The Argyle Document Archive

John Cumming - The Son Of Pioneers - By Caroline Cumming

John Cumming was born in County Beauharnois, P.Q. (south of Montreal), 1842. His parents, Scottish Highlanders, had migrated to Canada, 1831, during the period of great depression in the British Isles. The land where they settled, forest-covered and swampy, had to be cleared and drained before it could he cultivated. He was brought up in a typical pioneer community where opportunity for education was meagre and the amenities of life almost non-existent. Regardless of the many privations he, his brothers and sisters and many cousins had happy lives.

At the age of eighteen he left home to find work. This took him to Montreal, where one could always engage with a shipping company on the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes. So it was that he served his time to become a first class machinist and, some years later, qualified for a certificate as a lake Captain.

1864 found him in Halifax shipping on an English blockade runner carrying food and war materials to the southern States and taking out cotton for the mills of Britain. The vessel on its way down the coast was sighted and chased by a United States’ Man-Of-War. It was a close call; but the blockade runner was
able to make Havana just ahead of the pursuing vessel. The onecheered the other as they sailed side by side into the neutral harbour.

Then to steal out from Havana and make New Orleans was another thrill for the adventurer. There he left the British ship and enlisted in the northern army just about the time the Civil War ended. He then joined the United States navy, serving four years on the Dictator. He always commended the American system of fair wages and promotion for the working man.

On his return to Canada he engaged with the Northern Navigation Company working out from Chicago, where he was during the great fire. He related many times his experience on that devastating day. The boat, of which he was captain, was jointly owned by himself and a banker. It had been docked some distance up river where the fire swept down, threatening all the boats. They attempted to move a number of vessels out, but the bridge closed to enable the fleeing crowds to cross lo safely. Policemen stood guard, so it took considerable entreaty and threatening to persuade the officers of the law to open the bridge for a short time to let the boats through. Finally this was done without 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 playing out into the open water. The frantic parents begged that someone go to the rescue of their small son. No one was willing to risk his life by venturing out in a gale such as that. At last the appeal was made to Mr. Cumming. He consented to run a tug boat out, despite the danger. This he did, and reaching over as he came alongside the small craft, he lifted the child safely aboard. The wee fellow looked up, quite oblivious of the danger, and said, "Frankie had a good ridy." The gratitude of the parents remained always a pleasant memory.

His boat was lost in a storm, the joint-owner got and kept the insurance leaving his partner pretty well insolvent.

Just at this lime, 1878, four nephews, sons of a brother who had been killed in an accident, required direction and assistance in settling down to make a living. Again, the opening up of the west seemed the solution. The lure of cheap land on the prairies enticed many an easterner to pull up stakes, and on April first

1879 John Cumming was on the Marringhurst plains, purple with anemones, searching out a homestead. lie filed on Sec. 18, T.4,R.12, arranged with James Wilson to build his shack while he returned to Chicago for the summer's work with The Northern Navigation Company. Returning west in the fall, he spent the
winter in the small log cabin.

It was a unique experience, cooking meals, baking bread and fishing through a hole in the ice in nearby Rock Lake. Such fish! One huge pike measured 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 diversion. On a frosty, moonlight night, as he made his way over the snowy plain, he saw a wildcat sitting on the road. He hesitated a moment, in ease the animal attack; but decided to take a chance so strode casually along and passed the fierce looking night prowler. It just sat, indifferent to the intruder on its privacy, and then moved slowly away.

Neighbours were few; McKnights, the nearest, became life- long friends. Three young Englishmen, William and Frank Price, and Mr. Esplin spent the winter here. The former remained in Manitoba, later settling north of Huntly, and still later moved to Baldur. Frank, having had enough of it, went to Vancouver
Island to end his days. Mr. Esplin, too, though deciding to remain finally settled in Glenboro. James Walsh, owner of a saw mill, his two sons and his daughter, Maggie, lived within easy visiting distance.

In the spring of 1880, once more the walk to Emerson to take the train and back to the boating in Chicago.    

In the fall of 1880 the Maxwells came bringing his wife and the small daughter, May. When navigation closed he returned west for good.

The spring of 1881 was one of high water. Never had the Assiniboine flooded its banks so extensively. Father was engaged to take a boat, the Marquette, up to Fort Pelly to bring the Governor-General, the Marquis of Lome, and his wife, Princess Louise, down to Brandon. He and Albert Cramer set out to meet the boat at Portage la Prairie. They walked across country, wading through water a great part of the way, slept in an Indian tepee one night and reached their destination on schedule.

The journey up the Assiniboine in the Hudson's Bay stern wheeler, sometimes in midstream, sometimes taking a short cut from bend to bend, required considerable skill in navigation. There were numbers of passengers aboard bound for various places between Winnipeg and Brandon. A young minister and his wife were landed on what appeared to be an island. There was no one
at the boat to meet them. Father often wondered how they fared. Often the boat had to pull in to take on wood for fuel. Sometimes an Indian wandering along the bank would be startled into a panic at the sound of the shrill whistle, much to the
amusement of crew and passengers.

At Fort Pelly the Governor-General had just completed negotiations and the signing of the second Indian Treaty. In farewell, every member of the assembled tribes must shake hands with the departing dignitary, until The Marquis, unable to raise a hand, let it lie limp on the table. Each Indian came along, picked up the weakened member, shook it vigorously, put it down and passed along.

The trip back to Brandon was without incident. The Royal Couple graciously thanked father for the safe journey, shaking hands in farewell as they left the boat. Here he bought a blacksmith shop which he sold later, and a Red River cart and pony to carry him and Willie Maxwell across country to Rock Lake. Over
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 settled, procuring the quarter across the road N.E. 1-14-15. During the winter David Maxwell became seriously ill and died, the first death among the pioneers. His grave, unmarked, has disappeared.

In February, 1884, father went East to Ormstown for a car- load of cattle. After a winter of deep snow, he arrived back in Emerson in March at the time of a spring thaw. The bringing of those animals by way of Pembina Crossing, south of Manitou, and on home was no mean task. He did it without a single loss. On
the way he came to a homestead near the crossing whose owner had a stable snow-covered that had first to be dug out to the doorway to let the cattle in, and a stack of hay. Here they stayed until the herd was well rested and well fed before continuing the journey home.

It was a well-selected load of stock. I can still remember Bell, Aggie and Mag, fine cows, that were the progenitors of good herds in the surrounding districts.

In 1887 Charles McKay, another immigrant from Ormstown, bought his farm, and on New Year's Day 1888, he moved to Mr. Henry's (a Metis) on the bank of Lorne Lake. I do not know if Father had anything to do with the naming of the lakes we could see from our door, or if it were coincidence that they were so
named Lome and Louise.

In 1894 Moropano Post Office was moved from Johnson's near the Rosehill district to our home. Here it stayed until 1905 when a petition was circulated requesting that it be moved to Neelin, on the newly built C.N.R. which ran from Greenway to Wakopa.(1904).

Here Father lived until his death November 18, 1931, at the age of eighty-nine years, ten months.

It was a long life full of interesting experiences and hardships. Once a Conservative in politics, on the issue of Free Trade he became an ardent Liberal, upholding the Laurier government on the above, and on the conscription policy during the First World War.

The farm was taken over in 1923 by John Jr. who occupied it until 1965 when he retired to Belmont.