My pioneer Kaine relatives settled in Huron County, 60 miles north west of London in Southwestern Ontario. This post shares some things about the location and history of Huron County. But first, I want to relate how this part of Ontario has personal significance to me. The fondest memories from my teens are from Huron County. In the early 1960’s, I escaped the tyranny of my three younger brothers to spend a few weeks every summer with Louise (Mills) Buttell (1904-1996) and her jovial British husband Walter in a town called Blyth in Huron County. Blyth would later become famous for local summer theatre during the 1970’s, but when I was there, the most excitement for us was on the evenings when the boys from nearby towns like Brussels and Londesborough came to play ball with the local team.

Louise, a retired teacher, was a first cousin of my grandfather, Irving Brigham Pentland Kaine, and the cousins maintained a close connection throughout their lives. She and Walter lived in a yellow brick house built by her father, John Mills, and the very walls of that old house whispered stories to me when I stayed there. Perhaps my fascination with the past was born during the times I spent in that quiet rural town.

Louise and Walters House Dinsley Street Blyth Ontario 1966

My recollections of those summers include vast green lawns where the girl next door and I would sit embroidering pillowcases that we never finished; drives on the sultry summer days past golden fields of wheat stretching endlessly under brilliant blue skies; the fragrance of the freshly picked sweet pea flowers that awaited me in my room and afternoons escaping the heat in the high ceilinged formal living room chatting with Louise. Walter, Louise and I often spent time at their cottage half an hour away at Bogies Beach on Lake Huron and I would be lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves against the shore and the fire crackling in the background. Louise and Walter had no children of their own and treated me like a princess when I stayed with them!

Louise Buttell/Kerrin Churchill 1967 at Bogies Beach Cottage

But enough rumination about my past and more about what my relatives experienced over 150 years ago.

In the previous post on April 21, 2020, I shared information about Mary Pentland who married John Kaine my great great grandfather but I still had some unanswered questions. I now know that the Pentland family arrived in Huron County in 1844 after discovering a story that Margaret Pentland Pritchard wrote titled “Then and Now”.

“Samuel Pentland and his wife Mary Jane (Finnigan), came to Amherst Island in 1823 or 1824 from the Townland of Ballyobegan, of the Division Kircubbin, County Down, Parish of Inishargy, Northern Ireland (Ulster).  They came with several other families from their homes on the Ards Peninsula, County Down, Northern Ireland on the same boat and settled on Amherst Island. Like most early settlers, the Irish had come to Canada to ‘better themselves’ and that usually meant owning their own land.  The landlord refused to sell the farms and after 20 years of renting, many people were becoming discontented.  When they heard of Crown Land in the north of Huron County coming on the market, they sent Alexander Pentland (Samuel’s second son) and Thomas Anderson up to ‘spy out the land’ in the early 1840’s.  

They liked what they saw and took back good reports.

Each one bought 100 acres of bush just north of Dungannon, receiving Crown Deeds.  Alexander paid forty pounds for the 100 acres in 1844.  Eight or ten families decided to come to Huron County at the same time and settled in the Dungannon and Nile area.  They included the Pentland, Finnigan, Anderson, Glenn, Girvin, McMath and McQuoid families.    

For many years, descendants of the original pioneers lived in the townships of Ashfield and Wawanosh, but by 1870, some were scattering to the cities, the Canadian West and many parts of the United States.  However, other descendants of those early settlers stayed on their land and are still living in Huron County. “

Nineteen year old Alexander Pentland, Mary’s brother, was a brave young fellow to set off on the three hundred mile journey from the Kingston area to Huron County to check out the settlement prospects. There were no trains in the area yet so he would have travelled for a week each way on horseback on the very poor roads.

Like other pioneers , the Pentland families would have built a wood shanty to live in for a year or so prior to the construction of a more substantial log home. Ashfield Township, where they bought their land in 1844 is seen on the map below.

Canada West 1850 showing Goderich

Modern Ontario Map Showing Huron County

The land was part of the Huron Tract which was a vast tract of virgin forest and swamp. which is described as follows,

“The British Crown purchased the Huron Tract from the Chippewa First Nation in 1825, and in 1836 negotiated a treaty with the Ojibway and Saugeen First Nations for the Queen’s Bush land.

The Canada Company, a land company formed in the United Kingdom, acquired its charter in 1826 and with it gained control of the Huron Tract lands. The first commissioner for the Canada Company was John Galt. From the beginning, Galt saw the Huron Tract as an agricultural settlement with the land owned by individual farmers. Settlers were attracted by the prospect of land. And, the land was and is one of the richest and best areas for farming in the country.

Settlement slowly took shape, first in those townships which were part of the Huron Tract. In 1833 there were about 685 people living here. By 1839 the number of settlers in the Huron Tract had risen to 4,804. “

The Huron Road, a colonization road, was a significant development for settlers. This road was undertaken by John Galt who worked for the Canada Company and it connected Lake Ontario and Lake Huron for the first time. The workmen had to hack their way through forests to build it. This road was not completed until 1828 (less than 20 years before Pentland family arrived) and was definitely not like the roads we have today as an article by W. H. Breithhaupt describes it many years later,

While the Huron Road was open by the end of 1828 it was years before it became tolerably passable for vehicles. As late as 1888 a Scotch gentleman, Patrick Shirreff, traversed it from Guelph to Goderich. He describes the roads as two thirds corduroy or crossway and that occasionally a large tree had been left standing in the middle of the road. Of the size of trees in the Huron Tract a farmer’s dugout made of a pine trunk gives an idea. The dugout was 26 feet long and 8 feet 9 inches in the beam, requiring a log of more than 4 feet in diameter. The roots projecting from the stumps in a slanting direction kept the wheels and axles of the wagons moving up and down like the beam of a steam engine.

Sadly Samuel Pentland died in 1853 so he did not enjoy his new home for long or live long enough to see his daughter, Mary, married to John Kaine in 1854. The Kaine brothers had lots of work ahead of them as will be shared in future letters. I am sure however, they had time enough to enjoy the same blue skies as I did so many years later. Once we can travel again in Ontario, I look forward to visiting there. As described by the Huron County Tourism,

Treasured by visitors and locals alike, Huron County boasts over 80 km of scenic shoreline, 15 pristine beaches and hundreds of parks and trails for endless opportunities of recreation and entertainment. Enjoy world-class theatre, captivating music, and enriching museums that reflect the area’s vibrant arts and culture scene. Entice your taste buds and expand your palate with a host of wineries, breweries and restaurants featuring fresh, locally-grown food. We invite you to stay awhile, breathe deeply, walk barefoot on the beach, savour a sunset, and relax. You’ve earned this time, and you couldn’t choose a greater place to spend it!

The next post in about two weeks will share a letter from John Kaine describing some of the unique medical practices that were common at the time!

4 thoughts on “Huron County Here We Come!

  1. Very nice images and story mixing the past and present. I like that on your first map they call that West Canada. Also makes me realize that I don’t really know that part of Ontario. Southampton (North) or St Jacob (East) are probably the closest I ever went… To be put on my bucket list!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a “compelling” story. I especially liked your personal story of time in Huron County. Although it echos the story of so many county settlements in Ontario , to hear the real stories of real people is so interesting and told so well.

    Liked by 1 person

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