Women Pioneers of Proton Part 1
- Macphail, Agnes, Author
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- The first part of a multiple-part article written by Agnes Macphail about her family history in Proton, Ontario
- Page 10 WEDNESDAY, APRIL 7,1982
Women Pioneers of Proton
[By Agnes Campbell Macphail reprinted in The Dundalk Herald, Dec. 1920 and January 1921, from the Farmers Sun]
All my life I have enjoyed pioneer stories and it has always been a delight to me to listen to the tales of early days in Grey County, Ont., from the lips of my two dear grandmothers. Both my grandfathers died before I was old enough to appreciate their conversations, and my remembrance of both is very hazy.
I will try to give the Sun [i.e. Farmer’s Sun] sisters the stories as I heard them, beginning with my maternal grandmother, Mrs. Jean Campbell, because she is the elder of the two by ten years, and if she lives until October 31st, 1920, she will be ninety years old.
In the year 1851 Jean and Jack Campbell and their baby son left Glasgow, Scotland, on board a sailing vessel bound for Montreal to try their fortunes in this new land. The trip took six weeks, and during that time the baby died. It was not buried at sea but at the first place the ship could land. From Montreal the journey was continued by boat to Toronto.
For a short time they worked at a brick yard, owned by Jim Read, at The Gore of Toronto, but the following Spring they went further cause their desire was to hew out a farm for themselves.
Finally they settled on what is now the third concession of Normandy township, where Grandpa bought 200 acres of land from a negro for $75.;;. A very crude shanty was built and the clearing began, but the first summer of their stay they both took the ague. Grandma had it for six weeks and Grandpa for five. The shaking came every second day, and after it a burning fever that made them very thirsty. It happened that they didn't take the severe shaking on the same day, so the well one would take a pail and a stick to help them climb the sharp hill and go to the creek for water. They were so sick that at the end of three weeks Grandma gave the cow the loaf of bread that had been in the shanty, but which they had never tasted.
Some potatoes brought by a neighbour, and quantities of hemlock tea soon made them well, although Grandpa always said he got well a week sooner on account of a big drink of whiskey he took. Grandma wouldn't taste it.
The next Spring two more Campbell men, Tom and Geordie and one woman, Geordie's wife, Lizzie came to Canada. They didn't like the land their brother had chosen, and leaving the women there the three men went through the bush with their supplies strapped to their backs, and located on what is now the 13th Concession of Proton township, where their descendants still live.
They stayed in Proton about nine months, getting a little clearing made and a shanty built. They had flour and water to eat and they had the choice of eating it raw or cooked. Their bed was brush with whatever blankets they carried.
When the log house was fit to live in the men went back to Normanby and with two yoke of oxen hitched to jumpers they began the return journey, taking all their goods with them, also eight bags of flour. They often had to cut a road for the oxen through the thick brush.
The women walked and carried a baby each, and drove a cow and five pigs. One of the babies was only nine weeks old; the distance was eighteen miles. The first night they stayed at Jackson Reid's at Yeovil, and the second night at MacFadden's on the 15th Con. further west, where the land was so wet that hewed logs were laid on the floor on which one could walk with dry feet. The women were home half a day before the oxen. They all lived in Geordie's house until one could be built on Grandpa's place.
Grandma says their new shanty was a good one and warm. The floor was made of split logs. The chimney and fire place were built of mud and sticks like thick lath. The chinks between the logs were filled in the same way. There was one window with six small panes, but the house was so dark that the sewing was done by the fire place where the light came in through the chimney.
The chimney smoked very badly and after putting up with it for a long time Grandma tore it down. She then dug a hole in the ground and with her bare feet tramped water into the clay until she had a suitable mortar, then alone she rebuilt it and it never smoked again.
At first they used the "chists" for table and chairs, but after a time Grandma got Archie Fullerton to make her a big strong table that she still has, for fifty pounds of flour.
Same man made a frame for another six-paned window and Grandma got the glass for it at a little store about 2 ½ miles west of where Priceville now is, but she could never get the men to saw out the logs and fit it in. Jack, the oldest boy, was now over three years old, and Grandma stood him on the table and after knocking out the chinks between the logs, and taking one handle of the crosscut saw, she got Jack to hold up the end of it while she went outside and drew the saw back and forth until finally she got the logs cut out and the window in.
Grandma says that she and Lizzie made their first thimble by getting a "thumb" of cedar, boring a hole with a half-inch auger and punching holes over the outside with an awl. For pins they used the "jags" of the hawthorn and they made their first brooms out of birch, cut fine and tied with strips of leather wood. The method of lighting the house was grease in a dish with a piece of woolen cloth for wick; this in time gave place to home-made candles.
Grandma kept up to a cradle raking and binding, and for the first years with a baby strapped to her back, while the older children played near. When she could cover her shadow with one big step as she stood with her back to the sun, she knew it was time to go in and prepare dinner. The baking was done every night in a bake kettle and while the eight bags of Normanby flour lasted, bread could be baked, but the frozen wheat of Proton would not make flour fit for bread and so scones took its place.
(Continued next issue)
- Dundalk Herald
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- Dundalk, On
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- Reproduced with permission of the Dundalk Herald.
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