Young settler brings home bacon as garrison chef

 In Community

There came into my hands this past fall an interesting story, a very long story, so long that it would fill up several entire issues of this newspaper. This story is about George and Mary Ann Smith who came to this area, a few miles to the north-east of Creemore, as two of Nottawasaga’s first settlers.

This account of the Smiths was written by C.B. Smith, better known as Bert. Bert was the highly regarded and much loved editor and owner of The Creemore Star from 1924 to 1954. The copy I have received was edited by his grandson, James David Smith, and I have been given permission to share the Smith history.

The story goes back to 1825 in Yorkshire, England on the vast estate of the Marquis of Landsdowne. On the personal staff of Lord Lansdowne was a young man by the name of George Smith. At one of the annual picnics held by the Marquis for his workers, George Smith met Mary Ann Standish, an apprentice cook in the estate’s mansion. As things go in the lives of young men and women these two married. They both were keen to go to Canada where free land grants were being offered. For them it seemed like a great adventure not realizing the many difficulties that lay ahead of them. With a young baby in tow they set off across the broad Atlantic in 1832.

What follows are the words of C.B. Smith.

The Smith family arrived in Montreal early in July 1832. At that time, Montreal was the seat of the government for Canada. The population of the city was around 2,000.

Grandfather George thought all he had to do was go to the land office, get a grant of land and get possession at once. It couldn’t be just so arranged.

At the colonization office he happened to contact a member of the Government known as the Honourable John McDonald (not John A.). This man McDonald, evidently a grafter, gave evasive answers to questions and suggested that Grandfather would come back in a couple of weeks when he (McDonald) expected to have something especially good to offer him. On his next visit McDonald told him about a wonderful new township being surveyed. It happened to be Nottawasaga although at that time it had not been named. Grandfather continued to wait.

The real fact was later discovered that McDonald had an ulterior motive in locating settlers in Nottawasaga. He was to get every tenth farm of 100 acres for promoting settlement in the township.

By the time autumn had arrived and it was too late to consider a journey into an unknown wilderness the family funds were getting low. Grandmother went one morning to buy food. She paused to listen to the town crier make the usual morning announcements. The regular chef at the garrison had died suddenly and among other announcements made by the crier was this, “Is there any experienced capable cook in town who would be willing to cook and serve a banquet for a group of visiting officers expected to visit the Montreal garrison the following day?”

Funds being low this brave young mother (then only 23) held up her hand. She got the job. Perhaps I should explain that in 1832 capable cooks were almost a non-entity.

Grandmother prepared the food for the officers’ banquet and it was such a success that she was practically requisitioned by the officers and was put on the garrison’s payroll.

Grandfather George found himself as the babysitter. He was humiliated, however he fulfilled the role because of necessity. His energetic young wife was bringing home the bacon.

One would suspect that there was collusion between the officers at the garrison and officials at the land office. In all events Grandfather was given a run around at the land office until the autumn of 1833. McDonald had at last a map of Nottawasaga Township. He pinpointed a lot near the centre, which happened to be Lot 16, Concession 6 (the north-east corner of Sideroad 15/16, Sixth line, locally known as Smithdale). I suspect Grandfather wasn’t a shrewd businessman because he didn’t secure title to the property, as he should have. McDonald promised he would fix it up later.

The journey towards Nottawasaga from Montreal was started in the spring of 1834. When Grandmother resigned her job at the garrison, the officers very kindly gave her a supply of iron pots and other cooking utensils. Grandfather had been given a crude map outlining the route they were to follow. Grandmother told me that their worldly possessions were a box of bedding, a box of cooking utensils, a box of tools such as axes, shovels, trowels and some rope. They had a box of food. They had no furniture of any kind and a limited amount of English currency.

It was a slow journey down the St. Lawrence River and the length of Lake Ontario. Eventually they reached a dock at the mouth of the Humber River where they disembarked. They were some ten miles west of a little town called York. At the Humber River they boarded a flat-bottomed boat propelled by oars. After several trips up the Humber they had to make a portage overland to the Holland River. This stream took them to Kempenfelt Bay and eventually Barrie.

(To be continued…)

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

Image from A Glimpse of Creemores past: Bert Smith looks over an issue of The Creemore Star. He served as publisher and editor of the newspaper from 1924 to 1953.

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