The Brunson's of Ryde and Rama Townships, Ontario

The Story





Image Index





by: Minnie (Johnson) Hepinstall, 1970, at 76 years of age

(submitted by Grace Duffy to "As the River Bends vol 2" 1986, self published by Muriel Johnson Hall)

My father, John Johnson, his widowed mother and twin brothers Chester and Sylvester came to Lewisham from Lower Canada, when Dad was 17. Aunt Mary and Uncle George Brunson had moved to Upper Canada a few years before. I think they were one of the first settlers in Lewisham. Aunt Mary helped and they cleared the bush and built a log house. They had a wagon and team of oxen.

Years later they moved out near Coopers Falls and again cleared the land and built a log house and barn. They raised a big family and both worked very hard. Uncle George died a long time before Aunt Mary. After his death my Grandma Johnson went to live with her and stayed there until she died. Later Aunt Mary’s son Bill Brunson took over the place. Bill married Flo Parker and Aunt Mary lived with them, until she died. Now Bill and Flo's son George lives there.

Cyrus, Jason, Cary and Isaac didn’t come to Ontario with the others.. Dad never did see Cyrus after. Just once, Jason and Cary came to see us. That was when we lived in the log house. Isaac did come later. Stayed a few years. Went back and died soon after.

Our house, like all the others in the neighbourhood, was made of logs. Dad had cleared the land and built it before he and Mother were married. He had 100 acres of land and 2 cows. All the barns and other buildings were also of logs. Then later some had clapboard siding or tan bark shingles. The men would cut cedar blocks, split them thin and make shingles for the roofs.

There were no screen doors or windows. You could get mosquito netting at the store for 5 cents a yard and tack it on the windows. I think everyone had a smudge pot or two. They put chips in the pail, set it on fire, then put grass on, to make it smoke, set it near the door to keep the insects out. The blackflies, sand flies, house flies and mosquitoes were there by the thousands. And horse flies, deer flies etc. to bother the animals.

I can remember Dad threshing grain with a flail -- that was, a long pole with a piece of chain on the end. Also, they threshed with a tread mill. The horses, one at a time, went round and round in a circle. When the horse got tired, they would put a fresh one on. This kept going until the grain was done.

The winters were very cold in the back woods and the snow much deeper than now. There were no snow ploughs to clean roads, and not such nice warm clothes as now.

After the old log school, near our first house closed, Bob and I walked to the new Lewisham School, which was about 3 miles from our log house. One cold winter’s day, a high wind and snow-storm came up while we were in school. I nearly froze to death on the way home. Bob dragged and carried me & finally got me home. I was sick for a long time after that, and did not return to school until spring. I went to school until I passed Jr. to Sr. classes.

Life was extremely hard. You had to be very ambitious and never give up easily. We all helped with the work just as soon as we were old enough. When we were 5 or 6 we had some little chores to do. I was Mother’s little helper. When I was ten years old, I could make bread, get a meal, wash dishes. I stood on a box to work at the table. I could scrub floors and do washing. There was no wash machines then, just a tub and wash board and lots of homemade soap.

Home Made Soap: Put hardwood ashes in a box with a strainer in the bottom. Pour on water. Save drippings until you have enough of the liquid. Strain and put in iron pot. Add some beef suet. Boil a lot. Then strain, and  add I can Gilletts Lye. To have soft soap or like jelly, don’t boil too much. For hard soap boil longer. Pour into container. When cold, cut in pieces any size you wish, for washing dishes, clothes, scrubbing and cleaning.

In later years we could buy bars of Comfort soap. And there were squares of bluing. You tied it in a piece of cloth and squeezed some in the rinse water to keep the clothes white.

When I was about 11 years old, we bought the old Taylor place for $50.00 cash, and moved away from the log house. The Taylor house was a frame house. It was much closer to school, only about 1/4 of a mile from “Lewisham corners”, as it was called. Johnny Fox had a store, post office and saw mill there. The school teacher boarded with them. Now, times were much better for everyone.

We had tin milk pans and strained the milk in them in the morning. That evening we skimmed the cream, off into the cream crock. The milk was fed to the calves and pigs. All the pans and pails had to be washed and scalded This was all done over again in the evening. When the cream started to sour it was ready to be churned. We had a dash churn for years and then later barrel churn. Water had to be carried from the creek in pails, or brought out of the well with a rope or long pole with a hook on the end.

We used coal oil lamps for lights in the house and a lantern for outside. Nine o’clock was bedtime. So it was early to bed and early to rise. No one slept in unless they were sick. Dad was a very early riser and in winter would be up; long before daylight.

Mother was a wonderful berry picker. The blueberries would be ripe about 10 - 12 July. School was out. She would leave about 8 in the morning and take Robert with her for company and help. They walked about 3 miles to the berry rocks and picked berries all day. Dad would quit his work early and go with the horse and buggy to bring them and the berries home. I would have supper waiting for them. As time went by Mother would pick and sell enough blueberries to buy flour, sugar, tea, etc. to last all, winter and unti1 the next summer. She preserved other fruits and pickles. There were no glass sealers yet, just crockery jars. When they were all full we dried raspberries and apples. She also made cabbage and cucumber pickles in a big crock.

Everyone made their own bread. The flour was really good, then and the bread was always good. Nearly everyone grew their own hops to make yeast. Many times in the fall I picked hops and put them away for the winter.

In summer Dad cut beaver meadow hay-wild hay growing in low places. If cut and cured right it helped feed the cattle for winter. Dad always waited until the snow came to bring it home. Then he could use the team and bob sleigh. Dad went to work in the logging camps in winter. Mother did the chore’s until Robert was old enough. She would go with him to help and supervise, and be that he was kind to the animals. There were cows, horses, pigs, sheep and hens.

I remember we had a big old black horse named “Charlie”. He was very cross and would chase everyone but Dad. Once a week mother would let him out for a run and to go down to the creek to drink. We children always watched out the upstairs window to be sure Mother was alright. One cold day it took her about 2 hours to get him back in. She was nearly frozen.

Mother made all of our clothing, knit all our stockings, mitts, hoods, etc. She also knit long black sox: and mitts to sell to the lumbermen in winter. No one had overshoes or rubbers in those days. The women’s shoes were quite high, either buttoned or laced There were quite high rubbers for men, but not as high as now. The children always went barefoot in summer and manytimes when it was quite cold! We were lucky if we had shoes for winter. Lots of children did not, especially the smaller ones.

The nearest doctor was at Severn Bridge. He was Dr. McDermid, a wonderful gentleman, as well as a good doctor. He never said "No" to anyone, even if he knew he would not be paid for his trip. In winter he traveled by horse and cutter and in summer horse and buggy. Sometimes the roads were very bad almost impassable. He wasn’t sent for unless we were desperately sick.

Some home remedies were: brown sugar and coal oil for colds and croup; brown sugar and turpentine for worms; steep goat’s beard roots for babies with jaundice; brew wild red cherry bark for spring tonic. There were several other roots and barks used for different ailments, but I cannot remember them.

Uncle Isaac Johnson:
It was in these childhood years that Uncle Isaac came. He was a veterinary and also a cattle and horse dealer. He pastured some of his animals at our place. He always dressed up, so Dad would say “Here comes Gentleman Johnson”. He always had a nice saddle horse, as well as a driver and buggy. At one time he courted the school teacher and had a nice horse and saddle so she could go riding with him. He brought candy in a little bag and had a routine of taking it out of his pocket and giving it to me. Robert would be watching to share the treats, so Uncle Isaac called him “Big Eyes”. Isaac did not get married. In time he went away. He was quite sick for a while before he died. I really liked him very much.

Uncle Silvester Johnson:
Uncle Silvester was of an easy doing nature. After Grandma Johnson went to live at Brunsons, he seemed somewhat lost without her. In time their old house was deserted and in disrepair. I remember the horses would go into it during the hot summer days to get out of the sun and away from the flies. Inside was a corner cupboard with fancy woodworking that Silvester had made years before. He also built other things, including coffins for those who died in the community. He spent hours repairing old clocks and watches. If parts were missing he made them. Perhaps, he could have made a living at this, but he was reluctant to charge friends and neighbour’s. Often he would speak of them having big families to feed or of their other needs - not his own. Through the years I think he most always kept some cattle and horses. He never married. Sometimes he worked for local farmers or stayed a while with relatives. When he was in failing health Annie (Clement) and her son Howard cared for him, until he died. She talked of his quiet patience and kindness even then.

When I was not quite 14 years old. I went to work for Mrs. Charlie McBride, at their farm at Muskoka Falls, near Bracebridge. I had never been away from home before in my life. Not even to stay overnight and I was terribly homesick. I had been there about 5 months when Robert came in one day on his way to Bracebridge. I - asked him to call for me on his way back, because I was going home with him - and I did! I wasn’t home long until I went to work for Mrs. W.E. Cooper, at Cooper’s Falls. They had the store there.
Robert went to the camp to work when he was 14 years old. Angus went river driving when he was 13.

People I can remember who lived in Lewisham when I was a child:
McCutchons - Jack’s mother, father and sister; Fentons and family; My Grandmother Mary Johnson and Silvester; The Chester Johnsons; Mr. & Mrs. George Cummings & Effie; John Johnson & family; Bundages; Steve Dart - he was blind; Dougal McDonald, Jim & Archie; Jim Armstrong - bachelor; Johnny Foxes & family; Bill Ruttans & family; Frank Brooks & his mother; Jack Lowshaw & family; Mike .Lowshaw & family; George Edwards & family; George Tryon & family - Cassie's parents, sisters & brothers; Mr. Jane McLean; Taverners.