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    This article was written over 100 years ago (1909)

    by George D. MacDonald, Toronto


    On the North side of Lake Simcoe lies a fine stretch of rolling land, where in early days a number of Highlanders settled and formed one of the finest townships in Ontario.

    The Township of Mara is 87 miles directly north of Toronto, and contains 60,588 acres. It was first surveyed in 1821 by a man named J.G. Chewett, but he reported to the Government that the land was of no value, and he was called home. The survey was completed in 1836 by a Highland Scotchman by the name of Robert Ross. Up to the time of the Mackenzie Rebellion in 1837 there was but a scant settlement along the North shore of Lake Simcoe.

    I am told that a man by the name of Alexander McDonald, a Blacksmith, and his family were the first Highlanders to settle in North Mara; they came from Uist {Outer Hebrides, Scotland}, and settled in the Township in 1833. The family consisted of the parents, five sons and five daughters. Their names were John, Alexander, Duncan, Donald and Robert and the girls were Rachel, Isabella, Christy, Mary and Anne. Mr. McDonald Sr. died May 10th, 1859 aged 76 years and his wife Mary died February 13th, 1883 aged 92 years. The rest of this family are all dead, but Mary, who lives in Toronto, and Anne who lives in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.
    [Alexander McDonald, the blacksmith, settled first in Georgian Township where his daughter Mary was born c.1833. Sometime between 1833 and 1837 he settled in Mara.]

    In 1834 another family by the name of McDonald arrived from Knoydart in Inverness-shire. This family consisted of the father, Alexander McDonald, the mother whose maiden name was Christina Cameron, six sons and one daughter, and which was afterward increased by the addition of two sons and one daughter, making altogether in this family eight sons and two daughters. Their names were Ronald, Donald, Angus, John, Alexander, Archie, George and Duncan. The daughters were Margaret and Anne. Alexander McDonald was a Lieutenant in the 66th Highland Rifles, and died in 1842, in the 70th year of his age. Mrs. McDonald died about the year 1870. This family are all dead but Duncan and Anne. [This family came from Knoydart, Inverness-shire c.1821 settling first in P.Q., and then in Glengarry Co., Ontario. They arrived in Thorah Twp. by at least 1830 where a son was born early in 1831. They moved to Mara Twp. in the winter of 1833/34 settling at Muley’s Point. The obituary for Anne McDonald who did not marry states that there had been 12 children, not 10 – so perhaps two died young. Lieut. Alexander died December 4th, 1842, not November as the tombstone states. The Toronto paper of the time and the entry in the register made by priest of Penetang confirm this fact, Mrs. McDonald (Christina), died in 1866. Her death appears in the one year for which the priest kept death records except for a few scattered earlier entries.]

    The next family to arrive was Neil McDonald from Tiree, (better known as Neil Bake) {from the Gaelic: Beag}. He came out in 1845 with his wife and family, five boys and two girls. The boys were John, Robert, Alexander, Neil and Malcolm. The girls were Sarah and Flora.

    Hector McKinnon, his wife and family, one boy and three girls, came out the same year from Coll; they sailed from Glasgow on a ship called “Jane Brown” commanded by Captain Wallace, and after a rough voyage of eight weeks they got to their journey’s end. Mr. McKinnon died in 1882 and Mrs. McKinnon in 1884; the rest of the family are all alive but one daughter, Christy.

    Neil McKinnon came from Coll in 1845. This family consisted of the parents and five sons; they are all dead.

    Murdock Johnston and his family came from Coll in 1847; this family consisted of four sons and one daughter; their names were John, James, Lachlan and William [father of Beatrice], and a daughter Sarah. Mr. Johnston Sr. was appointed a lay-reader in the Presbyterian Church in 1845. When he arrived he commenced holding Prayer Meetings in the different houses; the meetings were always conducted in Gaelic. This state of affairs went on until the settlers were able to build a church which was commenced in 1855. Mr. Johnston and a man by the name of George Thompson collected money all over Ontario, going as far west as Windsor, and east to Kingston. Mr. Johnston looked after these people for 28 years and never got, nor did he ask, one cent for his labours. It was said that once, when he was going across the ice to his church, he broke though, and rather than disappoint the people, he went and conducted the Prayer Meeting with his wet, icy clothes still on. The Uptergrove Church was a Mission Church looked after by Rev. Mr. Gray of Orillia till Mr. Johnston’s death, which took place in 1876.

    The first resident Minister who hand charge of this church was a Highland Scotchman named Rev. D.M. McGregor. The services were always conducted in Gaelic till eight years ago.

    Mr. McGregor died on July 12th, 1889. When the grave closed over this lamented man, whose death was so widely and so deeply regretted from far and near, mourners, both clerical and lay, came to attend the funeral. Long before the hour fixed for the service, the Presbyterian Church was filled; after the service the body was carried to the green spot in the small stony graveyard, near the church where he wished to be buried; as he said himself “amongst my dead and near my living people, that I may be near them, and that they and I may rise together on the last day”.
    It is a mournful procession, this carrying to his last resting place. Immediately behind the coffin came the family and the Clergy, followed by women and children; the aged men and women for whom the evening of life was drawing to a close, they, willing but unable to do their part in carrying the precious burden, and too feeble to attempt to follow with the rest, stood by and wept; then the grave was closed and the friend of the Highlanders laid in its last resting-place.

    “For forty years he plodded on
    His cheerful path of love,
    Exhorting souls to lean upon
    The treasures from above.
    The Grace of God, the Blood of Christ,
    Which was for sinners to shed,
    To preach, to teach, to watch and pray,
    The light of Faith to spread.”

    The next family to arrive came from {South} Uist; they sailed from Loch Boisdale on June 1st, 1849 and after a pleasant passage of six weeks they arrived at Quebec. This vessel carried 437 passengers, all bound for different parts of Canada; those who came to Mara come by vessel from Quebec to Toronto, which took them six days, and after a short stay in Toronto, they bade the rest of the party good-bye, and took stage to Holland Lading, which took then one day. At this point one of the party by the name of “Pat Steele”, was stricken with typhus fever and died, which cast a sad gloom over the rest of the party; they buried him under the shade of a large pine tree; marked and lonely grave by a rough stone, an proceeded on their journey. They took a vessel called the “Beaver” to Atherley; the hull of this vessel can still be seen at the Narrows, which separate Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchiching. [In 1957 a rib from this submerged wreck was raised by David Brown.]

    This party consisted of John Steele, the father, two sons, Alexander and John, and one daughter Mary; Donald and Alexander McIsaac and five sisters; Donald McDonald, his mother and two sisters; John and Anne McIsaac, half brother and sister of the McDonalds, Hugh and Findlay Walker, Neil and Flora Morrison. Also John McKinnon and Donald McLean. This party are mostly all dead. [The two sisters of Donald McDonald were Mary who married Archie McDonald and Janet (Jessie) who married Donald McIsaac. Their mother had been Anne Steele widow of both an Alexander McDonald and Donald McIsaac. {Neil Morrison’s wife was Ann not Flora.}

    Donald McDonald died March 4th, 1898 aged eighty years. Mrs. Carey (Mary Steele) died February 6th, 1907 aged eighty years. Mrs. Joseph Lee (Flora McIsaac) died November 6th, 1906 aged 77 years.
    Mrs. Neil Morrison died September 28th, 1896 aged 105 years.
    Mrs. Alex Steele (Isabella [Catherine] McIsaac) is still alive though crippled from rheumatism and she told me she was 98.
    Mrs. John Steele (Mary McIsaac) is still alive and well, and able to attend to her household duties at the age of 90.
    Mrs. Mary McDonald is alive but in very poor health at 82 [widow of Archie].
    Malcolm MacDonald (better known as Calum Ruadh) came from Coll in 1847.

    Malcolm and Archie McKinnon came from Tiree in the same year. Hugh and Neil McKinnon came from Coll in 1847 and Donald Campbell and John McKinnon came from Uist in 1849; also Donald McDonald better known as “Donald the Bigger” {from the Gaelic: Mor} came from Uist in 1849. Murdoch McKenzie, his wife and family, John, Lachlan, James, Mary, Margaret and Isabella came from Coll in 1847. Mr. McKenzie Sr. died June 10th, 1872 aged 87 years, and Mrs. McKenzie died in 1873 aged 83 years.
    Alexander McDonald (Alister Ruadh) came for Uist in 1850.

    Angus McLean, a soldier, came out with the 93rd Highland Regiment in 1850. Hector McDonald bought McLean out of the Army paying 25 pounds stg. {sterling} for his release. McLean afterwards married McDonald’s daughter Rachel, and they settled in Mara.

    Donald McPhee and his wife, whose maiden name was Jessie Curry, came from {South} Uist in 1850. He was a shoemaker by trade and made and mended boots for the neighbourhood, and never charged one cent for his labours; all you had to do was to furnish pegs and thread, and carry home your boots; he also had a good farm and lived in comfort; he died in 1888 and his wife died February 1st, 1901 aged 70 years.

    The late Bishop MacDonell of Kingston attended to the spiritual wants of the Catholic portion of the settlement; he visited them twice yearly and was always a welcome visitor to all denominations. He usually celebrated Mass in one of the Settler’s houses; this continued until 1847. It was a long cherished desire of Bishop MacDonell to build a church in Mara. Generation of faithful worshippers succeeds generation, but the humble church called St. Columbkille whose tall spire glistens from the distant hill on the opposite shore of the little lake stands as it stood when in 1857 it rose from the midst of the tall pines of the forest, where service was held for the faithful band of Highland worshippers.

    The Rev. K.A. Campbell was their first Parish Priest; was born of Highland parents in the Township of Thorah in 1837 and became the resident Clergyman of the Township in 1864; he was a Gaelic scholar and was held in great respect by Highlanders of all denominations. He died at Scranton, Pa. on December 28th 1895 aged 58 years and is buried in Orillia.

    “A voice is stilled; a life is closed,
    A soul has gone to rest;
    A pastor loved, a shepherd true
    Now sojourns with the blest.
    We fondly hoped he might be spared
    For many years to come
    To counsel, guide and comfort us
    And aid us saints become.”

    Alexander Kennedy was born of Highland parents at Charlottenburgh, Glengarry County in 1822 and moved to Mara in 1859. He embarked in the lumber trade which he successfully followed till 1870 when he retired from business and erected an extensive stone flour mill, saw mill and carding mill at Atherley. Mr. Kennedy was descended from one of those Highland families whose love of faith and Fatherland was above all other considerations, and whose devotion to Scottish right and Scottish honour could be quenched only in death. Nurtured in those noble instincts Mr. Kennedy remained throughout life a man whose liberal views were graced by a frank and genial disposition. For many years he was identified with the growth and prosperity of Mara, and by his public spirit aided considerably the progress made in that section, but reverses overtook him and ill-health was added to other misfortunes, till finally all his earthly troubles were ended in death, which took place on April 21st, 1882. In the death of Mr Alexander Kennedy, Mara lost one of her best citizens and Glengarry one of her noblest sons.

    To distinguish the McDonalds apart, they mostly all had nicknames such as:

    John McDonald Iain Ban Lachlan McDonald Lachunn Fiadh
    John McDonald Iain Niall Neil McDonald Nial Ruadh
    Alexander McDonald Alasdair McRaghnaill Donald McDonald Domhnull Taillear
    Duncan McDonald Donnohadh Gobha Donald McDonald Domhnull Dubh
    William McDonald Willeam Fiadh Malcolm McDonald Callum Ruadh
    Angus McDonald Aonghas Beag Hector McDonald Eachainn Beag
    Hector McDonald Eachainn Raghnaill John McDonald Iain Dubh
    Mary McDonald Mairi Bheag
    Alexander McDonald Alasdair MacAlasdair Mhic Raghnaill

    The McKenzies and McKinnons were distinguished one from another the same way as the McDonalds.

    The first school teacher in the district was Robert Robinson who taught in each of three houses. In the two McDonald families and John McMullen’s, the children would congregate at the house in which he taught. The second teacher’s name was McMullen; the first school was a log shanty, built on Lot 22 in the 9th Concession and it was replaced later by a better and more commodious building. The first teacher in this new school was D.C. McDonald, who is a member of this society and is at present teaching at Sutton Bay in the Nipissing District, and is still hale and hearty. The first saw-mill in the Township was built in 1854 by Campbell & Whitney. Campbell sold his share to a Highlander named McPhee.

    One of the great events of the year was the logging bee. There were usually 5 or 6 yoke of oxen and 5 men after each yoke, each gang being supplied with axes, hand-spikes, and a gallon of whiskey, and were supposed to log one acre. It was the custom to start a competition and the gang who finished first got an extra gallon of whisky as a prize. The women usually had a quilting bee and a dance and supper at night. The fiddler occupied a chair and sat on the top of a table; the man calling off the dance standing beside him. In those pioneer days it was difficult to find a fiddler, and in the absence of one, so enthusiastic were they for dancing, they would content themselves with the music of Jew’s harp, and even lilting, or chanting the tunes.

    It was customary to form in parties for bear hunts, taking with them such deadly weapons as the axe, spade, scythe and long knife. On one of these hunts two men of the party, whose names I will not mention, were waiting by the roadside to make an attack on the bear; they heard some cracking in the bushes; one said to the other, “Oh! here he comes; let us run”. John ran and mounted a brush heap, and to his great surprise Bruin was under the brush they were standing on. There was a fierce encounter after they got all the party together, but they succeeded in killing the bear.

    It would be useless for me to try to describe the hardships endured by those sturdy Highlanders when they first arrived in Mara. The place was a dense forest, with not one acre cleared. They left their native Isles because they longed for a chance to make a home for themselves and to raise their families. It is gratifying to know that of the great number of Highlanders that settled in Mara in the early days, every one of them, without one exception, had a comfortable home in their old age. During the last half century the Township of Mara has been transferred from a dense forest into a prosperous farming country, with good dwelling houses and bank barns second to none in Ontario.

    In later years when people of other nationalities came in to the Township, it was a noticeable fact that the positions of trust in the Municipality were invariably held by Highlanders who were always held in great esteem, and in fact were looked up to on account of their sterling qualities. Most of the early settlers are gone, but their memory and grand example of energy, industry and kind-heartedness to their fellow-men still remain.

    The earlier Highlanders began life in Mara by getting homesick – a disease somewhat difficult to bear and which most new settlers feel after leaving the parental roof for a foreign shore. They have to go through the painful ordeal of tearing themselves away from all who are near and dear to them, and in this regard the Highlander shows the material he is made of.
    When they arrived in Mara, more than half a century ago, they found in the district a few farmers from the north of Scotland who had taken up land, but a yet had scarcely begun to attack the huge forest in front of them, and out of which they had to hew their future. They were a kind and warm-hearted people, not very long out from Scotland, and still, more or less, suffering from the same complaint, homesickness – but doing their best to become reconciled to the trying conditions of their new situation of hardship and toil.

    Under these circumstances they had no difficulty in sympathising with each other – which they did in every possible way. They were not long there when they began the task of conquering the forest. Like thousands of others in the early stages of their life in the wilderness, they lived in log shanties each of one compartment, where, surrounded with a family of bright young children, they were cheerful and happy, nobly and bravely adapting themselves to their changed condition in the exercise of that religion which was the glory of the cottage life of Scotland, and made the log-cabin the sanctuary of peace and joy.

    To anyone paying an occasional visit to Mara during the past fifty years, nothing could appear more striking than the great improvements the Highland farmers have been making on their farms. Of late years they have got into the way of erecting a most elaborate and mammoth style of barns; these enormous buildings costing a large amount of money, which is clear proof of the growing comforts of the people, and of the advantages of owning their own land, as compared with lease-hold farms in Scotland.
    The primitive log shanty of the pioneer days developed through various stages, into the comfortable brick or stone residence, while the small barn, in like manner, gives place to the huge structures seen throughout the township.

    The township of Rama was surveyed by a gang of Mara Highlanders in 1856-57. The party consisted of Charles Unwin as chief surveyor, Angus McLean, Donald McDonald (Donald Tailor), John McIsaac and Donald McPhee as chairman, Alexander McDonald and Laughlin McDonald as cooks, John Steel and Neil Morrison as Packmen, who used to carry one hundred pounds on their back through the bush, with only a blazed road to guide them. Their beds were made of balsam brush covered with a blanket; their greatest trouble being mosquitoes and black flies.

    George Thompson, his wife, one son and one daughter sailed from Aberdeen on April 17th, 1855, on a sailing vessel called the “St. Lawrence”, commanded by Captain Tulloch, and carrying 260 passengers and freight. It took then seven weeks to reach Quebec. After a few days’ rest, they took a sailing vessel called the “City of Quebec’ to Toronto, which took them five days; then over the old Northern Railroad to Belle Ewart. From there, they took a vessel called the “Morning” to Atherley, arriving there July 27th, 1855.

    The outlook was a forbidding one, the drawbacks in a new country being many and varied. Mara, in those days, was a howling wilderness, where wolves held nightly carnival, and deer, bear and other wild animals abounded.

    Mrs. Thompson died January 27, 1862, aged 72 years. Mr. Thompson died October 10th, 1872 aged 82 years.
    Peter Thompson, their son, who is now advanced in years and in ill-health, is much respected in the community, and has held many important positions, both in the Government and Council, and served on the School Board for 41 years continuously.

    Ronald MacDonald was born in Glenderlochen, Knoidart [sic] [Knoydart], Scotland, in 1812, came to Mara when very young [about 21 years of age]. He was the eldest son of the late Lieut. Alexander MacDonald, 66th Highland Rifles, who distinguished himself at Waterloo. He was a land surveyor, and was always in demand, whenever a dispute arose among the farmers over their line fence. He died December 8th 1878 aged 66 years.

    Angus MacDonald, brother of Ronald, was born February 1st, 1819, and came to Mara when 14 years of age. He was a carpenter by trade, and built most of the houses and barns in Mara in the early days. He lived to a good old age, having died February 5th, 1902 aged 81 years. His wife, whose maiden name was Mary Donovan, died April 28th, 1909 aged 81 years. [Angus McDonald came to Thorah in 1832 and when 14 years of age moved up with his family to Mara in 1833/34 winter, having been raised in Scotland prior to this by his mother’s family. He is believed buried in Knox Cemetery. Mary Donovan died April 5th, 1909, and is buried in Knox Cemetery according to their minutes.]

    William McCaskill was born in North Carolina, to which state his father, Captain Kenneth McCaskill, with his wife and young family had repaired during the tenants’ troubles in the motherland. Captain McCaskill was a large estate owner in the Isle of Skye. The estate was known as “Rhunedenan”. Bringing a large number of tenants with him, he settled a portion of North Carolina. When Wm. McCaskill was eight years of age, the family returned to Scotland. He came to Canada in 1830, and with his tow brothers built the first mill in Cannington, on the site of the present mill, and founded that Village. When 23 years of age, he married a Miss McLean. In 1840 he moved to Beaverton where he was long and kindly known. He was well-known in Mara and held in high esteem by his many friends. He died December 1883, and was 70 years of age on the day of his burial.
    Mrs. Unagh Bethune, sister of the late Col. Kenneth Cameron, late of her Majesty’s 79th Cameron Highlanders, died March 5th, 1884, aged 83 years and 4 months.

    Robert McDonald came to Mara in 1842, remained for 10 years, when he went to Buffalo, {New York} sailing on the Schooner “Marion”, which was wrecked outside the Buffalo breakwater on June 10th, 1852. The crew all perished, except the Captain and mate. He was 45 years old at the time of his death. A native of the Island of Tiree. The body was buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, for one year, then taken to Mara for burial by his brother John.

    Christy McDonald, widow of the late Robert McDonald died February 4th, 1887, aged 74 years.

    Mrs. McKinnon came from Tiree in 1847 and settled in Mara. Her father was in the Home Guards, 93rd Sutherland Regiment in 1812. She is still living and retains all her faculties at 102 years of age. Her husband, Malcolm McKinnon, died in 1894 at the advanced age of 81.
    John McKinnon came to Mara in 1847, settled for a few years, moved to Medonte Township in 1875. He is now living in Sunnidale Township, and hale and hearty in a comfortable home.

    Mrs. McCormick and family – Angus, Donald, John, Neil, and Katie came from {South} Uist in 1850, settled in Mara for a short time, when they moved to Sparrow Lake. Angus, John and Kate (Mrs. Gill) are now dead. Neil and Donald are on the old homestead.

    The death of Patrick Cosgrave of Fair Valley, one of Mara’s eldest settlers, occurred April 10th, 1909. He was born in County Mayo, Ireland, in 1816 and was 93 years of age at the time of his death. He settled in Mara over fifty years ago, and was a continuous resident there. He left to mourn his loss, four sons and five daughters.

    Arthur Kelly, otherwise known as Little Kelly, died May 22nd, 1887, aged 112 years and 2 days, a native of County Sligo, Ireland.
    Mrs. Christina McDonald, wife of the late Lieut. Alexander McDonald of Inverness, died December 17th, 1870 aged 80 years. [Mrs. Christina McDonald died at Muley’s Point on the 29th June 1866.]

    John Johnston came to Mara in 1846, remained for a few years and returned to his native island – Coll. He died in Ballahough, Isle of Coll, Argyllshire, Scotland, February 24th, 1885, aged 83.

    The early inhabitants of Mara had to be content with only one mail a month. In one way they found it handy, as they lose no time, reading newspapers and answering letters. They could study books and profit better than by reading newspapers everyday. Each year the mail service improved, till now they have four mails daily.

    The Rev. John Gray of Orillia was the first Presbyterian Minister who attended the little frame church at Uptergrove. He completed his studies for a degree in 1838 and 1840: partly in King’s College, Aberdeen and partly in Knox College, Toronto, in 1846 and 1848. In 1873, having completed the statutory requirements, he received the degree of B.A. from Queen’s University and in 1876 the degree of M.A.

    Dr. Gray was the oldest graduate of Knox College who held these degrees. He was appointed first clerk of the Presbytery of Simcoe, 1868, and held office for 10 years; he was also clerk of the synod of Toronto from 1869 to 1875, and in June of that year was appointed clerk of the synod of Toronto and Kingston. Dr. Gray has also been intimately associated with Knox College. He was first tutor and also Librarian for three years. He compiled and prepared for the press, the first catalogue of the College Library. He had been for many years a member of the College Board, and of the Board of Examiners. Much of this labour has been performed without recompense. For over forty years he was associated with educational work of North Simcoe, as local superintendent and school trustee. It was worthy of mention that he assisted in compiling the first geography published in Ontario. He was a ripe and accomplished scholar, and found time, amid all his laborious duties of the pulpit and Church Courts to cultivate English literature. He served the church with honour and distinction.

    The region around Lake Simcoe was once the home of the largest Indian populations that ever occupied a territory of similar size. A people who lived by hunting and fishing, and learned to appreciate its countless lakes and islands where fish and game abounded.

    Very large Indian Villages were snuggled in nooks and corners, and were not easily accessible to prowling. When famine fell upon Indians elsewhere, the Iroquois knew if they could penetrate a big Huron Village beyond Lake Simcoe, they would find plenty of food stored for winter use; here the fish never failed; the hunting was always good.

    The history of the Indians around Lake Simcoe is most interesting reading. They had a very fair civilization of their own. It is proposed to start a museum for the collection of Indian relics in Orillia. The people have been moved to take this step by the fact that C.W. Hartman of New York who was in the locality last summer went amongst the people and bought for a small price, a number of Indian relics which he carried back to New York to be presented to a public museum.

    There are many private collections in Simcoe and Ontario Counties. Many of these are sold for a song, and many relics are given away to visitors. In time, unless proper steps are taken at once, the district that is richer than any other in memorials of the aboriginal race will be completely stripped, for as years go by, there will be a growing interest in Indian relics, and it should not be hard to secure a collection ahead of any other in America. All that is needed is a set purpose, combined with patience, for the utensils, weapons and other relics of the departed race are in the soil, or are scattered over the district, and could be had for a collection to be admired.

    A large portion of the land originally owned and occupied by these people has been bought by the Government; the first record is in the year 1795, when, for the sum of one hundred pounds, they sold to the Government of the Province of Canada 28,000 acres. In 1815 a further tract of 250,000 acres was sold by them to the Government for 4,000 pounds. In 1815, they surrendered 1,542,000 acres for a perpetual annuity of 1200 pounds payable to them and their children. In 1836 Sir John Colborne obtained an agreement from them to surrender the land on both sides of the Portage Road, between Orillia town and Coldwater, on which they had located six years before. They at present own and occupy the reserve in the township of Rama, consisting 1,600 acres; Snake and Mechingo Islands in Lake Simcoe, and smaller islands in Lake Couchiching, together with the Christian Islands in the Georgian Bay.

    Again turning to the habits of the olden days, a tavern was kept at that time on the Centre Road by a noted character. His most striking eccentricity displayed a habit of pronouncing any bill or coin laid on the bar in payment for food or drink, as being “just the right change”, and sweeping it into the till. One day a man named O’Donnell came along in time for dinner, and gave his horses their noon feed. On preparing to leave he placed a dollar bill on the bar. “Just the right change” said the genial landlord, and put it into the till.

    O’Donnell was game. He placed a quarter on the bar for a drink. The capacious hand went out and the jingle in the till rang out merrily with “just the right change”.

    A few weeks later the hotel man had occasion to drive to Toronto, there was no Northern Railway in those days, and he naturally called on his friend O’Donnell on the way. His smallest change was a fiver; he laid it on O’Donnell’s bar to pay for drinks for two. “Just the right change”, said O’Donnell, mimicking the latter man as he took in the fiver, and never again was “just the right change” heard on the Centre Road.

    In those days the farmers had to come all the way to Toronto to vote. Later on, the people from as far up country as Orillia on the east, and Collingwood to the north went to Barrie for elections. It was open vote then. The polls were open for a week, most of the voters stopped on the ground from the beginning to the end of polling. Sometimes the approach to the polls would be packed with a solid mass of humanity. It was then a case of the strongest first. Any fighting? Oh no, that is, no regular fighting; of course there were black eyes and bloody noses, but that was merely diversions.

    Let those who speak of unrequited toil listen for a moment to the conditions under which those laboured who laid the foundation of this magnificent township. For years there was no cash market. It was all trade, and one man told me he sold 1,000 bushels of oats for a York shilling a bushel, and not a cent of that in cash. At the beginning the grist had to be carried on the back to the lake, then by row-boat to Holland Landing. It frequently had to be left there for three days before their turn would come at the slow grinding hopper. Gristing was all done by toll, and sometimes the saying was: “the Miller kept the grist and gave the farmer toll.” Hired men worked from dawn to dark for 50¢ per day. Wages for cutting cord-wood were 25 or 30¢ per cord.

    The Minister came once in six months to administer sacrament; on those occasions people came from far and near, and the difference in the clothing of those in attendance was an interesting feature of those old time religious services.

    Some recently out from Scotland, still had some of the silk and satin finery they brought with them; others who had been here longer were wholly dressed in the homespun of the country. It was soon all homespun in keeping with the rude lumber seats in the old log school house in which service was held. Even marriages were celebrated in the old school house, which stood just across the way from where the brick building which served the section now stands. One afternoon school was called to allow one of the weddings to take place. The groom was nervous, and what was worse, had a hole in his pocket. When the time came to produce the ring, he found it had slipped through the hole and down into his boot. The rest of the ceremony had to be postponed whilst he removed his boot and recovered the ring. On another occasion, at a later date, a settler from away back was being married. When the knot was tied, he asked the Minister how much? He was told, anything he liked. He handed over a quarter, and as he still stood around, the Minister asked him if all was not right. “I did not know”, replied the happy groom, but there might be some change coming to me.” Another story of a wedding has to do with a run-way pair. This man had no money, but told the preacher he would bring him some potatoes when harvest came in. Unfortunately the potato crop failed that year, and the Minister had to wait until the following season for his fee, but it came in the end, and in good measure.

    The old log school-house, I remember it well; it stood until 1890 when it blew down. The seats were of rough boards set on blocks. Other boards formed the desks. In the early days everything was scarce: fodder for the cattle and groceries for the household. Tea was sometimes mixed with dry beech leaves, with maple sugar for sweetening. Potato skins were sometimes used for planting in the early thirties. How much the people of Mara owe to those pioneers and others like them, who gave so freely of sweat-stained dollars earned by back-breaking toil amidst the smoke and fire of the clearing, in order that their children might not be brought up in ignorance; how great is our indebtedness, represented by the kindest acts; how little of the comfort and conveniences of to-day are the results of our own labour, and how many are due to the magnificent courage and splendid self-sacrifice of such as those whose graves are sheltered by the wide-spread elms which remain to remind us of the forests that are gone, and in whose memory the night-wind chants its mournful dirge in the tops of the pine groves by the way-side.

    The first burying-ground was on the sandy hill – Lot 22, 9th Concession. Several bodies are still there. When the Midland Railway was going through in 1875 and 1876 the men came across a number of coffins; they carefully removed them to another part of the farm and buried them. The farm formerly belonged to a man named John McMullen, who sold it to a man named Murphy. It is now owned by John Atwell. Several bodies were buried on Lot 24, 10th Concession. They were afterwards removed and buried in the church-yard. Unless a grave be marked in some way, a few years and often less is sufficient to obliterate altogether any accuracy as to the spot where perhaps someone loved most dearly has found a last resting place. Often not a mound, with its covering of green sod gives indication of the office of mother earth. The level over which the roller may run without obstruction claims preference, and utility gives place to sentiment. Perhaps, and probably, this is best; for this insures that even many who in life were too poor for any to do them reverence, in death, have sepulchre of the exact same nature as those surrounded by all the love and luxury life offers.

    The greatest number of Highlanders came to Mara in 1847, the year of the emigrant fever. Before conclusion, it is in order to state a few facts in connection with this matter. Much has been written in late years on the subject of Absentee landlordism in general, but of the landlordism of Ireland in particular. It is not my intention to enter upon a discussion of the subject, which would be altogether out of place here; suffice it to say that embarkation of shipload after shipload of aged and infirm, of widows with large families [took place]. It was not the young able-bodied labourers who were thus sought to be rid of, but in nine cases out of ten, just such persons as described.

    Honourable exceptions there no doubt were, but as a class, the one thing which seemed to concern those to whom the people had a right to look for help and sympathy was, how best they might rid themselves of so uncomfortable a burden.

    The people on their part, seeing no prospect of relief from this deplorable state of affairs in Ireland and in a lesser degree in Scotland, and misled by promises of assistance to be given them on their arrival at Quebec, they eagerly grasped at the offers held out to them; the opening month of 1847 close on one thousand emigrants quitted the British Isles for the Colonies in America. During the first six months of 1847, the Canadian Government, forewarned by its medical officials, had established a quarantine station at Grosse Isle in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and in anticipation of considerable sickness amongst the emigrants, had made somewhat extensive preparations for their reception and treatment., The constitution of emigrants enfeebled by the famine through which they had passed, and the accommodation provided for them on board ship being miserably inadequate, fever broke out in a few days after leaving port; there being no competent medical attendants to relieve the stricken, there was, in most cases, nothing left for them but to die. Our of 2,782 emigrants who left Ireland in seven vessels which reached Grosse Isle between the 14th and 21st May, 184 had died on the voyage, and a large proportion of the survivors had contracted the dread disease – The Typhus. And was the condition of the unfortunate people any better at Grosse Isle? It is somewhat doubtful. The preparations made by the Government were entirely inadequate to the exigencies of the occasion. During all that summer the skill of the small staff of physicians was taxed to the utmost capacity. In all, 90,150 emigrants landed at Quebec in 1847; there died on the voyage 5,282 and in Quarantine 3,389. Those who passed the inspection of the quarantine officers were allowed to proceed up the river to Montreal, and to Upper Canada, and carrying the seeds of the pestilence with them, scattered them far and wide. The fever broke out in many places, and added victims by the hundred to the already vast total on board ship and at Grosse Isle. Over 700 died at Quebec; 3,330 at Pointe St. Charles, Montreal; 130 at Lachine and 3,046 at various points in Ontario, not including Toronto. At Toronto the mortality was very great: 863 dying here. In all, there perished during this miserable year on the voyage and in Canada 16,825 out of 97,953 emigrants.

    These are the Government official figures.

    The Highlanders had their share of suffering from this dread malady, but were more fortunate than their Irish neighbours.

    There are now, in Mara, Irish and Scotch families, whose ancestors, when first arriving in this country were stricken with the fever; some families wiped out of existence entirely. Very few of the old settlers now remain.

    Since my last paper, five of the old residents of Mara have passed away, and the remaining number are few, tho’ enjoying good health, and in comfortable homes.

    These papers were found in the Ontario Archives in 1958 by his son, Bryce MacDonald.
    – Additions and corrections by Joan E. Pealow, Orillia, Ont. 1990
    – Clarifications by Donald E. Read, Nepean, Ont. 1995


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