Just who was Malcolm Lamont? - Glimpses of the Past with Karen Webster
Often in this column I have referred to the writings of Malcolm Lamont as a way of looking through the window of time to see what life was really like for the earliest settlers in this area. Similarly, local history books and newspapers also have referenced his works. Who was this man who took the time, in the 1930s, to write down his memories of growing up, during the years 1863 until 1882, in Huron County?
Malcolm Lamont was the third child born to John and Sarah Lamont. Malcolm’s father had been born at Lyndale on the Isle of Skye, Scotland, and later immigrated to Prince Edward Island, where he met his future wife, before settling in Turnberry Township on Lot 24, Concession B.
Malcolm was born June 1, 1856 in a primitive log house. He did not remember that house, but could recall seeing the second house being erected when he was nearly four years old. Here, amidst numerous relatives, young Malcolm grew up with a boy’s natural curiosity and the ability to recall much of his childhood days. Malcolm’s first school was in a “low shack, built of round logs” and run by a teacher who used a ruler to “do the lickings”. At that time, Malcolm spoke only Gaelic. Some of his schoolmates spoke only Dutch but, within a few years, all were speaking English.
Through the eyes of a young lad, readers of Bush Days can visualize the endless forests of “giant maples, elms, beeches, birches, hemlocks, everywhere, many three feet in diameter and a hundred feet high”. In order to make a living, the early settlers had to clear the land of the trees to make way for crops, such as wheat, to be planted. What a Herculean task that was.
Men chopped the trees down using axes, and fell the trees together so as to create a pile to be burnt in the summer months. Acres and acres of trees were cut down year after year providing a scene of blackened stumps that preceded cultivated fields. Malcolm related that, in winter, when the air was clear and crisp, one could hear trees being felled from a half a mile away, and sometimes as many as 90 trees could be heard crashing down in one day.
When Malcolm grew up, he continued to live on the property his father had cleared. In addition to farming and eventually raising his family, Malcolm was a civic-minded person and took on various responsibilities in Turnberry, such as being a member of the board of health, a pathmaster (one who oversaw and ensured that local landowners helped maintain roads), pound keeper (for lost/strayed livestock), fence view (to help neighbours agree on boundaries and fencing) as well as being secretary of the “Patrons of Industry” in Zetland.
He married Elizabeth Ann Tervitt in 1881 and their children were George, Eva, Pearle and May. Sadly, Elizabeth died in 1893 when May was only three and Malcolm sold the home farm and moved his children into Wingham where the family lived on Patrick Street. Ever the farmer, he purchased Lot 3N, Concession 1 in Morris Township, where he and his children are recorded living in the 1901 census. In 1904, he remarried, to Charity Jane (Jennie) Long, who lived in Wingham. The Morris Township farm was sold in 1906.
In subsequent years, Malcolm lived in London, Ontario, Waterford and Weston, where he earned his living working as a carpenter and builder.
As he neared the end of his life, he undertook to write letters to his grandchildren. These epistles documented what life was like when Turnberry was a young township. Malcolm was encouraged to bring these letters together in the form of a book. In 1933, he said, “I have been asked by some of my friends to write of my childhood and boyhood days, telling me that many of the things I had experienced would be of interest to them, seeing I was amongst the first boys born in the township of Turnberry.” Malcolm’s reminisces were typed and then bound in a soft-covered book that was distributed to relatives.
If it were not for Bush Days, it is very likely that the story of Zetland would have disappeared, just the same as the village itself did. When people take the time to record stories of their lives, they leave a wonderful legacy. Many folks feel that their lives are nothing special and thus not worthy of leaving a record of for posterity. What a loss it would have been for us had Malcolm Lamont had similar thoughts.
Many decades after Bush Days was written, Jodi Jerome was the curator of the North Huron Museum. It was there that she became fascinated with the book and the wealth of local history that it contained. In 2014, she recreated Malcolm’s book, using a similar typewriter font and employed very little editing. Copies of this reprinting of Bush Days are available at all Huron County Library branches. I feel that readers of Glimpses of the Past might enjoy reading Bush Days.
Malcolm died in Weston, Ontario, in 1942 and was interred in Wingham Cemetery, where a noble granite marker denotes his final resting place. On it are inscribed his birth and death dates followed by “Author of Bush Days”. What a fitting tribute to the man who allowed so many the privilege of pulling back the curtains of time to view the early days of Turnberry Township through the eyes of a growing boy.
– With appreciation to
Jim and Doris Taylor