Pioneer Story of a Child in 1846 Owen Sound details life in the last wilderness in Upper Canada in the 1840s.
We can learn a about our past from newspapers and government records, but it is always an exciting discovery when one finds a personal record from an earlier era.
That was situation this week at the Grey County Archives when I came upon an early edition of the Sun Times that contained an article about Mrs. Elizabeth (Blyth) McLean, who arrived in Owen Sound in 1846 when she was only eight-years-old.
Mrs. McLean was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, but when she was two-years-old, she moved with parents to Toronto. In 1844, her father, John Blyth, traveled up the Garafraxa Road from Guelph to investigate opportunities in the Owen Sound area. He returned to Toronto and in 1846, he moved his family to the tiny clearing in the forest that would one day be the port city of Owen Sound.
Perhaps one of the reasons that the Blyth family decided to settle in Owen Sound was due to some influence from one of their friends in Toronto.
It seems that when Charles Rankin, the surveyor who laid out the town site for Owen Sound, stayed in Toronto, his place of residence was across the street from the Blyth home.
In 1846, the Blyth family set out for Owen Sound with thirteen other families. They went by stage to Holland Landing where they changed coaches and headed for Orillia. After a brief sail they took another stage to Coldwater where they met the steamer "Calula", which is considered by many to be the first steamer to serve the port of Owen Sound.
Ten days after leaving Toronto the Blyth family arrived at Boyd's wharf just north of the settlement of Sydenham (Owen Sound).
The new settlers spent their first night in a shed at Boyd's Wharf. The next morning, they were taken up the Sydenham River in a bateau that was powered by men using poles.
Mrs. McLean remembered that "there was no settlement to be seen from the mouth of the river, only swamp extending on either side of the river, and farther up where the river narrowed the cedars overhung the river to such an extent that it was necessary for the passengers to duck their heads to avoid being struck by the branches."
The bateau landed on the east shore of the river near where the city hall and market place now stand. Mrs. McLean recalled that there were two log buildings standing on the present site of the city hall. One of these buildings was a temporary shelter for settlers until their land could be cleared and their own dwelling erected.
She recalled that "the building was divided into compartments like stalls, and the families lived there, many of them for weeks."
When they arrived, there were only twelve families living in the settlement. However, there were many other single men who had come to begin a new life on the last frontier of what would become southern Ontario.
Pioneer Owen Sound must have presented a unique scene for the young girl from Toronto. All of the buildings were made of logs. Homes were scattered along Poulette Street, Union Street, Division Street and Scrope Street. There were two general stores on Poulette Street, one owned by A.M. Stephens and the other owned by John Frost. There was also a tavern.
This was the picture that Elizabeth Blyth McLean painted some 75 years after she arrived as an eight-year-old girl with her parents in the community, which would become her home.
The information used in this article came from documents held in the Grey County Archives.
A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times on October 12, 2001.
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