Grannie set a hard pace, prosperity finally comes

 In Community

This week’s issue continues the family history of the Smiths. Last month the account of the family told of the death of George Smith in 1847. He and his wife had made the long journey from

Yorkshire to Montreal to Brentwood and eventually to their homestead at the corner of the Sixth Line and Sideroad 15/16. 

The story was compiled by Bert Smith, editor and owner of The Creemore Star for many years.

When George Smith died he left a wife, 38 years old, and nine children ranging in ages from infants to the oldest son, George, who was 18. Bert Smith’s grandfather, Charles Smith was 15.

There was another rather serious complication. A letter arrived from the Land Office in Montreal advising that they were squatters on the property. The man McDonald who had allotted the farm to George Smith had jumped the claim to title and advised the family that he was in possession of the crown deed. He, McDonald, said he would give the Smiths title to the farm on receipt of fifty pounds (about $250). Great Grandmother, of course, had no money. She asked for time which was agreed to. It was nearly 10 years later before McDonald was paid off and the title of the property was made over to the Smith family.

When the pioneer Grandfather died in 1847 he was in the process of building a more commodious house for his increasing family. Sawn lumber was by this date procurable at the mill established at Creemore in 1845.

According to reports given to me this new home was quite large with an upstairs in which there were several bedrooms. 

A good sized clearing was made around the new home and some apple trees planted. Grannie told me herself that a pioneer farmer at Duntroon had a nursery and supplied her with the trees. Some 35 years later when I became owner of the old homestead I was rooting up the stumps of this original orchard.

I would point out to rising generations that money was a scarce commodity in those struggling days for this family. However there was a market for beaver pelts. The boys in the family early learned how to trap beavers. They were quite plentiful and one of the largest colonies was on the farm now known as the Gadway Farm. A beaver pelt was recognized as a kind of currency. A Government store was started on the hill south of Creemore and Grannie would walk to the store and barter beaver pelts for such necessities and tea, sugar, salt and flour. The family started to grow wheat in the late forties and one of Grannie’s first modern possessions was a hand grinder with which she could grind her wheat. Flour was available in Creemore in 1846 but it was not choice.

Charles Smith, Bert Smith’s grandfather, was married in 1858.

The railroad from Toronto to Collingwood was built in 1855 and this resulted in an era of prosperity. They had started to grow wheat and although it was harvested by primitive methods it was saleable at the market set up in Stayner. There was money in the sugar bowl for the first time in years. The Crimean war in the late 50s sent wheat prices up to $4 a bushel. For a while it seemed the prosperity would continue forever. 

Every member of the family worked extending the clearing and growing more wheat. 

Grannie, as I knew her, was still in her forties. She was evidently a pusher. She set a hard pace and they were getting ahead. 

To encourage her two eldest sons she had the east 50 acres deeded to George and the west 50 to Charles, my grandfather.

A major calamity hit the home in 1860 when Grandmother became totally blind. She had never had medical advice and just what happened to her eyesight I have no proper definition. She had just turned 50. My father, David, was born on May 20, 1860 but Grannie told me she had never seen him. Despite her handicap, she maintained her position as the guiding force in all operations.

Grandfather Charles was doing nicely. He was evidently the smartest member of the original family. He had no education. Accordingly, he couldn’t sign his name. He just made an X when it was necessary for his signature. Grandfather had further responsibilities to carry. His two oldest sisters had not married well. After a few years and several children these itinerant husbands deserted their wives and children.

They lived in log cabins nearby. There was no “relief” or mother’s allowance in those days. Grandfather felt obliged to support them. This he did until the children grew up and were able to fend for themselves.

St. Luke’s Anglican Church was founded in 1855. Grandfather made a contribution towards the cost of the building of this early church. The family worshipped there when possible. My own father told me he, along with his brothers and oldest sister, walked the five miles to this church every Sunday for Sunday School.

My grandmother told me this story. It was about March 1, 1870. The day was well spent when a sleigh-load of people drove into their yard. It was the Rev. W. J. Forster with his wife and several children. Mr. Forster was the first resident incumbent sent to minister at Creemore.

The minister and his family had driven cross-country some 50 miles.

They had been three days on the road. Of course they were given generous hospitality. A snowstorm came in the night and they were stalled for two days. Grandfather hitched a team and opened a road for the new minister to get to his destination at Creemore.

Helen Blackburn is a retired teacher, avid gardener and a long-time contributor to The Creemore Echo. She writes about local history.

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