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Still standing after all these years
Posted By: c.a.m, 01-23-2023, 07:16 PM

An old farmhouse in Huntley Township, near Almonte, Ontario.

There it stands quietly, abandoned in a lonely field surrounded by snow, covered by an overcast sky.

Edit: I've added a short history. Please scroll down below the image.

- Craig

The Log House Builder: Michael McGrath, age 30, 1850.

(Conversions: 100 acres = 40 hectares; 1 mile = 1.6 km)

Although I didn't photograph this old house for documentary purposes, curiosity led me to research its origins. Here's a brief account of the land, the house, and its original owner. Let's reach 200 years back to the early European settlements of the Ottawa Valley.

Starting in the late 1700s, land in Upper Canada (present-day province of Ontario) was surveyed into 'townships', mainly to accommodate Loyalist settlers who were migrating from the United States. Townships were organized by 'concessions' and 'lots', a concession being land that the British Crown would concede to a settler in return for the settler agreeing to build a house and, well, settle in. The concessions were long strips approximately a mile wide, and were further divided into 200-acre lots each a quarter-mile deep; each lot was typically administered in two 100-acre parcels, say an 'east half' and a 'west half'. Today, the lots are still identified legally by their original designations.

The featured farmhouse sits on the "east half of Lot 15, Concession 10", in the original Township of Huntley in Carleton County (now located within the extensive City of Ottawa). The parcel was conceded to a Jeffery Donoghue on May 30, 1836, who had emigrated from Ireland to Upper Canada in 1823 to become one of the first settlers in the area. After several transactions amongst other landowners, one-half of the 100-acre parcel was acquired by a Michael McGrath in 1850. At least one published history of the area* indicates that the house was built at about that time.

The census of 1851 lists Michael, his wife Judith and their four children in their own entry, which suggests they lived in their own dwelling--this house. Michael's brother Simon and family lived in a larger log house on the other half of the parcel, along with their father and mother, Michael senior and Ellen. By 1861 Michael McGrath junior had a growing family of eight children.

An earlier census (1842) lists a Michael McGrath in the 10th Concession, but it's unknown whether he was Senior or Junior. The 1851 census indicates that Michael, then aged 31 and a farmer, was born in Ireland and followed the Roman Catholic faith. Records are not definitive on the date of his arrival in Upper Canada, but he could have been part of the same organized immigration that included Jeffery Donoghue in 1823.

Emigration to Upper Canada
Under a British-government funded program in the 1820s, impoverished residents of southern Ireland were offered free passage to Upper Canada to seek a better life. An adept Canadian administrator, Peter Robinson, organized and led more than 500 emigrants on two ships, the Hebe and the Stakesby, out of County Cork in 1823. Landing in Quebec City in late August after eight weeks at sea, the party took steam boats to Montreal, then flat-bottomed boats up the St. Lawrence to Prescott. A hard 60-mile, four-day trek by wagons brought them to their destination at the young settlement of Almonte. On behalf of the Crown, Robinson assigned the settlers to vacant lots across several townships, and provided them with basic necessities. Log houses were built quickly in advance of the approaching winter. The new settlers had no experience with felling trees or preparing logs, so older settlers in the area were employed to help.

Neither Michael nor his father are shown in the passenger list of either ship. The registers may not have been totally accurate at the time, their transcriptions may have been incomplete, or the McGraths may have arrived on their own later in the 1820s or '30s. The published account by Ogilvie, drawing from numerous primary sources and local recollections, lists one Michael McGrath (senior or junior?) and Simon, of Tipperary, as having arrived in West Huntley in 1823. However, the 1851 census puts Simon's age as 21 and birthplace as "Upper Canada," so the arrival date is inconsistent; it's possible (but unlikely) that there was another Michael-Simon pair in Huntley. The census of 1842 offers a clue: the entry for Michael McGrath (almost certainly the Senior) indicates that he had spent 20 years in Upper Canada as of 1842, putting his arrival at 1822/23. Certainly, all three settlers were resident by 1837, as their names appear with others on a separate land petition of that year.

The Dwelling
The long-vacant structure is similar to other modest contemporary log houses found in the region. Ogilvie provides a drawing of the layout for a typical house: overall 25x18 feet; first floor 'family room' (kitchen, stove, eating area), a parlour and a bedroom; second floor four small bedrooms and storage. There would have been a cellar with interior access and probably a separate basement with an exterior dugout entrance. Of course, the toilet was an outdoor 'outhouse'.

So, at the spot of my photograph nearly 175 years ago, Michael McGrath and family toiled to erect a simple but sturdy log house in their quest for a better life.

Ref. * Once Upon a Country Lane: A Tribute to The Gaelic Spirit of Old West Huntley, by Garfield Thomas Ogilvie, pub. House of Airlie, 1992.

Last edited by c.a.m; 01-29-2023 at 02:11 PM. Reason: Added history
Views: 489
01-30-2023, 06:03 AM   #16
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QuoteOriginally posted by mroeder75 Quote
I knew from your photo it was from the mid-19th century (1850 it was precisely in the middle). I knew it because we took a family vacation in connection with my daughter's national tumbling competitions 15 years ago or so, where we went to Lincoln's birthplace in Kentucky, and his boyhood home in Indiana, and they had reproduction log cabins of the Lincoln family homes, and then to the newly opened museum in Springfield, Illinois, which I believe also had a replica log cabin of his boyhood home(s), inside the museum. In my home county we have what I am sure is a reproduction log cabin in a city park which cabin is not open to the public, except to view its exterior. And it is nearly identical to the one in the photo, and to the Lincoln log cabins.

This may be a very special log cabin because (a) it still exists, (b) generally they had dirt floors, and a loft where the occupants slept at night, and (c) there is generally no basement. This log cabin should be preserved for historical purposes.
My old one, built around the same time (not on the map in 1865, on the map in 1867) had a basement, made of stone that served as a place for the cistern and root celler. I'm not sure the dirt floors were ever undertaken in this neck of the woods.

01-30-2023, 10:10 PM   #17
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QuoteOriginally posted by normhead Quote
My old one, built around the same time (not on the map in 1865, on the map in 1867) had a basement, made of stone that served as a place for the cistern and root celler. I'm not sure the dirt floors were ever undertaken in this neck of the woods.
I am an attorney. About 12 years ago I had a case involving family disputes and an old house. The children who were challenging the lease, and the other children opposed to challenging the lease, grew up with their mother in a house with a dirt floor. I had no idea some people in Iowa my age grew up with dirt floors. You can save money on a vacuum cleaner.

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