The David Stirton Memoirs



This is a two-part article, the first part of which consists of “Early Puslinch History” contributed by David Stirton and composed by Kate Conway for the regular column, “Pioneer Days in Wellington”, which appeared in the Guelph Mercury newspaper in 1899.  The second part is a letter by David Stirton to the editor of the Guelph Mercury in response to some criticism Mr. Stirton received for his first article.


Mr. David Stirton





Early Puslinch Township History


Mr. Stirton thinks that he has devoted enough attention to the town and township of Guelph.  He now proposes to give some details in connection with the early history of Puslinch.


Puslinch, as stated before, was a block set aside as a Clergy Reserve.  This township remained intact and was not surveyed until it was obvious that another outlet from Guelph was necessary and that the road must go through this territory.


That certain lands should be set aside as clergy reserves was an arrangement in the support of religion that emanated from the first legislation in Canada in 1791.  By this arrangement one seventh of all lands surveyed was set aside for the support of the Protestant clergy.  When the government surveyed a new township for settlement every seventh lot was set aside as clergy reserves.  When it became necessary to dispose of land in blocks to a company, a seventh part was set aside by itself.  Owing to the block composing Puslinch being a clergy reserve, Mr. Stirton has seen some extraordinary deeds.  The land deeded would be located and described, and, in lieu of the seventh part which should have been retained as a clergy reserve, a seventh some other place, possibly miles away, would be described.


To carry out the clergy reserves idea, when the Canada Company secured the Guelph and Huron tract of about one million acres, an equal amount in other places was set aside.  Puslinch, Peel, Maryboro and Wellesley were all set apart as clergy reserves.


Shortly after the settlement of Guelph it became obvious that there must be a more direct route to Dundas than around by Galt.  Mr. Galt brought his influence to bear on the Government to assist him in getting a road through this property, with the result that David Gibson was instructed in 1828 to survey what is known as the “old survey” of Puslinch.  This survey embodies the 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th concessions and the gore along the Nassagaweya town line.  The Dundas road was located to go through Guelph township and along the line between the 7th and 8th concessions to the foot of the township.  The road deviated, of course, to avoid swamps.  After it was surveyed, Mr. Shade secured the contract for clearing it, and people began to come in and take up locations.  Among the early settlers were many fine families.


Mr. Stirton has examined the books in the Crown Lands Department and found that the first lot of land located in Puslinch was taken up by Wm. Carroll in June 1828.  This is now known as the John Carter farm, now occupied by Mr. MacPherson.  Patrick Carroll and John Clare located the adjoining places the same day.  A Welshman, named Lewartch had been living farther down the township for two weeks previously but, although really the first occupant, he had not located his land.  The Welshman’s land is now in the hands of the Weir family.


The length of this road, extending nine miles through Puslinch, was taken up shortly.  Many came in the fall, of whom a large proportion were Irish and not a few German, but very few Scotch.  During the two following years a few settlers came in, but the “new survey”, including from the first concession to the seventh, was not surveyed until the spring of 1831.  The lands were then offered for sale at Hamilton by public auction and were generally sold at three dollars per acre, to be paid in ten equal annual instalments.


In connection with the opening of this road through Puslinch, it was continued at the same time through the Flamboroughs.  The settlers called this the Dundas road but it was known to strangers as the Brock road, named after General Brock, whose family owned considerable land in Flamboro.  Thus it was known as the Dundas road at the north end and as the Brock road at the south end.  The name Aboukir road, seen in the patents, was the first name really given by the Crown Lands Department.  The nationality of the people on this road approximated as follows: About half of the whole number were German, a quarter Irish, and the remaining quarter English and Scotch.


By 1834 the township was completely settled.  The north end of the township was settled by people from Guelph, whose dealings were for the most part in Guelph, and who were considered Guelph people.


When the district of Wellington was separated from the old Gore district, Puslinch was retained and remained connected with the Gore district until in 1844, at its own desire, it was joined with Wellington.  Mr. Stirton has the first minute book of the township meetings of Puslinch, giving an account of these meetings, the names of the commissioners appointed, and all the municipal machinery back to 1836.  It is thus seen that any statements made derive their authority from an unquestioned source.


The township meeting of 1836 records the appointment of two men called commissioners.  Their duties referred to the appointment of assessors, collectors, treasurer, poundkeepers, and pathmasters, the last named being then known as overseers of highways.  They had then no power of establishing or opening roads, or passing measures to regulate the township, as they had after the passage of the first municipal bill in 1841.


The first meeting was held on the 4th of January 1836, in Jas. Flynn’s tavern.  John Cockburn was chairman and Charles Armstrong was chairship clerk.  The three commissioners appointed were Thos. Todd, father of the late Thos. Todd of Galt, John Linderman, and Patrick Doyle.  Richard Ellis was appointed assessor and Jas. Flynn assessor.


Mr. Stirton relates a circumstance in connection with this election.  Mr. Doyle, one of the commissioners elected, was a representative of the settlers in the southwest part of the township.  His followers were very jubilant over his election, and it was feared that if they remained at Flynn’s that there would be a fight between them and the Highland Scotch.   Mr. Doyle himself advised them to come with him to Hamilton’s tavern and finish their jollification.  They did so, but one man stayed among the Highlanders.  Some altercation and talk of fighting ensued, and the man left.  He went up to the other tavern, told his confreres that the Highlanders had fallen upon him and abused him, and that if they were men they would go back and give the Highlanders a threshing.  He succeeded in getting Doyle and his followers to go back, where they used their clubs with such effect on the Highlanders that many of them were unfit to go home.  The affair ended in the magistrates of Guelph, of whom Mr. Wingfield was one, sitting in judgement upon the case, and nearly the whole number was fined.  The fines were expended in building a crossway through a swamp.


The mode of carrying on these township meetings was very interesting and amusing.  The meetings were always held in a barn, and the chairman sat on top of the swing beam, with the township clerk beside him.  When the chairman asked the usual question, “Who’s to be appointed to this office?”, some would shout one name and some another.  The chairman would put down a name of his own selection and declare it to the meeting afterwards.


The chairman generally appointed the pathmasters of the year before, and it not seldom happened that the pathmasters found it advisable to have work done opposite their own land.  The Government gave aid in the making of the Brock road but the other roads were all made by the settlers so that the duties of the pathmasters were very important.  Thirty were appointed at the first meeting, and the number was increased, until sixty was not unusual.  It was a remarkable coincidence that two commissioners and the township clerk all had their legs broken while in office, and were known as the broken-legged council.






“Mr. Stirton’s Explanation”


To the editor of the Mercury:


Dear Sir:


I observed a letter in the Mercury of Tuesday last signed by M. P. Doyle, in which he takes me to task for making certain misleading statements about his father, the late Patrick Doyle, of Puslinch, in connection with a fight or riot on the night of the first township municipal election in Puslinch in 1836.  I am very glad that Mr. Doyle has called my attention to the matter, as I find, on looking over my original article that I was in error when I stated that the man alluded to, a Peter Armstrong, succeeded in getting Mr. Doyle and his followers to go back to Flynn’s tavern to club the Scotchmen. So far from this being the case as regards Mr. Doyle, it was quite the contrary.  From the statement made to me by Mr. Doyle, and also at Hamilton’s hotel, I believe that he used his utmost efforts to prevent them going back, and that when he failed in preventing them from going, he went to his home.


My only excuse for having made this mistake is that when the proof or article in question was sent to me from your office for correction or amendment, I was so ill that my family sent it back without my seeing it, and when I did see it in your daily edition, I saw several errors.  I then tried to have it righted in the Weekly, but as the issue came out a day earlier on account of the 24th of May happening on the day of the publishing of the Weekly, I was prevented from giving that attention to the matter which otherwise should have been given to it. 


As an old personal friend of the late Mr. Doyle, you can well imagine my sincere regret at having given cause of offence to those of his family who are still left, and I trust that this explanation will be accepted in the spirit in which it is given. 


I will not attempt to bandy words with Mr. M. P. Doyle about the southwest or northwest of certain parts of Puslinch; nor will I say anything about my credibility as a describer of early days or people.  My position in life is, or has long been, before the public, and I am quite willing to leave it in their hands.


I may here mention that I have in the first municipal minute book of Puslinch, a statement of the names and amount of fines imposed on the parties engaged in the fight alluded to, so that there was some reality in the matter to those engaged.


I remain yours truly,


D. Stirton

Guelph, July 5th 1899.





The foregoing articles appeared in the remarkable scrapbooks of Herbert Fairbairn Gardiner, the first in volume 149, pages 6-7 and the second, in volume 149, page 14.  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




◄ End of file ►