John Alexander & Agnes - Vespra to Busby . . .

John A. soldier web

John Alexander was born of parents Robert John Munro and Lucy Smith, on their farm on the 7thth line of Vespra Township (Simcoe County, Ontario.)  The year was 1858,  in February.  He was the first of their six children.  The earliest image we have of him is as a young soldier in the Simcoe County militia.  As well, from Bev & Phil Chatterlys’ collection, we have an image of his younger brother, Robert James, probably taken at the same time, and reliably tagged as being fourteen years of age.   That would put the John Alexander image as taken in 1880, when he was 22, which looks right.  We also have a manifest of members of the militia, showing two Munro brothers as serving at the same time. At that time, the militia was called the York and Simcoe Provisional Battalion, later called the 35 Regiment and yet later becoming the Grey and Simcoe Foresters. 

 John Alexander’s obituary has him going west to Stony Mountain (just south of Winnipeg) in 1883, returning to Simcoe County and later heading west again, arriving in 1886.  We can only speculate what the Stony Mountain visit of 1883 might have been all about.  See the sidebar. 

 The Riel affair was settled in 1885 and we speculate that it was late in that year when John Alexander left the farm and again headed west.   His great Uncle Henry had settled in Ferndale, Washington, a village about thirty miles south of the Canadian border.  We can speculate that he would have been corresponding with Great Uncle Henry and family, who were in the lumber business in Ferndale and by all accounts enjoying prosperity. Staying at Vespra on the farm would not have held great prospects for John Alexander. It is true that as the oldest son, he would have inherited the farm, but with his father being only in his 50’s, inheritance could have been years away. As well, his parents, Robert and Lucy, had five other progeny to support.  If we are to judge by the way his life later unfolded, it is fair to suppose that John Alexander had a pioneer spirit and opting to head west was more in keeping with his personality than drudging away on an Ontario farm.  We have a letter sent to him in Ferndale by his brother, Robert James, dated 1888, so by that time he was already established in Ferndale. Great Uncle Henry died in 1888, but his uncle Hugh John Crawford (married to Henry’s daughter, Alathea) and his cousins, William and Edgar, were very much in the lumber business.  We have anecdotal information that John Alexander worked at lumbering and that he also dallied in fruit farming.  Fruit farming?  This suggests that he could have acquired land, but we know nothing about this.  What we do know is that he fell in love with Agnes Lynn Crawford, the grand-daughter of Henry Munro and therefore his second cousin.  In 1890, they were married in the church in Ferndale.  

John Alexander & Agnes Lynn web

 In 1900, they moved to Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.  Anecdotal information is that Agnes was suffering from asthma and relocatng in the north was thought to be efficacious.  The prime reason for moving, though, was that John A. had information that  Alberta was a land of plenty and there was a land grant to be had for the asking.

Their son, John Henry, in his later years, described the emigration this way:  John Alexander travelled to Edmonton on his own for an exploratory trip, then went back to Ferndale where he loaded up two railway cars with equipment, livestock and household effects.  All this he shipped by rail to Strathcona, as Edmonton south was then called.  He crossed the river on the ice and settled on the Davidson farm which he had rented.  Agnes and the children followed on a later passenger train.  They lived on that farm for two years, during which time John Alexander worked for the Edmonton City Works on a major ditch-digging program, the same thing we call ‘infrastructure’ today.  During this time, he found the energy to build a house and outbuildings on what was called the Turnip Lake School section and when all was ready, moved there with the family and took up farming in earnest.   At that point, John Alexander also acquired freighting contracts i.e., carrying mercantile goods from the Edmonton Hudson’s Bay Company establishment to Athabasca, a trading outpost about ninety miles north of Edmonton.  On the return trips, he brought furs and fish back to Edmonton. Bill, being the oldest and most able son, usually accompanied him.  All was done by oxen-drawn wagons or sleighs. About 1906, the family took up farm land in Busby and there lived out their lives. 

Grave trauma struck  Agnes and John Alexander when, in 1918, their son Robert was killed one month before the armistice of the Great War.  A year later, their adversity was compounded when the two youngest girls, Grace and Belle, died of the ‘Spanish ‘Flu’ a pandemic that swept the world starting in 1918.  We can only speculate the toll these misfortunes visited upon Agnes.  She left the farm and went to live in Edmonton for her final years, we believe with Lucy.  In 1924, much loved by the remaining family around her, but gravely weakened in spirit, she died.

John Alexander lived on at the farm, helped by the remaining boys.  In or about 1935, he suffered a severe stroke which left  him barely able to function and completely unable to speak.  Family anecdotal information is that he communicated by writing on a slate for his final years.  In 1938, he died, a true pioneer as  a young Canada struggled to its feet.             


Munro Ferndale house web
JA Munro Busby family web




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