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The Dundas and Waterloo Road

Reflections, by R. K. Kernighan

If one of the pioneers of this district who passed away in the middle of the last century were to rise from his grave and journey say, from Bullock's Corners to Preston along the Dundas and Waterloo Road, he would to all appearances be travelling through an unknown land as strange as if he had been transplanted to a different planet; and this would be a land nevertheless which he once knew well, a land that he had helped to open up and clear and yet, save for the store, hotel and the Town Hall at Rockton and the quaint old toll-gate where Main Street, Galt merges into the Dundas and Waterloo, he would see no land marks familiar to his eyes. He would journey through an open land almost as bare as the Western prairies where today wind insurance is as important as protection from loss by fire. The majestic pine forests have been swept away by "fire and sword." War is a terrible thing, but the axe devastated Ontario more than the sword ever devastated a stricken land. The great Beverly swamp is shrunken to a mere patch of perennial green, and the vast hardwood forests were turned into cordwood long ago. If he were Pennsylvania Dutch and had journeyed from his home land to settle in Waterloo, this ghost would sit down on a naked, treeless hill-top to meditate on the folly of men. When he first passed along this road there was enough fuel to last for generations if properly conserved and today his grandsons are sending over to Pennsylvania for fuel to keep them from freezing to death in their beds. "Yonder," he would say, "is a barn. It stands where once stood a magnificent pine forest. Yesterday the wind tore the roof off it and they will send to British Columbia for shingles to cover it once more. The very coal they are shovelling into that engine which is driving a great mill to crush stone to mend this very road was dug out of the earth in the land where I was born, a thousand miles away, more or less." The chances are, this lonely ghost would meet no one whose name he had ever heard before and he would finally conclude that he had got lost and he would go back to his tomb satisfied to stay there till Gabriel blew his horn!

I beg that this account be accepted as the merest sketch as the theme is too big for one evening and more than that, researches have only begun. One generation cometh and another generation passeth away but the earth remaineth forever. But the very different earth. The people whose homes and business lined the Dundas and Waterloo road in the fifties of the last century are as great a mystery as the aborigines who immediately preceded them. They are a legend and a tradition. At one time there was a hotel or rest house every mile or two. Where are the Wisharts, the Cochenours, the McVanes, the Smiths, the McCuskers, the Homewoods, the Fredericks, the Lambs, the Bishops, the Babcocks, the Drearys, the Littles, the Barlows, the Harrisons and the Barrows and the others who kept these houses? There is not a trace of any of them left and they seem to have taken their houses and their barns and sheds and the pump as well with them.

A well authenticated story of a jovial Waterloo Township farmer in the good old days is still told. He set out for Dundas one bright winter day with a load of wheat. Stopping at every tavern along the way, he gradually turned the cargo he set out with into good cheer, and before he came to Dundas his wheat was gone, so that he turned back, with quite a different load.

The road at one time had many great general stores, fine emporiums, where anything from a codfish to a silk dress could be bought. Where are the Halcombs, the Cornells, the Dickies, the Frasers, the Bullocks, the Heffernans, the VanEverys, the Howards, the Mardens, the Colcleughs, the Durrants and the Crooks who kept these great places? It would take a search warrant to find any of their descendants.

Here is a strange and melancholy thing. First the magnificent timber was turned into money, but it made no fortunes for anybody apparently. As for the saw mills, if their boilers didn't "bust" their owners did! None of the big hotel men or storekeepers made a fortune, in fact the majority of them had to skip out in the good old days when there was no extradition treaty. Many men lost their farms by backing notes for these gentry and hundreds of others were never paid for their timber or wheat.

I find that the majority of the descendants of the old pioneers know little about them and care less. One gent didn't know that his grandfather built the ruined church across the way. He belongs to a different denomination now but his grand-dad is buried somewhere along the weeds behind the church and you would think that his grandson would be mildly interested anyway!

The national religion of Japan, that dominant and mighty nation of the Orient, is Shintoism and the chief article of their faith is the worship of the Spirits of their ancestors. We send them missionaries bearing celestial truths. Is it not possible to bring back to us many, many beautiful and benign things? People in this country too easily forget that plank that carried them over. Have we forgotten the plank that carried our fathers over the bleak Atlantic and bridged the chasm of forty years in the wilderness? Almost every family came out from the old lands in the long ago brought either a loom or a spinning wheel. The loom was split up for kindling long ago and the little old spinning wheel went into the parlor stove away back about the time you were born. And yet one of these looms or spinning wheels would be a priceless heritage today.

Talking about looms and handicraft reminds me of shoemakers. There used to be a shoemaker at every crossroad from Dundas to Waterloo and in the villages two or more of them. They talk about the ten lost tribes of Israel. If you could discover the place where the old Country Certificate school teachers went to you would find the shoemakers. The County school teachers in those days were all men, real men, but the male school teacher to-day is as extinct as the American wild pigeon or the pre-historic dodo. The schools along the Dundas and Waterloo road today are taught by as nice a lot of little girls as you ever looked at. If this ever gets to be an effeminate country, the old schoolmasters of the last century will not be the guilty parties.

The actual building of the Dundas and Waterloo road created but one village that I can discover and that was Rockton. This place should have been one mile further east. Here the great Spring Creek Hotel kept by a man named Cornell, flourished, but the first store outcropped a mile further west and here the great quarries were opened for the macadamizing of the road. Herman Sales Barlow built an hotel and the Spring Creek Hamlet vanished off of the earth. You can't make strangers believe that there ever was a town there; indeed there are people born there and who have lived around there all their lives, who don't know that they are dwelling on the ruins of a slab Nineveh.

The place at the quarries was called Barlow's for a long time. In those days the wayside taverns were great social centres. Here the chief social functions of those days were held, balls, banquets, public meetings, weddings and religious services. The tavern also was a sort of post-office. If the stage driver had a letter for Smith he enquired of the Boniface if such a man lived in this settlement and then Smith got his letter. The Postmaster-General for Upper and Lower Canada wrote to Mr. Barlow asking him to see to it that this place had a fixed name. There was a social function going on at the time in the big parlor. A number of lassies were engaged in a quilting bee. Helping Mrs. Barlow, were Mrs. Kirkpatrick, Mrs. Miller, Mr. Belden, Mrs. VanEvery, the Misses Barry, Miss Homewood, and Mrs. Kernighan. Barlow was a gentleman of the old school. He gave the ladies the privilege and the honor of naming the town. Many names were suggested till up spoke an old Irish woman, named Mrs. Cranby who was waiting on table, and says she: "Name it Rocktown, there ain't a better name you'll ever git!" and that's how the thing happened.

I will have only the time this evening to refer to the romance of this historic road. Right in the wilderness on the newly made road and right in the edge of the vast and impassable Beverly swamp, a man of mystery named Henry Lamb established himself. He acquired several hundred acres from the Crown with the intention of founding a city. He built his house in the midst of it about six miles from Galt. He called his city, Romulus. Whether the big she-wolf that stole out of the Beverly Swamp and looked him over with her golden eyes suggested the name, I know not. He advertised in London and in the Manchester and Liverpool papers for artisans. He laid out a town larger than Waterloo and her big sister put together. He opened the biggest hotel and rest house along the road. Henry Lamb was a great man. He actually built a town and it was the busiest place between Waterloo and Dundas and then it died because he died. That's the secret of many a dead town to-day. There is not a live man in it! He expressed a wish to be buried in the middle of his city. Now the middle of his city is almost solid rock. So they laid the body of this mighty man of old on the rock and built around and over it a prodigious and lofty cairn of stones, the most striking tomb in Canada, and to-day it is the most lonely tomb, crumbled and fallen. You can see the ruins of it from the road about a hundred yards away in the corner of an old orchard. No man knows whence he came or who he was. Verily there were giants in those days and he was one of them! He sleeps his last long sleep in his own Westminster Abbey. On the Last Great Day, Kings and Warriors, Statesmen and Poets, mighty adventurers and voyageurs, will stand and stare in amazement at the grotesque monuments that men piled upon their bones. But Henry Lamb's spirit will sit down on the rocks that compose this sepulchre admitting that his tomb befitted, the Restingplace of a Pathfinder and Pioneer.

[Public Domain] Copyright/Licence: The author or authors of this work died in 1964 or earlier, and this work was first published no later than 1964. Therefore, this work is in the public domain in Canada per sections 6 and 7 of the Copyright Act. See disclaimers.