Ancestral Notes

My Family History blog

COG Local History – “The Tomato Capital of Canada”, Leamington, Ontario

Essex County was at one time, completely under ice, and when it receded the first bluff of land to emerge was the Ridge, just west of the town of Leamington, which was made as the glaciers receded. The inhabitants of the area were Iroquois Indians, who were a warring nation. Essex County was one of the last areas in the province to be settled for this reason. Samuel de Champlain made raids against the Iroqois in 1609 and 1615 and was able to penetrate the lands as far as the Detroit River. Lake Erie was the last of the Great Lakes to be explored and charted, early explorers bypassed the lands and used a northern route to the upper lakes. Militia from France arrived in 1666 and the Iroquois threat was neutralized. The first white men in the county were Robert Chevalier de LaSalle accompanied by, Rev. Francois Dollier de Casson, a Sulpican priest, and deacon Rene Brehant de Galinee, who camped at Point Pelee in the spring of 1670. Galinee called this region “the Terrestial paradise of Canada”. Essex County was a “no-man’s land” between the British and Iroquois on one side and the French, Algonquin and Hurons on the other. In 1701 Cadillac founded the settlement on the “Straits” which later became Detroit. By the 1730’s the voyageurs were using the fort at Detroit as their headquarters, while the Canadian side was still populated only by Indians.
After the British victory in the Seven Years War, and later, the Pontiac War, the area was still not attracting settlers. It wasn’t until the end of the Revolutionary War and the influx of United Empire Loyalists to the country that the Indian threat was reduced. The threat was not gone, however, and many early pioneers had to ransom their wives and children from the natives.
The first town plan in the county was Colchester, in 1787. Southwest Ontario was then known as the District of Hesse. Upon the arrival of Lt.Col John Graves Simcoe from England, in 1792, the region was renamed the Western District. The boundaries were Lake Erie on the south, the Detroit River on the east, the Thames River on the west and four miles south of Lake St. Clair on the north. These boundaries were expanded to the north, in 1800, to Lake St. Clair.
The first Loyalist settlers to come, Captain Mathew Elliot and Captain William Caldwell, arrived in 1783 to Malden Twp. The land on the Canadian side of the Detroit River was given to the military officers and Indian interpreters, so the land on the north shore of Lake Erie was purchased from the Indians in 1787 and named the “New Settlement” to distinguish it from the ‘Old Settlement” in Amherstburg and Sandwich on the Detroit River. In 1790, the name was changed to the “Two Connected Townships” and twelve lots were added to the eastern border. The entire area was open for settlement by 1788, when Point Pelee and Pelee Island, the last two parcels of land still held by Indians was leased to settlers for 999 years, but it wasn’t until the 1820’s that the Ridge leading to Leamington started to see settlers, the section was opened as Talbot Road.
The Loyalists who moved here had to cut through the thickest forests in North America. For fifty years the pioneers of the county fought to clear the dense virgin forest. Fire was the quickest way to clear the land, and the glow of lumber burning could be seen as far as Chicago, 300 miles away. Leamington was the last area to be tamed, remaining unsettled until the Talbot Road and Middle Road opened it up in 1823.
The first settlers to clear a farm in the area were Alexander Wilkinson, John McGaw and Thomas Quick. Ralph Foster came in 1826 and built a log cabin and cleared 164 acres along with his sons. In 1852 he noticed the odour of natural gas on his farm and later oil was discovered and the Leamington oil field was developed.
The first post office and store was opened 1n 1833 on Talbot Road, near the Four Corners, later Wilkinson’s Corners.
Leonard Wigle, born in Gosfield Twp., Essex County in 1804, bought a bush farm of 200 acres and cleared the land. He was a prosperous farmer and opened the first tavern in the area in 1836. His tavern was a popular stop for travellers along Talbot Road. In 1845 Eli Deming opened a store near the tavern .
With the growth in transportation and population, there was a land boom, and Essex County was the first in Canada to be affected by speculative values which led to price increases in other areas. In 1855, eggs were 25 cents a dozen, while in 1850 they were only 5 cents a dozen.
William Gaines opened a grist and saw and carding mill in 1855 which gave employment to labourers, who in turn began putting up their own houses. Warren Kimball was the first Postmaster on June 1, 1854, with the office adjoining his shoe shop and house. He also built the first house in Wilkinson’s Corners. When the first Post Office was set up, the name of Gainesville was given to it, in honour of William Gaines, but, since there was already a Gainesville post office, the name was changed to Leamington, after Royal Leamington Spa in southern England. By 1860 the village of Leamington had a population of 75, with small commercial and industrial businesses, farms, mills, and Baptist, Methodists and Anglican churches and stagecoaches ran on a regular schedule from Leamington to Windsor.
Alexander Wilkinson and John McGaw made the first survey of the community in 1855.
After the outbreak of the civil war in the US, the farmers started raising livestock, to sell to the US. army. After the Civil War, the US ended the pact for foodstuff crossing the border without tariffs from Canada and the farmers were forced to go into specialized farming of fruits and vegetables.
After the railway service was extended to Leamington, markets in Windsor and Detroit were more accessible and the agricultural industry flourished. Before this the area had excellent dock facilities and an active shipping trade in timber, lumber and agricultural goods. Tobacco was being grown with 10,000 pounds exported annually.
At this time, the settlement had a grist mill, owned by John Askew, a sawmill operated by Russell and Wigle, saddlers Pulford and Sherwood, two carriage factories of W.S. Pulford and W.F. McKenzie, sash, door and blind factories, a telegraph office and four teachers in a public school.
The community was incorporated into a village on Nov. 26, 1874 with George Russell as it’s first reeve and John Selkirk as it’s first village clerk. Members of the first council were Charles H. Fox, William Hazelton, John Setterington and Peter Conover.
John Askew built the first flour mills in 1868 and in 1884, remodelled them with a complete modern roller system. He bought and brought the first Hungarian system rollers into the country. In 1872, after the great Chicago fire in 1871, Leamington developed it’s first fire department, which was a volunteer bucket brigade. The population at this time had reached 300. In the late 1870’s the department got it’s first pump. On May 14, 1883, the main business section was destroyed by fire.
Leamington’s first electrical lighting plant was set up in a saw-mill in 1888.
In January, 1890 Leamington was incorporated as a town. The first concrete sidewalks were starting to be constructed in 1895. By 1899 water-mains were installed and fed by Artesian wells.
The marshland around the area was drained to provide more fertile land by the turn of the century. The area was producing grapes, peaches, and other vegetables.
In 1905, a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail described Essex County as “Eden without the serpent”. the report lists corn, wheat and tobacco as the three major crops. A Leamington dispatch of that year states “South Essex puts crops first on the market before any other part of Ontario. New potatoes, peas, beans and tomatoes are being shipped out, cherries on the market for some time and strawberries about due”.
On November 16, 1908 the town purchased the Henry Ward Tobacco Co. building and turned it over to the H. J. Heinz Company along with free water as incentives to relocate here. The H.J.Heinz Company established a food-processing plant in 1909 which was the most important single event in our economic history. The greenhouse industry was introduced to the area in the 1940’s to extend the growing season for tomatoes to supply H.J.Heinz Company, and by 1959, Leamington was the source of 2/3 of the tomatoes produced in Canada.*


The Leamington area boasts one of the world’s largest greenhouse industries and is still growing. The Tomatofest is held in August at the start of the processing season.
Pelee Island Winery is world-reknowned and Point Pelee National Park has been recognized as one of the best places in the world for bird-watching. The population in the town has increased to over 20,000.

*Source: Leamington’s Heritage 1874-1974 – Compiled by Francis Selkirk Snell

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Filed under: Carnival of Genealogy, Carnivals, , , ,

COG #68 – A Tribute to Women – Sarah Haines, UEL

I received this from a descendant of Joseph Haines, Jr.. The author, Pergrine Otway-Page was the son of Sarah, born 1814, died 1904.

“It was about the year 1776, after the loss of all their property because of loyalty to their King and Crown, that my ancestors on my mother’s side were forced to migrate to Canada. However, it is uncertain from what part of the United States they came. They reached Canada after a long, dangerous journey of much suffering and privation. Arriving first at Fort Niagara and there resting a few days, they were transferred to Canada under the British flag.

The family consisted of my grandfather, the late Joseph Haines, his wife, four sons, Peter, Philip, Edward* and Joseph, and two daughters Sarah, my mother, and her sister, who afterward married a Mr. Whitney. When about one day’s march from the frontier, Sarah who was but eight years of age, while bringing water from a nearby spring, was seized by two squaws and wrapped in their blankets and carried away. It was in the early evening after a whole day’s weary travel, but her brothers pursued them and shot one when the squaws quietly let loose their little captive, and she was thus recovered in perfect safety. The same gun had been their protection upon other occasions during their escape to Canada, and I have it to this day in my possession in perfect order.

My grandfather, Joseph Haines, was granted 200 acres of land on the Four Mile Creek in the township of Niagara, His son Joseph was also granted 200 acres adjoining his father. Peter received his grant in the township of Ancaster, near Hamilton. Mrs. Whitney got her 200 acres on the Humber, and Sarah was granted 200 acres in Darlington twp. My grandfather, Joseph Haines, died at the Humber at the reported age of 130 years.

My father, Thomas Otway-Page, came to Canada form England in 1792. He was highly connected by blood, the eldest brother of the eminent Gen. Sir Loftus William Otway and Admiral Sir Robert Wiler Otway, but he attached his mother’s maiden name Page on reaching Canada. In England he was a Tory and a fast friend of Gen. Maitland, afterwards Governor-General, but his fearless advocacy of free speech and equal rights to all caused a rupture with Gov. Maitland because he could not condone the outrage committed by the order of Sir Peregrine Maitland upon one Robert Randall under the form of the law. and also for having caused Mr. Forsyth’s house to be tumbled into the Niagara River at Niagara Falls, and for which Sir Peregrine Maitland was recalled by the home government.

“My grandfather subsequently became a staunch Baldwin Reformer of influence. He was inofficiously educated and a man of wide and liberal views. My mother was a widow, Bland by name, with two children, Philip and Margaret, when my father married her in 1808. In the meantime my father had bought among other lands in Bertie lot B.F.L.E., Point Albino, which was granted in 1797 to one Timothy Skinner, a U.E. Loyalist, who had migrated from the States contemporaneously with the Haines family. My mother sold her grant in Darlington, and they moved to Bertie on Lot 32 B.F.L.E., where the family has always resided since 1808.

During the War of 1812 my father joined a detachment of the 89th Dragoons, to which he had belonged in England, and while he fought throughout the war with Captain Chambers in defense of his home, King and country, my mother looked after the farm, and she even prepared and wove the clothing from the flax worn by those on the farm, in addition to her household duties, etc., and was frequently obliged to ride to Niagara in the dead of night, a distance of thirty miles, on horseback.

During one of those nocturnal trips to Niagara, taken in the evening of the 12th of October, 1812, being about to leave Niagara towards morning, having just secured her countersign, she heard the battle of Queenston going on and shortly after saw Gen. Sir Isaac Brock and his aide-de-camp, Col. MacDonnell, ride away to the scene of action, to their fate. It was she who remarked that Gen. Brock had forgotten his sword, a very strange incident, but he refused to return for it and remarked that he had a presentiment that it would be his last battle, which subsequently proved only too true. She remained at Niagara until victory crowned ore arms, and in the evening of the same day she realized how dearly that victory had been bought when news reached Niagara that the mortal remains of Gen. Sir Isaac Brock and his faithful aide-de-camp were on the way to Fort George, where, in the presence of Gen. Roger Sheaffe, both bodies were laid to rest in one grave with the tears and sorrow of the whole country.”

“In July 1814, my mother, having learned of the firing by the Americans of the village of St. David’s, promptly sent all her able-bodied farm servants to the seat of war, and the next day, the 25th of July, 1814, the terrible battle of Lundy’s Lane was fought. She also sent her only son, Philip, who was but sixteen years of age, and he was orderly for Gen. Drummond during that day and night of carnage.

My mother garnered the grain with the help of small boys that summer, and with horses all disabled by the incidents of war. I was born the 22nd of August in the same year and was named after father’s fast friend, Sir Peregrine Maitland. My father had his horse shot under him at Lundy’s Lane, and received a musket ball in his thigh which he carried with him to his grave in 1832. Three of my uncles were at the battle of Sandwich under Gen. Brock, including my uncle Philip, who was burned to death in Toronto shortly afterwards.

My father belonged to Captain Chambers’ company of fifty picked men. They were the terror of three hundred American frontier cow tails who were reputed to harass the inhabitants. They once took possession of our farm, and loaded nineteen wagons with all our grain, hay, provisions, etc., in the fall of 1814, and we were compelled that winter to pay $16.00 per barrel for our flour.

It was at this time, when I was but a few months old, they came near pelting me to death, sportively, with our fine golden pippen apples. They sacked our cellar, taking there from all our winter’s meat, including four saddles of dried venison, and stole mother’s carving knife, a relic she had brought from her home in the United States, but it was returned and is still in our possession in fair order. The soldier who took it was ordered by the captain to apologize to my mother for the theft, and was also reprimanded for using impudent language towards her.”

“I can never cease to admire the resolute bravery of my mother, who in many respects was a most remarkable woman. While father was a large and powerful man, mother was small in stature, dark complexioned, with piercing black eyes, very small feet and small slim hands. Her hair was black as a raven, and so extremely long that she could stand erect on it trailing on the floor. A fearless rider on horseback, she was as resolute as she was active. One incident proves this; about 1822, a mischievous boy set fire to a cat, which dashed up a steep ladder into the garret of our house, where father kept his store of gunpowder covered with cotton waste. Smoke issued at once. I screamed fire to my mother, and she took a two pail bucket of water and ascended the ladder and extinguished the fire, but not until three of the hoops were burned off one of the powder kegs.

After the war, times began very much to improve. My father took a position as acting sheriff under Sheriff Hamilton for the united counties of Welland and Lincoln in 1816, and acted in that capacity until 1822, the family, with my mother at its head, remaining on our lands here, My father, however, commenced a business in Toronto shortly after 1828, and while attending to his business as storekeeper he died there in 1832.

In the meantime, he had left a kind old gentleman and a fast friend to our family on Point Albino, by name Dennis, under bond to dare for that part of our estate, and as it was useless for farming purposes, he subsisted chiefly by cultivating a few acres, fishing and netting pigeons. Mr. Dennis furnished us with barrels of salted pigeons on condition that I would not destroy his pigeon business by shooting them, and so expert did he become at pigeon-netting that he considered a take on one day of less than fifty dozen during the season a poor day. He often exceeded that number very much. This kind old man died in 1834, full of gratitude to our family. In the meantime I had grown from an infant hunter of four years of age with a pack of wolf-dogs that protected me from rattlesnakes and carrying a musket with flints, to an age when I should make it the rule to shoot off the heads of wild pigeons with my rifle.”

“When I was about 10 years of age, our place being terribly infested with rattlesnakes, I was bitten by one in the top of my foot. This nearly proved fatal. It was many months before I recovered, and then I became subject to fits until I was 15.

The Rebellion of 1837 broke out when I was about 18 years of age. My mother, ever imbued with a martial spirit, advised me to turn out, which I did, and I was the second recruit to volunteer under Col. Kirby, leaving an eccentric philosopher named Brandyman, who had been my tutor from childhood, with my mother on the farm, and I was mainly instrumental in causing the volunteers to be armed with muskets, which were not at first issued to them. I had no trouble in instructing the recruits to shoot, for I was about as perfect a marksman in those days as could be found anywhere.

I was married in April, 1839, to Miss Magdaline Snider. She was a most dutiful wife and fond mother to my four children and her 19 grandchildren, but to our great sorrow and grief, she passed over to the majority in 1890, aged 75 years, regretted by all.

My mother died in 1852, full of years, aged 84, and she was laid to rest, by her special request, on the bank of Lake Erie, on Lot 32 B.F.L.E., overlooking Point Albino Bay, a most beautiful spot in front of a few garden acres which had been her delight to cultivate during her earlier years, but now for years overgrown with wild sweet balsams. This little plot had been consecrated as the burial-place of pioneers many, many years previous to 1852, and was made more sacred as the last resting-place of all that was mortal of one who was a noble heroine, and with all the attributes of the kindest mother.”

* I haven’t found any record for Edward or Peter, possibly a lapse of memory on the author’s part. Children of record are : Philip, Joseph, Jr., Nathaniel, Sarah, Margaret and Mary upon arrival in Niagara. One son was killed in the Revolutionary war.
– Loyalist Claims for Losses #988

Filed under: Carnival of Genealogy, Carnivals, Family Files, Genealogy, Haines/Hines, Loyalists, , , , ,

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