British Army Veterans at Kinmount, 1858
May 24, 2023
A General View of Kinmount, circa 1910
By Guy Scott
Some of the earliest settlers in the Kinmount area were British Army Veterans. A group of about 20 veterans and their families were given free land grant along the newly opened Bobcaygeon Road in the years 1858-1859. These earliest settlers had served at least 30 years in the British Army (and survived—no easy feat!). During their careers, they would be stationed at many exotic locations around the world. Likely their last posting before retirement was Fort Henry at Kingston or perhaps Fort York at Toronto: the only two army posts in this part of Ontario.
Upon retirement, the soldiers would be offered either a ride back to Britain or a land grant of 200 acres somewhere in Upper Canada. In the late 1850s, the pioneer fringe included the Bobcaygeon Road, and in 1858 several families settled in the vicinity of Kinmount. These included:
South of Kinmount in Galway Township:
North of Kinmount in Lutterworth and Snowdon Townships
The siting of the settlers is interesting. Probably they came from two separate regiments. The south settlement seemed to be predominantly Irish, while the northerners were mostly English. Each family was given a 100 acre lot fronting on the Bobcaygeon Colonization Road and another 100 acre lot in a concession behind the Road. Each family member was also eligible for a 100 acre free grant upon attaining the age of 21. Veterans received a pitifully small pension of 1 shilling per day. Clearly this was not enough to live off, so some supplementary income was necessary. Farming was seen as an answer and the veterans were encouraged to take up agriculture. The government had plenty of land, so the veterans were shipped off to the frontier and given the land grant.
Most of these pioneer farmers were over the age of 50 when they arrived in Kinmount. No doubt, a majority had not been raised on a farm back home. The British Army recruited most of its soldiers from the urban poor. As one recruiter stated, “Jack Frost and hunger were the best recruiting sergeants in the army.” Army life was “of monotonous diet, monotonous occupation, climatic discomfort, bad housing and abundant alcohol.” But it was still better than being a poor slum-dweller. It gave them reliable meals, housing and a daily wage. The soldiers were paid daily so they didn’t have enough money to get stone drunk.
Marriage was discouraged, especially before the age of 30. However, each company (100 men) allowed 12 married men to have their families right in the barracks, and special rooms were set aside for families. Other couples could live outside the fort with permission. In the frontier posts such as Canada, soldiers were more often encouraged to marry as it usually stopped them from deserting the army. (During the American Civil War, 1861-1865, deserters from the British Army were paid a $700 bonus to join the American Army. That was more than a year’s pay!) Also, women were considered a ‘civilizing’ influence on an often rough and tumble military lifestyle. Women were also hired to do many jobs such as sewing, laundry, cleaning, and cooking that made life army life more bearable.
The veterans arriving at Kinmount seemed to be all married men with families. Many of the children were entering their twenties and about to start out on their own. And what better place than an area where they could claim a free land grant to start a farm or simply take over their parent’s place. These children had been born at various outposts around the British Empire. Regiments rarely served more than 5 years in any one post. The new Kinmount residents listed birthplaces in such exotic spots as India, Gibraltar and the West Indies.
It seems that most of the veterans were enlisted men. Officers would receive far better deals upon retirement and would not settle in such rough outposts. Thomas Grogan was called “Major Grogan” and was listed as a storekeeper in Kinmount for many years. His son took over the farm. John Black was titled “Sergeant Major Black:” the highest post for a non-commissioned officer. He left his name with ‘Black’s Rock’ north of town. Edward Harvey became an Innkeeper, starting the Springhill Hotel located on the Bobcaygeon Road where County Road 1 (Lower Dutch Line) joins the main thoroughfare.
Most of the pensioners were gone from the area within a few years. Several died, but most left disappointed with their grants or unable to make a living as a pioneer farmer. After all, they were in their fifties and totally unfamiliar with the life of a pioneer farmer in Upper Canada. A few of the families stayed on. The Byrne, Maguire and Dalton families relocated south of Kinmount and their descendants stayed for many generations. North of Kinmount, the pensioner settlement was soon reduced to the Butts, Pocock and Black families. But for those who did stay, their families enriched the fabric of the Kinmount community.