Early in the 1800s, one of the first settlers to settle in the Kilbride area was Thomas Simpson. He was a decorated cavalry man, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815). He received three medals for his distinguished service with the Allied forces at the battles of Salamanca (Spain, July 22, 1812) and Toulouse (France, April 10, 1814).
On coming to Canada, he received a Crown grant of 100 acres of land in the Kilbride area. This land is reputed to have stood on a hill above the #2 fairway in what is now Cedar Springs Community.
Thomas arrived at Wellington Square in 1814 after a 15-week sea voyage from England. Based on the April date of the Battle of Toulouse, this would mean that he arrived in Canada no sooner than early fall. Later accounts of Thomas Simpson mention his wife. Unfortunately, there are no records of whether they came to Canada as a married couple or whether they married here.
Thomas made his way north to Kilbride through dense, virgin bush. One can only imagine the very difficult task of clearing land for a home and clearing land for usable farm land. The virgin pine of this area was up to 6 feet in diameter at the stump and could reach upwards of 200 feet tall.
No doubt, one of his first tasks would have been to build a shelter before the cold and winter weather set in. His experience as a soldier would have been invaluable in helping him choose a location for the log cabin, ensuring that it was near the abundant water supply of the Twelve Mile Creek. Such a location would have been all important to his survival and success.
Thomas was also a veteran cavalry man. As such, he would have had a love and respect for horses. He is said to be the first settler in the area to own a horse. Some accounts say that he brought his horse with him.
Several reports of Simpson’s early life extolled his varied and considerable abilities that made him a successful pioneer. It has been said that could tan deer hides. These would have been used for footwear and or outerwear that he or his wife made for their family. This also means that he was a successful hunter, able to supply meat for his family. Some accounts noted that he carded and spun wool, using it to knit socks and mittens and also weave it into cloth for their clothing. It would follow that he had means of cutting the cloth and also means of sewing it. This would also indicate that he either raised his own sheep or that he was able to purchase wool from other settlers.
There are several accounts of his wife and her resilience, initiative and fortitude. One such account talks of her throwing a quarter of cured pork over her shoulder and then making her way by foot to the closest store in the area. It was located in the area of what is now Dundas Street and Cedar Spring Road, a distance of about 10 km one way. The return trip would have been an uphill trudge with her purchases.
Mrs. Simpson is also purported to be the first woman to sell her farm produce 27 kilometres away at the Hamilton Market. For this trek, she went by horseback.
W. D. Flatt recounted an interesting story about Mrs. Simpson. She had a horn hanging in her kitchen that she used to call Mr. Simpson from the forest. One day she heard someone lost in the woods. She could hear distant calls for help. Blasts from her horn were used to guide the man safely to the cabin. He told her that the horn not only directed him to the cabin, but that it also saved his life by scaring away a pack of wolves that had been trailing him.
Both Thomas and his wife were ardent Presbyterians. As early as 1816, there were Presbyterian worship services in homes near the current St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church on Dundas Street. In 1822, a congregation was organized by Rev. William King. Soon afterwards, the decision was made to build a church. It was built on Lot 12 at the front of George Bastedo’s farm.
The actual building was not an easy task especially considering that there were no funds to purchase materials, rather everything had to be made by hand. Thomas Simpson is credited with moving the building along. It was he who organized his neighbours into a bee to erect the church, one of the first in the area. It was built just east of where the St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church is now located on Dundas Street and was ready for use in 1822. Funds remained scarce so heavy planks were used for seats until proper ones could be purchased or made. On their deaths, they were laid to rest in the cemetery beside the Church.
Contributing Author: Helen Callaway