By Dr. James Neelin
This is a summary of the presentation given by Dr. James Neelin at the December 8, 1994 meeting of the LCGS. Published in the LCGS newsletter, February, 1995.
Although both of my parents were born in Northwestern Ontario and I was raised in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay), three of my grandparents came from the Ottawa Valley. One of these, Benjamin Reeves, was descended through his mother from the Gourleys of Lanark County and thus from the Robsons of Drummond Township and Scotland. Although some members of the Robson family achieved national prominence, their origins in this county have often been overlooked in local histories.
My own research has been much supplemented by correspondence and partial genealogies compiled by others as well as the usual public sources. Some details are given in two articles in the Ottawa Branch News of the OGS in September 1978 and July 1985.
The family came from Castleton Parish, Roxboroughshire, Scotland. Adam Robson migrated in 1817 with his wife Mary Pott and 6 of their 11 children, son John having preceded them in 1816. Adam had at least 5 siblings, the children of another Adam Robson and Helen Hume. In this parish there was an even older Adam who died in 1760 at age 80, husband of Jean Beattie, and in neighbouring St. Boswell’s parish an even earlier generation of Robsons. The children who came with Adam are well documented in a letter of recommendation co-signed by John Elliott, a brother-in-law for whom he worked as a shepherd. Adam located on Lot 12 NE, Concession 1 in Drummond and sold it to his son-in-law Alexander McTavish in 1843.
Of the children who came to Canada together Mary married Duncan McTavish, had at least 10 children and moved to Bruce County. Margaret married Alexander McTavish and had 19 children, 12 of whom (including one adopted) lived to adulthood. (Details of these families will be deposited in the LCGS library). Robert was still single and on Adam’s farm in 1842. Janet married James Faichney, blacksmith, and had one or two children before she was widowed young. I have no information on Peter. Jean married Thomas Johnston with whom she had at least 3 children. After he died she married John Clark and had at least 8 more; there step-families remained close into adulthood. Mary Jane Johnston married George Gourley, whose first wife Christina Hall had given him 3 children; Mary Jane had at least 10 more, including Jane Robson Gourley, my great-grandmother. George Gourley‘s father was one of two William Gourleys who settled in Lanark Township in 1820 or in 1821. It was likely the latter, who soon moved to Elizabethtown, where he took his own life about 1830!
Two of Adam’s and Mary’s sons migrated separately. It appears that son Adam came to Elizabethtown, where he had at least 3 children. son John came to Drummond Township, married Euphemia Richardson, widow of James Thompson, moved first to Elmsley, concession 9, Lot 24 (where the Perth Wildlife Refuge is now), and then to Sombra Township in Lambton County. They had 14 children, 11 of whom lived to adulthood; two sons, John (Junior) and Ebenezer went to British Columbia in the 1850’s. Ebenezer wrote a memoir called “My Story“, which includes fascinating recollections of their life on Jebb’s Creek. He became a Methodist missionary after whom a college was named in B.C. John was a newspaperman and politician who championed the cause of union with Canada. He became premier of B.C. in 1889, but died in office in 1892, while in London on official business. While it appears doubtful that Mount Robson in the Rockies is named after him, Robson Bight, Robson Street and Robson Square certainly are. This is a remarkable progression for one branch of the family — from shepherd in Scotland to farmer near Perth and sawyer near Sarnia to renowned premier of one of Canada’s provinces in three generations.