The Diary of Thomas Tweed Higginson

Thomas Tweed Higginson, nephew of Thomas Higginson of Higginson Tower, was a keen farmer looking for new ideas, and responsible for the round barn on Highway 34. He was active in the community as a member of the school board, and from 1868 was the Assessor for the Town of Hawkesbury, property assessments being a component in setting property tax bills.
On top of that, he was the Captain of Company No. 1 of the 18th Prescott Battalion (his uniform (l) hangs in the Vankleek Hill Museum).
Thomas was first married to Mary Rachel Allison in 1857, but she unfortunately passed away in 1864. In 1869, he was married again to Margaret Owens (1860-1937).

Round barn on Highway 34, built by Thomas Tweed Higginson. Photo by Steven Smith

Together, they had 6 children: Maria Adelaide, 1871; William Arthur, 1873; George Owen, 1875; Robert Randolph, 1877; Thomas Doyle, 1881; and Jane Crawford, 1883. (Descendants of the Reverend Thomas Higginson by Thomas Boyd Higginson)
Personal diaries are our precious windows into times gone by. Depending on the author’s interests, their eyes give us glimpses into life that otherwise we would never know. Here is a week of excerpts from the 1879 diary of Thomas Tweed Higginson (1828-1903).
Higginson’s entries sometimes note thoughts and observances which can only be fully understood within context. Here we give a brief description of three such incidences  In his journal entries, Higginson mentions visible poverty such as town residents without food or clothing. The 1870s brought a serious and long depression to Canada, especially to towns and cities where manufacturing had taken hold. It meant loss of jobs in a time where there were no public safety nets.
John A. MacDonald , who campaigned in Vankleek Hill in 1878 for his election, proposed his National Policy which placed tariffs on certain goods coming into Canada from the U.S to help with this. Higginson also mentions politicians Letellier and Langevin. He is referring to a political scandal that lasted three years, and tested how Canada would be governed.
In 1876 Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie named Luc Letellier as Lieutenant Governor of Quebec. Letellier then took it upon himself to improperly dismiss the entire elected majority Conservative government of Quebec. Langevin was part of the effort to rid Quebec of Letellier who was finally dismissed in 1879.
Higginson also mentions the presence of “Indians.” The development of lumber mills along the Ottawa River required negotiation with First Nations who inhabited islands in the River. For eons they had hunted, fished and lived inland along the River, and they travelled regularly south to the St. Lawrence. Highway 34 was originally one of their pathways.
Although there is no mention in the diary of residential schools for the Indigenous population, we would be remiss not to mention that in the 1870’s, Sir Langevin and Sir John A. Macdonald were key advocates for creating residential schools that deliberately separated all school-age Indigenous children from their parents for inordinately long periods of time.
This was a concerted and brutal effort to break all ties that the children had with their Indigenous heritage, and along with that objective, to break down the traditional Indigenous family systems.
The federal residential schools officially began in 1883 and ended only in 1996. They profoundly wreaked havoc with the Indigenous culture of countless individuals, families and Indigenous Nations through “humiliation, neglect and abuse,” as described by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the United Nations in 2017.  Today, with the Truth & Reconciliation Report as a road map, Canadians and Indigenous Nations struggle to establish a new nation to nation relationship.

Crop plan for Welby Farm by Thomas Tweed Higginson

Thursday March 13, 1879

Weather blustering with snowfall not very cold. The roads are much improved. Where the cutting has been attended to teams have no difficulty.

At H. Mills [Hawkesbury Mills] am A call at Darwins. The letter from “Sammy” how the wheat market is deprefsed there only forty cents a bushel. One feels inclined to doubt the wisdom of raising wheat under such circumstances that the price at present will not pay for the cost of producing is clear. Jane is not an advocate of the go West rule.

Brot Darwin up and measured the West line of lot eleven to set up a post between him and I – the work was done on snow shoes. My first trial of cutting trees & clearing brush on shoes.

Robert and Darwin left for home evening. Robert intending a call upon Samuel Dandy.

Friday March 14, 1879

Weather much the same as yesterday mild and not a light snowfall. The large flakes looking like a full of wool.

Done some work at the Afsessmnt made on number of rolls on the lane road.

Nabor CW Brown is talking of moving to Manitoba in the spring. TS Higginson has got an offer of work in that region. There will be a great rush to settle upon the rich lands there this season.

Some talk with WH Robertson upon the cheese prospects of 79. A dull outlook.

Dinner at L. Williams. His horse stock & other stocks all in fine constitution.

At Mr Hunters till late some sheep farms in his view the way to become poor. The widows chances not good.

A call among the Indians. AW Fraser’s boys.

Saturday March 15, 1879

Weather cold and windy a good supply of drift what you may call March weather. Drew some hay from the field barn to the loft in the fore noon Henry helping.

Afsefsing pm a call at Mrs Pattee’s the new baby is doing well. Some hints on names. The mother asks to be supplied with one for her darling. I recommend Maria as the fittest which pleases the grandma.

At Mr. Wason’s a family of 13 all in one house. The prefsence of hard times. Some Glengarry items Mr. Wason is well posted out there. Knows the Wilsons & Logies well. The packages of photographs from the old Country sent by his brother Charles.

At the Village with J Warren. The trespafs of the Indians. His share of the stealing of basket timber. At J Beckhams. Br William and WH Byers there. The letter that requird a key. He gave it to Jane. Put my Roll in the wrong sleigh so came home without it

Sunday March 16, 1879

Weather cold and clear with wind & drift.

At home am read the speeches in the Commons on the Letellier case. Wm White is heard from & Langevin takes a part. The vote will be a crusher to Mackenzie.

Drove to Jno McGibbons pm got the Roll I left I his sleigh on Saturday. He & his wife are in very comfortable circumstances.

Called at James Dandy’s on the way home, brot Esther and Jane up to the Churc even. home at 7

Monday March 17, 1879

Weather cold for the season a little snow fell. The roads very fine.

Afsefsing at HVillage saw some destitute families neither food nor clothing the public are helping without any organization which is some relief.

Saw Mr. Murray at Mr. Morrows he tells a story well. His prose on the election canvafs of Mr Urquhart was superb. Also Col. Orrs troupe gave great fun. The March round Lilliput with the great drum hiding him & on with a toy drum two inches in diameter. The drill scene to the front with a little gun and the little fellow with an awful big musket.

Down to James Sprotts.

The new Tariff out it is a good thing.

Tuesday March 18, 1879

Weather fine. A heavy fog from the river in the morning. It has a curious odour.

At James Sprotts over night some reminders of old times he is not changed a whit. His brother William brot the news of Mrs. Hughs death early in the morning. She had been ailing for some time.

A call at each of the farms on the way to the Village that of Mr Lough has the best lot of cows I have seen. Sleek and fat. Though fed on straw. He complains of the farm the soil is cold and the rock too near the surface.

Made calls on the east end of Main Str. The effect of the hard times is visible every where. They seem a fritened crowd how different their condition is from a few years ago.

A young man named Lego was badly crushed on the canal by the falling of some earth yesterday. He will recover.

Home even. A ride with Henry Graham, the work that he is doing on the Beggs plow is most creditable.

Wednesday March 19, 1879

Weather fine just cold enough to be bracing. The road is thronged with teams. A large amount of grain is being ground for summer use.

Drew corn stalks and corn fodder to stable loft from loads the last for the season 58 the value of the is very great more than equal to four tons of hay to the acre. But one load of hay to the loft. Henry helping.

A couple of Indians here with a lot of baskets they are well clothed and look comfortable they belong to the Lake of Two Mountains and are Protestant.

Br Charles called here to look at Carry mare he thinks she would match his well but the price asked is too much 140 is more than she will fetch.

Cousin Henry here to dinner he says his br William is very unwell in fact has a very poor prospect of health in advance.

Special thanks to Marion MacDonald for allowing the Historical Society to make a copy of the 1879 diary and to Eleanor Sides for access to the Greenlane Tweedsmuir books.

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