CANADA: Ontario Diary 1880

The Reeve of the Township of Brock, and Ex-Warden, Malcolm Gillespie, a Scotsman from the Isle of Islay who lived in Cannington, decided to visit his friends who had left the area to settle in a far away Manitoba. Here is his diary report for 1880 of his train trip from Ontario:

“March 2nd Left Manilla at 3 oclock pm and arrived at Whitby at 6pm. A large number of people there are bound for Manitoba, men, women and children laying on benches and on the floor of the waiting room. God some hot water and had tea and something to eat , left Whitby at 3 o’clock in the morning.

March 3rd. Left Toronto at 7 o’clock in the morning and laid over at night for two hours at Detroit Junction.

4th at 3 o’clock Michigan City all built on sandy ground surrounded by enormous hills, perfectly bare of grass. About 6 in the evening arrived at Chicago, a city very flat, wet ground for about 20 miles before arriving, the city itself built on low, sandy  land.  Left Chicago on 6 1/2. Got better accommodation and expect to get some sleep tonight. Made good headway during the night, considerable rain and wind, rested well in the night.

Friday, March 5, 1880 A bright cool day. Some difficulty in getting hot water for tea.  Had not as comfortable breakfast as our former days at Barabbboo. Country very sandy and rocky. At 10 o’clock sent postal card. At 12 had comfortable dinner at Elley.  Arrived St Paul at 7 oclock in the evening and laid over all night.

Saturday, 6th. Left St Paul at 9 oclock in the morning. LIttle sprinkling of snow on the ground. Beautiful sun shining day our party all well after a comfortable breakfast. Arrived at Fergus Falls about 6 oclock, remained overnight at Crookston all night. Went through a deep snow drift, but it was opened up before we came to it. Sat up in seat all night and got the best sleep yet. We arrived at Crookston at 6 oclock in the evening.

Sunday, 7th March Very cold clear day. Left Fergus Falls at 10 oclock morning. Made very poor progress and remained at Crookston all night. Went through deep snow drift, but it was opened up before we came to it. Sat up in the seat all night, and got the best sleep yet. We arrived at Crookston at 6 oclock in the evening.

Monday 8th March: Left Crookston at 3 o’clock pm and all pleased thereat. Cause of delay, snow drifts ahead. Little buildings along railway tract and the country all covered with snow, and so level as the sea. No wood to be seen, but here and there small buildings seen in the distance resembling a ship at sea. The country perfectly level. Day very cold, made very little way, made 60 miles in all and finally was blocked up by snow drift about one oclock in the middle of the Prairie, neither tree nor house to be seen. Engine & snowplows detached from train and sent to Hallock, and a man sent on railroad track backwards for assistance–passengers very uneasy about provisions and fuel. Mrs Jefferson lost her pocket book containing about $25.00. After going through the passengers, $12.00 was collected for her.

Tuesday 9th. Said to be 20 below. Morning very cold. Up to this 6 oclock no sign of relief, at 2 oclock one of the men wo went 6 miles back for assistance has returned and reported that an engine will arrive. About 8 oclock engine arrived and we arrived at Hallock at 11 oclock pm. Went with Mrs Thompson to Wm Thompson’s house.

Wednesday 10th. At Thompson’s home. Weather moderate in the evening. Went to Hallock and remained all night in the only hotel. Slept in the garret all in one room filled up by parties who slept in beds and on the floor. Expecting to go to Winnipeg next morning.

Thursday 11. Snow drifting all night, and when I got up in the morning a small…in the room surrounded by choppers and house very cold. Impressions of the men are that they will not be any trains for Winnipeg for a week….day very cold, said to be 25 below. Men all unable to work.

12 Friday. Left Hallock at 10 oclock with a team to go to Emerson. Day very cold in the morning. Put on 3 pairs of socks, borrowed a fur cap and got to Vincent 21 miles without stopping about 4 oclock. Had dinner there, and paid 50 cents for very poor fare and 50 cents for treats those with me. The journey was through a weary waste of prairie land covered with snow with hardly a house or two to be seen all the way. In the evening about 6 oclock arrived at Emerson, paid 50 cents for fare, and put up at the Anglo American Hotel.

13th Saturday. A clear day. Expect to go to Winnipeg by train in afternoon. Emerson a smart place with a population of about 2000, chiefly frame houses. Left for Winnipeg at 6  oclock and arrived there at 10 o’clock. Passed over prairie same as before. Put up at the Grand Central Hotel.

Sunday 14th. Went to church twice. At the forenoon meeting, met Mr Andrews Smith and family at church, and was warmly asked to have dinner with them. Remained also for tea.  Was used very kindly. Day pretty cold, clear sky. Saw also Malcolm McLean from Manilla.

Monday 15th. Sun shining, clear day. 15 below zero very cold. Left hotel for Dona Robb House. Had two meals there for three dollars.

Tuesday 16th. At Don Robb’s house, slept with Robt both of us very cold. While in bed this morning young Allan McQuarrie came in with wood for Don Robb and am going out with him to Arch. Find lunchening day but very cold. Have written home this day and also to George. After travelling with McQuarrie about 17 miles in his sleigh, we stopped at some woods on the road near the Ponetonatay and fed horse, built a fire and warmed outselves. Then went on again 15 miles more and arrived at Arch 1/2 past nine, where they were astonished to see me.

Wednesday 17th. Arch went with me to Duncan Campbell. They live one mile from Arch. They have about 40 head of cattle, large number of fowls, 3 team of horses, several yoke of oxen, and every agicultural implement required in a farm and the most comfortable out buildings that I have yet seen. They are full of everything. We also called on Duncan Gillespie and Duncan Campbell Jr. Fine sunny day but cold.

Thursday 18th. At Arch. Remained in the house in the forenoon. Arch and his son gone 5 miles to haul hay. Fine clear day. Again in the afternoon went to see lots where Robt is going to settle, the snow in the woods is deep. In the evening went with Duncan Gillespie to Duncan Campbell where I remained all night.  About 3 oclock left for Winnipeg. Went to see Wm Ross who is married to Margaret D Campbell’s daughter. His place is surrounded with woods. The day was clear and pleasant.

Friday 19th. Clear day at Duncan Campbells. Went to Ross’ place. The day was fine and clear and not extra cold.

Saturday 20th. Clear cold day. Remained at Arch all day.

Sunday 21st. Clear find day at Arch. Weather moderate. Went with Arch to the school house. Walked there 2 1/2 miles and heard Mr Lawrence preach from 5th chapter 2nd Corinthians. Had dinner at Arch, then Arch and myself went to Duncan Campbells and had tea there, then back again.

Monday 22nd. At Arch. Find day, snow settling and day not cold. Looking after land. Snow over two feet deep. Had supper with Duncan Campbells, and remained until near two oclock before going to bed at Arch.

23rd. Up again before daylight and went with McQuarry on a load of wood for Winnipeg and arrived at Don Robbs house. At two oclock went down city and had tea at Andrew Smiths.

Wed, 24th Moderate weather, thawing at Douglald Gillespies.

Thursday 25th. Left Winnipeg at 1/2 past 7 in the morning and arrived at St Vincent at 12 oclock noon. About 5 oclock arrived at George’s at Hallock.

Friday 26th. Drizzling rain and snow fast going. Bought…for George and at noon went to see Mr Thompson, also wrote home this day. Remained at Mr Thompsons all night.

Saturday 27th Mr Thompson went with me to George’s house and they along with…went with me to look at land. Snow very deep and drifting. Rain and snow. Came home very tired. George selected land.

Sunday 28th. In the morning very cloudy. At 9 oclock cleared up and fine warm sun shining day. George and myself walked to Mr Thompson’s house and found them well. The two Mr Thompsons and Miss Thompson went with me to Hallock. Had tea there and left 1/2 past five for home.

Monday 29th. Fine day as we approached the south part of Minnesota. Snow disappeared. The country very broken and hilly and full of small lakes and water holes. Soil very light but in appearance resembling Canada. Had no breakfast this morning. Had dinner on the way and supper at St Paul where we arrived at 1/2 past 4 in the evening, and left at 1/2 past 8 in the evening. Made good headway during the night. Slept occasionally.

Tuesday 30th. Fine day. Had breakfast at Barbaroo and arrived at 1/2 past 4. Remained there until 9 oclock and then left for Detroit, and arrived there next morning at 1/2 past 10.

Wednesday 31st. Fine day. Started from Detroit at 2 oclock. Arrived at Stratford where I had dinner. ”


From notes by Donald Whyte, author of A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to Canada before Confederation:  “The Donald Gillespie who was the father of Malcolm had a second wife and more children, a Robert and an Archibald, both mentioned in the diary above. From the narrative is would appear that Archibald had a farm and was well settled in, while Robert had selected land on which he would build his place. The location must have been reasonably close to Winnipeg. It does seem strange indeed that Malcolm never once says he is visiting a brother Archibald or a brother Robert. Was Mrs Thompson a sister?”

My Notes:  I have often visited Cannington area and the graves in the cemeteries of the original Islay folk who settled here. And I found Malcolm’s farm not far from the village centre. There is a plaque on the fence where he is buried that honours his contributions to this community.  What I find sad is it is highly unlikely these families in the West every saw Malcolm again, nor he them.  Malcolm’s three sons became doctors in the area, one dying very young, and another Paul, leaving for South Africa, never to return because there was no one home  left to come back to.  Paul died of bubonic plague having recently married,  after serving others in war time. He also got caught up in hunting for diamonds. The tragedies in these families speaks to the suffering that the stoic Scots bore in their lifetime, yet how they overcame and had good lives nonetheless.