"It is possible to define both folk and lore in such a way that even the beginner can understand what folklore is. The term "folk" can refer to any group of people whatsosever who share at least one common factor. It does not matter what the linking factor is -- it could be a common occupation, language, or religion -- but what is important is that a group formed for whatever reason will have some traditions which it calls its own." ~ Alan Dundes, 1965

As a close-knit community, the Town of Minto has been passing along historic tales and wondrous stories for generations, keeping bits and pieces of our past alive today.

Below you can find a few memorable moments shared by some of our community's most vivid storytellers!

A Bad Cough

This story comes from another local historian, Clifford M. Harrison, so I thank him for that. Farmers, if nothing else, are inventive and self-reliant. Most of the pioneers of this area were not farmers before they got here, but few lasted long if they didn’t quickly become one.

One winter, back in the 1920s, when Charlie Lyons was doing his chores, he noticed that one of his cows had a piece of turnip stuck in her throat. It was lodged just past her windpipe, so she could still breathe, but that piece of turnip was stuck so tight it made the cow gag and cough.

Charlie was worried about the cow so he hurried up with his chores and called on his good friend Roy Whetham. He asked Roy’s advice and assistance with this problem of the ailing cow. Roy rubbed his chin and tried to figure what to do and he reasoned, “If this was a child you’d just give them a good whack on the back and that would solve the problem!” So Charlie took the idea a step further.

He suggested that instead of using a hand to apply the whack on the back of the cow, they’d employ a sledge hammer. But in order not to injure the cow, a plank was to be placed over the cow’s back to spread out the blow. Sounded like not a bad idea, but the men were still not totally sure it would work.

As they watched the animal continue to suffer, their minds turned to summoning a vet for help. However, it was almost midnight and it was getting a little late to be calling the vet. That’s when Charlie said, “Just for the hell of it, why don’t we try the plank and sledgehammer idea?” Roy agreed. Charlie held the plank in one arm up against the cow’s back and with the other arm he held the tail. Roy squared himself behind the cow and prepared to strike the blow with the sledgehammer. The two men figured that the best time to strike the blow would be just when the cow was ready to let out a big cough.

Their timing was perfect. The cow started coughing, Roy let fly with the sledge and that chunk of turnip flew out of the cow like a rocket! And just like that, the Minto cow with the bad cough was as good as new.

– adapted from Campbell Cork’s contribution to the Treasures of Minto Story Telling Event (May 24, 2013)

The Death of Tom Burns

It was a wintery December 18, 1905, just one week before Christmas, when Tom Burns of Palmerston died. Tom was the manager of the Palace Livery Stable in Palmerston where he tended many of the Town’s horses. He was a very popular man in town and, unsurprisingly, always fond of conversation. He’d served for several years on Town Council and even served a term as Mayor. He was active in the Orange Lodge and the local curling club. In other words, he was a real community man. Barely into his 40s, Tom was also the father of six children. That particular night, Tom went home for dinner, but he returned to work in the darkness of a wintery evening.

These were the early years of electricity. It had only been about five years since Palmerston had begun operating its own electrical system and municipal electrical systems of the day were notoriously unreliable and often in poor repair.

But Tom did not rely on electricity to light his workplace in the stable; instead he used a coal oil lamp, suspended on a wire which ran the length of the stable. This was his own invention. And it meant that Tom could just push his coal oil lamp along as he went to light where he was working.

But on this particular night, when he reached up to hang his lantern on the wire, it turned out to be his last act in life. He dropped like a stone into the straw and tried weakly to rise, but fell back down, never to get up again. The overhead wire from which Tom hung his lantern each night was in no way connected to an electrical wire, but the suspicion of the coroner was that Tom had indeed been electrocuted. Somehow the wire from which Tom hung his lantern had rubbed up against an exposed electrical wire and resulted in his untimely death.

An inquest attached no blame to the Town for operating a faulty electrical system, which wouldn’t happen today: municipalities have deep pockets, everybody knows that. In any case, a friend of Tom’s, William King, was outraged that the widow wound up getting nothing from all this and he launched a lawsuit on her behalf claiming ten thousand dollars. And that was a lot of money in 1905!

The jury wound up recommending that the Burns family receive five thousand dollars – which, still, was more than the usual settlement of those days. Though I’m sure the money was a poor replacement for her husband, it did give Tom’s widow a good chance of raising her children in some comfort.

– adapted from Campbell Cork’s contribution to the Treasures of Minto Story Telling Event (May 24, 2013)

Description of Harriston in 1876

A flourishing village in the township of Minto. It is one of the main stations of the Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway. It contains flouring, shingle, planing and steam saw mills, woolen and cabinet factories, a foundry and brick yard, Presbyterian, Wesleyan and Episcopal churches.

Distance from
Clifford: 7 miles
Walkerton: 25 miles
Guelph: 40 miles

Mail daily.

Population about 500

Harriston has a bright prospect before it, situated as it is in the centre of a rich and fertile agricultural district. Its public and private buildings compare favourably with those of older towns, and during the present season a splendid three-storey brick building with mansard roof has been erected by Alexander Meiklejohn, Esq. The building contains two stores, one 80' x 26', and the other 45' x 26'; these each have basements. The entire building is an ornament to the village.

The principal manufacturing establishments are the Harriston Agricultural Works, established in 1869, by R.G. Lambert, proprietor. The main building is 50' x 42', moulding shop 24' x 36', blacksmith and tin shops 20' x 30' each. Steam power is used and ten hands are employed, turning out stoves, agricultural furnaces, cultivators, ploughs, straw cutters, turnip cutters, fanning mills, turnip scufflers, gang plows, etc.

Silas Welte, cabinet and chair manufacturer, uses an engine of 16 horse power, and employs six hands in the manufacture of every description of furniture. The works were established in 1869. The building is a two-storey frame, 20' x 66'. In connection with the factory there is a planing mill.

J.D. McEachern established in 1869 a woolen factory, two stories high, 24' x 75', and a shingle factory, 52' x 34'. He employs six hands and steam power; manufactures woolen cloths, knitted goods and shingles. The shingle factory has a capacity of 200 bunches per week.

Dowling & Lighton are largely engaged in the manufacture of sash, blind, doors, mouldings, planed lumber etc.

The Champion Works, B. Mitchell, proprietor, established in 1871, are built of wood, 40' x 72'. Steam power to the extent of twenty-horse and ten hands are employed in the manufacture of wood sawing machines, ploughs, harrows, horse rakes, reapers and mowers, pumps, farm gates, bob sleighs, etc.

Faith, Luck, and Divine Protection

In Sept 14, 1943, we were assigned to the same plane that we had used the night before. The ground crew assured us that the electrical problem had been fixed and we should have no problems with releasing the bombs.

When we bombed the German troop convoy on the road near Baptiste, again we were carrying eighteen 250-pound bombs. Part way across the Mediterranean Sea we ran into a very heavy electrical storm. Most of the planes dropped their bombs in the sea and returned to base. However, we took a more westerly course and succeeded in finding the target. The storm had passed and in the target area we could see the target clearly. We made two bombing runs over the target and, except for the usual fireworks, everything went well.

After the second run, the bomb aimer reported that we still had one bomb on board. It was hung up, same as before. We would have to carry it home with us.

On the way home, again, we ran into a storm which seemed to have travelled south east and completely blocked our route. We tried to climb above the clouds but found they were too high. The lightning and air turbulence was too hard on the plane. While over the sea we could fly below the clouds, although the visibility was zero.

When we reached the African coast we had to climb up into the storm in order to get over the mountains which lay between our aerodrome and us. At 14 000 feet we did get above most of the clouds and the navigator was able to get some star shots which enabled us to locate our position. We had no instruments back then; we were forced to use the stars.

When the navigator said we should be over the aerodrome, I tried to make radio contact. There was no response. We tried the wireless set and again there was no response. Below us was a solid cloud and no way down without the risk of hitting a mountain. For nearly an hour we circled and continually called on the radio. It seemed our only choice was to circle until we ran out of fuel and then jump.

I gave the order to prepare to abandon the aircraft. The bomber handed me my parachute and I snapped it on the harness. It was the first and only time I ever put it on.

As if by magic, a small hole opened up in the cloud and I could see one bright light on the ground. I closed the throttle and I dived through that hole. The plane was in a steep dive. Suddenly, the hole disappeared and we had to revert to instrument flying. Almost simultaneously the base radio operator made contact with us. We were still over the aerodrome and they were able to direct us down.

When we broke out of the clouds we were less than five hundred feet from the ground. As soon as I saw the runway I decided to land and completely forgot our hang up in the bomb bay. Wheels down, flaps down, straight in, the navigator’s log showed we had been airborne for seven hours and twenty minutes to do a trip which should have taken six hours.

When we taxied to our parking place both the CO and the padre were there. The padre had a cigarette and a shot of rum for each of us. I think they were about to write us off. Later he told me that “We were either gonna drink with you or to you.” But that miraculous hole in the clouds saved our lives.

– adapted from Mayor George Bridge’s recitation of his father’s memoirs at the Treasures of Minto Story Telling Event (May 24, 2013)

Ringing the Dog

Up in Clifford, during the storm of 1954, there was a Wightman telephone lineman. His name was Clayton Newton and he worked for Wightman for over 40 years. Clayton often told many stories about his years with the telephone company, including the one about the Clifford telephone that rang the dog.

It was the 1950s, before the time of dial up, and those, of course, were the days when there was an operator who put through the calls. One day, Clayton received a call from a local farm complaining that their telephone was working properly except for one thing: it wouldn’t ring. And the funny part, the farm lady explained, was that she had discovered that anytime somebody tried to call her, even though her phone would not ring, her dog would let out a terrible howl.

So, in all his years, Clayton said he’d never heard of anything even a little bit like this, so out he went to have a look for himself. And he was really scratching his head when the dog gave out a big howl and the woman went over to the phone to answer it and, sure enough, someone was there. So Clayton figured he’d go out and see what was happening with the dog.

By the time he got out there, the dog was back to lying down and trying to get back to sleep. But what Clayton noticed was that the dog’s chain was attached to the telephone ground wire and the ground wire was broken. That meant that every time a call came in, instead of the power going to ringing the telephone, the electricity travelled down the ground wire and through the poor unsuspecting dog. And that, Clayton later explained to the woman, was almost 110 volts, or the same as putting your finger in a light socket: not very nice for the dog.

The mystery was solved and the dog was saved, but you can well imagine that that dog had the situation figured out well before Clayton or the lady of the house. The dog knew that incoming calls were bad news and I’m sure that each day as that dog got put on his chain he silently said a prayer like, “Please no calls today!”

– adapted from Campbell Cork’s contribution to the Treasures of Minto Story Telling Event (May 24, 2013)

Township of Minto History

Incorporated on January 5, 1857 through By-Law 16, the County of Wellington separated Minto from Arthur Twp. The first Reeve was Archibald Harrison and the first Clerk was William Yeo.

The township was named after Sir Gilbert Elliot Murray Kynynmound, the 2nd Earl of Minto, Viscount of Melgund. He lived in the village of Minto in the valley of Teviotdale in Roxboroughshire, Scotland. Sir Gilbert's descendent, the 4th Earl of Minto, later became the Governor General of Canada from 1894 to 1904.

Bordered by Grey, Bruce, Huron and Perth counties, the township encompasses 72, 587 acres and is crossed by two rivers: the Saugeen and the Maitland.

Minto was first settled in 1853, with the first land patent granted to Augustus C. Fyfe for lots 22 & 23 of the 15th concession. A land sale was held in Elora, Sept 10-11, 1854. Costing $1.50 per acre, all of the Minto land sold within two days. Over 200 of these lots changed hands within 5 years of the original sale.

The Census of 1861 lists a population of 2341 people. One half were Canadian born, 540 were Scottish, 351 were Irish, 220 were from England and Wales, and a handful were from Germany and the United States. By 1871 the population had doubled. The main increases were to Canadian born and Scottish numbers. The present population is approximately 8000.

In 1999 the Township of Minto was amalgamated with Harriston, Clifford and Palmerston and became the Town of Minto.

In 1879 plans were made to annex and form a new county. It was to include Minto and Maryborough townships from Wellington County, Mornington, Elma, Wallace and Listowel from Perth County and Grey, Howick and Turnbury from Huron County. Listowel, Palmerston and Harriston were all vying for the importance of being the county seat. Each was determined to undermine the others' progress if they couldn't receive the advantage. Their bickering and delaying ruined the entire scheme.

Minto's relatively late development was due to its remoteness from Guelph and other population centres, as well as the consequent difficulty of access and transportation. There were simply no roads and no navigable rivers.

After the land was surveyed in 1853, British North American Laws began to apply to the township. For each 100 acre purchase, two acres must be cleared each year. Another law stated that if a man would benefit from the use of a road in his area, he would have to donate a specific amount of physical labour to its upkeep. The days required were dependent on the assessed value of his holdings. For $600 worth of property owned, the man would have to donate two days. If he was assessed at $1800, five days were required of him, with one additional day for every $600 after that.

The Wash Day Recipe

In the 1930s and 40s, electric-powered clothes washers started arriving in many Ontario homes. Advertisements in local newspapers heralded them as ‘wife-savers.’ They showed pictures of unharried housewives leaning up against their gleaming, white-enameled Westinghouse, or Eaton or Kelvinator washing machine, smiling benevolently, while inside the machine a thirty pound load of dirty laundry was effortlessly swirling its brains out in a sudsy bath of cleaning power. That shiny new electric appliance promised a life of leisure for the modern housewife. Housework would be done in a jiffy, she’d be able to sleep in until noon and still get her washing done without so much as raising a sweat.

Frances Ray of Harriston never forgot the good old, hard days of clothes washing on her Minto farm and she always appreciated the ease of her automatic clothes washer. So when she moved into town from the farm, above her automatic washer in her new home in Harriston hung the following little recipe for washing clothes, as penned by an anonymous Ontario pioneer woman:

1. Build a fire in the backyard to heat a kettle of rainwater.

2. Set tubs so smoke will not blow in your eyes if the wind is pert.

3. Shave a whole cake of lye soap into the boiling water.

4. Sort things. Make three piles: one pile white, one pile coloured, and one pile work britches and rags.

5. Stir some flour into the cold water to smooth and thin down the boiling water.

6. Rub dirty spots on a board, scrub hard, then boil. Rub coloureds, but don’t boil, just rinse and starch.

7. Spread tea towels on the grass to dry.

8. Take the white things out of the kettle with a broomstick handle, then rinse and starch.

9. Hang old rags on the fence to dry.

10. Pour rinse water on the flowerbed.

11. Scrub the porch with the hot soapy water.

12. Turn tubs upside down to drain.

13. Go put on a clean dress, smooth hair with side combs, brew a cup of tea, sit and rest and rock a spell, and count your blessings.

– adapted from Campbell Cork’s contribution to the Treasures of Minto Story Telling Event (May 24, 2013)