It’s Wayback Wednesday, sponsored by Pharmasave Huntsville!
By Linda West, photos courtesy of Linda West
Behind Madill Church, if you search the grass with the toe of your foot, you will find small squares of stone, flat to the ground, etched with the name WEST. I think there are four of them marking a section of the cemetery where early Huntsville pioneer, George West, and his family are buried.
George was born in Petrolia, Ontario in 1843. His father, Stephen, had come from Kent, England and his mother, Mary, was from Kingston, Ontario. The young George ventured north to Huntsville where he met Nancy Riness (or Rhyness, or Rhiness, or almost anything that sounds like that, as consistent spellings were not always important to the census takers).
Nancy was born in 1858 to Jessie Riness and Eunice Sweet, who were early Muskoka homesteaders. Jessie had moved to the area from Keswick, North Gwillimbury, very early, in 1851. This was just after the Robinson Treaty of 1850 which was an exchange of cash for land occupied by various Indigenous bands. Jessie would have been one of the first to claim acreage from the newly surveyed lands.
George and Nancy married in 1875 and proceeded to have 11 children. We don’t know exactly what George did to provide for his family. In 1881 he was listed on the census as a farmer, but perhaps the land was not as fertile as promised by the land granters and by the time of the next census in 1891 his category was “sawmill labourer”. About this time, lumber mills and various lumber-related industries like planing and shingle-making, were the major employers in the town. In 1901 two sons are listed as a millhand and a sawyer, but George was still identified simply as a labourer.
They lived in a log house on Main Street West which is no longer there, though I remember it. A narrow stair went up to two tandem bedrooms heated by a stove pipe that ran through both rooms. Where the stair took a turn, there was a small landing with a chemical toilet, though this was a later addition to the outdoor privy. The stove pipe came from a large cookstove in the kitchen which provided most of the heat, dried the laundry in winter, and kept the kettle simmering for tea.
As the older children grew up and left the household to form their own families, new ones came along, including my grandmother, Ivy, in 1893. Ivy was a talented seamstress who could produce wedding gowns without a pattern. She ran a store in town and was also known as an astonishingly accurate fortune teller. In 1912 she gave birth to my father, Bruce West, who became a well-known writer and a much-read columnist with The Globe and Mail. Some of his early writing, besides letters to the editor of The Forester, was for the Ski Itch, a newsletter to promote the Huntsville area as a winter recreational destination. His first published article in The Globe (as it was then known) was a report on a brawl at the town jail caused by the Rawn brothers. Much havoc ensued and the incident made the Toronto paper. For some time afterwards, in the mid-1930s, regular items appeared under the byline “Despatch from Huntsville” until the young cub reporter finally landed a full time job and a byline with his name on it.
Bruce was still in Huntsville when his grandfather, George, died in 1929. Three years earlier, George had been featured in a formal photograph titled “Group of Huntsville’s Older Well Known Citizens” in the pamphlet Huntsville’s Old Home Week, published in August 1926 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Huntsville achieving town status. George had a lean wiry frame, a large moustache, and a firm gaze into the camera.
George’s funeral was attended by John Hunt, son of Huntsville’s namesake, and George was laid to rest in the Madill Church cemetery. Nancy was laid beside him in 1939. No one knows how many of their children are buried there, but one of them was Ivy, who died in 1957.
In 1990, Bruce, and his wife, Ada, were also interred at Madill.
The cemetery adjacent to Madill Church is the final resting place for many early pioneers and Huntsville families. As it works to restore the heritage church, the Madill Church Preservation Society is collecting stories about these families to bring this history to life. If you have a story to tell about a family member now resting in Madill Church cemetery, please contact MCPS at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more Wayback Wednesday photos here.
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