By Steamship to Mount Forest

By Stephen Cook in Community

Spring, 1873, and the steamship St. Patrick of the Allan Line lies berthen at her outward bound dock at Mavisbank on the south side of the River Clyde in the Port of Glasgow. She awaits departure for Quebec City. The spring weather is reported as being a backwards spring, trees were delayed in budding and the greening of the grass tardy. The local agent for the steamship line advertised the splendid steamer as one that would provide for rapid passage with the utmost safety owing to it’s regularity in all weathers. The second city of the Empires port where sailing and steamships came and went was full and active as great schooners used for long ocean voyages packed with wool from Australia shared the rivers lanes with the newer steamships, heavy equipment and general merchandise being exported in kind. The quayside and wharves were laced with extensive railway sidings and powerful cranes and dock tank engines loaded the goods of the region into the waiting vessels. Throughout this mechanical dance darted omnibuses, coachmen, teamsters, drovers and wharfingers their pathways always seemingly blocked with the settlers and immigrants hauling personal effects as they prepared to be dispersed.
The St Patrick was built by A. Stephen & Sons, Linthouse, Glasgow in 1854 and was launched on May 16, 1854. In 1863 she was purchased by the Allan Line, who renamed her St.Patrick and resumed the Glasgow – Quebec – Montreal sailings on the 16th of July, 1863. She was a 1,101 gross ton ship, and when later fitted with boilers she had a travelling speed of nine knots. Her journey across the Atlantic would last from May 29 to June 12, 1873, a voyage of 15 days. Departing Glasgow that day to Ireland and on to Quebec City was an assemblage of passengers comprising 36 first class, plus 290 second and third class personages.
Within this assemblage of passengers, on board the St Patrick that day in May, a young man travelling in a ‘party of one’ was bound for the new world. He would travel the great distance to the continent in less than half the time experienced by those who had travelled before him to Upper Canada. He remembered well the tales he had heard of the settlers travelling in the 1830’s and 40’s whose travel time exceeded eight weeks on the sea alone and recalled reports of icebergs coming within reach of the yardarms of the schooners.
A few years before his departure he heard the area he was to travel to was largely unbroken forest, as was most of the region. Ontario was referred to as “The Dark Place” owing to the fact the forest was so full and dense that light was not fully visible through its magnificent canopy. He further recalled stories of those arriving successfully in the port of Quebec City finding the Grosse Isle Quarantine Station awaited, where typhus and illness had been endemic. He hoped with a full heart for a better situation for himself. But coming across the North Atlantic in the early 1870’s and into the Queens Bush could provide for just as many discomfitures and he trusted in his Maker for his preservation. Onboard the vessel he would come to find the waves and deep swells of the Atlantic, coupled with the salt breeze, a sure tonic for nausea and undoubtedly fell ill, as very few escaped this burden. The headwinds and horrible rolls retarded the vessel’s forward progress it seemed and hearts fell heavy with the potential delay. There were days of sun however and the agreeable weather did afford the opportunity for greeting fellow travellers on deck to discuss their collective desires.
Our traveller arrived in Quebec City on June 12, 1873 and registered his landing, as agreed, in Point Levi. He had more options of travel to choose from to make his way into Canada West. Steamships and river boats that departed from a secondary outbound dock was the less expensive possibility for travelling further down the St Lawrence to Montreal. Our traveller arrived and registered his landing four days later on June 16 as written in his immigration record in Toronto. He was one of many who answered the call of immigration in 1872 for there was a need for men to clear the land, cultivate the soil and to build the homes of this youthful nation. To Mount Forest our traveller came as an assisted immigrant in 1873 whose destination was documented and hand written as ‘Mount ‘Forrest’- end destination’. Located on the south branch of the Saugeen River, largely situated north of this river was his new home. With the spreading of settlers increasing ever westward into Canada West and even further into the Great Lake heartland, Mount Forest grew in services, mercantile aspects of village life, general merchandising and industry. New homes were built reflecting the latest styles from saltbox, four squares, loyalist, gothic revivalists and regency bungalows. Many remain today as sturdy, trusted historical landmarks.
At the age of 27, Mr. George Brebber arrived in the Dominion as a carpenter and having taken a wife in “Isabelle”, a former resident of Quebec City, he began developing a livelihood and raising his family. The permanent home of the new resident was built in Mount Forest in the late 1880’s on a town lot east of ‘Conners Yard’ between the newly constructed Public Utilities Building and James Street. It being of sound construction firmly grounded with fieldstone walls and proudly supporting the distinctive yellow Grey County brickwork. Our newcomer is listed as ‘freeholder’ of the property on the 1891 census. It is a home and part of the Mount Forest community which still stands proud today more than 125 years later. A truism as I sit and write from this newcomer’s summer kitchen within the same home, feeling not so much an owner of this historical home as a caretakers of it. In time the young man became an integral part of the community. A member of the town council from 1904 to 1905, while the The Confederate Newspaper on September 19, 1907, reports his family present and leading the Jubilee Service musical celebrations at the 50th anniversary of the Presbyterian Church in town. One of his boy’s would later become a team member of the 1905 Northern Hockey League Mount Forest Champions. A team picture of this squad is still being displayed in Kenilworth at the Wellington North Municipal Office.
As our own spring approaches, so to do the celebratory events prepared for in recognition of the War of 1812 and how it forged Canada as a Nation. Historical and cultural events such as these compel one to ask what celebratory events will be planned for during Canada’s Sesquicentennial in 2017? Will we experience the same quest for understanding of what it is to be Canadian? Will it be the same highwater mark for cultural identification that essentially galvanized this nation in 1967 with its focus on settlers and our debt to pioneers? Will it elevate our understanding of Canadian Arts, History, Community and First Nations? What will be the stories of the newcomers 2017? Their experiences maybe similar, with only geographical and port of departure differences. The search still continues for opportunity, freedom from war or famine, tollerance, a better future for our children. These will still be the fundamental reasons why people come to Canada. The ‘Canada 150’ digital history of immigration archives has already begun having been launched in 2009/10. It will be the largest archival project in Canada’s history and Canadians are asked to document their family histories. Whether that history is a journey made across the world’s oceans by sail or steamship or as in my case, as an infant, by BOAC jetliner, the reasons for resettlement and the emotional decision to depart one’s home country are just as difficult. Canada was and still is the New World. We will always be about new beginnings and possibility.

 

The steamship St Patrick. Image provided by Paul Strathdee, courtesy Clydebuilt.uk.

The steamship St Patrick. Image provided by Paul Strathdee, courtesy Clydebuilt.uk.