‘Our Ain Gait’: a John Dunn story

One theme recurs time and time again in the stories of Emigrants who came into Lanark and Ramsay Townships in the years following Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in June, 1815, and with such frequency that its unique cultural and linguistic characteristics persist to this day.

The theme is the oft-spoken desire of emigrants to be located in the New World amongst others of their fellow-countrymen, alongside, if possible, in the same area, if otherwise. This theme is found — understandably, many would declare, leaping to their feet to mention the Irish emigrants of 1823 — but equally strong is it among the Scottish weavers who came into Lanark Township in 1821.

Though astonishment has ever been party to the traveler on a forced road, an excursion along the Upper Perth Road today cuts across the headlands carved from the wilderness of Lanark by the Scots settlers of 1821.

A mile and a half west of Clayton it suddenly veers off the 2nd line of Ramsay, seeking the high ground as if my instinct to avoid the swamps, and, succeeding in that, it meets the Middleville highway above Union Hall. From there, following the crest of the vale of the James Settlement, it angles across the first line of Ramsay into Lanark Township and along the 12th line until the pathway encroaches on the placid domain of the Mississippi River. Another cross-country leap takes it on the high ground to Quinns’ Corners where it begins its descent to come down face to face with the Father of Waters at Ferguson’s Falls.

A fine new reinforced concrete bridge spans the great waterway today, but in 1822 the river’s immensity overwhelmed Lord Bathurst. John Beverly Robinson and his elder brother Peter talked to him in London about the possibility of bringing Emigrants to this newly-surveyed territory. “The Mississippi River,” Peter explained to the great lord, “bisects the county of Lanark from west to east. There are many fine sites for settlements.”

Today’s traveler hurries past the shore side cabin at the west end of the bridge over the Great River of Lanark where Mrs. Command discovered that her living room window had just the right elevation for dropping a line in the water whenever she wanted to bring in a fresh pickerel for lunch.

An excursionist need go no further, unless, of course his journey be improbably important, such as the need to search for justice, for that task would take him along the forced road to Balderson, where he would be obliged to pay a toll to get to Perth, seat of justice and the county gaol. All ye who seek after justice –prepare to pay the toll. Such is justice.

Back up, back up, friend, from that awful prospect, whilst yet ye may. Return, at leisure, to that vale of peace where the Upper Perth Road crests along the James Settlement, where lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea, and the ploughman homeward plods his weary way. Pause a moment: this is the James Settlement. Let not your astonishment stumble across marvels along the way, but fix your gaze seventy-five or eighty years ago in that other millennium when farms were mixed and life was cheery in spite of the lack of RV’s, TV’s, and politicians on the run, because in those times all settlements had baseball teams.

Baseball. Of course, baseball. The Union Hall team’s line-up comprised nine James boys. Rosetta had a team, and Clayton, Middleville, Hopetown, Lanark, and sometimes Perth. These teams played against each other, and occasionally against other teams from Bennie’s Corners, Quinns’ Corners, and Blakeney, where the name Snedden occupied half a dozen lines in the line-up.

Bennie’s Corners team, circa 1920

Union Hall boasted — well, no, they didn’t boast. What I mean to say is that “stringers” attended the games and dispatched sports copy to editors of the newspapers in Almonte, Carleton Place, Perth and Lanark. Stringers followed the newspaper mores of copy editors on the city’s sports pages, and thus picturesquely referred to pitchers as “twirlers”, catchers as “receivers”, and fielders as “retrievers”, as if these latter were a breed of rogue spaniel, trained to snatch a ball out of either air above or bog below.

In a memorable close game when a “mighty Casey” came to bat for the team from Bennie’s Corners, the stringers writ him large: he stood at the plate “with haughty mien” as a “slugger”, his eyes “eager with murderous intent”, ready “to smash the pill” and send it “rocketing” into the outfield. And when this boast of Bennie’s Corners swung, and missed, a mighty sigh of relief exhaled by the trees shed mourning all round the Bennie’s bench, and left the team from the James Settlement to take the win with aplomb!

“We wuz robbed!” the shout rang out from Bennie’s Bunch. “These James guys must have brought in their cousin from Kansas, the desperado, Jesse James, the train-robber. We wuz robbed!”

Stringers from four newspapers ignored the sputterings of malfeasance coming from the Bennie’s Bunch, for they were mightily more interested in locating the secret of success of the Union Hall Tigers. “Was it their ‘celerity’ on the base paths?” enquired one. “Was their ‘twirler’ rubbing up the ball with a rabbit’s fur foot? Was it superior intelligence on the bench? Maybe something in the ‘receiver’s’ pancake mitt?”

To all of this the Tigers responded with polite guffaws. “No, nothing of the kind,” their twirler explained. “Out here,” he said, “We do a lot of things the same way our grandfathers did when they came into this part of the New World. Even in baseball, we just follow our grandfathers’ advice.”

“We gang our ain gait.”

John Dunn, June ‘03