Wellington Owes Its Excellence in Beef Cattle to Pioneer Importers


(The article following was transcribed from the Guelph Mercury newspaper for Wednesday July 20th 1927.  The writer of the article is known only by the pseudonym “Reminiscent”.)







The late Rowland Wingfield and John Howitt played a large part in making Guelph and district famous for livestock breeding.  Wingfield established an extensive farm of 800 acres in Puslinch in 1831 and was the first man to bring purebred shorthorns into the district.  When he met with reverses and returned to the old country, his holdings were purchased by the late John Howitt who carried on the work of stock improvement.  Animals imported by these early pioneers laid the foundation for the good reputation now enjoyed.  Wingfield built a palatial bungalow which remained intact until 1856.  It was fortunate for the livestock industry of Ontario when Wingfield’s valuable stock and estate were purchased by the late John Howitt, a remarkable man who continued to import and sell Shorthorn cattle and Southdown sheep.


In the centennial year of Guelph and the sixtieth year of confederation, our thoughts naturally turn backwards to the early days and events in the history of this district.


Since 1837, this southern part of Ontario has steadily progressed as a great agricultural and stock raising country, and is now the most celebrated breeding ground of purebred stock in Canada, and widely known as such throughout the United States.


To the writer, there are two men worthy of special note for the part they played in making Guelph and district famous in the Shorthorn and other livestock industry.


Within a few years after John Galt broke the silence of the forest in felling the historic maple tree, two men came across the Atlantic to Guelph, one in 1831, from Rhuabon, Denbighshire, North Wales, the other, in 1832, from Long Eaton, Derbyshire, England.







Rowland Wingfield



The first, Rowland Wingfield, was the son of a clergyman, and a nephew of Lord Bagot, and near to a title, well educated, courteous, genial, a favourite among his friends for his optimism, affability, and cheerfulness.  Notwithstanding his happy prospects in the Old Land, his adventurous spirit led him to a pioneer life in this new country.


In 1831, he came to Guelph, and being unable to secure a sufficiently large estate in Guelph Township, he bought, on the advice of Daniel Gibson, a block of land in Puslinch, 800 acres, about five miles south of Guelph, and decided to make this his future home.  After making arrangements with Mr. Shade for clearing 60 acres of land and building a house, he returned to England to purchase stock and supplies.  He chartered the ship “Bolovar”, a three-masted sailing vessel.  With him, came several settlers and servants; among these were Thomas Phillips, William Thompson, Harry Hoskins, John Perry, and two families of Smiths, twenty passengers in all and nineteen of a crew.  His farming outfit was the most complete that ever left the Mersey for Canada.




The Very Best Stock



He brought fourteen Shorthorn cattle of the Bate strain, which were unusually large and well proportioned, Berkshire pigs, Leicester sheep, game fowl, geese and turkeys, pigeons, and a marvellously intelligent Collie dog, capable of understanding commands in both Welsh and English.  All these were the best that money could buy.  Besides, he brought iron frames for windows, an iron-sheeted oaken door, sheep feeding troughs, etc. and a large quantity of household and personal goods.



He left Liverpool on the first of June 1833 and in eight weeks and three days reached Quebec.  At Montreal, the stock was driven and the articles carried to Lachine.  From Lachine, they sailed up the Ottawa River to Bytown, then a small village, now Ottawa, the capital of Canada.  Near there, owing to an accident, the vessel was unloaded.  The hotelkeeper at Bytown was so fascinated by the splendid farm stock, the like of which had never before been seen in the country, that he entertained the whole party overnight for nothing, refusing to accept payment.


They ultimately reached Guelph on the first of September 1833, exactly three months from the day that they sailed.


Liberal Hospitality


In the meantime, the 60 acres cleared were probably the roughest portion of the estate and constituted part of lots 9 and 10 of the fifth concession of Puslinch through which ran a fine creek.  The house, a well-built log structure, stood on the brow of a hill, overlooking the Speed River, with a fair sized orchard planted in front, as well as flowers and shrubs, but still lacking the iron window frames, oaken doors, glass, nails, hinges, etc. brought over by Mr. Wingfield.  When finished, it was a well-built log bungalow where settlers and visitors were wont to gather and enjoy Roland Wingfield’s liberal hospitality, cheerful company, and contagious laughter, refreshed meanwhile with excellent Irish whiskey.


The oaken door of the Wingfield bungalow is worthy of special note.  It was more than two inches thick and its outer surface was iron plated by nails driven closely together with heads an inch square.  The window frames required small diamond shaped panes.


The bungalow was used as a habitation by the late Thomas Dyson until 1856, and remained up till then, intact, as left by Wingfield.  The orchard contained a variety of apple and plum trees, several of the former bearing apples of a delicious flavour.  The garden had a variety of current and gooseberry bushes.


Is All Gone


On the 30th of June 1927, the writer visited the site of this mansion of pioneer days.  All that remains is a vestige of the old orchard, a few neglected apple trees, still living, and a number of dead ones.  No trace can be found of the bungalow.  Till this day, the plough has never touched more than a small portion of the original clearing, but a number of immense pine stumps are the only indication of the primeval forest.


A concession road ran through Rowland Wingfield’s estate, at each corner of which, and on the bank of the river, he placed a cornerstone sufficiently long to reach below the frost line.  The upper part of each stone was well dressed, and cut with his initials and the date 1831.  These stones may still be seen, and if not removed, will probably remain for ages.  It is probable that they were brought from England.


Not having farm buildings on his estate to shelter his stock, Rowland Wingfield made arrangements with Mr. Ryfe, who lived about four miles from Guelph on the Waterloo Road, to take charge of the animals during the winter, for which, Mr. Ryfe accepted a calf in full payment.  This calf was afterwards purchased by Mr. Tolton of Eramosa.  Among the Shorthorns, were three bulls, Comet, the largest and finest, was white, Forester, a roan, and Farmer, red and white.  During the following summer, 1834, Mr. Wingfield sold one or more of the Shorthorns for large sums, to Americans.


Met With Reverses


Unfortunately, for Wingfield’s success, an election was forthcoming, and he was induced to become a candidate for the “Gore District”, which at that time extended from south Wellington to Lake Huron, that is, including the “Queen’s Bush”.  Wingfield’s generous nature prompted him to keep open house in all the taverns of the district.  However, he was defeated and financially ruined, and his personal effects were sold by auction in Guelph, even to his silk stockings and ties.  Remarks made by ladies from Guelph, Rockwood, and district, at the sale, constituted fireside gossip for many a year.  He afterwards removed to Sarnia, where he resided for several years, and later returned to his native place, where in time, he became Lord Wingfield.


It was commonly rumoured that Mr. Wingfield was a sympathizer with the cause of William Lyon MacKenzie, in 1837.






Mr. Howitt Carries On


Fortunately, for the livestock industry in Ontario, Wingfield’s valuable stock and estate were purchased by the late John Howitt, commonly known as “Quaker Howitt”.


Born, as we have said, in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, where his family had lived since the days of Edward IV, this second Guelph pioneer was originally of Danish descent.  In his youth, he was fond of athletic sports, but detested games of chance, pugilism, etcetera. More than once he had been the hero of swimming exploits in his native Trent.  In appearance, he was tall and erect, six feet in his stockings, muscular and virile, with dark hair and eyes.  His manner was serious and meditative.  He was well educated, independent of opinion, and a great reader and elocutionist.  He had a remarkable command of history and a retentive memory.


Mr. John Howitt

(picture painted in 1862)


After he had settled in Canada, friends would come in from his neighbourhood and gather around him while he read for their enjoyment, a form of entertainment, which alas, has almost vanished nowadays.  The late learned William Wetherald, of Rockwood Academy fame, frequently declared to his classes that he himself had learned the art of good reading from this pioneer Englishman.  This early Guelph citizen was a man of deep religious convictions and possessed a remarkable knowledge of the doctrines of the Old and New Testaments.  In his youth, the appointment of the established clergy in England was in the hands of the “lord of the manor”, which, at times, had unfortunate results.  At the age of seventeen, shocked by the levity and loose morals of the incumbent of his parish, John Howitt left the established church and threw in his lot with the Quakers and Methodists and was later appointed a local preacher by Adam Clarke of London, the great nonconformist divine.  Dressed in white raiment, he preached on the streets of his native village where his father, master of the Hall, was a prominent man of wealth.  Later, in Canada, he attended the meetings of the Society of Friends, and for two years or more, he would wear no hat, on account of his Quaker tenets.


At the age of eighteen, he married Miss Catharine Lee, a relative of General Robert Lee of Southern Confederacy fame, by whom he had seven sons and three daughters.  After many years of happy union, his wife died in 1842, and in 1844, he married a widow, Mrs. David Murray, eldest daughter of the late Alexander McIntosh, of Paisley Block, a native of Argyleshire, Scotland.  She made him an excellent helpmate, and of this marriage, there were five sons and five daughters.


Settled near Guelph


In the early part of 1832, with a view of later emigrating to Canada, John Howitt, though a man of means, worked his passage to New York as the captain’s cabin boy.  On the same ship came a Mr. Wetherald, a Quaker.  Together, they travelled to Upper Canada, and after viewing several districts, they reached Guelph.  Mr. Wetherald, pleased with the rolling nature of the land, exclaimed, “Now I will go no farther; I am satisfied.”  Mr. Howitt also decided to make Guelph his future home, and on the advice of his nephew, Henry Orton, grandfather of the present Dr. Thomas Orton, he later purchased from John Linderman, 500 acres immediately south of Guelph, which was afterwards known as “The Grange”.  He returned to England, and after arranging his business affairs there, set sail with his family for Canada, in January 1834.  He brought with him his family heirlooms and records and an extensive library, which for years was admitted to be the largest and most comprehensive in Western Canada.  He set about clearing the meadowland nearest Guelph, and the first table land beyond, of his new estate, intending originally to build on that spot opposite “Homewood”, the present residence of Mr. C. E. Howitt, and he constructed a bridge across the river there, which stood the storms and floods until well into the 1870’s.


But when travelling one day through the forest, he found two fine, fresh water springs and determined to build his residence there, the spot on which “The Grange” house still stands.


In 1835-36, Mr. Howitt accordingly erected a fine residence there, which included family quarters, servants’ quarters, a brew-house, conveniences and coach-house, English style; and about the same time, he built fine farm buildings, including the first banked barn, probably of Western Canada.  This work was done by Mr. Hebe, a German American.  The barn was 100 feet long by 100 feet wide; the frame to the peak purline was made of squared rock elm.  This barn stood until last year when it was destroyed by fire.


Lodge House Still Stands


The house faced south with double verandahs in front and “stoop” in the rear.  The ground in front was beautified by flowers and shrubs. A road was built to the Waterloo Road opposite, with a bridge and a lodge-house at the gate.  This lodge-house still stands today.


To protect the sheep and cattle from wolves, a sheep-pen was built of cedar posts, 14 feet high, set upright, closely together and what was known as the “bull-pen” enclosed two acres in a similar manner.  The sheep pen stood intact until 1873.


In those day, the Guelph Fairs were held on the first Wednesday of each month.  The winter of 1842 was unusually severe as regards duration and amount of snow.  Sleighing commenced on the first fair day in October and continued till the first Wednesday in May.  The resulting flood carried off nearly all the bridges over the Speed River in the district.


The agreement of sale that John Howitt made with Rowland Wingfield included the valuable cattle, sheep, pigs, and other farm animals, implements, Puslinch estate, and last but not least, the wonderful Collie dog.  Mr. William Thompson, one of the herdsmen who had come at first with the cattle from England, transferred his service now to Mr. Howitt.


His Herd Became Noted


The news of the important importations by Wingfield had become widely known in Upper Canada and the “States”.  John Howitt continued to sell and import Shorthorns and Southdown sheep.  To quote from a previous recorder, “His herd of Durham cattle and Leicester sheep, to which he later added Southdowns and Gloucesters, soon became noted for their purity and excellence all over the United States and Canada, and were eagerly bought as the stock increased, bringing very high prices and bringing John Howitt into repute as a breeder and agriculturalist, besides being very profitable.”


Until a certain event, to which reference will be made, he also took a keen interest in public affairs, was at one time a member of the Council, and the first President of St. George’s Society in Guelph.  The same writer says of him, “He takes a leading part at agricultural meetings and at cattle shows, etcetera.  Shortly after the union between Upper and Lower Canada, he was asked by the honourable Harvey Price to become a candidate for the Legislative Assembly, for this district, but he declined.


“The Grange” Destroyed


At three o’clock Christmas morning 1853, a neighbour noticed flames and smoke issuing from the roof of “The Grange”.   Knowing Mr. Howitt’s disbelief in locks, he was able to rush through the French windows of his bedroom and roused him with difficulty, half suffocated as he was by smoke.  Mr. Howitt leaped up the burning stairs to save two of his children, and coming back, had to jump over the banister, striking the floor just as the stairs fell behind him into the cellar.


In this fire, everything in the house was burned excepting a bureau, a gun and a silver mug.  Mr. Howitt lost his heirlooms, his records, and his library.  The family and servants escaped to a neighbour’s in their night clothes.


The mental shock of this harrowing experience was one from which Mr. Howitt never afterwards fully recovered.  His public activities ceased.  He became diffident and had little intercourse afterwards with any but his own family and a few friends, but he always remained just and kind.


Later, the historic Shorthorns were sold to Mr. Frederick William Stone.


John Howitt died at “The Grange” on the 29th of March 1881, within a few days of his seventy-sixth year.


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