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1. The Sport of Shinny 2. The Competitive Spirit
3. A Cheese Factory 4. Kilted Kith and Kin



The Sport of Shinny

I made a statement some time ago that the Canadian sport of hockey was one of the few original sports to be "invented" in recent times. By this, I meant ice hockey, of course ... which allegedly was played with a "puck" at Kingston harbour, Ontario, in 1860. NEWS I'm reminded of the games of "shinny" played during my youth. On cold days (weekends and winter holidays), a bunch of young tads would appear with snow shovels and skates and assorted hockey equipment at the pond, lake or outdoor rink (if the school trustees had planned one and the caretaker would flood it). The snow would be cleared, and about a dozen or two dozen of us would face off at a point between the opposing goals made from juice cans, which were spaced apart on the ice using someone's stick for a measure. As I recall there were few rules. If the puck went out of bounds, someone would fetch it ... toss it back ... and the rough-and-tumble would resume. [Street hockey, although played with a ball, has many of the same elements.]

I have said before, that I am interested in words. What was the origin of the word "shinny"? My ancestors knew the game, and it was played in the pioneer settlements after chores were done. During the summer, it could be played on a level field using a ball ... with frequent reminders of the origins of the game's name as players often returned home with bruised "shins".

I did a search of the internet ... and guess what? The game of "shinny" is very much related to the ancient Scottish-Gaelic game of "shinty". In Gaelic, it is known as "camanachd" ... the game with a curved stick and a ball.

One of these years, I expect to read that Shinty was invented when some laddie picked up a stick and whacked a stone towards a charging, snorting bull on some Scottish moor. We might even theorize that the Heilan' Fling was born from the bull's subsequent antics. Neither would it surprise me to learn that shinny was actually played on ice at Yuletide between neighbouring parishes long before the Highland glens were emptied in favour of sheep; I suppose that it would be an easy task to ascertain the final score when this greatest of all Highland sports was played. Just count the number of broken shin-bones on each team (or measure the quantity of single-malt Scotch consumed). Unfortunately, there are no story-tellers, who can entertain us with tales of how they chased the ball around after doffing their coats and boots at one corner of the wee "croft" on a chilly Winter's day. They have been replaced by a non-descript, lonely individual draped in a plaid as he tramples the nearly extinct boundaries of the old run-rig farms.

The foregoing scenario sounds more like the invention of golf than shinny or shinty, particularly if the lad was carrying a cane. Why stop there? Perhaps the Scots can lay a claim to the invention of baseball as well. [CHUCKLE]

Here is a quotation from an historical account by The Camanachd Association:
"Our game of shinty goes back to the roots of Gaelic Scotland and the even earlier heritage of the Celtic race.

Its demands of skill, speed, stamina and courage make camanachd, the sport of the curved stick, the perfect exercise of a warrior people. The qualities of body and mind it developed, clearly contributed to the just fame of the Highlander in battle, not only those long ago but up until the last two World Wars. During the period of these two universal conflicts, organised shinty was discontinued and many of the playing generations then were lost to campaigns far distant from the pitches where they had followed this deeply-loved recreation of their ancestors."

I also learned that the game was most likely brought to North America by Scottish Regiments in the British Army during the War of 1812-1814. Many of the troops brought their families over later and settled in Nova Scotia (i.e. New Scotland), Québec and Ontario. The game spread as quickly as the land was opened up to the colonists. In Nova Scotia, the Micmac Indian tribe began to play this game that had been learned from the soldiers.

Even a casual observer will notice the game of "shinty" being played under the indoor/outdoor name of "field hockey" today. There is another indoor variation which uses a broomstrick and a wee hoop. Heavens, there are also rules and referees. I have read that, until very recently, some pundits thought that the game of "field hockey" had been introduced by the English ... but that was before the evidence of Nova Scotia's Micmacs playing the game!!!!!

The Competitive Spirit

Observations have been made about the sportive spirit of the Ross family descendants. This has included such activities as ploughing and logging, but the list is far from becoming exhausted. Alexander William Ross and his sisters Ethel and Jessie recalled a tug-of-war with Reverend John A. Ross on the road in front of their Minto home.

In October of 1993, Evelyn Ross Cox (AtE1) was riding a tundra buggy way up north in Churchill, Manitoba, and the driver introduced herself as the daughter of a dairy farmer from Palmerston, Ontario. Indeed, when asked if she knew any Rosses from the area, she replied, "I sure do! There's Allan, Gordon, Lloyd, Bert, Ralph ..." She knew all of the sons of Peter Ross and Ethel Wilson. (A3D) Ah yes, and they played shinny on the frozen ponds in Winter. One year later, she was on a bus tour of Texas and New Orleans. Two ladies identified themselves as residents of Harriston, Ontario. Did they know any Rosses? The reply from one was --- "There are Rosses all over the place!" The other lady, Jane Gibson, blurted out, "My husband played hockey, and the rest of the team were all Rosses!" Anyone whom Evelyn asked about, these two ladies knew quite well, and she was pleased to hear they had nothing but good things to say about the Rosses in Minto. It is a small world indeed. [This closely-knit team of brothers also won the Jerry Robinson 'Spiel four times, between its beginning in 1989 and the 3rd Millennium, at the Harriston Curling Club.]

A broad variety of contests are enjoyed each year at the annual family reunion. There is something for everyone (from guessing the number of jellybeans in a jar to answering a quiz), and every participating youngster is guaranteed an opportunity to win a prize. Aside from the popular regular games, a variety of relays and races have often added to the fun. Here is a small sample.

A Cheese Factory

Almost everyone is aware that milk turns sour, and that it can separate quite naturally into curds and whey during the production of lactic acid even if the milk is refrigerated. Our Pasteurized and homogenized milk merely takes a longer time. However, because organisms other than those which produce lactic acid often survive, the normal procedure in the households of today is to pour the milk down the drain at the first sign that it has started to turn ... whether it is either downright "rotten" or merely "sour". Fortunately, the natural acid-forming bacteria are the winners most often, and they help to control the "bad" bacteria (including some which cause diseases). Our Scottish ancestors, with their frugal upbringing, would not have been so wasteful with the curdling milk. If the souring milk wasn't used in baking, it would have been placed in a pot on the back of the stove to simmer. In this manner, the process of separation was accelerated.

My first experience, with the making of cottage cheese, occurred at my grandparents' rustic cottage beside the Grand River in Waldemar. Unpasteurized milk was purchased at a farmhouse up the hill, and it was stored in a "cold cellar" beneath a trap door in the kitchen. The cream rose to the top of the glass milk bottle, and it was used up quite quickly in coffee or on cereal, but the remaining milk would often "sour". The sour odour or taste quickly disappeared when the separation of large curds from the clear whey took place on the stove. It was usually Aunt Phoebe, who decided the moment when the curds should be collected in a sieve or some cheesecloth. In those days before the concern about high cholesterol, it was considered a treat to mix a portion of the cheese with some butter, sprinkle it with a bit of pepper and eat it on a cracker. Other than macaroni and cheese or a toasted cheese sandwich or melted cheese on a burger, I was well into my adult years before I developed a taste for processed cheese. Cottage cheese reigned as king. Maybe this preference was due to an early exposure to Limburger cheese. Even commercial cottage cheese does not match the real thing.

The production of "cottage" or "homesteader's" cheese was such a common pioneer practice, that one should not expect to find literary works or records devoted to it. The commonplace activities rarely merited any comments by our ancestors. The housewife, wishing to make curds, would put a bowl of fresh whole or skimmed milk in a warmish place overnight. So much the better if a "thunder storm" (being associated with a warm atmosphere as a rule) was imminent, since the curdling took place more quickly than usual. Nothing was wasted, since the whey was fed to the pigs or the chickens.

The Women's Institute, a popular organization during the early days of our pioneers, provided precise directions for making Ontario Cheddar cheese in the home as well. This was comparable to the factory method, but done on a much smaller scale.

[1] Aerate about three pails of evening milk and leave it overnight at room temperature in a tub covered by a cloth. (Often a "starter solution" was kept from a previous batch to hasten the process.)
[2] Pour this into a well scrubbed, scalded wash-boiler and add another three pails of morning milk. This mixture is placed on a low fire until a steady heat of 86 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit can be maintained. Into a half glass of water mix about a teaspoon of colour, which is then added to the milk and stirred well. Dissolve a Junket Rennet tablet in a half glass of water, add to the milk and stir well.
[3] Allow the milk to react without further stirring for twenty minutes and remove the boiler from the stove when the curd is ready to cut. At the end of another twenty minutes, use a finger to test if the curd will make a clean break. Use a long knife to cut the curd into one centimetre squares. Allow five minutes, before placing the boiler back on the stove. Stir slowly as the temperature rises to body heat (98 degrees Fahrenheit). Remove the tub from the heat once more, and allow it to stand covered for an hour.
[4] Test a handful of the curd by squeezing it. If it crumbles easily, most of the whey should be strained off. Mix about one-half cup of salt into the curd very thoroughly in preparation for the "press". A tin pail with the bottom removed can serve as a press, which should be lined with cheesecloth to hold the curds. Place a round board of the correct size over the covered mass, add weights such as well-washed building bricks and let stand for several hours so that the whey drips into a container below. (Remember that the whey can always be added back if the curds become too dry.)
[5] Remove the mass and smooth out the cheesecloth covering. Replace in the press, add more weights and leave it for a full 24 hours. Take the cheese and the covering out again, place it on a large plate or a breadboard covered with a sheet of waxed paper and leave it in a protected area with good circulation of air. During the first week, turn the mass over several times each day.
[6] At the end of the week, remove the cheesecloth and cover the cheese all over using a small brush with paraffin (melted in a double boiler). The molded cheese, thus protected from flies, may be turned a couple of times per day as it "ripens" for six weeks. The moist three-pound round should be equal to the commercial product if the instructions have been followed. It served as an excellent source of protein during the winter months.


But where is the relationship of all this to our family story ... other than the fact that our pioneer settlers could produce cheese in their humble dwellings?

There is, indeed, a Ross connection with the cheese industry in Ontario, and the tale begins with the youngest son and eighth child of Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble. William Ross was born on the ninth of August, 1828, at Spital Shore in Killearnan Parish of the Black Isle, one year before the clearances on the Redcastle Estate forced the family to move to the Shore-of-Drynie in Knockbain Parish. At almost twenty-four years of age, William emigrated to Canada and settled with his brother Donald in Scott Township (Ontario County) before proceeding to Minto Township (Wellington County) after the announcement about the opening of the final township in Wellington County to settlers. He was among the first handful of squatters to reach the South-East corner on the Arthur-Minto town line. The year was 1853, and the surveyors defined the "200 acres" upon which he staked his claim as the first two lots on the Fourth Concession.

William returned to Scott Township for the winter, but returned to Minto in 1854 with Donald Fraser, the most recent immigrant who had arrived with his wife Elizabeth Ross and daughter Margaret. About one month before the land sales, the agent for the Crown, Andrew Geddes, met one of his legal obligations by notifying the qualified squatters, including William Ross and Donald Fraser, about their rights. By law, the land agent was required to note all such occupied property and to advise the squatters about their pre-emption rights. He also stressed the fact that they must appear at his office in Elora on or soon after the 10th of September. The Minto land papers would reveal the usual number of disputes, multiple claims, deals and dubious claimants, but there was apparently no question about the occupancy, which our two family members had established.

Thus, Donald Fraser paid his three pounds and fifteen shillings (this being the required ten per cent of the price of his land) to the agent of the Crown on September 13, 1854, for which he received a paper that granted him permission to occupy Lot 2 of Concession 4. William followed on September 19, paid four pounds four shillings nine pence towards the 113 acres of Lot one on the Fourth Concession, and (like Donald Fraser) signed his occupancy paper before another witness as was customary in Canada West during this period. Technically, the payments and the acquisition of a Crown Patent should have been completed within ten years of the land sales in 1854, but the Crown imposed lenient interest and waived payments during years when crops were poor.

Donald Fraser, on February 1, 1870, was the final family member to receive his Crown Patent, which was for Lot 2 on Concession IV. At almost fifty-five years of age, and a widower since his wife's untimely death in 1857, he prepared to sell his property in 1876. His sole surviving offspring, Margaret C. Fraser, was twenty-five when all but the three-quarter acre site of their homestead was sold to Richard Powell on April 11. Under the terms of the $3600 mortgage held by Donald, the small parcel of land with its home and barns became patented in Richard Powell's name on April 2, 1881, and Donald moved to Guelph (according to our family sources).

On April 21 of the same year, the small north-east corner of Lot two was sold to a newly-formed cheese factory. Edward Darroch was president of the Joint Stock Company, and the first cheesemaker, Jim W. Robertson, lived in Donald Fraser's former home. By 1884, the proper title of the firm was The Minto and Arthur United Cheese and Butter Factory, after Alexander Fraser Ross backed a mortgage of $1500 for the company on March 25. Twenty years later, Alex rescued the factory once again, and he placed his son Jim in charge of the cheese-making. Jim Ross moved to Toronto in 1911, and he became a highly competent Dairy inspector for the growing city.


The three-quarter acre site was sold to Peter Ross on April 1, 1915, together with Lot 1 on Concession V, from the estate of his father Alexander F. Ross. Under the terms of "other value considered & $1.00", the land was transferred to Bert A. Ross on July 13, 1958.

Kilted Kith and Kin

This section is reserved for photographs of descendants of Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble. It includes pictures of our kilted or tartaned family members attending a Clan Ross or a Family Event.
Eldred Frances Cook (D2C1), beneath the arrow, marches in the parade of the 23rd Annual Scottish Festival in Orillia at noon on July 15, 2000, after husband Ed Swinton and she celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary by repeating their vows at St. Paul's United Church.

His Honour, Donald Alexander Ross (A3A3A), Mayor of the Township of Wellington North, Ontario, proudly holds his granddaughter Bailey Jane Williams (A3A3A2A) on August 7, 2000, at the 70th Annual Ross Reunion.

Your webmaster, Doug Ross (A8E1), shows off his new kilt from Burnett & Struth's shop in Barrie at the 72nd Ross Family Reunion in 2002. After a race, he asks, "Where's my prize?" ... to which he receives the reply, "You don't get one because you ran the other way!" [GRIN] Nevertheless, he later won second prize in the men's footrace at age 72.


© The Ross-ter Collection