Rebecca Bowers (nee Gugin)
Mother of Eleanor “Nellie” Nichols, Hamlet, Ontario.
Excerpts from “Granny Bowers’ Story” as told by herself at 83 years of age. (The Cowley-Bracebridge Press, 1942)
Rebecca Gugin was raised in Alliston on the estate of her father James Gugin, who emigrated from England to the Canadian frontier after serving as a doctor in the Napoleonic wars and the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The second youngest of twenty children, Rebecca married William Bowers (1838-1903) at sixteen years of age.
“Then my misfortunes commenced. We had five sons and three daughters and had to work very hard to support them. My husband could drink all the money he and I both earned. He wanted children but would not provide for them. This made it very hard for me after being used to plenty. When we were a year and ten months married, our first child was born. About that time pioneers were settling in Muskoka, and my husband went to see the country too, thinking he would make a home for us there. He liked the country fine and so came home to get us…The virgin forest stood at that time untouched by the hand of man. Huntsville was a trading post, and there was no railway or accommodations north of Barrie. We were not long hewing out a site for our home, and we were soon settled. That spring my second child arrived, and that summer and fall my husband got work helping to cut a road through five miles of bush. The job lasted three or four months and the men were very glad to get the work then as they needed money to help them along, but they didn’t get much. The pay was 90c. a day and board themselves…
After I was settled back in Alliston for the winter, my husband went to Allandale to cut wood. He worked there with Squire Little, and all he saved from Xmas to March was $1.00. The rest went for board, tobacco and drink. With the dollar he bought enough calico for a dress for myself and the little girl…I made up my mind to go to him, about 25 miles, and I walked all the way…I was not well for a week. I was so sore from carrying the child…In the shanty was a heap of straw in the corner for a bed and an old quilt and old stove and cracked stove pot. This was all we had to make a start with. I had to take my white undershirt to make a sheet. It made a good-sized sheet too, for skirts were made full in those days. Then we had the quilt to put over us. We had to do with this till fall, and we had all summer to get a few more things together. The woodcutting wasn’t much of a job, so we had to go in for haying and harvesting for Squire Little. We did four or five acres of wheat for him and eight acres of oats for another man. My husband cradled it with the grain cradler while I raked and binded. Then we pulled nine acres of peas for the Squire. The pea vines were seven feet long and a very heavy crop. Then we did odd jobs such as digging vegetables and the like till fall set in. I got my share of the wages for all the work I did. In the fall we went to Barrie to do our shopping. I got some hay ticking for a bed and some flannelette for sheets, and he got groceries and provisions. Then we were more comfortable…
After my fifth and sixth children arrived, we decided to go to Muskoka again. In the spring of the year 1873 when my youngest child was five months old, we moved and started in with the other pioneers. My husband sold an inheritance property in Mulmur and bought a good yoke of oxen, a good cow and ten hens to start. The oxen carried us to Muskoka. When we arrived there, we found some other people had settled on the land we had when we first came out, so we had to find another homestead and build another log house. We found a spot in the wilderness and cut logs, and put up our house the first year in a temporary way. It was ready to live in on the 4th of November, and it was a very bad winter with 4 feet of snow. The place had a good beaver marsh, and my husband cut a stack of beaver hay for the animals for the winter, but they would not eat it as they had been used to better, so we had to sell the oxen and wagon for $40 and the cow for $18. We just had the hens left, and there was no work for men in the country then, only cutting cordwood at 40c. a cord, and not very much of that unless you went three or four miles looking for a job. We made snowshoes from Basswood bark and a broad runner hand-sleigh, and started in making shingles all winter in the house. He rived them and I shaved them, and our eight-year-old boy packed them, about thirty-one or thirty-two thousand that winter. In the spring we bought flour and potatoes for seed, and there was enough left to buy a couple of sheet-iron sugar kettles. While we were making sugar and syrup, we got a potato patch cleared. Sugar fetched only 10c. a lb and syrup 80c. a gallon, and it all had to be carried to market in Bracebridge about 8 miles. We carried a load of sugar and syrup to town, and a load of provisions home. My husband got a few days work from the neighbours through the summer while I tended the potatoes. We had a nice crop, which helped us a lot through the following winter. We had a good cranberry marsh, so we picked cranberries all fall and sold them to buy flour for the winter. Bracebridge was growing larger and helped us a lot in buying our produce.”