September 18, 2013

Squire Trout – a pioneer of many talents

As published in The Erin Advocate

By the time Henry Trout brought his family to Erin Township in 1821 at the age of 51, he had already had his share of adventures as a soldier and entrepreneur. Still, he was ready to start from scratch, helping carve a new community next to the West Credit River.

As one of the earliest Erin settlers, he initially lived in a log shanty with his wife and nine children, planting potatoes, wheat and oats and hunting deer. It was a long way from his privileged upbringing in London, England where his father was the Doorkeeper for the House of Commons, a ceremonial position in the upper crust of society.

After a stint at sea, Henry joined the army and came to Upper Canada in 1792, serving under Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe. During a period of peace, Simcoe’s Rangers built Fort York and the beginnings of Ontario’s road network – Yonge Street, Dundas Street and Kingston Road.

Henry married Connecticut native Rachel Emerson in 1795 and later moved to Fort Erie, where he ran a farm, a hotel, a stage coach line and a ferry service. In the War of 1812, he served as a Lieutenant and Adjutant in the Lincoln Militia.

His businesses were destroyed, and their home was occupied by both sides at various times. After the war, while waiting for the land grant of 800 acres that brought him to Erin, Henry apprenticed as a millwright and carpenter.

Details of the saga, and the struggles of pioneer society, are contained in the Trout Family History, published 97 years ago in Milwaukee, Wisconsin by Henry’s grandson William Henry Trout. It is available as a free PDF download at, scanned for internet access by the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

“The boys, George, William, and Henry, built the first sawmill [in 1826] at what is now Erin Village, which enabled them to build the substantial parental home, which remains to this day,” the author wrote in 1916. “The boys also built the first dry goods store ; I think for some other party. They also built and for a time conducted the first potash and pearl ash factory, which was a great boon to the settlers, converting the ashes made by clearing up their land into cash.”

It is not known why that arrangement failed to thrive, but the sawmill was gutted by fire in the early years. William Chisholm, who had supplied the store with goods, took possession of the property and in 1829 sold it to Daniel McMillan for $700. Trout family members remained active mill workers, with Henry’s son John later managing another Erin sawmill. Henry’s son William (father of the history book author) became an accomplished mill builder in the Norval and Meaford areas.

When the family moved to the Erin wilderness, Henry took up shoemaking, using unworn sections of old boots. They made their own machines for spinning and weaving flax.

Using their own milled lumber, they eventually built a large house into a hillside on the Ninth Line north of Erin Village, with a walk-in stone basement that served as kitchen and dining room. It had a stone fireplace that could take four-foot logs, and built in beside it was a stone oven.

The home built by Henry Trout about 1827, on the Ninth Line north of Erin Village, in a photo taken in 1894. Lumber for the house was produced at Erin’s first dam and saw mill, built by Trout and his sons at what is now Charles Street. The more modern addition on the left had replaced the original workshop. The identities of the women are not known.

There were several bedrooms on the upper levels, and the large room above the kitchen had its own fireplace on the chimney, serving as the living room, library, office and parents’ bedroom.

“About three rods [15 metres] in front of the kitchen was a beautiful perennial spring, walled up with stone, so as to be two feet deep, with a nice little creek going away from it, cool in summer and never freezing in winter,” the History says.

“They generally kept a pet trout in it, who had his cavern at the bottom of the stones, generally out of sight, but would come at call for feeding. With hard work we could empty the spring low enough to catch him with our hands and for a short time admire his wiggling beauty.”

At various times, Henry was township clerk, tax assessor, magistrate and militia captain. Although he was an establishment Tory, he would not tolerate unjust behaviour by government supporters at the beginning of the McKenzie rebellion in 1837. The History says:

“A large party of orangemen, with their too ready loyalty in behalf of the British crown, went around the settlements and collected, by force, if necessary, all the guns and other arms, that belonged to others that were not orangemen, so as to cripple possible rebels, and keep the arms in their own possession till the trouble would be over.

“Complaints were made to grandfather, and all these would-be guardians of the government, were summoned to appear before him. Then after administering a scathing rebuke for their presumptuous act, they were ordered to inform the owners that their guns were at Squire Trout's, and they could go there on a certain day and get them.”

A watercolour of the Battle of Navarino, sketched and painted by Henry Trout at his Erin home in 1849, at the age of 78. A well-educated Englishman, he based the painting on a black and white engraving from a book in his library. It depicts the battle between Russian and Turkish ships in 1827, during the Greek War of Independence. It was the last major naval battle in history to be fought entirely with sailing ships, with the Ottoman armada destroyed by an alliance of English, French and Russian forces.