DESCENDANTS OF MUNGO : EMIGRATION TO CANADA, THE FIRST GENERATION OF CANADIAN MCNABBS 1848-1916



Written by Peter McNabb Melbourne, Victoria, Australia 3127 pmcnabb@bigpond.net.au

September 2016


1. Introduction

I grew up with the view that my great-grandfather Archibald McNabb and his eight brothers and sisters emigrated to Canada in 1848 and 1849 to escape the harsh conditions and despair of the Scottish Highlands, and that they subsequently enjoyed the opportunities and prosperity in the new world. It was always a positive story of rebirth in a new country. Over the years, I have learned much more about their journey to Canada and the first 70 years in south-western Ontario. I now have a much fuller understanding of the struggles and hardships as well as joys they encountered in their quest for a better life. This article paints a deeper and fuller picture of what happened to the first generation of my Canadian McNabb family up to 1916 when the last McNabb of this generation died. It provides a more balanced account in contrast to the largely rosy impressions portrayed in the early family stories.


2. The Trigger to leave Scotland

The emigration of my family members to Canada was triggered by the death of my great-great grandfather Mungo McNab. This occurred on 5 November 1847 at his Kilail farm on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyllshire, Scotland, three years after the death of his wife Janet. It was a significant moment in our family history. Freed from Mungo’s strong and authoritarian rule and determined to have a better future, all of his nine surviving children started to plan immediately to leave Scotland and emigrate to Canada. It was a big decision for a group of young adults, the eldest being 34 and the youngest 17.




3. The Factors Affecting the Move to Upper Canada

There were both push and pull factors influencing the move. Deteriorating social and economic conditions were part of the push. A long drawn out famine extended throughout the Cowal Peninsula and other parts of the Highlands in the 1840’s. It was particularly virulent between 1846 and 1848. With the new enclosure system of property management, sheep was rapidly replacing cattle farming in many areas, making it increasingly difficult for Mungo’s four sons to find adequate work as small-scale tenant farmers. There was the ongoing threat of clearances from the properties the young men tenanted, making them very vulnerable in the feudal regime in which they were caught up.

At the same time, benevolent landlords were offering tenants financial assistance with their boat passage to North America, as compensation for the terrible conditions they were enduring on their land.

As for the pull factors, positive stories were coming back to the McNab children in Scotland from former neighbours and others who had emigrated to Upper Canada. Colonel Thomas Talbot’s settlement scheme, originally established in 1803 with 5,000 acres south-west of London adjacent to Lake Erie but expanding to over half a million acres in 29 townships, was considered to be particularly successful.

Map of the Talbot Tract, from Frederick C. Hamil's Lake Erie Baron: The Story of Colonel Thomas Talbot


The young adults were hearing about the opportunities provided by the scheme for owning their own land on very favourable conditions. This included the free grant of 50 acres with the right to purchase an additional 150 acres at $3 each, on the condition that the new landowner build a road in front of each property within three and a half years. The other condition was the building of a small house and the clearing and sowing of 10 acres of land.

The letter from a former neighbour Duncan Ferguson on 30 September 1837 to his brother Iver written from the Township of Yarmouth near Cowal in Upper Canada is typical of the message that was being heard by the McNabb family. As Donald wrote, “it is not for other people that we are working as you are, but for ourselves and family, and suppose we work hard, we know we will have the benefit in the end. Men in that country (Scotland) are only working for their living and nothing else, but while we are working we will make our living and a property beside. Every one that came here has got land in some shape or other. Every one is doing this way or that way; they have cattle and clearance which is very valuable and equal to a great sum of money in the end. Cleared land will bring from thirteen to sixteen dollars per acre.”

The combination of these factors created the situation at the end of 1847 where the nine McNab children generally felt that they should leave Scotland and emigrate to North America. However, they did not all set off at once. There were probably various reasons for this. Cost was likely a consideration. They did not have enough money to all go together. The young adults wanted to get to Upper Canada safely so their preference was to go on better boats and use a less hazardous route from Glasgow to New York rather than a more northerly route to Quebec via the St Lawrence River with the risks of encountering ice flows on the north Atlantic Ocean. This meant a more expensive journey not only across the Atlantic but also inland from New York.

There may have been other family reasons as well. Betsy had just had her second child Janet in October 1847 and her first child Alexander was either very ill or had died recently. Archibald, as a stonemason, is likely to have wanted to stay longer in Scotland so he could make a proper gravestone for his parents to be placed in the Kilmodan cemetery. He also was working out his new relationship with Jane Gilmour, a young woman of 21 whom he had met recently near Dunoon on the east side of the Cowal Peninsula.

Two of the McNab sisters were married to McFarlane brothers whose parents were still alive and perhaps undecided whether they wanted to make the journey at this stage of their lives. Other family members also may have had reservations about such a big move and wanted a few to go ahead and check out the new settlement before making a final commitment. And then, despite the harsh economic conditions in Argyllshire, there was the emotional attachment to their homeland with its Gaelic traditions and distinctive landscape features. To those that had this attachment, there was fear of a great sense of loss if they were to leave.


4. The Journeys to New York and Upper Canada

Whatever the combination of factors, only four of the nine McNab children - the two eldest Annie (35) and Duncan (32), younger brother Mungo (24) with whom Duncan was very close, and sister Janet (22) set off on the Brooksby in Glasgow in early 1848 bound for New York. Mungo’s two-year-old daughter Mary born out of what was considered an “illegitimate” relationship came as well but not Mary’s mother. Janet also was with her husband Andrew McFarlane (30), a blacksmith whom she had married a year before on 23 January 1847 at the Kilfinan Church near her home at Kilail. Andrew no doubt was looking to see whether the prospects for the wider McFarlane family were better in Upper Canada than in Scotland. Interestingly, 17-year-old Mungo McDonald, a grandson from Mungo’s first marriage to Ann Campbell, who was living in the Glasgow area, accompanied them on the voyage.

Setting out from Glasgow, the Brooksby was under the control of the cautious and capable master, Hugh McEwan. There were 165 passengers on board of which only five had the luxury of staying in a cabin. The rest of the passengers were assigned to tightly squeezed bunks in the hold of the ship. There was no privacy and miserable food. Quite a few passengers lay sick in their bunks, the roll of the sea too much.

The McNabbs, however, were told by others such as a former neighbour, Duncan Ferguson, what to expect and what to bring with them. In his letter to his brother Iver written on 30 September 1837 from Yarmouth in Canada, Donald set out the following:

“With regard to provision(s) on the passage, you will take oat-cakes as we did, it will last long enough, butter, cheese, and plenty of salt pork or beef, a little wine, brandy and whisky, and fine biscuits and potatoes, a good deal of oatmeal, barley, molasses, cream of tartar, castor oil, salts, a little dry fish and herrings.”

The trip lasted more than 50. It was a gruelling experience, but no one died en route. The passengers traded stories about the lives they hoped they would find in the New World.

Finally, New York City came into sight. The ship sailed past the plush farmland and forests of the Bronx, dropping anchor off Castle Garden at the lower end of Manhattan on 27 July 1848. In the heat of summer, the McNabs disembarked, disoriented by the activity of the city but anxious to continue on to their final destination in Upper Canada. The family booked passage on a steamer up the Hudson River to Albany, where they found a number of agents eagerly competing to carry them west on the Erie Canal. The canal, opening a little over 20 years earlier in October 1825, was heralded as an engineering marvel of the 19th century. It covered almost 400 miles through the wilderness connecting Albany to Buffalo on the eastern shore of Lake Erie.

At 35 miles per day, it was slow travel and not particularly pleasant particularly in the middle of summer. Their quarters were along a narrow shelf in a hot, unventilated cabin. Finally, they reached Buffalo. From there, it was one more trip across Lake Erie by steamer to their final destination at Port Stanley in Upper Canada. After three weeks travel from New York and seven weeks from Glasgow, they finally arrived at Port Stanley.

The first group of McNabs arriving in Upper Canada reunited with their former neighbours from Scotland and established quickly that there were reasonable prospects for acquiring property and farming the land. Their overall assessment about living conditions in the new Cowal community must have been positive, because a much larger group of the McNabs and McFarlanes were encouraged to set off from Glasgow in the spring of the following year.

Again they travelled from Glasgow to New York, this time on the Hyndeford, arriving at New York on 11 August 1849. There were five McNabs on board – Isabel (32), John (30), Archibald (28), Peter (19), and older sister Betsy (36) with her husband John McFarlane (40) and their two small children Janet (almost 2) and Isabella (only three months old, having been born at Kilfinan, Scotland on 7 May 1849). John’s parents Duncan and Janet McFarlane aged in their 70s and brother George came on the voyage as well. They made the same journey up the Hudson River to Albany, through the Erie Canal to Buffalo and then by steamer across Lake Erie to Port Stanley.

The arrival of the two groups in 1848 and 1849 made one significant difference to our family – the change in the spelling of our surname. The McNabs in Scotland suddenly became McNabbs in the British colony of Upper Canada. The immigration officials obviously thought that the spelling of our clan namesake was not proper without the double ‘b’. We have continued to be McNabbs ever since.


5. Their New Home as Part of Canada West in 1850

The nine McNabbs and their families gravitated to that part of the Talbot settlement area around the small community of Cowal (named after the peninsula in Argyllshire) in Dunwich Township where their former neighbours from Scotland had settled. The area was over 20 miles north-west of where they had landed at Port Stanley. All of their meagre belongings were transported there by oxen and cart along primitive roads and through thick forest.

The landscape of the new Cowal community was very different from what they had left behind in Scotland. Instead of the distinctive hills and valleys of Glendaruel and Kilfinan and the splendour of Loch Fyne, the new place was basically flat, heavily treed and uninteresting. The new arrivals also quickly discovered that this part of the Talbot Tract, far from the prime farmland the Colonel’s agents had described, was heavily wooded with soil of uneven quality - loamy in some parts and sandy in others.

The area where they settled was, up until 1841, part of the Province of Upper Canada established in 1791 by the United Kingdom to govern the central third of the lands in British North America and to accommodate Loyalist refugees of the United States after the American Revolution. The new province remained, for the next fifty years of growth and settlement, the colonial government of the territory. The Act of Union 1840, passed July 23, 1840 by the British Parliament abolished the legislatures of Lower Canada and Upper Canada and established a new political entity, the united Province of Canada to replace them. The area where my ancestors settled became part of what was known as Canada West.


6. Owning Their Own Land

The desire to own land was a key reason why my ancestors emigrated to Canada. The process, however, was not easy. It was difficult for the McNabbs and McFarlanes to acquire good land, as they were late arrivals to the area. Most of the families they had known in Scotland – families such as the McCallums, McBrides and Robert Campbells - had come to this part of Canada much earlier. By the late 1840s, there were very few parcels of really productive land left. In desperation, Duncan McNabb and John MacFarlane each wrote letters shortly after arrival in late 1848 to Colonel Talbot requesting ownership of the land to which they had taken possession. The letters are held in the Elgin County archives in St Thomas.

Some of the land the McNabb and McFarlane family members eventually acquired between 1850 and 1860 was part of the 2,000 acres granted by the Crown in August 1795 to Lt. Col. William Campbell, the first grant recorded for Dunwich Township. Col. Campbell had served as commander of a British garrison near Lake Erie and was awarded this grant by the King for his service. However, after the grant was executed, Col. Campbell was made Governor-General of the Bahamas. Two days after arriving there in 1797, he died at 29 years of age, intestate and without children. It was left to his heirs in Scotland to dispose of his estate.

The disposal process took place over many years, being negotiated slowly between absentee landlords in Scotland and famers in Canada West. Slowly, the McNabb and McFarlane family members obtained blocks of land of between 50 and 200 acres, as illustrated below:

• John McFarlane purchased 100 acres comprising Lot B in Concession 3 • As a blacksmith, Andrew McFarlane and his wife Janet acquired 100 acres on Lot 24, Concession Gore • The eldest daughter Annie married Donald McIntyre in and they farmed on a small 50 acre parcel along the Thames River on part of Lot A, Concession 2 • Duncan and his brother Mungo acquired 100 acres on Lot 17, Concession 1 in Southwold Township alongside the Iona Road. • Archibald acquired the north and south parts of Lots 24 in Concession 1 and Concession ABF of Dunwich Township, immediately adjacent to the Thames River • Isabel and her husband Hugh McBride purchased a 50-acre farm on the south half of lot 24, Concession 3 near what became the Cowal village centre.

My great grandfather Archibald had to wait over 10 years to secure ownership. In about 1849, he and his younger brother Peter had settled on a couple of lots in the very north-east corner of Dunwich Township near the Thames River in what was to become known as Pleasant Valley. The brothers essentially squatted on the land until Archibald was able to purchase 210 acres from Col. Campbell’s heirs on 29 June 1859. Almost four years later on 21 January 1863, Archibald sold half of his holdings (105 acres) to Peter who at age 32 had now earned enough money from farming to pay his brother 105 pounds (a pound an acre) for the land.

The only McNabb sibling that did not acquire land in the Cowal area was John. He had always been the black sheep of the family, not living in his twenties at the family homestead in Argyllshire, nor working closely with his brothers. It seems that he either felt that the available land in Cowal community was not good enough or wanted to get as far away from his siblings as possible. So, after his arrival in 1849, John, in his early thirties, moved north about 75 miles to Huron County and settled on 100 acres in Grey Township in the north-east part of the county. He stayed there all his life.

For members of the family, making a home began with the building of a log house.


7. Community Life in the Early Days

The families lived off the products of the farm. They kept sheep for the supply of wool for making blankets, stockings, mittens and other pieces of clothing. Wool working bees involving several neighbours were common among the women.

In the early days, there was nothing but oxen to transport people and goods. As a result, the families were forced to walk nine miles to the nearest store at Iona and a few walked further to Fingal. A barter system was used extensively. The families carried butter and eggs from their farms to exchange for necessities such as tea, salt, and flour.

As the farms became more productive with livestock, the families made trips further afield. A trip was made twice a year to London, some 30 miles north-east of Cowal.

It was important for the new settlers to have a commercial and community hub at Cowal. Initially, that was established on the east or Southwold side of the Dunwich-Southwold Townline near the Aberdeen Line, across the road from the Cowal cemetery and near where brothers Duncan and Mungo McNabb settled.

Cowal as a commercial centre officially came into being when Neil McBride opened the first Cowal post office in his farmhouse on 1 December 1863. On Saturday mornings, Neil would go out on horseback and collect the mail from Fingal and when he returned he would blow a large horn to let the settlers know the mail was in. Grant SIlcox took over as postmaster in November 1871. He established the post office in a general store built in 1869 on the northwest corner (Dunwich side) of the Townline and Aberdeen Line.

In 1875, James McDougall acquired the store and post office. He then moved the business north and west to his property at the intersection of Cowal Road and Concession 4 Road (now Chalmers Line) known then as New Montreal. The name came from one of the other early settlers in the area who had come from Montreal in Quebec. James had previously set up a store on the southwest corner in about 1870. Silcox’s store was re-established across the road from the new post office as part of John McBride’s farmhouse.


To the south of the store was the village sawmill. Dick Redmond and William LIpsey operated the mill in 1871. This became a thriving business with farmers from miles around including the McNabbs hauling in timber year round. The processed product was shipped out by railway from nearby Lawrence Station. After William’s death, Dick sold the business to Thomas Griffin in 1882. By 1884, the mill business was doing so well that extra workers had to be hired to saw 4,000 – 8,000 feet of timber a day. Houses to accommodate these employees were built along Concession 4, to the west of the store as well as to the east across the road from the church. The field on the northwest corner of the Cowal Road – Concession 4 intersection was rented by the sawmill for the storage of logs brought in by farmers in the winter. Business in 1884 was so good that a grain crusher was installed at the mill as well.

On the east side of Cowal Road south of the main intersection was a stave mill, operated by Joseph Atkinson that employed up to 10 men. Timber was first cut at the sawmill, then soaked overnight to remove the bark, and then taken across the road to the stave mill to be shaped. The staves were taken to Lawrence Station and shipped by railway to companies making barrels. In 1892, the mil was purchased by a Mr Coates of Ridgetown who invested in extensive renovations and built new homes for the mill workers.

North of the stave mill was a boarding house where mill workers lived. A shoemaker’s shop, operated in 1885 by R.M. Chapman, was next door. North of this was a carriage factory with various operators over time. Next door was the first blacksmith shop in Cowal, built in the 1880s by James McKenzie and then to the north another blacksmith shop erected by Herbert Myers in the 1890s. Herbert was an excellent blacksmith who set a record for the number of horses he could shoe in a day. Still further north, at the south-east corner of the main intersection, across the 4th Concession from the church was another store operated over the years by several people including a notable family member, D.A. McNabb and cousin-in-law Malcolm Gilmore.

In 1891, Cowal was large and prosperous enough to warrant a community hall. Shortly after the hall opened in 1892, the congregation of Chalmers Presbyterian Church had plans for a new church on this site. So the hall was lifted and moved to a new site further west on Concession 4 where Daniel Patterson donated the land. The hall was a focal point for many parties and dances over the years.

The establishment of a Presbyterian Church was an important priority for all the Highland Scots who settled in Dunwich in the 1830s and 1840s. The first Presbyterian Church that was built within walking distance of Cowal was Knox Church in Ekfrid Township. Several Dunwich families were members of this church, even though it was a distance of 10 miles or more. In July 1853, a resolution was passed that a new church be built on part of the north half of lot 24, concession 2, a farm owned by Hugh Fletcher. It was to be 45 X 30 and was to be a Presbyterian church in connection with the Free Presbyterian Church of Canada. A parsonage was built on an adjacent lot.

A white frame church was built in 1853, and dedicated on 21 June 1856. The first list of members was drawn up in 1855, many transferring from Knox Church, Ekfrid. The church was named Chalmers (originally called East Dunwich), one of the many churches under the care of Rev. Daniel Clark. In 1873 the people from Ekfrid decided because of the distance they had to travel, they would withdraw from the Chalmers congregation. Three years later, the congregation at Chalmers was joined with Duff Church, Largie.

At this time it was decided to move the church to a more central spot, and New Montreal, now Cowal, was chosen as the site. By 1901 the church was too small to accommodate the congregation, and a larger church was built on a nearby property donated by Daniel Thomson, but previously owned by Hugh McBride and Isabel McNabb who had died by 1860. A cornerstone was laid for the new church building on 26 June 1901. The new church was opened and dedicated in February 1902. The old church building was later used as a barn on the farm of John A. Patterson.

Local schools near the village – SS #9 in Dunwich and Union School SS # 8 Dunwich and #20 Southwold established in 1892 on the Dunwich-Southwold Townline

Without warning, the prosperous village centre at Cowal was struck by disaster. In 1903, both of the mills burned in a fire. Tom Griffin, who owned the sawmill, decided not to rebuild. Coates, the owner of the stave mill, decided to move the business to Dutton, which was on the railway line. Many of the workers left Cowal and re-established themselves in Dutton. Some actually moved their houses with them. Others left them behind to gradually decay and collapse. The post office closed in 1 January 1913 with rural mail delivery having been put in place. By 1916, Cowal was a shadow of the village it was only a few years before with the Griffin family store, the community hall, the church and a few houses being the only surviving elements in the village. The decline in the centre caused several of the older residents including the McNabbs to move away from Cowal to other areas such as Middlemiss across the Thames River in Middlesex County.


8. Wider Socio-Economic and Political Influences

The McNabbs arrived at a time of great change in Canada, and this continued unabated until 1916.

There was an increased level of immigration resulting in significant population growth. During the War of 1812 there were only 12 families living in Dunwich Township. From 1835 to 1840, Dunwich’s population increased slightly from 616 to 633, but by 1851 after the surge in Scottish and Irish migration in the 1840s, the population was 1,948.

Predominance of agriculture in this period, but gradually a stronger move towards cities and towns with their factories and shops

There were significant technological advances that occurred during this period. The building of the Canadian Southern railway line connecting Buffalo with Detroit through south-western Ontario in the 1870s with a small station at Iona a few miles south of Cowal enabled city goods as well as city newspapers to be dropped off for the local community, and for agricultural products to be transported to new markets in major cities. The telegraph line and the telephone opened up new forms of communication. The development of electricity in the early 1900s provided critical power to farm operations. Similarly, the advent of the motor car and motorised farm machinery transformed the way farmers got around and worked their farms. All of these innovations resulted in a more prosperous community at Cowal and elsewhere in Dunwich and Southwold.

The opening of the West in both Canada and the United States.

There also were important political changes particularly after the upheaval caused by the 1837 Rebellion. The decade of the 1840s was a time of complex political and economic change with the Union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841, abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846, and severe financial retrenchment leading to the establishment of responsible government in 1848. One of the influential figures during this time was another MacNab, but not directly related to our family. He was Sir Allan Napier MacNab.

Born in 1798 at Niagara-on-the-Lake, Allan was a military man who fought in the War of 1812 before he became a lawyer and set up his practice in Hamilton. In 1830 he was elected to represent the city in the Legislative Assembly of Upper Canada, a position he held for some 27 years. In 1838 he was knighted for his zeal in suppressing the 1837 rebellion against the Crown. However, MacNab found it very difficult to adjust to a new set of social, economic, and political priorities. He was the defender of his privileged place within the established structure. The vehemence of his resistance to the changes in the 1840s.

Did our family know the Premier or visit him? It is interesting to speculate what happened.

He served in the Legislative Assembly of the newly established Province of Canada, becoming Premier or Prime Minister between 1854 and 1856. He was elected to the Legislative Council in 1860 representing the Western division and served there until his death in 1862 at Dundurn Castle in Hamilton.

A successful entrepreneur as well as politician, MacNab, with Glasgow merchant Peter Buchanan, was responsible for the construction of the Great Western Railway in Ontario.

At the time of his Premiership of Canada, there was a suggestion that Sir Allan MacNab, might become the next Chief of the Clan. A distant relative Archibald had become the 17th Chief in 1823 and emigrated to Canada where he obtained an estate and a community drawn from his clans folk in Scotland, which he re-named Macnab. When Archibald died in 1860, Sir Allan was a possibility but that was quashed when Sir Allan’s only son and heir was killed in a shooting accident in Canada. The chieftainship of Clan Macnab passed to another branch of the Macnabs at Arthurston.

The increasing importance of the Liberal Party particularly with the election of Sir Wilfred Laurier and his Liberal Government between 1896 and 1911

The outbreak of World War 1 in 1914


9. Family Marriages and Children.

From the outset, there was a strong focus within the Cowal community on getting married so as to have a partner to help deal with the hardship. Marriage and the subsequent birth of children would leave a legacy.

With no birth control, many of the McNabbs set out to have large families to provide sons and daughters to help with the workload on the farm and as an insurance against the possibility of early childhood deaths.

Two of the nine McNabb children - Betsy and Janet – came to the new Cowal community as married women. Janet and her husband Andrew McFarlane quickly needed to establish a base, as Janet was pregnant with their first child. Daughter Mary was born later in 1848, the first McNabb family member born in Upper Canada. Seven further children were born to this couple between 1848 and 1865.

Much older sister Betsy and her husband John McFarlane and their two small children Janet and Isabella, arriving a year later in 1849, also wanted to get established quickly. John purchased from the Crown the 100 acres in the north-east part of Cowal next to the Thames River and started to farm. From here, Betsy had three more daughters between 1853 and 1858.

Six of the other McNabb children were married over the next 10 years. My great grandfather Archibald was the first - marrying Jane Gilmour also from Argyllshire at age 28 not long after he arrived in late 1849 or very early 1850. Very little information has been uncovered so far about Jane and her family background in Scotland, nor about their marriage. From the farm established next to the Thames River, Archibald and Jane had eight children between 1850 and 1864.

Annie McNabb, the eldest of the nine children, was married a few years later in 1853 at age 40 to Donald McIntrye. She moved onto Donald’s farm adjacent to the Thames River. This farm was across the road from the McFarlane farm owned by her sister Betsy and brother-in-law John. Annie and Donald had a daughter Janet in 1854.

Duncan and his sister Isabel also were married in 1853 to children of Peter McBride and Nancy McCallum who came from Cowal in Argyllshire to Upper Canada in about 1834. The McNabb and McBride children no doubt knew one another well, as the McBrides lived at Dullich near Glendaruel in Scotland, just over the hills from the McNabb home at Kilail in Kilfinan.

Duncan, at age 37, married Catherine McBride on 10 May 1853. Catherine moved onto the farm that Duncan and his brother Mungo had established in Southwold Township fronting the Iona Road. Catherine was pregnant when she got married, as their daughter Annie also known as Nancy was born later in 1853. They also had a son Mungo in 1855.

Duncan’s younger sister Isabel, at age 36, married Catherine’s younger brother Hugh McBride on 29 August 1853. Isabel moved onto the farm that Hugh had established near the Cowal village centre – a farm that was subsequently used in the late 1870s after the couple had died to establish the Chalmers Presbyterian Church. Isabel and Hugh had a short and sad life, the details of which will be revealed shortly.

A year later on 8 August 1854, Mungo McNabb, at age 31, married Margaret Ferguson from the Belmont area of South Dorchester Township, about miles east of Cowal. Mungo is likely have to met Catherine at her family farm at Belmont after he went to the area to find work after his brother Duncan married the year before and reorganised the Southwold farmhouse for his new wife Mungo and Margaret set up a farm north of Belmont village and had three children there between 1855 and 1859.

It is unclear what happened during this time to Mungo’s daughter Mary who was born out of wedlock in 1845 in Scotland and came on the first McNab voyage to North America in 1848. Mary was living with her father and his brother Duncan on the farm in Southwold Township at the time of the 1852 Census, but there was no record of her after that. For example, she is not recorded as living with Mungo in the 1861 Census for Dorchester. Did she die? There is no local cemetery record. Did she marry and move away? These are questions to which answers are still being sought.

A few years later after Mungo’s marriage, older brother John McNabb, at age 39, married Mary McMillan on 3 February 1859 at Bayfield in Huron County, some 100 miles west of the Cowal community in Dunwich. From his early years in Scotland, John appears to have been the “black sheep” of the family. Apart from his adolescent years, John did not live with his parents or siblings on the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll. After he came to Upper Canada in 1849, he did not settle for long with any of his four brothers. There is a suggestion that he was not happy with the available land in Elgin County and sought to find a farm elsewhere. At some point, he ventured west to Huron County adjacent to Lake Huron and established a farm in Grey Township at the northern end of the county. After their marriage, John and Mary did not have any children.

The last of the nine McNabb children was Peter, who came to Upper Canada in 1849 when he was just 19. He was close to his older brother Archibald and helped him establish the farm in Pleasant Valley. Peter was different from the rest of his siblings, remaining a bachelor all of his life.

The McNabb family encountered tremendous joys and hardships in the 14 years between their arrival in 1848 and 1862. Twenty-three children were born at Cowal and other nearby communities in Elgin County between1848 and 1861, of which nine had died by 1862.

The following sections deal with the nine branches of the family between 1848 and 1916 when the last family member of this first generation of Canadian McNabbs died. The material on each branch is presented in the following order:

• Archibald McNabb • Elizabeth (Betsy) McNabb • Peter McNabb • Janet McNabb • Isabel McNabb • Duncan McNabb • Mungo McNabb • Annie McNabb • John McNabb


10. Archibald McNabb Branch of the Family

Archibald McNabb and Jane Gilmour

My great grandfather Archibald was a strong, robust and educated man. He came to Upper Canada with an ability to speak, read and write in Gaelic as well as English.

He was an early leader of the Cowal community in Dunwich. He became one of the first four members of the Deacons Court of Chalmers Presbyterian Church when it was established at Cowal in 1856. He also took a keen interest in the local schools that were being established in the area, as he considered his own education was an important pathway to a better life.

Archibald was a stonemason on civic buildings and houses in nearby towns and villages. In the early days, he went to London over 30 miles away to work on the courthouse and jail complex which had started in 1832 and went on for several years. His most important project was in St Thomas, 20 miles east of Cowal. Here, he applied his skills to the landmark St Thomas courthouse designed by architect John Turner and built between 1852 and 1854. It was a distinctive three-storey, domed Palladian-style building constructed of stone and yellow brick, providing a prominent example of the combined courthouse, jail and county buildings erected by counties across Canada West between 1849 and 1867, when such facilities were a requirement to achieve full county status.

Archibald was the first of the newly arrived young McNabb adults to get married in Canada. In late 1849 or very early 1850, Archibald, at age 28, married the 22-year old Jane Gilmour, known affectionately as Jean.

Jean, daughter of Duncan Gilmor and Agnes Turner was born in December 1826 on the Isle of Bute just south of and across the Kyles of Bute waterway from the Cowal Peninsula in Argyll. She moved with her parents to Argyll in the 1830s living on a farm at North Gerhallow about four miles south of Dunoon. At the time of the Scottish Census in 1841, Jean worked as a servant at the Dunellan Coach House on the east coast at Innellan, four miles south of Dunoon. The coach house was occupied by 13 others including the owner John Hamilton

It was during this time that Archibald met Jane while he was working in the area. They were attracted to each other but decided not to get married in Scotland, but to come to Canada. Archibald left Glasgow with his siblings in the spring of 1849 and arrived at Canada in September 1849. Jane came later that year or early the following year with her brother Malcolm. Archibald was too busy with his work to meet her when she arrived at Port Stanley, They got married very soon after she arrived, but the details of their marriage continue to be a mystery.

The couple settled on a 210-acre property in Pleasant Valley at Cowal in the north-east corner of Dunwich Township immediately south of the Thames River. This was the largest property owned by any of the McNabb children or their partners at that time or in the future, highlighting that Archibald was perhaps the wealthiest of the siblings that came out from Scotland.

Soon after he arrived in 1849, Archibald had found this unoccupied parcel of land that was owned by the heirs in Scotland of Lt. Col. William Campbell who were not in any hurry to sell it. He either leased it or squatted on the property; working with his brother Peter and others to clear the heavily forested area, build a log cabin and plant a crop.

In June 1859, Archibald finally was able to buy the property. One family cousin has seen the original sale document, all hand written in beautiful script on dark blue paper.

In between working long days and travelling significant distances as a stonemason, Archibald with his wife immediately set out to have a large family. Between 1850 and 1864, Jane gave birth to eight children. However, only four survived beyond their fifth birthday. The first was born in October 1850, and named Peter after Archibald’s younger brother with whom he was very close. Peter sadly died 16 months later in February 1852, about six months before their second child Duncan (D.A.), named after Archibald’s eldest brother, was born in August 1852. The likely cause of Peter’s death was tuberculosis that had struck John Campbell’s family, their closest neighbours across the road, at the same time. John’s wife Mary, sons Dan and Malcolm, and daughter Christie Ann all died of the disease in 1851 and 1852.

Then came the diphtheria epidemic in the late 1850s. Two more of Jane’s children, Mungo (named after Archibald’s father and younger brother) and Agnes (named after Jane’s mother), born in 1853 and 1856 respectively, died from the disease within a few days of each other in 1860. Another daughter Janet, born in 1859 died the next year in 1861. My grandfather John Archibald was born at this time in May 1858, and by some miracle survived.

Amidst this adversity, there was tremendous support from neighbours. The Campbell family across the road was determined to help. Jane Campbell came over and lived with Jane McNabb and the children even though she feared the disease. In time, she did catch it and was very ill. This was tough as she had seven children of her own, some quite small. Ultimately, her uncle, the bachelor Dugald Campbell, moved in, got her meals, and nursed her back to health, while Jane’s husband John looked after the children and kept them away from their mother. No one else caught the disease.

After the diphtheria epidemic was over, Jane McNabb was able to have two more children - Elizabeth (Lizzie) born in 1863 and Archibald (Archie) born in 1864. Both survived and continued to live beyond 70 years of age.

However, the final chapter in my great grandfather’s family’s ongoing tragedies occurred less than four years after young Archie was born, when Archibald senior died at age 46 of a lung disease on 19 January 1868. His death was caused by the effects of the harsh winter and inhaling so much of the dust from his work. He was the second of the nine young adults who came out from Scotland to die.

Archibald’s death left Jane to run the farm and to continue to raise the remaining four children all under 16 – Duncan at 15; my grandfather John at nine; Elizabeth (Lizzie) at four; and Archie at three. It was a formidable task.

This is a terrible story of misery and death for a young family trying to get a foothold in a new country. Archibald and four of his eight children died within 20 years of his arrival in Canada, leaving his wife to battle on. This would have put a huge physical and emotional burden on Jane, a young woman of 40 at the time. She must have been very



tough to survive. The fact that she kept going in the face of such adversity provided an inspiration to her children.

Jane continued to work on the home farm with her sons John and Archie until about 1908 when John and his wife and three children moved to Middlemiss north of the Thames River and leased the home farm to Henry Lilley and his family. With this change, Jane moved in with her daughter Lizzie and her husband Peter Campbell at their farm at Largie about three miles west of Cowal.

Jane continued to be strong-willed in her later years, but also a very friendly and good-natured lady, being well looked after by her daughter. Her four children and grandchildren visited often. The Christmas and birthday celebrations were particularly special as a time of family reunion when she welcomed everyone with open arms. In her last years, Jane spent much of the time in bed, but enjoyed a good drop of whisky. This was of concern to some of her children and grandchildren. Grandson Jim McNabb’s mother, for example, hoped that young Jim would never follow in his grandmother’s footsteps, as, if he did, he easily could become an alcoholic.

Jane died at her daughter’s home on 7 November 1916 at 89, one month short of her 90th birthday. She was the last of the first generation of Canadian McNabbs and their spouses. Whisky obviously didn't do her much harm. Jane provided a strong role model for her children.


Duncan Archibald

By 1862, Duncan Archibald (D.A.) was the eldest surviving child. He was born on 27 August 1852 at the home farm in Pleasant Valley. He seemed to thrive on education. Like his father, he could speak, read and write Gaelic as well as English. That was considered a fair achievement in those days.

After his father Archibald’s death in 1868, young D.A. worked together with his mother and brothers John and Archie on the farm. He was actively involved in cultivating the land, planting crops and cutting down trees and taking them to the mill in Cowal village for processing.

D.A. was a very entrepreneurial man. In March 1877, at the fairly young age of 24, he purchased the small lot 12 of one-fifth of an acre in Cowal village for $50 with his mother’s brother Malcolm Gilmour. The intention was to run a small store on the property. However, it was not a choice lot as a creek ran across the front of it, requiring a small bridge to be constructed across the creek before a building could be established. Business at the new store was not brisk, so Malcolm Gilmour sold his share to D.A. the following year in March 1878 for $100 and left the Cowal community for Kincardine on Lake Huron. D.A. seems to have kept the property for a few years until he sold it to James McDougall.

In 1885, D.A, at age 33, bought his own 100-acre farm further south in Cowal from Dugald McLaughlin for $3,600, while his brother John continued as the main operator of the home farm. The new property occupied the west half of lot 19, concession 4. The land was cleared at the north end first. With a creek running close by, a house and barn were established shortly thereafter. Various grains - wheat, barley, oats and some corn were grown as part of a general farming operation. Cattle, sheep, pigs and horses also were raised on the farm. The initial work was undertaken quickly in preparation for D.A.’s marriage in 1888.

On 31 May of that year, D.A. married Jane McBride, who was 10 years younger, at Chalmers Church in Cowal. Jane was a daughter of Donald McBride and Catherine McCallum who lived with her parents and siblings on a nearby farm on the Cowal sideroad at lot 24, concession 3. There had been links between the McNabbs and McBrides for many years dating back to their close association in Argyllshire in Scotland.

The photo of D.A. and Jane taken one month after their marriage on 25 June 1888 shows a very strong and stern husband standing beside a diminutive and submissive wife. Jane largely was in the background supporting him in all of his outgoing activities.

They had no children of their own as D.A. had RH- blood and Jane had RH+. This prevented her, at that time, from carrying a baby to full term. However, D.A. was a forceful man and decided he would like to have children in his home. So, in a very authoritarian way, D.A. persuaded the families of two young nieces, Mabel Whitelock and my aunt Marion McNabb, to have the young girls live with them for long periods. In


Mabel’s case it was about 13 years from 1902 when she was 10 until her marriage to Cessford Lunn from South Dunwich in June 1915. In my Aunt Marion’s case, it was 20 years from about age 5 in 1915 until Jane died in September 1935 when Marion was almost 26.

John Whitelock, Mabel’s older brother, came to live with them as well. He worked on the farm for several years. An orchard was planted in 1890 on a small knoll across the creek and to the east of the buildings. Sadly, in 1895, a big fire went through the timbered area at the south end of the property, destroying much of it.

From at least 1888 until 1932, D.A. kept a simple diary. For each entry, he wrote a single phrase summarising the main activity of the day. Farming pursuits were a major focus. The entries include “cutting and drawing logs to the saw mill, splitting rails, ploughing, sowing oats and other grains, planting potatoes, putting out manure, drawing in hay, threshing grain, attending wood and barn raising bees, buying young calves, buying and selling sheep”. Attendances at Dutton, Wallacetown, and Rodney Fairs also were highlighted, as were trips to St Thomas and London. On 7 April 1902, he proudly announced the christening of his farm with the name “Meadow Hill”. This is followed by a detailed account of the mortgage arrangements. On X 1907, he wrote that the telephone had been installed.

Another emphasis in the diary was the attendance at Dunwich Council and Chalmers Church meetings, as well as noting the names of the preachers at the church on particular Sundays - including a Reverend Andrew McNabb on 14 July 1900. D.A. also was meticulous in recording the local riding results for provincial and federal elections as well as the results of Dunwich Township Council elections.

There are not many personal entries. Most of them relate to the death and burial of family members and friends. Occasionally, there is a marriage or a significant wedding anniversary. Everything was written in a short staccato style with no emotion. The entry for 4 November 1916 reads simply “Mother died this evening.” and the following entry on 7 November reads “Funeral today”. A similar set of entries appear when his wife Jane died on 6 May 1935.

There are no entries about the birth of his only nephew Jim or any of his three nieces in the early 1900s.

However, accounts from the local community indicate that D.A. had a clear desire to control how everyone behaved. He sat in the same pew in Chalmers Church each Sunday and watched to ensure that no one acted out of line. If anyone did, D.A. would speak to the offending person or their parents after the service, scolding them and directing them not to repeat the error of their ways.

From his diary it is clear that D.A had wider ambitions that just farming. It was not long after settling into his new farm in 1885 that he became involved with local politics. After being elected to Dunwich Township Council, he served as Reeve in 1899. In 1905, he was appointed Clerk of the Township, an influential position he held until December 1932 when he resigned.

D.A. also exerted his influence in the work of the local Presbyterian Church. He was ordained as an elder in Chambers Church in 1894, and in the following year, was appointed to the important role of Clerk of the Session, a position he held for 51 years.

D.A also maintained a strong interest in Scotland and in particular the area where his ancestors had come from. In the summer of 1896, he made a trip to Glasgow and Argyllshire setting out on 18 July. He arrived on 4 August, having had a much shorter journey than his father. In his diary, D.A. noted stopovers at the Isle of Bute where his mother was born, on the Cowal Peninsula at Dunoon to look at the area where his mother’s family had lived, and Tighnabruigh where he could explore the origins of his father’s family at Glendaruel and Kilfinan. It was a quick trip. He returned home on 27 August.

By 1916 when his mother died, D.A. had established himself in the local community as “a man of standing”. He was an active farmer who had built up his own property as well as helping his brothers in the Valley. He was immersed in local politics at Dunwich Township Council and was a key figure at Chalmers Church. He made his views known on many issues and influenced how people behaved. With his determination and autocratic style, D.A. was respected, if not feared, by many in the community.


John Archibald

John Archibald McNabb, my grandfather, was born on the home farm in Pleasant Valley on 25 May 1858. He was quite an athletic man in his younger years. He was good-looking without being striking. He looked quite smart when he got dressed up.

John had practically no education, which contrasted sharply with his older brother and seemed strange to his children. He received some basic training in the 1860s at the little SS #9 elementary school on the second concession in Dunwich Township near the farm. He could read but he couldn't write. John particularly enjoyed reading the newspaper every day, but he didn't have any interest in books.

In his early years, John was a harder worker than his brothers D.A. and Archie on the farm at Pleasant Valley. In 1885, when his older brother D.A. established his own farm further south in Cowal, John, at age 27, took over the running of the home farm, with help from his younger brother Archie. John was well respected in the community for his working ability. When teams of men were being organised for a barn raising, for example, he would be one of the first men chosen on a side. He was very good at that kind of job.

John, like his older brother, had an interest in the McNabb family beginnings in Scotland. On 14 May 1895, D.A. recorded in his diary that John had “started out on his journey to the homeland.” He no doubt visited many of the people and places on the Cowal Peninsula that his older brother visited the following year, including families that had connections with the McBrides, McFarlanes, and Campbells who had lived in that area.

By early 1900, John was building himself up as an important farmer in the Dunwich community. He began to expand his operation. On 4 January 1900, he purchased 98 acres on the south half of Lot 22, Concession 1 near the home farm for $2,500. This gave him over 200 acres to manage.

Farming was not his only concern at the time. On 24 January 1900 three weeks after his most recent farm purchase, John, at age 41, married Jane (Jennie) Campbell Alexander, the 28-year old daughter of the late James Alexander and Janet (Jessie) Campbell who had lived on what was known as the Alexander homestead in Ekfrid Township, Middlesex County, south of Longwoods Road. Prior to her marriage, Jennie had been living on the farm with her brother Robert and his wife Fannie.

It was a controversial marriage because it did not involve a wedding in Chalmers Church as had occurred for his brother D.A. in 1888 and his sister Lizzie in 1892. The marriage took place at the registry office in St Thomas where the couple were simply given a marriage licence. Non-family members from the local St Thomas community witnessed it, suggesting that John’s siblings and mother may not have attended. It is not clear why this happened. Was there a disagreement between the two families about these two people of very different age and background getting married? Did the couple secretly go to St Thomas to avoid intense family scrutiny and objections? It was an ominous beginning for John and Jennie, signalling differences that ultimately became a bigger issue later in their lives.

Jennie was a very good looking, reasonably well educated and talented lady, but not very rugged. She was like her father, James Alexander, in that she always encouraged learning. She read a great deal and was very musical. She had an excellent voice and played the piano.

John and Jennie were an active couple on the farm for the first eight years of their marriage. They handled money well, and none was wasted. They had enough money for John to purchase about half of the home farm properties in 1902 from other family members for $1,000.

Farming was John’s key focus, followed by attendance at church and community events. However, he was not a strong community leader like his brother D.A.

In the seven years after their marriage, Jennie gave birth to three children. She and John had the same Rh- blood, enabling her to carry babies to full term. Daughter Agnes Kathleen (Kay) was on 26 March 1901, followed by son James Archibald (my father) on 1 July 1905, and daughter Margaret Jean on 7 August 1907.

It was at about this time as John was turning 50 that his health began to fail. He suffered a degeneration of the nervous system as well as other problems such as rheumatism. It was a serious nervous condition that developed slowly into a mental illness with a very detrimental effect on his overall health.

As a result of this illness, John and Jennie decided to leave the home farm in about 1908 and move to a small house with a few acres of land on lot 23 on the north side of Main Street, Middlemiss, across the Thames River in Ekfrid Township. There was a small barn with a few cattle, a couple of horses and some chickens. John rented enough land to keep the animals and to grow enough grain, grass and hay to support them.

John’s behaviour became increasingly unpredictable. At times he would appear and act normal, but then suddenly he would become erratic in the way he spoke and acted. It was very difficult for his family to know what caused the deterioration in his behaviour.

In the early days of this change in 1909, Jennie became pregnant. The birth of their youngest daughter Marion Jessie took place on 13 November 1909 at home in Middlemiss. The birth no doubt brought great joy to the family but also an additional stress. The family dynamics became increasingly difficult to the point that, in 1915, John’s older brother D.A. convinced John and Jennie that it was in everyone’s best interests for Marion to leave her family at Middlemiss and move in with D.A. and his wife Jane at their farm at Cowal. Marion was only four. It was unclear at the outset whether this was to be a temporary or permanent arrangement. However, the family situation obviously did not improve at Middlemiss, as Marion ended up staying 20 years with her uncle and aunt until Jane’s death in 1935.

From 1908 onwards, John wanted to maintain the image in the community that he still was a good farmer who was quite well off. However, as time went on, he had a very limited amount of money, as he had an increasingly small farming operation. Unfortunately, most in the community including the local bank manager felt that with his past experience as a strong worker, John was in solid financial shape, and as a result was quite prepared to lend him money.

This had disastrous consequences. John started to borrow money at the bank when he had no definite knowledge how he would repay it. He borrowed money to buy more cattle than the family knew what to do with. He went to farm sales and bought farm machinery that also wasn’t needed, signing promissory notes for the goods. He always had been a strong supporter of the Presbyterian Church, but as his condition deteriorated, he promised contributions to the Church without having any specific knowledge of where the money was going to come from.

Eventually, his creditors demanded payment for the goods and the Church pressed him to honour his commitments. But, John did not have the resources to meet the demands, and did not want to work out strategies with Jennie to deal with the situation. His family tried to discuss with him how their finances should work, but he paid no attention. He continued to be erratic and, refused to show any common sense in resolving the issues.

Consequently, Jennie and the children never were quite sure what their financial situation was. This became vey frustrating. In the end, John’s debts were passed to Jennie and the children to find the money. The abrogation of his responsibilities together with the breakdown of a normal routine in their home caused a serious deterioration in the relationship between John and Jennie. It became very difficult for her to accept a great many of the things he did. This really irritated and upset her. Jennie had to bear the brunt of this. When things went badly, she reacted strongly and over time this destroyed their relationship. She began to express the feeling that she did not really know why she had married John in the first place.

In the midst of this family turmoil, John and Jennie wanted their children to do well in life. So they both, but particularly Jennie, encouraged Kay, Jim and Marg to get a good education. By 1916 when John’s mother died, the three children were beginning to see the importance of education as not only a way forward for their own lives but also a way out of the limited prospects that their current situation in Middlemiss provided.

Kay and Marg were encouraged to get enough training to take up professional jobs. John did not press his son Jim to continue with farming either at Middlemiss or at the home farm in Pleasant Valley. There were not sufficient funds. The scale of John’s farming operation and holdings also were gradually being wound back to the point that farming for his son would not be financially sustainable in the long term.


Elizabeth (Lizzie)

Elizabeth, known throughout her life as Lizzie, was born on the home farm in Pleasant Valley on 25 January 1863, just after the diphtheria epidemic. She was a good natured girl who helped her mother look after the house and farm with her brothers particularly after her father Archibald died in 1868 when she was just about to turn five. She stayed on the home farm until age 29, when she married Peter Robert Campbell, on 21 December 1892 at Chalmers Church in Cowal.

Peter Campbell was 43 at the time, 14 years older than she was. He was born in January 1848 on a farm at Caledon in Peel County, the son of Robert Campbell and Barbara McBride. Robert’s parents, Peter Campbell and Mary Ferguson had come out with Robert and other siblings to Canada in 1828 from Argyllshire in Scotland. Robert’s grandparents Robert Campbell and Susannah Thomson were tenant farmers in the late 1700s on East Lindsaig or Lindsaig Bog in Kilfinan Parish just north of Kilfinan village. It is most likely that they knew the McNab family who lived on various farms nearby in Kilfinan and the neighbouring Parish of Kilmodan.

Peter Campbell and Mary Ferguson initially settled at Caledon. Their son Robert married Barbara McBride in 1837 and son Peter was born there in 1848. The family of eight moved to Dunwich in 1857 and settled on Lot 7, Concession 2. They quite probably relocated there to connect again with the McNabbs, McBrides and McFarlanes who had arrived in Dunwich from Scotland in the 1830s and 1840s. Peter’s younger brother Alexander and other Campbells followed on, leading to the establishment of Campbelltown about six miles west of Cowal.

Peter Campbell’s family background at Kilfinan in Scotland was different from the Campbell family whose Mary Jane had married Lizzie’s cousin Mungo McNabb junior in 1882. Mary Jane was the daughter of Humphrey Campbell and Jean (Jane) Stevenson. Humphrey grew up with his siblings on a farm in the Parish of Roseneath in Dunbartonshire, about 50m miles by road east of Mungo’s ancestral family stronghold at Glendaruel and Kilfinan.

By the late 1870s, Peter Campbell had moved down the road from the home farm and established his own farm of 50 acres on lot 5, concession 2. It was here that Lizzie McNabb moved when they got married.

Peter was a fairly ordinary man who was quite content to live a simple life. He seemed to be quite happy to deal with what he had in life.

Perhaps his earlier years had influenced his outlook. As a young man in his late twenties, Peter had courted Nancy McBride, daughter of Peter McBride and Margaret McBride who lived on a farm on Lot A, Concession 4 of Dunwich. Nancy got pregnant, but her mother refused to allow them to get married. Peter even bought a marriage licence and he and the Presbyterian minister of the time came to the McBride home to have the marriage. But still the mother refused. None of her six children were to be married and none ever did marry.

However, Nancy did have the baby out of wedlock - a boy named John born on 18 July 1879. Sadly, her family covered up his real identity. John always was referred to as the youngest son of Nancy’s parents, Peter and Margaret McBride, even though Margaret was almost 50 when he was born. When he was a baby, John had a bad fall and his hip was damaged. Nancy’s mother insisted that the baby should be treated by her local doctor rather than a specialist. The result was that the hip never healed properly and John was crippled for life. His identity as the youngest of the McBride children was concealed until Peter died in 1889 when his will mentions “my grandson John Campbell, Nancy’s boy.”

It must have been very sad for Peter Campbell to have a son living in the community who was not acknowledged as his. This most likely affected him deeply. When he came to marry Lizzie McNabb 13 years after John was born, he was not a man who wanted to better his situation. He did not have sufficient money or plans to expand his small farm holdings. He was quite content with the way things were. That made him very different from Lizzie’s older brother D.A. Consequently, D.A. opposed the marriage because he felt that she was marrying a fellow who was not terribly ambitious and not overly capable of doing much. If she married Peter, there would be very little opportunity for Lizzie to have a very good life. As a result of her determination to marry Peter, D.A. never had a high regard for Lizzie after she got married.

Lizzie and Peter continued on at the small farm at Largie. They had a few cows, some hens, and a team of horses. They grew enough grain and hay to look after the needs of the cattle and horses. They also had a nice garden. It was a very small operation. They never had much money so they lived a very simple life. It was difficult for him to expand without funds.

Sadly, Peter and Lizzie were not able to have any children of their own. Like her brothers, Lizzie had the Rh- blood condition while Peter had Rh+, thereby not enabling her to carry a baby to full term.

However, in 1906, they agreed to bring up two of Peter’s nieces – Barbara Catherine (Kate) and Jean Buchanan. They were the daughters of Peter’s sister Margaret Campbell who was married to John Buchanan.

In the 1880s, John and Margaret decided to take up what appeared to be the new opportunities in Western Canada and had gone to farm at Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan that was then part of the North West Territories. Kate and Jean were born there in February 1888 and February 1891 respectively. Their mother Margaret died there in early March 1891, most likely the result of complications associated with Jean’s birth. Their father John died there in at the end of November 1906, the result of very harsh weather and farming conditions.

With no children of their own, Peter and Lizzie agreed to take in the two orphaned young women. They lived with their uncle and aunt until their marriages in their late twenties or early thirties. Shortly after Kate and Jean moved in, Lizzie’s mother Jane came to live with them in about 1908 when John and his family moved from the home farm to Middlemiss. After that, all the major family celebrations such as Christmas and Easter took place at Lizzie’s house at Largie. They were happy occasions. The family would have a goose as well as a turkey. It was a splendid dinner where everybody had a good time.

In this environment, Lizzie was quite an ordinary woman, but good-natured and helpful. She never complained. She was quite willing to help in whatever circumstances she found herself. She kept a good house. She was very happy with Peter. But she never had much money.


Archibald (Archie)

Archibald McNabb, known as Archie throughout his life, was born on the home farm on 11 October 1864. He was the youngest child of Archibald McNabb and Jane Gilmour and was born less than four years before his father died in January 1868.

Archie was a warm, pleasant and engaging man. He went to primary school at the nearby SS #9 School, but did not go beyond that. He farmed with his brothers on the home farm and later bought an adjacent farm.

Archie never married. He lived for many years with his mother, brother John and his wife Jennie on the home farm.

The noted economist Kenneth Galbraith, who grew up on a farm near Iona Station in the early 20th century, has a nice story about Archie and John in his book The Scotch published in 1984:

“Two brothers named John and (Archie) McNabb who lived over near the Thames River, went into production of maple syrup on a commercial basis; they bought covered buckets and an evaporator and a galvanised tank for the sap and set out to make a quality product. It was bland and tasteless and Jim McKillop showed them why.

As the sap dripped into the open buckets, quite a few dried leaves fell in too. A large number of brown moths were also attracted by the moisture, sugar, or both. So were the field mice. Jim rightly suspected that these had something to do with the flavour and on the night of the experiment he put a quart or so of water into a sap bucket and added a handful of moths, two dead mice and several milligrams of mouse droppings which he had got from a mouse’s nest. He boiled this all of this into a good thick stock and added it to a gallon of the insipid McNabb syrup. There was no question; the flavour was miraculously improved.”

Archie stayed at Cowal when John and Jennie moved to Middlemiss in 1908 and rented the home farm out. Although he had a house on the farm he purchased, he preferred to live in a nearby two-room shanty. The shanty became a hang-out for the young men in the community who like to play Euchre and get away from their families for a while. It was common for someone to bring a chicken and a watermelon, stolen from one of the neighbouring farms including possibly a farm where one of the boys lived, but without his knowledge. Archie would cook the chicken while the boys played cards and gossiped. This would take place at both lunchtime and in the evenings.

Archie was not an entrepreneurial farmer like his brother D.A. He was content with the small holdings he owned near the home farm. He was a generous and accommodating man, encouraging his nephew Jim to help him and rewarding him for his efforts.

He had a good relationship with other family members. One in particular was his uncle Peter who had been very close to his father Archibald in their early days at Cowal. Archie and Peter helped each other out on their respective farms in Pleasant Valley, and particularly when Peter moved to a smaller farm at Middlemiss. This was evident when Peter died in June 1903, and left the southerly 18 acres of this farm to Archie. But, typical of a man who was not interested in acquiring property, Archie sold this property to his brother D.A. later in the year.


11. Elizabeth (Betsy) McNabb Branch of the Family

Elizabeth (Betsy) McNabb and John McFarlane

Archibald’s older sister Betsy and husband John McFarlane came to Canada with Archibald on the same ship in 1849. They brought with them two very young daughters – Janet (known as Jessie) born in 1847 and Isabella (known as simply as Bella) born on 7 May 1849 just before they set off from Scotland as well as John’s parents Duncan and Janet McFarlane. They all settled on a 50-acre farm on the north part of Lot B, Concession 3, Dunwich about two miles south-east of Archibald’s farm.

When Archibald and Jane started to have babies from 1850 onwards, these young children no doubt played with John and Betsy’s children. This connection became even stronger when Betsy had three more daughters – Betsy born in 1853, Nina in 1855 and Nancy in 1858.

Sadly, the tragedy that struck Archibald and Jane’s family in 1860 also claimed the lives of John and Betsy’s three daughters born in Canada. The young girls also died from diphtheria in the space of eight days in 1860. They were buried in a cemetery on the outskirts of the village of Fingal some 15 miles away from Cowal because the cemetery there had not become fully operational at that time.

It is hard to imagine the sense of loss and despair experienced by these two families. Seven young children under the eight and no doubt close playmates were all gone in a flash. It must have been devastating for Betsy and John. By 1860, Betsy, at age 47, was too old to have any more children. She and John had to be content to battle on with no sons to carry on the family name, and only two older daughters.

Betsy lived on to be 78, dying on the farm on 14 February 1892. Her obituary in the Dutton Advance said she died “after two weeks illness with the prevailing malady,” noted in the paper at the time as …………………………. Despite all the hardships she had endured, her obituary also noted that “as a neighbour, (Betsy) will be long remembered for her many acts of kindness.”

After Betsy’s death, John, now 83, his daughters Jessie and Bella and cousin Jane were not keen to stay on the farm. So, Betsy’s brother Peter sold 1.5 acres of his farm for $1 to his two nieces on 24 February 1893. They established a small farmhouse there next to Peter’s place, and moved their father in with them shortly thereafter. At the same time, John leased his farm at Cowal to Peter Carruth, a local neighbour.

John lived with his daughters until his death six years later on 7 October 1898. His obituary in the Dutton Advance noted that, when he settled north of the village of Cowal half a century ago, he “experienced the privations of pioneer life”. At the end, he was remembered as “ a man of sterling worth and as a neighbour and citizen was universally esteemed.”

Bella and Jessie continued to live on as spinsters in the small farmhouse in MIddlemiss until their deaths on 14 February 1910 and 21 May 1928 respectively. With no descendants, very little else is known about this branch of the McNabb/McFarlane family, except that the two girls were very close to their uncle Peter McNabb, the younger brother of my great grandfather Archibald.



12. Peter McNabb Branch of the Family

Peter McNabb was the youngest - at age 19 – of the adults who came to Canada from Scotland in 1849. He was the only one of his siblings that remained single all of his life. Initially, he settled with his brother Archibald on 210 acres in the very north-east corner or Dunwich Township, just south of the Thames River. Although there was some nine years difference in age, Peter and Archibald were very close, dating back to their early days in Scotland. After arriving in Canada, they worked together to build a log cabin and then a larger house, living together in the same place for 18 years.

In 1859, Archibald initially had bought all the land they occupied from the heirs in Scotland of the estate of Lt Col William Campbell who was given this property and another 1800 acres by the Crown for his military service in Upper Canada. Almost four years later in January 1863, Archibald sold to Peter half of the holdings (105 acres) for a pound an acre. In these early years in Canada, Peter no doubt did a lot of the work on both farms while his brother was away constructing houses and civic buildings as a stonemason.

However, something happened four years later in 1867 to change the relationship. Peter suddenly sold his farm in March 1867 to William Molesworth of Dunwich for $1,370. Did he need the money to cover debts or pay for something else? Did he have a disagreement with Archibald or his young sons, after being close to Archibald for so many years? Had he done something to disgrace himself, and therefore wanted to sell up so he could leave the area?

It is strange that Peter did not sell the property to his brother or another McNabb family member, suggesting that there was some form of dispute. This is reinforced by Peter’s decision to move away completely from the Cowal area after selling the property. There is no record of Peter anywhere in Dunwich in the 1871 Census. Where did he go and why? Why didn’t he help Archibald’s wife and children and give them support after Archibald’s sudden death in January 1868?

What happened? There is a suggestion that Peter went to a farm in McKillop Township in Huron County not far from where his brother John was farming in Grey Township, as a Peter McNabb appears there in the 1871 Census. Similarly, there is another suggestion that he lived on a farm at Strathburn in Mosa Township in Middlesex County, as a Peter McNabb is listed in Lovell’s Ontario Directory for the that year.

However, Peter did not stay away permanently from Dunwich. By at least 1877, he had returned, not to be with Archibald’s family but to purchase his own small farm on part of lot A, Concession 3, Dunwich, right next to the farm of his sister Betsy and husband John McFarlane. Betsy and John were getting older and they did not have any sons to do the farm work. They likely had asked Peter for help. So by the time of the 1881 Census for Dunwich, Peter, at age 51, is listed as part of the McFarlane family. He no doubt was running his own farm as well as the McFarlane farm, as John was now over 70.

After coming back to Dunwich, Peter became very involved with the work of Chalmers Church. He was appointed an elder in 1888 and held that position for many years until he died. Check dates of his service

In the late 1880s, Peter, at almost age 60, decided he wanted to have a smaller farm of his own. There were smaller properties available north of Dunwich on the other side of the Thames River in Ekfrid Township near Middlemiss, which was developing as a progressive village with a range of shops and services. So, he purchased a property there in the mid 1880s and another farm of 34 acres there in January 1890.



In February 1892, Peter’s sister Betsy died on the McFarlane farm. Her husband John, now over 80 and their daughters Jessie and Bella were not keen to stay on the farm. So, Peter “in consideration of natural love and affection” sold 1.5 acres of his farm for $1 to his two nieces on 24 February 1893. They established a small farmhouse there next to Peter’s place, and moved their father in with them shortly thereafter.

Peter stayed on his Middlemiss farm until his death on 7 June 1903 at the age of 72. In his will, he left the southerly 18 acres of the farm to his nephew Archie McNabb, the youngest son of his brother Archibald. Obviously in the years between his leaving Cowal in the late 1860s or early 1870s and his death 30 years later, Peter had re-established some connection with Archibald’s family and particularly son Archie. Archie subsequently sold this property to his brother Duncan (D.A.) later in December 1903.

Peter left the northerly 16 acres of his farm to his nieces Jessie and Bella with whom he had developed a strong bond over more than 20 years, as well as niece Jane (Jean) McFarlane, daughter of Pet