Cumming was born in County Beauharnois, P.Q. (south of Montreal),
His parents, Scottish Highlanders, had migrated to Canada, 1831, during
period of great depression in the British Isles. The land where they
forest-covered and swampy, had to be cleared and drained before it
he cultivated. He was brought up in a typical pioneer community where
for education was meagre and the amenities of life almost non-existent.
of the many privations he, his brothers and sisters and many cousins
At the age of eighteen he left home to find work. This took him to
where one could always engage with a shipping company on the St.
and the Great Lakes. So it was that he served his time to become a
class machinist and, some years later, qualified for a certificate as a
1864 found him in Halifax shipping on an English blockade runner
food and war materials to the southern States and taking out cotton for
mills of Britain. The vessel on its way down the coast was sighted and
by a United States’ Man-Of-War. It was a close call; but the
able to make Havana just ahead of the pursuing vessel. The onecheered
other as they sailed side by side into the neutral harbour.
Then to steal out from Havana and make New Orleans was another thrill
the adventurer. There he left the British ship and enlisted in the
army just about the time the Civil War ended. He then joined the United
navy, serving four years on the Dictator. He always commended the
system of fair wages and promotion for the working man.
On his return to Canada he engaged with the Northern Navigation Company
out from Chicago, where he was during the great fire. He related many
his experience on that devastating day. The boat, of which he was
was jointly owned by himself and a banker. It had been docked some
up river where the fire swept down, threatening all the boats. They
to move a number of vessels out, but the bridge closed to enable the
crowds to cross lo safely. Policemen stood guard, so it took
entreaty and threatening to persuade the officers of the law to open
bridge for a short time to let the boats through. Finally this was done
hazarding the lives of the fleeing refugees. So the vessels were saved.
A storm on Lake Michigan drifted a small boat in which a little boy was
out into the open water. The frantic parents begged that someone go to
rescue of their small son. No one was willing to risk his life by
out in a gale such as that. At last the appeal was made to Mr. Cumming.
consented to run a tug boat out, despite the danger. This he did, and
over as he came alongside the small craft, he lifted the child safely
The wee fellow looked up, quite oblivious of the danger, and said,
had a good ridy." The gratitude of the parents remained always a
His boat was lost in a storm, the joint-owner got and kept the
leaving his partner pretty well insolvent.
Just at this lime, 1878, four nephews, sons of a brother who had been
in an accident, required direction and assistance in settling down to
a living. Again, the opening up of the west seemed the solution. The
of cheap land on the prairies enticed many an easterner to pull up
and on April first
1879 John Cumming was on the Marringhurst plains, purple with anemones,
out a homestead. lie filed on Sec. 18, T.4,R.12, arranged with James
to build his shack while he returned to Chicago for the summer's work
The Northern Navigation Company. Returning west in the fall, he spent
winter in the small log cabin.
It was a unique experience, cooking meals, baking bread and fishing
a hole in the ice in nearby Rock Lake. Such fish! One huge pike
twenty-nine inches in girth and was correspondingly great in length.
A walk of nine miles to Pilot Mound for the mail was an after supper
On a frosty, moonlight night, as he made his way over the snowy plain,
saw a wildcat sitting on the road. He hesitated a moment, in ease the
attack; but decided to take a chance so strode casually along and
the fierce looking night prowler. It just sat, indifferent to the
on its privacy, and then moved slowly away.
Neighbours were few; McKnights, the nearest, became life- long friends.
young Englishmen, William and Frank Price, and Mr. Esplin spent the
here. The former remained in Manitoba, later settling north of Huntly,
still later moved to Baldur. Frank, having had enough of it, went to
Island to end his days. Mr. Esplin, too, though deciding to remain
settled in Glenboro. James Walsh, owner of a saw mill, his two sons and
daughter, Maggie, lived within easy visiting distance.
In the spring of 1880, once more the walk to Emerson to take the train
back to the boating in Chicago.
In the fall of 1880 the Maxwells came bringing his wife and the small
May. When navigation closed he returned west for good.
The spring of 1881 was one of high water. Never had the Assiniboine
its banks so extensively. Father was engaged to take a boat, the
up to Fort Pelly to bring the Governor-General, the Marquis of Lome,
his wife, Princess Louise, down to Brandon. He and Albert Cramer set
to meet the boat at Portage la Prairie. They walked across country,
through water a great part of the way, slept in an Indian tepee one
and reached their destination on schedule.
The journey up the Assiniboine in the Hudson's Bay stern wheeler,
in midstream, sometimes taking a short cut from bend to bend, required
skill in navigation. There were numbers of passengers aboard bound for
places between Winnipeg and Brandon. A young minister and his wife were
on what appeared to be an island. There was no one
at the boat to meet them. Father often wondered how they fared. Often
boat had to pull in to take on wood for fuel. Sometimes an Indian
along the bank would be startled into a panic at the sound of the
whistle, much to the
amusement of crew and passengers.
At Fort Pelly the Governor-General had just completed negotiations and
signing of the second Indian Treaty. In farewell, every member of the
tribes must shake hands with the departing dignitary, until The
unable to raise a hand, let it lie limp on the table. Each Indian came
picked up the weakened member, shook it vigorously, put it down and
The trip back to Brandon was without incident. The Royal Couple
thanked father for the safe journey, shaking hands in farewell as they
the boat. Here he bought a blacksmith shop which he sold later, and a
River cart and pony to carry him and Willie Maxwell across country to
the prairies with a compass was to father a voyage on the Great Lakes.
In 1883 father moved to Huntly (still unnamed) where the Maxwells had
procuring the quarter across the road N.E. 1-14-15. During the winter
Maxwell became seriously ill and died, the first death among the
His grave, unmarked, has disappeared.
In February, 1884, father went East to Ormstown for a car- load of
After a winter of deep snow, he arrived back in Emerson in March at the
of a spring thaw. The bringing of those animals by way of Pembina
south of Manitou, and on home was no mean task. He did it without a
the way he came to a homestead near the crossing whose owner had a
snow-covered that had first to be dug out to the doorway to let the
in, and a stack of hay. Here they stayed until the herd was well rested
well fed before continuing the journey home.
It was a well-selected load of stock. I can still remember Bell, Aggie
Mag, fine cows, that were the progenitors of good herds in the
In 1887 Charles McKay, another immigrant from Ormstown, bought his
and on New Year's Day 1888, he moved to Mr. Henry's (a Metis) on the
of Lorne Lake. I do not know if Father had anything to do with the
of the lakes we could see from our door, or if it were coincidence that
named Lome and Louise.
In 1894 Moropano Post Office was moved from Johnson's near the Rosehill
to our home. Here it stayed until 1905 when a petition was circulated
that it be moved to Neelin, on the newly built C.N.R. which ran from
Here Father lived until his death November 18, 1931, at the age of
years, ten months.
It was a long life full of interesting experiences and hardships. Once
Conservative in politics, on the issue of Free Trade he became an
Liberal, upholding the Laurier government on the above, and on the
policy during the First World War.
The farm was taken over in 1923 by John Jr. who occupied it until 1965
he retired to Belmont.