COOTE’S PARADISE A HUNDRED YEARS AGO
With the thermometer running away up in the nineties, one might be forgiven for forgetting that the readers of this great family journal were expecting their penny’s worth on Saturday even though the muser might prefer lolling in the shade instead of hunting up ancient history about Hamilton and Dundas and Ancaster. Dr. Thomas Rolph’s interesting observations of what he saw and learned when he settled in Ancaster and the Dundas Valley 86 years ago tempts one to forget that there is such a thing as a thermometer, and insteading of “dreaming the happy hours away,” grab the typewriter and sweat it out on that line.
Let us take a peep at Dundas as it appeared on the map one hundred years ago, when the Upper Canada Phoenix, one of the first papers printed in the Gore district, had its being. The Gore district was originally composed of the counties of Halton and Wentworth taking in twenty-five townships, of which eighteen townships were in Halton county, and only seven in Wentworth. Originally Dundas was part of Halton county, as were East and West Flamboro, but in the reconstruction of the district they were transferred to Wentworth county, and one hundred years ago were more prominent on the map than the town of Hamilton, which was then known as the Head of the Lake. Then Hamilton had only 841 acres of cultivated land, 1,357 of uncultivated, with a population of 2,153, while Ancaster could boast of 14,752 cultivated acres, 23,174 uncultivated, and a population of 2,664. The assessed value of Ancaster was the largest in Wentworth county, being $89,076. Hamilton in those days could only boast of an assessed value of $8,676.
In the days when the Dundas Phoenix was published, advertising in newspapers was an unknown art, the people depending on town criers like Paola Brown to make known their wants. Evidently the sheriff was kept busy selling the farm lands of the unfortunates who were unable to pay their debts, for that officer monopolized the columns of the Phoenix, no doubt to the great delight of the publisher, for a glance at the advertising rates shows that the prices were pretty, being one dollar for a ten linesquare of nonpareil – the sheriff’s sales being generally set in long primer and charged up at nonpareil rates. Had such rates prevailed in Central Illinois when this old muser published the Clinton Public, we would now be able to spend the hot summer months dreaming by the sad sea waves at Macassa beach, instead of thumping out Saturday Musings on a Remington typewriter. But such is life.
Of the twenty columns contained in the Phoenix, barely a column was occupied with the advertisements of the businessmen, and very few of them Dundas men. We will give you the names as we found them in the Phoenix, and if any of them have relatives still living, they will recognize the successors. Tomlinson and Kerr were the village blacksmiths, but, not getting along harmoniously together, they dissolved partnership, Tomlinson taking over the business and paying the debts. Abraham Smith and David Beasley were partners in business in Hamilton, but in the month of August 1818, one hundred years ago, decided to separate, Smith settling up the affairs of the partnership. Richard Beasley had large landed interests in the township of Walpole, county of Norfolk and in Blenheim, county of Oxford. The lands in Walpole had a frontage on Lake Erie, and in the rear on the Grand river. George Calvert owned a farm on the south side of Dundas street, in the township of Nelson, a few rods from C. Hopkins’ tavern, containing 150 acres, 60 of which were under cultivation. Calvert was trying to sell that farm, and he advertised in the Phoenix of its desirable qualities. It had a comfortable house and barn and several fruit trees. He wanted to turn that farm into cash, and was willing to give it away at half its worth.
The government had 280 lots of 100 acres each, which were open for settlement at a low price, and as an inducement the government offered to throw in two fine mill-seats to the first purchasers of lots, the conditions being that the lucky men should build, respectively, a saw mill and a grist mill. John Binkley had a horse stolen one night from his pasture lot, and after waiting patiently for four or five weeks to see if the thief’s conscience would trouble him and return the animal, he had recourse to the columns of the Phoenix, offering a reward for the return of the horse, and an additional reward for the capture of the thief. William and Matthew Crooks had a mortgage on a farm of 119 acres owned by William Fonger, which William was unable to pay when it became due, so the Crooks turned the job of collecting to the sheriff, and poor Bill Fonger had nothing left when the debt and costs were paid. William Markle had a fine farm of 300 acres on which he secured a loan from Richard Hatt. When payday came, Markle was as poor as ever and unable to even pay the overdue interest. Sheriff Simons came down to Hamilton, and sold the farm at sheriff sale, and away went poor Bill Markle’s fine farm of 300 acres to pay debt and costs. William Hutchison announced to the Phoenix that he had started a store in Ancaster, where would always be found an elegant assortment of straw and fur bonnets for ladies, and an extensive stock of hats of every description for men, women and children. Merchants desirous of obtaining good bargains for their customers were invited to call. Hutchison was willing to take furs, wheat and other products in payment for his goods.
Before the Phoenix was dreamed of, Ancaster was a prosperous village, but it did not aspire to the ownership of a newspaper, the honor of publishing the first paper being left for the Valley City; but all the towns used its columns in common, paying $4 subscription for its weekly visits, and $1 for a ten-line square of nonpareil if they had any advertising to do. In those early days the publishers did not depend on the mails to circulate their papers, but sent out their own boy carriers on ponies to deliver it. Each boy was provided with a tin horn, and as he rode along the highway, he tooted it betimes to let the subscriber know that the Phoenix was coming with all the latest news. As late as the early ‘50s, when Robert Spence was owner of the Dundas Warder, he sent out his own delivery boys on ponies, with the tin horn accompaniment, so that the farmers could get the paper while it was still fresh; and later still, when Jones and Harris bought the Warder, the same custom was continued. (John W. Harris was the father of the boys who now own the Hamilton Herald, and S. I. Jones, the Hamilton agent and correspondent of the Toronto Globe was their uncle.) To get back to the Phoenix and its advertisers. As they had no paper in Ancaster, Matthew Crooks was obliged to go to Dundas to do his advertising, and he did quite a lot, for Matthew had money to lend and the farmers in the Gore district were liberal borrowers. A man named Cox built a woolen mill on the Yuba creek, near a place called the Devil’s Elbow. Why they gave it such a name can only be accounted for by the fact that there was a distillery near at hand, and the men employed the building the mill were a thirsty lot, so they kept a boy on the go from early morn to dewy eve “rushing the growler,” with the result that they returned to their homes at night crookeder than the devil could crook his elbow. Issac Kelly once owned the old Red Mill, and so did Mr. Gillespie. Finally Matthew Crooks got a mortgage on it and the sheriff made the last sale. History tells us that Robert Smiley, then editor of the Spectator, then owned this mill for a line time. The ruins of the mill are still standing as a memorial.
Richard Beasley was another of the regular advertisers in the Phoenix. He informed the public that he had repaired the warehouse at the headwaters of Burlington bay, for the reception of flour, merchandise, etc. at his usual low prices. He only charged one shilling and sixpence per barrel for the storage of pork, potash, salt and all kinds of merchandise, and made a special cut down to sixpence a barrel for flour. Richard Beasley was the Hamilton agent of the Phoenix.
THE DESJARDINS CANAL, THE ‘GOD-GIVEN’ RIGHT OF THE DUNDAS MAN
In a descriptive article of Dundas, written by John E. Woddell for the Wentworth Landmarks, published by the Spectator company in the year 1897, John, in a facetious paragraph designated the Desjardins canal as “the God-given right of the Dundas man.” About the year 1816, the Canadian government granted a royal charter for the cutting of a canal through the Beach, and another through the Burlington heights, across the marsh and up to the town of Dundas. The latter was called the Desjardins canal, after the name of the promoter. Young Desjardins was a Frenchman, who came to Hamilton from the town of Simcoe, with Capt. Durand, in the year 1805, and later was a clerk in a store in Dundas. He conceived the idea of a canal to connect the valley town with Burlington bay, and his enthusiasm on the subject enlisted a few men who were prominent in business, who dreamed that all that was necessary to build up Dundas, and make it the head of navigation, was this canal. The original outlet of the canal into the bay was at a point behind the Valley Inn. It was a circuitous winding was, but the easier from an engineering point of view than the route adopted later when the Great Western railway wanted to get into Hamilton.
WHO WERE THE FIRST SETTLERS IN DUNDAS
The record in the town lands office tells the story that King’s Landing, or Coote’s Paradise, was the original name of the Town of Dundas and that Anne Morden and Michael Showers, both U.E. Loyalists, were granted patents in 1798, to the first lots on record. To Ann Morden was granted the patent for lots 16 and 17 in West Flamboro, and the adjoining lots 14, 15, and 18, were granted to Daniel Rolph, and John Morden respectively, and lot 13 to Michael Showers. These parties owned the land on which the Town of Dundas is built today. Mrs. Morden’s lots included the land on which the town hall of Dundas is built. Mrs. Morden’s husband had given his life in the royal service in Pennsylvania. In 1780, when the widow, with her two orphaned grandchildren, Jane and Mary Long, came to Canada, they settled in Coote’s Paradise. The girls became the wives, in the course of time, of two brothers, William and Jonathan Davis, who were U.E. Loyalists. Michael Showers served as a soldier in Butler’s Rangers, said to have been “one of the most loyal and brave regiments that ever marched under British colors.” He came to Coote’s Paradise about the year 1797. History tells us that Ann Morden and Michael Showers were the original settlers of what is now the Town of Dundas.
DUNDAS IN THE YEAR 1832
In Dr. Thomas Rolph’s interesting Observations of the Gore District, we find a description of the valley town as it appeared to him in the year 1832.
“The village of Dundas, now about to be incorporated, is situated in a most picturesque ravine, between the opposing mountains of Ancaster and West Flamboro, fronting a luxuriant valley through which the Desjardins canal passes, connecting it with the waters of Burlington bay. This village, though situated more advantageously, both for external commerce and internal communication than any other place at the head of Lake Ontario, has not advanced with the same rapidity with other laces possessing not a tithe of the same natural advantages which appertain to Dundas. Now, however, that the completion of the canal has been determined upon, the money obtained, and the expenditure confided to active individuals residing in the village, and interesting in its welfare, it is to be hoped that its commercial enterprise will meet with no further impediment. There is a delightful stream of water, running from the Flamboro mountain, and supplying the very extensive works of James Crooks, called the Darnley mills, consisting of grist mills, paper mills, distillery, etc., and other mills on its route passing through the beautiful grounds of Dr. Hamilton, where it rushes over a bold, rocky precipice, nearly 100 feet in depth, into a rich woodland glen, then supplying more mills, and continuing its course through Dundas, where it empties into the basin at the head of the canal. The streams from the Ancaster mountain are also received into the same canal, after pursuing their tortuous windings through some exquisite meadows belonging to Binkley, a tanner.
“Dundas itself has surprisingly improved during these last three years. Many large stone and brick buildings have been erected within that period. The Catholic church with its white spire, surmounted by the holy symbol of Christian faith, forms an interesting object which seen, as it is, from all the high grounds around the village. The Presbyterian, Episcopal and Baptist congregations make use, alternatively, of a small free church in the village, but this scandalous opprobrium is likely soon to cease, as the members of the Scotch and English churches are about erecting separate places of worship for themselves.
“The grounds of George Rolph, in the very center of Dundas , are extremely beautiful, finely timbered, presenting the appearance of a noble park. A handsome terrace of the richest verdure extends across them, overlooking the whole village, at the back of which, at a little distance is a bold range of mountains, almost perpendicular, beautifully wooded, occasionally intersected by gullies, and forming a noble rampart and screen from the north. The entrance to his domain is particularly striking from the lofty iron gates, handsomely finished, enclosed and surrounded by walls of fine, free stone, resembling and quite worthy the entrance of a nobleman’s mansion. Indeed there is nothing I have seen or heard like of it in America; but, Oh, what a disappointment! Splendid as is the entrance, it is like that mentioned in Goldsmith’s Citizen of the World, a splendid entrance into nothing. I believe, however, that it Mr. Rolph’s intention to build a stone bridge, and ultimately a stone mansion in corresponding style of magnificence. If so, it will be an honor and an ornament to the country. In the grounds of this gentleman is a saline spring, just in rear of his office, near the brow of the mountain. I am satisfied from its strength that any quantity of salt could be manufactured on thew flats below by solar evaporation. The water is quite as powerful as any of the waters at the various salt works to be met with in the State of New York.
(The lofty iron gates mentioned above, at the entrance to Mr. Rolph’s grounds, are claimed by some to be the gates at the former entrance to Dundurn Castle. This may be true, but there is a string to the story. When Sir Allan Macnab bought the grounds of Dundurn, it was said that the handsome iron gates at the entrance were made by a firm in Scotland, who had a hard time to collect the price, if they ever did get a final settlement.)