Life in Wolford in 1818

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The Gourlay survey taken in January 1818 from the Township of Wolford, actually encompassed three other Townships which were administered by a single municipal council between 1800 and 1821. This makes it difficult to know how much the information included in the Township Report to Gourlay covered all four Townships, or just Wolford. But, as the population within the four areas were concentrated in Wolford, it is quite likely that the data referred primarily to that unit. It will be remembered from previous articles that Oxford-on-Rideau’s total population in 1818 was just 71, where as Wolford had over 300 inhabitants at that time, living in 55 houses.

The land itself was described as generally sandy, with the main tree cover being comprised of “Oak, maple, beech, pine, hemlock, ash: but chiefly maple”. Large quantities of limestone and iron ore were to be found, and the limestone could fetch up to $2 per toise, or about 8 cubic metres. It is interesting that the term “toise” was used in this case. It was originally a unit of measurement in France and seems to have survived in Upper Canada even into the Nineteenth Century. Other measurements were used in describing wheat, for example. When asked how much wheat needed to be sown per acre, the response from Wolford was “A bushel and a peck, Winchester measure”.

Agriculture was mixed in Wolford, both livestock and crops were raised by the settlers, and a fixed rate of payment was established for buying and selling, as well as for paying workers in the fields. The long winter stopped farm work as the sleighing season began and usually lasted from December until March. Settlers began ploughing near the end of April, or beginning of May. Fall wheat was generally sown in September; spring wheat at the beginning of May. Harvesting of winter wheat took place in August, and spring wheat, and other grain, about the first of September. An average crop, when well cultivated, yielded 20 bushels per acre, “and sometimes 25″.

The land was gradually cleared and gained in value. The report noted the change in valuation as the clearance improved its situation. “The price of wild land at the first settlement of the township, is 1s 3d. per acre, provided it was remote from any settlement. According as the township became settled, and increased in population, wild lands enhanced in proportion, so that at present it is worth 5s. per acre.”

Clearing and farming the land was hard and usually required help from neighbours and, more often, paid labourers. Hiring help to clear the land of trees and bush, and fencing the cleared tract, cost the farmer £4 per acre; or £3 if room and board was included. During the winter months, labourers were paid $7 on an annual basis, and in the summer, from 10 to 12 dollars a month. In harvest, generally, the pay for helpers was a dollar per day, or a bushel of whatever grain he is hired to reap. In all cases, women were generally paid a dollar per week.

Skilled trades received a higher pay, naturally, with blacksmiths, masons, carpenters, etc., charging 7s. 6d. per day. The use of currency was confusing, as Gourlay pointed out in his final Report. “In many of the Reports, prices were given in dollars: in some, New York Currency, or 8s. to the dollar, was spoken of. To prevent confusion, I have converted these into the provincial currency of 5s. to a dollar, and four dollars to the pound, of 18s. sterling.”

That is far from clear, as far as I’m concerned, but it does indicate the complexity of the currency system in Upper Canada before the metric system of dollars and cents was introduced in the 1850’s.

By 1818, Wolford has been in the process of settlement for twenty years, and the initial phase of pioneer settlement was passing quickly. A stable community had been established, with its annual cycle of seedtime and harvest, with social activities, economic enterprise, and political structures all well advanced. In the last of this series, we’ll take a look at the basic costs of living in Wolford and surrounding townships in the first decades of the Nineteenth Century.

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