People: Scots of Windsor's Past
In Tilbury East in the County of Chatham-Kent, four families from the Cromar valley along the River Dee in the parish of Logie-Coldstone, Aberdeenshire, settled to begin life anew. In the early half of the nineteenth century, the Farquharsons, Fletchers, Stewarts, and Maitlands "neighboured, intermarried, suffered together the upsets of the repeal of the Corn Laws ... and the Disruption." 1 By the 1830s, these families, like many of their neighbours, found it impossible to subsist on the meager farmland for which they were paying higher and higher rent.
Upon his retirement from the Customs Office in Chatham, Ontario, Donald Robert Farquharson set down the histories of these four families in Scotland and traced their passages to Upper Canada in Tales and Memories of Cromar and Canada. In the book's introduction, David Stewart, Farquharson's nephew and Superintendent of the Sanitorium in Ninette, Manitoba, praises the author's reconstruction "of the little worlds [the families] lived in, their glimmering early lights growing brighter, their crude scratchings of the soil becoming scientific agriculture, their hovels in time changing to houses, their feuds and savagery giving place to ordered life, their schools and schoolmasters, their churches and ministers, their laws and their landlords, their customs and beliefs, even the witches and warlocks of their earlier day." The book is a treasure for anyone wishing to learn about the way people lived in the remote Highlands of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a region so remote and isolated from the rest of Britain, Stewart claims, that Lowlanders, when forced to travel there on business, prepared by writing their wills. The book is also an invaluable primary source from which we can acquire "the stories of the emigrations that filled the wildernesses of Ontario, of the self dependent lives of the pioneers, the conquest of the forests and marshes, the ashes and black salts, and the first seedlings raked in between the tree stumps," for in its pages lies an extraordinary pioneer history of southwestern Ontario, the oral tradition made permanent by print. 2
While all of the pioneer families in Farquharson's recollection did their part to shape the cultural and social foundation of this region, one branch - the Fletchers - made a particularly strong impact in local politics.
John Fletcher (1809-1873)
At the age of ten, John Fletcher lost the use of his leg (whether this was by an accident or the result of a disease is unknown). Unfit for manual labour, John soon decided to educate himself so that he could become a teacher. He worked in this capacity in the parish of Glengairn until the 1830s, when he decided to emigrate. A friend, John Coutts, had already been settled in Upper Canada with his family for several years, and his influential letters overflowed with praise for this new homeland. So Fletcher too decided to pack up his family and leave Scotland. Violent storms delayed his transatlantic passage by weeks, much to the alarm of the friends who were waiting for them in Kent County; but the Fletchers arrived safely in Quebec, and continued on to St. Thomas. Fletcher taught school there for a year in exchange for a yoke of oxen and a crude lumber wagon, which the family needed to resume the journey westward. John and Margaret Fletcher continued "with wonted energy and dauntless courage" and now with an infant in tow, to the young village of Chatham in the County of Kent. 3
Upon arriving at their new home, the Fletchers experienced hardships similar to the ones they thought they would be leaving in Scotland. John, for instance, "used to tell of a time in his household when his family was reduced to potatoes alone as food for about two weeks." 4 But such toils were not in vain; success was soon to come. John first taught as a teacher in the township of Dover, about three miles down the Thames River, and accrued enough money to buy a farm in the township of Tilbury East. Unable to engage in manual labour due to his paralyzed leg, his pupils' fees were often settled in the form of clearing his land or working his farm. The respect he had earned in the community was made evident in his 1856 appointment as Clerk of Tilbury East, a position he maintained until his death in 1873. When the American Civil War broke out in 1861, Fletcher took full advantage of the considerable financial opportunities available in horse dealing, and began adding to his farm. By the time of his death, the family owned an estate of over 1,000 acres of land, much of which was cleared and fit for cultivation.
John Fletcher's "life had been one of brave struggle," Farquharson reflected, "mixed with a full share of disappointment and sadness, yet leading on to wonderful achievement as a pioneer and farmer. He had been clerk of the township for seventeen years, was an elder in the local Presbyterian church, and had wielded a strong and beneficial influence in the community." 5 His name, furthermore, became a lasting legacy, bestowed upon the community of Fletcher in Tilbury East.
Charles George Fletcher (1890-1959)
This MPP was born in 1854 to David Fletcher, son of John and Margaret, and Catherine Logie, whose family had also emigrated from Aberdeenshire. Charles was an excellent student - he attained the third highest score in the province for the Scholarship Exam - and earned a degree from the University of Toronto in 1913. Before he had a chance to embark upon a career, however, the First World War broke out. He enlisted as a private in the 4th Universities Company in October 1915, and went overseas to France, where he fought in the devastating battle at Sanctuary Wood on the Ypres Salient. Although the battle left him with a permanent shrapnel scar on his face, he was luckier than most of his comrades: two-thirds of the battalion was killed. He went on to serve as the first bayonet man in a bombing party in the Battle of Courcelette in September 1916, and remained in France until being demobilized in March 1919.
Upon his return, Charles joined with the United Farmers of Ontario in Mersea, Essex, and in 1922 he was elected president of the United Farmers Young Peoples' Organization. His reputation as "an intelligent, progressive, hard-working farmer, an advocate of temperance, speaker and all-around good fellow" earned him the South Essex Liberal nomination for provincial parliament, which he won "by a comfortable majority." 6 He sat in the seventeenth session until its expiration in 1929, and although he lost the next election, voters returned him to office in 1937, where he remained until 1943. Having inherited the propensity for self-improvement from his grandfather, Charles' attachment to education was evident in his personal library. The collection indicated "that he belongs to that class of intellectuals who never tire of study, at filling the mind with serious thoughts, and who prepare for the future by investigating the past." 7 His cousin's book, Tales and Memories of Cromar and Canada, was one work that was integral to such a task.