Understanding the history of Huron County, provides us as genealogists a foundation of those who lived in Huron County, long before the settlers. Settlement happened in steps and the governing bodies shifted and continue shifting over time. The initial Huron Tract included some townships now part of Perth and Middlesex Counties.
Thanks to David Yates for sharing his story of the early settlement of Huron County.
Settling the frontier of Huron
By David Yates
Huron County Focus, February 19, 2005
“All frontier and nothing else” is how the Duke of Wellington described the problem of defending Canada’s vast wilderness from American republicanism. The British government eagerly embraced any settlement scheme that would keep the British North American colonies within the fold of Empire.
The most successful of these schemes began in a London tavern in July 1824 and was given official state approval when it was granted a Royal Charter in 1826. The Canada Company was formed as a business venture with a useful political agenda to settle the western reaches of Upper Canada with loyal, devout and industrious emigrants of the British yeoman class.
By the time that the Huron Tract was opened for settlement in 1827, the Canada Company was in possession of over one million acres of pristine forest on the eastern shores of Lake Huron. Most of this land was acquired by Treaty from the Chippewa Indians at Amherstburg, Upper Canada the previous year. This land would be known as the Huron Tract. Present day Huron County would be carved from the western portion of the Company’s landholdings.
It was a remarkable cast of characters that established the western portion of the Huron Tract.
Perhaps the most famous of the Huron County founders is Dr. William “Tiger” Dunlop.
Dunlop had served as a battlefield surgeon on the Niagara frontier during the War of 1812; he had seen service in India where earned the nickname “Tiger” (according to his own account, but that’s another story); and returned to Canada in 1826 to assume the grandiose title of “Warden of the Canada Company’s Woods and Forests in Upper Canada”.
It was Tiger Dunlop, who was ordered by the Company’s first Commissioner, John Galt, to take an “exploring party” on “an expedition to the shores of Lake Huron”. Dr. Dunlop and a small survey party took “a dive into the woods” on March 9, 1827 from Guelph and blazed a trail west through primeval forest to Lake Huron’s shores.
The Dunlop party included the renowned surveyor Mahlon Burwell, his assistant, John MacDonald, who would later survey the Huron Road, along with a Mr. McGregor who provide a team of oxen and another man history only identifies as Mr. Sproat.
An interesting aspect to note is the significant native involvement in the expedition to which Dunlop and the other members of the expedition gave full credit. Three natives accompanied the expedition, Captain Jacob, Louis Cadotte and John Brant, a son of the famed loyalist Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant. Dunlop’s reliance on these native guides, linguists and hunters was complete. Wisely, Dunlop heeded the natives’ advice to wait until after the “Moon of Lard” (February) was over before beginning the overland trek because that’s when fish and game would be most plentiful.
William S. Gooding and Frank Deschamps, the proprietors of a trading post on the Menesetung River were away when Dunlop’s party finally cut line through to Lake Huron in May 1827. Upon arrival, Burwell claimed the party to be “destitute” of provisions. He gratefully recounted that local Chippewas welcomed the famished party with fish and corn. A rather sad anecdote, which in an earlier age passed as humour, was that the Tiger, himself, was able to convince the Chippewa to abandon the river flats in exchange for a keg of whiskey.
Two days after the survey party’s arrival, the future Town of Goderich was officially founded. Burwell recorded that “we selected a site for the erection of a house in a beautiful situation on the left [south] bank of the Menesetung River … the foundation for the first house of the town was Wednesday, May 29, 1827”. What became known as “the castle” was a 22’x22’ crude log structure with a 15”x15” kitchen located on what is now Lions’ Harbour Park in Goderich. (The Tiger would have appreciated the humour of the site of his original home named after a Lion). The first permanent residence in Huron County was thus.
One month later, Commissioner Galt sailed into the basin of the Menesetung River aboard the H.M.S Bee, he was greeted by an unkempt, bewhiskered Dr. William “Tiger” Dunlop who was flanked by a flotilla of Chippewa Indians in canoes. Typically, the Tiger produced a bottle of champagne to celebrate their reunion and toast the King’s health. It can be safely assumed that the Bee had an ample supply of Navy grog to supplement the celebration well into the night.
Although Galt would leave the river basin within 48 hours, it was an historically significant visit for the Huron Tract. It was at this moment that the Menesetung River, as the Chippewa called it, was renamed the Maitland River, after Sir Peregrine Maitland, the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada…..The proposed settlement, that in June 1827, consisted of but one small and incomplete log structure overlooking the bluffs of the Maitland River and Lake Huron was to be named Goderich, after Lord Goderich, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Dunlop, for his part, could report that despite the difficulties of traversing the almost impenetrable forests of the Huron Tract, he could envision the rich agricultural potential of the land as he enthusiastically reported to the Company Directors that “it is impossible to find 200 acres together in the whole country which will make a bad farm.” The lake, rivers and forests of the Huron Tract would become Dunlop’s permanent home and final resting place.
For John Galt, his first brief visit to Goderich was to mark the pinnacle of his tenure as Canada Company Commissioner. Within a year, Galt would be embroiled in the swirl of colonial politics that would soon lead to his controversial removal from office.
Before his removal from office in January 1829, Galt would pay one last, brief visit to Goderich. As his sleigh pulled away from the town that he helped to create on the shores of Lake Huron, he knew he would never return as he wrote that “my adieu to Lake Huron was a fond farewell, for from the moment I lost sight of it waters, I considered my commission at an end.”….And so it was for John Galt, but for the Huron Tract it was just the beginning…..