"Algoma Pioneer Describes Early Life In District", Sault Star Clipping, 1952

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Rare Sight Eagles Observed Near Thessalon

Special to the Sudbury Daily Star

THESSALON — Eagles with talons as large as a man's hand, have been sighted in this district during recent weeks.

Earlier this week a huge black and white eagle carrying a rabbit in its claws was observed by Marjorie Stewart as she was returning from a motor trip to the Soo.

The bird had swooped down to the highway pavement and was in the act of devouring its prey when frightened away by the noise of the car. Miss Stewart left the car to examine the dead rabbit, but the eagle continued to spiral high above, waiting to retrieve the kill.

Hector MacDonald. a local trucker reported seeing two eagles recently while enoute to Carpcnter Lake. The birds were feeding from the carcess of a deer killed.

Algoma Pioneer Describes Early Life in District

Donald MacKay, of Thessalon, Son of First Algoma Farmer, Wed First Thessalon Teacher

Special to the Sudbury Daily Star

THESSALON—Donald MacKay, Park Street, one of Thessalons most respected citizens has many inteiciting pioneer recollections to recall.

When only nine years old, MacKay, along with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. John MacKay, four brothers and two sisters came to Algoma from their home in Kincardine, Bruce County. They had the honor of being the first settlers to come into this part of Algoma for farming purposes in the year 1875.

Marine Disaster

The MacKay family arrived at Bruce Mines. 12 miles west of Thessalon on the steamer Asia. A few years later the Asia foundered in Georgian Bay,and 125 lost their lives, including the captain, John Savage of Goderich. This was the greatest marine disaster of those days.

The Bruce Copper Mines had closed the year before and the MacKay's moved into a vacant house where they spent two winters. MacKay's father and brothers were employed for a time cutting cord board for boats. They cut all body hardwood at 50 cents a cord. At that atime flour was $10 a barrel, but you could have all the fish you could carry for $1.

The MacKays located in Lefroy Township and were responsible for giving the beautiful farming community near Thessalon the name, Alma Heights.

Into a Wilderness

When they first arrived a wilderness of forest greeted them. Bears, foxes, wildcats and lynx were in abundance, but there was no deer or wolves at that time. There were no roads and during the first few years the family had to carry all supplies from Bruce Mines, a distance of seven miles. The mail

arrived in summer by boat and in winter by dog team.

Bruce Mines was then a busy place, and the store keeprs had to purchase enough supplies in "the fall to last until the boats arrived in the spring.

MacKay vividly recalled an incident which happened the first spring on the farm. Early in May all that remained of their winter's provisions was one sack of bran. His parents walked to Bruce Mines to await arrival of the boat. At that time there were three boys and one girl at home.

Rabbit Expedition

The young people didn't relish the thought of living on a bran diet, so the boys decided on a rabbit expedition. There were numberous rabbits and the three boys chased them all day, finally securing one.

The next morning they thought of a new scheme. They sat the youngest boy behind a big stump with a club. The two bigger boys then played hound, and chased the rabbits back and forth over the stump, where the young lad whacked them with a vengeance. That night the boys proudly carried six rabbits into the house, and the next day had even better results.

It was eight or 10 days before the parents arrived with flour and provisions, but they found their family, hale, hearty, and well fed.

The settlers purchased a yoke of steers within a year. At that time Mr. Marks, a Bruce Mines store keeper built a sawmill, and MacKay, then 11 years old assisted his father in taking out logs. They received $3 per thousand for good clear pine logs, and $4 per thousand for good birch.

The logs were hauled by the steers one mile to the lake. When the ice went out in the spring the tug arrived. The logs were put into the water with a boom around them. The birch logs were the last to go in and they got stuck on a sandy bed in the water.

Versatile Steers

The tug hitched on to the hardwood logs but couldn't pull them, so the steers were hitched on the corner of the boom to help. The young pioneer stood on the boom and after much pulling, shouting, and shoving the logs finally moved but got stuck again on another sand bar.

The men on the tug stopped pulling, but the raft didn't stop. The steers started for shore, and the raft pulled backwards until at last he turned the yoke. Donald jumped into the water and got the yoke off one steer. Two fellows on the tug jumped into a skiff and came back and loosened the other and the steers headed straight for shore.

Settler Influx

In'1877 and 1878 the boats were loaded with families of new settlers, until by 1880 people took up homesteads from the Mississauga to the Soo.

One day Donald's father heard about Basswood Lake from the Indians, so he decided to look over the land in that vicinity. Donald and his father equipped with provisions started out from Bruce Mines and crossed the Thessalon River at Bell's Rapids.

Donald was very proud to be allowed to carry the shotgun and when his father pointed to a partridge sitting on a log, he was taking careful aim when his father said: "Remember to put the nipple on the cap before shooting." He was successful in getting the bird and by night had four more for the stew pot. They camped in Rose Townhip which was then virgin wilderness. The next day they crossed the Little Thessalon Riser on the rapids and reached Little Basswood Lake.

The last two days of their trip they found no rabbits or partridge, and upon leaving Maple Ridge for Thessalon were very hungry. When they reached Thessalon they found Dyments Boarding House closed so they went along the river until they saw an Indian camp on the opposite side. The Indian was very kind and came across and escorted them back to a teepee where they slept like logs.

In the morning Donald was awakened by the delicious aroma of fish and potatoes. When he crawled out of the teepee a squaw handed him a large birch bark platter filled with food. She replenished it the second time and when he held up the empty platter again the squaw firmly shook her head, and said "No! No! Little boy bust'" After breakfast they continued the trip home.

Tough Going

A group of Cornishmen at Bruce Mines asked the elder MacKay to take them hunting the next fall as they wanted to see the region around Basswood Lake. A crowd of 15 men met at David Jackson's Butcher Shop, all carrying provisions. They each paid $1 for the expedition and started off. Donald also accompanied his father on this occasion.

Near Nestorville the group was played out and refused to walk another step. The night was cold and windy, and Donald and his father went on down the hill where they found a cozy camping spot. In the morning the Cornishmen decided to go back home.

Logging bees and barn raisings were frequent and there was plenty of social life and pleasant times.

The early settlers would use rags full of grease, put in saucers for light. These were called "witches". Later, candles and oil lamps were used.

The first Presbyterian minister at Thessalon. Rev. D. H. McLennan, visited Alma Heights and a held church services in the MacKay home. Later, the Methodist minister took turn about with Rev. Mclennan.

Marries Teacher

When the school was built Donald MacKay married the first school teacher, Miss Sarah Beal. They were married in 1894 in Gould township.

MacKay recalls working with his team for Peter Murray at Blind River when Murray owned the first water-power sawmill in this part of the country. In the winter several men were engaged putting in piers for booms. Cribs ' were filled with stones and set in the lake. One morning in 40 be1ow zero weather, the hole going over the crib was frozen over.

A young worker took his pike pole and shoved the ice to one side.The pole slipped and he went into the water, but didn't sink as he had so many clothes on. A second fellow grabbed a pike pole and hooking him by the seat of the pants hauled him to safety. The rescued lad started to run for the house about 500 yards away and had only gone 50 yards when his clothes froze and he fell down.

Two friends skidded him the remainder of the way home, where they sat him by the kitchen stove.

About two hours later Jack came briskly marching back to work, none the worse for his experience. (A prominent Blind River citizen will remember this incident.

A tragedy occurred when five or six men left Blind River to take a load of oats to the camp for winter.

When they didn't return in the evening Mr. Murray became quite anxious and left in his canoe to investigate. When he reached the camp it was dark and everything was quiet. Taking the lantern, Murray forced the door open and when he did he saw oat sacks all over the floor and one man's arm reaching up through the sacks.

The sacks hadn't been piled properly and when the men had fallen asleep the oats rolled on top of them, suffocating them.

The MacKay family moved to Thessalon about 20 years ago. MacKay served on the Thessalon Town Council when Angus Taylor was Mayor.

The MacKays quietly marked their 58th wedding anniversary on Jan. 31 when their many friends joined in offering best wishes for many more years of health and happiness.

Unlimited Mineral Wealth Exists in Thessalon Area Veteran Prospector Claims

Special to the Sudbury Daily Star

THESSALON — Dennis Egan, who has spent the past several months at the Davey home at the Soo, is one of Thessalon's old-timers who is planning on greeting many old friends at the town's' Jubilee celebration this summer.

"Denny" as he is known to Thessalon residents is now in his 88th year and is believed to be the oldest prospector in Canada. He has been prospecting in the Thessalon area for the past 60 years and until a year ago was working his claims at Snow Shoe Flats, 30 miles north of Thessalon.

Denny came to Thessalon from Huron County as a young boy and attended the first Thessalon public school adjoining the Thessalon Dairy. The late Mrs. J. Kennedy was the first teacher. The first Christmas tree In the vicinity was held in this little school in 1879.

There is still an air of yesterday when the citizens talk about the old school, and they still cherish many happy memories of the school house and the first teacher.

Recalls Early Students

Thessalon in olden times was a stopping place for the northwest fur brigades. One of their main camping places was Thessalon Point. They would come in their canoes in the evening, light their camp, fires and early the next morning would continue their journey.

The first Jail was where the Memorial Park now stands, but did not last long, as a prisoner burned it down in order to get out.

The first fraternal society was the United Templars of Temperance. The only means of transportation between Bruce Mines and Thessalon was by sail boats and the mill tugs.

Denny recalls the Saturday in 1888 when little Maude Gillespie went out to pick strawberries for her grandfather's dinner and disappeared. Denny took part in the search in the dense bushland, which continued for several weeks, but no trace was ever found of her, although it had been rumored that she had been kidnapped by a band of Indians.

During the long arduous years that Denny has wrested his livelihood from the rugged north country he has experienced many hardships, but he says if he had his life to live over again, he would still be a prospector.

"Once the lure of this life gets into your blood, you have to keep on through good years and bad," Denny declared.

He thinksa more young fellows should start prospecting, and is confident that there is still unlimited riches in the rock formations in the Thessalon district.

Media Type:
Item Type:
This is a newspaper clipping about the recollections of early pioneer life in the north shore area as remembered by local pioneer and historian Donald McKay. A head photo of Donald MacKay accompanies the text.
Date of Original:
March 28 1952
Local history
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 46.25006 Longitude: -83.5666
Copyright Statement:
Protected by copyright: Uses other than research or private study require the permission of the rightsholder(s). Responsibility for obtaining permissions and for any use rests exclusively with the user.
Thessalon Union Public Library
WWW address
Agency street/mail address

187 Main St. Box 549

Thessalon, ON P0R 1L0

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"Algoma Pioneer Describes Early Life In District", Sault Star Clipping, 1952

This is a newspaper clipping about the recollections of early pioneer life in the north shore area as remembered by local pioneer and historian Donald McKay. A head photo of Donald MacKay accompanies the text.