BRANTFORD — Jackie Smyth is a Brantford woman with deep family roots in the soil of Brant, Brantford. Recently she contacted the Two Row Times to help her find out what we could about an old family heirloom, passed down from her father John Smyth, who made paint in at his shop located at 31 Colborne Street in the 1940s.
As Jackie and her sister recall, their parents bought an old brick house in Mt. Pleasant in 1943, which was torn down in 1980. When the Smyths moved in, there was an old, handmade, ornately carved, portable desk left in the house. The leg pieces were originally designed to fold up under the desk, however somewhere in history, someone had permanently attached them to the table top.
An excerpt from Longfellow’s Hiawatha is carved on the top saying, “And the Calumet the Peace Pipe filled and lighted for their smoking.” This inscription would lead one to guess it was made to sign documents in the field after which a peace pipe was smoked. That notion is given further credence when you consider who owned the old home before the Smyths got it.
That is about all the sisters could remember about it. Although neither sister can remember exactly why, within the family it had always been through to be of significant historical value.
Our research has found that the home John Smyth bought was built by John Sturgis in about 1820 and was one of the first brick homes built in the region. It was torn down in 1980.
Founding Mt. Pleasant families, the Ellis family and the Sturgis family, were neighbours from the Susquehanna area in Pennsylvania. After the revolutionary war they migrated to Canada, but for very different reasons.
The Ellis’ were staunch United Empire Loyalists wanting to escape post war persecution, while the Sturgis’ were Patriots during the War, with Amos Sturgis serving as a captain under George Washington.
Hard times fell on the Sturgis family immediately following the War and they packed up what they had and followed the Ellis’ north, settling in what is now Mt. Pleasant.
One of John Sturgis’ daughters, Julietta Sturgis, married Russell Hardy who became the parents of Arthur Sturgis-Hardy in 1837. He went on to carry the portfolios of Provincial Secretary of Ontario, Ontario’s first Premier, Attorney General, and Ontario’s fourth Prime Minister.
Hardy died in 1901. But before then, he served in a number of political offices including that of Commissioner of Crown lands. As such, he would sometimes need to travel to rural areas and sign documents in the field. It has been speculated that this could have been his portable desk, and judging by the inscriptions carved into it, may have been a gift from a Native source or a tribute to them by Hardy himself.
The Smyth sisters have asked TRT to help then find out more about the table, since both believe there is a strong Six Nation connection with it.
If anyone can add anything to the tale of the table, please contact us at the TwoRowTimes.com, or call 519-732-5700.