Pioneers in Canada




Robert Alway, senior, had been a tenant of Edwards Farm, from 1779, with 'Squire' Hardwicke his landlord.  When he died in 1792, his widow Anne and his son Robert, junior, age 34, continued with the tenancy and no doubt prospered through the Napoleonic war years. But by 1815 Robert, junior, then 57 and with a son Robert (the third) age 25, perhaps sensing depression ahead, set out from Bristol for Canada. Together with Joseph (17), George (15) and Amelia (6), they settled just outside a small early town of Beachville, in what was then known as Canada West.  Now we know it as that part of Ontario which lies between Lakes Huron and Erie, with London at its centre - though there was no settlement at London until 1826, and even Toronto in 1815 was no more than a small town called York (or 'Muddy York).  When old enough, Joseph and George established their own farms. young Robert was active in other ways as well, first as a land agent ; later as a Member of Parliament, elected on the Reform ticket in 1832 and again in 1836.  For a while, his father would have kept the farm going during his absences, but later on, with failing health, the old man went to live with his daughter Amelia, who had married Col Abraham Backhouse, a United Empire Loyalist. He died in Malahide in 1836, age 78. The Reform party was supported by the farming community, who found little in favour of the Administration, with its 'Family Compact' of nepotism, and lack of support for agriculture. Among their grievances: were the absence of a secret ballot, the many disadvantages suffered nonconformists, and, especially, the allocation of one seventh of all to the Anglican Church, to await rising land prices and a subsequent to finance the building of new churches. The Reform party failed to influence the Administration, and in 1837 its frustrated and impatient leader, McKenzie, lead an armed but poorly planned rebellion, which was easily put down. Hangings, imprisonment and deportations, followed; Robert Alway had taken no part in the rebellion, but in 1839 anticipating arrest, fled to Texas with his wife and seven children. He intended to start business operations in this newly opening territory fate stepped in; he died of yellow fever in the following year.

While a land agent, Robert bought 200 acres of land in Missouri township, very fertile but uncleared and therefore less expensive than land round Beachville. His intention was to sell this land later to his youngest aunt Hester, who had married an elderly widower Thomas Bedggood, and was busy bringing up a young family in Tytherington.  Her husband died in 1818, and by 1835 the children knew enough about farming to risk survival in Canada. They set sail (we know nothing of their journey) and on October 1st 1835, the 200 acres at Nissouri were legally transferred to Mrs Hester Bedggood.  Her elder son Thomas was then age 23 and between them - mother, two sons and four girls, all born in Tytherington - they built themselves a log cabin and cleared the eastern 100 acres.

Two years later, Thomas married Marilla Finch, grand-daughter of a veteran United Empire Loyalist, who had fought in the King's Regiment against the Revolutionists in 1776-9 and, having to leave his home in New York State, became the first Baptist Minister in Upper Canada. Thomas and Marilla took over the western 100 acres of his mother's land, set up home there and reared eleven children. The youngest, Marilla Bedggood, died as recently as 1965 aged 101, a remarkable link with the early pioneers. Her father, Thomas, had died exactly 100 years before, of typhoid.

The Montreal Gazette in 1836 recounted the details of a bizarre accident. A young girl had been visiting her ailing uncle. Having hired a wagon and team, and a boy to drive her the 30 miles home, she was overtaken by a severe thunderstorm. Sitting in a chair on the wagon, with an umbrella to shelter her from the rain, she was struck by lightning, which killed her and the team of horses but left the boy unharmed. The girl was one of Hester's daughters from Nissouri, arrived from England only the previous year, and the uncle she had visited was Robert Alway, in his retirement at Malahide.

After the abortive rebellion, supporters of the Reform party continued to suffer severe harassment, so much so that several families sold the farms they had laboriously pioneered and moved further west, to Lobo, an area scarcely surveyed and comparatively empty. George and Joseph Alway moved to Lobo in 1838 or 1839; George took up 100 acres and became prosperous enough to build for himself a large brick house which he somewhat ostentatiously (or perhaps nostalgically?) named `Tytherington Hall'. A photograph of it as it stands today shows that it bears a striking resemblance to the Vicarage in Tytherington, which his aunt had seen rebuilt in a late Georgian style in 1818-19. George died in 1879, in Tytherington Hall, having married three times and sired 19 children.

There were Baptists in Tytherington in the early 1800s and a Baptist Chapel was built in 1842. But there is no record of the Always or Bedggoods having nonconformist tendencies; Robert Alway senior was a churchwarden and there are memorials to Bedggoods both in the church and in the graveyard. Robert Alway in Canada was exceptional in being a Reform party M.P. yet a member of the Anglican church. But the attitude of the established church towards the farmers seems to have antagonised both Always and Bedggoods, for by 1840 both families had joined a nonconformist church; the Always were Baptists but the Bedggoods - for want of a Baptist Church anywhere near - attended and took a prominent part in the Methodist Church. Their descendants have in general remained nonconformist to this day. Mrs Doris Strawhorn was a great-granddaughter of the Thomas Bedggood who, aged 23, left Tytherington with his widowed mother to brave the unknown, and to her I (Alan Baddeley) am indebted for much information about these early settlers in Canada, culled from several years' correspondence.