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James Dickson, registrar of the county of Huron, and a pioneer in the county, is a native of Roxburghshire, Scotland, and was born on the 26th of May, 1816. His father, Archibald Dickson, was the youngest son of Robert Dickson, farmer of Gladswood, near Dryburgh, on the River Tweed. His mother, Elizabeth Rutherford Turnbull, was the eldest daughter of James Turnbull, an enterprising and leading farmer in Teviotdale.
Mr. Dickson, the subject of this sketch, was educated at the Jedburgh grammar school, and his education there was supplemented by one term at the Edinburgh University. In August, 1833, he with his father, came to what was then Upper Canada, now Ontario, and settled in the county of Huron. In the following year, his mother and the remaining members of the family, two brothers and five sisters, all younger than himself, also came to this country, and joined himself and his father in their wilderness home.
On arriving in Huron, Mr. Dickson, senior, purchased from the Canada Company, three hundred acres of land in the township of McKillop, about two miles from where the flourishing town of Seaforth now stands. At that time the whole of the “Huron Tract,” excepting a few small clearings on the Huron and London roads, and in the township of Colborne, near Goderich, was an unbroken forest. Mr. Dickson father was the first actual settler north of the River Maitland, which flows through the township of McKillop. He erected a log house and commenced to clear his land in the month of September, 1833. Here, with his young family, he had many difficulties to surmount, and hardships to endure ere he succeeded in hewing out of the .forest a comfortable home for himself and them. For many years Goderich was the only market for the Huron Tract, and even here it was frequently difficult to dispose of farm produce at any price; while the labor of transportation over the roads in those days, if roads they could be called,can scarcely be imagined by the people of the present generation. But, industry, combined with perseverance, will enable a man to overcome difficulties which seem actually insurmountable, and these excellent qualities Mr. Dickson, senior, possessed in an eminent degree. He was ultimately rewarded, for himself and his partner in life lived to see all these pioneer difficulties overcome, and were vouchsafed the privilege of viewing what had once been a “forest wild,” converted into fruitful fields and a highly cultivated farm. But his time was not entirely occupied by clearing and tilling his land. He took an active part and prominent interest in the public affairs of his neighborhood. In 1843, he was commissioned a Justice of the Peace, and was for many years a member of the old district council, representing therein the united townships of McKillop, Hibbert and Logan. He was also associated with the late Dr. Chalk and Henry Ransford, Esq., as district commissioners for settling small debt cases: In 1862 the partner of his joys and sorrows, she who had shared with him in adversity and in prosperity, departed this life, and in three years afterwards he followed her to the tomb, his death taking place in 1865. Their memories will long live green in the hearts of many, especially of the older settlers, and their acts of kindness and generosity will never be forgotten. They are interred in the Harpurhey cemetery, one mile west of Seaforth.
In 1839, Mr. James Dickson left the family homestead in McKillop and purchased 200 acres of wild land in the township of Tuckersmith, one mile south of Harpurhey. This farm, now highly improved, he still owns. It is beautifully situated on the banks of the River Bayfield and is at present ably managed by his two youngest sons. In 1851 Mr. Dickson also commenced business as a merchant in the village of Egmondville. This business he carried on successfully for eleven years, when he sold it. While a resident of Tuckersmith, Mr. Dickson was elected to the position of reeve of the township, in which capacity he served from 1855 to 1860. He took an active interest in the affairs of his township and instituted many needed public improved.
He also soon took a leading position in the county council. During his incumbency no less a sum than $400,000 was expended by that body for public improvements, and Mr. Dickson had the honor of drawing up and moving in council the motion upon which the vast gravel road scheme which has made Huron so famous throughout the Province, was founded. He also served for many years in the militia, having held several commissions, and was allowed to retire retaining the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He received his first commission while in active service on the St. Clair Frontier during the troublous times of ’37 and ’38. He was also the first clerk of the Division Court, established in Harpurhey, the Division embracing the townships of McKillop and Tuckersmith.
In 1861 Mr. Dickson was elected to the Canadian Parliament, as the representative of the united counties of Huron and Bruce. Here, he soon developed special qualities as a Legislator. He was a fluent, forcible speaker, a good reasoner, and an indefatigable, tireless worker. His genial, jovial disposition, also made him a universal favorite with his fellow members, and before the end of his first parliamentary term, he occupied a position among the leading and most influential members of the House. His popularity with his constituents may be judged from the fact that at the general election of 1863, he was returned by acclamation. At that time the population of the united counties of Huron and Bruce was at least ninety thousand. Some idea of the labor which Mr. Dickson efficiently performed in his representive capacity may be judged from the fact that his then constituency, of which he was the sole representative, is now represented in the local and general Parliament, by ten representatives.
In his address to his constituents in 1863, Mr. Dickson pledged himself to support any administration that would introduce a measure giving Representation according to Population. This was one of the burning questions at that time. Mr. Dickson, among others, believed that the Upper Canada majority was being governed by a Lower Canada minority, and that it was only through representation according to population that his Province, as well as the large and populous constituency he represented, would receive their just share of the public expenditure. This principle having been recognised in the scheme providing for the Confederation of the Provinces, Mr. Dickson gave the Coalition Government, formed for the carrying out of that scheme his unflinching support until Confederation was an accomplished fact. At the close of his parliamentary career in 1866, Mr. Dickson was appointed Registrar of the County of Huron, in room of the late John Galt, Esq., which important office he still holds.
In addition to his many other achievements both in public and private life, it may be mentioned in conclusion, that Mr. Dickson has done much, both by precept and example, to encourage the improvement of the flocks and herds of his adopted county. He now keeps on his farm in Tuckersmith, a remarkably fine herd of thoroughbred Durham cattle, and a good flock of Cotswold sheep, and as a breeder and exhibitor he enjoys much more than a local reputation.
In 1839 Mr. Dickson married Miss Jane Carnochan, a native of Kirkcudbrightshire, Scotland. Of their family of eight children, only five are now living. Her father, Samuel Carnochan, was one of the first settlers in Tuckersmith, having immigrated from Scotland to that township in 1832.
Mr. Dickson will long be remembered for the active part he took in promoting the best interests of the new settlers in the backwoods. He knew, from personal experience, the many difficulties and discouragements they had to contend with, in clearing away the forest and making homes for themselves and families. He also knew that the Province at large would be greatly benefited by their success, and therefore warmly advocated in Parliament a more liberal policy towards them. At the sale of ” Crown Lands,” which took place at Goderich in September, 1854, many of the lots upon which settlers had entered a year or two previously and improved, were purchased by speculators, who had no intention whatever of complying with the conditions of sale requiring “immediate and continuous settlement.” In most cases of this kind brought under his notice, Mr. Dickson succeeded in getting the Commissioner of Crown Lands to cancel the sales to the speculators, and the actual settlers, to their great relief, left in undisturbed possession of their lands. Mr. Dickson also materially assisted in obtaining a large amount from the “Improvement Fund” which he drew and transmitted to the townships in his county entitled to the same.