ULSTER FAMILY WHO BECAME PIONEERS IN CANADA
The story of an Ulster family who became pioneers in Canada
is told in a book entitled "Our Forest Home" published at
Toronto as long ago as 1889. It is composed mainly of
extracts from the diary and correspondence of Mrs Frances
Stewart, compiled by her daughter Mrs. Dunlop. It begins on
June 1, 1822 when the brig George sailed from Belfast for
Quebec. On board were two Ulster families of the name of
Stewart and Reid respectively, having with them their
domestic staffs, tools, implements and household furniture,
on the way to settle in what were then styled the backwoods
of Upper Canada.
Mr Thomas Alexander Stewart, one of the principal
characters in the narrative, was accompanied by his wife
who was a daughter of Very Rev. [Reverend?] Francis Browne,
Dean of Elphin. The Dean died suddenly in 1796 and his
daughter was adopted by her great-uncle, Robert Waller of
Allenstown. The Dean's father, Rev. [Reverend?] William
Browne married the eldest daughter of Ven. [Venerable?]
Archdeacon Hutchinson, whose second daughter became the
wife of Thomas Smythe, of Lisburn.
In 1816 Miss Frances Browne was married to Thomas
Alexander Stewart whose family resided at Wilmont. There
were eleven children of the union. Mr. Stewart and his
brother-in-law, Mr. Reid, were partners in a large
manufacturing firm in Co.[ County?] Antrim, which failed,
owing, it is stated, to the mismanagement of the senior
partner. The Stewarts and Reids then decided to seek their
future afresh in Canada.
Thomas Alexander Stewart is described as of an
uncommonly lively and energetic disposition, genial and
affable. Unfortunately he had met with a serious fall in
his youth which resulted in life-long lameness, obliging
him to walk with the aid of a stick. This handicap, however,
did not deter him from undertaking the hardship and
privations of a pioneer life.
The journal kept by Mrs. Stewart describes the
departure of the family from Whiteabbey by boat for the brig
George, which was to convey them to Quebec. The voyage
began on a fine day when the "Cave Hill and the shore on
both sides of the Lough looked more lovely than ever." After
a pleasant journey they sighted the coast of Newfoundland on
July 1, but were then delayed by being becalmed. Dense fog
set in and the travellers had a narrow escape from being run
down by a large vessel.
A pilot was taken on board, but he made a mistake in
his calculations and the ship struck a reef, remaining fast
until the tide rose, when she was floated off. Proceeding
up the St. Lawrence River, they arrived at Quebec on July 21
in the middle of a thunderstorm. On July 26 the voyage was
continued to Montreal where they remained some days to
procure provisions and other necessities. As illustrating the
uncertainties of sea travel in those days it is mentioned
that the brig George was sunk on the return voyage without,
however, any loss of life.
Mr. and Mrs. Stewart, it is observed , were driven
from Montreal to Lachine by a Mr. Sweeney, formerly of
Belfast, a kind and obliging friend. This encounter with an
old acquaintance in a strange land must have been a pleasant
surprise. The rest of the family, it is stated, with the
servants and luggage, followed in carts and wagons. They
proceeded by boat up the river, stopping at farmhouses, where
there was a general appearance of comfort and prosperity, but
these, it was stated, belonged to "established emigrants" who
had been in Canada four or five years. Eight days were spent
in the journey from Montreal to Kingston (198 miles). On
August 14 they arrived at Toronto, then known as York, which
in those days was considered to offer less amenities as a
place of residence than Kingston, being thought damp and
unhealthy. The settlers obtained a grant of 12,000 acres each
in the township of Douro, near the site of the present city
of Petersborough, which is situated on the Otanbee River.
Mr T.A. Stewart at this time was taken ill with what
is described as "the pest of the new settlers," lake fever,
which delayed his arrival at Duoro with supplies. Mrs.
Stewart had many difficulties to contend with and had to take
lessons in maling [sic] yeast and baking bread, indespensible
attainments in the circumstances.
The party arrived at their new log house in February
1823, in the middle of a snowstorm. "We found our house," Mrs
Stewart wrote, "in a very unfinished state. The door had not
yet been hung or any partitions erected. Where the chimney
was to be, a large opening in the roof. The floor was covered
with ice and mortar."
The travellers were not daunted by this state of
affairs and their resourcefulness was equal to the occasion.
"We soon discovered some shavings in a corner." Mrs Stewart
writes. "These were spread on the ice; on them we cheerfully
laid our mattresses and thankfully lay down to rest after a
supper of tea, bread, butter and pork. Being very weary we
slept soundly and on waking in the morning I saw the stars
looking down through the aperture left for the chimney."
These conditions, happily, were soon improved. Mr.
Stewart, with the help of a man in the neighbourhood, made a
bedstead, rough, but strong, doors were hung and boards
brought across the lake were placed overhead for a ceiling.
The crevices between the logs were filled with moss gathered
from the woods and secured with mortar.
In the summer useful improvements were carried out in
the house, a cellar being dug underneath to keep potatoes,
and the trees near the building cleared away. The land in front
was converted as far as possible into a flower and vegetable
The first autumn spent in Canada was marked by a
tragic bereavement. The household pet, little Bessy, was seized
with dysentry through eating raw corn. The nearest doctor lived
18 miles away and the parents underwent a time of keen anxiety
in awaiting his arrival, which was delayed by his losing his
way in the woods. He left medicine, but the child grew steadily
worse and passed away afer thirteen days' illness.
In December 1823 another girl child was born to the
Stewarts, the first white baby to arrive in Duoro. She was also
given the name of Bessy.
Many more adventures were in store for the settlers, and
Mr. Stewart had a narrow escape from being lost in a snowstorm
when returning from a visit to the neighbouring town of Coburg.
The Government granted to Messrs. Stewart and Reid the right for
five years of colonising the township of Duoro on paying a small
sum down per acre and performing the settlement duties.
In the early years of their life in this neighbourhood
wild animals frequently came near the house including wolves
July 31, 1845, was memorable as the date of the birth of
a son to the Stewarts, the first white male child in the
township. He was named William. About this time 500 immigrants
were brought from Co. [County?] Cork to settle in the vicinity
by Mr. Peter Robinson, brother of Sir John Beverly Robinson,
afterwards Chief Justice of Upper Canada. It was decided that
the village should be named Peterborough in honour of Colonel
Peter Robinson. the population was increased in following years
by continued immigration and a church and schoolhouse were
erected. The old log house of the Stewarts was also replaced by
a more commodious and substantial building.
Thomas A. Stewart, who died on September 6, 1847, was
represented in 1889 by 22 children and grandchildren who were
then settled over various parts of Canada, the United States
Mrs. Stewart survived her husband 25 years and died on
February 24, 1872, aged nearly 78. Of her an old acquaintance
wrote: She needs no eulogy. She lives in the hearts of her
children and of the friends who loved her."
Relatves of the Stewarts are still to be found in
Belfast and the North of Ireland, some of them having gained
great distinction in different walks of life. A.W.M.K.