Published Oct. ? 1915 in the Almonte Gazette
Transcribed by Charles Dobie from an original clipping in the Perth Museum.
A PROGRESSIVE PAKENHAM PIONEER
Sketch of the Life of Sheriff Dickson, who was practically the Founder
of Pakenham Village — A Many Sided Citizen, who “Did His Bit”
in His Time — A Physical Giant, who Left His Mark on the
Country Side — Farmer, Stockman, Lumberman, Merchant,
Geologist, A Mighty Nimrod, and a “Progressive” in
Every Line — Curled on the Tay in Perth,
Back in The Forties — Some History
That is Worth Preserving.
One of the outstandingly strong men of Lanark County in its pioneer days, and to whom the people of Pakenham in an especial manner are indebted for his enterprise and progressiveness, was the stalwart “Sheriff Dickson,” as he was best known by those of his generation. Through the kindness of two of his grand-daughters, Mrs. C.G. Geddes, of Perth, and Mrs. E.J. Thompson, of Toronto, we are enabled to present in these columns a portrait of the late Sheriff Dickson, and a few of the Gazette’s oldest readers will recognize the features of the official who for the ten years he occupied the shrievalty of “The Bathurst District” was mentally and physically one of its most prominent citizens. We are told that in the olden days, when Perth was the judicial, educational and social centre of this part of Ontario, it was a striking sight to see Sheriff Dickson in his shrieval garb, armed, astride his fine horse, taking prisoners from Bytown (now Ottawa) to the district gaol at Perth, the prisoners being also mounted on horses and chained to the Sheriff.
A sketch of the career of this unusual man will be of interest to the present generation, and is well worth the space we give to it.
A Remarkable Career.
Andrew Dickson was born in Elginhough, Perthshire, Scotland, November 11th, 1797. He was the son of William Dickson, (born 1739, died 1841 [the last “1” in death date hand-written over another number on clipping — Ed.]) and Jean Wallace (born 1777, died 1851). Andrew Dickson came to Canada to take charge of a lighthouse at Kelbourne, Nova Scotia, in 1819. From Kelbourne he came to Perth in 1821, and in 1823 settled in the township of Fitzroy, where he engaged in farming for several years. He was one of the few aggressive and progressive stockmen hereabout in the early days. About the year 1831 he purchased the mill where the village of Pakenham now stands, from Hervey & Powell, and while in Pakenham carried on an extensive lumbering and mercantile business. His mills were probably the site of the flour mills destroyed by fire a fortnight ago.
Hervey & Powell (James Hervey and John Powell) were the first actual settlers in Pakenham village. About 1825 they built a small log cabin on the east bank of the Mississippi river — close to the site of what was afterward for many years the home of Sheriff Dickson. At that time the Pakenham of the present was nothing but a dense forest. From the time of Mr. Dickson‘s advent the little place began to grow apace. Soon it had the advantage of a periodical mail, under the official name of “Dickson’s Mills”, by which it was known for years, and Andrew Dickson was Pakenham’s first postmaster. Prosperity waited on the village. In 1838 Mr. Dickson built the first church in Pakenham (Presbyterian). In 1844 he added a carding mill to his other enterprises. In 1856 he laid out the village plot and registered it under the name of “Pakenham”, was for many years reeve of the township of that name, and in a variety of ways aided in laying the foundations for the present pretty and prosperous village that has had its ups and downs as the years went by, and which is now holding its own with the other villages in the fluctuations of war-time.
He Held Many Offices.
In 1835 Andrew Dickson was appointed Commissioner of the Courts of Bequests for the District of Bathurst, and in 1842 Registrar for the County of Renfrew. In 1842 he was also appointed Sheriff to succeed the late Sheriff John A.H. Powell, and although his duties required his presence in Perth the greater part of the time, he did not change his place of residence from Pakenham. He held the position of Sheriff for ten years, and in 1852 (when he was succeeded by the late Sheriff Thompson) resigned it to accept the office of Inspector of the Provincial Penitentiary, when he removed to Kingston with his family and resided there until July, 1858, when he was appointed Warden of the Reformatory Prison of Lower Canada, situated at Isle Aux Noix. There he remained until May 19th, 1860, when he returned to Pakenham and resided there until his death on 10th September, 1868, in the 71st year of his age.
Mr. Dickson was a many-sided man. He held the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the militia, 42nd Regiment. He was one of the most enthusiastic and intelligent geologists in Canada, and succeeded in making a fine collection of specimens. In this connection he rendered material aid to his personal friend, Sir William Logan, in tracing and developing the mineral resources of Central Canada.
As a Geologist
Mr. Dickson not only acquired a provincial reputation, but his labors have been favorably noted in several of the scientific works of Europe. A few years ago, when Dr. Ami, the Ottawa geologist, returned from a business trip to the British Museum, he reported that some of the specimens there were known as the “Dicksonia” specimens, in honor of the subject of this sketch. Mr. Dickson also made a complete collection of the various woods grown in Canada, for which he was awarded medals and diplomas at the World’s Fair at London in 1851, at Paris in 1855, at the Provincial Exhibition at Kingston in 1856, and at Montreal in 1860. He was also corresponding member of the Historical and Literary Society at Quebec.
His Sporting Characteristics.
Mr. Dickson was an ardent hunter, and in his home at Pakenham, and on the verandah around it, he had an accumulation of his trophies of the chase of which he was quite proud. It is said that he was almost tireless as a pedestrian. In the early days it was a common thing for him to walk to Ottawa and back, following the old trails. And it was no ordinary Nimrod who would follow him throught the woods on one of his hunting trips.
Mr. Dickson may be said to have been the first curler in Perth. He had a pair of old curling stones, and used them on the Tay river in our county town away back in the forties, we are told, establishing a record. His only surviving child, Mrs. McArthur, of Toronto, and formerly of Almonte, still has possession of these curling stones and they will fall into the possession of Mr. Jas. L.P. McLaren‘s young son, Master Gay McLaren, grandson of Mrs. Geddes, Perth, and great-grandson of the late Sheriff Dickson. It is said that this fortunate youth is to become the heir to many of the heirlooms of the family of the fourth generation now passed away — unique souvenirs of the pioneer days of Lanark County.
Some Family Information.
On March 3rd, 1824, Andrew Dickson, of Pakenham, and Elizabeth Forbes of Bathurst Township, were united in marriage, the ceremony being performed by Rev. Wm. Bell, of Perth, the pioneer Presbyterian clergyman of Lanark County. Their family consisted of six children, all of whom are now deceased with the exception of Mrs. McArthur, Toronto, well-known throughout Lanark County, and particularly in this her old home town, where all are pleased to know that in spite of her having reached the three-score-and-ten limit alloted by the Psalmist, she retains a brightness and activity that are a wonder to her friends. The names of Sheriff Dickson‘s children follow, being given in the order of their age: Jessie, who was the wife of Robert Lees, Q.C., Ottawa; Elizabeth, wife of Robert Brown, of Pakenham, and later of Montreal and Ottawa; Jane, wife of Daniel Hilliard, M.P.P., of Pakenham; William, who was a partner of Daniel Hilliard, in the firm of Hilliard and Dickson, Pakenham, for a great many years, as sawmill-owners and lumbermen, and like his father before him, an active and useful citizen all his life, (Mr. Dickson moved years ago to Indian Head, in the Q’Appelle Valley, where he died, and where his widow and children still reside); Isabella, who married John Sweetland, M.D., of Pakenham, and afterward of Ottawa (parents of Mrs. Geddes, Perth); and Margaret, youngest and the sole surviving member of the family, now of Toronto — widow of the late Peter McArthur, of Almonte. Mrs. Andrew Dickson survived her husband a considerable period, and her body is interred alongside that of her partner in life in the neat and well-kept Presbyterian cemetery near what is known as “The Pinnacle” in Pakenham, where they filled such a large place in the social and business life of the village during the greater part of their lives.
An Old Friend’s Appreciation.
We cannot do beter than close this sketch by giving the following extract from an obituary notice that appeared in the Perth Courier of Sept. 18, 1868, and was written by one of Sheriff Dickson‘s intimate friends, the late Mr. John A. Gemmill, of Pakenham, (brother of Lieut.-Col. Gemmill) who was a writer for the Almonte Gazette for many years prior to his death. We quote Mr. Gemmill‘s tribute:
“The late Andrew Dickson was a man of powerful frame, and well qualified to grapple with the hardships and privations incident to the pioneer life in the Canadian woods of half-a-century ago, and shrank from none of the exertions necessary to secure comfort and respectability for himself and family in after years. He had also a mind far above the average scope, and by reading and thoroughly digesting matters, amply made up for any educational defects of his earlier years. In politics he was an ardent and steady Reformer — not one of the easy and fair-weather kind, but of the sturdy and persistent type to whom we owe all of reform that we now enjoy in Canada. Himself an agriculturist of the improving era, he was of great benefit to this part of the country by the introduction of improved stock of all kinds, and by his active and liberal aid of everything that had a tendency to promote the interests of the farming community. A keen sportsman — there are few spots known to the hunter within a wide range, that have not echoed to the sound of his gun. He has left a numerous family of children and grandchildren, all in most respectable positions in society. His remains were followed to the grave by a numerous concourse of his old friends from Perth, Ottawa, Carleton Place, Almonte, and the surrounding country, testifying to the esteem in which he was held, and their friendly sympathy with his widow and family. It will be long ere we look on his like again. One by one the old landmarks of the County of Lanark are passing away, and comparatively few of the old settlers are now remaining who stood the toil and heat of the day, and first broke the wilderness into the smiling fields and fair homes of the present day, and few of them have left their mark more prominently than him who has just gone.”