George Sneath

The man who loved and named Midhurst.

First Midhurst postmaster (1862), first township clerk (1854-1904), Justice of the Peace, Superintendent of Schools.

PIONEER LIFE IN VESPRA.

By Geo. Sneath, Esq.

Having been solicited to read a paper before you, I have had some difficulty in choosing a suitable subject which I could make interesting to you. However, with your permission I will endeavor to tell you something about pioneer life in the township of Vespra, of which township I have been a resident for half a century. (Feb. 14, 1893).

Fifty years ago the town of Barrie was one of a few small settlements which Vespra contained, and was as much in the bush as any of them. But as I have already written my early recollections of it, which have appeared in print, and as His Honor Judge Ardagh, in his admirable paper read at your last meeting, covered the whole ground, so far as the early settlement of Barrie and the Penetanguishene Road is concerned, I shall not again allude to them in this paper, but try to give you some idea of what life was in the backwoods of Vespra at the time I have mentioned.

Vespra is only a third rate farming township, being very much broken by hills and swamps, and the soil being poor, except in a few sections where it is very good, and where very prosperous settlements exist.

When I first became acquainted with it, it was one of the finest timbered townships in the county. There were untold riches which were unfortunately out of sight of the settlers in its forests. Trees were only an incumbrance, to be got rid of in the most expeditious way possible. The finest of pine trees were logged up and burnt. At a later period, more were sold to lumbermen for a trifle, who made fortunes out of them. I will relate you an instance. A few miles from Barrie stood a block of pine lands, 600 acres, which was offered for sale, and was a long time without a purchaser, at $2 an acre, (I think it was in 1856) ; later on it was sold at that price ; again at $4 per acre ; and again at $50 an acre to a lumberman, who built a mill on it and made a fortune out of it of many thousand dollars.

For a good many years the most prosperous times Vespra ever knew go in what direction you might, could be heard the hum of a saw-mill. But now, alas! the timber and the mills are gone, along with the busy villages attached to them.

“But now, the sounds of population fail;
No cheerful murmurs fluctuate in the gale ,
No busy steps the grass -grown footway tread,
For all the bloomy flush of life is fled.”

And the land is left desolate and unfit for cultivation.

At some remote time, there is no doubt but the township was thickly inhabited by some aboriginal tribes, probably the Hurons. There are evidences of such being the case. Large pits of bones have been found in several parts of the township; and pipes, arrow heads, crockery, etc., have frequently been ploughed up, of which the Indians of our day can give no account, neither have they the art of making them. The time of their occupation must be remote, for pits containing their bones and articles of their manufacture have been found under trees of the largest growth. From whence they came, or whither they went, is a mystery which I think has not yet been solved.

The first white settlers in the interior of the township, chiefly old soldiers, came in about the years 1833 and 34. They had commuted their pensions and were settled on free grants of land. They were in most cases, through age and in other ways, unfitted to bear the hardships of backwoods life. Being without means, they made slow progress in clearing up their lots. They suffered many privations. It has been told that some of them were days together without bread or meat, and of having to cook the buds of the basswood trees for food. The rebellion of 1837 was the means of improving their condition. They were taken to Toronto and Penetanguishene to defend their country, and for their services, besides being supplied with good clothing, of which they were in great need, a portion of their commuted pension, 4X d. per day, was restored to them. They were not successful farmers, and as a result their farms passed into other hands…. p. 16-7

Pioneer Papers – No. 2, Simcoe County Pioneer and Historical Society, Barrie, 1908. or here.

Note: Springwater township was created in 1994 when the townships of Vespra and Flos were amalgamated with the village of Elmvale. Until 1862, Midhurst was known as Oliver’s Mills.

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