The David Stirton Memoirs
The material for the following article was contributed
by David Stirton and the article itself was composed by Kate Conway for the
regular column, “Pioneer Days in
Mr. David Stirton
History of the Aberfoyle Mill Site
Mr. Stirton now wishes to speak of an important matter which may be new to the present settlers but which will be remembered by the older inhabitants.
In the survey of new townships special instructions were given to the surveyor, if he discovered a stream sufficiently large for milling purposes, to follow it up and find if there were a sufficient fall that would warrant the erection of a mill, as convenient grist and sawmills were very important matters to the settlers. In the survey of Puslinch the surveyor reported a water privilege on the present site of Aberfoyle. Lot 22, in the rear of the seventh and the front of the eighth concession, was designated as a mill privilege. Now a mill privilege was bought under certain conditions. The purchaser bound himself to erect a sawmill, with all the necessary machinery, within a given time. If the stream were large enough a gristmill also was to be erected.
In 1831, those lots were bought by Mr. Patrick Mahon, who was bound in the usual way to put up mills. Settlers were encouraged to come to Puslinch and the mill privilege in the centre of the township was held out as an inducement. Several bought lots thinking this promise would soon be realized.
Mr. Mahon knew that
he had not sufficient capital to carry out the enterprise himself, but he
undertook the obligation thinking that something would turn up. After settling, to give the promised work
the appearance of a beginning, he had a large trench dug on the edge of the
road, where the power was supposed to be.
Many of the older settlers will remember the big ditch at
Aberfoyle. As no further proceedings
were taken to further the work, the settlers began to send remonstrances to the Government, but Mr. Mahon always had
some excuse. He was always just about
to proceed or had just failed to secure some funds promised. This state of affairs went on for some ten
to twelve years, when Mr. Mahon succeeded in getting the surveyor to examine
the whole privilege and report that there was not sufficient power to run a
mill. This was a new phase of the
situation, and in order to carry out his scheme he went to Toronto and
represented that he had always been persecuted on account of his religion and
nationality. The influence of several
prominent Catholics was brought to bear on the matter. Among these was the late Mr. Elmslie, who wrote to the Commissioner of
In a short time, however, although Mr. Mahon had declared that there was no water privilege, he induced a practical man, George Shotz, of Morriston, to purchase a privilege which had been declared not to exist, and he guaranteed a head of water sufficient to drive a mill. Mr. Shotz bought the privilege in good faith, that he could secure a sufficient head by building an extent of dam. He went to work to build the dam and the sawmill but had not made much progress when Mr. Mahon interfered and defied him to float a part of his clearing, which really belonged to the dam, if constructed.
This ended in a lawsuit, and Mr. Shotz was so hampered that his sawmill, while cutting
some timber, was kept in a crippled state.
Mr. Shotz’s troubles were suddenly ended,
for he died of the cholera, leaving a widow and young family to make their
living as best they could with a useless mill. The executors, John Cockburn and John
Black, did their best, but they were men of peace, and found it impossible to
do anything with
Mr. Stirton was at that time member for the riding, and knowing all the circumstances, considered it his duty to get the matter righted and brought to the attention of the Government, as the settlers had been placed at a serious disadvantage through so much delay and humbugging.
The whole matter was brought before
the Government in 1861 by Mr. Stirton, and all the circumstances explained in
detail. Previous to this, Mr. George
MacLean had operated a small mill at Morriston, but it had been destroyed by
fire. Although small, it had been a
great accommodation to the settlers; but the owner thought that there was not
enough business to rebuild there. He
interviewed the executors of the Shotz estate, and,
after examining the whole situation, he saw that a sufficiently large dam
would enable him to raise the head of water required. He arranged with the executors that they
should sell conditionally, agreeing that if the Government would cancel the
sale of that portion of
The executors were willing, and Mr. MacLean’s surveyor surveyed what should have been the extent of the dam and made a detailed plan of the survey. All that was now wanted was a title from the Government of the land covered. A petition was got up in the township, which was signed by all the ratepayers except four, being the largest petition ever issued by the residents of Puslinch.
naturally aroused Mr. Mahon, who set his wits to work to counteract its
influence. He knew that the petition
would be strongly backed by the member so he bethought himself of a new field
he contemplated operating. Lord Monck had that year been appointed Governor General of
Now it happened that Mr. MacDougall was Minister of Crown Lands and Mr. Mahon’s case was at that time before him. Mr. Stirton had waited on Mr. MacDougall to press this case and had laid before him all the documents in connection with it. Mr. MacDougall had previously scored the Tory party very severely for several jobs, and he got it into his head that this might be taken up as a job, and consequently hung fire about giving his decision.
Mr. Mahon’s letter was opened by the Governor’s secretary, who, when he saw it related to the Crown Lands, sent it to the office of that department. The clerks became acquainted with the contents, and one day, when Mr. Stirton made his usual call, one of them said: “Stirton, we’ve got a windfall for you. The celebrated Patrick Mahon has written a document to the Governor.”
Mr. Stirton examined the elaborate
epistle and said: “There’s plenty of ammunition here to get my case
through.” He took the letter to Mr.
MacDougall and called his attention to it.
When Mr. MacDougall read the remarks about himself, it seemed to help
him come to a decision on the merits of the
The head clerk
During the trial Mr. Mahon’s last literary effort was put into the hands of the Chancellor. When he read the passage describing MacDougall his sides shook with laughter. The case was dismissed.
The foregoing is a history of the mill privileges in Puslinch. After Mr. MacLean took hold of it a great business was done, the oatmeal being shipped all over the continent. Mr. Stirton has met it in Kansas, where they called it Scotch medicine meal. The mill is now known as Day’s mill.
In looking over
this case, the casual reader may think it rather harsh treatment to cancel
foregoing article appeared in the remarkable scrapbooks of Herbert Fairbairn Gardiner, volume 149, pages 4-6. As of May 2003, the Gardiner scrapbooks
could be viewed in the Special Collections Department of the
Mr. Herbert Fairbairn Gardiner
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