Camborne is located in Hamilton Township in Northumberland County on County Road 18 about 6 miles north of Cobourg Ontario. Settled mostly by United Empire Loyalists and immigrants from the U.K. in the mid 19th century as a rural and agricultural community.
The stories here are not intended to relate to Camborne’s history, but of the characters that made its history. The stories herein are obviously not first-hand (I am only 66 years old!) but are true. Thanks to my nearly 100 year old Grandmother who passed away in 1973, I had heard them from her and her brother R.D.P. Davidson who compiled a “Camborne and Glourourim History” for the Coldsprings Womens Institute in 1950 and writings by Robert Lean (a childhood friend).
After the land had been cleared by the settlers, they used primitive machinery such as harrows pulled by a yoke of oxen to prepare the land for seeding which was done by hand broadcasting. The grain crops were harvested with a cradle, a scythe-like instrument with long fingers. In 1864 Gabriel Orr of Glourourim cut seven acres of wheat in one day…a record at the time!
In the winter, settlers had to clear the land of trees, cut firewood and lumber. A logging ‘bee’ was usually a test of skill and strength. A ‘Paul Bunyan’ of a man (Gabriel Orr) could size up a fallen tree and mount the butt log and chop through the 2 foot log always finishing first. Competitors here would jump on the log at four foot intervals and start cutting, Gabriel would finish his first and move on to do a second before his nearest opponent had finished his first! His axe was specially honed and used only by him. That axe could ‘bit’ into a hardwood tree and take out a chip in a blow or two that would make several fair sized stovewood sticks!
Another notorious character of the time, Charlie Yeoman had a serious aversion to work. While hoeing a field of potatoes on a hot day, he would remove his boots and bury his feet in the soil to cool them. Having hoed as far as he could reach on all sides, he would dig a fresh hole and proceed across the field! Mr.Yeoman’s favorite thing in the world was fishing, spending endless hours at the local creek. He was best remembered for his taking an old wagon wheel to the top of the hill above his house and let it roll down the hill. The wheel would go bounding down the hill at break-neck speed over fences (occasionally breaking them), over stone piles until it came to rest in the creek that ran through the farm all the while doubled up with laughter on the hillside above! Charley would also make a toboggan from the smooth side of bark from a “slippery” elm tree. That hill was owned by my father and was a favorite with all us kids in the winter.
Not all of these characters were men. The widow of George Redpath was well known for her speed at knitting and talking at high speed and it was hard to tell which was faster, her tongue or her needles! One quote attributed to her about her son George was that “he had no more need for some apple trees than a toad had for side pockets”.
Another character of Camborne was Davy Watts, a welcome helper on many a farm in the neighborhood. A laborer, he was, but not adverse to a bit of poaching when the opportunity arose. Davey’s favorite hunting was for wild pigeons which at that time would actually darken the skies above. It was easy to get 100 in a forenoon. This ‘Robin Hood’ was known to supply dozens of pigeons to the sick and shut-ins. Once, a bear strolled into the village and of course Davy was anxious to get in on the fun, but his only weapon was an old muzzle loading shotgun and his ammunition was only bird-shot.
Now, Davy had never in his life seen a ‘bar’, but off he went. He was the only one who ever did see the bear and blazed away madly at it with his old gun. The bear turned and ran into the nearby swamp for the ‘bird-shot’ merely tickled it! Davey was scolded for this foolishness by his friends…his surprised reply was “not shoot the ‘bar’? Hell, I’d have shot it if the gun had only been loaded with buttermilk!”
Thomas Crossen, a grandson of James Crossen (the founder of the Crossen Car Works in Cobourg, famous for building railroad passenger coaches) and his wife had a family of eight children. Four of them never married and one of these was Lizzie who was remarkable in that she was the tallest woman in the County. Of course many ‘tall’ jokes forever followed her. She would laugh if some urchin asked of her “if it was cold up there” especially if the day happened to be hot. She and her black horse were quite a sight along the roads of Camborne.
The last of the characters in this blog is more recent (1950’s) and are from my own memories of the past.
Her name was Almeda Hamilton. To a kid of ten or twelve years old, she looked to be ancient. She always dressed in black and would wear a winter coat and hat, even in July! At this time in her life she was a widower and us kids really thought she was a witch! She would appear at Emond’s General Store in the village most Thursday mornings to catch the weekly Burley Bus Lines bus that ran from the Rice Lake area to Cobourg to do her shopping. This in itself was quite a feat as she had to walk several miles to the store from her home.
Some years after her death, a few of us local kids cycled up a long driveway off the Branch Road (now named Kennedy Road) to her long-abandoned house. It was long rumored that she had been really rich and had buried money and coins somewhere on her property. We looked around anywhere we thought might be a good hiding spot but never found so much as a dime or penny! A few years later, a delegation of her heirs actually brought in some earth moving equipment and spent hours digging up the grounds and demolished what was left of the house. As far as we know, they never found anything of value either!
Note: About a year ago, Ranger in a nostalgic mood decided Bushwhacker and I should try to revisit this property on one of our Wednesday ‘No Exit’ road tours. It was great fun exploring the area but we could not get too far as Mother Earth had put too many brambles, shrubs, weeds and poison ivy in the way!