The Gunbys

I recently had the pleasure of visiting with Mr. Burdge Gunby and his wife June. With me I brought my mother-in-law, Eros Callaway. The Gunby name is one that is synonymous with the early history of our area.

The first Gunbys to come to Canada were William and Mary in 1833. They brought with them three children (Anthony, Elizabeth and Harriet) on the 13-week voyage in an open vessel. William and Mary landed at Brown’s Landing on Burlington Bay in July of 1833. William left his family in a boarding house and walked to York (Toronto) on foot looking for work.

Scarlet fever had been rampant on the ship and unfortunately, little Betsy succumbed and died. Six weeks later, another son (Enoch) was born.

The family moved to Hannahsville for a short time. Hannahsville was named after the wife of Caleb Hopkins. He was an early settler in the area of Guelph Line and Hwy. #5. Hannahsville was a thriving little village with three inns, a school and a church. The name was later changed to Nelson.

The family later moved to a log cabin in the woods near present location of the family farm. The original 300 acre farm was established in 1841 and was located on Lot 4 Concession 1, on the West Town Line and stretched to Cedar Springs Road. It eventually became known as the “old homestead”.

William was a lay preacher and was originally affiliated with the Church of England. He later became converted to Wesleyan Methodism at age 27. Apparently his convictions were so strong that he would not have his photo taken nor would he use mirrors. Eventually six more children were born to William and Mary (Martha, Sarah, Burdge, Hester Ann, Charity and Hall).

William died in 1860. Mary later married Mr. Wood of Freeman. Freeman was located in the area of Brant Street and Middle Road (now known as Plains Road). After Mr. Wood died, Mary moved back to the old homestead with her son Burdge who had inherited the farm. Burdge’s mother died at the age of 80 in 1882 and was buried beside William in the Carlisle Church cemetery.

After Burdge (the first) inherited the farm, he married Eleanor in 1860 and together they had six daughters and one son. Burdge’s brother Hall was a well known carpenter, a trade he learned in Nebraska. He had built several barns and homes in the area and in 1885, Hall built the very large barn on the old homestead. It was one of the largest barns in Ontario and measured 140’ by 56’ (each section) and it had 3 cupolas and 5 driveways. It was a bank barn which means that the bottom floor had walls made of stone. Burdge Gunby (the second) removed the cupolas in 1938.

At the age of 85, Hall helped shingle the roof of the barn. When he finished, he promptly stood on his head on the peak of the barn.

William was the sixth child of Burdge and Eleanor and the only boy. He was born in 1876. In 1902 he married Mabel Coulson and together they had 5 children. William was very devout. Each morning the family and the hired help would gather together for a bible reading followed by prayer and then breakfast.

Burdge (the second) was the oldest son and was born in 1907. At age 6 he went to school at the SS No. 10 School located on Cedar Springs Road just south of Britannia Road. There were 28 students at the school, six of which made up the beginner’s class. These six kept in touch for years and would go out for dinner once a year. The six were Sam Newell, Laura Prudham (Dixon), Gladys Heatherington (Wilson), Eva Harris (Edington), Eva Pegg (Watson) and Burdge Gunby. Burdge told me that he could remember his very first day of school. He can still see Sam Newell (his neighbour across the road) coming down the Gunby lane carrying his lunch.

Young Burdge did not like school. His interests were back at the farm that he loved. When the farm passed down to him, he was very proud to be in charge and took his responsibility seriously. In 1933, he married Hester Louise Spence. They had 5 children. After 50 years of marriage, in 1985, Louise died. In 1987, Burdge married his present wife June.

Burdge told me about the early days when the family would drive down the back lane of the farm (that connected to Cedar Springs Road) in their horse and buggy to attend Lowville United Church. Neighbours on Cedar Springs Road would also use the Gunby Lane to attend church in Waterdown.

On the farm, everything the family needed was grown or raised. And the entire family would help with all the chores. Vegetables, grains, hay, chickens, cows, rabbits, and apples were some of the things found on the farm.

Burdge remembers at age 10 having to sit on the dump rake as it raked the hay in the field. It would then be pitched by hand into the barn until the family got a horse-powered hay lift.

Another pride and joy of the farm were the horses raised. There were often between 20 and 30 horses including 6 yearlings and 6 foals at any given time. These horses were used both to work the land and were also for sale. Burdge’s father bought the first purebred Percherons. The rest is history.

Some of the grains grown on the farm were wheat, barley, and oats. Burdge remembered the wheat being taken to Spencer Bennett on Progreston Road to have it ground. Bran and shorts, by-products of this, were also used. Burdge told us that his mother made the best “short” brown biscuits. The family usually ground six bags of flour, four for themselves and two to sell.

There were cows raised on the farm and the cream was separated from the milk and Burdge’s mother would make up to 80 pounds of butter a week. In later years, the ‘cream man’ would pick up the cream and leave butter for the family.

The farm also had an orchard. Burdge remembered that in some years, the trees would produce up to 1,000 bushels of apples. His favourite ones were the Gravensteins, along with Snow apples. In the Cedar Springs Community there are still a few Snow apples trees left from those early days. Burdge can still remember the old evaporators that were located where the Sipco gas station now stands. He told me he can still picture the three buildings and the men moving the apples from building to building in wheelbarrows.

The family would take produce from the farm and sell it at the Hamilton Market. The Market looked much different than today. It was in the same basic location and it had two stories. Some people preferred to stand downstairs where the ‘butter hall’ was located. In later years it got so that people did not want to walk downstairs to the butter hall so it was filled in.

In 1918, the Gunbys purchased their first car, a Baby Grand, which Burdge said looked like an oversized Chevy. The Newells across the road were one of the first in the area to have a car (approximately in 1912).

The doctor early in Burdge’s life was Dr. Jones in Kilbride. Burdge remembers the doctor would make his house calls by horse and buggy. Burdge would deliver hay to the doctor’s home, which was on the northeast corner of Kilbride and Jane St.

Dr. McDonald came to Kilbride in 1923 when Dr. Jones retired. Burdge remembers Dr. McDonald’s first official act as a doctor. Burdge was down the back of the farm where the orchard was located when he heard a loud crash. A local resident had driven down Cedar Springs Road with his old ford “wide open” and unfortunately crashed. And so Dr. McDonald began his career in the Kilbride area.

I asked Burdge what the Village was like in the early days. He told me when he had to bring a horse to be shod, he would go to the blacksmith’s shop beside the trough on Cedar Springs Road. While he waited he would go to the store to pick up any supplies the family needed or he would play cards at the blacksmith’s with the others that were waiting.

Burdge remembers Bert Cartwright took over the blacksmith’s shop from John Small. Bert bought a stallion from the Gunbys, an absolutely beautiful animal that was much in demand for stud services for miles around.

According to Burdge, at the top of Cumminsville Hill, George Dent had a little shack where he would fix things or sharpen tools. Across the road from the blacksmith’s at the corner was Billy Mitchell’s garage. In the booth at the garage you could buy cigarettes and candy or play pool.

I asked Burdge what he liked to do for fun and it was no surprise to hear that after supper he would go to the barn to ‘see the animals’. It was very clear during our conversation that Burdge loved everything to do with the farm. His daughter, Jean Burbidge, has written a poem that beautifully describes the ‘essence’ of her father.

I’d like to thank Burdge and June for their gracious hospitality and for the lovely conversation we had. Dr. Leslie Meszaros has made a video of the Gunbys which I had the opportunity to view. Perhaps in the near future we’ll have another film night featuring more Pioneer Films.


He was a farmer first
Walking behind the horse and plough
Was life to him,
That first Chocolate furrow across
A winterworn stubble,
Looking back and knowing it was straight and clean.
Picking apples on a crisp autumn day,
Big wooden barrels on the wagon,
Woven wood baskets swinging
From ladders swaying in the cushion of branches.
The harness jingled horses’ impatience to be on the move.
The squeal of the wagon heading up the back lane.
Sweating in the hot summer sun
On a hay wagon teetering across the field.
Fork in hand layering the load to tower high
Into the old apple trees on its trek home.
Pulling logs out of the bush,
Wet slippery snow,
Horses straining and snorting,
Long grey snow ditched behind each log.
Old trees cut and pulled with care
Leaving safe the young growth for us.

Poem by Jean Burbidge

Contributing Author: Helen Callaway

Source: Kilbride Chronicles, Issue 8, page 40
Transcribed by: Lyndsey Innes