Monday, February 16, 2009

Sutherland's in Apple Blossom Time

Malus sylvestris Mill.

From Smith's Canadian Gazetteer Comprising Statistical and General Information Respecting All Parts of the Upper Province, Or Canada West ... With a Map of the Upper Province, 1846:

“SUTHERLAND'S. A Village in the township of Moore, pleasantly situated on the River St. Clair, opposite the American town “St. Clair,” or “Palmer.” It was laid out in 1833, by Mr. Sutherland, a gentleman from Edinburgh, who has done a great deal to improve the neighbourhood—having cleared a large quantity of land— built a handsome Episcopal church, &c. Here are several wharves for supplying steamboats with wood. Sutherlands is ten miles from Port Sarnia, and contains a comfortable tavern. Post Office, post three times a-week. Population, about 100. Professions and Trades.—One physician and surgeon, three stores, one tavern, two blacksmiths, one tailor, one shoemaker, one school.”

The above-mentioned tavern may be one of the few things in Moore Township that Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850) has not been credited with founding. This could be the Rilley’s Tavern in Moore township (named after proprietor Philip Rilley) where the Brigden Fair was first organized in 1850. Whether or not Rilley’s was joined or supplanted by the St. Clair Inn is unknown; but by 1851 the latter was clearly to be preferred, described as a “respectable tavern… where a small party may get comfortable accommodation.” (Rilley's family appears to have met the challenge, as by 1869 they owned the Mooretown Hotel, probably superior to Alexander Gallino's Farmer's Hotel, also operating that year.)

Comfortable and respectable are reassuring words, and appear to describe the settlement overall. Less comfortable, perhaps—but still respectable—were the seats for the informal church first organized by TS. According to the Rev. Robert Burns:

“In the summer of 1834 I visited Sarnia, which had scarcely been commenced; made arrangements to preach in the township of Moore on the Sabbath. Settlers had just begun to settle in it, but it appeared to the eye an unbroken forest. A Mr. Sutherland, from Edinburgh, had just come and bought out a Frenchman, whose farm lay on the banks of the St. Clair. Seats were erected in his orchard, made of boards, resting on blocks of wood. By-the-by, Mr. Sutherland and family were Scotch Episcopalians, but they were kind and hospitable. I always, in visiting the locality, made my arrangements to spend a night with them, as there was the place for one or more services. On the Sabbath there was a good congregation, but from where they came from I could not see.”

It’s impossible to know what kind of a turn-out Burns found so impressive. For the years between 1846 and 1851 the population of Sutherland’s continued to be estimated by Smith's Canadian Gazetteer at 100. A minister who gave a guest sermon there in 1847 counted eighty-six in his audience. However, when the actual church first opened in 1841, three hundred people are reported to have attended the event. (This is more in keeping with the numbers suggested by Isabella C. Finlayson's account of the first municipal government in 1840: 135 ratepayers and 643 members of families.) It seems unlikely that three hundred individuals had appeared to hear Burns; in all probability the opening of the first church was a source of community pride and a cause for celebration that many would not want to miss. Still, no matter the appeal of a shiny new building, there’s something even more charming about the idea of a service among the apple blossoms, despite the uncomfortable seating.

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