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1. Scott Township, Ontario County 2. Minto Township, Wellington County
3. Clearing The Land 4. Dwellings

PART II: The Immigrant Families as Pioneers

Scott Township, Ontario County

Between 55,000 and 60,000 settlers came to colonial America in the same year (1842) that Alexander Ross and Janet Fraser immigrated. Some 3161 Scottish passengers passed through the customs and immigration sheds at the Port of Quebec. Many others would land in Halifax to settle in the Maritime Provinces, which were growing rapidly.

The area where our first two branches would begin their homesteads in 1844 was still a wilderness, although it had been surveyed by Mr. S. S. Wilmot in 1807. Several townships, including Scott, had been attached to the East Riding of the County of York during the 1821 session of the Legislature of Upper Canada. It was not until 1854 that York, Peel and Ontario Counties became divided into separate units in "Canada West". This has some bearing upon the complicated process by which Alexander Ross obtained the deed to his land.

The earliest development in the
Township of Scott occurred along the sixth concession on the "road" north of Uxbridge. The first actual settler, a Welshman named Evan Jones, began clearing lot seventeen of the same concession in 1830; the first schoolhouse was also built upon his lot, and the first council meetings were held there between 1843 and 1860 as well. A short distance along the road, a Crown Patent to the 200 acres of lot thirteen had been granted to Samuel Ridout on August 21, 1810. This was the parcel of land, which was bought by Alexander Ross on September 21, 1844, for the sum of one hundred fifty pounds (and five shillings). The deed was signed and sealed in the presence of two witnesses and delivered in accordance with the law to John Ridout, District Registrar and Commissioner in Britain in and for the Home District of the old County of York. One of the witnesses to the record made a further sworn declaration before the District Registrar, and the deed was officially registered at 10:30 A.M. on September 27, 1844, to complete the legal documentation.

When his brother Donald arrived in 1844, they were able to complete a habitable log cabin during the Autumn, in order that Donald could begin to prepare the Western half of lot thirteen for his own use during the following year. Another tenant, William Montgomery with his wife Jane and children, was found to share fifty acres on Donald's portion on a ten-year lease.

Alexander's purchase of lot thirteen involved another do-it-yourself service of that era. The upkeep of other sideroads was done by "statute labour" under the supervision of a "Pathmaster". Each ratepayer, or someone paid by him, was required to spend a certain number of days each year working on the roads.


The Census of Canada for 1851 actually began in January of 1852 and it was completed over a period of two months. One sheet covered population and another gathered information about agriculture. The agricultural census for the 100 acres which Alexander Ross farmed shows that forty acres were cleared for cultivation. Up a slight rise to the north of the log cabin, stood three small barns; the closest, facing north and south, housed the cattle, and the other two barns contained grain and smaller livestock. In addition to the impressive amount of produce during the seventh season of cultivation, the farm had resources to make several unreported items, such as soap, tallow candles, dyes, clothing. Seasonings. Bread, herbal remedies, etc. The Ross families met most of their own needs, and they were among those who sent wagon-loads of grain to the Port of Whitby for shipment overseas during the Crimean War.

The agricultural report provided an excellent cross-reference for the population census, which recorded "the name of every person who sojourned in the house on the night of Sunday the 11th of January, as well strangers as members of the family who are temporarily absent, but whose usual residence it is".

The census indicates that both Alexander and Donald had "strangers" living at their "houses" ... one with Alexander's family ... and two with Donald and William. That leads one to suspect that the Rosses showed some compassion towards a few refugee-immigrants who were befriended by William during his voyage.

The Madill family was recorded on lot fourteen of the seventh concession across the road and one lot north of the Alexander Ross farm. Henry Madill (December 24, 1805) and Elizabeth Quinn (March, 1810), arrived in Canada from Clones, County Monaghan, Ireland, in 1837, with three children. Jane (b. & d. 1830) was survived by Mary Ann, John and Elizabeth. A further six children were born in Canada. Donald Ross and Mary Ann Madill were married on May 30, 1854. Their first child, whom they named Alexander Ross, was born on March 13, 1855, and on June 19th of the same year, Donald obtained a mortgage of 400 pounds and purchased the western half of Alexander's 200 acre lot.

William Ross (listed in the 1851 Census of Scotland) was now located with his brother Donald. It was also apparent that Scott could be used as a base for the remaining family members, who would arrive at three-year intervals. William would also be the key to their relocation in Minto, since he travelled there in 1853 and staked his claim to slightly over 200 acres of lots 1 and 2 on the fourth concession in the forest beside other squatters. Donald Fraser accompanied him there in 1854 to re-inforce the land claims. The story of these pioneers will be covered in the next story.

As the immigrant families passed through Scott, the following children were born there. The sixth child of William Young and Isabella Ross, Colin, was born in the log cabin of Alexander Ross on July 21, 1857. Roderick Ross and Christiana Junor stayed with Donald, and their first child, Margaret Ann Ross, was born there on December 4, 1857; she was baptized on February 1, 1858, at the Quaker Hill Presbyterian Church which was about five miles south.

On November 14, 1872, Donald Ross obtained a mortgage and bought another 130 acres, the northern part of the 200-acre thirteenth lot of the second concession in Scott Township for $2200. Twenty years after their son John D. Ross went to Brandon (c. 1882), Donald Ross and Mary Ann Madill made similar plans to travel to Manitoba with several other members of their family. Henry, Benjamin and Eliza remained in Ontario.

Except for a five-year period when the family rented their farm to stay in Minto (1867-1872), Alexander remained on the Board of Trustees for St. Paul's Presbyterian Church at Leaskdale.

Minto Township, Wellington County

Minto Township, named after the Earl of Minto, was surveyed in 1853, and the earliest settlers began to trickle onto lots along the Arthur-Minto town line at least one year in advance of the land sales of September 10, 1854, at Elora.

At almost twenty-five years of age, William Ross, the youngest son of Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble, made his way from Scott to Minto. On the route west of Newmarket, he encountered some swampy patches at the fertile lands of Holland Landing. Travelling west from Orangeville, the mid-point of his five-day trek, he encountered more swamplands and was forced to make his way southward as far as Fergus before he could turn in a north-westerly direction along the main county road. Friendly advice and helpful directions were readily proffered in Gaelic and in English by earlier settlers along the mud side-road marking Arthur Township, as William neared his destination, the untouched forest and bush of Minto Township.

William was among the first handful of squatters to reach this south-east corner. Like many of them, he arrived on horseback with a few provisions and hand tools. Members of the family of Daniel Nicholson Jr. established their claim during this period, and William was to be their neighbour a short distance further on the town line. The year was 1853, and the surveyors defined the 213 acres upon which he staked his claim as the first two lots on the Fourth Concession. William returned to "civilization" in Scott Township for supplies. After the marriage of Donald Ross and Mary Ann Madill, recent immigrant Donald Fraser and he jointly decided to reinforce the land claims back in
Minto Township before the land sales.

"Immediate and continuous occupancy" was loosely interpreted in Canada West as many homesteaders returned to a home base. Brothers Alexander and Donald were keenly interested in the tales about Minto. In particular, Alexander became interested in the 113 acres across from William, when he learned that the current owner, John Sinclair, would transfer his papers to the property. Mary Ann's uncle Benjamin became a key element in this plan. One could speculate that Ben might have been doing some livestock trading, since he returned with William and the family of Donald Fraser, and indeed arranged for the transfer of Lot 1 on the Fifth Concession to himself upon payment of 150 pounds. This was witnessed by James Geddes, brother of the Land Agent, who affixed his signature to many such fast turn-overs at Elora.

Survival depended upon neighbourly co-operation and much self-reliance. In spite of this spirit, the rigours of pioneer life took their toll. Donald Fraser's wife Elizabeth Ross died in 1857. Their only Canadian-born child (also named Elizabeth in 1856) died in 1858, but their daughter, Margaret Fraser, lived almost ninety-nine years.

In the spring of 1858, the families of Roderick Ross and William Young joined them in Minto. The cabin at the south end of Lot 1 of the Fifth Concession accomodated the family of William Young and Isabella Ross. Initially, Roderick Ross and Christy Junor may have lived in the old Sinclair log cabin at the far end of Lot 1, while a section of the eastern half of Lot 2 on the Fifth Concession (purchased by Alexander Ross in 1857) was being cleared. As such, this would partly explain Roderick's interest later in some 13 acres of Lot 1.

The hardships of pioneer life continued to touch all families. The only child of William Young and Isabella Ross to be born in Minto died accidentally in 1860 at the age of one year. In this same year, the elder parents, Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble, arrived with their unmarried daughter Catharine Ross, aged 29, and their grand-daughter Margaret Young, who was almost fifteen years old. Catharine remained at the farm of Alexander and Janet until the following year, while Alexander transported the others to Minto. The eldest three sons were quite capable of tending the farm, and the older two would also establish themselves as farmers in Minto in 1863 ... as would the third son a few years later.

Thus, in four successive waves after the immigration of Alexander and Donald, all other surviving members of our Ross family (including the parents who stayed with William) were well established in four single-storey log cabins in the south-eastern corner of Minto before the spring census of 1861.

Catharine "Katie" Ross married Malcolm Ferguson (Lot 96 of Concession C and later Lot 95 as well) on March 20, 1862.

After the death of Alexander Ross senior in 1863, Donald Ross obtained Lot 6 on the Sixth Concession, and the family of William Young and Isabella Ross, by pre-arrangement, moved to this new location. The two eldest sons of Alexander Ross and Jessie Fraser (Alexander Fraser Ross and James A. Ross) took over Lot 1 on the Fifth Concession, purchased Lot 92 on Concession D two years later and acquired Lot 14 on the Eighth Concession in 1872. In 1867, Alexander Ross transferred the eastern half of Lot 2 on the Fifth Concession to his brother Roderick, who also received 13 acres from Lot 1 in 1872. In a flurry of transactions, Alex junior sold Lot 14 (less 30 acres) on Concession Eight to his brother William, Alex's share in Lot 92 on Concession D was bought by his brother James. and the parents sold the western half of Lot 1 on the Fifth Concession to their son Alex.

Clearing The Land

The six immigrations of our Ross families took place in 1842, 1844, 1851, 1854, 1857 and 1860. Two years after the parents, Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble, arrived on the final voyage, Alexander Ross and Janet Fraser built their stone farmhouse in Scott Township about fifteen paces to the south of their log cabin. Donald Ross and Mary Ann Madill had been living in relative luxury since 1855, when their one and one-half storey frame home had been built. To the family members passing through Scott on their way to Minto Township, it must have seemed as though they were leaving civilization and entering the wilderness. Indeed, they were!

The Illustrated Historical Atlas of Wellington County Ontario (1906) states: "Minto Township is called after the Earl of Minto, born 1756, and was surveyed by D.P.S. Charles Rankin of Owen Sound, in l853." News, that the last of Wellington's townships was about to be opened, spread rapidly. The earliest settlers began to trickle into Minto even before the echoes of the surveyor's axes re-sounded amongst the elm, oak, beech, walnut and maple trees. Lots along the Arthur-Minto town line, in particular, were all claimed by squatters at least one year in advance of the land sales of September 10th, 1854, at Elora. Having paid the Crown a fee of ten per cent of the value of the land, the settler was faced with an enormous task. He was surrounded by brush and forest. No crops could be sown before some land was cleared and harrowed, and very little land could be cleared before a cabin was built.

In A Visit to the Province of Upper Canada in 1819, James Strachan wrote: "The first thing is to cut down the under-wood, or, as it is commonly called, brush, as close to the ground as possible. The trees are then cut down, as much as can be done in one direction; and they are chopped up into lengths of eight or ten feet, to enable them to be drawn together in order to be burnt. Soon after, and sometimes immediately, the brush and trees are collected into masses, which, being set on fire, the tops and limbs are commonly burnt, leaving the logs. ... The logs are piled during the day, and towards evening they are set on fire, and are generally suffered to burn, unattended, in the night; at which time, the burning masses, through a large extent of country, present a brilliant spectacle..."

The enormity of the task of clearing the land may be felt in a description by Reverend John A. Ross just over ten years after the Minto land sales. In a letter to Helen Young Halliday on December 23, 1931, he recalled: "I just barely remember my Grandfather Ross. ... I only remember him nursing one of our children or your Colin. I know much more about Grandmother, for whilst I remember just a little about her being in Scott, I had the pleasure and honour indeed of giving her a drive from Uncle William Ross to Uncle Malcolm Fergusons. That was the first year I went to Minto with my father, Aunt Mary Ann (Uncle Donald's wife), myself and Eliza Ross (now Mrs. Dr. Forrest and a widow). I took our horse and rig and drove Grandmother up to Aunt Katies and well do I remember the time, for we were faced with a hot blinding smoke from a burning bush on the 4th Line and near the gravel road, or the Village of Cotswold. Grandmother, if I am correct, was a noble little woman. Quite clever, of course. She could not talk English and so that made it impossible for me to converse with her. I think that she could understand a good deal of what one would say in English. I remember too how neat and tidy she was in her dress and looked nice after we got past the smoke. I stayed in Minto after Father and Aunt Mary Ann returned home, but I do not remember about her death. If my memory serves me correctly, Grandmother died in 1867."

While most of the clearing continued, heavier trees were often left standing after cutting a deep notch completely around the trunk about four or five feet above the ground. Thus girded, the sap was prevented from rising and the trees died in one or two years.

Using more efficient techniques, some of the great-grandsons of Alexander and Jessie found life-long careers in the logging industry of British Columbia after their parents moved westward from Northern Valley, Alberta. Father Henry Heyd worked in the forest industry and the sons followed his example as they came of age. Allan Heyd's wife wrote: "Allan started in the woods at age 17 years cutting wood for a steam yarder (a logging machine to move logs from the bush). Later he went 'falling' (a man who cuts down the trees) using a hand propelled saw. He participated in logging sports and won several prizes and championships."


Every element of the life of the pioneer was fuel for the competitive spirit. My Aunt Phoebe recalled that her father, Reverend John A. Ross, "broke his right thumb before his final exams at university; since it never set and healed properly, he wrote with his left hand thereafter." It was generally conceded that he could not cut a straight line with a saw, but in his mid-sixties he entered a ploughing match near Paisley, Ontario, and secured second prize. With his interest to aid community spirit within rural congregations, he organized the North Derby Ploughing Association in Grey County and he attended the annual meetings of the ploughing association in Toronto for many years, even after his retirement.

The pioneer's method of clearing the land was used by settlers from the early 1800's right up to the 1870's. We are indebted to John Donald "Jack" Ross of Minto for allowing us to take the following photographs of antique implements for this tale.



The one and one-half storey frame home of Donald Ross and Mary Ann Madill was completed in 1855, and the brickwork was finished after the birth of the tenth and final child, Margaret Ann (April 17, 1876). A matching addition was built onto the original structure around this time.

The final two children in the family of Alexander Ross and Janet Fraser were the twins, Colin and Allan, born on January 26, 1862. During the summer of that year, James A. Ross obtained an early experience as a stone mason, when
the fieldstone home was built about fifteen paces to the south of the old log cabin. The first meeting of the committee to build a Scottish "Free Church" was held in the new stone home on August 31, 1863, and Alexander was appointed to take estimates and bargain for lumber to construct St. Paul's Presbyterian Church at Leaskdale with the sanction of the Canada Presbyterian Church. Except for a five-year period when the family rented their farm to stay in Minto (1867-1872), Alexander remained on the Board of Trustees for the church.

Compared with the log cabin, these accomodations were luxurious. Only one picture of the Nicholson log cabin on Lot 2 of the Third Concession of Minto survives as an illustration here.


The "bee" served as an insurance policy well beyond the pioneer period of the log cabin building. They covered everything from quilt-making to barn-raising.


© The Ross-ter Collection