Lieut. Col. Wm. Nicoll
Written and narrated by Marilynn Crow
(as told by his wife Jane, nee McFarlane, Nicoll)
Spirit Walk at Crown Cemetery, 2011.
If you walk into the Council Chambers in Puslinch today, you will see my husband’s portrait in the
Warden’s Gallery displayed on the west wall. He is second from the left, after Square Wm. Henry Leslie.
Both of these men were a big part of my life.
You see, it wasn’t an easy life for many of the first families who settled in Puslinch. William, as I always
called him, was the son of Alexander Nicoll and his wife Mary, whose surname was alexander before she
married. They had married in Scotland and came to Puslinch from Forfarshire in 1834 when William’s
father was already 48 years old. Things have certainly changed in the past 175 years! Did you know that
Scotland changed the name of the Nicoll’s home shire to Angus after the Earl of Angus?
On arrival, Alexander bought Lot 35, R. Conc. 8 (on the n. side of the road you know as Leslie Road
today) from Andreas Stahl who was one of the German settlers who had come into Puslinch from New
York State by 1830.Stahl had built a log house on this property and the Nicolls moved in there. Ten
years later (on April 27, 1843) William was born in the log cabin on Lot 35. He had two older sisters,
Elizabeth (Mrs. Knowles) whose son C.O Knowles was the editor of the Evening Telegram in Toronto,
and Mary Ann (Mrs. Wm. Ross)of Puslinch and later Guelph.
William was only in his teens when his father, Alexander, died in 1860. His father had served on the
Gore District Council with Squire Leslie from 1842-46. They were Puslinch politicians before it even
became a township. (I know that township residents did their best in 1950 to record the beginnings of
the township in The Annals of Puslinch, but I’m afraid they were a little confused about our two families.
They recorded that Wm. Wade Leslie was on that district council with Wm. Nicoll Sr. Think about
it…1842-46. Wm. Wade Leslie, the man that Leslie Road was named for, died tragically in the Irish Sea in
1838 when he had returned to Ireland to claim an inheritance. And my William wasn’t born until 1843,
at the time when Leslie and Nicoll served as politicians in the Gore District. It was William’s father
Alexander and Wm. Wade Leslie’s son Wm. Henry Leslie who were the politicians. The latter was known
as Squire Leslie and his father had been called Captain Leslie because of his military service.)
My husband always talked about the support their family received from Squire Leslie when Alexander
died. You see, the Leslies’ father had also died unexpectedly when he was shipwrecked. The Jane
Margaret had no survivors. Their father had return to Ireland for an inheritance which he took in the
form of sovereigns, and the family’s inheritance also went to the bottom of the Irish Sea. Their mother,
Lady Louise died the next year. She had been left with a family of seven children in the township when
it was still mostly uncleared . You know, Squire Leslie said she died “of a broken heart”. She was only in
her early 40’s but both she and Wm. Wade were from privileged families in France and Ireland and I
think it all just became too much for her. Squire Leslie and his brother George, as the eldest sons, were
left with the responsibility of raising their 5 siblings. Being just 21 and 19 when their father died, they
knew what William’s family was facing when his dad died and they didn’t want his mother to give up
hope like theirs had. At least the Nicolls were financially sound.
Williams’s mother was left with a dilemma because Alexander had already arranged with a stonemason
to build them a proper house. Squire Leslie encouraged them to go ahead and continue as planned, so
the first stage of the stone house was built. William’s mother was so attached to the log cabin where
their three children were born, that she had the plans of the new house include its main room. Stone
walls now surround it on its exterior. The room is at a lower elevation and its original fire place remains,
as does the stoop which connected the log house to the new one. William and I were married in 1874,
and we raised our eight children in the fieldstone farmhouse. We added a full second storey to
complete the beautiful fieldstone house known today for its ornate stonework and elaborately carved
room brackets. The bank barn was erected on June 5, 1886, but we had to postpone the barn dance we
had planned in celebration of its completion for ten days due to inclement weather. We named our
place Creekside Farm and the years there were good to us.
Squire Leslie encouraged my William, then 25, (they were both William) to run in the 1869 local election
after a protest vote over the new township hall had put Squire Leslie out for a year in 1868. Leslie
already had put in 21 years on Gore District and Puslinch councils, and had served as Warden of the
county in 1865. He wanted his old political partner Alexander Nicoll’s son (my William) to run with him
and they both got in. My William moved up to be the Deputy-Reeve of Puslinchg in 1871 and we
married two years later. He was D.R. for 12 years until Squire Leslie stepped down in 1882. I remember
my husband sitting at his library table writing th presentation address for Squire Leslie’s retirement. We
went to town together to choose the gold watch for the retirement gift. As Reeve of Puslinch, William
attended County Council meetings for the next 12 years (1881-1893) and he was electd Warden of
Wellington County in 1893, closing out a quarter of a century in politics. Allan Stewart of Crieff
succeeded William as the new Reeve of Puslinch in 1894. His, of course is the third portrait in your
council chambers, as he too went on to be Warden of the county in 1899.
I should tell you a little about my family. I just can’t believe what has happened to the farm where I
grew up, but I’ll tell you about that later! My dad was John McFarlane, no relation to the McFarlanes in
Aberfoyle mind you. He was a tailor from near the Perthshire/Stirlingshire border and worked at his
trade while clearing the farm he had bought on the west side of the township while the other
McFarlanes were storekeepers north of Aberfoyle and bought land on the east side of the township.
They were from Aberfoyle in Scotland and had suggested the name for the village in Puslinch. My
mother was Margaret McNaughton of the Peter McNaughton family and my parents were already
married in 1831 when they sailed with her parents and siblings on the Commodore Preble. When
William and I were courting, he went west across the 1st from their Creekside Farm to the 7th concession,
then north to my McNaughton grandparents’ corner at the 2nd and turn lert. Our farm (Lot 25, Conc. 2)
was on the right. My parents also built a fieldstone house but theirs was in the style now referred to as
the Ontario-style vernacular. It wasn’t as unique as the Nicoll farmhouse. William and I met at a
Sabbath School picnic one year when the Township’s classes joined for this social. My family attended a
Sabbath School at S.S.#5 on the 3rd Concession in the summer months. It started in 1857. Nicolls were
founding members of the E. church near Morriston. The church eventually took the name of Duff’s,
after Rev. Dr. Alexander Duff, a Prebyterian missionary who had served in Calcutta.
While William gave back to the township through politics, his true passion was for the military. The
Wellington Battery was officially announced as a Garrison in 1866 and became the 11th Field Battery in
1871, when William was 27. In 1866, the Fenians (Irish ex-patriots in the U.S.) had threatened to attack
Canada in retaliation for England’s occupation of Ireland. A Military artillery unit, the 1st Brigade Field
Artillery in the new Dominion, was formed here to pepare for any attacks. Headquartered in Guelph,
there were four commissioned officers, one of whom was my William. There were 17 non-
commissioned officers, 56 gunners and drivers and 55 horses. They even had a detachment of two guns
at Morriston that William was responsible for. A.H. MacDonald was Captain, the First Lieutenants were
David McCrae (father of poet John McCrae and at one time a member of Duff’s Church in Puslinch) and
my William, and the fourth officer was Assistant-Surgeon A.A. Macdonald. We still have the 1880
picture that was taken of the 1st Brigade Field Artillery in Canada with William and his fellow soldiers in
uniform. The following year, in his late 30’s, William was promoted to Major. When Col.. MacDonald
retired in 1895, William was promoted to the rank of Lieut. Col. And took over command of the unit
until he retired from the military in 1900. I know it sounds like bragging, but I was so proud of his
artillery prowess. William won the Governor-General’s cup five times for his efficiency with a rifle and
captured the Mowat Trophy three years in succession.
William and I had three daughters. Mary (m. Dr. J.H.King) and they lived nearby in Morriston, Maggie
(m. Maurice McPhee) and they moved to Fernie B.C., and Jessie remained single on the homestead.
Maggie’s son worked here in 1925 and you can still see his name carved on the granary wall on the
upper floor of the bank barn at Creekside.
We had six sons, but the youngest, Charles, died at the age of two and the second eldest,
Stewart, died of tuberculosis at the age of 21 in 1902.
He had had two operations performed on him but to no avail.
When Stewart died it was one of the darkest times of our lives. Our sons Alexander and Ernest
remained on the home farm, but Wilbert and George moved to Riverhurst SK to farm. William and I
bought the farm north of ours in 1889 (Lot 34, R.Cnc. 8) and had a bank barn erected on it in 1900.
When the boys left for the West, we had the house on that farm dismantled and shipped out to them.
Some of you listening will know the red brick house where and Ev. And Roy Winer raised their girls. It is
the one that replaced the original house that went to Saskatchewan.
After my William died in 1921, I used to do a lot of reading to fill in my days. Alex & Ernie were looking
after the farm and Jessie looked after the house, so these were my twilight years. I was fortunate to be
able to live out my days at Creekside. I outlived William by 16 years, and died at the age of 88 in 1937.
My brother Daniel had taken over from my father on the farm on the 2nd where I was raised. He was
Reeve of Puslinch during WW1. He and his wife Penelope McLean (Viewfield Farm, Badenoch)
later retired to Lemon St. in Guelph.
I mentioned that I just couldn’t believe what has happened to our McFarlane farm. To me it just looks
like a moonscape now. I would compare it to the W.W.1 battlefields I read about so often. Land fought
over for months, even years ended up as a crater-filled no-man’s land. Now our farm is nothing but a
gray dreary landscape. Where are the pasture fields we roamed as children? Who knew that gravel
would become the crop of the 21st century? I see the house is still being cared for and the township has
awarded it a plaque in recognition of the work that went into its construction. Today it is a gravel
company’s office. At least William and my beloved Creekside Farm is still pastoral. It’s nice to see the
horses in the fields there today. The house that we so lovingly completed has also received one of those
plaques. Let’s hope this will protect it against modernists who care nothing for the past when they buy
up properties. We invested in the buildings on our farm as a legacy for future generations. I only hope
those of you listening this evening can see that the workmanship in barns and houses like these can
never be replicated. Please value the foundation the pioneers families in Puslinch laid and don’t let
(Photos and end notes that accompanied this presentation are available on file at PHS archives)
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