An Article of Interest

James Watson McKeown

by Evelyn Moore

One of McKellar’s earliest pioneer families was that of James and Eliza (Hunt) McKeown. James was born in 1821 in County Down, Ireland. He was a yeoman who immigrated to Canada and settled near Arnprior in Pakenham Township, Lanark County. Eliza Hunt was also born in Ireland in 1827. She was the daughter of William Hunt and Sarah Gulan who came to Canada when Eliza was 10 years old.

In 1846, James and Eliza were married. They bought 100 acres of land in Pakenham from the Canada Company. For this they paid 69 pounds, five shillings and sixpence. While living here, their children were born: John (1849), Sarah (1850), William (1852) and Robert (1862).

They sold their holdings in Pakenham in July 1865. Shortly after, they packed their few belongings and Eliza’s pet cat and, with a team of horses, headed towards Parry Sound. Andrew Moore came with them. When they reached Parry Sound they stayed with Mr. and Mrs. Blair who operated the Seguin House. Here James and Eliza made their home, along with Sarah, William and Robert. But John McKeown and Andrew Moore had met up with Samuel Armstrong. These three young men blazed a trail to the rapids at what was to become McKellar village. Then they returned to Parry Sound.

In the spring of 1867, the entire McKeown family and Andrew Moore continued their journey to McKellar on the road that had just been completed. They had horses and a sloop. From the rapids they chopped a road one and a half miles to the north. Here in the silence of the forest the first white woman to brave the rugged life in this area made a home for her husband and family. This home was a small log shanty which at first had only a dirt floor. This modest home was always open to all travellers with Indians and whites sharing her food and sleeping on her floor.

James was a good farmer, but he was also a civic-minded man. He served on the first council when it was organized in 1873. Eliza was a wonderful housekeeper. When her home could boast wooden floors she kept them snow white with the aid of homemade lye soap.

They were a deeply religious family. McKellar church had not been built so Rev. Charles Hansom came up from Parry Sound every three weeks. He made his home with the McKeowns, ministering to the settlers and visiting the lumber camps.

McKeown’s son John married Ellen Mary Stewart who was the daughter of another pioneer family. They also got a grant of land and settled down to raise a family of nine children most of whom remained in the vicinity.

Sarah, the McKeown’s only daughter, married David Patterson. This was a double wedding with Catherine Taylor marrying Samuel Armstrong. The wedding couples were driven to the church by horses and cutter. The minister was Rev. Tucker. This was the first wedding ceremony performed in the newly built church. Sarah and David had a family of three girls and one boy.

William McKeown married Rebecca Stevenson. They farmed at the south of the James McKeown homestead. Here they raised a family of five girls and three boys. It is interesting to note that their son Norman is still managing this same farm at the present time.

James lived to see his family grown and the virgin forest give way to prosperous farm land before his death on February 14, 1895.

Robert remained on the family farm. He married Mary McNamee. They didn’t have a family but raised an orphan girl.

Eliza got herself a little cottage in the village of McKellar down by the old weigh scales. Later she moved to another cottage behind the present McKellar laundromat. When her health began to fail she returned to the homestead to be cared for by her family. She was 96 years old when she passed away on November 4, 1921, having lived during the reign of five sovereigns. She had always been a marvel of physical endurance and could read fine print without glasses. Her funeral service was conducted in McKellar Church on Thanksgiving Sunday by Rev. Bushell. Both she and James are buried in Lakeview cemetery.

This stalwart pioneer family has left its mark on McKellar township. Many of their descendants still live here and each in their own way has helped to make the township what it is today.

This article first appeared in the April 1987 newsletter, Volume 3 - Number 1