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 Wellington”, which appeared in the Guelph Mercury newspaper in 1899.


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 Crown Lands, Mr. Morin, a Lower Canadian, who was supposed to have some sympathy for Mr. Mahon.  The commissioner was a perfectly just man, but on account of the representations made he conceived it to be his duty to cancel all the conditions on which Mr. Mahon bought the property.  This was a relief to Mr. Mahon who was thus enabled to bid defiance to those who complained of him.


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 Mahon.


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 Mahon’s claim necessary to the construction of a dam, he would put up a gristmill.


          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.


This petition 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 Canada.  Lord Monck was an Irishman and Mr. Mahon thought that on that score he might secure some sympathy.  He wrote to Lord Monck a communication that was unique of its kind.  It covered four pages of foolscap.  He began by congratulating Lord Monck on the position that he had assumed, assuring him that it was a credit and an honour to his own personal merits, and especially an honour to Ireland.  Mr. Mahon went on to say that Lord Monck’s past history was well known to him, and that he held in great honour the extraordinary ability of the new Governor.  Then he came to the point of his harangue.  As an old resident and an Irishman, he wished to warn Lord Monck that he was surrounded by a Ministry that would require looking after.  Mr. Mahon cautioned the Governor particularly to look sharply after Wm. MacDougall, known as “Look-to-Washington” MacDougall.


          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 Mahon case.  He muttered, “H’m, h’m, h’m” and took the pen and wrote an order cancelling the sale to Mahon and ordering the necessary conveyance to Shotz.  This gave satisfaction in Puslinch, but Mr. Mahon felt he had been imposed upon, and entered an action in Chancery, for the purpose of getting the court to cancel the patent issued to Shotz.


The head clerk of the Crown Lands, Mr. Tarbutt, came up to the court with the documents relating to the case.  These filled a box, Mr. Stirton said, large enough to fill a lady’s trousseau.  At all events, the box was of a size that required two men to move it into the court-house.


          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 Mahon’s title in so summary a manner.  If one looks back at the whole matter, it will be seen that Mahon purchased the lots in 1831.  He paid one instalment and had ten years in which to pay the balance.  If payment were not made at the end of ten years, the agreement was subject to be cancelled.  Not only had ten years expired, but thirty, and when the title was cancelled it had already been forfeited, so there really was no shadow of injustice towards Mahon.  The Government sold the thirty acres to the Shotz estate, on being paid what Mahon promised to pay with thirty years’ interest.







The 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 Hamilton Public Library, Hamilton Ontario.



Mr. Herbert Fairbairn Gardiner




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