ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO
One hundred years ago, Dundas had the only newspaper and printing office in the Gore district. The name of the newspaper was the Phoenix, and it is probable that it was among the first newspapers printed in Upper Canada. The editor and publisher was Richard Cockrell, and the subscription price was $4.50 a year, one half to be paid in advance. The copy of the Phoenix we had the privilege of handling, originally belonged to Nathaniel Hughson, he being a regular subscriber, and was dated September 28, 1819, and was the property of R. G. Bigelow, who was a nephew of Mr. Hughson. Mr. Bigelow died in this city a couple of years ago. At the time we had the Phoenix, we suggested that the authorities of Dundas should get possession of it, and preserve it as an ancient relic of one hundred years ago, but, unfortunately, the opportunity was allowed to pass, and the probability is that after Mr. Bigelow’s death the paper may have been destroyed. Nathaniel Hughson was one of the early settlers of Hamilton, and one of the main streets leading to the bay was named after him.
That the Phoenix had but a brief existence is more than likely, for the next printer we have any record of as living in Dundas was G. Heyworth Hackstaff, whose name appears on the title page of a book printed for Dr. Thomas Rolph, of Ancaster, in the year 1836. The title of the book was “ A Brief Account with Observations, made during a visit to the West Indies, and a Tour Through the United States of America, in Parts of the years 1832-33; Together With a Statistical Account of Upper Canada.” Ancaster had its first printing office and newspaper in 1826. The paper was called the Gore Gazette. It had but a short life, and was succeeded by the Gore Balance,
The Rolph family settled in the neighbourhood of Ancaster and Dundas early in the thirties, being natives of England, and there may some of the early settlers who have not forgotten them. In the year 1832, Dr. Thomas Rolph having determined to change his residence for some one of the colonies of Great Britain, he was prevailed upon by a West India planter to visit his plantation before deciding upon his future location. On the 17th of November, 1832, the doctor bade farewell to England, arriving in Carlisle bay, Barbados. While the doctor was charmed with the country and climate of the West Indies, there seemed to be something lacking to make it the ideal home he was in search of. The truth of the matter was, his mind had already been biased in favor of Upper Canada, with Ancaster as the haven of rest, and go where he would, the descriptions he had received from English friends who had already settled in the Niagara district was the loadstone that drew him thitherward. The doctor spent a couple of years wandering in the United States, but his British birth and training finally decided him that henceforward the Ancaster hills and the Dundas valley were to be “Home Sweet Home.” His future career and success in life showed the wisdom of the doctor’s decision.
The old muser has the pleasure of reading a history that was written of a locality in which he spent the early part of his life, and it recalls pleasant memories of boyhood days when, with other boys and girls, we hiked out on holiday afternoons to drink the waters of the celebrated Ancaster sulphur springs. That was more than sixty years ago, but the days will never be forgotten. Dr. Thomas wrote his “Observations” in the year 1834 – the year memorable to the writer of these musings as being the date of his giving his first ell as a salute to the old Union Jack. Ancaster and Dundas were then the leading towns at the Head of the Lake, and Dundas had a printing office that was supplied with type equal to anything we have at the present day for first-class book printing, and the quality of paper was superior in finish to that now in use except for costly book work. As Ancaster was Dr. Rolph’s objective point when he arrived in Canada, and for many years after the home of his choice, let us take a start there.
THE EARLY SETTLERS OF THE ANCASTER DISTRICT
While Dr. Rolph was loyal in sentiment to the homeland where he was born, his brief experience in Canada assured him that every poor man, if he be industrious, could provide abundantly for his family by any kind of labor, manual or mechanical, for here the poorer class of people are free from the imposts and burdens which so often sent old country people superless to be, while their children cried for bread. What an extensive field of employment for the practical philanthropists Canada presented in the early days of the last century. There were some illustrious instances to be met with among the wealthy in Great Britain, such as Earl Egremont, Lord Htyesbury, Marquis of Bute, Joseph Marriage and others who furnished the means of emigration to the honest and industrious poor, who lived on their estates in the old country, contributing to their removal from scenes of bitter distress and strong temptations to crime, enabling them to exchange beggary for independence, starvation for plenty, and idleness and disease for health and exertion.
The advantages of emigration to the home laborers were that instead of pining away and withering in an overstocked or exhausted soil, they would strike root and flourish in the rich fields of a new country like Canada. The patriotic Duke of Hamilton purchased a large district of several thousand acres for the purpose of settling in Canada on the easiest terms all the industrious poor on his estate. Of this class of emigrants was the old Gore district settled in a large measure, and from that sturdy stock of English, Irish and Scotch has descended the prosperous fathers and mothers who have made this part of Canada one of the richest sections.
A hundred years ago a few men like the Earl of Edgemont benefitted hundreds of poor persons whom he rescued from the degradation of the workhouses and sent to happiness and independence in Canada. That philanthropic earl furnished in great part the means that brought from his own and neighboring estates in England no less than thirteen thousand poor persons to Upper Canada, the larger number settling in the Gore district. Some of the ancient families in Ancaster and Dundas can trace their ancestry back to these emigrants, and they need not be ashamed of the stock from which they sprung. An instance came under Dr. Rolph’s observation of a young English couple having rented a farm within two miles of Ancaster, consisting of 90 acres of cleared land with a house, barn, good orchard, the use of a span of horses and 12 ewes, for $175 a year, and at the end of four years, by their labor and industry, they had saved enough to buy the farm, paying a fair price for it, and all in cash. And this was only one of many such cases. The doctor gives in his pleasant history an account of a laborer whom Lord Edgemont sent out from an English workhouse and who settled near Ancaster, who had become the owner of a farm of fifty acres, with a comfortable log house, a span of horses, a wagon, a cow, hogs, poultry etc. as the result of a few short years of industry, and in addition sent home money to enable his brother and his wife to come to Canada. The brothers worked together, buying up land and stock, and in a few years ranked among the prosperous farmers of Ancaster.
Dr. Rolph tells in his book of the winters being long and severe, but he did not consider that as a fault. The Sons of St. Andrew were enabled by the excellent sleighing to enjoy their annual festival, on the 30th of November, 1835, at West Flamboro, persons from Ancaster, Dundas and Hamilton attending; and on New Year’s eve, a ball was held at the same tavern, got up by the same party, at which upwards of one hundred attended. A person from Brantford, writing under date March 22, 1836, says : “We are now drawing to the close of one of the severest winters which has been known for some years in Upper Canada, and we may look daily for an end as well to the amusements which it has afforded by the excellent sleighing that has accompanied it, as to all those occupations to which it has given facility.”
A Hamiltonian writes , April 10, 1836 : “The termination of an unusually hard winter, even for Canada, has taken place. On the 19th of November the country was for the first time covered with snow, a clothing which has continued, as the ancient historian would say, even to this day. The intensity of the cold for more than four months has seldom been equaled, the thermometer during that period being frequently 30 degrees below zero …. The mildness of the weather, however, for the last few days, and the gradual disappearance of the threatening enemy, have dissipated every fear, and the heart of the husbandman already begins to leap for joy. Hard frosts still continue during the nights, but the days are delightfully fine, and the heat of the sun is rapidly removing the wintry clothing of white, which will speedily be supplied by our spring mantle of green.” Wild pigeons were so plentiful in those days that the town and country loungers used to betake themselves to the mountainside at nights, and with clubs gather a harvest of material for pigeon pies. The Hamilton mountain was a favorite roost of wild pigeons even twenty years later, but now a large reward has been offered for a live wild pigeon, and not one has been presented from any part of the American continent for many years.
Winter was considered in ancient days as the most lively part of the year, when there was about four inches of snow, with frost, making sleighing for business or pleasure from one end of the province to the other. With a span of good horses and two or three persons in a sleigh, with warm clothing, fur cap, and a bear or buffalo skin over the back and feet, one could pleasantly drive forty or fifty miles a day, enlivened by the numerous sleighs met on the road and the merry jingling of the bells. From Ancaster church to Vanderlip’s tavern, a distance of little more than three miles, across the Ancaster plains, Dr. Rolph counted sixty-four sleighs on the 20th of January, most of them hauling saw logs to the mill in Ancaster, and some with grain. As a proof of the cheerfulness and hilarity consequent on Sleigh riding, a Canadian poet tells the story.
THE SLEIGH BELL
Merrily dash we o’er valley and hill,
All but the sleigh bell is sleeping a still;
O, bless the dear sleigh-bell! There’s naught can compare
To its loud merry tones as they break on the ear.