Founding Of The Town
( Originally Published 1901 )
This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with mess and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, Stand like Druids of eld, with voices and prophetic, Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms. —LONGFELLOW.
A person of reflective mind stationed on one of Port Hope's many wooded hills, all the surroundings of upland and valley and lake are full of suggestions of bye-gone times. The tall whispering pines confide strange tales of other days and the moss-grown stones of the hill-side are rich in the memories of the past. Under their magic influence centuries are rolled back and the primeval forest emerges from the dark oblivion of unrecorded days. Then once again the panorama of Time unfolds itself and in a twinkling the days and years of the past flash by and all that has been is seen once more.
Into the peaceful and secluded valley of the Ganaraska come the red men. They hunt in the woods, they fish in the stream and they build their wigwams on the grassy banks. For a season they remain and then vanish like the snow and new tribes take their place. Now a stern, rugged coureur de Bois appears and camps by night beside the stream and then a patient Jesuit father toils by to his mission-field in the West. At length a strange sail looms up on the horizon and coasts along the shore. Perchance it is La Salle and his daring adventurers pushing ever westward to the " Father of Waters." Other sails come and go and meanwhile the Mississauga braves build their romantic village of Gochingomink beside the Ganaraska. There they remain till long after the white man has come to claim the land as his own and till " Cut Nose," the thief and the murderer, whose name and reputation alone survive the disappearance of this tribe from the valley, has fled far to the west from the scene of his evil deeds.
From the mythical past to the more assured realm of history is but a step and on the arrival of the white man the imagination ceases its conjectures and turns to the pages of recorded fact. Here it is found that in 1778, Peter Smith, a fur trader, landed at the mouth of the creek and took up his abode in a substantial log-house, which he constructed on the bank of the stream about where Helm's Foundry now stands*. Here he began business, and presently the Indians flocked to him from far and near bearing with them the fruits of the chase and the trap. His fairness in all his dealings with them gave him a good name and a monopoly of the fur-trade, and his skill as a hunter and trapper won for him the deepest respect. To the scattered settlers of Upper Canada the trading-post became well-known, receiving the name of Smith's Creek—an appellation which the future settlement was to bear for many years. The trader himself for many years occupied the important position of judge or arbiter among the Indian tribes.
Smith had no intention of being a permanent settler. His object was to acquire a measure of wealth and then to return to civilization for its enjoyment. His purpose was doubtless accomplished by 1790, for in that year he disappears forever from our history. His log-house now passed into the hands of another trader, named Herchimere, who continued his dealings with the Indians, and assumed his position as their benefactor.
On the 8th of June 1793 the " Pilgrim Fathers " of Port Hope, landed through the surf on the stony beach o f their " New World." The little company comprised four families, —those of Myndert Harris, L. Johnson, Nathaniel Ashford and James Stevens—and a number of surveyors from New Hampshire. A subsequent chapter will relate the tale of the " pilgrimage " of these early pioneers, but at present the actual founding of the settlement is the subject to be treated of. The landing of such a goodly company of white men must have been an event of no little surprise to the two hundred Indians of Gochingomink, as well as to the worthy Herchimere. The red men evinced immediate hostility and were on the point of preventing the landing of the new-comers, maintaining that they were Yankee in truders, when Herchimere, recognizing Captain Bouchettes gunboat, in which the settlers had been conveyed from Newark, hurried about among the savages and finally persuaded them that they had nothing to fear from the new arrivals, who were good subjects of the Great Father, King George of England. Thus appeased, the Indians allowed the debarkation to continue.
By sunset a little group of white tents was to be seen on the "Flats,"—the level stretch of land across the creek from the trading-post. With the morning light the work of constructing log houses was begun. These were long low houses with huge Dutch fireplaces at one end and were thatched with bark. In due time they were completed and occupied.
Meanwhile the New Hampshire surveyors had not been idle, and about half the township had been laid out when they were attacked by a fever, then and several years after very prevalent hereabouts in the late -summer.
This necessitated a cessation of work and, we being near at hand, they departed for Newark.
Thus left alone the four families mentioned spent the winter at Smith's Creek and for the first time the snows covered the roofs of the embryo town of Port Hope. Since that by-gone time many a gloomy snow-cloud has drifted over the valley and laid its white burden on the frozen ground but never since have the snows of winter fallen on a pathless solitude.