Port Hope, Canada – Tales Of The Early Days

The abundance of game and fish in those early days can only be conjectured from the tales of the pioneers. Myndert Harris was the great hero of the chase and to him are attributed the two following feats. Coming up the shore from Gage’s Creek one day, he came upon a fine buck, standing out in the surf. It had evidently been chased, for its eyes glared and it was practically at bay. Harris, nothing daunted, waded out to it and seizing it by the horns forced its head under water. It was a fierce struggle but the sturdy pioneer was a match for the buck and eventually it succumbed. On another occasion while out maple-sugaring in the woods, he came across a bear which threatened to attack him. He was unarmed at the time but, picking up a syrup-trough, he rushed at it and after some heavy blows, succeeded in killing it.

The presence of sturgeon in the Lake has already been noted. It is only necessary to remark something concerning the abundance of salmon in the creek. James Sculthorpe who came here in 1801 to live with his grandfather, Elias Smith, was the famous fisherman of the settlement. In one night in company with an uncle he caught three hundred salmon for which the pair refused fifty dollars next morning. On another occasion, setting out in a boat with a youth named Taylor, he entered a cove near the mouth of the creek. Hardly had the evening’s sport begun than Taylor was seized with convulsions and fell overboard. The boat was upset and Sculthorpe had much difficulty in gaining the shore. He immediately gave the alarm and search was made for Taylor, who was eventually found on the hill-side, whither he had crawled. Meanwhile the commotion in the cove had alarmed a huge shoal of salmon and in their haste to escape the frightened fish carried the boat along with them. Next morning the fishermen returned for the boat and found it lying bottom-up on the shore. Judge of their astonishment when, on turning it over, thirty-two fine salmon were found wedged into it.

The presence of the dense woods and the swamp at the mouth of the creek led to the prevalence of malaria in September of each year. As there was no doctor in the settlement, the pioneers suffered greatly from the accompanying ague and fever. A few years however witnessed the clearing away of the damp woods and with their removal the malaria soon vanished.

Prior to the outbreak of the War of 1812 the little settlement was subjected to the ravages of the ” spotted plague.” This malady could not be attributed to climatic conditions for it attacked the colony in March and April immediately after a cold winter. Little is known of its nature. All that is recorded is that decomposition of blood and tissue followed death rapidly. To illustrate the extent and rapidity of its ravages, it is but necessary to refer to the following examples. Mrs. Soper, residing at Smith’s Creek was struck down with it and her brother, Samuel Marsh, the first settler of Port Britain, was summoned to her death-bed. On his return home, he too became a victim to the plague, dying only a week after his sister. Meanwhile Mr. Sexton, his brother-in-law, had been called in to make his will. He, too, was attacked and before another week had elapsed, he succumbed. It was thus that the dread plague ravaged the whole settlement and deprived the community of many of its best members.

In the summer of 1794 the surveyors discovered the Cranberry Marsh to the north-west of the new settlement. At the present day when food in great variety is so readily obtainable, such a discovery could scarcely be of any moment but to the hard-wrought settlers it was indeed boon. The young people of the community were thereafter wont to make annual excursions to the Marsh to procure the red berries. Another find of a less pleasant nature was subsequently made when the ” Haunted Meadow ” was first encountered. This swamp, for such it was, had been originally formed by a beaver-dam. When first seen it was covered with a dense undergrowth and encircling it were plum-trees in great profusion. The presence of will-o’-the-wisps unfortunately gave it an uncanny reputation and settlers kept away from its vicinity. Its evil fame was enhanced by the mysterious disappearance of an orphan-boy, who was said to have been ill-treated and ultimately murdered by a surly old settler, living within a few miles of the meadow. The story further explained that he had been buried in the meadow and that his ghost was accustomed to wander round at night. This theory was supported by the adventure of two bold young men, who, throwing fears to the wind, went to pick plums one evening within the charmed circle. They had scarcely climbed into the trees when weird, guttural noises were heard and presently a ghostly figure began to flit around. Thoroughly frightened the pair beat a hasty retreat, not understanding that the sounds were due to harmless frogs and the strange light to the explosions of marsh gas.