Few have spoken more highly, few have such fond recollections, few have contemplated and understood more deeply, of the nature of a community, where a childhood was spent and a human being well shaped for the long pilgrimage of life, and the community was Puslinch Lake.
The Legacy of
by Thomas H. Lamont
(written in April 1933.)
My father, Peter
Lamont, was born in Kerry Kowl, in the parish of Kilfinnen, in Argyleshire,
boisterous journey, and adverse winds, which drove them nearly back to where
they had started from, and having to be put on short allowances for good and
fresh water, they landed in Canada after a voyage of 89 days. As there was not a foot of railway in
From this place,
they had to proceed on foot through the forest, carrying all their
possessions that they took from Scotland, a distance of more than thirty
miles, to their homestead, which was then known as the Clergy Reserve, south
half of Lot 6, in the 2nd Concession, of what later became known as the
Township of Puslinch. This Lot was on
what was known as the Little
At that time, the whole region round about was solid forest, not a tree having been cut on the homestead. The first thing was to build a log house, but where the family abode, while this work was being carried on, one can only conjecture. Perhaps in a tent, if they were fortunate enough to have one. However, after the house was built, they cleared a small space and planted some potatoes, and from this plot were grown enough potatoes to subsist on, together with venison and fish, during their first winter. At that time, deer were plentiful, and there was an abundance of fish in the lake. My father, Peter Lamont, and his brother, William, were expert carpenters, and my father was also a millwright and soon found work in helping to erect the first flour mill in Galt, known as Ferry’s Mill.
The following autumn,
in 1832, John McAlister and his family arrived from
summer of 1833, there occurred what I believe to be the first drowning
accident in the Little
He, being a good swimmer, struck out for shore, but being handicapped with a heavy overcoat and knee boots, he did not proceed far before he sank. His brother, Alexander, was at the shore, and saw the accident, and called to his brother to turn to the canoe and take hold of it, but apparently he paid no attention to what was said.
The boat, being anchored, how was he to get hold of it? To aid him in the recovery of the body, he went at once to the house, a hundred yards distant, and secured his mother’s large wooden tub and carried it to the lake, got into it, and paddled to the canoe and, with the canoe, paddled to the spot where he thought his brother sank. Here, he saw him lying on his back in clear water about twenty feet deep. He did not attempt to dive for the body, but paddled to shore and secured a hooked pole and with it raised the body as quickly as possible, carried it home, and endeavoured to restore life, but to no avail.
There were no undertakers those days, not a board to make a coffin. So Alex was obliged to take off through the forest to Galt, where his brothers, William and Peter, were working at the mill, and convey the sorrowful news. They made a wooden coffin and carried it seven miles, on their shoulders, to the house of mourning. There was no minister to conduct the service or give words of comfort to the dear mother and family, no hearse or long funeral procession, or even a graveyard, so the body was gently lowered in a grave dug on the homestead, in a little hillock, about a hundred yards from the northeast shore of Little Lake.
The sudden death of her dear son lingered so heavy on the mother that she pined away, and in less than two years, she died, and her mortal remains were placed beside those of her dear boy, in 1834 or 1835.
Other buildings having been erected, the family started to raise sheep and pigs, but these appear to be risky things to start with, as their first five sheep were devoured by wolves, and the first large pig was carried off by a bear, but it seems it was too much for the bruin, for the pig returned in a day or so with part of its neck eaten away. A pack of wolves overtook one of the brothers, who failed to reach home before dark, and he was obliged to climb a tree and remain until daylight, when the wolves slunk away.
settlers began to arrive and settle near each other. Three Irish families settled to the north
and northwest of my father, viz., John Barret,
Charles Barret, and Thomas Collins. The Gilchrist family came in 1843, from
brother, William, married and settled on the south half of
Still more Scottish families came to the district, namely Peter and John McMaster and the McCormicks, John Ross, then the English neighbours, John Eagle and his wife and James, Elijah, and William and daughters, Mary, Ann, Matilda, and Rose. Then came several Irish: Thomas and Edward Ellis and families, Robert Little and his stalwart sons, Joe and Robert, and daughter, Hannah, and not forgetting James, who became a Presbyterian minister. Then, Thomas Fyfe and John and James Dickie. Then those of German descent, viz., Neil Holm and son, Dan, Nicholas and Jacob Cober and Elias Whitmer. Never was there a finer settlement of law-abiding people, and Christian. Often heard my father say that, then, a man’s word was as good as his bond. When any transaction took place, neighbour and neighbour, not ever a note was required.
The first school
was built on the southwest corner of John Dickie’s farm, rear
Services were held
here until the stone church was built in 1861 on the northwest corner of the
farm of Edward Ellis, front
Here, the children from the entire neighbourhood attended Sunday school. Here, the saintly Mary Ellis was one of the teachers of the senior girls and also Lizzie Archibald, another class. She later became the noble wife of William A. Dickie and in later years, much beloved. R. H. Knowles became teacher of the young men’s class. Many of those under his charge did not or ever will forget his beneficent influence on their after lives. James Eagle and Robert Little were the earlier superintendents of the Sunday school and made many sacrifices of their time and talents in their efforts on behalf of the Sunday school.
The Sabbath was observed
as sacred in those days. I will
remember the time when no wheels were turned on the Great Western Railway
passing through Hespeler to
I might here
mention how the
I might mention the names of the public school teachers who taught in the log school. The first was Alexander Fraser, about 1852. Then, John Munro, Mr. Mewart, Mr. Collins, and R. H. Knowles, then, not more than 20 years of age, at which time there were many stalwart boys as old or older than himself and many fair maidens of equal age. Among some of the older boys were John, Bob, Thomas, and Charles Barret, Mike, John, and Thomas Collins, Bob, John, James, and Charles Hill, George Taylor, Dave, John, Wesley, Ed, and Nat Ellis, Bob Hammersley, William and Bob Dickie, William “Pomp” and Wes Eagle, Enoch Clemens, Bill Parks, and Joseph Lamont.
Among the older girls attending the old log school at the same time were: Agnes Barret, Fannie, Maggie, Kate, and Helen Collins, Barbara and Janet Lamont, children of William Lamont, Hannah, Lizzie, and Jennie Taylor, Maggie and Hannah Ellis, Sarah and Bella Hammersley, Christie, Joan and Ann McAlister, Martha Heritage, Jennie, Maggie, and Mary Dickie, Sarah, Hannah, and Mary Clemens, Kate, Ellen, and Annie Duncan, and Lizzie, Mary, Anna, and Hannah Parks.
Some of the younger set attending at the same time were: Chris and George Collins, Pete Barret, Jack Dickie, Jim Ellis, Sam, Eliza, and Bill Eagle, Dave, Joe, Sam,… (page missing).
Pupils who became teachers were: John Barret, Tom, Chris, Kate, and George Collins, Christina Gilchrist, Tom Dickie, William S. Dickie, James. H. Ellis, and Thomas H. Lamont.
Of those who branched into other professions were: John K. Barret, Inspector of Inland Revenue and editor of North West Rivers, Bob Barret, Master of Mechanics, Thomas Collins, Professor of Dental Surgery, Dental College, Detroit, Tom Dickie, M.P.P. in British Columbia, and Thomas H. Lamont, Manager and later, Inspector and Valuator of the Portage La Prairie Insurance Company, now doing business coast to coast, having branch offices in Quebec, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, and Edmonton, with head office in Portage La Prairie.
were: Nathan Ellis, Captain of No. 5 Company, 29th Battalion
and first class military certificate Artillery, and John W. Gilchrist,
similar certificate. As real soldiers
on the battlefield who saw service, we had the sons of the late Thomas Ellis,
David, John W., and Edward. The two
former, with Jack Hart, in 1861, enlisted in the Civil War in the
Other prominent characters from Puslinch were Donald McCaig, Malcolm McCormick, Principal of Guelph Business College, Dr. Frank Shaw, of Carberry, and Robert McWilliams, of Dundalk.
Interesting personalities: In a record such as this, it seems fitting that special record or mention should be made of outstanding personalities of the early days and the services that they rendered to the community.
must be paid to two women of those early days, namely Mrs. Janet Duncan and
Mrs. Mary Ellis. With the skill born
of many experiences, and their unfailing attitude of helpfulness, they came
into homes and proved a real blessing many times. They were sent for in cases of severe
illness, and they never failed to respond to the call. The genuine services rendered by such women
can never be fully appreciated and to all such, we, of a later generation,
pay tribute. Both have passed to the
Two brothers, Archibald and Sandy McAlister, were among the earliest notable characters. Archibald was born on the homestead in 1832, and Sandy in 1835. They were but young lads when their father died and therefore they knew the hardships to hew a home out of the forest, although hard work did not seem to shorten their lives, as both lived to see over the allotted span. Archibald died August 9th 1919, age 87 and Sandy, December 4th 1921, age 84. They were the sons of John McAlister and Christina Ramsay, his wife, natives of Argyle, Scotland, and from them, they inherited the splendid constitution and physique that enabled them to play a conspicuous part in all the hard work and vicissitudes of early pioneers. They were the first persons in the locality to own a threshing machine, and for more than a quarter of a century, they did practically all the threshing for their neighbours and others. Where feats of skill were required, such as logging bees and barn raisings, they were the men first called upon for such occasions. Sandy was an excellent judge of horses and his services, as a buyer in the old country and as a judge at fairs, were much in demand. They were men of sterling integrity and would scorn to do a mean act. They were beloved by all who had the privilege of their acquaintance.
person was Alex Parks, who came from Preston to live at
All entertainments, we had. As comic singer, an accordion player, August Begerow, and as general entertainer, James H. Ellis, whose fame was such that his services were in demand outside of the neighbourhood. John Marvin Eagle also used to recite his favourite poem, “The Smack in the School”.
As administrators of justice, we had Thomas Ellis and Samuel Taylor, whose duties were generally light. The delinquents who came before them were punished generally by wise council or severe reprimand.
A man by the name of Bins, I am told, was the purchaser, who in turn sold it to Mr. and Mrs. Pembroke. Mr. Pembroke died some years later, so his widow held it until, we believe, it was sold to the Mayor of Guelph, Mr. Sleeman, and John Davidson, of the same city, in 1879.
These men at
once began improvements on the island by making it have a park-like appearance. On the mainland, opposite and north of the
island, there was erected a spacious hotel, and the first man put in charge
was the late Sam Whitmer. On May 24th
1880, the steamer “City of
The first large sailboat that ploughed the waters of the lake was built by Tom Frame who owned, at one time, the thirty acres of land lying between the two lakes. He kept a hotel in a large building at the east end of this place, on the shore of the big lake. This sailboat was used to convey passengers to and from the island and would accommodate 30. It was a very old boat in 1861, for I well remember having a sail in it that year, and it was never used much after that date, so it must have been built about 1848.
The above mentioned hotel and grounds were later sold to James Turnbull, then later to Fred Kent, and later to John Bond, and then to George Martin Senior. The two last mentioned never used it as a hotel. There was another large building of logs and, in the yard, a good stable built, we believe by Pembroke. I remember his widow living in the house, which stood where the Lakeview Hotel now stands. I also remember John Martin occupying it for several years.
Shortly before it became owned by John Davidson, it was occupied by Harry Pearce, who conducted a butcher business and hotel. While his wife and he were absent, the house was burnt to the ground with all contents. Suspicion rested on a certain party, but no arrest was made. It was burnt the summer of 1875. The above mentioned Harry Pearce was a great hunter and kept several good hounds. He was an expert marksman and rarely missed his aim.
Another hotel was built, about 1850, at the extreme east end of the lake, by a German, Frederick Begerow. As an added attraction to his place, for children and young people, he made, with his own hands, a set of hobby horses. I had many a ride on them when I was a mere boy. Thus, at one time, there were four hotels all doing business at the same time.
school house was built about three hundred yards northeast of Peter Lamont’s
house, but on the farm of John Bond.
It was of stone and the greater part of the stone was hauled by
neighbours from James Eagle’s stony flat and from the farm of his brother,
Elijah, in 1864-65. This school was
ready for occupancy in January 1866, and Richard H. Knowles, who was the last
teacher in the old school, was first in the new one. He taught in this school, we believe, for
ten years, and was followed by John Tovell, who taught for three years and
who, on February 12th 1881, married Miss Hannah Dickie, eldest daughter of
the late James Dickie, of Lakeview Farm.
She was one of the most popular girls in the neighbourhood. The next teacher was Peter Kilgour, of
drowning accident in Little
drowning in the big lake, that we have any record of, was that of Miss Lizzie
Goldsmith, of Preston, if memory serves, in the summer of 1875, during a
Sunday School picnic on the island, when the boats were returning laden with
passengers. A sudden squall sprang up
and huge waves dashed over the sides of the boat in which Goldsmith and ten
ladies and one man were sailing. This
caused the ladies to move to one side, capsizing the boat and throwing all
into the water, about 8 feet deep. The
only swimmer was the man, who valiantly was able to place everyone so as to
have a hold on the sides of the overturned boat, but Miss Goldsmith became
hysterical, lost hold of the boat, and sank.
The others were soon rescued.
Grappling irons were secured from
drowning took place on June 17th 1917, and was that of Lieutenant Robid, a returned soldier. He had been convalescing at
A frame building, known as the Temperance Hall, was built across the road on the south of the stone school in 1876. Thomas Ellis gave gratis, from his south east bush, the pine trees to make the lumber, and the young men of the district cut down the great trees, over four feet in diameter, cut them with crosscut saws into logs, hauled them to Kribs Mill in Hespeler, there cut into lumber, and then hauled to the building site. The building was used as a lodge for the Sons of Temperance that flourished there for several years. It was also used for general entertainment, dances, and music lessons given by Abram Whitman, and also great debates on various questions. Among the principle speakers were John Gilchrist, William S. Dickie and his brothers, Tom and Lex, John S. Stewart, George Collins, John W. Gilchrist, John Fyfe, William J. Little, Charles Dunker, Charles and Peter Barret, Dave Clemens, M. J. Eagle, Frank Cober, John Tovell, and Thomas H. Lamont. There were great political contests and many political meetings were held in this hall.
political meeting that I remember was between James Goldie and Mr. Guthrie,
meetings were held in this hall for several years on Sunday evenings, and were
generally conducted by that man of unblemished character, George Martin, who
afterward became manager of the House of Industry, in
The greatest rain up to this time fell for four days and nights, viz., September 10th to 14th, 1878.
Here, we must
not forget the renowned baseball team called “The Pastimes of
there was erected a building of massive framework, for the purpose of a sawmill, on the farm of Peter Lamont,
cemetery, previously mentioned, was about 40 feet square, surrounded, at one
time, by a handsome picket fence, painted white, built by my father, Peter
Lamont, between 1853-54. This plot contained the remains of Joseph
Lamont, 1833, his mother and father, Mr. and Mrs. Alexander Lamont, and their
son, Sandy. Then George Duncan, 1854,
Joseph Hardman, July 1856 ─ over his grave was the only headstone
erected. In 1861, Mrs. Lamont, an aunt
of my father, but the mother of Mrs. Janet Duncan. I attended, with my mother, the funeral of
this woman. The procession walked the
whole way, headed by six men, who carried the coffin on three poles under
it. In later years, the two above, namely
Joseph Hardman and Mrs. Lamont were removed and buried in
1854, my father married Margaret Hewitt, and Thomas H. Lamont was born on
June 22nd 1856. My only sister, Emma,
was born on November 23rd 1859, and my only brother, Alexander, February 10th
1861. My brother married Harriet
Martin and moved to
The McAlister brothers and John Dickie and his son, William, were together the owners of the first horse-drawn machine that would cut grain. That would be about 1866. It was the wonder of the neighbourhood. The machine was drawn by two horses, driven by a man who sat on a high seat, and the only revolving machinery to it was that which drove the pitman, which caused the knives to work back and forth between guards of iron. The machine cut a swath five feet wide, and the cut grain fell on a wooden platform, behind which another man sat with a fork of three wooden prongs, with which he pulled from the table enough grain to make a sheaf and cast it to the ground on the right side of the machine, to keep the machine going. It required five binders to tie the grain, not with binder twine, but with a band, made dextrously from a handful of the grain that lay on the ground. There were four sides to a field, yet it took five men to do their work, and each man tied only one side, as his share. Previous to this time, all grain was cut with a cradle, and the hay cut with a scythe, and left in windrows, to be further gathered by a hand rake. These were the days that required men of brawn and muscle, and girls of the same requirements, as often they assisted at haying and harvest. There would certainly be less unemployment today if we had to go back to the days of our forefathers, and do the work as they did it.
Looking back to those days from this later time, we realize that although life seemed harder in some ways, the people were just as happy, perhaps more so. Then, each individual realized his duty to the community and tried to make that contribution as best he could. Life was simpler and when any pleasure came, it was enjoyed keenly by young and old. People realized that happiness is more the attitude that you take towards life and that, in their own hands, lay that happiness, more or less.
all of the men and women who bravely faced pioneer conditions in the new land
of the Puslinch Lake district have passed on to their reward, and only those
who have lived during that period, or experienced like conditions in some
other part of the country, can realize how much courage, faith, and endurance
were required to carry on in spite of all difficulties encountered. Thus, to this generation is passed on the
task of upholding and carrying on the work so well begun by the pioneers, trying
to realize their dreams and ambitions for old Puslinch pioneers, and each
individual contributing his or her share towards that developed as far as
possible. Realize also, as the
pioneers did, that spiritual as well as material development is necessary if
the proper growth is to be maintained.
May we go on keeping these aims and ideals ever in mind, trusting and
striving to the fullest possible development, lest we break faith with those
who have gone before, the pioneers of the
When we think of the “old friends” that have passed on before us, what a multitude of deep and varied emotions are called forth from the soul by the utterance of these two words. What thronging memories of other days crowd the brain when they are spoken. Ah, there is magic in the sound, and the spell that it creates is both sad and pleasing.
As we sit by our fireside, while the winds are making wild melody without the walls of our cottage, and review the scenes of bygone years, which flit before us in quick succession, dim and shadowy as the recollections of a dream, how the old familiar faces will rise up and haunt our vision with their well-remembered features. But ho, where are they, those friends of our youth, those kindred spirits who shared our joys and sorrows, when first we started on the pilgrimage of life? Companions of our early days, they are endeared to us by many a tie, and we now look back through the vista of years upon the hours of our communion, as upon green oases in a sandy waste.
Years have passed over us with their buds and happiness, their flowers, fruits, and snows, and where now are those old, familiar faces? They are scattered, and over many of their last narrow homes, the thistle waves its lonely head. After life’s fitful journey, they sleep well. Some are buffeting the billows of time’s stormy sea in distant lands; though they are absent, our thoughts are often with them.
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