The School with the House Roof Desk — Churches
— Mormonism — Dr. Thom’s Bush.
(By S. H. McEathron, Huron, S. Dak.)
To the Courier, the officers of the Perth Old Boys’ Association, the comrades of our youthful days, we dedicate this epistle.
We are in receipt of your kind invitation to attend the reunion of the old timers. We deeply regret that we cannot be present on the occasion. We realize that the majority of those with whom we touched elbows at the school, bathed in the Tay or chased squirrels in Dr. Thom‘s bush have gone to their long home.
We lived in Perth in the 30’s and 40’s of the last century, and what we write has reference to that period. As we remember we believe the town was a military settlement; colonels, captains and pensioners were numerous. The first settlers had probably preferred that portion south of the river. The churches, Court House and Grammar school were located there. The town, however, grew on the north side, but the first public building on that side was the old stone school house built about 1836. There were no buildings north of the school house, save a few on the west side of the Lanark road. It has often occurred to the writer that the founders of the town were short-sighted or they would have made a park of the island. The noble forest trees were ruthlessly slaughtered and Lombardy’s Balm of Gileads and kindred trees were substituted. Surely some of the native giants ought to have been preserved.
One of the regrets of our life has been that we, after leaving Perth, never were located near a river until a few years ago, when we came to Huron, on the banks of the James, a sluggish stream nearly a thousand miles long, whose waters bear no vessel nor turns no wheel.
We caught our first fish from Graham’s bridge in the month of May. We can scarcely say whether this red fin minnow or the eight-pound pike afterwards captured at the mouth of Grant’s Creek gave us the most pleasure.
The Tay Canal company’s attempt to run a steamer on the river was a failure. For some cause the vessel made but one trip. The early commerce was carried on by the Jolly Brewer, Capt. Barney McSherry, and one or two smaller craft. The Brewer once made a voyage to Montreal and back in the incredible short time of twenty-two days. The British Empire and British Queen, Capts. Thornton and Williams, were afterwards in commission. The Royal Mail, tri-weekly, Wm. McPherson proprietor, Sam Street with the gold ear-rings as driver for years, furnished the quickest communication with Brockville. After the St. Lawrence canals were completed Mr. Henry Glass made the trip from Montreal to Perth in thirty hours.
The first school we attended was in a brick building opposite the residence of the late Robert Kellock, Master Miller teacher. A good description of him will be found in Goldsmith’s “Deserted Village” :
A man severe he was and stern to view
I knew him well and every truant knew;
Well had the boding tremblers learned to trace
The day’s disasters in his morning face.
The students of to-day have little idea of the sorrows of that school. We little fellows sat for three hours on rude benches with our primers in our hands, our feet scarcely touching the floor. Slates and scratch books were not to be thought of. The late Dr. Kellock, the Deacon’s and the Judge’s wife (we hope she is living) were pupils at that school. About the late 30’s the old stone school house was built. Those of us who were advanced were furnished with a desk reaching across the room. The makers got their design from a house roof; a flat place where the ridge ought to be was for our ink stands. The seats were only benches without backs and the penance was as severe as when we were younger in the previous room. The name of the first teacher in this building is forgotten. He was succeeded by Robert Lees, afterwards a prominent lawyer in Ottawa, and John McKay. When we parted from this school our classical education was received in the Grammar school, with Master Kay. This school had more than a local reputation; many pupils from other towns attended here. Brown and McIntyre were his successors. In the first schools we had neither graphite pencils nor steel pens; we made our pencils out of tea lead and learned to write with quill pens.
The Home Government was careful of the morals of the early settlers, furnishing some sects with pastors at a farily liberal salary for the times. The reputed salary of the Rev. Wm. Bell was £100 sterling. His church was somewhat out of the way, being nearly at the south-east of the town. His sermons were stricly orthodox and his prayers somewhat stereotyped. He was faithful in his mission. As the country became more settled a more convenient situation was furnished by St. Andrew’s church, with Rev. T. C. Wilson as pastor. This congregation gradually absorbed the former one. We have always regarded this church as an ideal one in congregational singing.
At the Anglican church, under Rector Harris, you could hear every Sunday the morning and evening hymns of Bishop Ken, sung under the leadership of Dawson Kerr, the senior clerk, with great unction. Those two matchless hyms have been greatly neglected in recent years.
As we have read Father Prout’s “Bells of Shandon,” our thoughts have turned to the sweet-toned Catholic bell in the old church on the hill. I once heard a gentleman who had travelled in Europe say that he never heard a bell with a sweeter tone. We are glad, for the reputation of the town, that the barn-like structure of the Free Church has given way to a more ecclesiastical and artistic edifice. We would like to see the new Baptist Church. We have very pleasant memories of good Dr. Kellock, who used to be the leading spirit there. Of the Methodist Church we recall Mr. McGrath. He led the singing there. The music was not the most artistic, but its heartiness made up for any defect in the harmony. The humble structure of pioneer days, we believe, has given way to a temple of modern style. Some time in the 30’s there came a man commissioned by Joseph Smith, of Mormon fame. He preached for some months. He was not very successful, but gathered a few followers. They jouneyed to Nauvoo, Illinois, in covered waggons. Page, the preacher, left the heresy when it adopted polygamy. We heard of Page in Illinois as a successful school teacher.
It was our privilege to be associated with Charles Rice, McNairn, Shaw and others in a debating club held in the boarding house of one Quail, where we discussed and settled matters of great importance, national, political and otherwise, but the world went on regardless of decisions. The Mechanics’ Institute of the 40’s was a useful and popular association. Malcolm McPherson and Sheriff Dickson were prominent members. The sheriff’s forte was geology, on which he gave numerous lectures. The big names of science were not easily handled by the speaker. In one of his lectures the assertion that there was no coal in Canada was disputed by a little Scotch weaver. “There’s a big hunk of it in my kitt,” said the critic. We sometimes played truant when important state trials were in progress in the Court House. The walls of the court resounded with the orations of Radenhurst and McMartin, and the pompous and efficient high constable, Antony Wiseman, allowed the court to proceed to business. The latter will not readily be forgotten by the students of the old Grammar school, for untold dimes went into his till. “Hot mutton pies, lemonade and ginger beer and candy sold here by Antony Wiseman.” Possibly our tastes change, but nowhere did we find any beverage as palatable as Wiseman‘s ginger beer.
We notice occasionally the name of Dettrick in your paper. This calls to mind William Dettrick, who used to make grain cradles, and we will attribute the following to your present citizen. A chubby little lad of that name, perhaps six years of age, was quite a singer. The clerks in the stores used to coax him and the following is the only verse we remember :
In the month of May, I chanced to stray,
The roads being dry and dusty, O !
I met with a friend and we agreed,
For a horn of Glascott’s whisky, O !
It will do you good.
It will cleanse your blood.
It will make you fat and lusty, O !
There’s nothing so good the youthful good,
As a horn of Glascott’s whisky, O !
The old boy of sixty years ago will not forget Dr. Thom‘s bush. There we constructed moosewood bands that made noise enough to wake the town. We tapped maple trees and drank the sap. On Saturday evening the boys of the town made the millpond lively. It was no uncommon sight for fifty to an hundred boys to chase a poor unfortunate squirrel from tree to tree, but the little rodent usually outwitted its pursuers. The conservative doctor was scarcely cold in his grave when the surveyor, with trident and chain, laid out Caroline Village, and the magnificent beeches so prolific of nuts, the giant maples and the humble moosewood so prolific of whistles, became food for the woodman’s axe.
We honor the memory of the pioneer heroes who invaded the forests. Amid privations and labors, such as later generations know little of, they founded an empire more magnificant than the storied nations of Greece and Rome. The latter ravaged peoples and countries and made serfs. The former built school houses and made men and women. We envy the very few of our old schoolmates, who will be present at the reunion and bespeak for all a joyous time. Pleasant thoughts surround the memories of our boyhood days. So as we near the time when we will leave this earth and are gathered to our fathers, the scenes of our youth loom up with renowned lustre. Our interest in the town of our nativity grows more fervent as time goes on. Although a citizen of another nation, yet of one whose interest and sympathy are akin to your own, we close this effort with feelings similar to those of the “Lost Minstrel” :
Breathes there a man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself has said,
This is my own my native land !
Whose heart has ne’er within him burned,
As home his footsteps he hath turned,
From wandering on a foreign strand,
If such there breathe go mark him well,
For him no minstrels raptures swell.
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim,
Despite those titles, power and pelf,
The wretch concentered all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown.
And doubly dying shall go down,
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored and unsung.
The remains of our honored and gentle mother, whose love has been a benediction during a long and active life, with the usual trials and disappointments, incidents of humanity, lies in the old cemetery.