Pioneer ingenuity created many labour-saving devices and methods and quite often helped to create a sense of community.
The settlers in this area worked hard to carve a life for themselves out of the wilderness that became Grey and Bruce counties.
They used a lot of pioneer ingenuity to create ways of making the task of survival a little easier and they depended upon one another for help. At the same time, they tried to find ways to make life a little bit more enjoyable.
This past weekend while waiting for the Super Bowl to start I began reading one of the many fine local history books that have been written about the Grey and Bruce region. While perusing the pages of A History of Bentinck Township I discovered another unique example of pioneers combining the labours of life with entertainment. When a barn or a house needed building everyone in the area pitched in to help. The barn raising was more than a gang of men working to build a necessary building for a friend or a neighbour, it was a social event. After a day of hard work, the workers sat down to a hearty meal. prepared by the women of the area. Similarly, at harvest time neighbours got together and worked as a team to bring in the crops.
After a day in the fields, the workers sat down with their families and friends to a big meal and then held a square dance. The fatigue from a day of hard labour seemed to disappear at the sound of the fiddle and squares formed and moved to the caller's commands.
To help alleviate the loneliness of living in an isolated area with their husbands off working in the forests or the fields the pioneer women often got together to work on projects as well. They held quilting bees. At these functions the women of the area gathered at a home and together they made heavy quilted blankets to keep their families warm on cold winter nights. As they sewed, they chatted about everything from recipes that they had discovered to the latest gossip. These bees helped to dispel loneliness and created a sense of neighbourhood in the rural area of the region. I had heard about quilting and sewing bees, barn raisings and threshing parties but in History of Bentinck Township I discovered something new, a paring bee.
It seems every year a lady who was known as Maw Becker held a paring bee. On the evening of the bee, everyone headed to the Becker' s house. In the kitchen all the furniture was moved out of the way and a long table was placed in the middle of the room. Along one side of the table a bench was placed. Baskets of soft fall apples were carried into the kitchen and the work began. The young men in the crowd took knives and began peeling the apples. Then the apples were placed on the table where the women were seated. One lady would quarter the apple and the next would core it. Before long, ten or twelve bushels of apples had been prepared.
When the task was complete everyone enjoyed a luncheon prepared by Maw Becker. Then, the table and utensils were cleared, and the kitchen was the scene of a square dance. The next morning a huge kettle of apple cider was hung from a tripod over a fire. The apples that had been pared the night before were placed in the kettle to thicken the cider to make the apple butter that would brighten the meals during the winter which lay ahead.
Because of modern technological advances the need for bees has all but disappeared. But one thing is certain, they served a valuable purpose in the early days in Grey and Bruce. Not only did they create a means of helping the settlers survive, but they also were an important social event, which helped to create a bond between neighbours against the trials and tribulations of making a new life in the wilderness that one day would become Grey and Bruce Counties.
A version of this article originally appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on February 4, 2000
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.
1st Grey County Building in 1852 was only built after many hurdles were overcame.
Dr. Anna Henry from Markdale, was a medical trailblazer for women doctors in Canada, who helped lay the groundwork for the establishment for Women's College Hospital.
Egremont Township endured the usual growing pains of a pioneer community, but its early history records times when it was embroiled in a few contentious issues.
Euphrasia Township in the early years when spelling the name was a problem for those who called it home and those that wanted settle this new Grey County township.
Georgian Bay's 1st pioneer settler arrived on the western shoreline long before any other settler reached the area.
Grey County Heritage: A Valuable Resource which is rich and varied, as an important resource for future use for business, political, and many other purposes.
Grey County's Creation in 1852, laid the framework for organizing a county in the last wilderness in the southern region of what would become in the future the province of Ontario.
An Unlikely Hero From Grey County (Part 1) found his way from the farming community of Flesherton to missionary work in the Ottawa Valley, and beyond.
An Unlikely Hero Vs. The KKK (Part 2) Our hero from Grey County took his missionary zeal south of the border and ultimately crossed paths with the infamous KKK!
Barn Raising: A Pioneer Economic and Social Necessity as it provided settlers with an opportunity not only to build a barn, but also build a community.
"Barring Out": A Pioneer School Tradition was a custom which the settlers brought to the new world from England, or Scotland.
Ceylon Ontario: How it Got its Name: It is always interesting how a community got its name, but I doubt any place received its name from a more unique source!
Chatsworth Ontario: First Settlers took advantage of fulfilling the needs of pioneer travellers and built a thriving community in the Upper Canadian wilderness.
Clearing Trees a Daunting Task for Settlers as they worked to fulfill their obligations for their land grant.
Dornoch: or is it Smithville? Originally it was Smithville, then it became Dornoch. But, surprise it is still, in reality Smithville!
First Pioneer in Durham: Archibald Hunter established his family, and a hotel, in what would become the centre of the town of Durham.
Durham Ontario Influenced by the Saugeen River. This river provided a means to create new industries, but especially in the spring it can also pose a menace to the community.
Grey County Bylaws to the 1890s reveal a lot about the financing of local government, especially education in the early days of the region.
John Muir, the legendary naturalist, who promoted the idea of protected nature spaces, spent time in Ontario and I went to help find evidence of his stay in the Owen Sound area.
A Heroic Woman From Grey County who made great changes as a doctor in China in the 1890s and early 1900s.
Jesse James: In Grey County? An interesting question. Did the notorious gangster hide out in Proton Township? We will never know. But it is fun to speculate!
Kilsyth's Train Engine was one for the history books. It brought an evening of joy followed by disappointing news soon after.
The Knight's of Meaford have long history in that Grey County community. Their business forged by early settlers employed many locals and supported the economy.
Leith: Tom Thomson's Birthplace is part of the rich heritage of this community located on the east shore of the Georgian Bay north of Owen Sound.
The Leith Golf Course has provided many families with great memories. The history of this golf course starts, and ends, with the generosity of one family.
Agnes Macphail was a political trailblazer in a part of Ontario that one could hardly expect such radical action for the era in a rural region.
Markdale Ontario: The Beginning: originally known as Glenelg East, but the coming of the railway and the name of owner of the land for the station led to a change of identity.
Meaford's history is one of hardy and entrepreneurial pioneers carving their lives out of the wilderness of what would become Grey County.
Meaford Ontario, first called Peggy's Landing located on the shores of Georgian Bay has a rich history.
Meaford vs Purdytown. Conflict over the name of a new community was not unusual in early Grey County but electing a school trustee was the "hot button" issue in this rivalry.
Pioneer Clergyman: John Neelands was the first to minister to the first settlers' spiritual needs riding on horseback through the wilds of early Grey County.
Pioneer Doctor: Dr. James Smith, a local boy who became a doctor and served his community for his entire life was a testament to Grey County community spirit.
Pioneer Healthcare in Grey and Bruce counties was not administered by doctors, nurses, or pharmacists, no it was the responsibility of the women of the community.
Pioneer Homes in Grey County in the 1840s offered only basic amenities. Homes were basic because clearing the land to earn a living to survive were of paramount importance for those embarking on a new life.
Pioneer Ingenuity created many labour saving devices and methods and quite often helped to create a sense of community.
Pioneer Christmas: A Family Tradition as told to me by may grandparents who experienced Christmas as children in the 1880s and 1890s.
Pioneer Settlement Plans for Grey County began almost two decades before the rest of Grey County was available for settlement.
A pioneer road surveyor's impact on the local history of Grey and Bruce counties could have been dramatic, if it had not been changed by another surveyor.
Pioneer Teachers in Grey and Bruce Counties had a long and arduous task, not to mentions strict and confining job requirements for very little salary.
Plowing Match in Grey County in 1933 the first International Plowing Match held in Grey and Bruce counties and it's success led to more such events in Grey.
Settling Osprey Township: Parts of Osprey were considered too rugged to settle, but today they are prime real estate because of the great view!
Swamp College: Proton Township: this colourfully named institution of education in Grey County has provided many stories to the heritage of the region.
Sydenham Township's First Council undertook the often difficult task of creating a new municipal infrastructure.
The Impact of Snow is not what is Used to be! As snow removal equipment has improved the impact of snow on our lives has reduced significantly from previous eras.
Unique Characters: Nathaniel Herriman lived in Grey County and owned an inn to provide food and and accommodation to early travellers. Each day he performed a unique practice.
Unique Maps: Quilts Guided the Underground Railroad to enable runaway slaves to escape to Canada and freedom from the shackles that enslaved them.
The Women's Institute is a group of rural women that has made a difference to the quality of both urban and rural life in Grey County and across the country.