James McQueen 1798-1882


James was born 19 March 1798 to Alexander McQueen and Jean Mitchell in Kilmadock by Doune, Perthshire Scotland

This was a tumultuous time in Europe and North America. France was experiencing the aftermath of the Revolution followed by the Napoleonic Wars. Great Britain was engaged in these wars at home and abroad. The United States had just revolted against Britain and was busily expanding its territory including the War of 1812.

Scotland was experiencing the infamous Lowland Clearances causing widespread displacement, migration to the cities, poverty and misery. By 1819, Scotland had sunk into a depression in spite of many advancements in transportation including extensive road building and canal construction.  The economy was transitioning from an agricultural base to an industrial one resulting in the working class beginning to demand political reform.

James received a public school education and was then apprenticed as a blacksmith in Doune. He may have escaped some of the unemployment initially but conditions ultimately led him to make the decision to leave Scotland.

Scotland was building the Union Canal. James may have apprenticed working on this canal. Possibly this would have given him experience which he later applied when he reached Canada.  The canal opened in 1822 but in 1821 James petitioned the Glasgow Wrights Society for help in emigrating to Upper Canada as follows:  

“Your Petitioners have for a considerable length of time suffered many hardships for want of employment and when employed the price given for our labour is far from being adequit(sic) for the support of ourselves and families”

His petition must have been approved. Soon after, on May 4, 1822  in Gargunnock Stirling Scotland, he married Ellen McFarlane, daughter of Alexander McFarlane and Anne Agnes Johnstoune and granddaughter of Malcolm McFarlane.  On May 7, they said their farewells to family and friends and set sail for Canada. Later, his obituary  states that it was “a stormy and lengthy crossing”. After landing in Montreal, James earned a few hundred dollars, learned about the geography of Canada, and then made his way to St. Catherines to work for the contracts for the Welland Canal.


Map Welland Canal CDN Canal Society


Lockport lock 1825 re James

Lock at St. Catherines

Lock at St. Catherines

 Image from Niagara Falls Public Library

He was considered an excellent worker and was paid the highest wages going. He was able to purchase a small farm of 100 acres which he supplemented by working as a blacksmith. But James was also working very hard, often carrying grist on his back to the mill 12 miles away.

Their daughter Agnes was born Feb. 3 1823 in Lockport New York. Son Alexander arrives in 1825, followed by daughter Jane in 1826, then 2 sets of twin boys – John and Malcolm in 1827 and James and Thomas in 1829. How Ellen coped with so many small children and babies in fairly primitive pioneer circumstances can only be surmised. It must have been very difficult for her.

In 1828, he petitioned for 200 acres of land in Esquesing Twp.  He was required to submit supporting documentation such as certificates from a local magistrate confirming his age, good character, loyalty and identity. The petitioner had to pay a small fee for processing the petition up to the point of granting the land.

The records of the land granting process focused on allocation of lots, a survey of the land, clearing and cultivating a certain acreage and erecting a dwelling of minimum size. In 1829 he was granted the deed  to his land. Three years later daughter Janet was born.

The family remains in Esquesing until 1832. James then sells the property, and moves to the Gore of Toronto. The family increases once again, the last 2 children being daughter Mary arriving in 1834 and son Robert in 1835. The family lives at Concession 8 Lot 3 for 10 years. During this time, James becomes an acquaintance of William Lyon McKenzie the leader of the Reformers in the 1837 Rebellion against the Family Compact in Toronto, men who were considered corrupt and unjust. The rebels were fighting for responsible government which ultimately was achieved in 1840 and eventually led to the British North America Act that was the basis for the creation of the Dominion of Canada.

James was arrested as a rebel and jailed overnight for hiding McKenzie during the Rebellion but fortunately he was released, because many of the men involved in the Rebellion were sent to Britain’s penal colonies in Australia and some were publicly hanged. James had to prove that he was a loyal citizen and not one of the rebels.  Many years later, Wm. Lyon McKenzie King, McKenzie’s grandson and Prime Minister of Canada, wrote a letter to Robert McQueen, son of James, thanking him for a letter recounting the relationship of the two men.

Around 1846, he sells this farm and purchases 500 acres in Pilkington (near Elora) on a 5 year credit. By now, his sons were old enough to help him. Together they cleared the land, built a house and barn, and put in a small crop before winter set in. The family named the farm Blythewood.

Even though James continued to farm, he also continued his work as a blacksmith. In 1840, the 2nd Brock monument was severely damaged caused by a gunpowder explosion by a miscreant who saw the structure as a hated symbol of British domination. The community was outraged and soon responded by committing to build a third monument. James created the ironwork for the new monument.


Brock Monument today

Brock Monument today


From 1853 – 1859, James serves first as the deputy-reeve and then reeve of Pilkington. Also in early 1853, he is a founding member of the Beverly Agricultural Fair, making several motions of nominations for the officers and directors of the association. In October of that year, the first fair was held for what was to become a very popular and highly successful fair, eventually having close to 3000 entries and 10,000 attendees. James remained closely connected to the fair. By 1880, son Thomas was a director who went on to become president in 1887.

In 1853, Upper Canada takes an agricultural census of which James McQueen’s information was one of a very few that has survived. The following excerpts are from a series of questions on that census.

Under what circumstances did you emigrate?  Answer – “necessity drove me out”

What means had you on your arrival in Canada?      Answer – ”not a Brock copper” 

(a copper coin, worth about a farthing, that circulated in Canada after the War of 1812 until stopped by law because an influx of American counterfeit coins rendered them worthless.)

 He goes on to say that he purchased his land in Pilkington that was initially worth $4 per acre and was now worth $7 per acre. He had 500 acres, 140 of which were cleared and worth ₤2000.  He owned 16 head of cattle, 2 horses, 6 oxen, 12 sheep, and 13 pigs. He also planted wheat, oats and potatoes.

This census also asked for ‘General Remarks’. Here in his own words and handwriting, he writes:

Since I came to Canada, I have seen many ups and downs, but my whole experience has proved to me that steady perseverance and untiring industry are the two greatest essentials to success. This is the poor man’s country: and the settler has only to work to insure prosperity. Money is worth having, but a man can get along without it if he will. Labor is a cash article, and a good strong arm is worth more than a log house, in nine cases out of ten, if a man knows how to use it.  I did very well as blacksmith at the building of the Brock Monument, so well that although it does not become one to boast of it, I am now reeve of the Township of Pilkington – but plodding, go ahead, never give in, hard labor has been my principal capital. I have raised a large family, and I find that the “olive branches” are the best timber to put spokes in the wheel.

In July of 1882, sons James and Robert enter the family farm in a competition. The following is the result excerpted from the Sessional papers – Legislature of the Province of Ontario, Volume 2.


Having been appointed judges of the farms entered for competition in No. 3 Division, and having received certain instructions to guide us in making the awards, we at once arranged to begin the work entrusted to us. The following are the instructions we received, and which we have, to the best of our ability, endeavoured to carry out :—

  1. The competing farm to be not less than one hundred acres, two-thirds of which most be under cultivation.
  2. The nature of the farming, whether mixed, dairy, or any other mode, to be the most suitable under conditions affected by local circumstances.
  3. The proper position of the buildings in relation to the whole farm.
  4. The attention paid to the preservation of timber and shelter by planting of trees.
  5. The condition of any private roads.
  6. The character, sufficiency and condition of fences, and the manner in which the farm is subdivided into fields.
  7. Improvements by removal of obstacles to cultivation, including drainage.
  8. General condition of buildings, including dwelling-house, and their adaptability to the wants of the farm and family.
  9. The management, character, suitability, condition and number of live stock kept.
  10. The number, condition and suitability of implements and machinery.
  11. State of the garden and orchard.
  12. Management of farm yard manure.
  13. The cultivation of crops to embrace manuring, clearing, produce per acre in relation to management, and character of soil and climate.
  14. General order, economy and water supply.
  15. Cost of production and relative profits.

County Of Wellington

On the morning of the 3rd of July we met in Guelph, for the purpose of commencing the inspection of farms. As you are aware, one of your judges being a resident of the County of Wellington, which is one of the counties in this year’s group, it was thought to be advisable to have a third judge appointed to assist in the work to be done in that county. Accordingly J. P. Phin, Esq., of Waterloo, having been named as third judge and agreeing to act, we began our duties by first visiting the farm of Walter Sorby, Esq. We were driven to this as well as to the other farms in Wellington, by Thomas Goudy, Esq., the President of the South Riding of Wellington Agricultural Society.

 Blythewood—The Farm of J. & R. McQueen, Pilkington.

Our next move was to Fergus, where we stayed over night. Making an early start the following morning, we drove by the way of Elora and Salem to the farm of the Messrs. McQueen, in Pilkington. This farm is more directly under the management of Mr. Robert McQueen, the other member of the firm working a farm on the Guelph and Elora road. Blythewood is situated one mile and a half from Salem, and, as seen from the road, is a fine looking, showy farm—-the buildings and surroundings being particularly attractive. These gentlemen having succeeded in building a homestead in every way suitable for the purpose required, and of a style of architecture and general arrangement pleasing to look at, and in marked contrast to many which are to be seen where saving of money was evidently not the leading consideration in their construction. There are few farmers but what would be well repaid, when contemplating the erection a new homestead, if they spent a few days in inspecting the best models in their own section of country.

This farm comprises 200 acres, of which 155 are cultivated; 30 acres unculled bush; the balance partly cleared and broken land. The soil may be termed a rather light loam, with a porous sub-soil under-lying most of the farm.

The acreage of crops this year is: fall wheat, 12 acres; spring wheat, 8 acres; barley, 14 acres (Mr. McQueen informed us that he had 45 bushels of barley to the acre last year); oats, 18 acres; hay, 30 acres; turnips, 11 acres (these at the time of our visit had been somewhat injured with the fly, a portion requiring to be sown the second time); 2 acres long red mangolds; potatoes grown for home use ; balance pasture.

The system of cropping is as follows : Fall wheat, usually on summer fallow, occasionally on pea land manured ; spring wheat, after turnips—not much, however, has been grown for some years past; barley, after peas and turnips; peas, from sod ploughed in the spring with the jointer plough. A common practice is to plough up sod for peas, follow with barley or spring wheat, then take two crops of oats; summer fallow and and manure heavily for fall wheat, followed by turnips without manure, excepting 250 lbs. of salt and plaster to the acre. Mr. McQueen has found this plan followed with good results. Generally an extra good crop of wheat, with apparently no weakening of the turnip crop, as compared with the usual plan of putting manure directly on for the turnips.

The chief feature on this farm is the splendid herd of Durhams. It is needless to go into any lengthened description of the stock, for there is not a farmer in Ontario, who has been in the habit of attending any of the large central fairs or the Provincial shows, who has not had many opportunities of seeing the Messrs. McQueens’ cattle, having been for many years among the most extensive and successful exhibitors in Canada. The bull now at the head of this herd is the Duke of Athol [4962], bred by Win. Douglass, of Onondaga, and is descended from the celebrated New York Mills Herd. This bull, in 1880, took the first prize in his class at the Provincial Exhibition, and for two years took the Sweepstakes at the Guelph Central as the best bull of any age or breed.

To give an idea of the excellence of the cattle kept on this farm, and the style of feeding carried out, we may mention that six fat cattle were sold last Christmas for $800, four of these having taken the $100 gold medal at Toronto last fall.

Being such successful stockmen, it may not be amiss to briefly describe the system of feeding practised at this establishment. In raising calves they are always allowed to suck, and are usually weaned at seven or eight months old—a particularly favoured animal sometimes being left with the cow longer. They are never allowed to run with the cows, but are kept in and turned with the cows at stated times in the day. At this time they are supplied with all the green fodder, bran, and chopped oats they can eat; boiled flax seed is also fed freely with the cut stuff. A good deal of importance is attached to keeping the calves always fat, considering that not only do you get finer symmetry, but that the cattle are always easier kept in condition afterwards if they are never allowed to lose their calves flesh. In holding this view it is bearing out what every first-class stockman knows, and what a great many of our otherwise good farmers do not by any means practice.

The time they like to have the calves come is about December; the young bulls are then well developed by next season and take the market readily. The calves are always allowed to run loose the first season, and as already said liberally fed.

Cows are fed turnips, hay, and chaff, but very little meal till after calving—the object aimed at being to keep them in a thriving, healthy condition. Straw and hay are fed uncut, and turnips whole to all cattle that can break them. We may here remark that this plan of feeding straw and hay uncut is an exception to the general rule as carried out on those farms where stock raising and feeding is made a specialty, and there is no doubt whatever that where it is desirable that the land shall carry a large quantity of stock, this can only be done where all the fodder is passed through a chaff-cutter. In regard to cutting turnips there is plenty of room for difference of opinion, and while on a large farm where many roots are grown it entails a vast amount of labour, it is very questionable if a healthy animal with a good set of teeth at all appreciates the kindness; and certainly there is no question of economy to be considered in this case, except the economy of saving the labour if it is unnecessary to perform it. Of course we are aware that some breeders of high priced and fancy cattle use the argument that they do not want to have the teeth of their high priced cows worn if extra manual labour will save them. But is not this running it just a little too fine?

Three pairs of horses are kept. One pair of these are light, well-bred animals, and are used as drivers as well as for light work. In sheep not much is done, a small flock of twenty Leicester ewes being about the average.

The buildings include a large bank-barn with straw-house 92 by 54 ft., with roothouse and stables under for forty cattle and six horses—these are paved with cedar blocks, and are in every way well finished oft’. The other buildings include sheep-house, pumphouse, pig-pens, etc. The dwelling-house is a nice looking, well finished stone building. The orchard not large, but the trees healthy looking and well pruned and the rough bark scraped off. The trees are mostly apple, with a few cherries on which no black knot was visible. Vegetable garden in good shape. Ornamental cedar hedge in front of the house, with flower beds and quite a number of evergreens planted somewhat tastefully for ornament, tended to make it a pleasant looking and cheerful residence.

The front of the farm has a board fence running the whole extent; the other fences cedar rail. A private road runs from front to rear of the farm—this from the road to the buildings is 66 ft. wide, and from the buildings to the back of farm 45 ft.

Trees are planted along the front of the farm and on the side of the private road. The water supply is from a well at the buildings and a spring which never fails. This is near the private road, and is carried into a trough. This makes an excellent watering place.

The general impressions we formed of Messrs. McQueen’s management was that it had a tendency to make stock-raising a specialty, somewhat to the neglect of other departments of the farm ; for while their herd of Durhams gave evidence of careful breeding and good management, the buildings in every respect suitable and well arranged— their well known success as breeders being a guarantee of their knowledge of that department of farm management—yet we cannot speak highly of the general appearance of the fields. Too many thistles, and altogether a want of evenness and finish, always so noticeable where first-class management prevails.

As we had now finished our inspection of all the farms entered for competition in Wellington, our next move was to Guelph, and as one of your Judges was anxious to catch the 4.10 p.m. train for Hespelar, fast time had to be made, requiring ten miles and a-half an hour so as to make the connection. However, Mr. Goudy and his team of Gold Dusts were quite equal to the occasion, for on reaching the station the horses were apparently only just beginning to warm up to their work. Our work in Wellington had been made very much pleasanter than it would otherwise have been through the kindness of Mr. Goudy, who left his own extensive business to drive us round, and very fortunate we were in having such an agreeable companion.

John I. Hobson,
J. P. Bull,
James P. Phin.

Unfortunately, the farm did not win a prize in the competition in spite of the many complimentary words by the judges.

Helen (Ellen) McQueen headstone photo courtesy Susan Binsted

Helen (Ellen) McQueen headstone photo courtesy Susan Binsted

In 1867, James wife, Ellen, dies.

He survives her by 15 years, passing away on September 29th 1882 at the home of his daughter, Mary McQueen Binney, wife of James Binney, in Salem. He was 84 years of age. Cause of death was enteritis. He was survived by all his children – Agnes Allan (David), Alexander (Mary Anne Bouchard), Jane Wright (James), John (Janet Sim), Malcolm (Elizabeth Falconer), James (Annie Elizabeth McDonald), Thomas (Ann Allan), Janet Short(James), Mary Binney (James), Robert (Elizabeth Kernaghan). He is buried in Elora Municipal Cemetery.

His obituary from the October 5th  1882 Elora Express concluded as follows:

James McQueen was an honest man, and his very heart stirred to its centre when he heard or witnessed a mean or cowardly act. The largest number in attendance at his funeral on Monday last certified the place he had in the heart of those amongst whom he lived for 35 years.  The deceased was a member of Knox Church.