Taken from the writings of Edith Ham, July 1935
Although the sons of Angus MacCuaig McLeod did not come to Canada until well on toward the middle of the 19th century, they were still pioneers and went like thousands of others into the wilderness to make homes for themselves and their children, and today, all over this fair land, are found the monuments of their toil and sucsses.
The magnificant homesteads in the shape of arms and princely dwellings that adorn the landscape in all directions are the outcome of the toils of that past generation. These people have left behind them, for the good of the country at large, an untarnished name and a virtuous example.
When Norman, John, William, and Duncan McCauig McLeod left Scotland, their sea voyage was a trying experience in the sailing vessels of the day.There were no such luxuries on board as are now found in the modern liners that can aptly be compared to floating palaces. The passengers in olden days suffered great hardships. They were crowded, were obliged on many ships to cook their own meals, and often were required to bring their own provisions with them. There was comparatively little privacy and the five or six weeks time required to cross the Atlantic Ocean was long and tedious. The new land must have been a very welcome site to the travelers.
Commencing life in the backwoods more than 150 years ago was no easy task. Clearing land was hard work, but not very much in this world can be gained without it. Apart from the strenuous labour involved, there were many dangers to face of which this generation and future generations know nothing. Indians roamed in many of the forests and wild animals (such as deer) and reptiles were plentiful in the early days. Wolves being, perhaps the early settlers' worst enemy. The settlements were often four or five miles apart and the stillness that reigned around the first home of the pioneer would perhaps only be broken by the murmuring sounds coming from a nearby creek and the gentle rippling of the spring that issued from the banks just beside the spring. To locate near a good source of water was an essential thing in those days.
The young backwoodsman, by continual handling of the axe, would get his hands so hardened and his arms so strong that he could chop all day without much weariness. To chop an acre of this heavily timbered land meant six days of hard work and to clear it off took three days more. Two days would be required to fence it and after that, another day to sow and harrow in the seed - and no tree stumps removed as yet! Every acre put into crop cast two weeks of hard labour, and this would be but the commencement of a task that would take 15 or 20 years on a farm of 100 acres before the plough could be driven through the most of it.
"Build your cage before you catch your bird," is old advice, but good advice. The forefathers no doubt found it so, for we know that before taking unto themselves wives, John and William McLeod built themselves what was commonly known as a log cabin. I believe both Norman and Duncan were married before they emigrated, but even so, it would be necessary to build themselves a cabin of this type in order to shelter themselves and their belonging. This shanty or cabin would be made of poles small enough for a man to handle. They were notched together at the corners and the spaces between were filled with moss. That was covered with hemlock bark such as is now sold by the cord at the tanneries (1935). The doorway was just wide enough for a man to pass in and out, and a couple of cedar slabs answered for a door.
There was nothing very inviting about this little substitue for something better, but plenty of men and women in this Canada of ours have lived for months and sometimes for years in just such humble homes. In their surroundings however were found such scenes of wildwood beauty, they made up somewhat for the discomforts of such makeshift homes. Sometimes a miniature lake would be found on the farm and this would later probably serve for the duck pond. These small lakes often abounded in fish that was supplemented with a supply of good bread, often made by the wife of the nearest neighbour.
Inside the shanty would be found in one corner, a flat stone set up on its end so that its sides touched two sides of the wall and its face framed the diagonal of the angle of the corner. An opening at the top for the smoke to escape answered for a chimney. Here the cooking was done. In another corner would be a lot of boughs of hemlock and some bedding. Here the sleeping was done. In another corner might sit a very large basket that was likely purchased from the Indians and in which was kept supplies or provisions. These would be received by trading and then carried back to the settlement. In another corner would be a rifle and its accoutrements, sometimes fishing tackle and an axe, all ready for use.
A covered box sitting against the wall served as a dish cupboard. Four notched stakes driven into the ground with the forked end upward represented the four posts of a table. Two small poles were used for cross bars and a couple of cedar slabs made the top, an altogether good subsitute for a dining table of a neat fashionable class. A couple of cedar blocks of convenient size and length were the only chairs to be found in this unpretentious home, but it was wonderful how these men adapted themselves to their surroundings when strong motives for doing so were present. Especially when one considers that these men, in the land of their birth, had comfortable, if not luxurious homes.
This, let it be borne in mind, is the description of a bachelor's first home in the new land. Those men who came with wife and family would perhaps bring with them some fine pieces of furniture, although very little was usually brought without great expense on the old sailing vessels in which our ancestors came overseas. Very often a well made shirt or tie contained all their wordly belongings.
As mentioned above, deer and wolves were numerous in the districts, and at Hamilton, a bounty was given for every wolf scalp brought in. As time went on, roads were opened up through the townships and road making in those days was necessarily a very labourious undertaking as so many swamps had to be causewayed and many creeks and rivers bridged over. The early settlers were hired in their spare time to help with this work, and in return the road builders exchanged work with them to help in what were called "bees" to build or raise barns or permanent homes for the farm owners. What was impossible to do by individual labour could easily be accomplished by united and concentrated effort.
A permanent house in those days, 24 by 18 feet, was considered a large dwelling. A great deal of care was taken in erecting these first houses, in laying the foundations and rearing the walls. The house had to be exactly square. It had to be entirely level and it had to stand so the sides would face the four cardinal points of the compass, east, west, north and south. This would make the house correspond to the concessions and sideline of the province.
"I have heard my great uncle tell of walking to Hamilton, a distance of 18 miles or more from his land, with a bag of wheat, and there having it ground into flour that he would bring back for use in his household. He had to follow the blaze marks on the trees through the weeds in order to find his way.
"I also remember hearing that they were obligated to keep ferrets about the house to keep away the poisonous reptiles that were rather numerous in the woods at that time."
Visitors had no misgivings in those days as to their being welcome to these homes, for backwoodsmen were noted for their unpretentious hospitality - but then all the Highlanders the world over are noted for that. A genial atmosphere of neighbourly courtesies, along with a generous provision for the satisfying of hunger and thirst, constituted the leading features of the old time hospitality that prevailed among the early settlers in our ancestors' time. The social life of the pioneers centred chiefly around the school and the church. The log school houses of learning are the places where a great many prominent Canadians received their yearly education.
Scattered over the country are small burying grounds in the midst of which once stood the old "kirks. They have too long since disappeared, but the weather worn stones remain that mark of the graves of the early settlers. The old "kirk" was the meeting place where these devout Scotsmen of the past generation came in true faith and wholehearted devotion to worship the Almighty God on the Sabbath. And after the service, one can imagine there would be no hurrying away until all the important happenings of the week in the settlement had been duly discussed with one another.
And who of us have not heard in our childhood from our great aunts and uncles or our great grandparents of the old time quilting bees, barn raisings and corn huskings at which the whole community assembled and entered into the hard work and fun in really whole hearted spirit? The pioneers were, as a rule, men and women of sterling mental and moral qualities, and they brought to the arduous work of settlement, a vigour and enterprise of which the present results of Canadian progress are, indeed, a most eloquent testimony.