This week’s excerpt from “As the Story is Told” (1986) is the beginning of a series on historic homes in Morpeth, Ontario. Note, this content is 30 years old and does not reflect the current state of the village.
One of the first tasks of the pioneer was to provide shelter for himself and his family. They had only primitive tools to use and were frequently facing the deadline of approaching winter. Often the first dwelling was nothing more than a primitive shanty of logs and bark built until a better log cabin could be erected. The usual shanty was very small with the roof sloping to the back where the wall was frequently not more than four feet high. Morpeth, in the very early time has been described as looking more like a jumble of log shanties than a village. It is also believed that Slabtown was so named because some of the early settlers made use of the slabs from the saw mill to erect temporary shelters in which to live.
The log house was an elaboration on the shanty. Houses were usually built about eighteen feet by sixteen feet, with a plank floor and a roof covered with shingles of bark. A large stone fireplace served for heating and cooking. Small chips of wood and clay were inserted between the logs on the outside to make them more weather-proof. A house large enough to meet the settlers needs came later. This often required the assistance of one’s neighbours, when a house-raising bee would be held. (The Valley of the Lower Thames – Fred Coyle Hamil)
The description of a larger log house is found in a letter, dated 1848, written by James McLaren back to his family in Scotland. Copied from Original –
“It is 28 feet long, 18 wide and about 13 high to the top of the walls. We have a partition across the centre of it and the stair going up beside it. The kitchen floor is ash, all the rest of the floors, partitions and doors are a kind of wood they call whitewood – something like fir. There is no pine growing thirty miles of this. The logs the walls are built of are of oak and black ash. We had 30 men for the most of two days raising it. We put on the roof and did all the rest of the work ourselves (2 brothers).
The inside is all hewn so that it is nearly straight but the outside is just the rough logs. The roof is covered with shingles. We have no fireplace as yet but bought the bricks for this. “
Anna Jameson in her book “Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada” tells of her trip, in July 1837, from Port Talbot to Chatham. The best vehicle which the hospitality and influence of Colonel Talbot could supply was a farmer’s cart with two stout horses. The bottom of the cart was filled with clean fresh straw and a seat was sung for her on straps, with another in front for the driver. By nightfall they had travelled along the Talbot Road to Howard Township and stopped for the night at Mrs. Wheatley’s place. Her story of that night is as follows:
“This night I met with a bed and supper at the home of Mrs. Wheatley, the widow of an officer in the commissariat. She keeps the postoffice of the Howard Township.
I supped here on eggs and radishes, and milk and bread. On going to my room (Mrs. Wheatley had given me her own) I found that the door, which had merely a latch, opened into the road. I expressed a wish to fasten it, on which the good lady brought a long nail, and thrust it lengthwise over the latch saying, ‘That’s the way we lock doors in Canada!’ The want of more secure defence did not trouble my rest, for I slept well till morning. After breakfast, my guide, who had found what he called a ‘shake-down’ at a neighbouring farm, made his appearance and we proceeded.”