Memories of Lowville

October 29, 1994

The following was a speech given by Ross and Joy Auckland to a group of young people in the 4-H Club in 1994. It went like this:

Welcome to the hamlet of Lowville. Population, approximately 100.

It’s not often that Joy and I get the opportunity to meet a group of young people like you who show an interest in antiques and their heritage.

We would like to thank Phyllis for presenting this opportunity for us to share some of our heritage and antiquing experiences with you.

How many of you are collectors of some sort or have antiques in your home?

Who can tell me, at what age does an item normally be classifies as an antique?

The reason I have asked these questions is that neither Joy nor I are experts on antiques and we just want to be sure that some of you don’t trip us up on what we tell you.

However, we have been associated with this business for about 18 years and we know a little bit about most things, but not everything about anything.

Our Heritage / Roots:

Before we go any further we thought you should know a little bit about Joy and I, and how we got involved with the antique business.

Joy was born in Ireland and the 2nd eldest of a family of eight and arrived in Canada at the age of 6 with her mother and brothers and sisters in 1949. They arrived in Halifax by boat, and then travelled by train to Toronto.

Joy’s father had come to Canada 2 years in advance to find work and establish a new home for his family as opportunities to provide a comfortable lifestyle for a family in Ireland after the War were somewhat limited.

Joy’s father found work in the aircraft business and sent for his family in 1949, he worked in that industry up until he retired in the mid 1980s.

I, Ross, was born in Newmarket Ontario in 1939 (just north of Toronto) where my father, Fred owned a barber shop. My Dad cut hair for 10 years in King City and drove a school bus part time. My father and Doc Gordon were the first in the area to provide a school bus service for the community.

The year I was born my father sold his barber shop and his interest in the school bus and moved back to Lowville which was his home town. This also brought my mother closer to her home which was in Campbellville.

My dad and mother bought the Lowville General Store in the spring of 1937 for a total sum of $2,300. This included the inventory, the buildings and approximately 2 acres of land. This was a lot of money in those days and equated to 9,200 hair cuts at 25 cents which was the top price my father was able to charge for a haircut.

My parents owned and operated the general store for 25 years (sold it in 1962). They then moved to the little home just west of the store where my grandmother once lived. My father built this home for my grandmother following my grandfather’s sudden death in 1947.

My parents had accumulated a substantial amount of furniture and belongings from their families, far too much for the little house beside the store, so some of the furniture was stored in the barn like building directly behind the store.

On weekends my mother would put odd pieces out on the lawn to attract potential buyers. The village was always a busy place on the weekends with city folk coming to the country for picnics and fishermen coming to fish in the clear waters of the 12 Mile Creek which housed an abundance of speckled and brown trout.

My mother soon realized there was a market for good used furniture and being the entrepreneurs my parents were, they revamped the barn and turned the lower portion into an antique and used furniture shop. They operated this business quite successfully up until the late 1970s and that is when Joy and I became involved.

By the time joy and I got involved, my mom had sold all our family’s antiques, old furniture and belongings as none of these items were of real value or interest to anyone during the 60s or 70s. As new styles and conveniences became affordable and available, people were disposing of old furniture and in many cases it was used for firewood. Consequently, the only antiques salvaged from our family are a couple of clocks and a feather picture of an anchor which was crafted by my grandfather, Jim Auckland. One of the clocks was given to my grandparents on my father’s side by the community as a wedding gift. The other clock was given to my Great Grandmother (on my mother’s side of the family) by the community of Campbellville following the death of her son, my great uncle, during the Second World War.

And of course, Joy does not have any heirlooms from the side of the family as it was about all her mother could manage bringing 4 children and all their personal belongings to a new county by boat and by train.

We do have a pine cupboard that was given to Joy’s father by a Mr. Jim Bannon. This cupboard was in the home that Joy’s father rented from Mr. Bannon for the family in Etobicoke ON.

How many of you have items in your family that you would like to have as a keepsake someday?

We hear it all the time. Every day our antique shop is open, we hear “my Mom or dad had one of those. I wonder where it went, or whatever happened to it.” If you have any interest at all, speak up and let someone know your thoughts.

When you hear these comments as often as we do, you begin to realize that the material things that our parents, grandparents and forefathers used, owned and in some cases cherished, are disappearing at a very rapid rate and the only salvation for these material items are museums, collectors and family members who have some interest in preserving their heritage.

I’ll try to give you an example of what I mean. Try to stretch your imagination and turn back the clock to the turn of the century, 1900. There are no automobiles on the road in the country as the roads are not suitable for auto transportation. There is no electricity in the rural areas. Communications would likely be by telegraph other that some local areas which have telephone systems.

There was no Village Craft Shop in Lowville and probably no 4-H Club either. But for some reason or other you had an occasion to visit Lowville, possibly visiting a relative or friend.

If you were coming from the Georgetown area (some 20 miles or so) you would have been up and out of bed at 3 or 4 am in the morning. Fed, watered and curried your horses, harnessed them and hooked up the buggy or democrat ready for the journey to Lowville.

You would have packed a lunch wrapped in damp cotton cloths to keep it fresh and then packed it in a wooden box or hamper to keep it cold. You would have put some extra hay and oats in the buggy for the horses, wrapped yourself in a buffalo rug, probably wrapped some heated bricks in newspaper to keep your feet warm and made sure you had the equivalent of 15 to 20 cents in your purse in case you decided to stay over in Lowville for the night.

If it happened to be a rainy day, the roads would become quite impossible to travel on as they were basically mud and gravel with the mud being the bigger component. Road maintenance was taken very seriously in those days and each municipality appointed a path master who was in charge of the local roads.

It was the path master’s responsibility to see that every boy and man between the ages of 20 and 60 spent at least twelve eight hour days a year working on the roads. If you did not want to do this manual labour you could be excused by paying the path master 75 cents for each day that you declined.

If by chance this was your first visit to Lowville, you would notice a sign that said Highville as you approached the area from the west. Highville was the local name for the settlement at the top of the hill. According to the Halton Atlas, the population of Highville and Lowville combined in 1877 was approximately 150.

As you entered the Highville area on your right side you would pass the local blacksmith shop owned by Mr. Emerson and Mr. McNair. Directly opposite the blacksmith shop was a small white frame house that belonged to my grandparents, Jim and Elizabeth Auckland. My father was born in this house and we have a picture of my Dad and Grandmother standing by the picket fence.

On your right side just before the bend in the road, you would see the local wagon and implement shop that manufactured wagons and farm implements for the community.

The building on the bend and on your right belonged to the Nelson Telephone Company. We have a picture of my grandfather sitting on his democrat wagon outside the telephone office and we believe this was taken in and around 1920. My grandfather worked as a part time repair line man for them for a number of years.

The building attached to the telephone office was the Temperance Hall or meeting place. I believe this was associated with the Methodist Church. The benches we have in the upper part of our antique shop came from the Temperance Hall. They were first given to the school house and were stored in the school house woodshed.

About the time we were opening the upstairs of the antique shop, the Parks Department wanted to get rid of them and we were lucky enough to salvage them from being burnt. The benches are currently painted green and are made of excellent quality virgin pine boards.

As you travelled around what is locally known as the Mill Hill, you would probably see a line-up of horses and wagons unloading bags of grain onto a wooden chute that went down over the bank to the grist mill. For the ease of unloading, a chute was devised that would act as a slide for the heavy bags of grain. The bags were dragged from the wagon to the chute from where they slid down into the mill.

As the grain was being ground, the wagons would be driven down to the bottom of the mill where another chute would carry the bags from the mill to the wagon. The miller was noted as having 3 wheels in his mill which would indicate the mill had a capacity to grind and produce 3 different sized or textures of chop as it was commonly referred to.

The mill was a favourite place for us to play as kids as it provided many different varieties of amusement for us. There was the turbulence of the water that rushed from the mill race when the miller opened the sluice to drive the water wheel. This was a simple but big attraction for us. When the sluice was closed it was great fun trying to catch the fish that got stranded in the pools of water. The miller was always chasing us as it was quite dangerous to be caught down in the raceway when the water was

There were usually horses and wagons or sleighs in the winter at the mill. We would hitch rides on them to the top of the hill and slide down over the steep bank and start over again. If the sleighs were heavily loaded the farmers would get quite cross if we stayed while the horsed climbed the hill.

Our mothers always knew when we had been playing at the mill. Our clothes would be covered with chop and had the smell of fresh flour. Occasionally we would fall into the raceway and go home soaking wet as well.

When we got older we would sometimes sneak into the dam area and remove some of the boards that controlled the water level in the dam. This would be certain to upset the miller and quite often we got into serious trouble at home because of this. I don’t know why we did this, but I guess it did provide us with some amusement.

As you came over the wagon bridge (which was just heavy boards spanning over a steel structure) you would be approaching the general store and would likely find a string of horses and buggies tied to the hitching post which was just west of the present store. If the timing was right you may see the stage coach in front of the store unloading and loading passengers, freight and mail. The store that was standing at the time was built by Andrew Pickett in 1850.

When you arrived at the store you may want to go down to the basement which housed a cheese factory and sample of cheese, or you may want to go upstairs and send a telegraph to someone. The telegraph office was installed in 1868.

The stage coach which was operated by one of the Colling families provided a service between Nelson Village and Campbellville. At the turn of the century there were 9
hotels between Burlington and Campbellville.

If you happened to arrive around meal time, and you had not bothered to pack a lunch, you could drop into the hotel which was just across from the general store on the east side of the Commons. The Commons was the name of the roadway that led from the store to the school house. You could probably buy a good lunch for 10 cents and still have enough left from that 25 cents you brought to stay for dinner that evening and take a room for the night.

After lunch (and feeding your horse) you could wander to the furniture factory which is still standing and buy or trade some produce you may have brought along for a new piece of furniture. This was a fine furniture factory that produced custom furniture such as clocks and tables.

This building in later years became the home of a saddle shop and an apiary. When the apiary was closed, my father leased the building to raise chickens. Many times I would come home with plenty of bee stings. I can remember my mother taking the bees out of my hair with the pliers. When a queen bee left the hive, the bees sure got ugly and they would sting anything they could find that moved.

If by chance you were staying overnight and you had some extra time to spend shopping you could visit the four general merchants that were in the hamlet, the iron
foundry, the tannery, the shoemaker, the cabinetmaker and possibly post a letter at the post office.

If you had not eaten too much for lunch you might have taken a walk to the top of the south hill where if you looked east you would an octagonal house which was built by Thomas E. Pickett sometime in the 1850s.

The design was reputed to be good for the health and only natural materials were used in its construction. There is only one rectangular room in the house.

It is documented that a large pine tree which was cut at their own sawmill supplied enough lumber for all the floors and doors in the home.

If the roadway which was dirt and gravel happened to be too muddy to walk on, you could walk on the boardwalk which was a wooden sidewalk. It ran all the way through the village from the top on the hill on the south side to Highville on the north/west side.

The stone steps that went up the hill from the footbridge were replaced by my Grandfather Auckland. The cement was mixed by horse at the top of the hill and was slid down a wooden trough. My father and uncle helped my grandfather build the stairs in 1919. The stairs are still in excellent shape as of this date, October 1994.

We have a picture of my grandfather, dad and uncle standing at the bottom of the stairs. The picture was taken on completion of the project. The cement was mixed by a paddle attached to a centre pole which was rotated by the horse walking in a circle. It was my father’s job to keep the horse walking around the outside of the cement box.

If you walked north/west from the store towards Highville you would pass the school house which was built in 1889. It housed 25 or so school children and would
accommodate grades one through grade eight.

The school was built on an acre of land that was donated by Joseph Featherstone. Mr. Featherstone, who had immigrated to Canada from England as a young man, donated this acre of land from his farm (which is still in operation) for the first school to be built in the community.

You would notice a plaque in the gable end of the school which reads S. S. No.9 Nelson TWP. The S. S. stands for school section by which all schools were identified.

If you look carefully you will also notice there was an entrance on both sides of the school near the front wall. The entrance on the south side was for the boys and the
north entrance was for the girls.

The attached woodshed at the back of the school housed both a girls and boys toilet and provided storage space for the winter’s wood. It was the older boys job to split the wood and the younger students including the girls had to carry and pile it in the woodshed.

The school had a central wood furnace that worked very well, however if you were unlucky enough to get a seat next to the furnace it could get pretty warm in the winter.

As there was no well at the school, the wash water was carried from the creek and the drinking water was carried from the well on the furniture factory property. In the area of the school, a thick layer of salt is found at about 15 to 20 feet below grade and therefore a well would only produce salt water.

The teachers were mostly young teachers fresh out of teachers college as anyone who was married and qualified would likely seek a city position in order that their spouse could find employment as well.

As a result, most teachers were single and it was common practice for them to board at the miller’s home as the miller’s home was one of the largest and most modern homes in the community.

The only teacher that I remember not boarding at the miller’s home (1943 to 1950) was a Miss Goldstraw who lived in Milton. She travelled daily to Lowville by horse and buggy and it was arranged that she stable her horse at my father’s barn during her tenure at Lowville. I am not sure what year that was.

School was fun in those days. We did not learn so much academically as we did practically. The girls were taught how to do woodwork and the boys were taught how to knit. I remember my frustration trying to knit a pair of diamond socks. I was much more comfortable building birdhouses.

The swimming excursions were fun. The girls would go skinny dipping in the coal hole which was at the bend in the river just west of the footbridge. The boys would go skinny dipping in the dinky hole which is opposite the original park building on the east side of the river. The property at that time was privately owned.

When I was in Grade 7 it was common practice for out teacher Gerry White to take us hunting groundhogs with his single shot 22 rifle.

The dress of the day for the boys was long pants tied halfway between the knee and the ankle with laces. We called them breeks. I remember the whole village looking for Malcolm Dent one day when he ran away because his mother made him wear shorts to school.

The problem with the long pants was that when the older boys put snakes down your pants, it was almost impossible to get the snake out without taking off your pants. It was also necessary to hold them up with braces and the braces made great welts on your back when the older boys played the game of holding you down and snapping your braces like a bow string against your back. I guess this was just part of growing up.

When I was in Grade 7/8, Don Colling and I had a trap line which we attended before and after school. We had close to 100 traps at one time and would trap mink and muskrat for spending money. We would get as much as 35 cents for a good muskrat pelt and up to $5.00 for a good mink pelt. I believe we spent more money on traps than we ever made because we were sending our pelts to Montreal by mail as we did not have a license to trap.

Our teacher, Mr. White, took some pelts to a fur auction in Bancroft for us one time (his home town) and we averaged $3 to $4 a pelt. Just as we thought we were going to get rich with this new market for the pelts, someone lifted all of our traps. We could not complain to the authorities as we did not have a license nor did we have the money to replace the traps. Our trapping experience came to an end quite suddenly. We were pretty sure we knew who took our traps, but he was a good customer at my dad’s store and if we made too much fuss we were asking for more trouble than we could handle.

If your visit happened to be during the winter months, it would be possible that you would see a team of horses pulling a load of logs down the river to the Readhead saw
mill which was on the river at Walkers Line.

You may also see a sleigh load of ice being transported down the river. The ice, which was cut at the millpond, was the only means of refrigeration and almost everyone had an ice house where the ice was stored under sawdust for preservation during the summer. It was also common for most people to have a root cellar for storing vegetables.

Catching a ride behind the horses and sleighs and being pulled to the top of the mountain with our bobsled was also a common occurrence as long as the sleigh master
could not see us behind his load.

I remember well, the first time I saw a car go up the hill during the winter. We were sledding on the hill and standing about halfway up the hill when Walter Harbottle drove right up the middle of our bobsled track with his coupe car. The old car had spoke wheels and he had looped heavy rope through the spokes to act as chains. This did a real number on our bobsled track. We were not impressed.

There were two water powered grist mills on the river between Lowville and Carlisle and there were also two sawmills on the river. One at Kilbride and the other at Walkers Line.

Lumbering continued to the mid 40s on the property in the village which was known as the McBeth property. A gentleman by the name of Campbell from Toronto had cutting rights and he employed some First Nations from the Six Nations Reserve to cut the lumber.

The grist mill succumbed to electric powered mills and discontinued operation in the late 50s or early 60s.

I became good friends with one of the older First Nations gentleman by the name of Abbey Proudfoot. Abbey would take me back to the McBeth property where he taught me the right places to look for mushrooms and puffballs. Abbey was killed by a car in Caledonia after coming out of a hotel.

The beautiful old granite home once belonged to Squire Cleaver sat in the middle of the McBeth property. All that remains now is a foundation which holds fond memories for most of us who grew up in the village.

This was our playhouse when we were younger and a safe haven for us to sneak the odd smoke as we experimented with tobacco and on occasion sampled the odd bottle of something that seemed a little stronger than pop.

In the daytime we could pretend we were Kings of the land as this old house was so isolated and at the same time so friendly as long as it was still daylight. We knew every nook and cranny in the old house and could see for a great distance in all directions from the second floor windows

At night it was a perfect setting for ghosts and creatures and many times when we thought we heard a noise in the old house, we would head down the land towards home as quick as we could go. It was quite a long way home. Not many of us visited the old house by ourselves even during the day.

The village presented all kinds of opportunities for us when we were growing up; sleigh riding and skiing in the winter, swimming, fishing in the summer, sneaking muskmelons and tomatoes from the gardens. Turning the round railings on the wagon bridge at night, the rails would screech so loud on a cold night you could hear them for miles.

Our favourite trick at Christmas time was to tie a white string to an empty box that was wrapped like a Christmas present. We would lie in the ditch well back from the road and when someone stopped to pick up the box we would pull the string and then run as fast as we could. Some of those car drivers could really run.

Waiting for summer to arrive seemed to be the hardest time to put in. It seemed like a long time between riding the icebergs in the spring and the time the water was warm enough to go fishing and swimming.

The building which houses the antique shop has housed many different businesses and has had many renovations since my parents purchased the store and this property in 1937.

When we moved here this building was a livestock barn with a hayloft upstairs and horse and cattle stalls on the lower level. I remember us having three or four cows, a horse and some chickens. And, at one time my Dad had forty pigs that he had taken in trade for groceries and feed. The pigs were kept on a farm which was originally the Featherston farm.

I also remember our cows getting into some frozen apples that fell off the apple trees that were behind the barn. They fermented in their stomachs. This led to the end of raising livestock. My Dad figured he had better stick with something that was a little more stable in respect to generating income that was required to pay the bills.

It wasn’t long after my Dad got out of the livestock that the barn was turned into a feed storage warehouse. We sold Master and Purina Feed for many years. When bulk feeds became available for the farmers, his role in the feed business became more of a broker than a dealer for the feed companies. The feed was delivered direct to the farms and consequently he did not need the same amount of storage space so this freed up the building to be used for other purposes. No one was happier than I as this put an end to slugging 100 lb. bags of feed 6 days a week.

Now that the feed storage was no longer required, and my mother and father being the enterprising people that they were, it was decided that they would get into the egg and chicken business. They applied and received a license to operate a Government regulated chick hatchery and a Government regulated egg grading station.

Half of the building was utilized for the chick hatchery and the other half was renovated to accommodate the egg grading station. The egg grading station required insulated walls and refrigeration for the storage of eggs. The hatchery also required insulation and wall coverings that could be disinfected following each hatch of chickens.

Many days and nights my mother and father and my Grandpa Hammond, who had come to live with us, stood for hours on end candling and packing eggs into 30 dozen cased ready for market. I didn’t escape the procedure as much as I would have liked to. I hated the job of packing those eggs. It was cold, dark and dismal in the candling room and besides, most of the other kids in the village were out playing.

For many years my folks operated a delivery route for the farmers in the area. We would go as far as the Town Line in Milton and then south for a number of miles and then eventually making a loop back to Britannia Road to the Guelph Line and back home.

Thursday was route day and nothing got postponed no matter what as a lot of farmers were depending on you for groceries and feed for their livestock. We would deliver groceries and feed and would pick up chickens and eggs on the way. A lot of produce was traded for groceries and with some of our customers; there were very few exchanges of money.

I enjoyed the opportunity to drive my Dad’s big truck by myself. However, there were a few ladies that used to give me a hard time if their groceries were squashed a little bit or something they ordered was not in their grocery box. I guess I did go around the corners on the gravel roads too fast sometimes, but I always tried to put the right
groceries back in the right boxes.

It seemed to always happen to the same people and I used to get some upset every time I went there whether there was a problem or not. One little old lady never missed phoning my Dad and complaining. I think she beat us out of some groceries occasionally. This was the last stop and of course this could spoil my whole day just
thinking about what was going to happen when I got there.

On Friday we would reload our truck with chickens and eggs that had been graded and off we would go to town.

My Dad had established accounts with some of the major restaurants in Hamilton and Burlington to supply them with chickens and eggs. Some of the larger establishments he supplied were the Hunt’s and Murphy’s restaurants that were located in downtown Hamilton.

On Saturdays we would take chickens and eggs to the Hamilton market.

Following the week of bartering and trading, my Dad would send any money he had left over to the Canadian Imperial Bank in Milton with our mailman, Reggie Aikens. Reggie always stopped at our store to have his lunch and feed his horse. The pot bellied stove that was in the centre of the store was a welcome friend to Reggie on some of those cold winter mornings.

I used to push my bike up the south hill and then again up the mountain to my grandparent’s home on Saturday’s whenever I could. Grandma always had an apple
turnover ready for me when I arrived, and always an extra one to send home with me. Sometimes the turnover never made it home. The lingering smell of Grandma’s pantry with all the fresh baking was just too much for a young boy to resist.

Somewhere around the mid 40s, Reggie our mailman started to deliver the mail with an old convertible (touring) car that had large round hinges protruding on each side. The hinges were part of the mechanism that allowed the roof to be lowered or raised. These hinges made a great handhold, and occasionally I would hold onto them while still on my bicycle and get a tow all the way to the top of the mountain to grandma’s.

One time as we got to the top of the mountain, Reggie was pulling into a mailbox, when my bicycle hit a big rut in the road that sent me head over heels onto the roadway. Not only did the fall tear both my knees out of my pants and skin my arms and elbows real bad, it also ended my free rides to the top of the mountain.

In 1962, my father and mother sold the business and semi-retired. My Dad drove school bus for Norton Bus Lines for 13 years and my mother worked for Ken Syers Clothing and carpet Store in Milton for approximately the same period.

Contributing Author: Ross Auckland