A Tale of Pioneer Life
By John W. Gilchrist
He never assumed the cares of land proprietorship, yet Allan was a pioneer,--- “one of the old guard of the woods”. There was enough primeval forest when he arrived to carry the cool winds over the little clearing, into which the summer sun found its rays and made life almost intolerable, besides scorching the potatoes and rusting the small wheat field that struggled for existence among the charred roots and stumps. Into one of these revered oases, Allan strayed, one hot July afternoon, with the pipes, a wife and the inevitable small family, but he had already gained social standing and a following. Unlike most of his contemporaries, his soul was not agitated with painful longings for the land of his birth. He was never known to speak disrespectfully of a small northerly Scottish island, whose natural products were people, herring and soggy potatoes. He had found his sphere and a proper appreciation of his talents in a new world.
Allan possessed a wonderful store of old
songs and tunes. This, with his
vivacious and optimistic temperament, dark complexion
and religion, enabled the good clergyman to deduce that Allan had Spanish
blood in his veins, due to some survivor of the Armada, whose wrecks were
strewn along the west coast of
He knew his neighbours had been brought up under disadvantages. They had learned to dance with the fiddle, as at the first spring of the big toe, he could tell whether the dancer learned from the fiddle or the pipe. Had this people possessed a clan piper of their own, they would not have been allowed to grow up under this disadvantage.
However this might be, no untoward results followed this incident except a marked cool politeness between the minister and Allan when they occasionally met.
The first settlement of the district consisted
mostly of groups of relatives from over the sea, each year adding more. How Allan strayed from a faraway isle to an
An old pioneer raised such objection to the removal of a stone pile that was in the way of modern implements and progressive heirs related the following incident:
“I dare say it is foolish, seemingly, but it
is where that stone pile stands that I first heard the pipes in
But after Allan Piper came we met oftener and
danced and sang instead of crying and thinking about our old home. I sometimes used to think that he did us more good than anything else. Even the minister, good man that he was,
would often make us sad. He could only
sing a few airs, and always sang the second paraphrase, which would make us
feel more like pilgrims in a strange land than ever. We were sometimes not any too sure about
our daily bread, and we could sing, “Oh God of
It’s not that I believe in giving way to these things, but people who can’t dance, sing or tell a story, shouldn’t be the first to go to a new country. It’s many, many years ago, and I am the only one left who saw him come out of the bush. It was just before the wheat was ripe. We had a field and were chopping to one side of it, where the stone pile is. Father had kept my two brothers home from the Lakes, much against their will, because they had got to be very handy with the axe, and besides, the winter before, they had cleared a big piece for a neighbour to pay for a yoke of oxen, when we had not done much clearing on our own place.
The axe is tiresome in hot weather and we
working by fits and starts. I was piling the brush and listening to the
wind on the leaves. Like the girl in
Then there was handshaking and gladness. At last, Allan struck up a reel, and the weaver took my mother and led off the first reel. This was a surprise to me, as mother was always quiet and sad when the others were away. Sometimes, when I would come to the house for a drink, I would find her crying, but I never told anyone. She took great care of me, and hated to have me out of her sight, but here she was dancing, and she could dance, too, though after that it was not easy getting her started. Father whispered to me and I ran to the next little settlement, and mother never missed me till I came back, with them at my heels. We used to tease mother about it after, then the tailor’s little wife grabbed me and bundled me through a reel, and when we sat out of breath in a corner she told me to be sure and be the first to tell the sailors when they came home from the lakes that we had a piper, and they would give knives and silver and teach me the steps; all of which came true and the axes were rusty when we took them up again.
John William Gilchrist (1865-1942) was born
in Puslinch and there, with many an attendant honour, he long resided, excepting
brief stints in
Young John Gilchrist was a natural
athlete and participated in many sports.
He trained with the 11th Field Battery, rose to the rank of
Captain, and during World War I, he was an instructor at
Socially, John Gilchrist, with his
beloved violin and large repertoire of popular songs, was always in great
demand. During his later years, he
assisted Colonel John Bayne Maclean in assembling and displaying the
remarkable collection of antiques at the
As a writer, he contributed widely to
newspapers and other publications such as “Rod & Gun”,
“Farmers’ Sun”, and “Weekly Fun”. Mr.
Gilchrist’s work was well received, noted for combining a compassionate sense
of humour with a wealth of stories on early days in
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