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March 19, 2004
One burial in the Auld KirkYard behind St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Fergus, that of Andrew Dalgarno, stands out as being indicative of the trials and tribulations early settlers had to endure in Upper Canada.
To set the stage - during the early 1830's the economy in Great Britain was in a downward spiral, due to concerns about the Reform Bill. Deep recession would be a good phrase to use to describe the situation. At the same time glowing reports were published about the possibilities of a prosperous life in Canada. In particular Adam Fergusson’s notes of his travels through Upper Canada in 1831 and Chambers “Papers on Emigration to America” caught the attention of some dissatisfied Scots.
A number of Aberdeen business men decided to check for themselves, the country so glowingly written up. They formed a plan to establish their own colony and to call it Bon-Accord after the motto of their ancestral city’s coat-of-arms. George Elmslie was chosen to travel to Upper Canada, to select and purchase a suitable settlement site.
Elmslie and his family cleared Grosse Ile, the quarantine station, where he met Mr. Alexander Watt and traveled on to Kingston and Toronto. Leaving his family and Mr. Watt in Toronto he linked up with William Gibbons and traveled east and north of Toronto to look at lands in the Peterborough, Lake Simcoe, Barrie and Nottawasaga areas. His next foray, in the company of Watt and Gibbons was to Niagara, Dunnville, Brantford and Galt. Still seeing nothing that impressed them, the party pushed toward Waterloo then Elora and Fergus. They stayed for one evening at “a tavern kept by one Freivogel.” That tavern still stands on Highway #8 between Kitchener and Shakespeare.
The party lodged in a tavern in Elora for one night and not finding Mr. Gilkison, headed upriver toward Fergus. After spending one night in Fergus in the company of Webster and friends, Elmslie’s party made their way back to Elora, found Gilkison, saw his maps and set out to see the lay of the land. Taking the Fergus Brush Road the party made their way to the Irvine, River, crossed and examined land on the 11th, 12th and 13th Concessions of Nichol. Pleased with what they saw, arrangements were made to purchase a block of approximately 2,500 acres. The land lay several miles north of both Fergus and Elora and could thus provide ties to both communities. This close approximation would prove a good selling point. Bon Accords ties with Fergus would strengthen considerably with the marriages, and deaths, of a number of settlers.
By December 1834, Elmslie had moved his family unto the land
and others were encouraged to follow. Andrew Dalgarno, a thirty- three year
old labourer from Longshore, Aberdeenshire, heeded the call, uprooted his
family and sailed on the “Pacific” on April 16, 1835, arriving
with the fifth party of Scots to emigrate to Elmslie’s settlement on
June 10th. With him were his wife about which little is known although indications
are that she was a “Walker” and related to James Walker, baker
in Fergus. The couples children were Andrew Jr., John, Alexander, Barbara
and Beatrice, no ages are known. In all accounts, Andrew was over six feet
tall, muscular and used to hard work.
On a Saturday morning in August 1836, Andrew, with a scythe and lunch at hand, went to cut beaver meadow grass along Moirs Creek. When he didn’t appear home at dusk, his wife began to worry but it wasn’t until Sunday morning that she sounded the alarm. At daybreak, she told George Barron that her husband was missing.
A group of Bon accord settlers with muskets and noise makers set out to find him. They traveled up Moir’s Creek, up to the point where it crosses between Nichol and Pilkington Townships. When no sign of the man was found, the party split up. Some went farther up the creek. Others proceeded downstream. Several took a blazed Indian path toward present day Alma. If Dalgarno was found, two shots were to be fired.
The party walking downstream came across a huge beaver meadow to the left of Moir Creek which they explored. t the end of this large meadow the party found another stream flowing in a westerly direction. Following this stream they found footprints of hob-nailed boots, definitely those of a white man. They then saw evidence that a scythe had been used on meadow grass. Sounding the alarm, a decision was made to return home as it was getting dark.
Next day, Monday, fourteen men, well armed with weapons and food, retraced the path to the newly discovered beaver meadow where the group broke into two parties to fully explore the area. Both met again around six o’clock in the evening with tales of footprints, scythe marks, shootings of pheasants, sightings of deer but no Andrew Dalgarno.
It was agreed that the full party should precede further downstream where they plodded through more beaver meadow then found a large river which they ascertained was the Grand below Elora. As they knew that a waggon trail that led from the Townships of Woolwich and Waterloo ran along the east bank of the river toward Elora, they crossed the water and reached an area, known today as Inverhaugh. After blazing a hugh maple on four sides, they had a hearty meal and walked to Elora where they heard Dalgarno had been found. This party had followed present day “Carroll’s Creek. Today, it is marked with a bowstring bridge and crosses Middlebrook Road west of Elora and just past a red brick school house.
Andrew’s story was that he had wandered from Moir Creek into the newly discovered meadow then mistaking a stream for Moir Creek, went a considerable distance before realizing he was lost. He decided to follow the stream down its course as he knew it would eventually dump into the Grand. When night overtook him on Saturday, he ate the last of his food and slept. Next morning, Sunday, he ascertained that he should follow the direction of the sunrise. Forgetting the sun crossed from east to west during the course of the day, Dalgarno walked in a circle, all the while fighting his way through swamp and cedar copse. On Monday morning he woke up and heard falling water. Following the sound, he found himself on the west side of the Grand River near the Cascade where he began to vocalize his plight. Old King Reeve heard the call, crossed the river and lead Dalgarno back to his house and a good meal before sending him on his way home to Bon Accord.
Andrew was not a lucky person. Shortly after this incident, while cutting a tree, a wood chip struck him in the eye, blinding him for life. And his life proved to be a short one. In 1838, while chopping trees on the Watt farm, he was struck by a tree and killed instantly. The tree he’d been chopping, fell, struck a dead beech tree that in turn fell on Andrew. Due to the lack of sight in one eye, he couldn’t see the danger until it was too late to react.
Andrew Dalgarno was reputed to be the third person to be buried
in St. Andrew’s Auld KirkYard in Fergus. As with Mrs. Pirie, who was
the fourth burial, Dalgarno’s coffin was carried two miles on the shoulders
of neighbours for burial in the ground of a “hame preachin’ Kirk”.
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