Bruce County Historical Society logo

Bruce County Historical Society

Bruce County, Ontario, Canada

Incorporated 1901 - 1915       Re-incorporated 1957

Bruce County History


Some Early Bruce County Feats

from Bruce County Historical Notes, Volume 43, No. 2, September 2001

Swift Scythe
Mr. John McPhee, who has reached the ripe old age of 83 years, on Monday went out to the hayfield on his farm and performed a feat that we can safely say very few of the Bruce pioneers of the early fifties can now accomplish. In four hours and a half he cut an acre of hay with a scythe. The crop is a heavy one that will give a least one and a half tons to the acre. (Paisley Advocate, August, 1898)

Champion Splitter
Sam Babcock, whose home is near Paisley and who has signed up for overseas in the Forestry Section of the 122nd Battalion (Muskoka Wildcats) performed a stunt recently which proves him to be fully qualified for the work to which
that section is designed to do. He split 10 1/2 cords of stove wood in 6 1/4 hours, on a wager of $5. The woodpile was at the Central Hotel, and was visited by many curious ones while Sam was at work. (Lucknow Sentinel, April 12, 1917)

Productive Mill
We learn from Hepworth that one day last week Mr. Todd cut in his mill 2,720 feet of pine lumber in one hour with an eighteen horsepower engine. The logs were all 12 feet long and cut to inch lumber. This is work that many mills of
greater strength have not been able to do much less to beat it. (Wiarton Echo, June 24, 1887)

All Uphill
In the Times Elsinore jottings last week a load of logs taken into Vanstone’s mill by Wm. Morrow’s team was recorded at 1,602 feet, and a desire expressed to know if there is another in the county who can do the same. It has been beaten right here at Chippewa. A few days ago, Charley Kerus, with one horse, an Indian pony, took 1,000 feet of logs up Buckley’s Hill. (Port Elgin Times, March 1, 1888)

Big Lake Raft
The largest lumber raft ever seen here (Wiarton) carried over one million board feet. (Wiarton Canadian, June 27, 1895)

Logging Boom
The log business in Greenock Swamp is booming just now, about 100 men and 30 teams being employed there. Should the sleighing season last six weeks longer it is estimated Messrs Cargill and Son will get about 7 million feet. (Port Elgin Times, Feb. 14, 1895)

Busy Plant
Hepworth’s shipments for the past year: 11 million feet of sawn lumber; 9,000 telegraph poles, 7,000 cords of tanbark, 10,000 cords of cordwood, 2,000 cords of cedar block paving. This amounted to an average of 25 cars for every day of the year. (Times, November, 1889)


Wood Fires and Torches

from Bruce County Historical Notes, Volume 44, No. 2, September 2002

(The Paisley Advocate, Jan. 2, 1874)

The rapid changes which are constantly taking place in Canada so alter the face of things that the difference between the present and the past forms a contrast which it is interesting to consider.

One of the institutions of long ago which is well nigh forgotten was the cedar bark torch. There was no coal oil in the days of its existence, and the tallow candle in the perforated tin lantern gave but a poor light by which to traverse the wild roads leading through the stretches of forest which extended between one clearance and another, and showed to poor advantage a bear or a wolf, which it was no unusual thing to meet in the half settled country thirty years ago.

Altogether different from the lantern was the old fashioned cedar bark torch with its bright sparks and strong, cheerful light, scattering the gloom and throwing a radiance to the very tops of the overhanging trees. The doctor’s messenger, the benighted traveller, the night walking lover, and the hurrying midwife were all indebted to the torch. In fact the standing of a rustic belle would almost be told, and the number of her lovers known by the manner in which the fence rails near her dwelling were stripped of their bark.

The great wood fires which graced the ample chimneys of the houses in the early days of Canada, though now almost unknown, have sent down many pleasing recollections and associations. The huge backlog, with the strong fire in front, will not soon be forgotten by those who have spent the long winter evenings before the cheerful blaze, and many of Canada’s best men have begun their studies by the fire light on the long winter nights. We have little doubt that the present Premier of Canada, in addition to his statesman-like abilities, knows something about walking a backlog.

Life thirty years ago was very different from what it is now. There were no railways in those days, no telegraphs, a steam engine was a curiosity, no sewing machines, and the only music in country places was furnished by the birds and cowbells. A journey which can now be performed in a few hours then took many days. The wheels of trade moved slowly, yet men were perhaps as happy then as now.

We have a respect for the good old times, and for the men who lived in those days, for it was then that the foundations of Canada’s prosperity were laid.


The House That Captain Alfred Built

from Bruce County Historical Notes, Volume 46, No. 2, September 2004
Capt. Brunton's house

(In 1868, Londoner Capt. Alfred Brunton took a leave of absence from sailing the Seven Seas to visit his uncle Capt. John Linton at Tara. He liked the New World and the young county of Bruce so much that he decided to stay. The two captains cleared land and built a small cottage and barn by the Sauble River. By the 1880s, the house was too small, so a new and more spacious home was planned by Capt. Brunton. He was an exacting planner, as the Specifications that follow show. The complete story of the two captains was told in the Society’s 2005 Yearbook, available on the Publications page.)

Capt. Alfred Brunton
Capt. Alfred Brunton

To be a stone foundation under kitchen two feet thick and not less than five feet high. Kitchen to be 20 feet square. Stone walls under main building to be two feet thick and seven feet high. Joists to be built into stone work, to be four cellar windows and one cellar door.

Stone walls to be built on each side of cellar steps. Masons to put in all bed timbers for joists perfectly level and cut and put in timbers every two feet six inches commencing six inches from lower joists and cut and put in all lintels over windows and doors, all stone work about ground to be coursed and jointed.

Masons to set cellar frames and assist in frames in brickwork.

Brick Work
The first storey to be 13 inch brick wall solid. The walls on top flat to be nine inch solid wall. The full height of brick wall to plate to be 16 feet six inches. The arches and block corners and chimneys to be painted or stained and tuck pointed.

Mason to build a brick oven on stone foundation at the back of the kitchen, of suitable size for a farmer’s use, say four feet wide by five feet long inside (oven chimney to be three bricks time two.) and 22 inches high to top of arch. Walls of oven to be 13 inches thick. Oven to be of same pattern as Baker Gray’s. (Gray was a Tara baker.)

All walls and partitions to be carried up even.

Lathing and Plastering
All outside walls, ceilings and partitions to be lathed with first class strip lath with joints broken every fifth lath. Plastering to be good two coat work. Mortar for the whole job to be run off not less than six days before using, then mixed thoroughly. Mortar to be one pail lime, three pails clear sand. All chimneys to be plastered smooth inside with cow dung mortar.

All work to be done in a good substantial workmanlike manner and subject to inspection by a competent man chosen by A. Brunton. Anything not in accordance with plan or specification shall be made right at the expense of the contractor performing such work.

Work to be done as follows: Walls to be finished by the 15th day of June ready for roofing. Carpenter to have the job ready for lathing and plastering by the first day of August. Plastering to be finished by the first day of September, the whole to be ready for painting by the 15th day of September.

Payment for above work as follows: 50 per cent as the work proceeds, 25 per cent on completion of the job, 25 per cent three months after completion.

I hereby agree to perform the mason ? etc. for the above job according to plans and specifications for the sum of $365.

(Signed) John Philpot.


Letter: Douglas Hill Cemetery History Outlined

from Bruce County Historical Notes, Volume 46, No. 1, April 2004

(The last newsletter noted that the Douglas Hill mortuary on the Elora Road near Dunkeld is a building worth preserving. The following letter from Florence Mackesy provides some of the history associated with the building, which was first a church.)

Since the early 1960s the Douglas Hill cemetery board has had charge of the building. But, before that, in the early 1930s, a major restoration provided the basis for its surviving into the present time.

The stone building was put up in the late 1860s. It opened on the last Sunday of 1869 as the West Brant Presbyterian church. The Douglas family had earlier donated their burying ground to the congregation; there had been much debate as to whether the church should be built at the cemetery. In the end it was built 1 1/2 miles south of the cemetery, on the fence line between the James C. Eckford farm and the James Young, Sr., farm.

This was closer to the source of its local lime stone building material, which was quarried by men of the neighbourhood, regardless of their faith. Both the church and the cemetery face onto the Elora Road. Soon after the church opened, the West Brant congregation arranged to get title to the cemetery land, both from the Douglas family and from the Crown.

The West Brant church closed in 1909 amidst much acrimony, a few years after St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church opened in Cargill. The cemetery remained open under the last three of the West Brant trustees. The last of them died in 1942.

Between 1925 and 1950, the Douglas Hill Cemetery Improvement Fund, set up under West Brant trustees, looked after cemetery maintenance.

In 1950 the Douglas Hill cemetery board was newly-formed. While the cemetery was under the administration of a Presbyterian congregation, people of other faiths were also buried there.

The roots of the West Brant Presbyterian congregation go back to prayer meetings held in the bush by John Eckford shortly after the Eckfords and Chisholms came to Brant Township in 1851. The congregation was officially formed in 1858. It became a settled charge in 1865. At first it was linked with Malcolm, later with Pinkerton, from 1878 to 1909. It had an uneasy association with Cargill in the early l900s.

Although closed, the church continued to hold a high place in the hearts of some former members of the congregation and their descendants. At James C. Eckford’s funeral in 1929, some of them discussed restoring it. Walter Cow, a grandson of John Eckford, arranged additional family contributions so the work could be done well. Henry H. Young, secretary-treasurer of the cemetery, and one of the last trustees of the West Brant congregation, supervised the work. Among other repairs, it was re-roofed and painted.

On Nov. 11, 1931, a memorial service was held in the old church to honour it and the pioneers for whom it had meant so much. The Nov. 11 date had added resonance in that it was John McCrae, another grandson of John Eckford, who had written the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ commemorating the fallen in the Great War.

More details of the 1860s construction of the church are given in Margaret Chisholm’s 1967 paper ‘West Brant Church’ — such as, the carpentry work was done by John Cameron for $400. Margaret’s cousin, Isabella Chisholm (m. first to Joseph Hooey, and second to Walter Gray) wrote an account of the 1931 memorial service which was published in the Nov. 19, 1931, Chesley Enterprise. Both of these accounts are included on reel 1 of the 1999 microfilm of Douglas Hill cemetery and West Brant church records. The current cemetery board has donated the 2-reel set of microfilm to both the Bruce County Archives and the Walkerton Archives. Also on reel 1 is a very readable account of the early history of Douglas Hill Cemetery by James Douglas, Jr., who was profiled by James E. Connell in the Bruce County Historical Society 2003 yearbook.