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Puslinch Historical Society Spirit Walk
20 September 2015
Read by Lois McLean
People can still remember James and Richard Starkey. They were the third generation of a family that was prominent in Arkell and well known in all of Puslinch and Guelph.
Starkeys first immigrated to USA from England. They stayed there for a couple of years, then came to Upper Canada and settled in Puslinch in 1833. John was about 11 when he arrived here with his parents and sister Martha.
In 1849, John bought a 100 acre farm on Concession 10 near Arkell(Part Lots 7,8 & 9.) This farm had been settled for at least 10 years. so we can assume, therefore, that the land that had already been cleared of some of the trees and rocks..
John married Margaret Murray and they had 5 children, - 4 girls, Elizabeth, Jane, Martha and Isabelle, and one son James who was born in 1858. They lived in the original log house on the farm for about 25 years, then in 1878, John built a big stone house to replace it.
John's sister Martha married James Winyard and they farmed next door. They had no children, and when James Winyard died in 1878, John Starkey bought their 100 acre farm, bringing his total acreage to 200 acres, a sizeable farm for the times.
A barn-raising bee was held in 1888 on the farm . There were two teams of men - one on either side of the barn, competing to see which team finished first. The new 66x54 foot barn went up in 2-1/2 hours - built by 120 men, fed afterwards by 40 ladies dishing up at long tables outside. People were certainly energetic back then – after a full day of barn raising, there was a tug of war competition and at night a dance with fiddle music in the new barn.
John and his son James farmed the 200 acres together until John died in 1894.. James, who was the second generation, took over the farm.
The Starkey farm was beautiful, a real showpiece, and the centre of many social events. James Starkey supported a number of worthy causes. For instance, in 1898 he hosted 500 people at a garden party to raise funds for a ward in the Guelph hospital. At this particular party, people climbed Starkey Hill at the back of the farm to view Guelph, then later had supper, heard songs and speeches, and listened to the 30th Battalion Band. Garden parties usually started in late afternoon and went on until midnight. A supper, sports, a variety concert, and a dance were often the sorts of entertainments .
James was President of the South Wellington Agricultural Society and later on a director. He bred carriage horses, and sold them mainly in the United States. He often took his horses to shows in Toronto and shows in other towns. One of his horses took 52 prizes.
James was a bachelor til he was 44. He lived with his mother until she died in 1901, then he and Grace Paddock got married in 1902.. They had three children. Richard was born in January 1903, and James (Jr) was born in December the same year.. People often assumed that they were twins, but they were in fact almost a year apart.. Margaret was born in 1905.
In 1910, the Federal government got a 99 year lease on the farm so a tower could be put up on Starkey Hill at the back of the farm for surveying. Starkey Hill is the highest point in Puslinch. A wooden tower was built in 1911 to get a line of sight to other towers. It was taken down in the 1920's.
James died in 1911 at the age of 53, leaving his wife Grace and the two boys, age 8 & 7, and Margaret, age 5, to carry on with the farm. Grace ran the farm for several years with the help of a faithful hired man, Willie Fraser. During the First War, Richard worked in the fields with Grace, and James Jr. and Margaret looked after the house. By the end of the war, the boys were still only 14 and 15 years old and Margaret was only 13. At some point Grace bought 50 acres more across the road, bringing the farm to 250 acres.
Grace died in 1930, and James, Richard and Margaret carried on the farm. Margaret took an interest in landscape gardening and persuaded the boys to build a lily pool at the house.
So now we come to the last generation, the two brothers - born in the same year- Richard and James Jr. that some Puslinch people can still remember. Everyone called them Dick and Jim, so we will too.
As well as running a big farm, Dick and Jim were very active in church and community events. For example, in the 1920's, Dick was on the Arkell handball team. He was chairman of the Arkell Reunion held in 1934. It was a big three day event, hundreds of people came .
In the 1930's, they formed a group called The Happy Gang along with Alex Black. Their sister Margaret played the piano for them, and sometimes Dick played the fiddle. He was also a talented singer. In the '40's, during the war, sometimes they dressed up as tramps for their skits, or put on girls dresses. They would sing old Irish and Scottish songs by Sir Harry Lauder while decked out in kilts. These concerts were to raise money to send gifts to soldiers overseas. They performed at all kinds of social events until about the early 1950's.
Jim Starkey is remembered for the plank plow he made in 1939. At that time, township roads were not plowed in winter, although the County roads were kept open. He converted his land roller into a plow and attached it to Bob Barnetts caterpillar tractor and plowed roads around Arkell to Highway 6. The plank plow tended to ride up over crusted snow banks, so gangs of men with snow shovels would walk ahead to break up the crust so the plow could move the snow. This spurred Puslinch Council to do something to keep the roads open in winter, and in 1940 it put out a tender to operate a snowplow. Bob Barnetts bid was accepted, he was hired at $1.75 an hour and Council ordered a steel plow. From then on, the township did the snowplowing.
Margaret got married and moved away in 1939 and the two bachelor brothers were left on the farm. By then it was known as the Starkey Bros. Farm, and they were raising beef cattle and hogs.
Dick was the outgoing one, and while Jim was quiet. However, he got himself involved in local politics, and was on Puslinch Council from 1946-56 off and on, and Reeve in 1950, the year of Puslinch's Centennial. He chaired the celebrations that year. He was also Arkell school trustee for years.
Dick and Jim loved steam engines and in later years, had quite a collection. Dick was a member of the Ontario Steam Society. They took their engines all over to steam shows, and in 1963, just for the fun of it, threshed with their steam engine for the last time. They gave their 1883 Drag Saw to the Milton Agricultural Museum that year too. Dick was also a member of the Oddfellows.
Dick and Jim both married late.
In 1943, Dick married Margaret Hales, the daughter of Alf Hales who was MP for Wellington South r about 20 years in the 1960's and 70's. He was 40 by then. Until he died in 1979, they lived on the Starkey farm which by then had been taken over by GRCA to protect Guelph's water supply.
Jim married Grace Stewart from Crieff in 1958. He was 55. They built a house on Arkell Road and lived there. He died in 1976.
Here in Farnham cemetery, lie the remains of three generations of the Starkey family: John, who came here in 1833 with his parents, his son James, and his sons James Jr, and Richard who were the last. Neither of them had children, so there are no Starkeys left in Puslinch.
A 4 kilometre hiking trail was established up Starkey Hill in 1972, and today it is managed by GRCA and Guelph Hiking Club together. The Starkey Hill trail was opened in 1997, with Reeve Archie MacRobbie as chairman of the event. Every Easter a Sunrise church service is held at the top of the hill.
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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