Charlie the Tory
A Story of Pioneer Days
John W. Gilchrist
Hoop splitting was the only trade in the settlement that had no opposition. Like trappers, they kept distinct. A peculiar instinct was required to select the proper grain in the ash to suit the requirements of the trade. As the supply was greater than the demand, the greatest care had to be taken in the selection. No remarkable skill was required in making hoops but to select the proper stock and dispose of the hoops when made required a remarkable kind of man. This can easily be proved. Charlie was for many years the only Tory in the settlement, and occasionally active and aggressive as well. He took advantage of his business status as hoop maker to acquire political influence and a following. All this too, without injuring his social standing in other respects. He could make a “cheesit”, a small tub in which the cheese was placed for pressing, without any other tools but an axe and a gimlet, quite satisfied if he won the good graces of the housewife. It was when making hoops that he asserted himself.
The season for hoop making was just after spring seeding when the mosquitoes were most active. The trees selected were generally in a most inconvenient part of the swamp. If accompanied by the owner, Charlie lost much time in making the selection, even examining the earth about the roots of likely trees. Some said this was merely a ruse on Charlie’s part to make things unpleasant for the inquisitive. However this may be, those who tried making and selling hoops without his assistance never repeated the experiment. The hoops sold for cash, always a desirable commodity among pioneers and especially so just after seeding. As all of this happened in the early forties of the last century, nearly every lot had ash, quite valueless unless Charlie made it into hoops. As the market, generally in the vicinity of a flour mill, would only absorb a limited quantity per year, he carefully distributed the trade among those likely to be impressed by the superiority of his political opinions, and likely alive to the advantage of supporting a party whose single representative was so active in developing home resources.
The industry consisted in Charlie selecting newly arrived pioneers whose political opinions had not become established. He arrived with his tools in time for breakfast, and announced his intention. No one ever objected to any proposal he made about hoops. If the owner were wise, he could avoid an unpleasant search through a primeval swamp by taking no part in the selection. If the envious could be believed, it was always when he had assistance that the material was found in inconvenient places. The owner assisted in felling the trees and cutting the trunk into sections, the lengths ascertained by Charlie through incomprehensible marks on his axe handle. The owner should then depart as he objected to spectators.
Besides retarding his speed and skill, they somehow prevented the expenditure of energy required to produce the perspiration necessary to foil the attack of mosquitoes. So persistent were some that they would endure those insects in an effort to learn the trade secrets. Charlie would then press his political opinions; few would endure the combination. The timber was split from the heart into proper widths, placed on a firm, even surface, and the rings or growths parted by judicious blows from a mallet. In a short time, hundreds of hoops were made and tied into bundles. The bundles were packed to where they could be loaded on a wagon, the owner assisting and furnishing transport, and of course, board.
During all this time Charlie placed him in a position of equality and enviable prosperity by evenly dividing the proceeds, besides a parcel of cherished tea for the housewife. This was repeated with other pioneers till the market was supplied. Unlike most itinerant mechanics, he did not enjoy a relaxation on these occasions, unless a somewhat ostentatious exhibition of his wealth and political opinions could be regarded as such. The hoop season over, he dropped back into something like obscurity, as in the other industries of a bush settlement he was not the equal of his associates in physical activity and strength.
became a man of consequence in a most surprising manner. He undertook a visit to Queen
The impulse that led to this extraordinary event, and also to his
adoption of such remarkable political views was occasioned by misfortunes
endured in his first experience of the cares of landed proprietorship. His capital was gone before he could join
his relatives in
The intricacies of Canadian politics were incomprehensible. His friends were ardent supporters of William Lyon Mackenzie, perhaps more because of sympathy with the name, not having immigrated in time to take a more active part. After his experience with rebel sympathizers, how could he help regarding his friends otherwise than in serious error? His active efforts to correct their opinions had no further result than confirming his own.
Charlie’s devotion to the Crown had been the indirect cause of his leaving
property in Lower Canada on which he had established some claim, it seemed
right that the Crown should do something for him in Upper Canada, there being
plenty of unoccupied forest at that time.
This the local authorities seemed unable to
do. Though he presented himself as a
lobby at Parliament, he could get no one interested. It was then he resolved to bring his claims
to the Throne. He worked his passage
This practical proceeding was not in keeping with general character, however, and many believed that the postponement of the object of his journey was due to his natural gallantry in not obtruding his personal troubles on the maternal cares of a young queen mother.
favoured him in the return journey. At
the dock he rescued the young hopeful of a wealthy passenger from a watery
grave, and was at once engaged as caretaker of the hopeful during the
remainder of the voyage home. This
duty he performed so well that he received a handsome remuneration. Strengthened in spirit by so much money, he
made another effort about his property in
The settlement was overjoyed to see him again, and when he condescended to employ his mechanical skill in other directions, he did not need again to assume the cares of landed proprietorship. As the settlement filled up, he lost the distinction of being the only Tory; but that was a small matter, he was the first one.
William Gilchrist (1865-1942) was born in Puslinch and there, with many an
attendant honour, he long resided, except for 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
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
writer, he contributed widely to newspapers and other publications such as
“Rod & Gun”, “Farmer’s 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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