How often we take for granted the comforts of our present day! The younger set and future generations may never know the struggles and hardships, sacrifices and heartache our ancestors endured to bring us to our present quality of life.

Set your imagination to work and picture yourself as living in the 1800’s. Bush had to be cleared, the logs used to build the houses, usually hastily, but nevertheless sturdily, to withstand an Algoma winter. Crops had to be sown, usually around the stumps, unless one was fortunate enough to have the required piece of equipment to remove them.

The family unit was all important. Without schools or churches, the lessons and Christian values were taught in the home. Without shopping centres, all food was raised on the farm, all clothing either woven at home or made from bolts of cloth brought in at great expense and difficulty. Clothing had to be handed down from older siblings to younger siblings, and it wasn’t at all unusual for your dress to be made of the same material as your brother’s shirt. Quite often the men of the household had to leave home to go to work elsewhere, either trapping or lumbering to augment the family income. This left the raising of the family and caring of the homestead to the lady of the house. Many are the stories of the area wildlife trying to make off with the very livestock that was being raised for the family larder.

Can you identify any of these guests, present at the 1905 wedding of John R. MacKay and Martha Armstrong, on the John Armstrong farm?

Neighbours were dependant on one another, and each brought to the community some field of expertise required by another. Machinery was shared, so that it wasn’t necessary for each to own his own equipment. Horses, too, were shared so that when a particular job required “two-horse power” a neighbour was only too glad to be of assistance.

Doctors in Algoma were few and in Laird, the names of women of the area are often referred to us as having nursing abilities and were called upon in time of sickness. Mrs. Lapish, Mrs. Evoy, Granny Johnston, Grandma Bruce. Mrs. Armstrong and Mrs. Irwin are only a few of those caring souls who were credited with bringing many babies into the world, and saving the lives of other folk in the community, often by just knowing what to do in an emergency, ofttimes by treatment with home-made concoctions they had used on their own families.

Sleigh ride in front of Curry’s store.

The 1900’s brought some improvements in the standard of living. Schools and churches were built and local stores were conducting a thriving business. Each of these will be dealt with at length in their own chapters. Easier methods of travel brought more families to the township. The social interests increased in number and variety. Card parties were enjoyed by those families where religion allowed them to be played. House parties were the norm; however, with the building of halls in the township, community concerts, dances and church suppers became more frequent. The old Orange Hall, built across from the Knox Presbyterian Church in Bar River, was, from all reports, the earliest in the district. This was a popular place because the early agricultural fairs were held next door and indoor exhibits were of course, displayed in the hall. Dances were held here as well, with the Church organ being carried across the road to provide the music. A group called the Society of Chosen Friends held their meetings in this building, as did the Orange Lodge.

More halls were built to accommodate other areas of the township. Dances were held in the Laird Hall, upstairs over Schoales’ garage. and at the hall in MacLennan for those residents in the southern end of the township. Music was often provided by the Headrick Family Orchestra, and the Johnston Orchestra, and we certainly can’t forget the fiddle of Percy Harman accompanied by Erma Bolls. Those were the days when the folk danced ’til dawn, then hitched up the horses and went home to start the day’s chores. One story is told of the time when Newman Johnston was courting Mae McLeod, the teacher. The couple had driven the buggy to the hall and had a glorious time, only to find when the dance was over, that the horse had died, leaving them with the compounded problem of finding a way home for themselves, as well as the carcass. Those were also the times when one could enjoy the music, and still carry on a conversation without one’s hearing being at risk.

Outdoor rinks were built in winter and provided an excellent opportunity for fun and competition with local teams from other areas of the township, as well as neighbouring townships. The same applied to baseball in summer.

The Laird Giants, 1923. Standing left to right: Jim Keating, Sandy Caldwell, Lloyd schoales, Tom Keating, Jack Keating. Seated left to right: Bert Curry, Aird Hollingsworth, Alf Keating, Roy Murray. Photo taken in the Giant’s field.

Who can forget the excitement of the annual Fall Fair, when a school holiday was declared — or the event of the annual threshing, or barn-raising – and ooh, those food-laden tables.

One event which was very popular in those early years was an “Oyster Supper”. One wonders when one looks at our prices today how they could be afforded, or where they were procured. Lillian McDonald tells me that Mrs. John Rydall was apparently an excellent cook and did the honours for that end of the township. She tells of one supper where their teacher, Mr. Cornell, deliberately sat across from her and a chum, slurping his oysters with such relish and noise that they immediately lost their appetites. I am told that the Ernest and Ralph Evoys held these in Bar River, and that they took place in Laird Hall as well.

Another simple event which was met with great anticipation and excitement was the annual “Christmas Tree” or concert. Each school class had its own part in the program, so, of course, whole families packed the halls to see their offspring perform.

The Bar River Hunt Club was a very famous organization, which provided the men of the area with an outlet of a different nature. Founding members of this organization were the three Fremlin brothers, the Hollingsworth brothers, William Evoy and his four sons, Alex Stewart, Rob Wilson, the Murrays, Tom Tipton, Dr. Graham and John Curran of Sault Ste. Marie, a Mr. Jim Shaw, and a Jondreau from St. Joseph’s Island. Several other area men joined from time to time as they came of age, but the Club eventually disbanded when enthusiasm waned.

A century of progress has brought us television, fancy cars, movies and a supposedly higher standard of living. Unfortunately, it has also provided us with all the modern diseases, high cholesterol levels and heart attacks that accompany life in the “fast lane”. The whole world travels at a faster pace. One wishes that one could retain the simple pleasures of yesterday and combine them with the opportunities we enjoy today.


Where To Next?
Go To Next Chapter – The Women’s Institute
Go To Previous Chapter – In The Beginning
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More “Community Life In Laird” Pages To Explore:
Centennial Celebration 1991
Laird Fair
Women’s Institute
Children’s Groups
Bar River Centennial
Bar River Wolves