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THE McARTHUR LOVE STORY

First published Wednesday September 20th, 1972 in The Equity, Shawville, Quebec, and transcribed by Elaine Kirkham. For an explanation of the source of this material, see the introduction to A Short History of McArthur's Mills.




One of the highlights of the Norway celebrations, "One Hundred Plus Five" was the unveiling of a plaque marking the spot where Neil McArthur built the very first habitation in Norway Bay in 1853.

This ceremony was performed by Mr. J. G. Larivere, Member for Pontiac, assisted by the octogenarian grandson of that pioneer builder, Mr. Lorne McArthur along with his grandson, David Nugent.

The interesting story behind the building of this early cabin appears in Chapter 8 of the "Sands of Time" by S. Wyman MacKenchnie. The storey teller was Granny Walker (nee Ann Harper) 1781-1874, whose many tales of early life in the Valley have been handed down and preserved. Her story told on that Sunday in 1853 followed an escapade by her 8 and 9 year old grandsons, Willie Walker and Archie Wright MacKechnie which was discovered accidentally by their 11 year old sister, Ann.

The authenticity of this tale is vouched for by Mr. Lorne McArthur, grandson of the romantic couple involved.

The Cuthbertsons referred to are believed to be the very first settlers in Bristol township and the ancestors of the Cutherbertson and Dods families still living in this area.

Finally it was Granny who brought the matter up. The dishes were washed and put away. Always ready and able to tell a good story Granny said, "Come out and sit on the grass, and I will tell you about the log cabin". She had been over to Cuthbertsons a couple of weeks before to help with the cooking at a barn raising. While there someone had told of the log cabin that had been recently built in the pines not far form the top of the hill that led down to the beach that was beginning to be known as Norway Bay.

"It all started", Granny began, "over in Lanark. That's where we all settled first, the Walkers and the MacKechnies, before coming to Bristol. A young fellow by the name of Neil MacArthur, who along with his father and the rest of the family had come from Glasgow, Scotland, just like your faither. He was very much in love with a neighbouring girl by the name of Ellen Naismith, and she with him. He was twenty-three and she was twenty, and so you can imagine they wanted very much to get married. But her parents would have no part of it. Young MacArthur was a fine looking, straight forward young man, but his folks didn't have much money. Ellen's parents had plans for her to marry another young man. I never heard his name, but his folks were very well-to-do. They were planning to set him up in a good business. Neil MacArthur, on the other hand, had to work in the logging shanty all winter in order to earn some money to help him carry on his farm in the summer. But he was the one Ellen was in love with. Not the one whose parents had a lot of money.

"Well anyway, Neil went off to the shanty, away up about seventy-five miles to the north west to a place called MacArthur Mills. I think his older brother was starting a lumber business there. He kissed Ellen goodbye and told her he would save his money all winter and come home in the Spring and marry her.

"And so it seems, he was hardly gone when her parents tried to talk her into marrying the other fellow, who was now doing his best to court her. Ellen sobbed and said she didn't love him, she loved only Neil. But in spite of her entreaties they set the wedding date for March 17th. I don't know if that date had any special significance for I don't think any of them were Irish, all Scotch, I think. But that was the date set.

"Early in March, Ellen learned of a group of men from near Almonte that were going up to that place to help with the sawing of the logs into lumber. She wrote a long letter to Neil and told him if he could not get home and take her away, she would be forced to marry another. She sealed the tear stained pages and managed, somehow, to get her message into the hands of one she could trust to deliver it to Neil.

"Well, by the time Neil got the letter the wedding was only three days away and he was seventy-five miles from Ellen. He drew his pay, stuffed his clothes into his packsack and set out on foot.

"Meanwhile, preparations for the wedding were well under way. Arrangements were all made with the Rev. John McMorine at Auld Kirk near Almonte to perform the ceremony, guest were invited and Ellen's mother had the wedding dress made and nearly all the baking done for a big wedding dinner. It was the night of the 16th, Ellen's mother urged her to go to bed early in order to be well rested for the morrow. Perhaps never before did so sad a bride-to-be retire to her room at the rear of the family house while the rest of the family slept at the front.

"It had been a mild March day, the snow lay deep, but quite soft and easily packed. However, Ellen was little concerned with the weather or the snow. She could only wonder if Neil ever got her message, and if he did would he get back home in time. She scarcely looked at the wedding dress hanging on the wall but got into bed only to stare at the ceiling with sleepless eyes.

"She must have lain awake for two or three hours, she could hear her father's snores in the other end of the house. Except for that, all was still. Now, what was that? It sounded like footsteps crunching in the snow outside her window. Then she heard a little "clump" on the outside wall just below. Ellen held her breath. Then a soft snow ball hit the window pane. She jumped out of bed and rushed to the window. There in the bright moonlight stood Neil! Her heart leapt and she was about to call out but restrained herself. With a little difficulty she soon got the window open. Neil whispered "Hurry". Ellen didn't require any further encouragement "Get the ladder from the woodshed", she whispered. By the time Neil had the ladder raised silently to the window's edge she was almost dressed. Hastily putting a few clothes in a carpet bag, ignoring the detested wedding dress, she dropped into Neil's waiting arms. All this took but a matter of seconds and they wasted little time after that first loving embrace. Neil had borrowed a horse and sleigh from his brother and left it outside the gate some distance away. They did not speak until they were safely in the sleigh and on their way. Once out of hearing range they had plenty to talk about.

"It was long past midnight when they knocked on Rev. McMorin's door. It took repeated raps to awaken him. Finally he opened the door, his dour face peering from beneath his night cap. As he stood there in the doorway holding a flickering candle he asked them what in the world they wanted. They told him they wanted to get married. After muttering something about why could they not come in daylight like decent folks he bade them enter. After lighting another candle and getting a better look he recognized Ellen whom he was to marry to another on the morrow. He vowed vehemently he would have nothing to do with it, declaring she would bring disgrace on her parents and grief on herself if she persisted in this mad course. He was absolutely adamant in his refusal and taking another good look at the prospective groom standing there dressed in the rough clothes of a shantyman, he ordered them out of the house and told her to go back home like a good girl.

"Once out of the minister's house and back in the sleigh, Neil asked her if she would go with him to Pakenham, a distance of about ten miles. He knew the minister there, the Reverend Alexander Mann and he was sure he would marry them. She replied she would go to the ends of the earth with him if need be.

"The sun was just coming up as they entered the little village of Pakenham and found their way to the house of Reverend Mann. After a little delay the good man was aroused and recognizing Neil, he bade them enter. No doubt he was a little mystified as to the purpose of their visit at this unseemly hour. Then again perhaps not. It didn't take Neil long to tell him they wanted to get married. The minister urged them to have breakfast first, then he would marry them. But Ellen and Neil, no doubt with visions of an irate father in hot pursuit, insisted on being married at once. So the minister obligingly roused his wife and hired girl as witnesses, performed the ceremony without delay in the little parlour near the front of the house. The minister's wife gave them a bounteous breakfast which, needless to say, was much appreciated, especially by Neil. As for Ellen the events of the past few hours had left her without much appetite. After breakfast they drive on to Sand Point, a distance of about fifteen miles, there they left his brother's horse and sleigh at the appointed stopping place and walked across the ice to Norway Bay. They found friends nearby, I do not know their name, where they stayed until the snow was gone and they had a chance to build that cabin, the very first one thereabouts and there they set up housekeeping".

Everyone was silent for awhile after Granny concluded the story. Then Ann asked, "And will they live happily ever after?" "I hope so," replied Granny.


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