Friday, January 24, 2014

McFarlane Mysteries

The McFarlane farm in Melrose, Ontario.

There are lots of stories about my three-times great-grandparents John and Marjory MacFarlane. He was born in 1791, she was born in 1801. He was a stonemason who left Scotland after a fight with his brother and business partner, Donald. He invested in an oatmeal mill in Upper Canada and lost everything when it burned down. They had nine children, two of whom died as children.

 Unfortunately, I cannot yet document any of these stories. There are a few facts, however, that can be confirmed.

The marriage of John MacFarlane and May Robertson on 26 December, 1823 was recorded in the records of Clunie parish, Perthshire. Their first child, Janet (my great-great-grandmother,) was baptized in Clunie parish on 26 June, 1825.

The family arrived in Upper Canada around 1833. They settled in Melrose, Tyendinaga Township, Hastings County, near today’s Belleville, Ontario, where they were included in the 1861 census of Canada. One of John and Marjory MacFarlane’s descendants is still raising cattle across the road from the original family farm.

I been unable to confirm John MacFarlane’s date or place of birth although, according to a copy of a family letter, author unknown, he was born 4 March, 1791.

John’s wife is referred to in various documents as Marjory, May and Margaret. There is a baptismal record for a Marjory Robertson, dated 15 March, 1801 in Caputh parish, however, her gravestone in Ontario gives her dates as 1804-1870. Was that the baptismal record of another child, or is there an error in the monumental inscription?

            It does seem probable that the family lived in or near tiny Clunie parish. Family stories say they came from near Dunkeld and the Tay River. Both Clunie and Caputh parishes are very close to Dunkeld, a cathedral town with an old bridge over the Tay.  

A view of the countryside over the wall behind Clunie Parish Church.
            Gravestones, marriage and census records confirm most of their children’s names and some dates: Janet (1825-1901) married James Drummond Forrester; Christina, born 1827, was included in the 1861 census and then disappeared; John (1828-1907) married Letitia McKinney; Margery (1831-1835) died as a child, according to a family letter; Jean (1833-1883) married Ed Carscallen, and her marriage and death records confirm family stories that she was born on the Atlantic; Donald was born 1835, according to family records, and probably died as an infant; William (1838-1917) married Mary Jane McKinney; Margery, or Marsley (1840-1886) married James Balcanqual; Donald (1843-1900) married first, Helen Pegan, and second, Mary Anderson.

I am curious to know whether John MacFarlane was a stonemason before he came to Canada as one family story suggested. Maps and gazetteers dating from the 1800s indicate there were quarries in the Clunie region, so it is a possibility.

            Did John build a mill in Melrose? Again, it is possible. In his book Historic Hastings, Gerald Boyce says, “The centre’s first grist mill had been built in 1833 by Mr. McFarlane …” More research is needed to clarify whether this was my John MacFarlane or someone else.

Research notes: Two topics worth discussion arise from this article. The first is Genealogical Proof Standard, or GPS. (See The five central points of GPS are: the genealogist must do a reasonably exhaustive search; cite sources fully; analyze the collected information; resolve any conflicting evidence; write a coherent conclusion.

There are several conflicting pieces of information about this family, and I need to gather additional, reliable evidence to sort out fact from fiction. Maybe I’ll find all that evidence some day but, in the meantime, I do know enough to begin to tell their story.  

There is an inconsistency in the spelling of the family’s name. The gravestones in Gilead St. Andrew’s Cemetery and Melrose Cemetery, where most of these people are buried, spell it Mac, while family members now insist it is Mc; just another genealogical challenge, but no big deal.

The second topic involves one of my favorite genealogy research tools: maps. As well as being beautiful, old maps often show the locations of roads and structures that existed in our ancestors’ times, but are no longer visible. The National Library of Scotland has an extensive collection of digitized maps at I also found a good map showing Clunie Parish Church and its surroundings on the excellent Scotland’s Places website,

A solidly researched history of Hastings County, first published in 1967, has recently been updated and can be ordered from Historic Hastings, Volume One, with New Introduction and Expanded Index, by Gerald E. Boyce, is published by Global Heritage Press, Milton, 2013.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Home Well Lived In

This drawing of Durham House was done by artist John Hugh Ross, year unknown. Courtesy McCord Museum.

Like the expression “a life well lived,” Durham House was a home well lived in: people were born there, they married there, and they died there. But like many people, the house slowly declined as it neared 100 years of age.

The home of Montreal merchant Stanley Bagg for most of his adult life, it was located on St. Lawrence Street (now St. Laurent Boulevard), just north of Sherbrooke Street. When it was built 200 years ago, the surrounding area was entirely farmland.

Butcher John Clark, who probably built the house around 1818, named it after his native city, Durham, England. When his daughter, Mary Ann, married Stanley Bagg a year later, Clark gave her the house as a wedding present. Stanley and Mary Ann’s only child, Stanley Clark Bagg, was born there. After Mary Ann died in 1835, Stanley and his son continued to live there.

For a brief time in 1837, the house played a military role. Stanley, a Major in the 1st Batallion of the Montreal militia, used it as a headquarters for the men under his command in 1837, when an armed insurrection broke out after the British governor and his unelected advisors rejected demands for responsible government.  

A few years later, Stanley found himself in debt, so he gave the house to his son and sold him the furnishings. Stanley paid the servants’ badly overdue wages with the proceeds. An inventory of the contents showed that the drawing room had a sofa, a dozen mahogany chairs, an equestrian statue of Napoleon and three framed portraits (probably Stanley, his wife, Mary Ann, and his father, Phineas.) The dining room walls featured a framed portrait of George Washington and a view of Scottish mountains. There were four bedrooms and a sitting room.

In addition to the kitchen, there was a dairy room, a pantry, and a laundry room. Farm and garden tools, three carpet bags and some stove pipes were found in the store room. There was a coach house, a bee house, a dovecot, a root house and a barn. The animals included four horses, five cows, two calves and a dozen pigs.

In 1845, Stanley Clark Bagg’s wife, Catherine Mitcheson Bagg, gave birth to Stanley’s first grandchild, Mary Frances, at Durham House. Soon the young family’s new home, Fairmount Villa, was completed nearby, and Stanley was on his own.

Stanley does not seem to have been a man who was easily impressed, so when he mentioned a few events in his notebook (which was otherwise full of numbers and calculations), they must have been pretty exciting. On June 14, 1848 he wrote, “the house burnt,” although he did not say what caused the fire or how much damage occurred. And on June 8, 1850 he noted, “Mrs. Mitcheson came.” He was most likely referring to Catherine Mitcheson Bagg’s mother from Philadelphia.

After Stanley’s death in 1853, Durham House went through many changes. At first it was rented. In the mid-1860s, it was the home of the Proprietary College, run by Rev. Mr. Stone. In 1872, according to a newspaper report of a fire in the stable roof, Durham House was the residence of a Mr. Lesser. By this time, the neighbourhood was no longer rural, and tradesmen, including shoemakers, masons and carriage makers, had opened businesses across the street. Their shops occupied the main floors, while their families lived on the second. 

Durham House was on the southwest corner of Saint Lawrence Street and Bagg Street (now Prince Arthur). Map courtesy BAnQ
In 1876, the piece of land on which Durham House was located had been subdivided, and Chalmers Presbyterian Church opened its doors next door. Lot 110, on which the house was located, was sold in 1889 to J.S. Vipond. Later, the property belonged to fruit seller Joseph Brown, although it is unclear whether Brown or Vipond, a coal and wood dealer, occupied the house.

St. Lawrence Street -- or The Main, as it is often nicknamed – was always one of Montreal’s main arteries but, at the turn of the century, the city decided to make the former country road into an elegant boulevard. To make room for a wider street, many buildings along the west side were torn down. The front door of Durham House faced south and there was an extension on the east side of the building, probably a chapel. The extension was demolished, but the main building survived for the time being.

In 1908, The Montreal Gazette reported that the fruit seller’s estate had sold Durham House for $15,000. In February 1910, a newly constructed branch of the Dominion Bank opened for business on the corner. A 1915 map showed the house still standing right next to the bank, but there was junk stored in the former front yard. Durham House was probably demolished, unnoticed, around 1928.   

Today, a historic plaque on the bank at the busy corner of St. Laurent Boulevard and Prince Arthur Street reveals the history of the house that stood there for so long.

The source of the painting is:
The source of the map is:

Research Remarks:  Les Amis de Boulevard Saint-Laurent ( organizes walking tours of St. Laurent Boulevard every summer. This community group has also erected a series of bilingual panels that recount the area’s history at various spots along the street. You can see the texts and illustrations from the panels online at Click on the information for 3590 Blvd Saint-Laurent to read about Durham House. There is an error here, however: it says Stanley Bagg was from Durham, England. In fact, his wife’s family was from Durham; he was born in the United States.

Justin Bur, president of Les Amis de Boulevard Saint-Laurent and a key member of the local history group Mile End Memories (, was helpful and generous, as always. A Montreal Herald newspaper article dated June 4, 1904 provided key information. Stanley’s personal notebook is part of the Stanley and Abner Bagg collection at the McCord Museum in Montreal.

The microfilmed document that includes an inventory of the contents of the house is Act No. 3556, dated 2 Nov, 1842, of notary Joseph-Hilarion Jobin, accessed at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) in Montreal.

I did additional research in the Lovells street directory of Montreal, which you can browse online at, specifically I also searched the archives’ extensive online map collection, The map site is in French only, but is easy to navigate. You can search by place (lieu), author (auteur), subject (sujet) and date.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Stanley Bagg's Difficulties

In 1841, when Stanley Clark Bagg (SCB) turned 21, he inherited several properties on the island of Montreal from his mother and his maternal grandfather. It was time for his father, merchant Stanley Bagg, who had been executor of the two estates, to transfer the inheritance into his son’s hands.
However, Stanley admitted that he had not kept track of the income and expenses of the estates, which dated from 1835 and 1827. Stanley resolved to sort out the situation. In 1842, Stanley and SCB signed a notarized document in which Stanley acknowledged that he had used the estates’ revenues, including rents and property sales -- a sum amounting to 3,000 pounds -- “for his own profit and advantage.” He mortgaged several of his own properties to repay his son, with interest.  
In addition, Stanley was behind on the expenses for Durham House, the stone farmhouse which he and his wife had received as a wedding present, and where he and SCB still lived. Those debts totalled 350 pounds.
Acknowledging he was in a “precarious state of health and desirous of giving up housekeeping,” Stanley gave Durham House to SCB, including furniture, kitchen utensils, farming implements and animals. In return, SCB pledged to pay his father’s outstanding household debts, and to look after him. He would pay for his father’s food, clothing and servants’ wages, and Stanley would have “the use of a good horse.”  Stanley wasn’t ready to give up his favourite means of transportation.  
The revelations of these 1842 notarial documents are surprising. As a young man, Stanley Bagg had been engaged in numerous business endeavors, and he had extensive accounting experience. However, the British economy had been in crisis since 1839, so Quebec was in the midst of a recession in 1842. 
Stanley’s situation was also likely related to his brother Abner’s financial distress. In 1823, Abner’s hat-making business failed, leaving him heavily indebted, but with no way of going bankrupt in an orderly manner. Stanley tried to help his brother over the years, acting as security for new loans and participating in a series of promissory notes, mortgage arrangements and property transfers. His entanglement with Abner’s affairs may have put Stanley’s own assets at risk, and he probably wanted to conceal his assets and transfer his properties to his son quickly and quietly.  

Stanley Bagg, probably painted about the time of his marriage in 1819.

After 1842, SCB opened his own practice as a notary, married, started a family and built a large house of his own. Meanwhile, Stanley rewrote his will in 1851, trying to tie up loose ends and protect SCB from debts “in consequence of some of the accounts and transactions in which I have been engaged.”  
A year later, Stanley complained he was dissatisfied with the medical care he was receiving. SCB agreed that up to 25 pounds a year could be spent on a medical attendant for his father, if he really needed it. The tone of this notarized document hints that many years of financial strains had affected the father-son relationship. Stanley died in 1853, aged 65. 
Research Remarks: When I started going to the archives to research the Bagg family, I expected to find legal documents such as wills and business agreements. I was surprised to find how much these family agreements revealed. All that time I spent scanning fuzzy microfilms and trying to reading old handwriting was well spent.
These agreements are found in the records of notary Joseph-Hilarion Jobin, no. 3537, 8 October 1842, and no. 3556, 2 November 1842, accessed at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec in Montreal.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Settling in Scarborough

The Scottish settlers of Scarborough were known as heavy drinkers, but not so Robert Hamilton. My great-great grandfather, who settled in this Upper Canadian farming community in 1830, was a “pioneer total abstinence advocate,” and his opposition to alcohol almost prevented his barn from being built.  

Between 1796 and 1826, the government granted land in Scarborough to Loyalists, military officers and a few other settlers. Most were absentee landowners, however, and the population only began to grow after 1815, with the end of the Napoleonic wars. The height of immigration occurred in the 1820s and early 1830s, with a huge influx of settlers from England, Scotland and Ireland.

Most of the Scarborough’s Scots came from lowland counties such as Lanarkshire and Dumfriesshire. Many had friends or relatives who had already settled in the area and encouraged others to follow. Robert was no exception: he was a weaver from Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, and his in-laws, the Stobo family, were said to have been the first Lanarkshire settlers in Scarborough in 1824.

Robert, his wife, Elizabeth Stobo, and their six children stayed with the Stobo family when they first arrived. Soon they found a farm of their own, lot 25, concession III, and started to clear the trees so they could plant crops. 

Robert Hamilton and companion.

Felling trees wasn’t as easy as it looked, however, as the Hamiltons learned. In 1832, three weeks after arriving in Scarborough, Robert Rae, Robert Hamilton’s brother-in-law, was helping clear the Hamilton farm when he was killed by a falling tree. The widowed Agnes Hamilton Rae brought up four children alone and eventually managed to purchase thirty acres of her own.

One of the traditions the settlers brought from Scotland was the custom of holding “bees,” in which neighbours helped each other with major projects, such as barn-raisings. The person whose barn was being erected normally provided whisky to the volunteers, so when abstainer Robert Hamilton refused to serve any alcohol, the volunteers refused to help with the barn. The deadlock was broken when Robert gave the head carpenter the authority to oversee the barn-raising as he saw fit, and the carpenter approved the whisky.

Eventually, alcohol was no longer so central to the social lives of Scarborough’s Scots. Rev. James George, of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, founded the first recorded temperance society in the community in 1834 and, by the turn of the 20th century, no liquor was allowed at barn raisings.

Research notes: When I started to research this post, I just wanted to find out more about my ancestors’ lives, and I was excited to find references to Robert Hamilton on the website of The James McCowan Memorial Social History Society, This website gives an account of Robert Rae’s fatal accident. I wanted to learn more, so I ordered a couple of the booklets published by the society. When I read the footnotes, I realized that the McCowans are descendants of Robert and Agnes Hamilton Rae – and therefore distant cousins of mine!

Another excellent resource for the early history of Scarborough is The Township of Scarboro, 1796-1896, edited by David Boyle, Toronto, 1896, available online at Written to celebrate Scarborough’s first centennial, this is the source of the story of the barn-raising.

Scarborough produced another book to celebrate its second centennial anniversary. The People of Scarborough: A History, by Barbara Myrvold, published by the City of Scarborough Public Library Board, 1997, gives a comprehensive overview of the community’s history. It is also available as an online PDF at

Finally, I discovered that Robert Hamilton took part in a curling match between Scarborough and Toronto on a frozen Toronto Bay in 1836. This little anecdote didn’t fit into my article, but I wanted to mention it anyway because it led me to a charming painting of Toronto Bay (now called Toronto Harbour) in winter:

See also: