Best Settlers in Emily Township


The following was typed by Elizabeth Best, April 6, 1963, from a copy in the handwriting of Effie Best (Mrs. Same Fee), found in the papers of the late Rev. Dr. David W. Best. It was copied using optical character recognition and put on the web by Michael J. Best, November 25, 2003.





May 19th, 1819, two David Bests, Thomas Ivan and their families sailed from Belfast for America in a small brig of 300 tons burden that was scarcely fit to go to sea, and after a tedious and tempestuous voyage of seven weeks and three days, we arrived at Quebec on the 10th of July; from thence to Montreal by steamboat 172 miles; there we had to hire teams to tale us to Lachine 9 miles - there was no canal made there; from there to Brockville 116 miles by Durham Boat. This was a tedious and uncomfortable passage, night and day in an open boat without covering, exposed to a11 the changes of the weather. Sometimes the sun's rays were exceedingly hot, then thunderstorms, and rain and the night cold. This boat was propelled by men with setting poles. They placed one end at the bottom of the river, and leaning on the head of these poles and with their feet, shoved the boat forward. Sometimes it was drawn by horses, and, sometimes by oxen, passing rapids. This boat had no deck but a plank along each side for a footpath for the boatmen to walk on.

From Brockville to Kingston by steam boat 97 miles; from there to Port Hope by schooner, 98 miles. This occupied several days because of adverse winds, then we were put ashore by a small boat; there was no whart or harbour there then; thus spending about four weeks from Quebec, arriving at Port Hope the first week in August.

Here I might say the knowledge of this country was very limited. Having no fixed destination, information was gleaned by the way. One kind friend in Quebec finding, our object was farming, advised us not to stop short of the Township of Darlington where he said land was good; but now, hearing a good report of the Township of Cavan and the country around it, we stopped, and in September we selected land in Emily where we settled. In the last of October, four of us left Port Hope, for Emily to build some huts to live in, each carrying as much provisions as he could, together with his blanket and his ax. After reaching our destination we built shanties and cut down a few trees around each shanty, leaving a place that we might return to with the families. As soon as sleighing would permit tae returned to Port Hope, where we stayed until March following and, having provided a stock of provisions to last us until we could raise our own, we employed teams to move us to our new home in the woods. This was no small job, for there was only a track where the bush was cut out of the way. The snow, covered most of the logs and the frost had bridged the creeks.

Having reached our new home, our outfit was a year's provisions, two cows, two steers, a yoke and chain. Browse kept the cattle alive until the snow was gone; then wood feed was plenty and the cattle got fat, We had plenty of milk and butter and maple sugar. We chopped and cleared two or three acres that we planted with potatoes and corn that yielded plenty for our use and some to spare for others coming in requiring seed. The first year there were only four families in the Township: the two Bests, Finley and Jackson.

The second year a few more came in - Henderson, Cottingham Fee and Laidley. This year we raised a little wheat, but there was no mill within 30 miles of us until 1822, when John Deye11 built a small mill at what is now, called Millbrook, but they had no bolt for a time and wheat was ground without bolting

This part of the country was a wilderness until 1818. The settlement was only five or six miles wide along the north share of Lake Ontario. Then a few settled in the Township of Cavan and when we first passed through there was no one who could sell us any food except potatoes, corn and milk. Everything we required for food must be carried on men's backs 30 miles. There were no teams in the settlement but oxen. Our only chance to get a team out was in winter, when the roads and streams were frozen and covered with snow. Oxen were then used for all purposes. They were essentially necessary for the early settlers. They were cheaply kept harnessed, only requiring a yoke and chain to hitch them to plough or harrow or draw logs and also ready for a cart or wagon or sled; and after using them a few years fatten them up for beef.

The early settlers suffered many privations. Money was scarce and all imported goods were dear. Many of the luxuries of life had to be dispensed with and everyone had to manufacture for himself or to exchange work with someone to work for him. Our clothing was all home-made. We had flax and wool; this we manufactured at home. We had to make our own shoes and boots and some people had to use wooden soles for their shoes when leather could not be got. We built our own houses and made such furniture as we could, but sawed lumber was scarce; boards were sawed by hand; we had no mills within 30 miles of us.

Schools and meeting houses were then few and far apart. Politics was then little known. The law was then very deficient and badly administered. There were no party feuds to disturb the harmony that then existed among the first settlers.


Steam was but little used in those days; there were but two steam boats on the lakes and rivers. The lake was navigated by sailing vessels. There were no steam mills, no railroads, no telegraph-lines. Post Offices were few and postage dear - 25on a letter to Montreal, from here 60 to Ireland, and only carried by sailing vessels; no ocean steamships then. Toronto was a small place then, called Little York, It was the seat of what government we then had. If we had business with the government we had to go afoot and make the journey in two days, if we could, spending five days in the round trip.

We had no machine shops. Implements now used were then unknown. Ploughs and harrows were of the crudest kind. The irons of the first plough that was ever in Emily, I carried home 30 miles on my back. The sickle, the scythe and the flail were the best implements then invented. Those who could get a cart or wagon were well off, either for pleasure or marketing. Oxen and sled were commonly used on the farm to draw in grain or the like. Steel ploughs, grain seeders, reapers, mowers, thrashing machines, stone and stump lifters are of late invention. Land is now being cleared of stumps and stones, roads and bridges improved, schools and churches built, railroads made, telegraph lines by land and sea. News is sent everywhere in a very short time. The news of England is here five hours ahead of our time.

The laws are now improved. The law of primogeniture is now changed, so that if a man dies without a will all his children are heirs alike The Clergy Reserve land is now sold and the proceeds divided, part to the municipality and the remainder divided between the Episcopal Church and one or two others. The jury lax,, is greatly improved. There is no packing of juries. They are balloted and paid for their time. Municipal Councils are now established and the members elected every year. The school law is greatly improved. Election law for Members of Parliament is amended by ballot and all is done in one day, Postage is greatly reduced to a mere trifle, Responsible government now exists. Ministers must have a majority of the house of assembly or they must retire from office and a new ministry be called to take their place. Formerly they held office at the pleasure of the government, no matter how corrupt they were. Division Court Law for the recovery of small debts is simplified and within the reach of all at small cost. Assessment law is now according to valuation; formerly good and bad paid alike. Sale of spirituous liquor may now be prohibited by public vote.

The Toronto University is free to all without tests or subscribing to the Episcopal creed. Our manufacturing establishments are equal to any in the United States. We produce our own salt and coal-oil and export large quantities to Europe. Coal is the only drawback we have to complain of.


The North West is a large fertile country of 350,00 square miles and hundreds are crowding yearly into it. It is capable of producing a11 that is necessary to sustain life. Timber will be their greatest want. Salt, iron, and coal will be found in plenty. Their mountains will yield gold and silver, together with other precious metals.

There are now in 1876 nine different provinces, each with their own Parliament but a11 under the Dominion Government of Canada. In 1793 the first Parliament was held at Newark at the mouth of the Niagara River and in the same year the harbour and site of Toronto was selected as a government seat by Governor Simcoe. It was then called Little York. There were no settlers there but a few Indians. Yonge Street was called after the first Provincial Secretary, whose name was Yonge.

The country was an unbroken wilderness then. The principal thing we now want is a prohibition law to stop the manufacturing and sale of intoxicating liquor. Party politics has now grown to be dangerous to this country, as it was in Ireland.