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




The Brock Road Taverns


At one time there were a great many taverns on the Brock Road between Guelph and Dundas.  On leaving Guelph, one would soon come to the conclusion that the travellers on this road must be a very drouthy class of people, as the taverns were so numerous that you couldn’t fall out of one without stumbling into another.   In less than 4 miles out of Guelph there were 7 taverns and they were pretty well sprinkled along the road all the way to Dundas.  


The first was on the present Model Farm, near the site of the Dairy School, and was kept by Mrs. Larter.  On the opposite side, within a hundred yards, was that of Mr. McQuillan, who kept it for a short time only.  On the second lot of Puslinch, about a mile further on, was Michael O’Neil’s.  The next was on the opposite side of the road, within one hundred yards of the present Hamilton tavern.  This was a large building suitable for a large hotel in Guelph.  This was kept by Mr. Kunniman.  On the opposite corner from this one was a tavern kept by Robert Patterson, who was the first tavern keeper at Freelton.  A quarter mile further on, where the schoolhouse now stands, was James Hamilton’s first tavern.  This was a favourite stopping place with all classes of people.  It was a free and easy place and the couple who kept it were remarkably well liked.  The old gentleman was very popular but it was with the old lady that the real secret of the popularity of the house lay.  Mary had a kind word for all, old or young, and was not averse to giving and taking a practical joke without any scruples or difficulty about the gender in which it was practised.  About a hundred yards farther down was a tavern kept by Caspar Rolle, the hero of the “krout cabbage” story.


The next tavern was in the centre of the township and was known as the Centre Inn, where all town and general meetings were held.  It was established by Mr. James Flynn, who kept it for eight or nine years.  It was afterwards and is known to many still as MacMeechan’s Tavern.  It was the scene of many amusing and interesting incidents, for it was here that the township council held their regular gatherings, which were often of a peculiar nature.


Previous to the gravelling of the Brock Road there was no Aberfoyle.  The new line made a short cut across Mr. Mahon’s creek, and the village was built up on each side.  The first resident of Aberfoyle and the man who really gave the name to the place was John MacFarlane, father of the late Duncan MacFarlane, a prominent resident of Puslinch.  John MacFarlane kept a small store about the site of the present schoolhouse and gave it the name of the Clachan of Aberfoyle, a noted place in Perthshire, which name it retained.


Morriston was also a creation of later days. Beyond Schaw Station, on the borders of the township, was a tavern kept by Adam Black. It was burned down and not rebuilt.  About a mile farther on was one of the largest and best hotels on the road, kept by Thomas Kelly, the owner of Smasher.  This was much frequented by Guelph people and by those from above Guelph.  It was afterwards kept by Patrick Morin, who was a most popular tavern keeper here before he left for the house on the Brock Road. 


On the present site of the Freelton Hotel was a house kept by Robert Patterson, a former resident of Dundas, but who, during Guelph’s first year, was one of the most expert and active axemen.  When the road from Dundas to Guelph was first proposed, Mr. Patterson saw the importance of a tavern at this point.  This house was afterwards kept by Joseph Smith.


While Joseph Smith was keeping this tavern, Mr. Stirton relates an incident that happened in connection with the Guelph teamsters.  These teamsters were hardy fellows; had they not been they never would have undertaken teaming on such a road.  There was much toil and slavery in this work and the hoisting of a wagon out of a mudhole was an everyday occurrence.  The names of the old teamsters are as follows: Wm. Croft, Wm. Patterson, John Caufield, Gideon Hood, and Robert Allen, of the mills.  Mr. Marriot was a well-known teamster of later years.


Below Freelton, in Flamboro, the road ran through a dense pine forest where the sun and the air were excluded.  It got the wet, but no drouth, and was wet at all seasons, but in the spring and fall was almost impassable, and many a detour into the woods had to be made to get rid of the potholes.


Joe Smith was very fond of a nice looking team, and always kept the public aware that he had one, boasting of the pace and strength of his horses.  On one occasion Smith had gone for a drag of wood, which is as much of a tree as a team could draw.  On the return of the teamsters from Hamilton, Joe was as usual boasting of his horses, relating how he had gone to the woods, cut a large tree and brought home a drag few teams could draw.


The men all went out to look at the drag, when one of the number said: “Aigh man, oor old horse Rock, in the barn there, could draw it alane to Hamilton.”


This was a staggerer to Joe.  He fumed and raged and out with his money and offered to bet this and that and at last offered a regular stump to the Scotchman, who replied: “Well, if you’ll wait till we get oor dinner, and auld Rock gets his dinner, Aw’ll start to Hamilton with the drag.”


After dinner, the old horse was brought out---a powerful beast, with a goodly share of horse sense.  Rock was hitched to the log and the driver secured a handspike and a skead for a roller and started on his journey.  He went on for a short distance, and Joe invited the teamsters into the house to have a smoke, a glass and a chat, saying that he would give old Rock and his driver an hour to get to the edge of the woods.  At the end of the hour he hitched up his team to a sleigh and they drove out, to find old Rock was not on the border of the woods, but two good miles on his road to Hamilton, with every reason to believe the log would get there in due time.


The men stood looking and laughing and the log going on and on until at last Joe shouted: “Draw that log off man! I don’t want to kill that horse; He’s too good to kill. Come back and get your bet.”


After the retirement of Joe Smith, the tavern was kept by Patrick Freel, from Hamilton.  After keeping the tavern for a while, he conceived the idea of forming a village.  A joint stock company was formed for the erection of a grist mill and a number of stores.  A number of people bought logs, but comparatively little business was done.  The place was named Freelton, after the founder.


At the further end of the road, near Greensville, the epidemic of taverns broke out again.  The first hotel after Freelton was kept by Mr. Bullock; then followed Joe Neville’s, Paddy Canne’s, the Red House, and many others, so that it is seen that the Brock Road was well supplied with taverns.


The too frequently impassable state of the Brock Road made it imperative to get it put into better shape.  A proposition was made with Wentworth to form a joint partnership to construct a macadamized or gravel road between the Galt Road at Bullock’s Corners and Guelph.  The arrangement was heartily gone into and the joint partners under took an equal distance in each county.  Through Mr. Webster, then member for Wellington, a charter was secured in 1848, putting the agreement in practical shape.  The road was constructed as speedily as possible by a board from both counties, the Warden from each county being prominent men on the board.


An idea of the financial state of Canada at that time may be obtained from the following statement.  Although two counties were responsible for the road and had issued debentures, they were short of money and not a bank would lend them five cents.  Mr. Wright, Warden of Wellington, issued common I.O.U.’s signed by the warden and treasurer.  They were in the form of a general obligation, due at a certain time with interest, and were good for one dollar up to five dollars.  The following is an exact copy of the note:









promise to pay William Cook, or Bearer, three years after date, at the office of the Treasurer, in Guelph, and not elsewhere, the sum of five shillings currency with three years interest, for value received,


Guelph, June 1st 1849.

James Wright, Warden

William Hewitt, Treasurer







The note is quite artistically engraved, with a picture of the Duke of Wellington on horseback.


The road continued to be operated and tolls were established on it, which were maintained for a number of years.  It was under the control of a joint board from each county until 1858, when it was found that the partnership was unsuitable for Wellington as this county was responsible for the road as far as Freelton, fifteen miles out of the twenty-five, and felt that it had the short end of the string.  Mr. Stirton, who was one of the commissioners, was alive to this state of matters, and one of his first acts as a member of Parliament was to procure the dissolution of the union.  This was accomplished by interviews with the people of Wentworth and the matter was settled in an amicable manner according to the wishes of both parties, each one taking under its care the portion in its respective county.





The foregoing article appeared in the remarkable scrapbooks of Herbert Fairbairn Gardiner, volume 85, pages 28-29.  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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