Today the township of Puslinch is about an hour’s drive west of Toronto. In 1897 Puslinch resident Matthew McPhatter interviewed many older people because ‘the old settlers are fast passing away, so that it is now or never’. This week’s post is the story of the only settler from Easter Ross or Sutherland whose story McPhatter recorded. Most of the ‘old settlers’ came to what was then a vast forest. Previously inhabited by the Iroquois, it was by the 1830s owned by the Canada Company. The Canada Company was founded by John Galt, the Scottish author and businessman, and it sold land to prospective settlers, usually in a five year payment plan. It was Galt who masterminded the network of towns (Goderich, Guelph, Galt – now Cambridge), foreseeing an agricultural hinterland for York/Toronto connected by roads and then railways. Today it is hard to imagine the open, rolling, fertile farms as dense, old growth forest but that is what it was like when John Munro arrived. He did as many did, first renting a farm in order to get himself settled, acclimatised and adjusted to the new ways of working as well as to collect sufficient capital for his land payments. By the 1890s when McPhatter was interviewing residents John was already dead, but one of his sons living on the family farm gave the story of the family’s emigration.
‘John Munro was a native of Rosshire Scotland. Born near Cromarty Firth, the birthplace of Hugh Miller. He with his wife and family of three children left one of the most lovely spots in Scotland and took passage for Canada in a sailing vessel called the ‘Lord Seaton’ and after four weeks of tossing on Atlantic billows landed in Quebec, the Gibraltar of America.
As he had a brother-in-law then living in Galt, and one of its principal merchants, he came on to that town, sailing up the St. Lawrence and round by Ottawa to Kingston, then across Lake Ontario to Hamilton where he engaged a team to bring himself and family to Galt. No railroads then. After spending a few weeks in Galt he rented a farm in the township of Wilmot for three years.
When his lease of the farm expired, he paid a visit to Puslinch. Here he met with a number of his countrymen, and feeling so much at home amongst them, he concluded to purchase a farm. After looking about for a short time, he bought lot 27 in the 7th concession of Puslinch, where he remained till the time of his death which occurred in Feb. 1890; just one year after his noble-souled wife followed him to the great beyond.
Image from: Annals of Puslinch, 1850-1890 http://www.clarksoftomfad.ca/AnnalsofPuslinch1850-1950.htm
He with his wife and family, endured many hardships at first, clearing the land and tilling the soil. He would often speak of the hardships, privations, and struggles of those days, and also of the kindness and friendship of his neighbours.
One occasion, when coming down from Wilmot by way of New Hope, now Hespeler, his horse got stuck in a mud hole near John Smith’s place – ‘Collector John’. He could not get the animal out and the more it struggled, the deeper it sank in the mire. It was night, dark, and getting late. No house within sight; woods all around – so he shouted with all his might, hoping that some one of the settlers would hear, and come to his assistance. The late Rev. Smith, who was then living where his son John now resides, came to his aid and after a good deal of planning they succeeded in getting the horse on ‘terra firma’.
Mr Munro left four of a family, two sons and two daughters. One of the sons, and a daughter are living on the old homestead. Another son is Principal of the Ottawa Central School/. The other daughter, Mrs Birney, with her husband and family, are living in Calgary, Alberta.
Mr Munro was a member of the Presbyterian church and in politics, a staunch Reformer.
Life is but a little dream, a vapour which appeareth for a little time and then vanisheth away.
Written by his son
12th March 1897’
Source: Matthew McPhatter and Anna Jackson (eds), In their Own Words: The Complete McPhatter Letters, (Puslinch Historical Society) http://www.puslinchhistorical.ca/Publications.shtml