An Article of Interest

The Swiss Move to Parry Sound District

by John Wallace Smith

Whatever their personal reasons were .. my ancestors decision to leave their homes in Switzerland and emigrate to Canada came as a result of four events.

  1. In Switzerland, large imports of American grain had caused a slump in local market prices.
  2. In Ontario, the Free Grants and Homesteads Act of 1868 granted 100 acres of land, free, to anyone over 18 years of age who was prepared to clear and cultivate 15 acres and erect a home on it within 15 years.
  3. Canadian owners of steamship lines, anxious for business, arranged with the government to provide passage from Liverpool to Quebec City for the sum Of five pounds payable by the immigrant and at the same time it was arranged through and subsidized by the Canadian Government, to furnish free railroad transport from Quebec City to the immigrants destination.
  4. In 1872 the Canadian Government appointed Baroness Elise von Koerber, a European lady who had lived in Canada for 16 years, as immigration agent. She was charged with the responsibility of encouraging settlers to move to the uncleared region of Nipissing, Ontario.

With her urging four experts soon began exploration of the Nipissing region where they stayed from October till November 1873. The group was directed by the great Swiss traveller and mineralogist Jakob Kaderli. In his report was the soil description, the climate, the possibilities of clearing the land and the suitability of the land for farming. He also gave interesting details about the few European immigrants who had already settled in the region. Other members of the expedition were Jakob Brunschweiler from St. Gall; Edouard Schmid, a horticulturist from Bale; and Edward von Zuben, also a horticulturist originally from Alpnach and apparently the only member of the group who decided to stay as a result Of the survey!

Madame de Koerber conducted a publicity campaign in Europe particularly in Switzerland, where she field press conferences and distributed leaflets. She organized information meetings for prospective immigrants in Berne Liestal and Saanen among other places. She must have been convincing because quite a few farmers sold everything and headed for the Nipissing region to apply for free land grants.

The first Swiss arrivals settled land near Hungry Lake (now Carmen Lake) in Chapman Township in what was known as the German Settlement. Later, because Of the poor, rocky land first granted to them, many moved to nearby Magnetawan.

Gottlieb Brand (later Brandt) sailed from Liverpool, England aboard “SS Quebec” on May 19, 1875 in company with several Swiss families including the Fred Noll family. They landed at Quebec City June 3, 1875 after a voyage of 15 days. They then travelled by train to Parry Sound District and applied for land grants. Gottlieb and Fred received adjoining land in Chapman Township on December 1875. Equipped with a broadaxe, a hatchet, a crosscut saw and 50-60 feet of stout rope they made their first clearing on Fred’s land and built a cabin with trees they cut down on the site. Gottlieb spend the winter with the Noll family while the men, prepared a clearing and built a cabin on Gottlieb’s land. In the spring of 1876 Gottlieb sent for his wife Louise and their four children, Chris, Fred, Adolph and Louise.

Food was still scarce during their second winter. As a matter of fact in March 1877, in a letter written by Jules Munk of the Doe Lake settlement to the Minister of Agriculture, mention is made of the “hardships brought on by the lack of food”. This resulted in the authorization by the Minister of the purchase of “16 barrels of flour and 8 barrels of pork for the families that are in want of help at the moment”.

This assistance moved the immigrants to send the government the following note on April 5. 1877:” The undersigned Swiss in Magnetawan return to the Government of Ontario their heartfelt thanks for the liberal aid”. The note was signed by “Emmanuel Hauswirth, Rodolphe Reinhart, Gottlieb Brand, Peter Reinhart, Christian Linder, Peter Haldi, Frederick Noll, Christian Raaflaub, Joseph von Allwen and Christian Santschi”.

At this time was a man named Francois Louis Courvoisier, his wife Louise Marie (Betria) and their seven children. Francois came to Canada first and on July 4, 1878 Louise and the children sailed from Liverpool aboard “SS Pollynesian” bound for Quebec City. This family were to have settled at Rosseau but on their arrival discovered that all the land had been taken by other settlers and land speculators so the family began to walk until they came to Poverty Bay where they decided to settle. On August 1, 1878 Francois Louis, his son Francois Henri and daughter Urania all recieved patents for their land in Croft Township.

This same year John Urlich Gutjahr and his wife Marie, their two sons, Victor and Shuloe, and daughter Elina had left Switzerland and settled on 200 acres in Croft Township April 28, 1878. Shuloe (Joseph) drowned in the Magnetawan River when he was 16 years old.

On October 23, 1882 Francois Henri Courvoisier married Elin Gutjahr. They settled on Henri’s land and raised 10 children one of whom married John T Brand(t) thus becoming my grandmother.

By 1877 Madame von Koerber had brought several hundred Swiss to Canada. With her encouragement and assistance many of these had settled in her colony in the Parry Sound District. Most of the German speaking settled at Magnetawan while the French-speaking chose the Doe Lake area. Although the hardships discouraged many, by 1881 about 200 Swiss remained in the region. The 1881 census lists the Swiss inhabitants as follows: 45 in Chapman Township; 34 in Lount Township; 20 in Croft Township; 18 in Ryerson Towship and 9 in Nipissing Township.

On December 31, 1882 some of the Swiss settlers assembled at Magnetawan to form a protestant church. Among the names of the founders mentioned are: Aellens, Boo, Biossert, Brand, Courvoisierv, Eidam, Fahndrick, Fitzer, Gerber, Grunig, Gutjahr, Haldi, Hauswirth, Kaenel, Kernen, Knoepfli, Kuehni, Matti, Meyer, Noll, Quartier, Raaflaub, Reinhart, Rosselet, Salzmann, Schmidt, Sixt, Stucki, Sumi, Thiel, von Zuben, Uelliger, Wersten and Zingrich.

Gottlieb and Louise Brand(t) had five more children born in Canada. Of the nine children four of them married Courvoisiers: Chris married Louise Courvoisier, John T. married Marie Courvoisier, Albert married Florence Courvoisier and Mary married Charles Courvoisier. Fred married Jenny Phillips, Adolph married Catherine Noll, daughter of Gottlieb’s old friend Fred Noll, Louise married Mike Sollman, Sophia married William Bradley and Emma married Oliver Smith. These children all married in Canada produced a total of 71 children. These 71 children in turn had 172 children that I have been able to account for so far and I don’t have them all yet! Thus two Swiss immigrants, Gottlieb Prand(t) and his wife Louise Courvoisier, were responsible for the creation, to date, of between 250 and 300 descendants with two more generations uncounted! (I’ll leave that task for someone else to do). Gottlieb Brand(t) died in June 1913 and was buried at the Burk’s Falls Cemetery. His wife Louise died in 1920 and was buried at Ahmic Harbour Cemetery.

My grandparents John T. Brand(t) and Marie Courvoisier were married in 1903 and started farming near Cecebe on Lots 2 and 3 in Concession 12 of Ryerson Township. Their next door neighbours were Albert and Florence Brand(t) and the two families farmed her for nearly 4 decades. At one time Albert (Ab) operated a sawmill on his farm. Fred Brandt and his family moved to Niagara Falls in 1920 and dropped the “d” from Brandt becoming Brant. Some years later they moved back to Burk’s Falls where they remained.

John and Marie had nine children born on the farm: Mildred, Tillie, Grace, Leonard, Howard, Harold, Roy, Alice and Eileen.

In 1939, Roy and Harold Brandt opened a small “Joy Gasoline” station on the east side of Highway 11, about 1 1/2 miles north of Burk’s Falls. Both boys were called up for military service, so John and Marie sold the family farm to their son Leonard and his wife Agnes (Spiers) and started in the gasoline station business! The business prospered so they built a larger gas station and added a grocery store which they named “Brandt’s Country Store”. Since neither of them could read or write, their daughter Eileen joined them and did all the paperwork for the business.

In 1942, John T. built a dance hall behind the store and it became an instant success; possibly because John had discovered that, while other places closed at midnight on Saturday, he could run his store on Standard Time rather than Daylight Saving Time as other had to do, and thus stay open an extra hour! Since he was outside the town limits and nobody ever complained, he operated this way for many years. John T. called all the square dances. Music was supplied by his daughter Eileen on piano, son Leonard on the violin and guitar played by Ming Moore. After 22 years the business was sold to their son Harold and his wife Mildred (Graham) and John and Marie retired to a home on Highway 11 near Berriedale.

In 1970 John T. accidentally swallowed a toothpick, but thought nothing of it. Unfortunately the toothpick perforated his intestine and peritonitis developed. He died five days later. Mary lived until 1973 and they are buried together in the Burk’s Falls Cemetery.

Note: Our sincere thanks to John for his permission to print his story in our newsletter. John Would be pleased to hear from anyone who might add to his story about the Swiss Settlement in the District of Parry Sound.

Mr. John Wallace Smith, Box 122e, R.R. # 2, Stroud, Ontario. LOL 2MO

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