William John Cann

This was the name of my maternal grandfather. Grandpa Cann was born in Hampton, Ontario. This is a small place north of Bowmanville, Ontario. It is not quite clear whether he was born in the village or on a farm. He first saw the light of day on February 21, 1859. He was the oldest of four children. The second and third ones in this family were twins. They were named Joseph and Mary. They died when they were one and two months old. The other child in this family was a girl named Bertha. She never married.

In the neighbourhood where my grandfather was born, and raised, there lived a large family by the name of Reynolds. When my grandfather was but a small boy he informed his parents that he was going to get a wife from that place. (This was when they were driving by the Reynolds farm.) Some years later he married Cordelia Reynolds.

My ancestry on my grandfather's side belonged to a sect in England that was known as “Bible Christians.” At least my great-grandfather belonged to this sect. What their doctrine was I do not know. When he came from England he threw his lot in with the Methodists. Whether the Gilberts, my great-grandmother's people, were of this sect I do not know. My great-grandmother was only six years old when she came to Canada, and apparently this particular sect never did exist in Canada. So it is of little moment. My grandfather and grandmother were both reared Methodists. My grandfather was a man of high ideals. He refused to take a drink with his own father. His father smoked a pipe but he refused to smoke. It would seem that some of his descendants could imitate him to profit in this matter. I am happy to say that in his large family there has been very little drinking. May it ever be so.

My Great-Grandfather

My great-grandfather came from England when he was 23 years of age. He came with his two brothers, Robert and Edward. Whether he was the youngest, oldest, or in the middle my information does not specify. With the flair some in our family have for remembering birthdays it seems queer that this man was not sure when his birthday was but he thought it was in March. When the Canns came to Canada they settled near the town of Hampton in Ontario. There were at least two more in this family beside the three that migrated to Canada. There was a sister whose married name was Mrs. Gay. Two of her children came to America. She had a son that lived near Buffalo for many years. The whereabouts of the daughter is not known. There was a brother, John, who made a visit to Canada but returned to England. Of his family we have no record.

Like so many pioneer families the “Canns” soon scattered abroad. Robert Cann went to Exeter, Ontario. His descendants are still to be found in that part of the country. They hold a Cann reunion there quite often. One of his daughters is still living. So in this way the link with the past is not far removed.

Edward Cann remained near the place where the Cann family first settled. There are many descendants of this family still to be found in the Bowmanville district.

From the information at my disposal it would seem that the Cann brothers came from England in either 1850 or '51. Shortly after coming from England, Thomas, that was my great-grandfather's name, became acquainted with his wife to be. Her name was Martha Gilbert. In January of 1852 they were married and lived together for more than fifty years. They lived on a farm near Hampton until their son, John, was grown and married, and then they moved to Euphrasia township in Grey County.

My Great-Grandmother

Martha Gilbert was born in England and came to Canada when she was only a little girl six years old. I well remember my great-grandmother Cann. She was in her 88th year when she died. That was in 1923. She was born on December 1, 1836. She was six years old when she crossed the Atlantic. The year then must have been 1842. I have often heard her tell of the terrible storms they encountered. Often the winds were contrary. They spent many weeks on the water. A number of people on the boat died and had to be buried at sea. This made a very deep impression on the mind of this little girl. How little we know of real hardships.

My great-grandmother was married in the January following her birthday on December 1, 1852. As we stated previously, to this union four children were born but my grandfather was the only one that married. So his family was her only grandchildren. For years after great-Grandpa died she made her home with her grandchildren as well as her son.

Like Hannah of old “she was a woman with a sorrowful countenance.” She smiled but seldom. I think she took pleasure in being sad. She was always bitter in her outlook concerning the church. All her descendants were members of the church. This did not make for pleasant relationship between her and her family. Once in a while she would forget her sorrows. How well I remember the stories she used to tell us. The one that fascinated me in particular was about a little dog they one time owned.

If Grandma was sad and discontented may it be said to her credit that she was always busy. She had been blind in one eye for many years but she would come to our house and do all the mending she could find to do. She was also a good knitter. When she had finished the work she could do at our place it was time to move on to another place. There she patched, she mended, and knit until she caught up with that kind of work there. On she would go to still another place. She was never idle. In her latter years I understand she became quite a burden. This was not her fault. Her complaining spirit was her fault. She could have made her sojourn much more pleasant for herself and for those around her if she had only willed it that way. I know it would have been different if she had been a Christian.

Great-great-grandfather Gilbert died when I was four years old. He was 94 when he died. That means that he was born in 1813. If the family came from England in 1842 that would mean that he was 29 years of age when he crossed the Atlantic. He was a tailor by trade but whether he followed his trade in Canada I do not know. I know that he was a farmer in this country. When he was more than seventy years of age he was running a reaper. The horses ran away, and he lost both arms. He lived for more than twenty years more without the use of his arms. He had been a well to do farmer for those times.

I can remember yet his daughter, my great-grandmother, telling about how he had lived until all his money was spent. It seems that some of the family thought he was rather mean to them because he spent all of his own money. There were no old age pensions in those days. The lot of many old people was hard indeed. The lot of older people today is often hard because we do not give them the love and affection we should. It is still our duty to rise up before the hoary head.

Seeking a New Home

My grandfather and grandmother were both born in Durham County and there they were married. It seems my grandfather must have made his home with his parents. He was an only son and his only sister was years younger. Far off fields, then as now, looked green. The farm in Durham was traded for a grist mill in Grey. This venture from the standpoint of material things was not a success. There was enough water to run the mill only a small part of the year. However, that grist mill will always hold memories dear to me. It was here that my grandfather was first invited to hear the gospel.

The move from Durham County to Grey was made by six in all. There was my great- grandfather, great-grandmother, grandfather, grandmother, Aunt Bertha, and Aunt Ethel. Aunt Ethel was but four months old. She was born on August 2, 1881. Five of them came on the train, but my great-grandfather had made a light wagon and loaded all their earthly possessions on it and drove a horse the 150 miles. It took him nearly a week to make the trip. The dog came along too. I wonder how many of us would like to make a trip like that in December? Yet, people will talk about the good old days!

Financially it would seem that the move was a mistake. Yet, we see the hand of God in all this. If my grandfather had not been running that grist mill then Peter Elford would not have brought that load of grain. My grandfather was religious and so was my grandmother. They had had their child christened according to the practice of the Methodist Church. Yet, it was that first summer after they moved to Grey County that they obeyed the gospel under the teaching of Duncan Stirling. I shall ever be glad they bought that grist mill, and thus were brought into Grey County, and under the gospel. God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform.


My great-grandparents were highly offended when my grandparents obeyed the gospel. They obeyed the gospel during the summer of 1882 and Aunt Ruby was born in December of that same year. She was born prematurely by some six weeks. My great-grandfather declared that this was caused by my grandmother being baptized. If that sounds fantastic, listen to this: When it was known in the community where I lived that I intended to preach the gospel, one of our neighbours was telling me what a horrible and dangerous thing immersion was. He said that the Baptist over at Sowerby baptized a girl and six months later she took pneumonia and died. It just really isn't safe to be baptized is it?

A New Job

For more than three years they struggled away and tried to make a success of the grist mill but all in vain. There was just not enough water. Grandpa then took the job of carrying the mail from Meaford south to Griersville and Epping. This contract brought in $320.00 per year. Aunt Ethel says, “Can you imagine a man keeping a family and a horse on that much money?” That was $320.00 per year, not per month. This was supplemented sometimes by parcels and passengers. On the other side of the ledger in the winter time sometimes the road would block, someone would put in a complaint about not getting their mail and there would be a fine to pay. Aunt Ethel further says, “No wonder, if we had syrup we did not have butter.” Between my grandfather and great-grandfather they kept this job for eleven years. I know money went much farther in those days but surely the line between necessity and poverty must have been drawn rather thin many times.

Almost a Teacher

Grandpa Cann took his exams for a teacher but he failed. I do not know why this happened as I am sure it was not lack of mental ability. For two generations little attention was paid to education. I should say secular education for the Bible was taught in the homes of this family. Some went to High School some, but for two generations there was no one graduated from High School that I can recall. I have a brother that holds several degrees but he is the only one. However, with our children there are a number that have degrees. We, as a family, are now getting our share of book learning.

A Preacher of the Gospel

It was not long after my grandfather's obedience to the gospel that he began to help in exhorting the church. At times most of the preaching at the Griersville congregation fell on his shoulders. He lived for a number of years at Thessalon and here, too, he helped with the work of the church in a public way. His last words were addressed to his younger son. These words were, “Keep on preaching.” Aunt Ruby says, “Morris has been more zealous since that time.” I am sure what was said of Abel in the long ago can be said of my grandparents: “He being dead yet speaketh.”

I would like to say that my grandfather practiced what he preached. What preacher of the gospel has not urged people not to forsake the assembly? When the body of my grandmother lay cold in the embrace of death Grandpa went to the meeting. He said there were plenty that were willing to sit beside that lifeless body.

He never moved great audiences to obedience as he stood in the pulpit but when he died he did not have a descendant, that was old enough, that had not rendered obedience to the gospel. Surely the blessing of Abraham rested upon him.

He, very fittingly, passed to his reward on Armistice Day in 1931. He had lived his three score years and ten and a little more. How fitting that this soldier of the Cross should cross over to the better world on November 11, 1931. Eternal peace was his. I am assured that his soul is with the redeemed.

His funeral sermon was preached by G. W. Adkins. Brother Adkins was then preaching for the Meaford congregation.


This was the maiden name of my grandmother. She was born near Hampton, Ontario, on January 20, 1863. Her father was married three times. She belonged to the middle family. Grandpa Reynolds had four children by his first wife. He married a widow with two children and they had nine children. His third wife had four children when they married. Of this large family I met only one of them beside my grandmother. I shall tell of this meeting later.

My grandmother's people were of English descent but when they came to Canada no one seems to know. So far as I know they were all Methodists and there have been a number of Methodist preachers in the family. It seems that they were rather hostile toward John and “Della” for the move they made in obeying the gospel; but I do not think that they were as active in their opposition as were the parents on the other side of the house.

At least one in this family rose to prominence. Benson Reynolds was a teacher of distinction in the Guelph Agricultural College for years. I remember my mother telling about him visiting their home when she was a girl. He offered to take her with him and educate her. I do not hesitate to say that such was neither the will of the parents nor of the heavenly Father. A secular education is a good thing, but a spiritual education is far more needful. It is better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God than to dwell in the tents of sin, no matter how glorious they might appear.

One day I was walking down one of the streets of Windsor, Ontario, with Brother E. J. Purcell. He stopped and spoke to a man. Then he turned to me and said, “This is your uncle.” I asked him who he was. He told me he was Sam Reynolds. He asked me to what branch of the family I belonged. I told him and I shall always treasure his words. He said to me, “Your grandmother was my favorite sister.” He invited me over to his home. He was living in one of the finest homes in Windsor. He had been a successful farmer and drover near Bothwell, Ontario. He had sold out and gone into business in Windsor. He was retired when I met him. He was a gentleman and his wife was a gracious lady. I am sure that I would appreciate them more now than I did then.

There is one other thing that I knew about my mother's people. When the great forest fire swept through the Cochrane area of Ontario, with such devastating force that bush land was left ready for the plough, one of the Reynolds, a first cousin to my mother, went down into a well with his wife and two children to escape the inferno and was smothered there.

What has happened to that large family I do not know more than what I have said, but I do know that early they had begun to scatter, though not far from the original home. When Aunt Ethel was six years old they made a visit back to the old home and she has this to say:

“These places marked are all places where relatives lived. Then there are three or four places farther north where we went.”

Here are places that are marked on this map: Whitby, Oshawa, Hampton, Bowmanville, Enniskillen, Manilla, Little Britain, and Lindsay. In most of these places were relatives on the Reynolds side rather than the Cann side of the house.

We would like to have told more of the young womanhood and girlhood of this woman whose place must stand high in the faithfulness to New Testament Christianity that has characterized the Cann family. I just do not have any such information available. She died a comparatively young woman in the same district where she had spent practically all her married life. She passed to the eternal world on June 7, 1913. This means that she was only a little past fifty when the call came.

Grandma Cann was one that looked well to the way of her household. She was the mother of eight children. I think it rather remarkable that though she has been gone now for more than forty years all of her family are still this side of eternity's shore. They have all outlived her and five of them are past the three score and ten years. Aunt Ruby reveals one little thing that shows what kind of a woman my grandmother was. Grandpa Cann was to preach a funeral sermon. The day was cold with a bitter wind. There was not an extra suit of underwear to put on so she sewed newspaper inside his shirt to break the cruel wind. Solomon said that a worthy woman was one that looked well to the way of her household. By this act aforementioned she showed that she was capable, and did look well to the ways of her household. She was a cheerful woman. I only remember seeing her twice and the last time was only weeks before she died. She was then bedfast but I still remember her smile after all these years. She was an affectionate woman. I still remember her wanting me to come to her bedside and kiss her. I was a BIG BOY of nine and such a thing as kissing someone in the presence of others was certainly beneath my dignity.

In the summer of 1882 she obeyed the gospel. In the summer of 1913 she left this habitation of clay. For thirty one years she humbly, but faithfully, served her Lord. She had done what she could. Her funeral sermon was preached by Fred Cowan. For more than forty years now her body has awaited the call from the grave; but there is no question in my mind that her soul is over where the redeemed do “rest from their labours”. Her works do follow after her.

Published in The Old Paths Archive

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