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Puslinch Historical Society Spirit Walk
20 September 2015
Written by Bea Woolsey
As the last of the Arkells in residence, although in an ashy state, I welcome you all to Farnham. Here began my father and uncle's dream for our family's fortunes. My Uncle John Arkell and my father Thomas Arkell had come here in 18931 with the idea of creating an English farming settlement. My uncle went back to England after only a year or two but father stayed and carried on with their original plans. He married Isabel Hume from the Hume family in the 9th concession. By the time I was born in 1855, Farnham was a lively village with church and school just as they had wanted. By 1852 Rather completed the stone house just across the road there.
I was the youngest of the 7 children who had survived. When my father died in 1875, I was 19. He had left the farm in trust because my brothers who had made lives elsewhere could not agree on how to divide it. What's more, they took almost every stick of furniture, anything of value in house and farm. I had a horsehair sofa left I remember, and maybe a few other things. Then they decided that I could stay on in the house for the time beling and my youngest sister Dorothy with me. All of them had been educated, sent away to boarding schools, but I had been sent to the village school and not very long either. It was hard to know what to do. I had a hired man Garret Doyle and he was a good friend. For a time we cut cordwood for the Grand Trunk Railroad and I learned a few of the skills a farmer needed from my Hume relatives and other neighbours.
Then one day in the Arkell village store my luck changed. I met Jessie McFarlane, the eldest daughter of the local schoolmaster. We hit it off. Jessie was the eldest in a big family with a mother who expected her to run the whole show. She was getting fed up and thinking of a run to Toronto. As for me, I liked Jessie right away and what's more, my sister Dorothy and Jessie's grandmother Mrs. Janet Black of Aberfoyle did all they could to bring Jessie and me together. And so we were married and made the best of that cold drafty empty stone house and tried to figure out how to make a living. We tried raising pigs and we tried chickens and we survived – with help from Dorothy and Mrs. Black. But then one day Jessie read in an English journal about a new breed of dual purpose sheep, the Oxford Down, and well, we didn't look back. We were off! I went to England to buy stock. Those sheep of ours were sought out all over North America. I bought and sold every week and travelled often with stock to western Canada and the States. We also began a successful shorthorn operation. I think I can say I was more successful than my father Thomas had been. I sure was happier.
I was kind of like the local squire. We used to have great good times with neighbours, parties at our big house, especially in the winter. Mr. Hume uncles had taught me the fiddle and I could play for the dances. We had a big outdoor party in Ought Three for our 25th wedding anniversary with over a hundred guests. I was real lucky to have had Jessie beside me all those years. A Sheep Breeders magazine wrote that she was a "model housewife, an accomplished cook, a charming hostess and quite as much at home in the sheepfold as in the kitchen, dining room or drawing room."
Jessie and I had had two sons, but only one survived, Thomas Reginald. By the turn of the century he was nearly grown and attending the OAC in Guelph. But our world changed forever in 1905 when Jessie died of diabetes. She'd controlled it for awhile but it got her in the end. Nothing was ever quite the same.
For a while Reg worked with me but he was a smart ambitious lad and he took off for a government job in Ottawa and later to teach in New Hampshire.
I guess I had gotten pretty used to a partnership with a woman, so I soon married again. My second wife Mabel was the organist in our church by she died in 1915. With Reg and Mabel both gone the only thing there seemed to do was to sell the house and farm which I did in 1918. I married Mabel's sister Laura and we moved to Hamilton and lived there until Laura died in 1934.
After that, life changed drastically. My son Reg had married an American woman who would not live in Canada, she didn't like ti, and then it turned out that Reg ended up not liking her and he lit out for California. He lived in Los Angeles with his second wife Rose and after Laura died in 1934 they gave me a home for the next ten years. I was nearly 90 when I died out there. They say I was cremated and my ashes brought back so here I am, back where I began.
I'd just like to tell you one more thing. Reg was quite a writer and when he was old he wrote up his memories of growing up here. They have copies of his book in the Historical Society archives here and you might like to read it. It tells you what our family and our neighbours were like in this district in the 1890's and at the turn of the century. I think he did a real good job of it.
This is a little of what he had to say abut me:
Away from his farm and sheep, Father was always ill at ease, never quite sure of
himself…He loved travelling in a freight car with sheep but was uncomfortable in a passenger coach. (Mother) was his alter ego (and) made him more of a whole person.
Now there is one more thing I would like to tell you. Some think I should never have let the Arkell place go out of the family. We had a number of relations in the country. They seem to think someone would have been glad to take it on. Well, at the time there wasn't. Mr. and Mrs. Kay bought the place from me for $20,000 in 1918. I was sorry to learn though that the house was just left to decay for awhile. Someone told me the farmers Kay rented the farm to even used the parlor to store grain and the floorboards actually buckled. After the big war, the Kays did begin renovations, but when Mrs. Kay died the place was sold again to the Ministry of Agriculture and the place has been in the hands of some government or other ever since. I would just like to add that the recent decision to officially name the house the Kay House is a serious oversight and highly offensive to the family who actually first settled ythe land and designed, built and lived in the house for nearly 100 years.
Thank you very much for listening to my story.
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Membership in the society is open to anyone interested in the history of Puslinch Township giving you access to the archives, assistance with your research from committed voluteers, a newsletter and occasional events of historic interest.
29 Brock Road South
Puslinch Historical Society
c/o Puslinch Library
R.R. #3, 29 Brock Road South
Guelph (Aberfoyle), Ontario N1H 6H9