1886 Letter to the Editor from Robert Robertson Smith

Robert Robertson Smith with some of his grandchildren (children of Thomas Smith)

Robert Robertson Smith
with grandchildren

The following is a letter to the editor of the Pembroke Observer, April 20, 1886, written by Robert Robertson Smith of Douglas, Ontario, prominent in Renfrew County and living with his son Thomas H Smith at Restoule, Ontario at that time. He was 76 when he penned this letter and was known as RR. He is pictured here with some of his grandchildren, children of Thomas Smith.

To the Editor of The Observer.

Dear Sir,

In the last Observer that reached me I read an account of what the old Canaan Church in McNab had grown to, which affords me great pleasure and recalls to my mind some of the trials, troubles and anxieties of our early days in South Renfrew, as well as the great pleasures enjoyed occasionally amongst some of the best-hearted men I ever met with. In 1832 I ascended the Bonnechere and settled at the third Chute.

I never saw priest or minister except when in Bytown, where we got our supplies. I went to hear Mr Cruickshanks and Mr Strong, the ministers then officiating in Ottawa. But the Rev. Stephen Brownell heard John Campbell’s in Adamston, of some 18 settlers near the third Chute, and about New Year’s time ventured up the ice and put up at old Thomas Byers, who kept a stopping place. The same evening Mr Byers sent his son to tell the settlers there would be Divine service the next day.

I felt so good that a preacher of the gospel thought us worthy of a call that I went two miles after night to see him. When on arrival at Mr Byers’ there were some four persons before me. The minister thought we had been misinformed about the service. All looked at me for some explanation. I declared my delight at having the gospel preached and children baptized in our little settlement that I could not rest till I should see him and bid him a hearty welcome. All declared that the same feeling brought them out too. That good man did much good in our settlement and abode with us on the Bonnechere for the three years that he remained. When he left the new Canaan church was ready, and to get there was my next trouble.

I travelled as far as Pakenham before I got the requisite number of freeholders to sign a requisition to have a road surveyed and established to the third Chute, and also secured the interest and influence of as many district councillors as possible to favor our application. John McNab came out and laid out the road. To open it to Elias Moore’s in Adamston, and to bridge the Bonnecher was the next big push.

I cut and drew all the timber required, then gathered the entire settlement of Mink Lake and Lake Dorie, which were beginning to grow then, to help build the bridge. The road and the bridge cost me a great deal, but in either summer or winter I could then get to church in McNab. The distance of 23 miles, over poor roads too, did not often prevent us getting to the old kirk. But when happily settled and provided with church privileges, as we then considered ourselves, awful to think of, the disruption took place in Scotland, and our congregation was torn to pieces.

So estranged and embittered some of the people became that they would scarcely speak. We thought a great misfortune had befallen the beloved Church of our fathers, and many shed tears over the dismal separation from dear friends, whom we were used to meet at the Lord’s table yearly. Short sighted mortals. We could not then see what the Lord was doing for the spread of the gospel, and the growth of the church.

Our young people can scarcely believe that for several years Bytown was the nearest post-office, and when we got an office at the Bonnechere it was a great convenience. Little do our descendents know, who now enjoy every conveneience at their doors, how much their fathers were beholden to open hearted, whole-souled men and women who kept open houses along our route of travel in those days; to whom, if renumeration were offered it was an offence.

Conspicuous for their generosith were John McGinnis, Thomas Costello, and James Gibbons of Horton, the Campbells and Cardiffs of Adamston, James Rice of Bromley, James Byers and Alex McAllister of the third chute. Their wives were the best of all. How these people stood the strain of a steady stream of hungry travellers, when everything was dear and far to fetch, was the wonder of many, yet they never were known to be short taken. surely these good Samaritans must have a rich reward.

Mr Brownell visited every three weeks for three years, driving his horse in winter. In summer I went down eight miles in my canoe for him regularly to Campbell’s landing and John M. Ross took him back. When he left, a reverend gentleman in the Presbyterian church, named Cairns came round often, preaching, baptizing and marrying, and often held Divine service in my house.

We lost sight of him for a while, till after the disruption took place when I met him at Mr Patterson’s place in Admaston. The first question he asked me was, “Did I still adhere to the Church of the mammon?” and on my return from Renfrew and he on his way to Lake Dorie, the day being awful wet, and the roads being bad, the poor man even refused to ride in the buggy with me because I did not join the free kirk. Out of that apprent evil sprang a great good anyway.

So delighted were all of us at the clerical visits of Mr Brownell, that all the settlement attended his services, even the Roman Catholics, till their numbers increased, and they got the Rev. John McNulty amongst them, and got regular services to their own churches. How different I find the feelings of the people where I now live, in a new settlement, that the minister had to call a meeting of the people to ascertain the cause of the non-attendance of some, near hand the place of worship, every two weeks. It must be discouraging to a minister who, after preaching twice, and travelling ten miles to serve us the same day, and on the Sabbath too, finds but few to hear him. Faithfully he discharges his duty, notwithstanding the indifference of some.

Signed, R.R. Smith

Restoule, Ontario

April 20, 1886

Copy supplied by Ken Smith

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