Settling in Bruce County-The Letters of the Reverend William Fraser, Part 2

By: John C. Carter


The Reverend William Fraser was a man on the move.* Born in Inverness-shire, Scotland on November 29, 1808, he married his wife Janet in 1828, and they raised a family of 3 sons and 2 daughters there. In 1832, Fraser decided to emigrate westward to the Scottish settlement of Breadalbane, Glengarry County, Upper Canada. He was the pastor there of the Baptist Church for 18 years. In 1851, he decided to move again, anxious to procure land for himself and his family to farm. He toured portions of the western section of Canada West, as well as parts of the American western states, to personally view the potential of each area which he visited. His travels and observations were carefully recorded in a series of 8 letters that he wrote back to family members in Glengarry County. Fortunately, these letters were later published for public consumption in the local newspaper, the [Goderich, C.W.] Huron Signal. They appeared in editions between March 11 and April 29, 1852.* The following article deals with the move by Fraser and his family to Kincardine from Goderich in 1851. It also provides some interesting observations that he made and recorded during that year. 

Image of the Reverend William Fraser from a period postcard. Credit: Krug Collection, Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, Southampton.

Letter # 5-To Kincardine: 

The Fraser family’s initial attempt to reach Kincardine was not successful. They hired a schooner which could carry a family of 8 and 1,500 pounds of luggage, paying a fee of $3.00. They boarded the vessel at Goderich and their party got half way there before being becalmed. Subsequently the calm turned into a furious gale, and Fraser requested that the captain return to Goderich. Their second attempt worked. Fraser recorded that the journey by water was usually made in 4-5 hours. He noted that 4-5 boats were making this trip on a regular basis, but warned that care must be taken on what boat to choose, “…as very dangerous craft might be offered.” He wrote that Goderich stood at the end of a long government road running from Toronto, which would be finished to the lake this year (1851). About the land route, Fraser said; “I could not recommend it for some time to settlers coming with luggage, as the road must not be the best for carriage, for some time to come.” Instead, he suggested taking either the road from Goderich, or the stage coach from Hamilton, in order to reach Kincardine.

He noted that the first shanty was built in Kincardine two winters previously, and now there were 6 merchants, 2 taverns, 1 forge, 3 shoe makers, 2 sawmills, a grist mill, a schoolhouse, and a number of houses, and that 1-2 potash works being built. The Penetangore River at Kincardine was deep enough for small schooners to use, but improvements were required to the harbour to enable larger schooners, boats and steamers to use. A subscription list had been opened up to raise money for this purpose, and an application was made for additional government assistance. Fraser wrote that this type of improvement “…will be a very great benefit to this settlement.” A good harbor was vital for future growth and development, and Lake Huron had precious few of these at this juncture.

Letter # 6-Notes on the Vicinity:

Fraser was an astute observer, and chronicled much of what he saw. On the matter of climate, he said that big coats were not needed in the winter in Kincardine, except for about one month. On cold days, buffalo coats were preferred. He wrote that on two days before Christmas, that the ice on Lake Huron was not yet fit for riding or fishing on, and at that juncture that there was little frost in the ground. He noted that on some days in January and February, maple syrup could be produced, and that this task began in earnest at the beginning of March. There was very light snow until the middle of January, and then for a month, enough to make good roads. From January 15 to February 15, it was generally pretty cold, but he said that for the rest of the winter it was “…singularly pleasant for work.” Winter was a particularly good time for chopping wood. When it was too cold to work in the bush, the farmer had plenty to do then with thrashing and sleighing.  Fraser suggested that north of latitude 40 that cattle with good food and proper accommodations, could be kept in a good state during the entire winter. He added that cold sleet and rain was worse for cattle than snow, and that they should be housed in good sheds with plenty of feed. In the summer months, Fraser said that men could work constantly near the lake, concluding that; “…the coolness of our atmosphere leaves our crops a little later, but this is rather a profit as it takes more time to fill well, so our wheat is very heavy.” Handsome profits were to be expected from this type of yield.

Unknown artist’s interpretation of the first Baptist Log
Church, built in Kincardine by the Rev. William Fraser.
  Credit: Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook (1977), p. 25.

Letter #7-More Observations:

For farmers, Fraser wrote that the soil in the vicinity of Kincardine was very good, and “…perhaps will not be exceeded by any in the province.” Along Lake Huron, sand prevailed from 1/3 to 1/2 a concession and that some was clay and sand mixed, with very few stones anywhere. Limestone was burnt on the lakeshore to produce lime, and wood was always used under houses as stones were very scarce to procure for foundations.

He noted that the climate was blessed with pure air, plenty of water, and free of extremes of heat and cold. He deemed that this reduced ague, and proudly proclaimed that the local climate “…is likely to continue as one of the most healthy parts of the world.” In the settlement of 1,500, only one death had been recorded since July 18. This temperate climate and the proximity of farmland to Lake Huron resulted in keeping frosts off about a month longer, within a few miles of it. The cold air of the lake also moderated the heat of summer. These conditions all had positive effects on crops of peas, oats, potatoes, corn and wheat, producing bountiful yields “…through a great part of the Peninsula between the Lakes.” 

The first snow of the year arrived on December 1, and Fraser was able to go up the lakeshore to preach to scattered Baptist followers who lived in the vicinity. Boats and vessels were still running free on the lake, and fall grain was looking extremely well for the harvest.   

Letter # 8-Final Observations:   

Fraser projected that wheat was likely to become the staple agricultural commodity in the area. He had planted fall wheat, and felt that it would result in a grand outcome along the lake where the soils were light. Other crops which grew well because of this factor were oats, barley, corn and potatoes. Turnips, melons, cucumbers and other garden vegetables were also good producers. In addition, he wrote that Lake Huron fisheries had “…an inexhaustible supply to the latest generation.” Salmon and trout were caught on long lines, and lake herring by gill, drag and seine nets. As a result, he predicted that; “The fishing is likely to become a business of great extent here.” The price paid for fish was $6 a barrel.

In some townships north of Goderich, new arrivals were beginning to settle. These included Colborne, Ashfield, Huron, Kincardine, Bruce and Saugeen. Surveys were yet to be completed in Bruce, Saugeen and Huron townships. Fraser indicated that; “The Long Point above the Saugeen River to the Cape, will to all appearance be allowed to remain Indian land,” as it was stony and rocky, and was deemed to be of little use for farming. He noted that at the mouth of the Saugeen, there was a fine Indian village on the north side with a Methodist mission. 

Fraser commented that there was a strongly held notion that Lake Huron “…is singularly wild,” but disagreed with this idea, saying that he believed that navigation on it was safer than any other of the Great Lakes. From his descriptions and narrative in these 4 letters, most seemed rosy for the Fraser family’s future in their new home in Bruce County.*** 

This image is the second one, which was built in 1867.
Credit: The Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, Southampton.

More About Fraser’s Life:

The Frasers first settled on a farm adjoining the town of Kincardine. To serve the local Baptist congregation, Reverend Fraser built a log church. There he held services and preached both in English and Gaelic. Soon the family moved to Lorne, and built a saw mill, and in 1854 a grist mill was added to this enterprise. Reverend Fraser continued to administer to the needs of local Baptists, and for a period was the only official nearer than Goderich, who was authorized to perform marriages. In 1855, the first Baptist church was built in Kincardine. Fraser became its minister, a position which he held until 1865. Fraser was also very active in other public service initiatives and positions. He was elected and acted as township reeve on 3 occasions, and was the local public school superintendent of Bruce County for 6 years. He was a strong advocate for free education and non-sectarian schools, and these goals were achieved in his region by 1859. In the 1860 Report of the Minister of Education, Fraser recorded that schools in his district were “…evidently making progress,” and that they were “…one of the best and greatest institutions of this, or any other civilized county.” He recorded an increase of 60% attendance in some of the schools that he visited and oversaw. He must have been very proud of his efforts for the improvement and betterment of local schooling.

His final pastoral charge was at the Tiverton Baptist Church, where he served for many years. Fraser died on August 30, 1883, and was buried in the Tiverton Cemetery. Subsequently a granite monument was erected there in his memory, which recognized him as the first and long serving pastor in Tiverton. In part, the epitaph read; “Wise for his life and for the next. He allured to brighter worlds, and led the way.”   

Baptist Mission Circle group.
Credit: The Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, Southampton.


The Reverend William Fraser’s published letters provide us with a wonderful primary resource that gives us details of the life and times of a family of early settlers, on coming to Bruce County. They constitute a rare overview for which we can thank him for. In addition, his long association with and service to the Baptist church, enterprising spirit, and selfless contributions to his locality, must be remembered. Bruce County historian, the late Norman Robertson, has rightly concluded that; “Mr. Fraser’s influence and example was wholesome and tended to setting high the standard of citizenship.” A just and fitting memorial to the Reverend William Fraser! 


*Most believe that the well known phrase “Go West Young Man,” was coined by American author and newspaper editor Horace Greeley. Although Greeley did make this statement in 1854, it is most likely properly attributed to John B.L. Soule, editor of the Terre Haute [Ia.] Express, which he made in an 1851 editorial in his newspaper. It is an apt description of the travels of the Reverend William Fraser.

**The first 4 letters describe his travels from Glengarry County, journeys to places in Canada West and several western American States, and his final decision to move to the shores of Lake Huron. The next 4 letters provide a description of Fraser’s re-location from Goderich to Kincardine, and then his eventual and subsequent life in Kincardine Township. 

***This however would unfortunately not be the case. In a postscript to his last published letter, Fraser indicated that what he had written in his letters from 1851 was now inapplicable. This he said, was due to an unusual and extraordinarily hard winter, which was exceedingly long and very cold. How quickly things had changed on the shores of Lake Huron for the Frasers and all the other residents! See also Robertson, pp. 58 & 509 for confirmation of these conditions.

Image of the memorial grave marker dedicated to the Reverend William Fraser, Tiverton Cemetery. Credit: Dorne Fitzsimmonds, Tiverton, Ont.

Bibliography/Recommended Readings:

L.N. Brown, “Kincardine Winter-1851,” Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook (1970).

Ruth Dimmick, Tiverton Baptist Church, Tiverton, Ontario 1855-1995 (Tiverton, Ont.; n.p., 1995).

William Fraser, “Bruce County,” in Report of the Minister of Education (Quebec: Thompson & Co., 1860), chapter 96.

Charlotte Gall, “Kincardine Baptist Church,” Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook (1970).

Isabelle Munro & Wanita Fletcher, Toils, Tears & Triumphs. A History of Kincardine Township (Kincardine, Ont.: Kincardine Township Historical Society, 1990). 

Norman Robertson, “Township of Kincardine,” in History of Bruce County (Toronto: William Briggs, 1906), chapter XXXII


The author wishes to thank Dorne Fitzsimmons, John Schreiter, Bill Stewart, and Deb Sturdevant for their input and assistance in the preparation of this article. Dr. John C. Carter is a frequent contributor to The Wayback Times. He can be contacted at   

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