Women Pioneers of Proton Part III
- Macphail, Agnes, Author
- Media Type:
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- The third and final part of a series of articles written by Agnes Macphail about her pioneer ancestors
- Page 12 Wednesday, April 21, 1982
Women Pioneers of Proton
By Agnes Campbell Macphail reprinted in the Dundalk Herald Dec. 1920 and January 1921 from the Farmers Sun.
(Continued from last week)
My grandmother Macphail came from Scotland to Hamilton with her parents, when she was a small child. The whole family stayed in Hamilton for a couple of years, and then moved to the 9th Concession of the township of Proton.
Grandma was eleven years old when they came into the bush. They hired horses to take them the first part of the way. When they were in the bush a year great grandmother died, and little Jean Jack, a child of twelve, was left as the house-keeper for her brothers and father and the foster mother of little Anzel Ainsworth, a baby one year old.
How a child of twelve could care for the baby through sickness and health, winter and summer, I do not know, but care for him she did, and my great uncle Anzil Jack is living today on the 9th concession of Proton.
They brought a small stove from Hamilton, and this made the cooking easier for Grandma. She did the sewing as well as the housework, making the smaller children’s clothes out of the good parts of the grown people garments.
The meals weren’t much trouble, because potatoes and much bread or scone as could be baked out of the frozen wheat of Proton was the food. Water poured over burned crusts or peas burned brown and ground in the coffee mill, that came from Hamilton, was the drink. Of course, they had maple sugar through Spring and Summer, and as long as it lasted after that.
The next summer after they came into the bush grandma’s oldest brother walked back to Hamilton to work in the harvest field of the man who loaned them the horses for moving, and that he might have boots to work in, he walked the eighty or more miles barefooted and carried his boots.
One summer, Grandma and her brother who were both just children, needed some new cotton clothes very badly. They had no money, butter or eggs, but cakes of maple sugar the size of an ordinary milk pan, reached from the floor to the ceiling of the shanty. So they got two down and each of them got one strapped to their back and walked to Mount Forest, which was about twenty miles away. They went to “deal” at Yeoman’s. The walk was long and the day hot, and when they arrived at Yeoman’s the sugar was very soft, where it had rested close to the little hot backs of the children. Mr Yeoman said he shouldn’t buy it at all, but that he could because they had worked too hard to get some clothes. He paid 9c a pound for it and they bought cotton at 20 cents a yard.
Grandma’s two brothers, helped build the first mill in Mount Forest.
When Grandma was a growing girl the 12th sideroad was being made and she says she well remembers taking potatoes and salt down to the men at noon. One man was John Dezall.
Their first neighbour found the Jacks by following the sound of the axe.
After they got cows they could not make good butter, because they had no place to properly ripen the cream, and also on account of the leeks. The butter was carried to Mount Forest. One morning in Summer, Mrs. Duncan MacMillan, Sarah Parslow and Jean Jack left the 9th Con. at four o’clock to walk to Mount Forest. They carried each, a twenty or twenty-five pound pail in each hand. When they got to town they got 10c a pound for the product and paid $1 a pound for tea.
There was no school or church for quite a long time. Then after they had “signed” that they would pay a certain sum, a “student” would come to preach in the summer. These hardy people were independent even in religious matters; no missionaries were sent to them. At first the preaching was in Russell’s barn but afterwards in Fettis’ house.
When Grandma was twenty-one years old she married Alexander Macphail and came to live in a one-roomed shanty in a clearing on the 12th concession of Proton. After a few years another shanty was built, but it was accidentally burned.
The men did the logging and the women burned the brush, because the men weren’t good at it.
Grandfather McPhail owned the first horses in that part and he used to team produce to Guelph. The round trip took four days, and his pay was $4. Too bad Mr. Biggs wasn’t living then. The value of a man and team for part of eight hours on the good road this Summer staggers one. It was usually late when Grandpa would get home, and he always told Grandma not to get up to get his supper, - that is a bowl of outmeal [sic] with a little salt in it and boiling water poured over it.
Grandma is the mother of twelve children, eleven of whom are still living. The children had three miles to go to school, over very bad roads, and often had not sufficient clothing to go in cold weather. Children today do not realize what a blessed privilege it is to have a school near, fit roads to travel on, and warm clothes to wear.
How grandma did the work with so many little ones and with the clothes to make, the yarn to spin, and the socks to knit, I do not understand.
Mrs. McInnes, who lived across the road, was left a widow with many children, and her struggle to keep them all alive was a brave one. I suppose in comparison grandma thought her lot quite easy.
She still lives on the land where she went as a girl of twenty-one, though the one-roomed shanty is gone, and only this Summer she had her eleven children with her for a few days to rejoice with her that she has been spared to them for so many years.
I hope that these two stories of pioneer women, though so imperfectly told, will help us all to revere the memory of those who have gone on, and to tenderly love and care for those who yet remain, and to consider it a blessed privilege to have heard the stories of early life in Ontario with all its toil, its simple joys; its pathos and bravery from their own lips.
Such people, your grandparents and mine, are the real builders of this country. They were and are true patriots. They built the foundation of the country and true, and if we sit around and let “captains of industry” so undermine it, that this land for which they have toiled so hard is taken out of our hands by fiscal policy of this Dominion, we are not worthy of our heritage.
Agnes C. Macphail
- Dundalk Herald
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- Dundalk, On.
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