Up the Gatineau! Selected Articles
The Barry Farm - a Pioneer Homestead
Volume 9, page 18
About two miles west of Farrellton, between the Gatineau River and Lac Bernard, lies a valley resembling that of the Meech Creek. For over a century it was connected with the village by a winding hill road; and with what is now the Pritchard Road by a wagon trail. When we first came to the part of this land known as the Barry Farm, on snowshoes, neither trail was visible.
We followed a deep creek bed east to the heart of the farm. There, in deep snow, stood three old buildings of squared timbers. An owl flew from the hayloft of a stable which had been in use a few years before; well rotted manure lay on the round logs of the floor, spaced far apart to drain off moisture. Chains still hung from each ash pole where animals had been tied. Nails squared by some local blacksmith held horse collars, milking pails and, in a smaller stable nearby, bags of unwashed sheep wool.
We stepped down into the old house through a panelled door which did not shut any more. It was dark in there; all windows were boarded up, but lace curtains still hung on a few. Parts of a separator lay on the floor among gigantic skates, broken chairs, a linen table cloth and home woven towels. The place had been vandalized; most of the furniture was gone, and so was the top of a woodstove in the front room on the right. Behind the stove, a ragged hole in the partition, probably made to admit warm air from the stove, showed a white metal bed. On the rough boards of the bedstead lay gigantic hand knitted socks. Hooks on the wall held long johns made for a race of giants, but also good suits, ties, Sunday shirts, over a wall hanging of silk tapestry stamped "Made in Belgium."
The house was exposed to the north wind. Cardboard boxes had been flattened and nailed against the inside of the north wall, which on the outside was protected by boards. Cold air from the attic was kept out by a narrow door closing off the steep stairs. Up there the wind whistled through glassless window openings in the east and west gables, under a roof of rough boards with nothing but tar paper between boards and cedar shingles. Rotting clothes and mattresses, old iron, jars and boxes lay on the attic floor which covered the full length of the house with once splendid pine boards stained barn red. Trays from a still perfect trunk hung like shelves from the beams. On them we found faded photographs, hand sewn baby dresses, small religious pictures, a palm frond. Filthy, but recognizable, quilting frames were stacked below, together with rolled woollen strips in one box and 1920s cotton clothes in another. One of the frames was wrapped with shreds of towelling of a coarse weave — long roller towelling, a red stripe on either side, such as hung behind the doors of many farm kitchens and another with strips of checked blue flannel and spotted muslin reminiscent of pioneer museums.
Could people have lived here, until quite recently, like 19th century pioneers? No pump in the kitchen or outside, no sign of hydro or telephone. We could not find a well in the snow, but there must have been one to supply stock and people. Or had they kept open the creek in the ravine below the house? Traces of a lane led to remnants of a log bridge down there. A structure like a children's swing stood between house and ravine. From there we now also saw a huge barn, snug in the shelter of a sugar bush, some distance north.
This barn, 36 feet long, 26 wide, still held hay, dried by air coming in through gaps between great cedar beams. The sun came out as we climbed on to the hay, and the gaps became cathedral windows, revealing blue hills beyond the distant Gatineau River.
Months later some one told us that he had bought furniture from an old man on this farm who had moved to the village. His name: Patrick Barry. Grandson of the original settler, James Barry, he lived, since his brother's death, with neighbours called Plunkett.
In the Spring, we visited Jack Plunkett, whose father had known old James, who had settled here in the late 1840s and died in 1908. He had described him as a huge, imposing man.
A frail old man who sat in a rocking chair by the kitchen stove got up and quietly walked away.
"Patrick here walked down to Farrellton from the farm as long as he lived there”, Jack Plunkett said, nodding towards the departing figure. Only then we realized that the tall old man with the fine features and blue eyes was the last Barry who had lived on the farm; and that he did not want to talk.
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We found out that the farm was for sale (N. Wakefield, Range 10, Lot l A & B). When the road from Farrellton was dry enough, Jack Plunkett took us to the farm, where the creek now gurgled merrily. lt flows east through Plunkett’s land, then makes a sharp northward turn and enters Sullivan Lake, the northern border of both farms. In the ravine by the Barry house the wells could be seen now, one deep and covered; another, also boarded, had been used by the Barrys to store cream for the Farrellton Co-op, the "Butter Factory" started in the 1930s, closed now that most farmers have beef cattle. The Barrys had kept dairy cows and sold cream; skim milk was used for pigs, chickens, the household. We found spray cans near the stables; they had taken care of their cattle against flies. Beef cattle are not sprayed around here.
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What Jack knew about the Barrys from his father was later confirmed by census and parish records. The family had first lived in a shanty close to the north boundary of the farm and Sullivan Lake. We could not find any trace of the shanty. The slanting ground, sandy here "good for potatoes", as Jack said, had been ploughed over; but there was a level space, sheltered from all sides, where it had probably stood.
We asked Jack about the swing like structure near the loghouse. Had there been children?
"There've been no children here since the beginning of the century", he said. "That's where they hung the pig in the fall. Many's the time I was here for the slaughter."
We showed him the photos found in the attic, of three handsome girls in long embroidered dresses, taken before World War I.
“That's Mary Anne, Kate and Nora", he said. "Kate’s the beauty with the dark hair and eyes. Nora's the youngest, still lives in Florida. Came here last in 1970 for the funeral of Jack Barry, the youngest brother. The two older girls died out west."
The house, 20 x 26 feet, at one time held eight children, their parents and grandfather, James, the first settler. His wife Honora died in 1889. She was a Donovan, and like another Donovan in this area may have come from Limerick, Ireland (her daughter was named Eleanor like the other Donovan; names continue within a family). By 1890 Michael Barry, old James’ eldest son, had four children: Ned, Margaret, Mary Anne and Kate. In 1891 and 1894 Patrick and Nora were born. In 1895 Margaret, at 13, died (a year after the train came to Farrellton). In 1897, James, named after his grandfather, and in 1899, John Barry were born.
Old James died on the 23rd April 1908. In the Fall of that year four men carried young Jimmy down to the train in a blanket: "the pain was too great for him to be jolted in a wagon". He died of a ruptured appendix.
"There was only one train a day. To go to Ottawa, was like, for us, going to New York."
The two eldest girls went west early in the century and married there. The men remained, logging in winter, farming in summer. Ned, the eldest, was as tall as his grandfather and a great logger. "Had to bend down to get into this door," Jack said.
That explained the giant clothing. What about the quilting frames?
"They would be the mother's, Mary Field," Jack said. "When I was six years old she was still alive, not even old then, for she married when she was 22 and Michael 36. He was only in his 70s when he died, in 1917.
My father had been talking to him that day. It was in the Spring, and every one was at the ploughing. When Michael left he said “I must get back to my ploughing. I may be dead tomorrow.”
On the way home, at the corner of the bush, where one looks back into the Gatineau Valley, before reaching the Barry farm, he died of a heart attack He was not found for a day; no one worried when a family member did not return from Farrellton. They might be staying overnight with neighbours.
When, not long after that, his wife died, Mary Anne returned from the west. She had lost her husband. In the early 1920s she married the Farrellton farmer, Jim Cassidy, a widower with four children. In 1923 they had a son, Kevin, who later lived in the western United States and died in April 1979 at Aberdeen, Wash., USA.
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When our farm purchase had come through and we were taking down the squared timbers to build our house from the homestead and stables, we saved all papers, photographs and clothing. The papers were sorted by date.
An undated Christmas card, signed “Mother and Girls," was probably the oldest, written when the girls were still at home. The style of the card is pre-World War I.
The first date was June 14th 1920, on a contract between Patrick Barry and A.B. Hamilton, General Merchant, Lascelles, for cordwood amounting to $248.05. Patrick was then 29.
Ned, 39, signed an agreement the same year on Sept. 15th, with Arrowhead Mills lnc., Fulton, NY. for “100 cords peeled spruce, 4 feet long, 4" and up at the small end; free from all rot and tar; knots trimmed down; drawn out and delivered to CPR, Farrellton Station." $22.00 per cord of 128 cubic feet was to be the price, and the contract was to be completed by April 1st of the next year. The agent, Robert Stewart of Low, signed his name for the company. For Ned Barry there was an X, his mark. The eldest son, he had to work on the farm and in the bush and though there was a school in Farrellton since 1850, had not been able to go there. Patrick, however, signed his name, and the girls and Jack, the youngest, wrote a clear hand.
A slip of paper with this contract reads: For Ned Barry: I am enclosing 500 dollars on your wood and when you want more, let me know. R. Stewart.
The next date is March 25th 1926, on a receipt for 3 dollars paid for a sewing machine by Mrs. J. Cassidy (Mary Anne Barry). Other receipts were dated 14th June 1927, $3.00; 17th Oct. 1927, $6.00; 27th Dec. 1927, $6.00. This was three years after Kevin was born; the baby clothes we found were probably his.
Then the postmark 1932 on a letter of condolence: Jim Cassidy had died in hospital, where the train, so close to his Farrellton farm, had taken him. He left no will. What he owned was divided between the children of his first marriage, Mary Anne and Kevin. The depression had begun and work was hard to find. But Mary Anne must have been a remarkable person. She not only found work as a housekeeper for Prime Minister R.B. Bennett at the Chateau Laurier, but the Chateau kept her on when the prime minister left.
Her sister Kate, Mrs. A.E. Law, may have come for Jim Cassidy's funeral. A letter to her is postmarked June 1932, letterhead: “People's Market, Proprietor B.V. Law, Montesano, Wash., USA." This long letter from Kate's husband describes the depression in Montesano, where 150 families were living on charity; 800 in Aberdeen, a graveyard, with all banks closed; unemployed marching on Olympia, 60,000 in the Seattle breadline. The Red Cross shipping in flour and provisions. . . friends and relatives losing jobs and homes.
Kate may have found work in Ottawa. A letter dated Aug. 17, 1935, with the crest of the Chateau Laurier housekeeping rooms as letterhead, is addressed by Mary Anne to her “dear little son" Kevin, on holiday in Venosta Que. and mentions Aunt Kay would soon come “up to the country."
According to the Plunketts, Kevin also stayed with his uncles on the Barry Farm, Farrellton, in the summer, and so did Mary Anne on her infrequent holidays.
When Kate went back west, her husband was dying. She may have taken Kevin with her, for the next date, 1941, is on a picture postcard of Montesano addressed to Jack Barry by Mary Anne, saying she had arrived safely in Montesano and was met by “Kate and Kevin."
Mary Anne and Kevin never returned from the west. Kate later remarried. She married George Kezish and died in 1974. Mary-Anne Cassidy died in the late 1960's, around the time her two bachelor brothers, Patrick and Jack Barry, moved to Farrellton village.
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While our house was being built, I spent some time looking through census records at the Ottawa public archives. 1851 lists James Barry and Honora (both 30 years old), their children, Eleanor (9), Michael (7) and James (3) all born in Ireland. Still living in a shanty, they had cleared 25 acres, 20 for crops, 5 for pasture, had grown 30 bus. wheat and 100 bus. potatoes (censor's note: blight destroyed many potato crops, tragical for Irish immigrants.) The clearing must have been done with oxen: 2 are listed in the census, 2 cows, a calf, 4 pigs.
1861 lists Barrys living in a log house and Michael Barry, 17, as labourer. Around here that usually meant logging. Boys started as skidders and worked their way up until, floating logs downriver, they spent all year on the rafts until these reached Quebec City. Young James must have stayed home to help with the farm. The 1871 census lists him as farmer. He had married Bridget Field (18) in 1870. The log house was then, probably, a two family house, with a bedroom each for parents and young couple, and the large room as kitchen. Near the log house and springs, central to the farm, a summer kitchen (still standing) and other farm buildings were erected.
Eleanor, the eldest daughter, married a Venosta Hayes. By 1880, James, the youngest, had also moved to a Venosta farm. That year, Michael, 36, married Mary Field, Bridget’s younger sister. From then on, Michael's family worked the Farrellton farm with the old couple.
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Late in September 1976 we heard that Patrick Barry had died of a stroke Many questions we would have liked to ask him now remain unanswered. At his funeral, on a beautiful Fall day, we met some descendants of the Venosta James Barry, and the priest of St. Camillus, Farrellton, who permitted our consulting parish records. These confirmed most census dates and gave exact birth dates for Michael's children, and funeral dates for the two older generations.
Mrs. Carmel Mahoney, granddaughter of Venosta James Barry, later showed me a letter Mary Anne Barry wrote when she first came to Vancouver in the 19505, expressing her joy at early Spring flowers there. She mentioned the “mud till June" of the Gatineau, but still expressed longing for Farrellton, which she never saw again.
The Barrys have gone. We cannot see them, but often feel their presence when l use Mary Field-Barry's quilting frames; or when we look at the axe marks on the great timbers around us, left for future generations to remember these Gatineau pioneers.
This article by Gunda Lambton of Alcove, Quebec, was a prize-winner in the seventh annual Essay Contest sponsored by The Historical Society of the Gatineau — 1978.