James Thaxter was born in Alysham, Norfolk, England in 1849. Two years earlier in 1847, Susannah Keeler was born in Oulton, Norfolk, England. They met then married and settled in Susannah's hometown. Here James worked in the field of agriculture and they raised nine children. Robert, Sophia, Elizabeth, Hannah, Emily, Fred, Will, Harriet and Albert. Times were hard but the family survived.
During the 1870's James' brother Robert came to Canada to try and find a better life. He settled in the Algoma district and began writing home about his adventures in his new country. These letters planted a seed that was to become an important part of our family's history.
Ronald Robert (Bob) Thaxter was the eldest child of James and Suzannah. He was born in Oulton in 1872 and had eight brothers and sisters. As a child, Bob heard tales of Canada from the reports sent to his father from his Uncle Robert. With adventure in his heart Bob convinced his parents he was man enough to follow his Uncle in 1886 at the age of 14.
When young Bob's ship docked in port, he caught a train to his Uncle Robert's home. Along the way, Bob got confused and got off at the wrong stop. While he was in the station asking for assistance, thieves made off with his trunk and Bob was left with only the possessions he carried with him. He made his way towards his destination but night fell as he walked along the road. The sound of wolves howling drove Bob to seek safe shelter, and he stopped at a farmhouse where he remained for some time earning his food and lodging with work.
It is believed that he worked his way along the Bruce Peninsula and eventually ended up in the community of Owen Sound. News of land being made available to farmers circulated and Bob booked passage on a steamer headed for the Manitoulin Island.
While on the Island, Bob met a gypsy named Ingram who foretold that the young man would be meeting the woman that would be his wife on his journey. This information was not considered too seriously at the time but later on, Bob and his bride Jenny recalled they were both awaiting the docking of the boat to the mainland during that trip.Click here to see a picture of Bob or Jenny.
Jenny's family was from Ireland and immigrated to the Manitoulin. Several siblings remained on the Island, but her father John McCauley moved his family to the Birch Lake area near the turn of the century.
Bob too went north, locating in Massey presumably to work in the bush but he was attracted to the beauty and richness of the farmland in May Township. He began homesteading and was established as a farmer in the 1899 Assessment Records.
Bob worked his share of days for the road and school boards and was supportive in the establishment of the local government. He must have been pleased to see that his neighbour John McCauley had a good supply of earnest, young daughters and took on the task of looking for a wife among them.
In the 1895 Bob and Jenny eloped and it is believed that they went through Owen Sound on their way to be wed. He applied for the Land Patent for the north half of Lot 8 and Concession 4 by 1897.
According to the Assessment Roll, by 1899 Bob Thaxter had cleared 10 acres of the one hundred and sixty acres he farmed. His livestock consisted of three cattle, and two hogs.
In 1902 his first child was born. When daughter Flora arrived Bob had seven cattle, five hogs and a team of horses. He had cleared five more acres of land. This was back breaking work and the purchase of the team saved not only muscles but time as well.
Residents of the community were expressing a desire to maintain a high quality level in the area of crops, livestock, vegetables and community spirit. Neighbouring farmers joined with Bob and established the Massey Agricultural Society on July 13th, 1907.
Bob's second daughter was born in 1905. Susannah Ida, known as Ida, was named after her paternal grandmother.
The following year Isabel was born and Bob was please his girls were growing up healthy. Jenny was building a comfortable home for her family and looking forward to providing Bob with the sons he would need to help on the farm.
In January of 1907, Jenny found herself expecting their fourth baby. Throughout the year she prepared for the baby's arrival and on September 27th Bob's first son was born. Their happiness was short lived however as the child died the same day. Jenny's Uncle, Duncan McCauley took the sad news to the officials and registered the birth and death of Bob's first son.
Jenny and Bob decided to try for another baby right away and the next summer daughter number four was born. Registered as Emily, Emma was a healthy child much to the relief of the entire family.
Jenny found herself with four small children to raise, a large house to maintain, livestock to tend to and a large vegetable garden to look after. Times were not easy. Bob too was working hard to provide for his family. He had to clear the land by hand, plant crops, cut firewood for both heating and cooking and work his share on the municipal roads. In order to receive the Land Patent, specific requirements had to be met. Bob worked diligently to comply with these and continued clearing land and developing his fields.
In 1909 Flora started attending SS#5 School and Bob became interested in local politics. In 1910 Bob accepted the nomination to run for Reeve of the Townships of Salter, May and Harrow, and was successful. He held this office until 1912.
In 1911, in the midst of Bob's term as reeve, James (Jim) was born. Hours after h is birth the doctor was finally able to pay a visit to mother and child and was happy that the birth was a safe one. Even though there were no complications, Jim's health was always of concern to his parents. He grew up having a normal childhood but was never considered a robust lad.
In the throws of WWI Bob and Jenny celebrated the birth of their second son, Ronald. Born in January, 1914, the child learned to toddle about in the outdoors, and hiking great distances seem like a short stroll to him. He discovered the joys of nature and thrilled in learning all he could to understand its creatures.
Later that same year the King of England issued the Land Patent indicating Robert Thaxter had met all requirements and was now the registered, rightful owner of the north half of Lot 8, concession 4, May Township.
When Jenny was forty-one she was carrying the last child they would have. In 1915 Margaret came along and all seemed well in the Thaxter family. The following year Bob had cleared thirty-five acres, he had applied for the position of Assessor for May Township. His application was accepted and he recorded all the lands, their owners and tenants for taxation purposes.
Industrious as she was, Jenny was not known for her frivolous nature. She would however, occasionally agree to bundle up the family to attend a social gathering or event. It was during the preparations for a social call that a tragedy occurred. Jenny was hooking the team to the buggy to pay her respects to a neighbour. The baby was bundled up and in the buggy ready to travel when something spooked the horses. They ran wild with their precious cargo and Jenny could only look on helplessly as the little body suffered terrible injury. For the next few days the family drew close offering their strength to the small child but it was in vain. With her only relief being sleep, her Uncle Duncan shared the watch with Jenny and during one of his shifts little two-year-old Margaret gave up her fight.
Jenny never forgave herself. She seemed to feel that if she had just remained at home, her small daughter would have been safe. After that, Jenny refused to indulge in any journeys that were not considered necessary. Visiting for merely social reasons was not done again.
Bob's religious denomination was Church of England. He and Jenny attended the Anglican Church in Massey when possible. After the accident with Margaret, the family stopped coming to church. The reason for this may have been one or a combination of many things.
Company was always welcomed to the Thaxter house. Jenny was a good cook and supplied nourishing meals for all that sat at their table. No one was turned away at mealtime.
She was also very proud of the fact that she was an early riser. It was a matter of personal pride that she always had her fire going before the other chimneys in the neighbourhood showed sign of smoke. She would check from her windows which households were sleeping late.
Bob Thaxter purchased land by West Lake near Duncan McCauley. He also started clearing the land in preparation for farming. The custom of the day was to help your sons acquire property so they could begin families of their own in the future. Daughters were to marry men with similar holding, so Bob did not purchase land for his girls.
In 1920, bob bought the farm adjoining his original farm and cleared fields for grazing and more crops. According to township records in 1921 women in the community were allowed the right to determine Legislative Franchise for the first time. The issue of allowing women to vote in municipal elections was addressed and council determined that it was not advisable at the time.
In 1926 Bob's father James, passed away. He and his younger brother Albert had remained in contact with correspondence over the years and the families exchanged gifts of berries and other goods as loving gestures. When his father's estate was being settled a difference of opinion occurred and the two brother never exchanged another word for the rest of their lives. The children grew up isolated from their other relatives and it wasn't until the 1970's that contact was made through he cousins. In 1990 the second and third generation cousins finally met and the families are once again on friendly terms.
It does not seem that this hard, unforgiving manner was peculiar to that generation of brothers. No record of correspondence between James and the brother he followed to Canada was ever discovered. Family members did not know much about the man except for the fact that his voyage to Canada led the rest of them to this land as well. Bob's children also exhibited this same character trait from time to time, as well as his grandchildren.
Bob was always good to his livestock. When mealtime came after a hard day in the fields, Bob would always see to his horses before seeing to himself. No matter the hour, or the hunger, "the animals could not do for themselves", so Bob made sure they were taken care of.
Bob was excellent with horses. He eventually had two teams but his pride and joy was queen. The bay mare was everything a man could ask for in a workhorse. She would stop the moment the reins went slack because when the driver got off the wagon, he had to drop the lines. Then the farmer could load or unload it. Queen knew it was important to stay put when she stopped until the reins were lifted and the command was given to go. This was necessary because Bob was often logging or going to town for supplies.
Like clockwork, Bob would go to Massey every Saturday for newspapers, supplies, and to socialize for a while in the Clifton Hotel. If people were to give a nickname to him, it may well have been De Kuyper Bob or Holland Bob after his favourite brands of gin. He occasionally would enjoy a Silver Cloud beer and on one such occasion the story goes, he had taken his favourite bay mere to town on the cutter. Bob did his business and then stopped for a drink with the boys and had a few too many. He managed to get into the cutter and started home. Along the way Bob fell asleep and rolled out of this seat into the snow. In doing so he dropped the reins and the good mare stopped instantly. The snow revived the driver enough to enable him to climb into the cutter again only to repeat the scene several times further down the road. By the time he made it home he had sobered up tremendously.
Jenny never tolerated liquor in her house. When the men came calling they used to go out to the barn where each man would be invited to have a drink. Bob kept a bottle in the grain barrel, or sometimes he kept one about the rafters in the barn. This practices was the normal procedure that husbands went through since most other wives felt the same way as Jenny did.
One time during the summer bob again drank a bit too much and fell from his wagon seat. This hurt a lot more when there was no snow on the ground to cushion the fall. The mare waited until bob climbed back into the wagon and proceed on home. Bob's head had been injured and blood was streaming down his face. He looked a bloody mess. Jenny took one look at him, determined that he was more drunk than hurt and left him to sleep outside in his work shed. Ida was very emotional at times. She and her mother had words about the incident. Ida said her father was a hardworking man and did not deserve to sleep out in the shed like a dog. Apparently Jenny relented on this occasion and took Bob inside in spite of the fact that Bob kept reassuring her he was perfectly happy to sleep in the shed.
Bob had a car shed and a wood shed with a workshop on one end. He also had another shed he just kept stuff in. They had a large barn and beside that a two-story house with red brick on the exterior that was purchased from the brick factory where McDowells used to live at the far west end of the township.
Bob Thaxter was nothing if not organized. When a job was done, the tool was cleaned, sharpened, oiled and returned to its place to be ready for the next time it was needed. Then his sons got big enough to help Bob was often exasperated in his attempts to teach them his ways.
Bob never waited until the last moment to be ready for anything. He always had a good supply of wood ready and used an axe mainly in its harvest. If he had help getting his wood he used his big double handled Swede saw to cut it.
Bob enjoyed raising sheep. Although he had cattle, swine, chickens and geese,' his sheep gave him a great deal of satisfaction. He constructed an extremely high, wold proof fence to keep his flock safe. He tended to its repairs meticulously and insisted that good fences mad for good neighbours. The sheep pasture was on the north side of the house and went eastward. It stood almost twelve feet high. It was something he was quite proud of.
In 1933 Bob became involved in local politics again. He successfully ran for council and it was during his term that daughter Ida lost her husband. Once again the family gathered together for support. Council passed a motion offering condolences to the family.
Bob was a member of the milk marketing board during a meeting he was attending in Toronto, he had a conversation with another member who knew Bob's Uncle Robert. The information did not however result in a meeting of the men.
Bob liked his privacy. Though he never cared for his neighbour Mr. W.H. Tracy, this they had in common. The eavesdropping on the telephone done by some neighbours was not well tolerated by either man.
When Jenny had company over for meals she liked to set a proper table. Tea was to be served in a cup with a saucer and enjoyed in a suitable manner. One neighbour insisted on pouring his tea from the cup into the saucer and slurping it noisily. This irritated Jenny intensely. This same visitor had an annoying habit of removing his false teeth at the dinner table and leaving then in plain site of all present. Jenny would then complain loudly to Bob about the caliber of their company.
Bob and Jenny had few habits that were not practical. For Christmas the family received gifts lovingly made or purchased and each child would find it by his plate at the dinner table. A tree and its decorations were considered a waste and the Thaxters were not likely to waste either the time preparing the tree or the money to decorate it. It was probably not meant to be a harsh lesson for the children; it was just not a practice the family wished to begin.
Bob was considered somewhat of a local official. Whenever documents required signatures and witnessing, people in the area would prevail upon bob for his services. This was for several reasons. The first reason was that Bob was an avid reader and received many newspapers from both local sources and those further away. The Steinkes were good enough to supply the Thaxters with old copies of the news and Bob was always up on what was happening in the country and the world. A second reason Bob was sought out was that he was an experience politician and man of experience. A third reason was his air of self-assurance. One quote he was famous for was "Goddammer, I knows better!" This attitude perhaps caused some disagreements with other members of the community but his opinion was often asked for and always respected. The fourth and perhaps most important reason Bob was usually asked to be present at the signing of official documents was the signature had to be in ink or indelible pencil to be legal. Not many people had ink, during those days but Bob carried an indelible pencil with him and it was used to sign many of the neighbourhood legal documents.
Jenny was not a champion of education. Perhaps the fact that she was limited in her own, caused her to have little use for it. When ever she saw any of the children reading she would halt their pastime. Their father did not give up reading though. The read every minute he could spare. He particularly liked readying mysteries of crimes. His favourite being "True Confessions of Police Cases". In the woodshed were stacks and stacks of these and other similar magazines. His love for reading was definitely passed on to his son Ron.
Jenny may not have approved of reading books but because her family was so important to her, she kept every notice and newspaper clipping pertaining to the people she knew and cared about. When she cut these from the newspaper the item would be tucked in behind the wood that framed the window so all who entered the room could go up and see the news. The children wrote home whenever they were away. Even the boys were good letter writers. They sent news of their lives and jobs and kept bob and Jenny informed on their progress away from home.
As their children grew up they made plans for their futures. Flora married Ed Grimoldby and they lived in Owen Sound. Correspondence between daughter and family was regular and visits though rare, were heartily enjoyed by everyone. The couple had three daughters; Fran, Alice and Dora as well as a son, Calvin.
Belle was employed by private homes to keep or clean. Her employers were please not only with her good work but also her sense of fairness, commitment and kindness. She moved to Sudbury and eventually was able to purchase a home in Minnow lake area through the generous help of her father. During his later years Bell cared for her dad until he could no longer stay with her.
Ida married Albert Erickson, who was born in Michigan but had moved to Thessalon as a boy. When they met Albert was a widower with a small son. The couple had only a short period of happiness because Albert took ill with tuberculoses and was hospitalized just a few years after they married. He died in 1933. Ida and the family lived in Massey for a few years and then moved to Birch Lake. Bob and Jenny helped out the little family and considered Albert's son, Wilfred, their own grandchild. In the early 1950's Ida moved the family to Webbwood. Stepson Wilfred went into the military and eventually was employed by the Postal Service. Ida's son Ronald became a stationary engineer and moved to Southern Ontario. Daughter Margaret married and moved to Western Canada. Ida remained in Webbwood until her death in 1965.
Emma met and married Elmore Shelswell in Sudbury. Elmore was a miner and worked at Frood Mine. He owned various houses. Jenny was either very fond of Elmore or did not care for the man very much. Her nickname for him was "Bushel Arse". Elmore moved his wife closer to her family by purchasing a farm on the west side of May Township and trying his hand at farming. They remained here for several years and eventually moved to a small community further west. His daughter Jane and Carol moved to Sault Ste. Marie. Their son Lloyd married and moved to McKerrow and daughter Helen married and moved to England.
Jim married Verna Thom and Bob helped him clear land and build a house two lots east of the homestead. The couple farmed here for several years and had two children, Warren and Marilyn. Eventually Jim decided to head south and settled on a small farm in St. Field near Uxbridge.
Ron met Phyllis Simpson, a lovely young girl from Sault Ste. Marie and persuaded her to marry him. They lived in the Soo where they had one son. WWII called for young men and Ron joined the service. Click here to see a picture of Ron in the army.
After the war the couple left the Soo and began farming in Birch Lake down the road from the homestead. They had six children in all. Robert, Bonnie, Fredrick, Patrick, Rodney, and Ken. The couple eventually moved to Webbwood.
Bob and Jenny continued farming. They grew old together on their farm, enjoying the pleasures of family visits, healthy livestock and good crops. During 1950 Jenny passed away and bob's son Ron helped his dad run the place. Phyllis and Ron moved their family from the Cold Spring to Bob's farm in the mid 1950's. This allowed Bob to retire form farming.
In 1956 the Advance Red Lake Gold Mine negotiated to test drill for precious metals on Bob's farm but the land did not yield any mineral riches.
Bob moved to Sudbury and lived with his daughter Belle until his health began to breakdown. He was placed in the Pioneer Manor Home for the Aged where he quietly passed away in 1962.
Due to uncharacteristically poor foresight, Bob did not have all his legal documents in order and the farmstead and its contents were coldly auctioned off by the township for back taxes. Times had grown hard and not even the family could afford to save the life's work of their father. The family was devastated but there was nothing to be done.
Bob and Jenny were laid to rest in the Massey Protestant Cemetery.
Bob remains somewhat of a legend in the Massey area for both his mannerisms and his accomplishments. His family spread out across Ontario and raised their families reflecting many of the same qualities Bob had instilled in his children. His descendants can proudly state Robert Ronald Thaxter was indeed an adventurous pioneer who helped settle the wilderness of Northern Ontario and offered a better life for those who came after.Return to Main Page
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