The Story of North Easthope by James Crerar Reaney
From the 1982 Illustrated Historical Atlas County of Perth, here is James Reaney’s history of North Easthope. (James Reaney grew up in neighbouring township South Easthope, and his mother, Elizabeth Crerar (1898-1981), was born and raised on a nearby farm in North Easthope.)
The Story of North Easthope
Sometimes pronounced NORTHYSTOPE
and for reasons of space herein called N.E.
Prepared by James Crerar Reaney, 1982
They named the township after Sir John Easthope, a Canada Company director. Although he also owned a British newspaper called The Chronicle, I doubt if Sir John ever found out what farmboys in his township liked to do on Sunday afternoons in the 1890s. They’d go down to the Huron Road [Hwy. 7 & 8] to fight with their South Easthope contemporaries about which township was better. Picture them lined up on either side of the boundary exchanging stones, scoffs and fisticuffs. Well, whose is the better township has still not been decided. Born in the southern one, I say this: they’re very different from each other. With road names like Porkstreet and Hessenstrasse, musical instruments brought over from Germany such as pianofortes and trumpets, S.E. feels like a gently rolling part of Germany: with its steep roads going up into higher and even bluer hills and also with its kilted pipers at picnics, N.E. seems like a translation of Scotland.
But N.E. is not just Scottish; it was settled and still is made up of two racial groups, one Highland Scots and one Hessen Darmstadt Deutsch, originally about equal in size. One of my maternal great grandparents was born in Schiffelbach (Hessen) and another was born in Glenquaich, Perthshire. Their backgrounds are almost exactly the same as those of the groups mentioned above.
The cairn by the highway at Shakespeare commemorates such N.E. Highland settlers as Stewart, McTavish, Crerar, Scott, Fraser, Fisher, et al. They were crofters in Perthshire whose laird said in 1832 “Get out. I need my land back to raise sheep and you do nothing but distill illegal whiskey and marry your first cousins.” Be that as it may, there was, just before they came, a big fight with excisemen who tried to intercept a shipment of whiskey on its way to Breadalbane. When they came to N.E., some of them had their distilling equipment with them already to start again, but there was more money in growing wheat with no landlord to skim off the profits. Descendants have returned to Glenquaich (glen of the drinking cup!) and come back with snapshots of ruined cots and empty heaths. Such recent formations as a N.E. Pipe Band in the 1950s and an Easthope historical group in the 1960s responsible for making Brocksden School into a museum show that this group has no identity problems.
In 1835, Reverend Proudfoot of the London District sleighed past the new settlement and wrote: “50 Scotch families, most of the Highlanders”; he also describes the Dutch settlers around Helmer’s Tavern on the east border of the Easthopes as having “noble farms” and as holding “no man a preacher who is not inspired by the Holy Spirit and if he get his preaching talent so easily he needs no pay.” By “Dutch” Proudfoot means the Pennsylvania Germans of Wilmot Township, Mennonites, some of whom were settling in N.E. But what his statement also reminds us of is the fact that the Canada Company not only advertised local land for sale in Glenquaich, Scotland, but also in Bremen, Germany. In 1842, the company’s agent in Stratford issued 60 location tickets for N.E., most of them to settlers with such names as: Eidt, Erb, Faulhafer, Henkell, Herman, Hoffmeyer, Wettlaufer, Nafziger, Neeb, Paff, et al. Family tradition has it that avoiding conscription was one reason for leaving Hessen-Darmstadt. A persistent story is that their fathers sometimes held a boy’s foot under the horses’ hooves so he would be lamed and not grow up to march away as cannon fodder. To both groups then, Canada represented a release from unpleasant European constrictions, particularly poverty and repression. They were soon much better off in North Easthope. Descendants go back to tiny villages in Hessen-Darmstadt and return with snapshots of timbered, medieval farmsteads, still run by relatives as they have been for hundreds of years. How do you write a historical sketch about people who left Europe to get away from history?
In a sense nothing happens to happy people, but in N.E. what does happen in another sense is – “plenty”. Here in 1850 is what a hundred acre farm produced:
♦ wheat – 1,000 bushels, barley – 30, peas – 20, oats – 500, potatoes – 50; 12 tons of hay, wool – 100 lbs., maple sugar – 60 lbs., fulled cloth – 50 yds., flannel 50;
♦ supported 12 oxen, 7 milch cows, 10 calves, 5 horses, 35 sheep, 30 pigs, 200 lbs. of butter, 50 of cheese, 4cwt of beef and 20 of pork; also 10 people!
Katherine Fisher, who went to New York as a home economist, points out the drudgery involved: “Housework involved much heavy manual labour for our older sisters and rule-of-thumb methods invited contests with Lady Luck.” Also unpleasant must have been the strictly kept Sabbaths and Rev. D. Allan’s bringing up of young people before the session for their immorality in going to Stratford on Saturday nights. However, Lloyd Herman remembers “when we drove to Berlin to celebrate the change of name to Kitchener. My dad stopped off at Seagram’s Distillery in Waterloo and bought a five gallon jug of Rye Whiskey for $10 to make sure he had enough ‘medicine’ for the kids when they got bad colds in the winter time.” F. Addison Brown remembers a drive with his father down the Sawdust Road (Concession X) “through the little crossroads hamlet of Hampstead with its old-time tavern kept by the Peter Hoffman family, on west on our road bordered by rail fences, stake and rider fences and now, before reaching ‘The Gravel’ we traverse ‘The Sawdust Road.’” What one would not give now when making a journey to Stratford, as they were, to make it on a noiseless road of pine slabs covered “with a deep layer of sawdust from nearby mills.” Minnie Thomson, whose son named his famous artifact museum after her, tells of mischief in her corner of the township – near Ellice and the Irish School, the one part of N.E. neither Scots nor Deutsch: “Young David Clark dearly loved playing tricks. One day he sauntered along – espied Mary Gillan’s chopping block, the axe and her cat basking in the sun.” Young Clark chopped off the cat’s tail and ran, but its eccentric Irish owner hit him with a heavy sled on his way home from school so heavily that he was in bed for months.
These and countless other anecdotes represent the real history of the township, but the political and economic context should be sketched in although it’s not much different from that of sister townships: the council meets at the township hall, rebuilt in 1963 beside the Hampstead-Amulree-Shakespeare road, the political centre of the township. Mention Ross McGonigle who held the position of township clerk for 25 years, retiring in 1975 and you get some idea of the community’s stability, not to be outdone by the father and son, A.M. and J.D. Fisher, who were clerks for almost 75 years. Nearly every family has, through the generations, been involved in serving the township whether in political or in public service, the latter represented by such projects as school fairs, Junior Farmers, Women’s Institutes, agricultural fairs and plowing matches. For a long time, grassroots politics could best be observed at the annual meeting of the ratepayers to select three trustees for each of the eight public schools: “The aim was to maintain the most basic cost of education possible in an atmosphere of seeming generosity.” In 1967, eight one-room schools – Brocksden, Bell’s, Clachan, Hampstead, Ratzburg, Irish, Burnside, Gadshill – were centralized into a township elementary school at Clachan. For further context, you should know that the township’s present acreage is 43,725; it has 335 farm residences, 303 non-farm residences and a population of 2,106, almost what it had in 1850.
A further surface history of N.E. would go something like this: 1835 – only five men own enough land to vote at Goderich against the Family Compact; 1837 – at the Little Lakes Militia parade, some N.E. settlers beg off for reasons of health. Because they’re Mackenzie sympathizers? 1850 – James Trow starts to build up a power base from buying cheap land at tax sales which sends him to parliament and a manufacturing career in Stratford; 1855 – Crimean War produces wheat boom – up go stone houses and big barns; 1870s bring in cheese factories which take pressure off grain production; 1880 depression makes 1,000 leave for Michigan and Southwest Manitoba; 1905 – hydroelectric towers march across to Stratford, but no power for farms till 1938. W.W.I. produces N.E. names on Stratford Cenotaph; veterans sally out in the early thirties to prevent a returned soldier’s farm from being taken over for the mortgage; 1939 – the Tweedsmuir books initiate historical research in the Women’s Institutes, a local, kitchen history movement instigated by a local woman; W.W.II, the end of the hunting clubs going up north for deer in the fall, margarine ends creamery cheques, more tractors after gas-rationing ends, no horses, bigger and bigger farm machinery, bigger fields, bigger all-the-same crops, i.e., corn. What next? How much farther can you go with mechanical farming? Back to 1850? Horses? Hay’s cheaper than oil?
But underneath, here is a real history contained in things that I have heard township people say:
“There were two kinds of gipsies used to camp in the bush. Scottish and Russian. The former sold lace.”
“Indian Sal used to pull flax. Drank vinegar.”
“Never played baseball at the Irish School. Always cricket when I was there.”
“If there’s enough blue sky to make a Dutchman a pair of trousers, then it won’t rain.”
“When it snows, there’s an old woman up in the sky plucking her geese.”
“I’m not pro-German, I’m real German.”
“25 men attended her coffin; she’d been midwife to their mothers.”
And in the Beacon for June 1, 1851 – “Queen’s Birthday at Shakespeare – 10 horsemen tilted for the gold ring.”
On Sunday, June 6, 1982, I attended the Annual Decoration Day Service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, one concession up from the township hall, the oldest kirk in N.E. My mother and her ancestors are buried there. As I put flowers on her grave using a juice can, I noted others doing the same – some with theirs wrapped in tinfoil. The church was packed, many young people and children in evidence. The Minister in charge was Rev. Sandy Fryfogel, scion of the first settler in the county. As I look over the programme now I see many Scottish names and also German ones; the programme mentioned a hymn sing that evening at Lisbon United Church, which originally was a United Brethren Church brought to N.E. by German settlers. Also mentioned was the coming 125th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church at Shakespeare. The singing of the psalms was loud, clear and enthusiastic; the sermon excellent – on the balance between the past and the ever-present, as a matter of fact. As we drove back down to Shakespeare, we saw the sheep on Bell’s farm. In 1832, David Bell was the very first settler in North Easthope.
For further background to Glenquaich, see Walter Scott’s Waverley, Annie Swan’s novel, Shelia, and Douglas Stewart’s Mactalla/More Scottish-Canadian Poems (Toronto, 1974).
See The Proudfoot Diaries, Militia Lists, and other early records at the University of Western Ontario Regional Collection. Also see Perth County Archives where James Anderson provided the notes and quotation for the political context paragraphs.
For information on German settlers, see Stafford Johnston’s “Hessian migration to the Canada Company’s Huron Tract” (Ontario Genealogical Society). Alice (Paff) Watkinson has compiled a book containing names of all Wilhelm descendants.
Katherine Fisher (Concession II, Lot 33) became Director of the Good Housekeeping Institute. See their Cookbook (New York, 1942).
Lloyd Herman (Concession II, Lot 10), “Memories,” 12 June, 1982, The Beacon Herald.
F. Brown (Nithburg), letter in Perth County Archives, 1935.
Mrs. Minnie Thomson, Avon W.I. Archives, 1947.
There’s a great deal more, both written and spoken. I hope some young N.E. historians get to work on the fuller account this great township deserves. J.C.R.