Keep the home fires burning

 In Community

Today we continue the story of the Charles Smith family who were among the very first settlers in Nottawasaga Township. The Smith family story is much the same as many others who made their way into the wilderness and established a home without conveniences and raised a big family of children. Perhaps it is the same story as yours. The account written by Charles Smith’s grandson, Bert Smith, is a great treasure because very few families have such a complete story.

Let us take a peak into the Smith cabin in the wilderness. First of all it was just one room with a rather crude fireplace. The opening meant for a window had no glass. In cold weather it was covered with a deerhide. The door was fashioned out of small poles covered with deerhides. My readers must realize there was no lumber available at that period. Accordingly there was no floor and not one item of furniture. As was the custom of the Indians, Grandfather made beds out of poles. These were covered with cedar boughs and hides. The fire in the fireplace was never allowed to go out and at night the glow from the fireplace was the only light in the cabin. Later they procured a mold and Grandmother made candles. The main reason for keeping the fire going was because there were no matches. Few knew how it was possible to strike a fire with a flint stone and tinder. As this was slow and tedious it was avoided as much as possible. Grandmother told me that when new settlers came and located within a mile or two it was common for them to come to the Smith cabin and ask for a pail of coals in order that they could start their own fire.

Our pioneer ancestors had only meager success with their first garden crops. As their little clearing around their cabin was extended they planted such products as potatoes, turnips, pumpkins and corn. The beasts of the forest however were for years a menace. They would come at night and eat everything. Finally they got a hog and also learned to keep fires burning around their little plantation. However the wild animals were reasonably tame and hard to make stay away. Grandfather is said to have worked hard at chopping down trees and then waiting a year or more before they would burn. Progress was accordingly slow.

Grannie, as I called her, told me this story many times. Her husband was quite anxious to learn how to grow and harvest wheat. He knew the area around Holland Landing and Newmarket was much older and the settlers were harvesting their grain crops. Each year around September 1st he would go to one of these places and help with the harvesting operations. Besides profiting by the experience he would make a little money, which was much needed.

While he was away, his wife and young family were left alone in their cabin in the woods. One fine day towards the end of September, Grannie decided to wash her blankets. She hung a blanket on the limb of a nearby tree to dry. It fell to the ground. A thunderstorm came up and she rushed out to gather in her bedding. She and her children retired and around midnight the good man returned after being away about a month. He was very tired after the long day walking.

The tired man was soon sound asleep. Gran said she was dozing off when she felt something around her neck. She soon realized it was a snake. Carefully removing it with her hands she tossed it onto the cabin floor.

The next day she found it and threw it out into the forest. The brave woman had this experience without an outcry. She didn’t want to disturb her tired husband.

We can only surmise the struggle of this pioneer settler. The clearing of the land was a slow and laborious task. All members of the family helped. Four more children were born after the family settled on the homestead. This made up a family of nine. It was then that calamity struck. In 1847, George Smith, the head of the household, took ill and died. He was buried at an old established cemetery north of Duntroon. His remains were moved in 1855 and interred in the newly established English Church cemetery in Creemore. The main reason, Grannie wanted him buried in a consecrated cemetery.

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