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Shirreff's tour through North America brought him to the Grand River

December 9, 2016

Barbara A. Martindale- For What It's Worth

Have you ever wondered what was going on in this neck of the woods before real settlement took place? A document from the pages of a book published in 1835 made its appearance some years ago.


The book "A Tour Through North America" was published by Benjamin Blom, Inc. in 1835.


It has a comprehensive view of Canada and the United States as adapted for agricultural emigration, and was written by Patrick Shirreff, farmer of Mungoswells, East Lothian.


Patrick Shirreff’s trip in 1833 included some travel along this part of the Grand River.


"We came in contact with the river at Brant’s tavern, where a wooden building was erecting of some pretensions, and continued our walk down the left bank," he wrote. This would be Thomas Bryant’s tavern that Caledonia’s founder Ranald McKinnon found in the wilderness in 1835, two years later, today’s main corner.


"The soil from Hamilton to the Grand River is chiefly clay, of good quality, and well settled, with exception of the Six Nations reserve on the banks of the river.


From Brant’s tavern to Mr. W----’s (about two miles) the road is beautiful, the banks of the river being fringed with plum, cherry, apple trees and hawthorn encircled with the wild vine, the foliage of which was particularly rich."


Patrick Shirreff talks about the bachelor Mr. W. often; a person he knew from Edinburgh, Scotland who had just arrived in Canada the previous month in March and purchased six or seven hundred acres of which about 70 were cleared, and "there was a good house.”


Mr. W. had been accustomed to move in the best society in Edinburgh and the facility with which he accommodated himself to his altered situation was deserving of praise. He heard later that he married a young lady, whom Patrick Shirreff had seen on the banks of the Grand River.


"The greater part of the crops had been carried and those of wheat remaining in the field appeared particularly shabby, compared with those of Britain, being thin on the ground and short in the sheaf. I examined a cradler at work in an oatfield, who was making good work, cutting low, and laying down the ears with regularity.


"The implement is brought round with a full and awkward-looking sweep, nine or ten feet wide, and jerked so as to throw off the stalks, the whole of which are collected in the cradle. The cradler supports the weight of the crop collected in the sweep on his arms and receives no relief from any part of the cut crop, or implement resting on the ground as in the case of mowing grass with the common seythe of Britain; a heavy crop of grain must, therefore be particularly fatiguing to the cradler."


Who was Mr. W? That, no doubt, will never be known. However, the scene before settlement will never be repeated and is well worth knowing. It truly was a new world at the time.

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