Shorthorn Pioneer ─ Rowland Wingfield

(The Guelph Mercury newspaper for Tuesday October 30th, 1888.)



The October (1888) number of the Canadian Livestock and Farm Journal contains the following very interesting paper by Mr. David McCrae.


It is interesting to note how different sections of our country have taken up different lines of special farming.  One is noted for good butter, another for its cheese factories, excelling in both number and merit, another horses and cattle.  Guelph has long claimed special excellence in cattle.  Guelph beef has a reputation that extends not only over all Ontario but also has reached all the cities of Quebec and is well known in St. John and Halifax, the cities by the sea.


At the fat stock shows of Christmas and Easter are exhibited choice animals in great numbers.  Many a good judge does not hesitate to compare a joint of juicy Guelph beef to the best of the roast beef of Old England.  This good feeding stock is not confined to the immediate vicinity of Guelph but embraces an ever-widening circle in the counties of Wellington and Waterloo.






For breeding pure bred stock, no place has a wider reputation over the whole continent of America, and none have sent over the borders as many representatives as have the herds of Shorthorns, Herefords, Galloways, and Devons of this district.  Why is this?  Some may say this is because it is specially adapted for a grazing and feeding district.  This is true.  The outcrops of limestone, so abundantly mixed with the soil, insure herbage rich and nourishing.  Limestone lands are noted as good pasturelands.  Another says, “They feed because they can grow so many turnips and roots, such excellent crops of swedes, mangolds, carrots and sugar beets.”  It is true that the section grows great crops of roots, but may not this be the result of the feeding and the beef trade rather than a cause of it?  Roots are needed for the economical feeding of stock and are therefore grown in large quantities.  To me, it seems as if the beef trade of the district owes its development to the fact that the first really good cattle that ever came to Canada came here.   This gave the breeders a start, gave them a name for good stock, and they have kept and improved it.  This was due to Rowland Wingfield, the pioneer importer of shorthorns to Canada, one whose name for this reason deserves to be better known among the stock breeders of America.






In 1831, four years after John Galt and his band of pioneers had cut the first tree on the site of Guelph, came Rowland Wingfield, in search of land for a farm and a home.  He was a sharp, lively young fellow, slim and very active, was well educated and well connected.  His uncle was Lord somebody and his father was Vicar of Rhudbon, in Denbighshire, just over the border of Wales.  He himself was courteous and affable, the best of company.  His cheery, hearty laugh is still a pleasant memory with old settlers. 


He searched carefully for a homestead.  None of the Canada Company’s land was available near Guelph in a block to suit him, but meeting with Daniel Gibson, who surveyed part of Puslinch, he was advised to examine a block of land in that township, about five miles from Guelph.  After going over it, he proceeded to Toronto and bought a block of 800 acres.  Returning, he had the corners marked with substantial stone posts, selected the place for his first clearing, and the site of the first homestead.  He arranged with Mr. Shade of Galt to have sixty acres chopped, cleared, and put in crop for the summer of 1832, and to have the timber prepared for a new house.  He then left for England to purchase his stock for the farm, resolving to have the very best that money could buy.






Next, we hear of him in Liverpool, making arrangements for shipping.  He chartered the Bolover, of Belfast, a three-masted vessel in the Quebec timber trade.  On her were placed the hardware and fittings required for his house, iron frames for the windows, the glass, nails, hinges, and every requisite for the building.  On deck, he had stalls constructed in the most substantial manner, with stanchions, chains, feed and water boxes for the cattle, a pen for the sheep, with the ship’s long boat bottom for shelter, in case of rain, large roomy coops for the fowl, and good quarters for the pigs.


With him, came several settlers and servants.  Amongst these, were Thomas Phillips, who had first charge, William Thompson, who settled in Puslinch and whose family is still alive, Harry Hoskins, John Perry, two families of Smiths, who afterwards settled in Hamilton, 20 passengers and 19 of a crew.


His farming outfit was perhaps the most complete that ever left the Mersey for Canada.  In addition to the cattle, he had a flock of Southdown sheep.  His pigs were Berkshires, not of the uniform colour and markings that we now see in the breed, but several of them were a red, foxy colour.  Turkeys, geese, ducks, a lot of game fowl, and a quantity of pigeons were included.  Nor was a dog forgotten.  The exploits of “Stranger”, the collie, are still told by many a fireside.  He was a star even among collies, and well versed in both English and Welsh.






They left for Liverpool on the first of June 1833.  Off the north coast of Ireland they encountered a heavy storm which lasted three days.  After that, they had pleasant weather, and in eight weeks and three days were at Quebec.  On reaching Montreal, the stock were driven and articles carried to Lachine, where they re-embarked for a sail up the Ottawa River to Bytown, then a small village, now our capital, Ottawa.  Here, they were put on barges and taken through the Rideau Canal to Kingston.  During this passage, the only unpleasant accident of the journey occurred.  The barge with the cattle ran on a snag and stuck fast.  All efforts to move it were unavailing and the cattle had to be run off and guided ashore.  This was anything but agreeable; the men were almost as wet as the cattle.  They were taken and well provided for by a hotel-keeper nearby, who supplied an abundance of provender and other good things and who refused all pay because he had not seen such cattle since he left his old home in England, and it did his heart good to see the like of them again.  Arrived at Kingston, a week was spent before they got a lake boat for Hamilton.


A relative of Mr. Wingfield was an officer in the British regiment, then quartered at Fort Frontenac.  Through his kindness, the whole party enjoyed the rest very much.  At Hamilton, they took the road again, the cattle and sheep walking to Guelph, where they arrived 1st of September 1833, having been just three months on the journey from England.






There were fourteen Shorthorns.  Mr. Philip says that some were from the herd of a clergyman, probably the Reverend Henry Berry.  They were all pedigreed cattle, and the pedigrees were all brought with them.  There were three bulls.  Comet, the largest and finest, was white, Forester, roan.  He was sold by Mr. Wingfield and went to the States.  The third was Farmer, a red and white.  Ten of the females were two-year-old heifers.  Favourite was roan, and had afterwards a broken horn. Daisy was roanish red.  Cowslip and Dairymaid were names of others.  There was one cow, white; she calved the day before they went on board at Liverpool, and milked so well that she fed the calf and gave milk enough for the tea and coffee of the ship’s passengers and crew.  The animals were large and well proportioned.  All who remember them coming to Guelph speak specially of their very large size, much bigger than any shorthorns now imported, and all say that they made a more marked improvement in the cattle of the country than any other lot of cattle that ever came across the Atlantic.  Probably part of both of these qualities, size and quality, has grown by contrast and by distance.  When these came, the cattle of the country were small and poor, mostly descendents of Lower Canadian stock.  The Shorthorns were very different; the contrast was great, but by the time that any others had arrived, the blood had made its mark.  The animals were good grades.  Then, we know that the boy who leaves home in the old land has a vivid impression of his home and the village shops he leaves to wander over the world, it may be.   When, in after years, he revisits that home and that village, he is amazed at how small they are compared with what memory had pictured them.  Allowing for both of these natural errors, the fact remains that they were exceptionally large, fine cattle and did more than any other shipment to improve the cattle of Canada.








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