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Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles

Isaac Cross and His Family

Volume 4, page 2

Lillian Walton

Meach Creek flows out of Meach Lake at its south end, pursues its course for about four miles through a beautiful valley, with hills on both sides, and empties into the Gatineau River just south of Farm Point. It is not wide nor deep, but in pioneer days some wonderful pine made its way to the river by this creek.

Meach Lake derives its name from an earlier settler, Asa Meech, who established his home in the farmland of the narrow valley under the mountain in 1822. The spelling of Meech was changed over the years to “Meach". Asa Meech died at the age of 74 in the year 1849.

There are probably many people who travel the Chelsea Road to Farm Point who know nothing about the “Loop” road, which parallels the Chelsea road about a mile to the west, and which enters Farm Point by the rear. This “Loop” road which crosses the Gatineau Highway on the left at Cascades just past Tulip Valley Motel is now named PINE ROAD. As we drive towards the fertile valley of the Meach Creek, we turn right onto CROSS ROAD and follow it until it crosses the highway once more and enters the old highway at Farm Point. now named RIVERSIDE DRIVE.

As far as can be learned, Isaac Cross was the first settler, having come to the Meach Creek In the year 1841. The Crosses have been in this valley and on the hills surrounding the valley since then. In the year 1930 it could be said that the descendants of Isaac Cross could boast of over 2200 acres between the start of Meach Creek and Cascades.

Isaac Cross, a gardener by occupation, was born in Devonshire. England in the year 1800. He emigrated to Canada around 1820 when the south of England was hit by an industrial depression. Many were encouraged to come to Canada. His sister Mary had married Robert Sully and his well-to-do brother-in-law offered to pay his passage. The records show that he was duly repaid.

When Isaac arrived in Bytown (later named Ottawa), it consisted of two small villages, Uppertown and Lowertown. The army barracks stood in a treed area which separated these two. Roads in and out of Bytown were in very bad shape so that most of the supplies arrived up the river by boat.

There were every day brawls between two rival groups, the "Shiners". who were mostly English, Scotch and Irish and the "Chenoirs" who were mostly French. They made their headquarters in a tavern at the corner of Bank and Sparks Street, later named “The Bucket of Blood“.

Around this same time John Hull, the son of Sarah Wright, a half-sister of Philemon Wright, (founder of Hull), sailed from England with his wife, Sarah. and his young daughter. Sarah‘s brother, Robert Earle, also sailed with them. (He later settled in Wakefield). It was a very rough crossing. Food and water became scarce and during the voyage the sailors mutinied. Then cholera broke out! Sarah Earle, Roberts oldest child died and was buried at sea. John Hull and his young daughter survived until they reached Quebec City where they too died. This left Sarah, his wife, a childless widow at the age of 18. She made her way to the settlement of the Philemon Wrights, her late husbands people. where she earned her living as a tailoress.

Isaac Cross met and married this young widow, (who was fifteen years younger than he), about the year 1835. They made their home in New Edinburgh, close to the ferry and near where Rideau Hall now stands.

Isaac was a skilled gardener and worked on the MacKay estate. Their first child, Rebecca Earle Cross, was born March 5, 1838, and was christened by an Indian Chief from Buckingham who was also a Missionary. There were no regular ministers in the area.

When his daughter was ten, he gave her a hymnbook in which he had written the following:

“Isaac Cross is my name,
Gentleman my station,
Clayhanger is my dwelling place
And Heaven my destination."

From this we can assume that Clayhanger, pronounced Clay-anger, was Isaac's boyhood home.

On December 18, 1840, their second child, William. was born. And in March 1841, Isaac and Sarah, with their two children Rebecca and baby William. set out for a new home up the Gatineau.

The weather was cold and windy and the snow was deep. They were cramped in a small sleigh with their belongings, hauled by a slow horse. Sarah. having been brought up in a suburb of London, had never seen such a densely wooded country as on that all-day trip to Cascades. Her nerves were at breaking point when they arrived at their destination. The "new" home was a one-room building formerly occupied by a shoemaker who had died suddenly. Sarah stood in the midst of dirt and shoe leather and in a very defiant tone said to Isaac. "A fine place to bring a lady!" and she broke into tears. Isaac comforted her and had her rest while he set about cleaning the place.

Isaac was immediately employed by Gilmour's Mills at Chelsea. In his spare time he worked in his garden growing flowers, fruit and vegetables. It was said that he had brought some English Poplars over with him from England which he transplanted to his hillside home. Whether it was because he thought Canada was a desert and he was desirous of shade. or just sentiment for these beautiful trees, we are unsure of. But the latter is more likely.

Five more children were born to Isaac and Sarah. They are all listed here.

Rebecca Married Edward JohnstonSettled Masham Rd., near Wakefield
William Married Mary Ann McKelvieSettled Cascades
Robert Married Elizabeth WillsSettled Masham Rd., near Wakefield
Maria Married Sam KennedySettled North Masham. near Alcove
Sarah Married Hugh McFaddenSettled Masham, near Duclos
Isaac Married Agnes (or Elizabeth) — Thompson sistersSettled Northern USA
John Married Elizabeth (or Agnes)Settled Northern USA

In the beginning Isaac Cross had just sixty acres which was mostly rocky and useless for growing crops. However, he and his sons worked hard at clearing the valley on the west side of the creek. They cut down the pine and stored it for selling, then pulled the stumps and drained the swamps to the creek. Having a surplus of hay. he sold this to lumbering companies around Maniwaki. The hay had to be loaded onto the sleigh, tied tightly with rope and swifter. so that if upset the load could be pushed back again onto the runners without unbinding.

These trips to Maniwaki covered about one hundred miles, the load hauled by a team of horses. It was freezing winter weather and Isaac froze his toes many times. The last time was disastrous for him when gangrene developed in his big toe. He died on February 19. 1859, at the age of 59. He was buried at Old Chelsea, Quebec.

Seven Sons of Willram Cross Isaac
Seven Sons of Willram Cross. Isaac, George, Freeman. Stephen, Wyman, Jason, Waiter, William John, second oldest. Died at the age of 81 in 1945. Picture taken 1957. Photo courtesy of Lillian Walters. (GVHS 2227.33/23)

Isaac's oldest son. William. was just eighteen when his mother was widowed for the second time at the age of forty-four. The family remained together for awhile but not long afterwards Sarah and some of the younger children moved I0 Wakefield to be close to her relatives, the Earles. William acquired the homestead with one condition that he should supply his mother with fire-wood during her lifetime. The other children most likely remained with William until they married.

Sarah prospered as a tailoress in Wakefield. With her creative mind and nimble fingers she designed and manufactured wedding suits for most of the young men in the district. She died at the age of sixty-six on March 22. 1881. and was also buried at Old Chelsea.

Soon after the arrival of lsaac Cross the pioneer, another family arrived by the name of McKelvie. They settled over a mile south of Meach Creek in the direction of Old Chelsea. The father, James McKelvie, lived to be 105 years of age. Both these families thought nothing of heading out for Bytown. through a path in the woods to bring back supplies. Their order was limited as their horse could only carry so much on his back.

We now come to William Cross. the eldest son of lsaac. William courted the very pretty Mary Ann McKelvie. To reach her home he had to come down the hillside. pass through the wet bush road of the valley. then climb the hills on the other side. it was a lonely trip coming back at night and he carried a gun just in case he should meet a bear.

On July 6, 1865, William Cross and Mary Ann McKelvie were married. They had ten children. all of whom lived in or around the valley of the Meach Creek. except one daughter. Didaema. who moved away to Buckingham. Quebec. when she married.

The ten children are:

Isaac CrossOttawa
William JohnMeach Creek
AliceCascades (Mrs. Samuel Ernest Wilson)
Didaema (Damie)Buckingham (Mrs. Thomas Jamieson)
Georgenear Meach Creek
FreemanFarm Point
StephenFarm Point
Wymannear Meach Creek
JasonSummerlea (later Gleneagle)
WalterCascades and Hull

William Cross moved his home from the hills to the valley around 1878. He was a man of great energy and lived to see the valley cleared and cultivated and good roads made. When he died on January 25. 1922, at the age of 81, his holdings were over 800 acres. It was a bitterly cold day as the slow funeral procession proceeded to Hall's Cemetery, Wakefield. In the country one measured the esteem in which a person was held by the number of vehicles following the hearse. His had thirty-two, the largest funeral ever held in the valley.

His widow, Mary Ann, died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. SE. Wilson. Cascades. on May 26. 1933. at the age of 87. She was also buried in Halls Cemetery.

The history so far has touched on two generations of Crosses, lsaac Cross the pioneer, and William Cross his son. Now we come to Wyman Cross, age 94. the only survivor1 of the 3rd. generation, and son of William and Mary Ann. He lives with his daughter and son-in-law. Hazel and Clarence Smith, at Rupert, Quebec.

Wyman Ernest is the eighth born in the family. He is not as tall as the others were but this does not detract from his agility, strength and fortitude. For Wyman Cross was a wiry hard worker and kept in good health all his life.

At the age of 42 he ran a 5-mile race from Cascades to Wakefield on one of the Annual Gala Days. He came in second, first place being won by a 20-year old. The prize of a jack-knife was his treasured possession until he lost it while doing one of his chores of bringing in the cows.

One time Wyman had bought a horse and was leading it home behind his wagon along a country road, He stopped on the way to chat with another farmer. Time went by and Wyman eventually arrived home without the horse. In his own shrewd way he had sold it at a worthwhile profit.

It was not unusual to find Wyman not at home when dropping in for a visit. One particular time we were told that he had hired some of his grandchildren to work for him on building a road in the bush. He was in his late 80's at the time.

One amusing episode about this remarkable man was how much he cared for his livestock, On one of his winter holidays. a party of four were all ready to drive to Florida but Wyman had disappeared. They found him, all dressed in his "Sunday best", tossing hay down to the cattle just to satisfy himself that they would be fed that morning.

Lately he was asked if he remembered an old school on the "Loop" road near Meach Creek. His quick reply was “Why dig that up! It will do nobody any good anyhow". However. there was one on the site of the Hyde farm. These things are of so much interest to today's historians, but to a 94-year old, of no significance.

In January, 1974. the Ottawa Citizen revealed that the National Capital Commission had identified as many as 1,000 acres of land in the Meach Creek Valley, four miles south of Wakefield, as the future home of the National Capital Zoological Park.

In the far distant future. when the Zoo has become a well known reality and the Gatineau Highway is teeming with traffic, perhaps there will be a little old lady, slowly moving along, holding up the crowds on the Zoo site. not seeing the monkeys in their cages. the bears or the deer. Because I will be thinking of my great grandfather, lsaac Cross, the pioneer... my grandfather, William Cross... and my uncles, who all worked so hard clearing and draining this fertile valley. My mother, Alice Cross... and her sister "Damie"... playing as children over these hills... just nudge me... I'll move along.

Footnote

1. Wyman Cross died 28 February 1977

Source of information:

The Ottawa Citizen. Nov. 8, 1930 “Old Time Stuff", compiled by George H. Wilson.

My sincere thanks to Reby (Johnston) Dodds, and others for helpful information.

Mrs. Fred Walton of Ottawa was awarded an Honorable Mention for this article in the fifth annual Essay Contest sponsored by The Historical Society of the Gatineau — 1976


List of articles - Volume 4