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History Corner: The Robert Carter Family

Road and Rail Contractors

By Marjorie Clark

Robert Carter of Berwickshire, Scotland, was killed in a construction accident, while building a railway bed at Cocksburnspath in 1845. In 1847, his wife, Janet (née Wishart, born c.1796) Carter and the ten of her fifteen children, who survived to adulthood, emigrated to the New World. Her eldest son, James’ wife, Jean, and their little sons, James and Robert, accompanied them. After a stormy passage of six weeks on a sailing vessel, they landed in Hamilton in May 1847. They first lived a year in Hamilton, where they met William Cook. He had just received the contract for the building of the Brock Road and he encouraged them to move to Puslinch for the work. James first went to Waterdown, where he was engaged at a brick works but in 1849, the whole family came to Puslinch. They settled on lot 2, rear of concession 7, then, about three miles south of Guelph.

Janet Carter’s sons were James (c.1818-Aug. 16, 1906); Donald (Dan, C.1820-Sept. 9, 1906); John Wishart (Mar. 22, 1822-June 12, 1893); Robert (c.1825-Sept. 7, 1885); George Hume (Aug. 15, 1827-Aug. 11, 1909; and Alexander (Nov. 1, 1835-Sept. 12, 1928). She also had daughters, Jean, who married Thomas Robson and lived in Brantford; Eliza, who married Robert Hill and lived in Burlington, Iowa; Margaret, who married Thomas Todd and lived in Galt; and Mary, who married John D. McWilliams, a farmer in Puslinch.

Energy and spirit were characteristic of this family. John was reported to be an energetic and confident man. James was notable for his industry and reputed to be skilled at handling employees and enterprising in business. It is noteworthy that he was the first in the section to introduce a reaper, a machine that was the object of considerable curiosity on the part of his neighbours and the farmers of the township generally. George was said to possess a strong constitution and an indomitable will.

In the year of their arrival, John, George and Robert Carter constructed a portion or possibly, all of the Brock Road through Puslinch. Reports vary: “Aberfoyle to Guelph”, “Morriston to Guelph”, “Freelton to Guelph” and “Hamilton to Guelph”.

In 1851, James and his wife and family were in Dumfries, where he was building a railway bed.

During the following sixteen years, the Carter brothers built numerous roads, railroads and bridges in Western Ontario. These included some of the Great Western Railway near St. George, a portion of the railway between Port Huron and Detroit, the road between Oil Springs and Wyoming, portions of the Elora Road, a bridge across the Irvine River and the bridge at Conestoga In 1854, they built the first bridge over the Grand River at Main St. in Galt. They gravelled the Galt streets in 1855. In 1867, they constructed the Guelph to Erin Road.

Janet Carter accompanied her sons on many of their construction trips. They lived in rude accommodations while on these jobs – deserted dwellings, old barns – whatever could be found. Prior to taking up habitation, those temporary premises were cleaned, washed and sometimes, treated by pouring hot lye into the cracks and crevices to exterminate bedbugs.

Janet Carter died on June 8, 1854. Eventually, the brothers married and opted for a more settled life. James stayed on the original farm in Puslinch until 1854, when he moved to Guelph Twp. John married Margaret Wilson in 1860 and purchased lot 9, concession 7, Puslinch. Two of his sons became prominent veterinarians in the U.nited States. George married Annie McArthur in 1868 and farmed at “Hill End Farm”, east of Guelph.

Of the other brothers, Dan served in the American Civil War. A mason and builder, he lived for some time in Port Hope and in Guelph, later moving to New York State. Robert went to the goldfields of Australia and British Columbia but returned to carry on a grain and produce business with Alexander in Elora.

This dynamic family played an important part in the opening of Wellington Township and beyond.

Previously published in The Puslinch Pioneer, 2012.

Republished with permission of the author, Marjorie Clark.

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