Neil MacKenzie 1821–1921
Neil McKenzie, a remarkable man.
Our centenarian townsman, who was never ill in his life and never tasted medicine is now in hospital with a broken leg. Only his accident prevented him voting for Spotting.
The sympathy and interest of all were aroused by the recent accident in which our venerable centenarian townsman, Mr. Neil McKenzie, fell and broke his leg. He has since then been confined to his bed in the hospital, but has been bright and cheerful.
He passed his hundredth milestone on Friday, December 2nd and as mentioned in the Star last week, Town Council took note of the anniversary by sending him a letter and a bouquet of flowers. This week we are able to present a picture taken only a few days before his accident, which shows him sawing wood at the residence of his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Donald McKenzie. This remarkable man has never known what it is to be ill and has never taken medicine in his life. He was hurt once before now, and now, of course. His recent accident has laid him low but even so, his remarkable vitality keeps him cheerful.
The McKenzie family are a remarkable family in more ways than one. Most of the sons of this venerable patriarch are large men. Their mother was a very large woman and the proportions of one of their sons (Roy) who has been visiting the old home the past week, have attracted much attention. Seven feet in height, four hundred and twenty-eight pounds in weight give some idea of the conspicuous figure this gentleman presents as he goes about town.
Mr. McKenzie, by the way, is a strong Conservative and but for this recent accident would have cast his vote for the Meighan candidate in the recent election. He does his own thinking, however. In the days of George Brown, he was a follower of that leader.
Mr. McKenzie was born in Applecross, Scotland, on December 2nd, 1821. He came to Cape Breton with his father when he was but three years old. He lived there until 1848, when he came to Quebec, being at that time a young man of 27. He worked there for a while then came to Hamilton and worked there for about a year. In 185, he took up land on the 12th Concession of Ashfield. He lived in Colbourne for a couple of years, where he was engaged in farming and building, working for the Buchanans and Youngs of Colbourne. He had been married before he left Cape Breton, to a Miss Mary MacRae, who was a native of Kintail, Scotland, and whose family had come out to Cape Breton.
When Mr. McKenzie took up land in Ashfield, the country was a dense forest through which wolves and other wild animals roamed at will. There were no roads through the forest and blazed trails guided the traveller who, more often than not, journeyed afoot. Mr. McKenzie's first job in preparing a homestead in Ashfield was the erection of a log cabin. Un-hewn logs were used in the construction. The roof was half logs scooped out. The fireplace was built of poles for framework filled in with brush and then covered with clay. The bed consisted of poles inserted into holes in the walls at one end and supported at the other end by logs. Hemlock boughs were laid over rough framework and the bed made on top of this.
Then came the work of making the clearing about the house, care being taken to fell the trees so that they would not fall on the primitive shelter which was the pioneer‚Äôs protection against the elements and against the wild animals in the neighbourhood. With a little clearing, the planting of potatoes and a little wheat could be started and so progress was generally made.
As an instance of the hardship of pioneering days, it was told that when Mr. McKenzie first brought his wife to the new home in Ashfield, probably the journey would be made with a yoke of oxen, he had to dig out several feet of snow from the interior of the cabin before he could light a fire in the fireplace, while Mrs. McKenzie sat on the stump of a tree, the only sort of chair with which the cabin was provided. It was the housewarming and start of civilization in what is now the prosperous township of Ashfield, by these intrepid pioneers who won for themselves and their posterity a home in the New World.
We have said that much of the travelling was done afoot. Mr. McKenzie used, when he was working in Colbourne, to trudge home on Saturday picking up thirty of forty pounds of meal at Harris mill and continuing with this load for the remaining ten miles of the tramp. The arduous work of a pioneer meant early rising and Mr. McKenzie's rising hour was about 5:30 and he was always in bed by 9:30 at night. These hours clung to him all through his life and it was only quite laterally that he has lain about a little later.
The first old Gaelic church in the neighbourhood, Mr. McKenzie helped to build and they used to walk to this on Sunday, a distance of five and a half miles.
Mrs. McKenzie spoke and understood only Gaelic. Her husband knew both Gaelic and English. She died in 1883 and Mr. McKenzie was married again to Sarah MacDonald from Prince Edward Island. She died eleven years ago the coming January and since then, Mr. McKenzie has lived in Goderich. Mr. McKenzie‚Äôs family have all been home to see him in the past couple of weeks since his accident. These are John Neil McKenzie of the 12th Concession of Ashfield; Neil McKenzie of Toronto, who was here the week before last, Rory of Kansas City who was home last week, Mrs. Dr. R. MacKenzie of Lochalsh, and Mrs. James Scott of South Line of Kincardine Township.
(From the Goderich Star, 1921, shortly before he died of heart failure)