William Harrison:
The Source of
John Harrison's Grit 

William Harrison, The Source of John Harrison's Grit: details the influence of John's father, William Harrison, on John and his siblings.

Sometime in the 1830s, William Harrison, a pioneer was resting on a log with his children. He was lamenting to his sons that, despite all of their hard work, there was no meat to sustain their energy much longer. 

He had barely uttered that statement when a deer emerged from the woods. The quick-thinking settler lunged at the deer and caught it around the neck with his right arm. However, he was left-handed, and the deer rolled him over. Through sheer determination, he hung onto the animal until he could get a grip with his stronger left hand. His son brought a knife and they successfully killed the deer by slitting its throat. The determined man's family now had the meat necessary to sustain them in their struggle to clear the land and create a life for themselves. 

The father's grit, determination and ingenuity had a significant impact on his children. One day, while he was preparing to go to the nearby town, he bumped his head on the rafters of their shanty. After he left, the children pulled off the roof of the building and added two more layers of logs to the height of the wall and then restored the roof. They were able to accomplish this feat before their father returned from his trip later the same day. 

These two anecdotes reveal a lot about the determination and ingenuity of the man and his children. It is obvious that such offspring would probably grow up to be industrious and successful adults. And successful they were. Some of the children would leave their Puslinch Township homestead, and move north on the Garafraxa Road to Owen Sound, where their mark would remain long after their deaths.

The father was William Harrison. He arrived in Canada on June 10, 1830 from Staffordshire, England. He was a widower with seven children. Upon his arrival at his plot of land, he set out to make a new life for himself and his youngsters. 

His physical strength and endurance are evident from the fact that, from the time of his arrival on June 10th, he cleared and sowed four acres of land that same summer. What makes this feat even more amazing was the fact that he did it almost entirely on his own. He possessed neither horses nor oxen, and his children were too young to be able to give him a lot of help. 

As his sons grew older, they honed their construction skills. They built many houses and barns in their area. In 1845, they built a church in Puslinch Township. 

It was not long after the construction of the church that the Harrison boys decided to strike out and make lives for themselves. In March 1848, William Harrison Jr., along with his wife and three eldest children, and his brother Robert arrived in the small community of Sydenham (Owen Sound). 

The two brothers built a small white frame house on what is now Third Avenue East, between 10th and 11th streets. Shortly after their arrival, a third brother John joined them. 

Their dream was to start a business. They purchased a saw and grist mill on a site from a Mr. Frost. John managed the sawmilling division of the business. Like his father, he was a man of endurance and will. Anecdotes from that era tell of John going into the forest, cutting down a tree, dragging it to the mill and sawing it into lumber without any assistance. 

Robert managed the grist mill, and also did some wool-carding on the second floor of the mill. Later, the Harrison brothers would add a separate woollen mill to their operation. William took charge of this business. 

From these origins, the Harrison enterprises continued to grow. Through determination and ingenuity, the Harrisons built a successful industrial enterprise which grew in step with their adopted home of Sydenham (Owen Sound). 

The success of the Harrison brothers should not be a surprise to anyone. After all, how many young men have witnessed their father wrestling a deer to the ground. 

A version of "William Harrison: The Source of John Harrison's Grit," originally appeared in my Local History column in the March 1, 1997 edition of the Owen Sound Sun Times.

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