from The Guide  October 4, 1877
A new era began to dawn upon the commerce of the country and instead of that staple product, wheat, being sold, as formerly, commanding only 'store pay', it now brought cash. This change attached a new and lively interest to the hitherto monotonous career of the farmers of the back townships and led to the desire for increased facilities in working their farms and transporting the produce thereof to market. The first step in this direction was the substitution of the active and intelligent horse for the slower and more obtuse ox. But they found no little difficulty in carrying out this domestic reform, their efforts in that direction being limited not only by their financial difficulties but also by the excessive demand, as compared with the supply, that existed for the quadruped referred to. The late Mr John Brown, who was noted for his enterprising and speculative turn of mind, obviated this latter difficulty by purchasing a large number of French horses in Lower Canada and disposing of them upon long credit to the farmers of Cavan, Manvers and Emily, whereby he materially assisted these hardy sons of toil in their struggles with adversity, although there was no little divergence of opinion among the farmers as to the advisability of introducing the French pony.

There need be no apology for digressing a little in relating the following characteristic anecdote.

Sir Peregrine Maitland was Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada and in 1828 was exalted to the position of Governor General of British North America. When on his way in the fall of that year to Quebec to assume the duties of his office, he was met a few miles west of Port Hope by a number of the inhabitants who escorted him into the village. When his carriage was approaching the residence of our quaint old townsman, who was best known by the name of 'Shoemaker Smith', the latter appeared in the door of his shop to view the scene, wearing his customary workday head dress, a red nightcap, which, together with his leather apron and unshaven beard, gave him such a remarkable a appearance that he attracted the attention of Sir Peregrine, who, upon learning his name, ordered the coachman to stop until he could visit the oddity, of whose eccentricities he had heard. 'Shoemaker Smith', who was one of Mackenzie's most ardent followers, acknowledged the compliment by shaking his old leather apron at the cortege and exclaiming - "Ah! ye fools, ye knows not what ye're doing! Ye wad sell ye'r birthright fer a mess of pottage." Sir Peregrine passed on, seeming to enjoy the interview highly.

In connection with our now splendid harbour, we may state that the late Mr John D Smith very generously made a gift of the ten acres of land comprised in the harbour, his design being the benefit of the inhabitants of the village, who, he confidently anticipated, would generally become shareholders as soon as an act of incorporation could be secured and thus participate in the profits accruing from the business that it would eventually command, and the incalculable benefits the village would derive from the increased trade which the harbour would produce.

In 1829 an act was passed incorporating the Port Hope Harbour and Wharf Company but a difficulty transpired that disfranchised a majority of the shareholders during the first election of office bearers and thus antagonism was produced at the very inception of this important undertaking. It ripened into the most unprecedented feuds and gave rise to reactionary incidents that at one time threatened to annihilate the efforts of the true friends of the village to develop its natural capacities. The deluded participants in these unique quarrels were encouraged with a tenacity worthy of a better cause by outside enemies, whose jealousy of the superiority Port Hope possessed for manufacturing purposes through her excellent water power, her facilities for becoming the safest harbour of refuge on the northern shore of Lake Ontario (which in this point she has now attained) and being not only an outlet of one of the finest wheat growing districts in the Province, but also that of the then uncultivated tract of the western country now being developed and engaging the attention of the necessity of opening this direct route to the markets of Montreal and the United States, would - they were aware, if they could not thwart its progress - place her among the most prominent commercial towns in the country, and prompted those friends to pursue this reprehensible course.

But it is foreign to our present purpose to give the reminiscences of the incidents that transpired in this eventful period of Port Hope's existence, as we should have to touch upon grounds of so hypostatical a character as would preclude the possibility of treating it with that euphemism our present design naturally sought to pursue. Apart from this consideration, it would also be inadmissible to publish in these pages the recollections of the deeds committed by a gang of ruffians who infested the village and who escaped detection, that would pale the deepest hue that the thirst of blood ever crimsoned the cheek of the most desperate savage.

We could continue this melancholy theme of men cherishing the perverted appetite to pander to the mordant spirit of revenge, presenting all the features of native malignancy inherent to man in his lowest state of moral and political rectitude, to society, but conscious it would enhance no social benefit, we therefore consign these bygone days to the sepulchre of oblivion. Yet, notwithstanding, if a Thackeray were furnished with the facts relative to these events we deem inadmissible, his genius would enable him to raise a superstructure of unparalleled interest. The first preliminary steps to establish an Agricultural Society for the County of Durham were taken in November, l830, by issuing subscription lists for the signature of those desiring to become members. The first meeting to elect office bearers was held at Mr B Bletcher's Tavern in December, when David Smart, Esq, was elected President; Jacob Choate, Esq, Treasurer; and Erasmus Fowke, Secretary. The first general meeting of the Society was held at the Wellington Inn, corner of Walton and John Streets, on the 20th January, 1831 when the constitution of the Society was adopted. In 1832 or 1833 Mr Choate was deputed by the Society to import cattle of an important kind from the United States, when he purchased a number of bulls and cows of the pure Durham and other breeds, to be disposed of to the members of the society at cost; and Mr Whitlay of Peterborough became a member in order to partake of the advantage it thus held out to members for the improvement of the stock of the County, who purchased some of the animals, from which incalculable benefits have accrued. Mr Choate was also deputed in 1834 to purchase seed wheat for the same purpose. He purchased in the United States 100 bushels of white flint wheat and the same quantity of red chaff wheat at Hamilton, UC, but both kinds seemed not to be adapted to this part of the country and proved to be a failure. These were the first importations for agricultural improvement in the County, if not the first in the District of Newcastle.

In the year 1831, the Presbyterian Church was finished. It was a frame, building, 30 x 40 feet, but the timber admitted of its being made four feet wider; the builders added that much to it without making any extra charge. It was the second place of worship in the village and the first which contained galleries. It was in the woods without any road to gain access to its reception where now stands its successor the substantial and spacious brick edifice. The builders were Mr Wm Brogdin and Mr Wm Lee.

The Rev Mr Gordon was the first resident minister, a young and elegant preacher, who, in 1835, was succeeded by the esteemed pastor, the late Rev John Cassie, MA, who faithfully discharged the duties of his sacred office for upwards of 26 years. His failing health rendered it necessary for him to resign his stewardship, to which he reluctantly consented a few months before his sudden death in 1861, caused by disease of the heart, terminated the earthly existence of this exemplary minister of the gospel.

An Act to define the limits of the town and to establish a Police therein by the name of the President and Board of Police of Port Hope, passed the Parliament of Upper Canada, March 6th, 1834. The late J D Smith, Esq, was elected the first President and the respected and talented old gentleman, B S Syer, Esq, the first Town Clerk, who discharged the duties of the office to the satisfaction of the Board and the police until his death in 1846.

An Act was passed at the same session to incorporate the Port Hope and Rice Lake Canal Company; but on a survey being made, the natural difficulties were found to be of such magnitude that they could not be surmounted at this period of the science of canalling; it was therefore pronounced impracticable and the charter was allowed to expire.

There is another subject we would fain forebear mentioning but deem it would be more reprehensible by maintaining a reticence than by giving it publicity, for it formed so strong a feature in the state of society that sociability seemed incomplete without it. We will, however, whisper it to the private ear of the reader. We have reference to the general use of whisky as a token of friendship. To make a visit to a friend's residence, the whisky bottle, like the friendly pipe of the Indian, was invariably handed round; to refuse partaking of its contents would be considered an act of unfriendliness.

Our first settlers must have bequeathed this custom to their posterity as they seemed to be imbued with the impression that distilleries were necessary companions to the saw and grist mill, as their erection invariably followed in rapid succession; and the emigrants who succeeded those well-meaning pioneers followed their plan with extending views; for there were no less, at this period of the existence of our little town, than 8 distilleries and Port Hope was celebrated for producing the best whisky in the Province.

The traveller's attention would be arrested by placards with 'Port Hope Whiskies for sale here' printed in a large type and posted in the windows of wholesale grocery and liquour stores and on the walls in the barrooms of hotels and saloons in all the principal towns of the Province. A highly rectified article was manufactured by special order and sent to Montreal, thence to be transformed into brandy, rum and gin, and, thus metamorphosed, was sent back here and to other parts of the Upper Province, to be sold by our merchants as the prime foreign article.

The unenviable celebrity Port Hope had attained from the quality of its whisky was not limited to Canada. How far it had travelled, it is impossible to say, but the following incident shows it had reached England. A lady resident of this town, when in London, visited the Tower and when attaching to her name the place of residence in the registry book kept for that purpose, in the presence of the guide, an old soldier who had been stationed in Canada, he exclaimed - "Port Hope! I know that place, I have drunk its famous whisky." He was very attentive in giving her information.

There is, however, a pleasing change in this town now with regard to these institutions that presented so prominent a feature; they are superseded by eight churches which present a very great contrast. This change, no doubt, has been brought about by that imperceptible agent, moral suasion, this accomplishing that which legislative coercion would have been incapable of performing. It is a pity we cannot present the pleasing feature of the demolition of the whisky traffic of the present day.