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Diarist offered early description of Sarnia

George Mathewson Recently we featured an early description of Sarnia by Freeman Talbot, who arrived at “The Rapids” in 1827 as part of the area’s first survey team.
Julia Jones Salter was just 15 when she arrived at what’s now Bright’s Grove to help found the first commune in Canada. Photo courtesy, Lambton County Archive

George Mathewson

Recently we featured an early description of Sarnia by Freeman Talbot, who arrived at “The Rapids” in 1827 as part of the area’s first survey team.

Today we offer another first-hand glimpse through the eyes of one Julia Marie Jones, who, in the summer of 1830, kept a journal of her trans-Atlantic crossing and arrival in Upper Canada.

Julia was the spirited daughter of Henry Jones, who founded Canada’s first commune, called Maxwell, at what’s now Bright’s Grove.

Jones had brought 35 Scottish settlers to begin clearing the land the previous year, and his wife and family were now about to join him.

On Aug. 26, 1830, Julia marked her 15th birthday aboard a small steamer with six family members as they began the final leg of their journey, upriver from Detroit.

She describes the St. Clair as beautiful, if unremarkable, and of passing several small islands (presumably Stag and Fawn).

Their plan was to travel to Fort Gratiot (Port Huron) and cross Lake Huron to the fledgling settlement of Maxwell. Instead, they set in at what’s now downtown Sarnia after strong north winds prevented a lake landing.

That day, amid “mosquitos flying around in such numbers,” the Joneses bunked with the LaForges, one of three French-speaking families that had arrived in the early 1800s near Sarnia Bay. Seventeen people crammed into a log cabin and unable to communicate was apparently a culture shock for the genteel visitors.

“Now let my aunts and cousins picture to themselves mother seated in a small log house, knitting as usual. LaForge is quite a common man with seven children, a wife and an Indian boy,” Julia’s diary states.

“They gave us a very tolerable tea and about eight o’clock mother began to think about bed. It never entered her mind that we were to sleep where we sat …

“There was a bed in the room where LaForge and his wife slept, and the children slept on the floor. Mother was horrified when she heard about this, but at last said to Aunt Susan, “I shall just loosen my things and lie down and I hope the cats will not lie on my face.’”

The Joneses also received a visit from the Chippewa leader, Chief Wawanosh, and his wife “the queen.”

“She had a black beaver hat with two broad bands of silver almost covering it over, and she had quantities of large silver ornaments hanging from them, also a pair of large gold earings given to her by her father.”

The next morning the family set out for Maxwell, their possessions on an ox cart. Some of them walked.

They passed through “beautiful” woods and wildflowers to a fence marking the clearing at Maxwell. There, unfortunately, Julia’s diary ends in mid-sentence.

The experiment in communal living was short-lived. The colonists abandoned Maxwell a few years later following poor harvests and a fire that razed the central kitchen, dining room and sleeping quarters.

Julia Jones (Salter) died in 1893, age 78, and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to George Bice, Luke Stempien and the Lambton Heritage Museum for making the Jones diary available to The Journal

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