By Dorothy Smith
Crime certainly existed in rural places and I have read about it in the newspaper. My cousin (Mary Wilkie)’s aunts were the two McGonigle children murdered in Cumberland Village in 1890 (but here we have a divide as the anglophone community was instantly certain Larocque was the murderer and the francophone community was equally sure the anglos were so sure because he was French-speaking and Catholic). The Larocques come back into the news when a year or two later an uncle gets involved in a common assault against some other man. We have the doctor in Vars. We have the 2 men who started murdering people for insurance money in the 1920’s I think. I have also seen a report of a man killed with a fork to the chest (I assume a hay fork and not a dinner fork although some family dinners can get like that). There was a running feud in Cumberland Village between two neighbours which ended up in crime. Running a still was also common but I have found very few newspaper records of blind pigs in our area and the OPP records on liquor convictions are closed as I discovered when I tried in the past to follow this up. My grandfather’s store was broken into one January night and he dealt with it by shooting the guy who then took off across the river to Buckingham where he was tracked by the blood stains on the snow and caught. And we have the question – did the Roman Catholic chapel in Cumberland Village just burn in the 1850s (as so many wood buildings did at the time) or was it burnt as said by the French and Catholic population and as was actually happening up around Lanark, particularly on November 5 when the Orange Men remembered Guy Faulks.
But one of the problems with talking about crime is a theme that we can see above – it tends to cause people to go into tribal thinking (us against them) particularly in a place like Cumberland with two language populations. And there are personal issues in that the descendants are still here – for example my cousin David Chamberlin was spitting angry about a write-up in the Ottawa Citizen a few years ago on the insurance murders because it basically said our grandfather Harvey Cameron was a greedy yokel of a general store owner who was selling insurance on the side to anybody with no questions asked. Certainly I would not attend a meeting if I thought the speaker would slam my grandfather! And yet it is fascinating how small communities deal with crime and violence. There were no police until the OPP and even then they were a long ways away at times. My grandfather was very ready to go it alone in defending himself, his family and his property – he used his rifle both to deal with the burglar but also to deal with a local drunk who decided to have it out with him late one night because he blamed the Camerons for the village being dry – but the drunk didn’t bother getting out of his wagon and staggering up to the house. No. He drove his team and wagon over the picket fence and up to the front of the store. My mother remembered how terrified she was as he kept whipping his horses forward causing them to scream and crash their hooves against the door leading to their apartment above the store. The only good thing about that story is that I don’t know the name of the drunk so no-one can be upset about their grandfather being maligned and it was all within the same tribe so to speak – so no anti-French and anti-English sentiments entered into it.
published in the Fall 2017 issue of the Caboose