In September, 1843, there arrived in the Sault to succeed his father as Government officer one who was to be the forerunner of its future growth.
In that month, Joseph Wilson, who had been born in Perthshire, Scotland, in 1818, and emi grated to Canada when he was fourteen years old, moved from Medonte to Sauk Sainte Marie to take the position of customs officer for the government.
The appointment was made under Lord Sydenham and Mr. Wilson has resided in the district ever since.
From his first appearance he became the most active of the people and from being merely the customs officer he became the authority and chief-in-general fur the place.
He represented the governmsnt to the Indians and was the arbiter in important disputes. The control of the Crown Lands was placed in his hands, and he was, also the Nemesis which pursued the wrong-doer.
There was no ” lock-up” in the town then, and if a man did what was wrong, he was sent, alone,. to Mr. Wilson’s yard where he barred himself in and from thence he did not dare to stir until that gentleman arrived to set him free.
Among those who are still among the active’ ones of the town are some few who relatenow with amusementhow they, were sent, in their young days, to the Wilson yard to wait with impatience, yet withal with a certain fear, until he came and bade them unbar the gate and go.
If any one were sick he sent for Mr. Wilson. If any one’s landmark were moved the call went out for Mr. Wilson, until he became what for years he remained, a virtual patriarch and father to the inhabitants,. unravelling tangles where he found them, inspiring loyalty where indifference might have existed before, and enthusing those who, till his coming, had not been stirred from the even tenor of their lives
Mr. Wilson found no soldiery on his arrival, but when the time proved ripe, that defect was remedied by him, as will be told in a later chapter, Mr Nourse had passed away here Major Wilsonas he is now knowncame here to live and the Factor’s position was filled by Mr. Ballenden.
The two immediately became fast friends and so remained throughout the latter’s tenure of office.
It is most interesting to peruse the story of growth and development as related in the diaries -of this sturdy man. For fifty-eight years did the Major keep these records faithfully, nor did he miss a day in all that time. It has been the writer’s privilege to inspect the volumes and to bear testimony now to the inestimable value of such work to those who live after the events therein set down.
Major Wilson tells us that on his arrival he found about thirty or forty houses, the settlement being then as it still is, a little more extensive than the American town on the opposite shore.
He crossed at once to inspect the south shore and observes that the American troops would cut a sorry figure beside the trim militia men of Canada.
The Indians still felt they had a right to dictate the policy of the country, for Shingawukonce arrived on the 21st October of that first year of the Major’s residence,. and for three hours interviewed Her Majesty’s officer, finally dictating. a three page letter to his great father the Governor, which was duly dispatched by the next mail.
Shortly afterwards the Indian Agent School-craft arrived to call, accompanied by his wife and Dr. Burns.
They are described by the Major without the halo which after writers are apt to shed about them.
Schoolcraft is said to have been a typical American of those days whose counterpart may possibly be met in the story of Martin Chuzzlewit, while Dr. Burns, who was the soldiers’ surgeon, spent the time during his visit in endeavouring to convince his British host how easy it would be for him to abandon his allegiance to his sovereign.
If the population was limited it could not be said to be lacking in variety, for after Mr. Schoolcraft’s visit is the record of a meeting with an Indian of the Goulais Bay district, Bah-bin-dah-bay by name, who some years previously had eaten his wife and family, but who in spite of this fact, was now married again and happily settled with a second wife after having settled his first.
The following year witnessed the firing of the first Royal salute on the Canadian side of the river, a custom always observed till the late Queen’s death. In April, 1844, Major Wilson purchased from the Hudson’s Bay Factor a field piece which he had removed to his own grounds, and on the 24th of May he celebrated the anniversary of the Beloved Victoria’s nativity, just one hundred and seventy-three years after the first salvo was discharged in honor of King Louis of France.
The following week Bishop Mountain of Montreal passed through on his trip to Ruper’ts Land, an account of which he published in 1846 under the heading, ” Missionary Travels and Songs of the Wilderness.” Two years previous to that Bishop Strachan of Toronto had visited the settlement accompanied by Colonel Jarvis, the Indian Agent and Lord Morpeth.
Of Bishop Strachan, who came from time to time to this extreme part of his diocese, many stories are related.
He belonged to the old school of clergymen who in rugged times were equally rugged in their honest manner of handling the questions brought before them.
Coming from a poor family in Scotland he won his way to the highest position in the gift of the Colonial Church and for many years he exercised a just rule over his brethren.
It is related how, on one occasion, a deputation of laymen waited upon the Bishop to complain of their minister’s monotonous preaching, charging that the same dry sermon had been inflicted on the congregation on three consecutive Sundays.
” You don’t tell me that ?” exclaimed His Lordship, ” what was the text ?”
The deputation was speechless, for none remembered it.
” Well, what did the man say ?” asked the prelate. Again there was silence, for none could recall the subject of the sermon.
” I think,” suggested Dr, Strachan, ” you’d better go home and I shall write your clergyman to preach that sermon again in order that you may get to know its contents.”
But whether he carried out his threat or not the sufferers never made known.
Another anecdote tells how a parish complained to the bishop that its clergyman drank ale. -” How do you know that your charge is true ?” came the query when they had laid the charge.
” Oh, we know,” came the ready reply of an eager faultfinder, ” we have seen the bottles.”
” Bottles !” cried the irate bishop, ” A man on his salary drinking out of bottles I shall rebuke him and tell him that if ale in the keg is good enough for his bishop it is certainly good enough for him.”
One more story of this historic character has been preserved.
His brother, a simple crofter, came across the ocean to visit the one of the family who had become so great.
The episcopal palace at that time was on Front Street, Toronto, opposite the present Union Station where its brick fence may still be seen.
The good bishop showed his brother, with pardonable pride, the whole of his establishment, and having concluded the survey, turned to him with the remark, ” Well, what do you think of it all ?”
” Aweel, Jock,” came the hesitating reply, ” I hope ye come by it a’ honest.”
But his people loved the quaint old man who moved amongst them and no less did his clergy regard him with veneration for their wants were his.
In 1837 Bishop Strachan sent the Reverend F. A. O’Meara, who had come from England under the Upper Canada Clergy Society, to be the missionary for Manitoulin Island and the north shore, and although at first his visits to the Sault were only paid about once a year, yet did the few white people welcome his coming as men have ever welcomed one who brought the ministrations of the Church.
If the reverend gentleman’s attentions to the Sault were not great, yet his work amongst the Indians was fraught with great success, and the Bible translated in the Ojibway tongue and used by the Redmen throughout Algoma today, is a monument to his learning, his devotion, his applition and his zeal for the cause of his Master.
The mantle of the deceased priest has fallen upon the shoulders of the present missionary at Garden River, and in the future the Indian missions will ever be associated in Algoma with the name of Frederick Frost
In 1845 a bush fire which raged on the American side of the river did a great deal of harm, the people fearing for their lives, but no life was lost and the settlement soon recovered
On March 18th of the following year a remarkable thing took place.
It seems that a citizen of the United States, named Theophilus Church, had cut down timbers belonging to Canada and which were properly and promptly attached by the Crown Lands officer, Major Wilson.
The Major was coaxed and threatened in turn but all to no purpose, when on the day mentioned, crossing on business to the Michigan town, he was arrested by an officer and lodged in the common jail.
No explanation was forthcoming in response to his enquiries, until another officer appeared with a paper on signing which the Major was told he would be set at liberty
The document was an authority to Church to cut and remove the timber he wished. The Major indignantly refused to sign, saying he would rather starve than be a party to any such rascality.
Until the loth of that month he was left in jail, his only companion a common felon, when the authorities, becoming alarmed at what they had done, released him and bade him go back whence he came.
Returning home, he found the town and especially his own family in a state of great alarm for none knew his whereabouts.
The Major complained to headquarters and in due course there arrived from Washington an apology for the action of his persecutors.
It was at this time that there appeared upon the scene a strange character named Tanner who soon became a terror to all who met him.
Schoolcraft, who tells of him as do several others, relates how he was born in 177o in the Ohio Valley and was stolen from his parents by Kishkako of the Saginaw Chippewas when he was seven years old. In 1825 he was rescued from the Indians by traders and went to Kentucky to hunt his relatives, but the wild life he had been forced to lead made civilization unendurable, and, leaving them, he wandered North
His hand raised against every one and every one on the defensive with regard to him, the old man soured and lacking all virtue, yet embodying the vices and craft of the Indian, he became a terror and a bye-word.
The Indian Agent tried to befriend him but his actions were misunderstood. He was appointed interpreter to the American staff but would have none of the necessary restraint imposed on him.
Whatever went wrong was laid at this old man’s door and not without some show of reason for he ever promised the most terrible consequences if his wishes were not met.
When Schoolcraft’s house was burned in 1846 it was charged to Tanner. When fire once more burst out on all sides and threatened to destroy not only the American town but the Canadian town as well,- men said it was Tanner’s doings, and when on July 6th of the same year a cart entered the settlement bearing the body of Schoolcraft’s brother, found shot in the bush, what more natural than that he should have been called Tanner’s victim. To add colour to the belief the wild man disappeared, and though the woods were scoured no trace of him was found. The people were shocked some few years after when Lieutenant Tilden, an army officer, dying near St. Paul, confessed that it was he who had shot Schoolcraft.
There are two stories purporting to account for Tanner’s death.
One is that riding home from a meeting in the Red River country, whither he had fled and where he was endeavouring to incite the Metis against the British, he was thrown from his horse and killed. The other is more likely : It tells how, some time after the shooting of Schoolcraft, some trappeurs found the skeleton of a man lying beside a gun, and some claimed to have identified the remains as poor Tanner’s.
September 2nd of the same year, 1846, found the bush fires so bad that the people had removed their household effect to the river, but gradually they subsided and the danger passed.
On the 29th April, 1848 the steamer Detroit arrived having on board Sir John Richardson and his party en route to the Arctic regions to search for traces of Sir John Franklin.
Major Wilson interested himself at once in the undertaking and at his instance the party engaged several voyageurs, among whom was Jean Baptist Mastat, whose son, an aged man himself now, still (1903) lives in the Sault
The expedition was one of great hardship and peril, the survivors being forced to live on their dead companions in order to sustain life. Several discoveries were made and from one of Franklin’s caches, Mastat brought back a sealskin tobacco pouch which is now in possession of the writer. The expedition arrived back at the Sault on July 5th, 1847, a day noted as that of the most terrible electric storm ever known in the lake district.
May 9th, 1858, saw the post office removed from the Hudson’s Bay Fort to the town, where it was located under Major Wilson, in the ” stone house.”
In 1848 two more white men threw in their lot with the tiny settlement. They were Messrs. Bowker and McTavish. The descendants of the former are now living at Hilton on the Island of St. Joseph.
May 24th of r849, witnessed the first attempt under Major Wilson to establish a rifle company.
The closing days of this year were marked by a certain excitement.
The government had leased to a company of speculators the mines at Point Maimanse much to the chagrin of the Indians who still regarded the property as theirs.in
November the Redmen about the Sault gathered and put off in two detachments to take possession of the mines. They were led by a half-breed named McDonald who instigated them to steal a cannon which they took in one of their boats. Major Wilson with three companions followed and soon passed them on the waters of Whitefish Bay, and arriving at the mines gave warning of the approach of the hostiles.
There were neither weapons or ammunition in the camp and it was decided to surrender everything to McDonald and his horde and await the action of the government.
This was done, and on December 2nd Captain Cooper with a detachment of troops arrived in the Sault and immediately placed the leader and four others under arrest. The prisoners were sent next day to Penitanguishene and the soldiers embarked on the Independence for Point aux Mines. But the expedition was doomed to disaster, for a heavy storm broke over them and the steamer going aground in Whitefish Bay was abandoned and the force returned to the Post.
In May 24th, 1850, the troops were still at Sault ‘Sainte Marie and fired a feu de joie in honor of the Queen.
They remained until October of that year, when they took passage for Kingston.
In July 4th, 1850, the little town was wrapped in gloom for of the handful of white people one had passed away.
Mrs. Bowker who had shed a kindly influence by her womanly presence was dead and two days after all the town followed sadly to the grave.
At that time the only English people in the Sault were Mr. Hargreaves of the Hudson’s Bay Post and his lady, and son, Major Wilson and his sister, Miss Marsh and Mr. and Mrs. Bowker. Of these the only one remaining is the Major. In 1852 the colony was augmented by the coming of David Pim and his wife, who rightly claim to be the first English ” settlers ” here, for those who preceded them were either government officials or Hudson’s Bay officers.
Mr. Pim became the second post-master and his widow still holds the office (1903).
In June 6th, 1853, the American town became the scene of activity for the engineers and workmen had arrived to begin work on the new canal.
It was considered, when completed, to have been a tremendous feat, but in the face of the present wonders on each side of the river it was as a mere dredging of a ditch for their future building.
In 1854 cholera visited the Sault and two members of the Factor’s family, his wife and his only child, were stricken down. Day after day did Hargreaves and Mr. Wilson care for the sick ones, but all to no purpose, the disease was victorious and they died. They were buried in a little plot at the south east corner of Superior and Huron streets from whence they were afterward removed. None other in the white colony was smitten. Shingwaukonce, the old chief, was laid to rest the year following, 1855, and se was snapped another link binding the Sault to the past. The Indians’ Church, dedicated to St. John the Divine, marks the chieftain’s grave at Garden River.
In Major Wilson’s diary we read that in spite of the remoteness cf Sault Sainte Marie from the ” front,” yet all were keen for any news which concerned the Motherland, and when the news of the fall of Sebastopol was received there was much rejoicing, a salute was fired and at night the windows of the houses were illuminated with candles to mark the satisfaction of the people.
And now another settler was received and welcomed into the little circle. It was Henry Pilgrim who for many years graced the Sault with his kindly presence and ever stood as an example of honour and integrity to the youngsters growing up about him.
Of Mr. Pilgrim is told a curious story. In earlier times he was passing through Newmarket on his way North when he attracted the attention of William Lount, who was afterward concerned in the trouble of 1837.
Observing the young man, Lount inquired of him where he was going. ” To the woods,” answered Mr. Pilgrim, ” to take up a grant and to carve out a home for myself.”
” Then, my friend,” responded the other, ” come with me,” and taking him to a store, he bought and presented to him a four pound axe, saying at the same time, ” You’ll need that for the
carving’ you’re about to engage in,” and wishing him good luck he bade him good-bye and Pilgrim resumed his journey.
Going into Medonte he began the clearing of a claim, using Lount’s axe, but one day when the chopping was hard and the black flies and mosquitoes were worse than usual the young pioneer became discouraged and driving the tool into a tree he left it and walked out never to return,
When Mr. Pilgrim in after years related the story, one of his auditors enquired, “What became of the axe’ ” I fancy,” replied he, ” if someone were to go over my old claim he’d find the axe still driven deep into the wood just as I left it the day I tramped away.”
May 3rd, 1859, Lady Elgin, the consort of the Governor General, passed through on a pleasure trip, and sixteen days later the first Registrar of Algoma arrived in the person of Colonel Savage. He was said to have been a sometime aide to the Governor of Corfu where he had met and married his wife. At the outbreak of the Crimean War his good lady persuaded him to sell his commission, which caused him to fall into disfavour with his brother officers. Shortly afterward he sailed for Canada where he was given a military appointment.
The great Sir John A. Macdonald offered him the position of Registrar of Algoma which the Colonel quickly accepted and journeyed to Ottawa to get information.
For days he haunted the corridors and finally ran down the Premier of whom he inquired, after effusive thanks, where Algoma might be.
Those who feel a proper loyalty for this district of their adoption or birth will not be over shocked when they learn that the great man retorted that, ” He’d be hanged if he knew where Algoma was:’
Taken somewhat aback at the answer Colonel Savage inquired as to what book would be necessary for him to take, and Sir John answered,
A pocket diary, Savage, a pocket diary, I fancy you’ll not fill it all with your official entries.”
And so was the first Registrar despatched to the scene of his labours.
The newly appointed officer could find no residence to suit him on the Canadian side of the river, and so, for some considerable time, he lived in the American Sault whither our people were compelled to journey in order to registrer their property.
Later on Colonel Savage moved to the bungalow at the corner of Spring and Queen streets, a picturesque building, which was torn down to make room for the Cornwall Hotel which now occupies its site.
On the opposite corner from the Savage home stood for many years the Customs House whose unhandsome walls, like others, have since been pulled down to make room for better structures. The site of that old institution is now occupied by one of the principle business houses in Sault Sainte Marie, Messrs. Moore & Browne’s hardware store
Since Colonel Savage’s time the office of Registrar has been filled by several equally worthy men. In 1890 Mr. Lyon was appointed to the position on his retirement from Parliament where he represented Algoma, and shortly after his death the present incumbent, Mr. Charles F. Farwell, K. C., till then representing Sault Sainte Marie in the Ontario Legislature, assumed the post and is the present Registrar.