Biography of David Allan Cameron (1848-1902)

Born and raised at Tealaggan, Drumcardine Concession in Kirkhill Parish, Inverness-shire, Scotland, David Allan Cameron was the fourth born child of John Cameron and Isabella Dallas.  

The probable home in which David was born, which still stands at Tealaggan, was in all likelihood built by his father.  Located just up the road from the old Free Church, it is now utilized as a barn and storage building for the modern home, but upon inspection one may identify the original home.  The two story structure now has a slate roof, but may have been originally thatched.  For a young lad, Tealaggan must have been a constant adventure.  Low hills and forest stood in the near distance, and there is little doubt that the Cameron lads spent many hours wandering them.  Little did they realize that this would be ideal training for their adult years, when they all set out from home into the frontier. 

Although his early formative years were spent in Scotland, when David was about six years old his parents brought the family across the Atlantic to Canada.  After the family moved from their initial home, in Cobourg, Ontario, to Bruce Township, Bruce County, Ontario, David attended school in the vicinity of Port Elgin.  While there he met a young lass, also of Scottish stock: Georgina Sebastian.  Her parents, Orkney Island native William Allen Sebastian and city of Inverness-born Isabella Noble, had also moved west, from their original home in Toronto.

The farm in Bruce was short lived.  Word of land to be had in the “wilds” of Manitoba made its way to the Cameron boys, and of the abundance of Scottish settlers immigrating there.  Before long David, as his father had before him, set out for the frontier.  Being a proper lad, he did take care of one piece of important business prior to departing: asking Mr. & Mrs. Sebastian for their daughter’s hand in marriage.  They agreed, but not without conditions.

His quest in the west now had two purposes.  First, he had to apply for a Crown Deed, build a homestead and begin clearing his land.  David’s other task was to sink down roots for his future bride to settle into.  Only then would her parents agree to sending their daughter off to the frontier.  In mid 1876, accompanied by his older brother Kenneth and younger sibling Charles, David set out on foot for Manitoba, which has only been named a province six years earlier.  They headed south out of Bruce County and made their way across the upper United States, carrying their tools of the trade with them.  Their exact route is unclear; though there is a town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan whose name bears a hint: Scots Crossing.  The Cameron boys were well rounded and prepared for the frontier, with blacksmithing and carpentry skills, along with outstanding animal husbandry abilities, honed on their father’s lands.

On January 12th, 1877, in the midst of what surely was a rude awakening, namely his first Manitoba winter, David set up a homestead on the S.W. 1/4 of 20-14-10 in Woodside, along the banks of the White Mud River.  The area was initially known as "The White Mud River Settlement."  As had a number of settlers before him, David followed the north branch of the Saskatchewan River into the outer frontier, near what was then the provincial boundary.  His brothers also homesteaded within a reasonable distance, with their families remaining close-knit for years to come.  Just over one year later, after what must have been a Herculean effort of homesteading, especially since there were significant floods during 1877 on the prairie which impacted the White Mud River, David sent word to the Sebastians that their daughter now had a home to settle in.  His determined bride-to-be, accompanied by her future niece (Kenneth Cameron's daughter Elizabeth Bain Cameron) set out from Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay on a lengthy voyage.  The young ladies debarked their ship in Duluth, Minnesota and took the train to the end of the rails, Moorehead, Minnesota.  Since the line to Winnipeg would not be completed for years, they then boarded a flat-bottomed scow (along with a mixed cargo of livestock, farm implements and a few other humans) and floated down the Rev River for three weeks, before arriving in Winnipeg.  From there, it was only a couple of days via ox cart out to Woodside, where David and Georgina were finally wed by the Reverend James Stewart on November 6, 1878.

Although David did clear land for crops, agriculture was only one of his business interests.  Somehow, he was successful in bringing a number of horses west from Ontario; these animals would remain a key factor in his family’s livelihood for years to come.  A true frontier “jack of all trades,” one of David's more notable occupations was running a stage coach and transporting items west.  One family story relates that he was hired by the government to move three steam engines from Gladstone, the end of river navigation, to Edmonton, Alberta.  The engines were unloaded in the early spring and along with two drivers, Mr. Mooney and MacGregor, David set out with heavy duty wagons.  On their way overland some of the horses caught swamp fever (black fever) and others ate poison weeds; apparently most of them died.  Somehow David and his drivers managed to negotiate with local Indians to obtain new horses.  They finally delivered the engines, as promised, to two area flour mills and one sawmill in the vicinity of Fort Edmonton.  The government officials (or possibly the Canadian Pacific Railroad) told David that they did not have the $1,500 that had been promised in payment. In lieu of cash, the administrator offered David a massive land grant in Alberta.  He would have been the recipient of an entire Township, 36 square miles of land just south of Edmonton.  At that time land was selling for just under $7 an acre, so the trade off would have been quite beneficial to David.  The reason that C.P.R. officials were so generous was simple: they had plenty of land, approximately 36.3 million acres of it.  It was common to offer this asset in place of proper payment.  Despite this very attractive offer, David had to turn down the land.  He owed good sum of cash to his two drivers and also to the Indians that they encountered along the way, in payment for the horses. In the end David and the administrator must have reached some kind of agreement, but the details are unknown.  Following this lengthy, unorthodox business undertaking, the men sold off all but two horses and bought a democrat for the long trip home.

Sometime around 1879, David acquired a hotel property in nearby Gladstone (Palestine).  It was originally operated as the Union Hotel, and later as Gladstone Hotel and Queen's Hotel.  After acquiring the parcel (on which there may or may not have been a pre-existing hotel, which David expanded upon) the “Cameron Hotel ” opened for business.  An advertisement ran in the Gladstone News on April 7th, 1880 stating that the hotel, run by Cameron & Co., was open for business and had “good stabling,” “charges moderate” and that "every attention (was) paid to the wants of guests."  It was located on the north-east corner of the intersection of Morris and Dennis Streets, on a lot now occupied by the Gladstone Post Office and parking lot.  In addition to other municipal events, the first meetings of the Council of the Rural Municipality of Westbourne were held in the hotel, in the spring of 1878.  Besides being an affable hotel host (no doubt greatly assisted in this by Georgina ) David also ran a stage coach west from the hotel.  This Cameron Coach left every Wednesday at 7 AM for the Little Saskatchewan area, arriving at Rapid City, Manitoba on Friday evenings.  Rapid City, founded in 1878 on a projected route of the C.P.R., had become one of the largest villages in the region.  However, since both the C.P.R. and the M. & N.W.R. had bypassed it, it was an ideal market for David and his stage.  For the return trip, David would leave early on Saturday morning, arriving back at Gladstone on Sunday evening.  The cost of the one way, 50 mile trip to Rapid City was $5. 

On August 1st, 1878 David acquired a second piece of land, the S.E. 1/4 of 10-14-10, for a payment of $40 to Mr. Powell.  This property was originally patented by Mr. George Berridge.  The parcel was located just south of the cart trail to Winnipeg (Fort Garry), south of the White Mud River.  Based on his stage and freight transportation activities, the location near the cart trail may have factored into the acquisition.

In addition to driving the stage west, David also had the contract to carry mail west of Gladstone, to what now is the border of Saskatchewan.  Later, the contract was extended to establish a shorter and more direct route to Edmonton.  Up to that time the route was to Qu'Apple, Regina, Calgary and north to Edmonton.  The 1881 Manitoba Census lists David as a "Mail Contractor" by profession, though - as demonstrated by his other business ventures - he was also employed otherwise.  Years later David regaled his sons with stories of tremendous herds of buffalo that he encountered on his first trip, in 1883, which he did not pass through for three days.  Without any other choice, he camped in their midst and surprisingly lived to tell the tale.  The story goes on to relate that on his later trips he did not see a single buffalo.  The new direct route west took David to Shoal Lake, close to where the city of Saskatoon now stands, and from there to South Battleford, across the Cut Knife District, north of Battle River, crossing the Saskatchewan-Alberta border just north of the Manitou Lake on the Saskatchewan side.  Today this route is known as the Edmonton Trail.  It took David between four and five weeks to make the trip each way, with ponies.

Even with their time seemingly occupied with trips west, running the hotel and raising young sons, David and Georgina continued to acquire more land during this period of time.  They purchased the north half of the north half of the S.W. 1/4 of 9-14-10 on March 30th, 1881, receiving the Crown Grant from the government on February 1st, 1882 .  This piece of land was located a little south of the Second Crossing of the White Mud River and the cart trail to Fort Garry (now the Yellowhead Highway) in Woodside.  Once again, it might be speculated that this acquisition had something to do with trail access, rather than farming.

The ever-busy Camerons frequently went on trading trips north, to Indian reservations.  According to their children’s later recollections, David and Georgina were able to “carry on a reasonable bit of conversation with many of the local tribes, since David had traded with Indians along Lake Manitoba, Winnipeg and Dauphin for many years.”  Family stories relate that Georgina would carefully count her children after any encounters with the natives, having heard of their frequent tendency to steal children.  This was in the days following the Reil Rebellion and many had apprehensions.  On one of these trading trips, to Fairford, Lake Manitoba, Georgina gave birth to one of her children.  She had truly embraced the frontier life and was not hesitant to raise her children on the prairie.

It might be surmised that David’s previously mentioned homesteads either did not pan out, in terms to trail access, or they just became untenable, for the Manitoba N.W. Loan Company foreclosed on all three on May 21st, 1885.  The timing of this, with all three homesteads being acted upon concurrently, suggests that David voluntarily forfeited his interest in them.  It seems that the Camerons were very focused on operations at the hotel in Gladstone, with the parcels out by the White Mud River taking on a low priority.  This may have been influenced by years of depression, beginning in 1882, with severe frost damage to crops and drought.

Unfortunately, hotel operations would not be a burden for much longer.  Less than one month later, on June 17, 1885 , the Cameron Hotel burned to the ground.  That Wednesday, sometime just after Noon, fire broke out, quickly consuming the structure - in the words of the local newspaper - "like a piece of pasteboard."  At the time the blaze erupted, David was in Woodside on business.  Reports indicated that the hotel must have smoldered for quite some time prior to being noticed, for "when parties tried to burst in the windows to get in, they were met by such a volume of thick smoke from the burning tar paper as compelled them to give way."  Within fifteen minutes, the entire hotel was destroyed.  The burning paper and embers were blown by high winds up and over the railway tracks and across the river, away from town.  It was widely believed that if the wind had shifted or been heading the opposite direction, Gladstone would have been destroyed.

That day had started off with great promise.  Georgina's sister, Mrs. J.L. Logie, had given birth only two or three hours earlier to a baby girl.  It is presumed that Georgina was with her sister, more than likely away from the hotel, when the blaze broke out.  The Logie's young daughter, two year old Isabella, was at the hotel with at least two of David and Georgina's children, four year old David James Noble (Davey) Cameron and two and one half year old George Magnum Ferrier (Georgy) Cameron.  The whereabouts of the Cameron's other two sons, five and one half year old William John Cameron and their youngest, one year old Robert Allen Cameron, are unclear.  Although the Cameron's "hired man," Mr. Burr, reportedly did his best to locate the children, due to "the number of rooms upstairs, as well as the uncertainty of the children's whereabouts" he could not find Isabella, Davey and Georgy.  Local gentlemen secured the three children's remains late that evening, with David returning to the tragic scene after being sent for.

The Camerons lost everything.  Local reports cited $1200 in damages, including all their "bedding, furniture, sleighs, buggy, etc.  No insurance on them"  Additionally, all residents and boarders in the hotel, including Mr. W. Rintoul, lost all their possessions.      

The children's burial service was held the following day at the Gladstone Presbyterian Church, which was "well filled...largely attended both by town and country".  The Reverends Jephcott, Kinley and Stalker took part in the services, with the children "lovingly dressed" by local ladies, placed in three small coffins draped in wreaths of flowers collected by the local children and interred in Gladstone Cemetery.  

What caused the fire?  Family lore relates that the hotel was receiving a final coat of paint when it went up in flames, consuming the entire structure.  However, a newspaper article from that time related that the hotel was tragically destroyed as a result of the Cameron children playing with matches.  The true story may never be known.  Gladstone of the 1880s was a post village 100 miles from Winnipeg, containing three churches, a saw mill, five stores and, for a few short years, a first-rate frontier hotel.

The Cameron family gradually recovered from the tragedy.  After the children's funeral, David appears to have remained in the Gladstone area, while Georgina was reported (in the July 26, 1885 issue of the local newspaper, the Gladstone Age) to have gone to Portage La Prairie, to be with friends.  It is likely that she was accompanied by their two surviving children, giving David time to provide new accommodations.  The family seems to have been assisted - in the short term - by contributions from the local community, a fund headed by Reverend D. Stalker.  A farm in the nearby Livingstone District (just southwest of Gladstone) was soon their new home, across the road from Georgina’s parents, who had also moved to the frontier by this time.  A small log home was originally built, which had a significant addition by David and his older sons in 1900.  The modern-day location of this home-site is unclear, though in the 1960s the Sebastian home was noted as then being owned by Mr. Ed Hurn.

David farmed and maintained his stage coach line out of Gladstone.  He also continued heading north to Lake Manitoba on trading trips, with documented instances up to the winter of 1889, but probably through the turn of the century.  Turning his attention to contracting, David put out a tender (bid) to build the new Palestine District school house (S.E. 1/4 of 21-14-11), which was located in Livingstone School District, in the west 1/2 of the Palestine District.  The school trustees borrowed $600 to fund the venture, which meant that only David and another local contractor, Benjamin Williscroft, came in under budget.  The building was complete and ready for classes sometime in 1890, and was used by the district until around 1917.  Indications are that David was active in contracting numerous jobs during this time, throughout the Gladstone area.

The years passed and soon David and Georgina had ten young children on their homestead, with their oldest, Will, out on his own.  One brief mention should be made, regarding the 1901 Manitoba Census.  While census records are a valuable genealogical tool, the entries for Davis and Georgina's family are both misleading and of unique interest.  First and foremost, each and every birth date given for the family is incorrect.  The original family bible has been preserved (with images available in David's Photo Gallery) and those dates, written in Georgina's own hand, have been established as absolutely accurate.  Two other items from the 1901 Manitoba Census are intriguing.  Of the eleven surviving children, nine are listed as living with the family at this time.  As aforementioned, the oldest child, William John, was apparently out on his own by this time.  The youngest child, Marybelle, would be born after the census was completed.  One other interesting item was included, namely a young lady who was a live-in domestic helper (listed as "domestic" in the census).  Her name was Mary Newman and at that time she was 21 years of age; nothing further is known of her.  With nine children at home (of which eight were sons) it is understandable that Georgina needed an extra set of hands for housekeeping.   

When David and Georgina's youngest child was just over 2 months old, tragedy struck the Cameron family once again.  Family stories differ from published accounts, but the end result is the same.  Oral tradition states that on one of his numerous business ventures, David was traveling about with his team of horses and sleigh in the winter.  He decided to take a short cut across a frozen lake, walking ahead of the team to test the ice.  David fell through the frozen surface and somehow made it out alive (whether someone was with him or if he simply managed to extract himself is not known).  He met a bitter wind, with no shelter or wood to start a fire.  Another family story relates that he and the team were stuck in a giant snow drift, and had to extract themselves with great effort.  Regardless of how he got wet, he somehow made his way back home.  The Gladstone Age preserved the weeks that followed:

March 13, 1902: "Mr. Cameron, of Livingstone, is seriously ill."
March 20, 1902: "Mr. Cameron, of Livingstone, who had been ill, seems to be improving."
March 27, 1902: "Mrs. Cameron, who has been visiting her sister, Mrs. J. Logie, returned to her home, Livingstone."
April 3, 1902: "The sad intelligence of the death of Mr. David Cameron, of Livingstone, which occurred last Thursday, was received with heartfelt sympathy by his large circle of friends in the district..."

This series of reports confirms that David fought for his life over at least a two week period.  The April 3rd issue of the Gladstone Age recorded his obituary, but no reference to the accident with the team of horses was printed.  Rather, it was reported that

"the deceased suffered an extended illness from typhoid fever which made havoc on his otherwise good constitution and left him so weak that he gradually succumbed."

This fits with the fact that Georgina was visiting at her sister's home, possibly checking in with her two month old daughter and some of the other younger children, who were surely sent from the home during their father's illness.  Upon his turn for the worse, she probably sped back to Livingstone, returning home just days prior to David's death on March 27th.  The issue of the Gladstone Age that was published on that same date was probably ready for the press a day earlier, so the obituary followed in the April 3rd issue.  A devout member of the Gladstone Presbyterian Church, David was given proper church service on April 1, 1902 (owing to the flooded condition of local roads, the funeral was necessarily delayed several days).  In addition to immediate family and friends, David's brothers Alexander and Charles both attended the funeral, along with his nephew John McRae.  The determined, hard-working man who had headed west and pioneered on the frontier some 25 years earlier, raising a large family on the prairie, was buried in plot 81 of the Gladstone Cemetery alongside his two sons that perished in the Cameron Hotel fire. 

After David's death, the family moved from the farm back into Gladstone. Three years passed, and in 1905 his determined and brave widow - throwing caution and conventional logic to the wind - decided that the family should move even further west into the frontier.  Georgina’s plan, which would have made David proud, was to pioneer in the Lloydminster, Saskatchewan and nearby Alberta area, just west of the 4th Meridian.  Curiously, David had been through these areas years earlier in his travels to Alberta, with - perhaps - glowing reports of its potential.  On their way west the Cameron family was on the first train that crossed the new Canadian National Railroad bridge at Battleford, Saskatchewan.  Georgina was a woman that, if anything, usually had a long-term plan.  Upon their arrival, which was on December 9, 1905, the sons that were old enough filed for homesteads for the family.  The Cameron family farm (or, as some referred to it, “The Cameron Ranch”) was located on the S.W. 1/4 of 4-47-1; between the Vermilion River County hamlets of McLaughlin and Rivercourse, Alberta.  By June 1906 (when the 1906 Alberta Census was undertaken) the Camerons were all residing together on 4-47-1.  They had modest beginnings on the ranch, with only two horses, one milk cow, three cattle and one pig recorded in the census.

One other interesting detail comes out of the 1906 Alberta Census.  The Cameron family was not alone on 4-47-1.  There was also Charles Elkington and his wife Sarah living in their household.  The Elkingtons became close friends and neighbors (having moved out of the Cameron home by 1911) and Sarah was a midwife who delivered most of the Cameron children - Georgina's grandchildren - born in the vicinity.

Before long, Georgina obtained eight homesteads for her sons in the McLaughlin, Rivercourse and Ridgeclough Districts.  The promise of Alberta was appealing, so appealing that her parents - the Sebastians - followed the family west once again, in 1907.  With some of the sons established on adjacent lands, the family had a very large spread of territory.

The Cameron home was always a place for company.  In the early days many local families received their mail there.  The Cameron boys had brought David’s team of horses and ponies from Manitoba, so they could make the trip to Lloydminster more quickly than resident's oxen or work horses.  The mail and supplies came to the Cameron home, with the neighbors subsequently arriving there to pick them up.  In 1906 snow and cold weather kept everyone at home.  The Sampson brothers, who received their mail from the Camerons, obtained their Christmas mail from Scotland in March.  Despite the lengthy delay, any mail under adverse weather conditions was a welcome sight.  The Camerons watched with delight as these neighbors opened their holiday package, which was packed full of Scottish shortbread, apples and oranges; a veritable cornucopia to any native Scot.

Homesteading at this time was not easy, especially for a widow with children, but the Camerons lads were well trained for the challenge.  They used ox teams to farm the land, with 22 miles via horseback delivering mail and supplies one full day's travel.  Later, when the smaller horses from the southern section of Alberta and Montana became available (and the money that they needed to make the purchases was saved) the burden of pioneering was greatly reduced.

The last of the free-roaming buffalo were killed within a 100 mile area of Lloydminster.  They had fled the Manitoba area years earlier.  Just as the Camerons had moved westward, so did the buffalo.  While the Camerons had no hand in the demise of the buffalo, they were nonetheless frontier hunters.   Initially using their grandfather William Allen Sebastian's old Zulu Musket, the Cameron Boys provided meat for the family table in the form of prairie chickens, partridge, ducks, geese, sandhill cranes and rabbits.  They also fended off such predatory animals as coyote, skunks and badgers as a manner of habit.

Georgina returned to Lloydminster each year (for the Cameron Ranch was removed from the town proper) to get the school aged children to classes.  She also operated a store in McLaughlin for quite some time, which her daughter Marybelle maintained after her mother's death.  Her daughter Georgina and sons Oswald and Norman went to school in Lloydminster until a school was built in their district.  In 1912 a number of neighbors gathered at the Cameron home; from this meeting a school was built.  The district asked Georgina to name the school: she called it "Allister."  It was officially opened on Thursday, December 12, 1912, with a lively party of 80 Rivercourse and McLaughlin residents, where a "programme, which consisted of comic and sentimental songs, recitations, musical selections, etc...was carried out by artists from far and near."    

The family farm was, for the most part, left to the younger boys until each fall, when the older boys would return from working on the railway.  In the winter they hunted coyotes and had trap lines.  The Cameron cattle roamed free over many acres of unclaimed land, and the children spent quite a few hours on horseback rounding them up.  Slough hay and prairie wool was the feed for the winter, as there was little grain for the cattle.

Georgina’s home seemed to always have family stopping in.  The sons would provide large dinners; usually roast goose that they had bagged earlier in the day.  As the years passed, with so many children and grandchildren, Georgina was always entertained.  She passed away in 1944, and was buried in the Cameron Family plot of Lloydminster Cemetery.  Her death left a wide-spread family without its "Queen" - a title given out of absolute love and respect.  Her sons in Chicago once had her sit for a sculptor, who made a marble bust in Georgina ’s likeness.  This piece of art was later donated to the Barr Colony Heritage Cultural Centre of Lloydminster, where it is displayed in the Richard Larsen Museum's Pioneer Life Room.  It bears the following inscribed plaque:

GEORGINA SEBASTIAN CAMERON
1857 -1944
PIONEER OF McLAUGHLIN-LLOYDMINSTER DISTRICT

Georgina is buried in the Cameron family plot, Lloydminster Cemetery