Pioneer Diaries Provide Interesting Information 

Pioneer Diaries Provide Interesting Information about many topics, but sometimes stories about the weather can be quite surprising!

There are many sources for historical research. While I enjoy reading old newspapers and government documents, my personal favourite is old diaries or journals. 

I prefer pioneer diaries and journals because they are usually unedited and give a personal perspective about life during the time frame in which they were written. Consequently, one can find a lot about life in the early days of our region as it was experienced by the hardy folks who came to this, the last frontier in southern Ontario. 

Recently, at the Bruce County Museum and Archives, I found an interesting collection of documents belonging to Nathaniel Leeder, one of the first settlers in the Saugeen Township area. While I worked my way through the collection, I found some of Leeder's diaries. These journals span more than three decades beginning in the 1850s and they provide a wonderful illustration of what life was like for Bruce County's early pioneers. 

This winter, the weather has been anything but predictable. The weather the week before Christmas looked more like early spring or late autumn. Then, when it looked as if we were going to have a green Christmas, it started to snow and, in some places, (like my driveway!) it seemed as if it snowed non-stop for a week. 

Because of the unpredictability of the weather it is always a topic of conversation. 

As I was reading Leeder's journals, I discovered that more than150 years ago the weather also dominated interest. 

Dec. 24 is a very important day. Everyone is running about doing last minute Christmas shopping and getting ready for evening festivities. But on Dec. 24, 1854, Leeder's only entry in his journal is "mild and lowering in the morning but the sun shone for a considerable part of the day. Thawing very fast." There is no mention of getting ready for Christmas. 

On Christmas Day we all celebrate and some of our happiest memories are of Christmas festivities. On Christmas Day, 1854, Nathaniel Leeder wrote: "Pulling up weeds all day it being very mild and pleasant". He also reported that he settled some accounts with another settler. 

On Boxing Day, Leeder did not go to the stores for the sales, instead pulled up all the "weeds that could be seen.” 

The rest of the week he reported doing such chores as shelling corn and chopping wood; squaring up accounts with neighbours and keeping a close eye on the weather. 

On New Year's Eve 1854, Leeder reported only that it was a Sunday and that it was milder but not thawing. On Jan. 1, 1855, he diarized that it was "mild and pleasant" and that he had done some chopping. There is no mention of any special festivities. 

Jan. 2, 1855, appears to have been “Mild and beautiful thawing all day". The pioneer diaries continue on with similar entries for the rest of the winter of 1854-55. 

Although we may be surprised at the lack of entries concerning the celebration of two big events, it is not surprising that Nathanial Leeder's journal reflects more concern with the weather, shelling corn and chopping wood. After all, in the winter of 1854-55, the region where he was living had only been open to settlement for a few years and survival was the most important thing on their minds.

A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on January 4, 2002

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Bruce County History

Bruce County history is rich with stories about the development of communities along the Lake Huron shoreline and shaped by memorable events and the people.

The "Battleship By-Election" was the result of a debate that embroiled all of Canada but was settled in a rural region of southwestern Ontario prior to the First World War.

Bruce Road 3: A Colonization Road linked prospective settlers to undeveloped Crown Lands and a new life.

British Peerage a Source for Township Names. It is interesting to check the origin of the names bestowed on pioneer places such as towns, townships and counties.

Chesley Ontario Welcomes the Krug Brothers who were looking for a place to make their future and their fortune. They were not only successful, but they made significant contributions to the social fabric of their adopted home town.

Billy Crawford: Pioneering Spirit Personified. If you take the time to consider the people you have met during your life you too may know or have known, someone with pioneering spirit just like Billy Crawford.

Frozen Rivers & Lakes can be Hazardous: Icy waterways offer many benefits such as ice fishing, but beware weak, or thin ice is not easily detected and can spell disaster.

Kincardine Ontario's First Settlers using a bit of savvy and some luck created a future for themselves and their families on the Lake Huron shoreline.

The Krug Impact on Chesley Ontario was immense not only in terms of the community's social fabric but with regards to community's economic growth.

Wilfrid Laurier: Despite the town's best efforts to make Wilfrid Laurier's visit a memorable occasion, it would be clouds of dust that would remind the Prime Minister of  the Lake Huron community.

Mildmay Ontario overcame competition from other communities to claim its spot in Carrick Township on an important settlement route to the Lake Huron shoreline.

Pioneer Diaries provide Interesting Information about many topics, but sometimes information about the weather can be quite surprising!

The pioneer settlement in Arran Township was completed in 1851. The survey crew had been impressed, by the cheap cost and the potential of the land, that two members of the team, George Gould and Richard Berford, took up plots of land. 

Port Elgin Ontario Started with a Storm. A ship forced to seek refuge from Lake Huron's stormy wrath signalled to one man the idea of starting a new community.

Southampton's early history was a time of identity crisis, and with a connection to an early Arctic mystery story. 

Southampton Ontario Suffered a Major Fire in 1886: The havoc was created by a furious high wind storm that spread the flames over much of the town.

Tara Ontario's Mill Started the Village Economy and with the entrepreneurial and inventive genius of one man the community prospered!

Walkerton Ontario: The Beginning of this Bruce County town is the result of the drive and determination of one man, Joseph Walker.