Once Upon a Time: Old Timers’ Tales – marriages were not what they seemed to be

Helene Scott of Stokes Bay wrote a lot for the Bruce County Historical Society Yearbook. These “Old Timers’ Tales” are from the 1978 edition


Were marriages among the early settlers of Bruce County peaceful affairs? We’d like to think so. However, Helene Scott related that one (unnamed) couple were always quarrelling and every time they had a really serious tiff the wife would take the children, the cow and the calf, and go home to her parents.  

The next day the neighbours would see a procession coming through the clearing in the bush, headed by the patriarch, followed by his daughter, grandchildren and the cow and calf.  

The son-in-law would be gravely counselled and told he must treat his wife better. The father would then stalk by on his long way back home. This procession was repeated many times until, as they say, the couple got “adjusted”. 

Another husband (equally unnamed) was mean, cantankerous and insanely jealous. His wife tried to please him, but to no avail; she simply could not get along with him. 

The cows – fair game for an aggrieved wife? (Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, A992.022.0486, John H. Scougall)

Fed up with one stormy scene after another, one day when her husband was absent she went out and sold two cows, took the money and the children, and departed for, as they say, parts unknown. Imagine the husband’s reaction when he returned to find the bird had flown, taking not just the children, but two of his best cows. 

They called this episode “The Flight Out of Little Egypt” because it happened in Little Egypt, then on the edge of the Greenock Swamp but now a ghost town, 25 km east of Kincardine. 

The moral of these stories seems to be … lock up your cows, lest your spouse abscond with them. 

Moving from cows to horses … Old McTavish was very fond of smoking a pipe, but he was not so fond of buying tobacco. Every chance he got he would pick up someone else’s pipe and take a smoke out if it — if they had chanced to put it down where he could get it.  

One day Bob Golden, who was mending nets in the Orange Hall, decided he would cure McTavish of his bad habit. He went outside and loaded a pipe with horse manure, put a little tobacco on top, and left the pipe on the window sill. 

Soon McTavish came in for his little chat with the men working there. He spied the pipe, picked it up, lit it and took a deep draw. 

“How’s the pipe, McTavish?”, someone enquired. He replied, “This tobacco is so bad I’d say it tastes just like horse manure!” Then he dug into the bowl and sure enough, it was horse manure! If this didn’t cure McTavish of pipe snatching, it surely would make him a bit more careful when he mooched his next smoke. 

Turning finally to fish, Helene Scott told a tale about a newcomer to Stokes Bay in the early days. He decided he would make his living by fishing from a rowboat. Therefore he bought an old rowboat that had been drying out on the shore for a number of years.  

He enquired of some of the fishermen as to how he would go about fixing the boat up to make it waterproof. Since the poor man was a real greenhorn, they decided to have a bit of fun with him. They suggested he shingle the boat. And so he proceeded to buy tarpaper and shingles and set about shingling the outside of his leaky vessel.  

When the boat was finished, it was so heavy that he asked some of the men to help put it in the water. They obliged, but in a few minutes the boat filled with water and sank out of sight. This was thought to have been the only shingled boat launched at Stokes Bay—or anywhere. 


Distributed by: Robin Hilborn, Bruce County Historical Society