Searching For My Roots – poem by Leora Wilson

Pottawatomi River, Derby Township – George Harlow White 1874 – Courtesy of Toronto Public Library

I often think of days gone by when this land was just beginning,
And what the settlers faced each day to eke out a meager living.
They traveled here by horse and cart, no roads then would they find.
Their salvaged treasures packed in trunks, from the life they had left behind.
Did they bring a few chickens and maybe a cow from the nearest settled town?
What about their flour and other supplies? No store then could be found.
The untamed miles of wooded land would face them as they stood
And pondered how they’d ever live and where they’d find their food.
The forest towered above them, but they needed to clear the land
So they could build their homes of massive logs, and do it all by hand.
Their tools would be inadequate, a crosscut saw perhaps?
They’d need both feed and fur so they’d require hunting traps.
Fortunate were those with pristine water close at hand
Else they’d dig a well with pick and shovel and pray that they’d strike sand.
They learned to cook on a fireplace hearth to keep their family fed.
Supplies were meager for winter’s long sojourn, so it is said.
The prolonged winter would bring the snow that never seemed to end,
And winter’s blast left icy frost on the walls they needed to mend.
Their days were filled with menial tasks, fetching water and chopping wood,
Feeding the hungry fire, their only resource for heat and food.
Milking and baking and washing the floor, scrubbing the laundry clean,
Evenings brought mending and darning chores by the light of a candle’s gleam
They were to endure many weary days and endless lonely nights.
Life was fragile for the weak, confronting anguish and many plights.
The family increased nearly every year, a fact of life those days,
But they raised the children that survived and were happy in so many ways.
I think of all these things while I am searching for my roots,
And I’m proud to know that on this family tree, I’m one of its many shoots.

Submitted by Leora Wilson, great great granddaughter of Joseph Garvie and Janet Fleming.


Note added by Gwen Harris: Janet was a sister of Alexander Fleming. The Garvie and Fleming families settled in Derby Township, Grey County in the 1850s. Leora wrote this poem for a book titled Highland Legacy that Lynne Porter and she wrote about their MacKenzie-Cameron ancestors in Keppel Township, Grey County. Leora has kindly posted it to this Fleming blog.

Finding historical texts and pictures

The richness of resources on local history – and that of Ontario in particular – constantly amazes me. Today I have two starting points to recommend: the University of Calgary’s digitzation project, and a list prepared by the Toronto Public Library of resources for finding photos.

Library and Cultural Resources Digital Collections at the University of Calgary (https://library.ucalgary.ca/digital) has a daunting number of collections – many about Alberta and some about the Arctic – even some about Japan. But the area of particular interest at present is Local Histories and Local Histories (2). Select one or both from the list and enter search terms for the subjects, people or places of interest.  The search interface provides guides to further filtering by date, subject and title.

Ourroots, the service that had digitized many Ontario historical texts, was taken over by the University of Calgary project and gradually all (or nearly all) texts have been remounted on new servers with the improved search interface. Two titles of great interest to us that are now available are: Continue reading

Progress Report

Proposed cover for book - The Flemings of Derby Township: A Family History
Proposed cover for book – The Flemings of Derby Township: A Family History

You may be wondering if the long silence at this blog means we have abandoned the Fleming Family History project. Quite the opposite.  We have been feverishly busy writing these past three months, editing, and designing, and can say with confidence that we are getting closer to print. The “we” means a team of six: family historian and sponsor (Ruth (Fleming) Larmour), writer (Gwen Harris), two editors, book designer, and printer. As well, some Fleming descendants have been assisting in reviewing sections. The book designer has determined the layout and design, and we have overcome major issues with the quality of images and handling of endnotes. Twenty-one of the twenty-three chapters have now been written, reviewed and edited – about 10% of Flemings of Derby Township: A Family History remains to be written.  We don’t have a definite launch date yet but are hoping for late summer, early fall. The book will be available through this website. The project plan also includes revamping this site because we will have more content to add, more to share, more to learn from readers and commenters, and more time to do it.

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1903 Travel Diaries

We are pleased to announce that the  Rural Diary Archive of the University of Guelph Library  has added to its collection transcripts of the diaries Jennie Fleming and her nephew Roy Fleming kept of their trip to Scotland and England in 1903.

Page from Roy's 1903 travel diary showing the menu on the R.M.S. Tunisian
Page from Roy’s 1903 travel diary showing the menu on the R.M.S. Tunisian

The diaries are in the University of Guelph Library Guelph McLaughlin Archives–Scottish Collection (XS1 MS A337 ) and can be located through a search of Primo.

We hope to donate in 2019 Roy’s second book concerning their 1903 itinerary in Europe.

We had previously posted a blog entry about Jennie’s travel diary of 1869 and Roy’s childhood diary of 1891 being added to the Rural Diary Archive as well as a short description of Jennie’s 1869 travel diary.  Those two diaries are held at Grey Roots Museum and Archives in the Ruth Larmour Fonds PF114.

Owen Sound in the 1850s

Jennie Fleming, the youngest of the Fleming family who settled in 1850 at Kilsyth, Derby Township, had deep memories of her pioneer days.

“As a frequent visitor in the early days to Owen Sound, Derby’s market place, she saw this hamlet on the arm of Georgian Bay grown from a little village of Sydenham into the thriving commercial town and city of Owen Sound. She sometimes recalled the fact that at first on entering the town she had to cross the Sydenham River on a log where the Second Avenue bridge [sic] now stands, and walk deep in mire on the main part of Poulett Street.”(1) [Roy Fleming, 1942]

Roy Fleming more than once recalled that in Owen Sound’s early days his Aunt Jennie crossed the Sydenham River by traversing – very carefully, we might surmise – a felled log, and then in town having to deal with the muck of the main street. One can imagine Jennie, a vital woman who lived into her nineties, reflecting on the changes she had witnessed since her arrival to the forested wilderness – walking long distances as a teenager, driving horse-drawn buggies on gravel-covered roads in her twenties, travelling by express trains to Toronto in her seventies.

Felled trees probably served as bridges in more than one spot – and in those years the tree could be at least three feet in width and easily tall enough to reach from bank to bank.  In 1841, according to Paul White in Owen Sound: The Port City, it was possible to cross the Sydenham River on the west side of town by tree. He wrote, “The only easily accessible crossing was to the south of the new community, at the present day site of the mill dam on 2nd Avenue West. Here, a tree had been felled and travellers could pass over the river by walking on the bridge created by the fallen log.”  (2)

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Walking Kirrandrum

In June 2018 I had the great pleasure of visiting the Highlands of Scotland to walk the land of the Fleming home of Kirrandrum, the farm outside Ballinluig in Logeirait Parish.  I was guided by Eddie Thomson of Heartland Tours. We found the remains of Alexander’s house, which he built himself, and some of the other buildings, as well as the dry-stone wall Alexander built and which still stands intact. Most of all,  we saw surrounding hills and the Tay valley almost as they were when Roy Fleming and family members visited in 1903, and even as the Fleming family saw them when they left for Canada in May 1843.

A complete account of the visit with photos and video and reference to Roy Fleming’s description of his visit is provided in Walking Kirrandrum June 2018

The map below from Canmore shows the location of Kirrandrum relative to Ballinlluig and to the adjacent Dalnabo.

Ballinluig area showing Kirrandrum and Dalnabo. Source: Canmore - Ordnance Survey 1843-1882.
Ballinluig area showing Kirrandrum and Dalnabo. Source: Canmore – Ordnance Survey 1843-1882.

Visit to Cragganfearn

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Cragganfearn looking east – rock foundations, wall, and sheep in the background (Photo: G Harris)

Where there had once been a village of four families at “Upper Cragganfearn”, only the crumbling walls of a steading and the foundations to a few cottages and farm buildings remain.

Sheep graze in the fields of this quiet place. It was windy on the sunny June afternoon when Eddie Thomson of Heartland Tours led me to the site. Along the small stream, he pointed out the remnant of what might have been a sawmill. Past the gate, we could see a stone building that still stood high on the hill. We made our way uphill on a path and across the fields, nodding to the nearby sheep, to come to marvellous panoramic views of the hills. Continue reading