An Article of Interest

The Way It Was - Allensville 1871

by Marion Belanger

Mary Louise SLOUGH was born at Allansville, Stephenson Township Muskoka in 1871, daughter of George Henry SLOUGH and Mary ETT. Many years later she wrote the following letter to her daughter. Our sincere thanks to her great grandson James Churchill of Dregon,U.S.A for sharing this colourful letter with us.

“My Esther ..since you had so much fun coming into the world it seems only fair to say you had no edge on my own experience and here is the way it happened to me.

My parents moved from Font Hill in the year 1869 to what later on was “Allansville” At the time they came driving in there was one family ahead of them. The old team of white horses drew a fairly good looking wagon loaded to capacity .. all the belongings of the family and five children, 3 girls and 2 boys tucked snugly in among the “stuff”. ages 8, 7, 5, 3, and 1 year. Yes and a white lady cat with five kits … which is another story of how the first morning when the time came to break camp they found three of the kittens in the back of the waggon.. but the second morning all five were there, and the cats feet was sore from the many trips she made to set her family move, you see, they had been left behind with a neighbour. Now enough of the cat story and back to the beginning of our selves. The one family already located took over the job of housing the folks, altho they were a pretty full house of parents and 6 children . But since they had been so anxious and insistent for them to come, well they could do no less – ok yes they managed fine, and my folks began at once , after locating their homestead alongside to cut trees, prepare them and build a log house. Quite a roomy domicile about 12×12 feet so you can understand how difficult it would be for 2 men alone to put the logs in place – but it soon went up, and had a fine roof of cedar shakes, a window in the west end – also a very spacious front porch built of logs and shakes. Oh a very fine roomy home , after being quartered with the good neighbour the last few weeks – they moved in and everything went along fine until the food supply began to dwindle and Father had to go where he could earn the wherewith to buy more. Then Mother discovered there was another baby on the way – and tho brave as could be .. she could see trouble ahead. However Father had gotten work at 25 cents 12 hours a day and his meal’s (boiled beans and rye bread) and that was something to look forward to in the spring, as the logging company (The Dollar Brothers, which is now the Dollar SS Line) only paid the men after the log drive ended in April – and the mill pay’d them, so that fall and winter the little family grew bone and stature on Irish potatoes, but they were very good potatoes – no worms like the more modern spud of to-day – well to make matters more difficult it began to snow plenty by October, and kept on untill all small trees was snowed under, and to get wood to feed the great stone fireplace built in the end of the log house the only means of warmth became more and more of a problem especially as Mother grew heavy with child and weak from lack of proper food. I doubt if they counted their calories – Vitamens or Mineral content so it came December 1871 – the last month of her waiting. Every day she walked over the hills of snow in search or what ever limbs of trees she could chop off and haul to the house on the hand sled -it was a stout hand made sled not like one buys to-day in the shop – and she thot that at last she had enough to last thru untill she would be up and able to gather more after the new baby came, but she had not counted correctly for some reason, for on the 28 of December in the afternoon the pains of Birth racked her so she crawled on her knees to get the load ready, and then the most wonderful thing happened -a new family had been moving in on land adjoining our’s on the east – well their two son’s came by and told her to go in and they would bring her wood. And they loaded up several big loads which they cut themselves – more than Mother could have cut in a week of ever such hard work. But things were beggining to pop around the cabin, the children had to be herded into thier trundle bed early (that’s a stout low bed that is pushed under the big bed in the day time) so she could have a bit of privacy during the birth. But the hurry and I suspect a bit of worry on the side stopped her pains for several hours making it almost 2 in the morning of the 29th of December 1871 when I came to join the group. Well knowing she had to be nurse as well as mother, she wrapped the 2 1/2 lb. stranger in the very warm wool lining of a garment she had, and placed me Oh so gently in the back of the bed while she took care of her own need’s. There being too much snow to think of burying the afterbirth she had to burn it in the log’s of the fireplace. They are not easy to burn either.

So only when my turn for care came around she discovered the u-cord had not been well tied but the cold had frozen the cord and quite a space around it so the bleeding did no harm. Then she had to chip ice from the water bucket that was always by the door and pack the navel to take out the frost and not leave it sore. But by the time she had everything under control the children began to wake up and of course and ask questions about how the new baby sister got here in all the snow since they could not even go out to play – and the cold that night stood about – 50 degrees below zero.

They finally hit upon the perfect solution. My brother said he bet that the cat had dragged me in for one night – before that she had brot in a rabit and came to his side of the trundle bed with it so it was settled in their minds anyway, even tho mother knew better. And that’s how I came to my Mom. She wrapped me on a pillow, tho pillows were scarce, for six months, to be sure of warmth and also to make handling easier – and tho it took quite some time to get a start I did fairly well with what I had to work on. There were three more after myself – a girl and two boys – one boy died at three months old.

The new country began to be settled with families from everywhere, and many times my mother was called out in the day’s and nights that followed to help other women bring their babies – and alway’s I trudged along with her if it were at all possible, not to help but to curl up on her shawl and sleep, until she was ready to go home. Those were happy days. Sometimes they gave me a lump of brown sugar, and better still a few raisins or currents maybe bread and a cup of milk. As I remember it now I think I was born hungry and never refused any thing that could be called food. But raisins were my choice – tho boild potatoes with salt was pretty good and I like them today as well as then.

P.S. Darling

If You tire before you get thru this just chuck it in the stove – no one else has ever read it and these things were not isolated to one family. For instance a boy was born in 1871 on Xmas day to a new family going thro to their land in the partly finished little log hut being erected to serve as a church and ??? by the settlers – no fire, no beds, and only part of the roof on, but we had a fireplace and a whole roof.

Written (unknown date) by Mary L. Slough born December 29, 1871 and sent to her daughter Esther Henningsen who was adopted and renamed Dorothy Webster.

This article first appeared in the November 1990 newsletter, Volume 6 - Number 2