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Birth of Canada, 1867: Who Was There?

For today’s post I bring you a little bit of history and a little bit of real people’s stories. I’ve chosen to give personalities to William and Catherine (Cain) Garner, my great great great grandparents and to interview them. I’ve given them the ability to see into the future, you’ll notice, for I think these stalwart Loyalists who settled in Upper Canada have a lot to say about how we Canadians got here today, having just celebrated our sesquicentennial (150 years).

I’ve come to know William and Catherine having used their names, their situation, family tales, and the characteristics of my own father in writing my trilogy, especially in the second and third books. In the picture at left William is seated with Catherine to his right. The other two are their son, William, and his wife, Rosabella (Cass) Garner. The first William never got to see Confederation in 1867 when Canada was formed but Catherine did. This family settled in Nissouri township on a 200 acre farm which straddled the Thames River.

William and Catherine were there when most people traveled by an old Indian trail which crisscrossed their land.  Why? The roads marked out on the township maps were in varying states of disrepair relying as they did on the settlers to maintain the road along their acreages. There were just not enough settlers to have this be a viable way to keep up the roads. I wonder how we would like this system today? Aren’t we glad we have public works organizations? Makes you think taxes actually help us.

Ouch! Catherine just pinched me and William is glowering as he must have when he saw the condition of the so-called roads in Nissouri Township. We had better get started.

Elaine: I am most pleased to meet both of you even though the situation is very strange for all of us. What was it like moving away from Niagara and all of your family after the war was over in 1812?

William: Tough, it was. We both suffered a lot. I was part of the militia for about nine months during the war. Did you know that?

E: I did. I’ve read about some of those battles you must have been in. Can you tell me any details?

Catherine: First I need to say how sick I felt at leaving my parents’ graves and my little Catt’s. No one to say a prayer over them, pull the weeds around the piles of stones.

W: Hush, Catherine. Think of more pleasant times. Remember that barn raising on the lot south of us? We danced all night on the pounded earth. There’s a good girl. A smile.

E: Did you have a lot of times like that? I mean the dancing and partying.

C: No, not really. Mostly we worked from sunup to sundown and sometimes into the wee hours.

W: Sundays, though. We tried to rest on Sundays.

E: I heard about the Chippewa Indians. We call them Natives or First Nations people now, by the way. Do you have any stories about them?

W: The British conquered them. Put them on reserved lands and expected them to stay there. Not just the Chippewas. Mohawks and the others, what you now call Six Nations. All of them were given lands of their own.

E: We’re facing the consequences of that now.

C: I should tell her about that Indian woman, do you think, William?

W: That was a terrible thing.

C: It was a fine spring day. She came to visit with her little one–papoose–she called him. All wrapped up and tied on a board to sleep…..Oh, this part is hard. We left him on the front veranda. In the fresh air, you see.

E: What happened?

C: We were inside, my two china teacups on the table….smiling, talking. As women do.

Chippewa Indians Genealogy: FamilySearch Wiki

W: You’ll have to tell it, Catherine.

C: The baby. Screaming. So loud I can hear it now….we ran out and watched a lynx jump off the porch and run away…looked for the baby. Only the board and the broken strings. Blood. Lots of blood. On the porch, the grass. And silence. No baby screams now.

W: Here now. Don’t cry. It’s all in the past.

E: Um, I…William, what did you think of the Family Compact?

W: The what?….Oh, I remember. A bunch of privileged sons of–

C: William!

W. They had all the power and used it to feather their own nests. Gave the perks to their sons and cousins. Kept it all to their families. Made us so angry…some talked about overthrowing the government. The British! Others tried going to England and pleading. No good. Finally, rebellion. That was after I was gone but Catherine told me about it. Robert was part of it.

E: Who is Robert? Your son?

C: One of them. A good boy, too. Didn’t deserve to be hounded after that fiasco in Norwich. Those rebels never even got further than 10 miles before they turned back.

E: What do you mean, hounded?

W: Terrorized the little village looking for those whose names they found on a list. Most escaped. Others stood trial. A few died because of it.

C: That was such a bad business. Robert made it home but spent the rest of his days looking behind him.

E: What do you think when you look at us now a hundred and fifty years since Canada was born. Do you have any feelings?

C: I’m glad Canada turned out so well. For everyone. But especially for our family. William, we started something, didn’t we?

W: Yes, my dear. We surely did….and it was good.

E: Well, this has been fabulous, meeting my relatives, getting to know you–you’re real people. And, William, I can see my Dad in you. You would have liked him. Thank you both.

W: Just remember we’re looking down on you all.

C: No nasty tricks, no drinking or missing church. We’ll be watching.

E: So, there we have it. Two stalwart people. My relatives. I hope I get to meet them again.


The whole trilogy with these and many other characters is available on Amazon. Just double click on the book cover below.

“…ordinary people somehow finding the inner resources to shape new lives and a new country.”










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