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The Pioneers of Old Ontario


In August, 1535, Jacques Cartier sailed up the St. Lawrence and cast anchor at the Indian village of Stadacona. In 1608, Champlain, folIowing in the wake of Cartier, landed at Stadacona with men and materials to lay the foundations of Quebec city. Around this centre grew up a small community, destined to spread its influence until a prosperous colony was built up on the banks of the lower St. Lawrence.

Fur-traders and adventurers penetrated far inland setting up trading-posts by lake and river. French missionaries lived and laboured amongst the Indians, winning converts by their devoted service. Explorers mapped out the courses of streams and noted the natural resources of the country. Military leaders built forts at strategic points. But for years, scarcely anyone seems to have thought seriously of making a living by the cultivation of the soil. Governor after governor complained to the home authorities that in contrast with the English settlers in the New England colonies, who began at once to follow agriculture, the French settlers preferred to engage in the adventurous and more lucrative occupation of trading in furs.

But with the passing of Canada to the English in 1763 and the subsequent revolt of the American colonies, all this was changed. Many colonists who had remained true to England had either been ruined during the revolt or subsequently found their old surroundings uncongenial and looked to Canada as a place of escape. The home government promised assistance, and thousands responded to the invitation to settle in Canada.

In the matter of location, the new-comers seem to have been allowed a wide range of choice. Lands, in what are now designated the Maritime Provinces, Quebec, and Ontario, were offered for settlement. Coming from New York and other agricultural states, many of the immigrants chose Ontario, settling for the most part within easy distance of the Great Lakes waterway.

With their coming, the pioneer period of agriculture in Ontario may be said to have begun. Nearly all of those who came at first were of humble origin, of honest purpose, and almost destitute of means. For two or three years, owing to crop failures and lack of equipment, they received some aid from the Government. A considerable proportion of these first settlers were Loyalists, and mingling with them were discharged soldiers, many of them Hessians, who took up land in preference to returning to Europe.

In addition to the Loyalists and subsequent American immigrants there were thousands who came direct from the Old World to settle in Canada. Those of American origin arrived mainly between 1780 and 1812, while the principal movement from overseas commenced a few years later. The first-comers from what is now the United States followed three main routes, one along the line of the St. Lawrence from Lower Canada, another from Oswego in New York State to Kingston and the Bay of Quinte, and still another by way of the Niagara frontier. Those arriving at Niagara divided into three sections on reaching the border. One section moved westward to lay the foundations of Haldimand and Waterloo counties; the second, passing around the head of Lake Ontario, settled in Markham, Scarboro, and adjoining townships; while the third followed the shores of the lake farther eastward for some fifty miles to a point where they almost joined with those coming up the St. Lawrence.

The later, and greater wave of pioneer immigration, originating from beyond the Atlantic, on arriving in Canada followed a route inland lying along the St. Lawrence and the Ottawa rivers by way of Bytown, as Ottawa was then called. From there the immigrants spread all over Eastern Ontario.

It is with these strangers in a new land, coming from widely separated sources, that we are concerned in these pages. Let, us hear their story as they or their immediate descendants told it a quarter of a century ago.

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