about fourteen, we had several white frosts. The snow in the sugar-bush was still early two feet deep, but it was nearly time to get out the tin sap buckets, put on a couple of kettles of water, build a good fire in the kitchen stove, and give these buckets a through cleaning. The spiles also came in for a good scalding before we could tap the bush.
Early next morning it looked the right time to head for the woods, so with our load we started. There had been a track broken in from the road and the team jogged along until we came to the maple grove. Then with a hatchet, a bit and bit stock, I struck out over the frozen snow, picked out the spot to bore the hole, and proceeded to tap the tree. The driving in the spile to the proper depth, I went on to the next tree while my sister Lou brought the bucket and hung it in place.
Nearly all forenoon we could walk on the crust, but by eleven o’clock the snow began to get soft and your feet would break through, sometimes causing you to fall. With the great depth of snow it began to mean hard work, but we stuck to it and by noon had nearly two hundred and fifty trees tapped.
We already had a sugar shanty, and going to it we cleared the snow from around the front door and got the door open. The wood for the fireplace had been piled ready, and we started for home. Having plunged through the wet snow until we were wet to our hips, we had to hunt out dry clothes and put them on before we had dinner.
As the next day was cold and stormy there was no use of our going to the bush. However, the second day proved a real sap day, and before night we found every bucket filled. Boiling the sap seemed a slow process, but by night we had a foaming pan of thin syrup, and, as Father had come down prepared to boil all night and had the fur robes all arranged in the bunk beside the arch, I decided to stay with him. So after seeing there was lots of wood inside, I curled up in the robes and went to sleep.
About two o’clock father woke me saying he had forgotten to fill the lantern, and I would have to go home and get some coal-oil. This seemed a long trip, so I said I would go across the hill to the Brown farm on the chance of finding an oil can in their shed. Emerging from the bush I walked over the hill and down to the shed door, where I knew they usually had a supply of lanterns, as they often had to go to the cattle barns during the night. Entering the woodshed I held my Lantern up and sure enough on a long girder hung a dozen lanterns. I went over to them and picked one up. There was no oil in it; the next one was the same. The third one had lots of oil in it, but the chimney was broken. Comparing the lanterns, I saw the chimney on my lantern would work on the other, so going outside, I changed the chimneys, lit the third lantern and returned to the sugar bush in a very short time. We were able to take care of our syrup and were home before daylight.
The first attempts at boiling sap are quite vivid in my memory. Three big kettles at the farm that were used for heating water at butchering time were cleaned and taken to the bush. At the spot there was a ledge of rock about four feet hgh, against which the kettles were placed. A green pole with supports at each end was placed over the kettles and chains fastened to them and around the pole; then it was raised until there was room to build a good fire underneath. With the pole securely braced we were ready for the sap. It was slow work as the sap would boil over when too much fire was put on, and the smoke and ashes would settle on the top of the kettles. The only way we had to stop it boiling over was to plunge a chunk of fat pork fastened to the end of a long stick into the foaming sap. I did not understand the virtue of this, but I remember having to stand before the fire and to watch those kettles. A year of two later an arch was built, and a nice new tin sap-pan was bought, also a couple of hundred tin sap buckets.
The first buckets we used were made of wood, similar to wooden pails that later were sold from the stores. Before farmers used wooden buckets they made sap buckets by hand. Basswood logs about fourteen inches across were split in two, an axe was used to hew a hollow in the centre of each log. This was cut in spaces of about two feet each, an adze was used to smooth the hollow, the saw cut them in the right lengths, the round side of each trough was flattened so that it would not tip over, and they were ready for the sap.
Before the metal spile was used, pieces of cedar about ten inches long were split to about an inch and a quarter, a channel was cut in the piece and at the other end a hole was bored lengthwise in to the channel gouged out, a hot piece of heavy wire shoved through the hole to clear out the shaving and this end then shaped to fit in the hole bored in the tree. When later metal spiles were obtained and the wooden buckets used, my father made a loop of wire near the top of the bucket and then could hang the wire on the hook of the metal spile. Our wooden buckets had at one time been painted red on the outside, with the name “A.Dunham” printed on each one. I suppose these buckets had at one time been owned by this man.
One incident I well remember. Our old friend, Vanamber Brown, had a bush just over the line fence between our two wood-lots. He had built up an arch of dry stones and banked it with earth. We were first that night to get our pan off, and we placed the syrup in a large milk can, for transportation to the house. We had hurried over to help Vanamber, but we were too late. He had noticed that his syrup was ready to come off, and had placed a couple of poles about seven feet long, one end on the side of the arch and the other on a log inside the shanty. He then attempted to pull the pan over on the poles, and had got along so far all right. However, unfortunately the pole near the front of the pan was lower that the other. He turned to get his can ready, and the syrup started running to the front of the pan, with the result that the weight of the syrup upended the pan and the whole day and a half’s boiling ran out on the ground. He managed to save about a gallon that still remained in the end of the pan, but the rest was gone.
The memory of a dinner in the bush at Easter when Mother would send down warmed up potatoes, boiled ham, eggs, doughnuts, fresh syrup coffee and a mince pie, still remains in my thoughts along with the fun and frolics of our guests, who, gathered for a sugar-off, were all eager to help Dad with the fire. I can see them yet, piling armfuls of dried limbs all around him till you could just see his head, but he enjoyed it all and had a warm welcome for the whole crowd.
Then we made jack-wax on the pans of snow, packed solid so that the hot syrup would not go through. Forks were passed around, or small cedar sticks dipped in the syrup as it hardened in the snow, and eyes glistened as the sweet sticky jack-wax was drawn in a ribbon form and then rolled again on the forks to taste and taste again. These were great days – Often in later years these guests would write to remind us of the big dinner and the sugaring off in the maple bush on our farm.
It was about the middle of January. We had been nearly snowed under from a week’s snow storm, then rain that flooded the flats along the creek, and a sudden change to a very cold weather that froze the snow, making a glare sheet of ice from the Lyn Road down across to the creek that was still level with its banks.
Sunday afternoon my cousin with his parents came up for a visit. We two were out in the yard, playing on the crust with the big hand sleigh, and looking across to Harper’s hill, decided it would be a good chance to try a ride there. We walked up the road, climbed the fence and got the sleigh in position, then I lay down on my stomach and my cousin lay on my back. Away we went! The hill at the top was very steep, the sleigh gained speed and in seconds we were on the glare ice of the flat, then across the creek, up the bank and …Then I came to. We had gone head first into a clump of small bass-woods. My cousin seeing the danger had thrown himself clear but I had no chance; the force of the collision had knocked me out for a minute or two. We finally got back across the creek, where my cousin laid me on the sleigh and began the long pull back to the house. We finally got to the warmth of the barn where I lay down on the straw in the feed floor, in front of the cattle for an hour. When I returned to the house, where my uncle was waiting to go home, I complained of a headache and got sent to bed. Next morning I felt better but never told Mother what had happened, as I knew that she would say it was good enough for me, when I had gone sleigh-riding on Sunday.
Driving along the Lyn Road I often look down the hill. The line fence has been moved and passes close to the clump of trees we hit that Sunday long ago. The sand and gravel have been taken away to the city so that there is no more fun on Harper’s hill. But the memory of that boyhood escapade still lives.
I was about six years of age and it was Christmas time. We had been at Grandfather’s and I had been given a lovely pair of red skates. Unfortunately Christmas Day was on Saturday, and to wait until Monday to try them was almost too much too think of. Sunday forenoon I bored holes in the heels of my boots with a gimlet, tried on the skates, took them off, and finally went out of the house the back way and was off to a small piece of ice near the edge of the creek. It had been snowing so I had to clean off the ice enough to have a clear spot and then put on my skates again.
I had never tried to skate before, but that day I got so I could go across and back without falling, more than three or four times ! I certainly was proud of myself, and the little red skates and in fact at the age of 81, I still have one of those skates.
But all things must come to an end, and tired out I climbed the hill to the barn, went in through the lower door, through the doors at the front of the barn and walked on to the house. When I went in my father said, “Where have you been ?”
“Down to the barn,” I replied
“No further ?” he said.
“No.” I said
“Where are your skates ?” he asked and when I told him, “Down in the barn”, I knew I was caught. He went to the barn, and around to the back where he found my tracks coming up the hill.
Then I saw him coming back to the house. He invited me out to the shed, saying it was bad enough to go skating on Sunday, but to lie about it was worse. I got a good strapping, but it was worth it; I had learned to skate.
The Lyn Pond, in the first part of the winter was a great spot and young and old were on the ice each day. I had done my chores at the farm and then my skates, with new straps, were slung over my shoulder and I was off for the whole afternoon. The ice that day was like glass, you could go away up around the bend, around the island, then on up the creek and through the woods, clear out to Seeleys.
A young lad about my own age, I think his name was Mulligan skated along with me, in fact we were together all that day, swinging along, hand in hand and we had a lot of fun together. I knew very few of the other boys and was quite contented to have him for company. Tired out at last, I took off my skates and walked home. I never knew that mile home to be so long before.
Next day word came to the farm that the boy I had skated with was very ill with diphtheria, but I kept still and did not tell them that I had been with him all the day before. For a couple of weeks afterward I could imagine my throat was getting sore, and I would steal out and get some salt and water to gargle until it was almost raw.
The boy I had been with got worse, and he finally passed away, but I never was sick, and did not tell mother about it until long afterwards.
The teacher at the Howard School, Jack Shaw, was a young man, who was studying for a medical course at college, and at noon, after eating his lunch, he would put his head on his arms and go to sleep at his desk.
One day there were only about nine boys at school, no girls at all. After we had seen the teacher settle for his nap, we took our skates and started for Howard’s flats, which at that time were covered with a lovely sheet of ice. Not satisfied with staying there, we raced down to the creek and away back towards the other street, climbing over logs and fences that divided the farms, continuing on behind the Parslow farm aand build, past the farm that later was the Thompson place, till we came to the rapids. One of the boys who knew this locality said there was a nice pond above the rapids, where once a dam had been built, making poser for a small factory that was owned by a Mr. Niblock, who manufactured wooden horse rakes.
I remember we had one of these rakes at the farm before father purchased a new rake with steel teeth. The old rake was a well built machine but to dump out the hay you had to step from a board at the edge of the shafts to a platform, the frame of which passed over the axle of the rake; then you had to hang on to a post behind the horse so that your weight would lift up the teeth made of turned oak. When the hay was all cleared from the teeth you stepped back to the board you first stood on and let the teeth drop down again. It was a tricky job, as you might get your foot caught. I did that once and got a bad squeeze.
But to go back to my story… We climbed up around the rapids, and sure enough there was the lovely sheet of ice on the pond, where we played shinny until we were tired and ready to start back. But it was slower work getting to the school, and as we neared the road we saw a man with a load of wood on his way home. That made us realize that it must be nearly three o’clock. Going to the schoolhouse everything seemed very still, so one of the boys went around to the side window and looked in. There lay our t stretched out on his bench, his coat rolled up for a pillow, and sound asleep.
It was pretty cold outside, we did not want to waken him, so we opened the door, walked quietly in and all stood behind the stove till one of us sneezed and our teacher sat up. Looking at his watch, and then around the room and seeing us at last, he said “Take your seats”.
In a few minutes he said, “We will now take our geography class. You may all come to the front. “One of you put some wood in the stove, and I want you,” pointing to one of the others, “to draw a map on the board of the St. Lawrence River, showing towns from Prescott at the east to Gananoque at the west.” Then
He picked up his medical book and went on reading.
The boy at the board was an artist who could draw a plan of any farmhouse and barn in the neighbourhood so that you knew at once whose it was. He started with the rapids below Prescott and a drawing of the town, then came to Maitland, where another group of buildings was shown, with the windmill tower, then on to Brockville. Then we saw what he was doing. It was a picture of the creek, the Parslow buildings, the Thompson place and the pond and rapids.
Then to finish it, the barn and house of the Howard place with a drawing of the old well, the long pole on the post, and the rope and bucket to lower into the water ! It was pretty hard for us to keep from laughing. He then drew a picture of the school, adding some other buildings to represent Gananoque. The teacher stood up, walked over to the board and said, “You have got your plan the wrong way, the rapids run east and you have them running west.” He went on to Maitland and said, “Yes, you have got the windmill in all right.” Then on to Brockville. “Hum, yes, very good but you have put the towns on the wrong side of the river. But what is this post with the pole and bucket hanging down on the rope?”
“Oh,” the boy said “That is the pump house at the waterworks.” Well that broke up the geography class, and in a few minutes we were on our way home.
I never found out whether our teacher recognized the drawing, but we did and had many a laugh over it all. I would like to have that picture now.
Skating parties were all the rage, as each winter brought its share of ice. One year, 1887, there was a lovely sheet of ice on Gardiner’s flats, located just east of the Chemical Works on the Second Concession. One moonlight night we took our spring wagon, got a load of the young people on board and drove down to the ice, There was a big crowd fro that neighbourhood already on the ice, a chair and hand sleigh had been brought and the girls who could not skate were treated to a swift ride, or just hung on to the chair and tried not to fall down. A couple of the boys would get one of the girls on the sleigh, go away up the ice and swing around, sometimes the runner would catch a root in turning and away the passenger would go rolling over again and again.
When we started for home after getting our passengers on board, a lot of the boys going our way climbed on the wagon, and finally with the heavier load the rrear axle started to bend, with the result that one of the wheels was rubbing the box. We had to unload our passengers, all but the driver and walk the three and a half miles back to the farm.
I have many pleasant memories of my good times on my skates but that night always seems to be a highlight of them all.
This story is taken from the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings, published in 1954.
It was about the middle of January. We had been nearly snowed under from a week’s storm – snow, then rain that flooded the flats along the creek, and a sudden change to a very cold weather that froze the snow, making a glare sheet of ice from the Lyn Road down across the creek that was still level with its banks.
Sunday afternoon my cousin with his parents came up for a visit. We two were out in the yard, playing on the crust with the big hand sleigh and, looking across to Harper’s Hill, decided it would be a good chance to try a ride there. We walked up the road climbed the fence and got the sleigh in position then I lay down on my stomach and my cousin lay on my back Away we went ! The hill at the top was very steep, the sleigh gained speed and in seconds we were on the glare ice of the flat, then across the creek, up the bank and …. Woods. My cousin seeing the danger had thrown himself clear but I had no chance; the force of the collision had knocked me out for a minute or two. We finally got back across the creek, where my cousin laid me on the sleigh and began the long pull back to the house. We finally got to the warmth of the barn where I lay down on the straw in the feed floor, in front of the cattle for an hour. When I returned to the house, where my uncle was waiting to go home, I complained of a headache and got sent to bed. Next morning I felt better but never told mother what had happened to me, as I knew that she would say it was good enough for me, when I had gone sleigh riding on Sunday.
Driving along the Lyn Road I often look down the hill. The line fence has been moved and passes closed to the clump of trees we hit that Sunday long ago. The sand and gravel have been taken away to the city so that there is no more fun on Harper’s Hill. But the memory of the boyhood escapade still lives.
This story is taken from the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings, published in 1954.
It was Christmas morning about the year 1886. We had been up early to get down to the kitchen where the eight stockings had been hung the night before. Now we were all in one big bedroom looking at the candy elephants, pigs, sheep and rabbits that were already pretty sticky by repeated lickings from various tongues.
Breakfast was just starting when father came in from the barn to say that a big snow storm was coming from the east and he guessed with the two feet of snow already on the ground it would not be safe to attempt the trip down home, as he always called the old farm house just out of Brockville on the Chemical Road. However, although the storm had started, father decided the team could make the trip. The big sleigh had been in readiness for a couple of days; straw had been placed in the bottom of the big box and some carpet spread over this and the sleigh had been backed into the shed to keep the snow out of it. At last we all piled in and were away. The toll-gate was just east of our farm house and as we drove through, our neighbour came out to wave to us. We always paid our toll by the year so did not have to stop, but cheered and sang “Jingle-Bells” as the horses raced through. Years later in a letter I had from a woman who lived as a girl at the toll-gate she told me how much she had always envied us our trip to Grandfather’s on Christmas Day. We usually met Tom Billings, his brother Horace, and their father and mother, Bruce and Polly, on their way to Aunt Jule McCrady’s house just west of the village. We of course gave them a “Merry Christmas”!
Driving into the yard at Grandfather’s, we were all ready to cry “Christmas Box” to the Johnsons (Aunt Lizzie) and the McLeans (Aunt Ida) whom grandfather had already brought out from Brockville for the day. Such a racket as we always yelled them down and fairly smothered them with hugs and kisses! Then, into the big kitchen we went where on the table was a large bread pan filled with popcorn all salted and sweetened, and on the side table six mince pie that had been brought in from the back porch where we knew a thirty gallon milk can contained many more. These six pies soon would be placed in the oven to be warmed. Beside these pies was a big dish of the loveliest raisins on the stems, dishes of candy, nuts and oranges, that mother had forbidden us to sample. The delicious scent of the big gobbler roasting in the old stove greeted us! My grand-mother had told me it was the one that had chased me out of the yard a couple of weeks before and I did not feel bad that we were to get even with him now.
With about twenty-five to feed, Grandfather got busy, standing at the end of the long table. Grace was said, plates were passed, heaped with mashed potatoes, squash, cranberries and that turkey. It seemed that we children would never be served as plate after plate went by, but at last we were all told to go ahead. I was short and fat and stubby but I am sure no one that day had more to eat, as Grandfather always had an eye on our plates. Poor mother had some trouble watching for fear we took the biggest piece of fruitcake, but when an extra piece fell off in front of me I didn’t put it back.
Then the candy, dates, nuts, oranges and lovely red snow apples came along but by this time we were nearly ready to rest for an hour or two anyway. The big Christmas tree in the parlour all strung with popcorn and ribbons, was a sight and we went in on tip toe to peek at it. Then the doors were thrown open and we were able to sit around on cold haircloth chairs and sofas until our names were called and we went up to get our parcels. I remember on this occasion there were six or seven pairs of lovely leather mittens in sight, and as one or two of them had fur cuffs I wondered which ones were for me. That was a great day. I got a pair of mittens, but one of the cousins got the ones with the fur on them. But they wouldn’t have been big enough for me anyway.
I can remember Grandmother sitting in her rocking chair in the dining room by the box stove which had been stuffed with big sticks of wood. Grandmother aalways wore a little lace cap and a lovely shawl over her shoulders. Aunt Belle hovered over us to see that we were all wrapped up for the trip home. Uncle Bob Johnson had given me a quarter during the afternoon and I kept my hand in my pocket all day for fear I might loose it. I haven’t that quarter now, but I never took care of a twenty-five cent piece as long again.
Well, horrible thought, father was outside and said we had better get ready at once for home as the storm was worse. They wanted us to stay at grandfather’s all night but to find beds for twenty-five of us was impossible. We climbed into the sleigh, the robes were thrown over us as we sat in the bottom of the box, and in five minutes we were all asleep. The horses plunged through the drifts out in the fields, where the roads were blocked, and finally we were awakened at our own door. What a day! What a memory! Children who travel now in motor cars have never had the lovely experience of a trip to Grandfather’s in the sleigh at Christmas time.
This story is taken from the book “How Dear to My Heart” by Walter Kilborn Billings, published in 1954.