12-year-old Walks
to Owen Sound in 1851 

12-year-old Walks to Owen Sound in 1851 from the journal of a teenage boy's experience travelling with his brother in the untamed Upper Canadian wilderness.

One of the delights of historical research is finding a personal memoir of someone who lived in this area during earlier times. This week, while researching some files I discovered a copy of Robert Crichton's memories about his first trip along the Garafraxa Road in 1851. 

Crichton was only twelve-years-old when he and his older brother left Caledon in Peel County heading for Grey County. Theirs’s was an unusual trip. Along with the usual baggage they Were driving six head of cattle and a horse, which they took turns riding. 

Their little caravan travelled the first day to Fergus where they stayed in the Wellington Hotel. In his memoirs he noted that the Wellington was a "comfortable stone building with good stables." 

The next morning the two lads struck out along the Garafraxa. Their destination being Wright's Tavern at the 'head of Arthur Township." The next morning, after a five-mile trek, they arrived at Mount Forest. His description of Mount Forest is interesting. He wrote that “there was the mount, and the forest, but no houses as yet, but a little way into the wood on the east side of the road was an Indian wigwam, the first I ever saw." However, it would not be long before Mount Forest would be settled. Crichton wrote that three years later in 1854 he travelled through the area and found that "there were new houses, trees, brush piles, and piles of cord word intermixed" in the new community of Mount Forest.

About five miles north of Mount Forest they reached the forty mile swamp. The name of this area had always been confusing to early travellers. Crichton related the tale of a party of early travellers who arrived at that point on the Garafraxa at about four o'clock in the afternoon. Normally, early travellers spent from sun up to sun down on the road, but these travellers decided that they did not want to spend the night in a swamp that was forty miles in length, so they stopped and made camp at the early hour of four in the afternoon. However, the next morning they quickly realized the folly of their actions the previous day.

Soon after entering the swamp they emerged into "dry, hardwood bush land." Like so many others, they had thought that the name forty-mile swamp meant that the swamp extended forty miles along the route of the Garafraxa, when in fact it meant that the swamp was forty miles from Owen Sound!

However, that day of Crichton's journey was not a pleasant experience. It was cold and damp and his brother was sick all day. In fact, his illness became worse as the day progressed. Because of his brother's condition, Robert was forced to walk most of the time while his brother rode their horse. Consequently, they were extremely tired when they arrived at Hunter's Hotel in Durham late that evening. 

Crichton remembered that Mrs. Hunter had sent his sick brother off to bed after giving him hot drinks for his ailments. Within two hours, he was “blooming red with measles". The next morning the Hunter's told Robert to go on alone to his home and send his father back to get the cattle and his sick brother. The rest of Crichton's first trip along the Garafraxa was uneventful.

The existence of memoirs such as those of Robert Crichton give historical researchers valuable first-hand information about life many years ago. 

The information used in this article came from files in the Grey County Archives.

A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on June 1, 2001.

History Pages

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History Pages introduces the readers to interesting people, places, and events that I have researched and written about in my writing career that spans more than three decades.

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