Clearing Bush First Task of Early Settlers
Carleton Place Canadian, 08 June, 1961
By Howard M. Brown
One of the many family sagas of emigration to Ramsay township was that of the McDonald family which, after investigating other locations, chose land in the tenth concession of Ramsay north of the falls of Almonte. Long-lived members of this family included the father, John McDonald of the Isle of Mull, who came in 1821 with his wife, three sons and several daughters, and lived in Ramsay till he reached his hundredth year in 1857. His son Neil at the age of 100 had the distinction of living in three centuries before his death in 1901 at his Ramsay homestead.
Sailing from Oban in the Western Highlands in June 1821 on a ship bearing the later Canadian Pacific Steamships name The Duchess of Richmond, the McDonald family came up the St. Lawrence from Quebec to Montreal by steamship. From Lachine they travelled by boat up the Ottawa to Point Fortune where they failed to find suitable land. Going then by Durham boat to Prescott, their intention of reaching York was changed by a meeting with friends which led them to the five year old village of Perth and the new village of Lanark. After examining and refusing to accept land still available in Lanark and Dalhousie townships, the McDonalds rented a farm site from Duncan McNaughton in Drummond township near Mississippi Lake. In a winter’s work with primitive tools they cleared the trees from about twelve acres and, with hoes and sickles for the planting and harvest amongst the stumps, gained a first crop of corn and potatoes and a little wheat and oats.
Continuing down along the Mississippi in the next summer, two of the sons selected four hundred acres for the four male members of the family in the tenth and eleventh concessions of Ramsay several miles north of the Ramsay falls. They cleared their first acre there, put in a crop of potatoes and built a shanty. That winter Neil with his sister Flora remained at the cabin in Ramsay to cut down trees. They had to carry hay for two miles on their backs for their cow.
Rugged Pioneer Days
At the Mississippi Lake farm in Drummond in the first fall, all of the family except the parents and one son had become ill with a fever. About two years later two of the three sons, Donald and Lachlan, died of its effects. Their bodies are reported to have been carried twenty-two miles from the farm in Drummond on the shoulders of friends for burial at the family farm in Ramsay. The rest of the family moved there from Drummond in the following May, bringing three cows and two pigs. Within another year a daughter had died in Ramsay and two daughters were married, Flora marrying Duncan McNaughton and remaining on the farm in Drummond. John McDonald still had funds of almost £200 when he moved to Ramsay. He bought a barrel of flour in June of 1824 at Boulton’s mill at Morphy’s Falls, which he and his remaining son Neil carried over a twelve mile return journey from Carleton Place to the farm. Seeking to buy a yoke of oxen and some sheep, the son travelled with “Big Neil McKillop”, for fifteen days in December of 1822 going as far as Cornwall. A flock of sheep was obtained in 1825 when the supply of clothing brought from Scotland was almost worn out. Neil McDonald became a great hunter of the game which abounded in the district.
At the age of 34 Neil McDonald married Flora McLean of Ramsay. Their children included Lachlan, who remained on the homestead and later lived in Almonte, and Mrs. James Cowan and Mrs. Alexander Bayne, both of Carleton Place, who reached the respective ages of 91 and 94. Grandsons of the centenarian Neil McDonald included Neil McDonald, Carleton Place high school teacher from 1890 to 1913, the Rev. John A. McDonald and R. L. McDonald, Almonte public school principal.
A large section within the area of Ramsay township made rapid progress. Only twenty years after the first Ramsay settler had cut the first tree on his land, and still in the days before there was a railway in the province, a visitor was able to report that the township was “well-settled, very prosperous, and can boast a goodly number of practical farmers, men of extensive reading and sound knowledge. Its appearance plainly proves this by the number of schools and churches within its range which are erected and in progress of erection. The great number of substantial stone houses erected and being put up speaks more favorably than words of its growing prosperity.”
Aided by its villages of Ramsayville, Bennie’s Corners, Snedden’s, Appletree Falls and Bellamy’s Mills and by Carleton Pace on its borders, with their stores, inns, tradesmen’s shops, sawmills and gristmills, Ramsay township had made an early start in sharing the growth of Canada.