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Podcast Episode 5



Who were the first European families in Dunwich Township?  How did they get here and why did they choose to live in the Talbot Settlement? Before I answer all those questions, I’d like to acknowledge funding from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The first Talbot settlers were George Crane and his wife who arrived with Thomas Talbot in 1803.  We assume they lived with or very near Talbot until 1806 when they were given land on the point of Lake Erie a few miles West of Port Talbot (now called Plum Point). It is said that Mr. Crane, of Scotland, had been a British soldier and Mrs. Crane Isabella Findlay of Glasgow, was Scottish had quite the temper. On one account it is said she was not afraid of Talbot in the least and even threatened him with a carving knife in order to get her way. Almost 6 years passed before any other permanent settlers arrived.  In 1806 the Cranes are shown in Dunwich Lot 15, Concession 11 at Plum Point which stayed in the Crane name for 120 years.  They had 10 children between 1807 and 1827. 

William Crane went to western USA

Charles went to western USA, possibly Kansas

Peter married Mary Willson

Anthony married Mary MacVicar took over the farm and named it “Lake View Villa”. 

Not much is known to us about Marion, Hannah, Susan, or Jane but with some genealogical research I’m sure we could discern what happened to them.  A

Alexander went to western USA, again possibly Kansas

Adam Crane married Rebecca McVie

In 1808 Leslie Patterson (Irish Anglican) and John Pearce (originally from Rhode Island) crossed from Erie, Pennsylvania to Upper Canada at Niagara in search of homes under the British Flag.  They rounded the western end of Lake Ontario and proceeded as far as Muddy York (Toronto), but they did not find any land that appealed to them. What persuaded them to turn their faces westward is not known.

Since Colonel Talbot had established his homestead at Port Talbot some five years earlier (1803), it is quite possible that members of government at Newark in the Niagara district or at York may have talked with the newcomers about Colonel Talbot or when Colonel Talbot was in New York in 1807, some contact had been made with members of the family or their friends who were government officials.  At any rate, Patterson and Pearce proceeded westward along the north shore of Lake Erie to Port Talbot and chose the farms which were to be their homes for the rest of their lives.

On July 14, 1809 13 family members returned in a flat bottomed boat with all their earthly possessions, driving their few cattle on land bordering the water and landed on the beach of Lake Erie behind the site of St. Peter’s Anglican Church cemetery to claim their land that they had purchased from Colonel Talbot in 1808.  These families had faced many hardships as they slowly traveled along the lake shore. A storm wrecked their raft, forcing the tired travelers to search for nails to repair it. But, despite these adversities, they persisted and made good hardy pioneers.

This group included Mary Patterson Storey, age 51, a widow her adult son Walter Storey and her 2 daughters, Sarah and Anne Storey. 

Mary Patterson Story had left Ireland with her 2 brothers, Walter Patterson and Leslie Patterson, four sisters and her four children in 1801.  My husband Andrew Storey had already died in Ireland.  The Patterson family lived in Fermanagh County, Ireland an were flax growers and linen weavers. 

They settled first near Baltimore, Maryland, apparently a large flax growing area at the time.  There one brother Walter Patterson and one sister died of yellow fever.  Doctors told the family the climate farther north would be better for their health. 

They then moved to southern Pennsylvania and then to near Erie, Pennsylvania.  There Mary’s sister, Frances Patterson married John Pearce and another of the Patterson sisters died, cause unknown. 

When the group of 13 came to the Talbot Settlement in Upper Canada, Mary left behind one sister and her eldest son, Robert Storey who had married.  Copies of letters between Mary Letters between Mary Storey in Dunwich Township and her son Robert in the USA have been found by researcher Alison Pearce, author of The Pearce’s of Little Ireland.

Mary’s brother Leslie Patterson & his wife Lydia Backus Patterson with their sons Joseph and Walter aged 2 and 1 were among the 13 settlers.     Leslie & Lydia’s home was the Anglican meeting place until a church was built in 1827.  It was also the first post office between 1837 and 1852.   In 1821 Leslie was made magistrate and performed marriages and burials.  Previous to that Colonel Talbot was approved to perform such tasks if a minister was not at hand.  Leslie Patterson took the first census of Dunwich between March 1, 1816 to March 1, 1817.  Sir Isaac Brock signed a commission for Leslie Patterson to be a Captain of the Middlesex militia in War of 1812 and he was a Colonel during the Rebellions of 1837.  He received lot 2 on concession 10 from Talbot during the war of 1812-1814, his farm was heavily looted. Facing the lake the highway of the era, the grandiose house includes a secret compartment for hiding valuables, and two doors in almost every downstairs room. Perhaps Leslie designed his home with these features because he was afraid that he might have to fend off invaders again. The first confirmation service held in Elgin County was held in this home. Leslie also ran the first post office in Dunwich out of his house. None of Leslie’s sons wanted to farm, so his daughter, Lydia, and her husband Archibald Duncan, took up the task.

John Pearce (originally from Rhode Island) & his wife, Frances Patterson Pearce (sister to Mary Storey and Leslie Patterson) with their children William age 4, Leslie age 2, and infant Catherine came as part of the 13. Colonel Talbot gave a friendly greeting to these fellow Anglo-Irish families by carrying the young Pearce boy up from the beach.

  The first school was held in their home beginning in 1822.    John Pearce bought land at Wallacetown in 1828 for his son William who married Anne Moorhouse.  Catherine and one other Pearce child also married into the Moorhouse family.  Leslie Pearce took up farming in 1831 in Yarmouth Township, Elgin County and in 1833 married Jane Donaldson Barber.

A worker for Colonel Talbot had already begun to grow crops on the Pearce land prior to their 1809 arrival. John Pearce purchased an additional 200 acres from Talbot for 50 pounds in 1813. John Pearce a member of the militia, had horses and furniture taken by American Raiders in 1814. The brick house was built in 1874 with walls three bricks thick made of clay from the farm. The foundation was made from farm stones and mortar. The basement had five separate rooms and was often used for baking. There is a fireplace in the basement as well as two on the main level. The house contains two staircases which leads to the upstairs where there are eight rooms and 2 hallways.

In 1810, Lydia Backus Patterson’s brother, Stephen Backus, arrived and married, Anne Storey, daughter of Mary Patterson Storey in 1811.  They had 13 children and lived the hard busy life of the pioneers.  Stephen received lot 13 on concession 10. Stephen’s log cabin and farm was looted on August 14th, 1814 by American marauders. He was finally able to purchase his farm in 1817 for 75 pounds. Stephen built the west section of his home (including the front door west) in 1825. Stephen employed Robert Morris to build an addition in 1848. The frame contains chestnut boards two and one-half feet wide. The basement, which was dug out later, has logs which run the entire length of the house. The porch was probably a later addition. Stephen raised a family of eleven children with his wife here. Stephen and Anne’s son, Andrew Backus, inherited land from his grandmother, Mary Storey and that land is now St. Peter’s Anglican Church and Cemetery, the former manse, John E. Pearce Provincial Park, a privately owned house, and Backus-Page House Museum. 

The families cleared the land and built log cabins on each of the four farms. Once this was done, Leslie Patterson set out on foot to walk to Ingersoll to purchase sheep.  Because of the Patterson’s Irish heritage, this community became known as Little Ireland. 

The first Anglican religious services were held in the home of Colonel Thomas Talbot at Port Talbot. Missionaries often traveling through were the ones who baptized the children.  Mary Storey donated ten acres of her land for the establishment of a church and burial ground.  In the Fall of 1827 St. Peter’s Anglican Church was built by these families.  In 1840 Bishop Strachan consecrated St. Peter’s and two years later the parish received its first resident priest (Reverend J. Stewart).   The first burial in the cemetery was that of Matthew Stuart in 1825.   Many of the early pioneers of the area, and their descendents, are buried here. It is the resting place of Henry Coyne, the great-great-great grandfather of our former lieutenant-governor of Ontario Henry Jackman. St. Peter’s is also the burial place of Colonel Thomas Talbot, the land speculator responsible for settling newcomers on land in 29 different townships, from Long Point to Detroit River. He has been called one of the most effective settlement promoters in Ontario’s past by numerous historians.

St. Peter’s is one of the oldest churches in Southwestern Ontario. It has been in continuous use since 1827. The Patterson, Pearce, Storey and Backus families each pledged 70 pounds to the project, plus all the labour that went into building it. Blue and white oak were used lavishly in the frame. A scow and a road was built in order to haul limestones up from Lake Erie to be used in the plaster. The church was lathed inside and out. A journey to Buffalo was made in order to procure glass, lead, and oil for making paint and putty. Simon Nichol of St. Thomas was employed to make Gothic sashes and frames for the windows. The spine and belfry were added in 1845 by Edward Matthews, London. It has come a long way from when the carpenter’s work bench was used as a pulpit. The beauty of St. Peter’s Church attracted a Hollywood film during 1996, a scene from the movie “That Old Feeling” starring Bette Midler and Dennis Farina was shot there. 

Mary Patterson Storey was predeceased by her son Walter and his wife and child.  She died in July 1842 and the Storey property was left to her first grandson, Andrew Backus.  He died in 1884 and left the farm to his son, Andrew Storey Backus.  Storey Backus sold the south half of the land in 1923 to John E. Pearce, a great, great grandson of Mary Storey.  At the same time, the north half of the land was sold to  Robert Kennedy, a veteran of the Imperial Army of Great Britain.  He purchased the land under the Soldiers Settlement Act.  Mr. Kennedy never made this property his home and in August 1925, Morley W. Page purchased the property consisting of 100 acres and the land being deeded to him directly from the Crown.

The present brick house was commissioned in 1850 by Andrew and Mary Jane Hamilton Backus and the family ate their first meal in the house on June 13, 1851.  Contractor was Robert Morris.  The house required approximately 72,000 bricks to build it, with the bricks being made on the farm.  Stories say the bricks were burned in a brick oven located on the farm but modern masons say the bricks look dried in the sun, not fired. 

The Backus-Page House Museum is of Georgian design and contains eleven rooms, constructed of virgin oak, black ash joints and joists.  The house has three fireplaces, all with black walnut mantles and paneling;  the parlour is finished with black walnut doors and trim;  the floors are in 1/2 inch black ash, tongued and grooved by hand.

Morley and Grace Page lived on the farm from January 1926 until September 1976, moving to an apartment in the town of Dutton as they had sold the farm to the Ontario Government.

Thanks to Mrs. Morley Page for compiling history of the Lakeview Line, Little Ireland families in 1957 ( this information given to Mrs. Page by Mrs. Thos. Pearce who was a direct descendent of Andrew Backus)

 A personal note from Iris, daughter of Morley and Grace Page. 

“There was a verbal understanding between Morley and Grace Page and the government at the time of the completion of the purchase in September 1976,  that the government would:

             maintain and convert the house into a museum, open to the public

             build and develop a golf course

             develop the then existing pond and creek into a trout pond

But governments change and leaders change and priorities change and verbal agreements are not binding contracts, so I say Thank You to the persons with the vision to form the Tyrconnell Heritage Society, for their patience and perseverence in obtaining the lease of the house from the government.  For now, this grand old house that was my home from birth to adulthood, is once again being cared for by devoted persons who are mindful of our heritage.  Respectfully Submitted  Iris Page               July 2007”

Thank you for listening

For more information and to contact the Backus-Page House Museum website

The Backus Page House Museum and Tyrconnell Heritage Society acknowledges the land we are on today as the traditional territory of First Nations People, the Neutral Nations and then the Iroquois.  We value both the significant historical and contemporary contributions of all Original Peoples. 

Life in the Talbot Settlement is a production of Tyrconnell Heritage Society, operators of Backus-Page House Museum, funded by the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Your host has been Angela Bobier.  Music provided by Jack Witmer.  Thanks to our Producers Katlyn Reintsma and Stephen McLachlin.