Botany:'Some of the best land in country', London Free Press, August 19, 1996  

What Botany was:
One of the best area examples of a pioneer farming community. Efforts by Scottish and English settlers since 1830 transformed it from dense, wet woodland to among the region's most fertile farmland in less than a generation's time. Although barely more than a hamlet of couple dozen families even at its peak in the 1800's, it briefly supported a general store, post office, blacksmith, small weekly newspaper and cheese factory.

What it is now: Still one of the region's most productive farm areas, where corn and soybeans are still grown and harvested by settlers' descendants. A brick community centre (formally a one-room schoolhouse) sits between two churches at the east and west ends of Botany and farms still line the gravel road that connects the three institutions.

Location:
In Kent County on Botany Line between Highway 401 and Thamesville.
  BOTANY - It may have been the verdant wildlife that gave this community its name.

More likely, though, the name was a dubious tribute to Botany Bay, the infamous Australian penult colony of the 18th century.

A newspaper recorded the complaint of a less-than-enthusiastic pioneer in this area. "This worse than Botany Bay. Once here, work hard, get nothing for it, here till you die."

Today, when you scan fertile fields of corn and soybeans, you marvel that this - like most of Southwestern Ontario - was once wall-to-wall forest.

And therein lies the enduring importance of Botany.

This is the kind of place with no fanfare at all, quietly moulded this region's reputation for agricultural excellence.

If Botany had inspirations to becoming a political or commercial centre (as so many of its neighbours did), it might have been built near a river or railroad, instead of the middle of the wet woodland.

It might have had a downtown once, instead of a utilitarian general store, cheese factory, black smith shop and two churches and cemeteries for merryin' and buryin'. It might have clustered its residents closer together, instead of plunking them in 40 hectare fields alongside dirt and gravel roads.

But, no, its founders' vision was that Botany become what is now a farming community that lets its harvests do its boasting.

"We have some of the best land that there is in the country," says 86 year old Jim McTavish, a salty bear of a man whose Scottish grandfather settled here about 150 years ago.

The land is so rich, adds 72 year old neighbour and long-time friend Leigh Atkinson, a poor yield here means a lot of other farmers will be "in bad, bad shape."

Both still work the same fields their grandfathers purchased, and they worry that their grandchildren won't know the land as they do.


Neither man has ever considered leaving. "What's wrong with your head?" roars McTavish when the question is put to him. "My grandfather died on that farm and is buried in that cemetery and my father died on that farm and is buried in that cemetery and if I die and am buried there, too, I'll be happy. Why would I want to move to the city?"

He and his wife Edith, married now for more than a half a century, lead a reporter on a tour through the two cemeteries where Methodist and Presbyterian ancestors were buried after lives of howing, plowing, planting and sweating were done. (Though the two churches were neighbours, each had its own burial ground as a form of "underworld management," McTavish jokes.)

Pioneer living was hard enough that some tombstones have recorded each life to the day. "Sarah Atkinson, Died 1883, Aged 80 years, 1 Month, 30 Days."
 

Leigh Atkinson, left, at the cultivator, and Jim McTavish, at the plow, remember when these horse-drawn implements were standard equipment on Southwestern Ontario farms. Both farm in Botany, a tiny Kent County community their grandparents helped settle more than a century ago.

She was Leigh Atkinson's great-grandmother. "Listen, Hear that?" asks Atkinson as a nearby cicada starts its monotone hum. "That means six weeks before Jonny Frost." He shakes his head and frets that the corn and beans won't be mature enough by then.

He fidgets a bit, eager to resume his attack on the weeds in a soybean field.

Generations have moved away to become doctors, teachers, nurses and war heroes. But generations of the same families have also stayed, and many names on century-old tombstones also grace today's mailboxes.

Historian Catherine McBrayne Dunlop, who decided shortly before her death in 1963 at the age of 93 that the community's past should be chronicled, wrote about housewarming dances that "would almost put life into a dead Scotchman" and the Women's Institute group that knitted 250 pairs of socks to send to Canadian soldiers overseas during the First World War.

And she concluded with obvious affection that, after all that, Botany "has never been able to boast of anything, only the good farming country and upright people..."

An overlooked cornerstone, really, on which Ontario's identity was built.

 

Jim McTavish, left, stands at the memorial grave stone of his grandparents, who helped settle the farming community of Botany in Kent County about 150 years ago. McTavish, 86, still owns the land his grandfather cleared and farmed. Leigh Atkinson, right, stands at the headstones of his pioneering great-grandfather and great grandmother, who also helped settle Botany more than 100 years ago when this area was little more than wet woodland. Today, Atkinson farms the same land, which helped shape Southwestern Ontario farmers' renown for tenacity and sound agricultural practices.

 
 
"History Of Botany Community" regularly appeared in the Ridgetown Dominion (by Mrs. W.J. Dunlop)
Oct 03, 1963

. . . originally there were two cemeteries in Botany, one in connection with each of the churches and known as the Presbyterian cemetery and the Methodist cemetery. A few years ago they were united under the name of the United Cemetery of Botany and since that time they have undergone vast improvements.

May 28, 1964

. . . this settlement was by no means free from tragic happenings. One was of a shooting accident. The two men were close neighbours, their properties joining, Mr. John Atkinson and Mr. Neil McMillan. Mr. Atkinson was a good hunter and enjoyed taking his gun whenever an opportunity came and rambled out into the woods to shoot squirrels and rabbits. Squirrels were very plentiful at that time. Having wandered into the bush for a little sport and seeing at some distance what he supposed to be a black squirrel moving on top of a log, he fired his gun and the object disappeared. On going over to the spot he was horrified to find that his neighbour who had been cutting wood in that place and had sat down beside a log for a short rest, his black hat just showing above the log which led Mr. Atkinson to mistake it for a squirrel. The shot proved fatal to Mr. McMillan after living a short time.

Great sympathy was expressed on every side, both to the bereaved friends and the heartbroken neighbour. Mr. Atkinson at the time said he would never again take the gun in his hands but as time is a great healer even in the worst of tragedies, he after several years took a little enjoyment with his gun but there is no doubt a shot was never again fired by him but was a reminder of the sad affair just mentioned.

 
Milestone
Dresden resident celebrating 100th birthday this Friday

An open house will be held this Saturday afternoon at the Park Street Place in Dresden for Myrtle Brown, a Dresden resident who will be celebrating her 100th birthday on March 26th.

Mrs. Brown is understandably looking forward to the open house, to welcoming family and friends who will be honouring her on her special day.

She was born in Harwich Township on March 26, 1894, a daughter to Willmina and Christopher Atkinson, and has over the decades witnessed a vast number of changes. While she once used a horse and buggy in Dawn Township to visit students to whom she taught piano, Mrs. Brown now draws a measure of enjoyment from watching hockey and baseball games on the television set.

This latter activity has been curtailed in recent years, one of her daughters admits, but Mrs. Brown still enjoys music, although her hearing is limited.

As a young girl, Mrs. Brown spent a year studying music at a music conservatory in Detroit, and she later used this skill as a piano teachers. Several of her student lived in Dawn, and they were charged 25 cents a lesson.

The former Myrtle Atkinson married George Brown and left Ontario to move to the Canadian west, first living in Regina, then later on a farm near Fillmore, Sask.

The Browns returned to Ontario, lived for a few years in Chatham, and then farmed near Mull in southeast Kent County. Eventually they moved to a farm on Con. 6 in Dawn township. It was during those years that Mrs. Brown again drew on her musical ability; she was a pianist at the Rutherford Presbyterian Church.

Tragedy struck, however, when Mrs. Brown was only 35. Her husband died and she was left with three young daughters to raise. Another move was necessary, and since her own mother had been recently widowed, Mrs. Brown and her daughters moved, shared Grandmothers Atkinson home, close to Dresden on Highway 21.

During those years Mrs. Brown worked in Dresden, first at the grocery stores of Stroups and Landi Johnston's, R.W. Tyrell's Dry goods store, and later with Mr. Tyrell's successor, Harry Fraser. Mrs. Brown also worked at the Artistic Ladies' Wear in Chatham, and when Simpson-Sears first opened a catalogue store in Dresden, she was the store's first manager.

Mrs. Brown is a member of St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Dresden.

She has been a resident of Park Street Place since Oct. 19, 1987. Earlier that year she fell in her apartment and broke her hip, and has since been confined to a wheel chair. Although her eyesight and hearing have diminished over the years, Mrs. Brown continues to carry a zest for life, as well as a contentment found in life well-lived.

Her three daughters are: Doris North of Chatham, Elsie Stinson of Pain Court and Norma Strangway of Sarnia. Mrs. Brown also has eight grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.
 
Rewarded For Service (Sarnia Observer, November 12, 1996)
Clarke Atkinson's contributions to the community haven't gone unnoticed.

The former sergeant major in the Canadian Army was recently recognized for more than 30 years of community service by Branch 62 of the Royal Canadian Legion when he was presented with the Legion's highest honour, the Meritorious Service Medal.

The award was given in recognition of his work for the legion and with other community organizations. During his 30 plus years as a legion member, Mr. Atkinson, 80, has been involved in many committees, most notably the annual poppy fund where he serves as treasurer. Mr. Atkinson, who joined the legion in 1966 also serves as chairman of the finance committee and as auditor for the 102 army cadets corp., ladies auxiliary at both Sarnia and Petrolia legions, WANNA Br. 515, and with his church.

He has also served as a board member at Devine Street United Church.

Much of Mr. Atkinson's volunteer work involves donating his financial expertise as a retired chartered accountant. And, its a service he enjoys providing to others.

"That's why they put me as chairman of the finance committee. Who better than a chartered accountant." he said.

Most weeks, Mr. Atkinson gives 5 or six of his mornings to work with the various committees and organizations. Then it's home for lunch and then off to help one of the many other groups he works with.

"This mostly take the mornings. I'm usually out of here by noon," he says of his daily visits to the legion to work on this year's Poppy Campaign.

"I don't know about that," added his wife Maxine, whom he met and married while serving as a military staff clerk at District 1 Headquarters in London, from 1942 to 1946.

"I'd say, most of his spare time, about 70 per cent, is spent here at the legion or with seniors volunteering his time."

But, she's not complaining. Despite his other commitments, Mrs. Atkinson says he husband of 52 years always manages to find the time to help her at home when her arthritis acts up.

"Sometimes after a little half hour nap in the afternoon, I'm ready to go again," he said. "I think if they ever made me stop I'd die. I wouldn't know what to do with myself."

Besides the legion's Poppy Fund, Mr. Atkinson is very proud of his work with the local army cadet corps. He is equally proud of them for their assistance in selling poppies each year.

"We work very closely with those kids," Mr. Atkinson said of the legion's association with the cadets. "I enjoy seeing them have something they like to do so they are not out breaking into a store or stealing a car. That's always been my aim to help the little ones along. That's why I'm involved with the 102 cadets."

"As long as I can walk on two feet, I'll still be helping the kids along," he added.

As for the award, Mr. Atkinson said he wasn't expecting it. That it came as a surprise to him when he heard provincial vice president Doug Green mention his name when making the presentation.

"I didn't know anything about it," he said.