By BOB McCARTHY
Mary Louisa Doyle Parsell, born in London Ontario on July 5, 1873, grew up on a farm near oil Springs.
An edited version of the following story written by this lady, who was then in her early eighties, appeared in the London Free Press on December 24, 1955.
Some Pioneers of Eniskillen
To the young people of this day and age with all the modern conveniences it would seem fantastic to live as those women lived in the latter years of the last century. Yet, I can truthfully say that the brides of that time were just as happy, just as full of hope and enthusiasm, as the girls of today. To folks living in the country there were few doctors available when the need for one arose. There were no telephones so if a doctor was required it was necessary to send someone to the nearest village on foot, horseback or driving a buggy. Roads in that district were dusty in the summer and in the autumn and spring they were a mass of sticky mud. I have seen two teams hitched to an empty wagon having a difficult task to pull it.
There were three women in our neighbourhood who became true angels of mercy. If a call came for help for a sick neighbour the bad weather never stopped Mrs. Little, Mrs. Woodwark or my own mother, Mrs. John Doyle, from answering the request
These three women lived about two miles apart so there was a sort of understanding that each one was to help in her own neighbourhood, at least it seemed to be that way. I think Mrs. Little answered the most calls. It would be impossible to say how many mothers she attended at childbirth. Often, as we children walked to school, we would meet her hurrying home from an all-night vigil at some sick bed. Mrs. Little was a fine looking woman dark hair, rosy cheeks and such an alive, bright expression. She was a big woman, tall and strong. Our nearest neighbours at that time were the Wheeler family and they were always close friends. It must have been about 1858 when the Little family came to the second line of Enniskillen. I do not know whether the Wheeler family were there when they came but I presume so. We had a post office named after the latter family and also the public school.
Mrs. Little was born in England came to Canada with her parents when she was twelve years of age. They settled near Toronto and there Jane met William Little. William took up land about 3 miles east of Oil Springs, built a house and in due time returned to Toronto for his bride. Following their marriage they traveled by train to Florence, their nearest railway station, where William had left his team and jumper with a friend. The young couple had to walk the last 20 miles, most of the way through dense bush. The jumper was loaded with their supplies and going over the rough trail parcels kept dropping off and Jane would pick them up and put them back on. At last this became too much for the 16-year-old bride and she sat down on a log, declaring she had had enough and wanted to returned to Toronto. William came to her, took her in his arms, soothed and comforted her, and after a while the journey was resumed. Their new home was on a hill overlooking flats and plenty of bush land all around.
A great many Indians lived in that country at that time and often came to the little home on one pretext or another. She always baked bread and often gave them a loaf as a treat. Mrs. Little said she was awakened one night by noise in the next room. Upon looking out, she saw an Indian standing by the fire warming his hands. She was too frightened for the moment to speak and warn her husband but it wasn't necessary for the intruder left as quietly as he had come.
Across the road from the house the Indians used to place their dead up high in the trees, but as more and more settlers arrived, this practice was stopped.
Mr. and Mrs. Little had six children and there are grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren living not far from oil Springs today.
Mrs. Woodwark spent many nights and days attending to children stricken with diptheria or scarlet fever and was well known for her kindness, sympathy and willing help. Mr. and Mrs. Woodwark had five children but raised only four of them as they lost a little girl at an early age.
Mr. and Mrs. John Doyle came to Enniskillen from their home in Dorchester Township in 1876 and settled on a farm two miles west of oil Springs. At that time there were few settlers and land was swampy and it was not long before ague appeared. Some folks call it ague and some intermittent fever. At one time all the inhabitants of our house, with the exception of myself (at that time four or five years of age) were ill. The four people, my mother, father, aunt and uncle were all abed and mother said they kept me busy carrying water to them when the fever was at its height.
There was great excitement one winter morning at our house when mother found that thieves had entered our root house and stolen most of our winter’s supply of meat. In order to open the door they been obliged they had been obliged to lay down the weapon they carried. It was a three tine fork with the long handle cut off, leaving just enough for a hand hold. When father saw that implement he was very glad that for once he let Towser bark without getting up to see what was the trouble.
Our people were true pioneers, clearing land, plowing and tilling the soil, making maple sugar, baking everything they ate and even producing their own soap. Soap was made from fats saved from animals we had slaughtered for food, and wood ashes which were put in a barrel with a hole in the side. Water was poured on the ashes and came out as strong lye. A woman worked side-by-side with her husband and hers was the job of milking cows, making butter, looking after the poultry, salting the meat and making headcheese.
In summer we walked miles to gather raspberries and blueberries for winter use. Nature was lavish at that time in providing these fruits, and hickory trees grew everywhere with their load of nuts. Hazelnuts and beach mats were plentiful, too. Good water was scarce. My father had a well drilled near the house but it was so mineralized we couldn't use it. A few years after we came to Enniskillen an oil company had a well drilled on our property. They struck a flowing spring of sulphur water. Our cattle and horses liked this water and when the horses were driven to town they refused to drink the water there. Their coats were always sleek so I guess sulphur agreed with them. When father bought his farm there was a hollow buttonwood on the place. Where it came from nobody knew. At largest it was about 4 feet in diameter and tapered down to 3 feet. Father cut it into three sections of about 8 and a half feet in length, then for each dug a hole about six to seven feet deep. Then a section was put in the hole leaving plenty of wood above so there was no danger of anyone stepping in and drowning. Two were for cisterns and the other, farther from the house, was a well. The bark seemed as hard as iron, smooth surfaced inside and the outside covered with little knobs or knots. We always had plenty of rainwater in the cisterns but drinking water had to be carried some distance. There were two never failing springs at that time – one on the Radford farm and one at the Gatecliff place.
Few farmers had more than a large kitchen which served also as dining room, sitting room and work room. The number of bedrooms vary, according to the size of family. After farms began to pay, a new wing was usually added to the house. Winter days were spent in sewing, knitting, making rugs, piecing quilts or sewing rags for a rag carpet. Rags were cut one half inch to one inch wide and joined together. They were then rolled into a ball and when the ball weighed one pound there was enough to make one yard of carpet. After one made the required number of balls they were taken to the weavers. Children learned to knit and sew at an early age. I knew a little girl who had pieced a quilt when only five. My sister and I knitted our own stockings and mittens while Mother knitted socks and mittens for Dad.
Our cooking utensils were mainly made of iron – bean pots, tea kettles, frying pans and grills, and of course, sad irons. A few tin caps, dippers and pans were also in use. Some folks had one or more copper kettles. Sometimes tin-ware was used for cooking small quantities of food and for baking. There was a wood stove for cooking and another small wood stove to heat the other rooms. In our backyard hung a cauldron kettle which had many uses.
Now I must tell you about her clothing. Mother usually bought a bolt of factory cotton at five cents a yard. From this she made our chemises, waists, drawers and petticoats. Out of this same bolt she made shirts for father, sheets and pillowcases. In winter, my dresses were made from Melton cloth which was bought at two yards for twenty-five cents. A nice green dress with trimmings of red velveteen was a great favourite of mine. This dress served for Sunday school and church for the first year and school the next. Some of the children had dresses made from Scotch plaid – pure wool and very pretty. Winsey, poplin and lustre, also cashmere were favoured materials in those bygone days. We seldom had more than one pair of shoes and a year. We wore them to church on Sunday, but from early spring, as soon as the weather permitted we went barefoot. Boys and girls alike wore no shoes until frost came again. I do not think the local stores of that period even stocked ready-made dresses. Anyway who could afford them? Mothers made their own and their children's clothes and often they were quite plain, but if a woman had a little imagination she could make quite an attractive garment. Men’s suits were available in stores.
In later years we had plenty of recreation. I remember going to several quilting bees. When the quilt was completed, it was taken out of the frame and all the girls took hold of it around the edges. Then, the family puss was brought and placed in the center of the quilt. Of course the cat would instantly try to escape and the girl toward whom the animal jumped was supposed to be the next bride.
To help in raising funds for the church we held tea meetings, oyster suppers and taffy pulls. Generally, all large affairs were held in the Wheeler school has no other place was large enough. The school served as church, Sunday school and for all community affairs. Then we are ploughing bees, barn raisings and threshings. Usually, these ended with a dance. When a new barn was completed we sometimes had a barn dance and what gay dances they were. Probably that was where the Hop Waltz originated as it would be impossible to glide on those rough plank floors. Dances were usually old-fashioned square dance with a few reels – Opera, Virginia and Scotch reels.
It was a good life after all and folks were just as happy as they are today. They had less money but less worry.
HISTORICAL NOTES from the author:
In the 1881 Canadian census, Mary Louisa Doyle Parcell’s family is recorded as follows:
Father – John Doyle age 33, ethnic origin Irish, Church of England
Mother – Eliza Jane Doyle, age 32
Daughter – Mary Louisa Doyle, age 7
Daughter – Sarah Winona Doyle, age 1