What is this area called Huron East?
The former Town of Seaforth, the Village of Brussels and the Townships of Tuckersmith, McKillop and Grey now form the Municipality of Huron East. They were once part of two areas of land called the Huron Tract and the Queen’s Bush. Tuckersmith and McKillop are just two of nine townships which were part of the million-acre block of land that was the Huron Tract. Four townships immediately to the north – Howick, Turnberry, Grey and Morris – were part of a large area of land stretching to Georgian Bay which became known as the Queen’s Bush. The British Crown purchased the Huron Tract from the Chippewa First Nation in 1825, and in 1836 negotiated a treaty with the Ojibway and Saugeen First Nations for the Queen’s Bush land.
The Canada Company, a land company formed in the United Kingdom, acquired its charter in 1826 and with it gained control of the Huron Tract lands. The first commissioner for the Canada Company was John Galt. From the beginning, Galt saw the Huron Tract as an agricultural settlement with the land owned by individual farmers. Settlers were attracted by the prospect of land. And, the land was and is one of the richest and best areas for farming in the country.
Settlement slowly took shape, first in those townships which were part of the Huron Tract. In 1833 there were about 685 people living here. By 1839 the number of settlers in the Huron Tract had risen to 4,804. The earliest township records, which indicate there was sufficient population there, are for Goderich and Tuckersmith and date to 1835. McKillop became a township in 1842 followed by Grey township in 1852. Lots were not for sale in Grey Township, however, until 1854.
At a time when prospective emigrants from the UK could choose Canada, the US, Australia or New Zealand, what drew them to Canada and the Huron Tract? The reasons for leaving one’s homeland were complicated, but the main one was to gain access to land. The prospect of owning land and the possibility of bettering oneself financially were powerful inducements. Owning land changed a man’s social and economic status and offered security and independence, all of which the average man found hard to come by in the United Kingdom and Europe. In Scotland in the 1830s, many people, whether they were tenant farmers, farmhands, or weavers, were displaced from their traditional means of employment. Little social mobility and a general lack of other employment in their homeland left many with few alternatives. In the 1840s, the famine in Ireland forced many people to leave. However, most emigrants likely came to Canada by themselves, paying their own costs out of often modest savings. Acquiring land was made easier in 1842 when the Canada Company began a leasehold system whereby settlers had ten years to pay for the land.
Emigrants relied on letters sent back home from relatives already in Canada, as well as on the numerous guidebooks and pamphlets offering advice. Some guides were more reliable than others. The best were written by people who had actually lived in the area, like Major Samuel Strickland or Robert McDougall. For example, in his The Emigrant’s Guide the North America published in 1841, McDougall tries to provide a practical background for Highland Scots. Prospective emigrants had to be wary of advertising propaganda put about by immigration agents, land companies, and the Canadian government.
The largest group of settlers to Huron County were from Scotland, with the second largest group coming from other parts of Canada. The third largest group of settlers came from Ireland, followed by England, Wales, and the United States. There were also some German settlers. In the 1860s Huron County began to emerge from its pioneer phase. One important factor was the railways, the first being the Buffalo and Lake Huron line completed in 1858. Railways gave direct access to domestic and export markets in the United States. Another change was the switch from oxen to machinery and horsepower. Various farm implements – light carriages, vehicles for transport, reapers and mowers, rakes, threshing and fanning mills, plows and harrows – were made locally. Every settlement had one or more carriage and wagon-making shops, many blacksmith shops, and many harness makers. The advent of the threshing machine and the steam engine brought more change.
The buildings in Huron East reflect the changes that occurred from the early days of settlement and over the years as hamlets grew into villages or towns. The first crude log shanty was replaced as soon as possible by a more substantial log house. At a later date, the log house may have been covered by wood, brick or stone. If finances allowed, it may have been replaced by a frame, brick, or stone house. In 1841 log dwellings still accounted for 62% of the total housing but this number had dropped to 47% by 1861. Log churches were replaced by larger frame structures which in turn were replaced by larger and grander brick churches. Earlier frame stores were replaced by brick store blocks.
Please feel free to continue your historical journey with our Huron East Virtual Tour, Doors Open Coverage, and Main Street Publications.
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