The McElroy Family of Richmond, Ontario, Canada

This account of growing up in Richmond, Ontario, around 1900, was prepared by Kathleen Anna McElroy on the occasion of Richmond's Sesquicentennial (1968). Kathleen was the daughter of William, grand daughter of Patrick, and great grand daughter of Henry. She was born in Richmond on March 30, 1894. She died, one day short of her 100th birthday in Ottawa.

I believe this account has been published, but I don't have the reference. I extracted this version from the text of an address given by my father, George Eldon McElroy, on the occasion of Kathleen's 90th birthday in 1984

Early Days in Richmond

by Kathleen Anna McElroy

As a child it was my delight, on a school-free Saturday morning, to accompany my father when he drove by horse and buggy to do some business with a farmer who lived five or ten miles -- quite a long way in those days -- or even farther into the country. There was always a warm welcome and an invitation to dinner -- a hearty noon day meal served in a lovely big kitchen. The drive along the dirt road -- at times topped with fresh gravel, which depended on buggy and wagon wheels and on horses' hoof prints to eventually tamp it down to a less rough surface --provided time for my father to tell me about even earlier days and to learn something about the trees, wild flowers and birds we saw along the way. In early summer one could be sure to see a family of ducks in the swamp on the Fourth Line of Goulbourn past which we often drove. It was in this swamp one found goldthread to be brought home for the relief of toothache.

Along the Jock River (I); a watercolour painting by William Maurice Merrick McElroy

Along the Jock River; a watercolour painting by William Maurice Merrick McElroy, Kathleen's brother

When our friends from the country came to do business in father's office --a room in our house -- it was not unusual to have them as guests for dinner with us. Mother never knew when father would emerge from his office to announce: "Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so will be here for dinner". In those days a few extra people at the table were always given a welcome.

In those long ago days there were not a few people who were averse to making a will until they were near death, and I can recall times when a message would come from the home of a very sick man for father to go to write a will. The same messenger would probably also seek the doctor's help and that of the clergyman. Even late at night and in winter, when it meant some miles of travel along snow-drifted roads, the call was always answered and all three would travel together to the aid of the man who had appealed to them.

Payment to my father was often made in the shape of a load of stove wood or hay for the horse, or perhaps a bag of apples or potatoes. On one occasion it was in a different and unique way. Some business had been done for the local Roman Catholic priest -- an Irishman -- who then asked what the fee would be. He was told "Nothing, Father, I never charge the clergy anything." Quickly, came the reply: "William, if I can't pay you in cash I'll pay in prayers -- and God knows you need them".

The shopkeepers in Richmond's early days and for some years into the twentieth century quite commonly accepted eggs, butter or other produce in lieu of cash. On one occasion the Lewis brothers had received a load of wool that we stored in a shed behind the shop. My boon companion, Hazel Lewis, and I discovered this lovely soft stuff in which to play until her mother found us there and hastily chased us into the house to wash up for fear that possible sheep ticks might have transferred themselves to us.

In the village at the turn of the century and even for many years later most families cultivated gardens where they grew a large part of their year's supply of vegetables and small fruits. Canning and making jams and jellies was a must for every housewife. If anyone's garden produced more than enough for the family requirements, neighbours were invited to help themselves to the surplus. Very often a family would keep a cow to furnish them with milk, cream and butter. On a long table in the cool cellar would be spread out shallow pans of milk for the cream to rise. Cream separators, if they existed, had not reached Richmond -- at least not the one-cow residents. Some times a cream-loving child might slip down to the cellar and scoop up gobs of freshly risen cream with a finger. In the cellar were stored bins of carrots, parsnips, beets, etc, racked in damp sand as well as potatoes and onions and from the rafters were hung tomato vines on which tomatoes kept ripening for some time after the vines had been brought in from the frost threatened garden. Shelves of preserved fruit and canned vegetables in glass sealers were also seen down there and a large "safe" -- a cupboard with wire netting to let the air circulate -- held many of the perishables that are now kept in a refrigerator.

The chances are that anyone who kept a cow also kept a pig to grow fat on the skimmed milk and later to be slaughtered by the local butcher and cut up into tasty roasts and other cuts. In winter, a quarter of beef and a half a lamb on occasion would be bought and butchered into family size roasts, steaks, etc., each piece carefully wrapped in brown paper and kept frozen in the unheated. "summer kitchen" to be produced as needed.

In an earlier day than mine, self-sufficiency was carried out to include fabrics as well as food. Wool was spun and woven or knit into warm garments, and probably flax was spun and woven for house hold linen. Even in my early days I can remember a neighbour (Mrs. James Mills) whose large spinning wheel was not just an ornament but put to practical use.

Time was in Richmond when manufactured goods, including furniture were something of a rarity, and an itinerant cabinet maker would come to a house and live with the family there while he made what was needed. Several pieces of furniture were so made for my grandmother and some of these are still in use. A baby's high chair made for the use of my father as an infant has been used by four generations of children. As my father was born in 1848 this chair must be nearly 120 [in 1968] years old.