John Lynch: Pioneer, Politician, Essayist and Directory Compiler

John Lynch was no F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemmingway. He didn’t earn his living by his pen. His works were never part of a high school curriculum. But his works were prize-worthy. They changed the course of people’s lives and have provided those who live a century and a half after their publication with a lens on those earlier lives. What were these works? Five prize winning articles on pioneer life and the means of pioneer agriculture, a lecture on the progress and prospects of Canada later committed to a pamphlet and a directory of Peel County. This article will focus on one of those articles and the portion of the directory relating to Brampton.

The Man

Beneath the Alders fans will be familiar with the name John Lynch. His position as Reeve of Chinguacousy Township and later the village of Brampton and his instrumental role in bringing the railway to Brampton have been lauded in past BTA articles and videos. He was a key figure in the incorporation of Brampton as a village separate from Chinguacousy Township and in the movement to separate Peel Country from its union with York County.

His influence likely derived from the respect he earned as a visionary, hard-working citizen. John Lynch was born in 1798 in Gorham, New York. As a fifteen year-old boy, he immigrated with his family to Canada, settling in Cornwall. In 1819, he moved to what is now Brampton settling on a lot in the territory recently acquired by the British from the Mississaugas of the Credit. He lived as a pioneer farmer until 1832 when he moved to Toronto and became a brewer and, later, a justice of the peace. Brampton beckoned and in 1839 he returned to the area and went into business with his brother-in-law, John Scott, operating a brewery and an ashery. In the succeeding years, he accumulated a number of lots leading in 1859 to the commencement of his last business incarnation, this time as a real estate broker and land conveyancer.

A catholic in a town very much protestant, Lynch donated the land upon which the Brampton Guardian Angels Roman Catholic Church was built (later destroyed by fire). He was married twice. His first wife died in childbirth within a year of their marriage. His second wife died nine years into their marriage, leaving him to raise their young daughter.

The article

In 1853, Lynch and his brother-in-law, John Scott, wrote and submitted to a contest essays on the state of agriculture in Peel County. Their entries placed first and second, respectively, and were published in Volume One (1856) of the Board of Agriculture of Upper Canada’s “Journal and Transactions”. Lynch’s influential article instructed those in Canada and beyond about agriculture and settlement in Peel County. It provided advice to newcomers about the clearing of land, the number of oxen to acquire, the crops to plant and the construction of a dwelling home. The article had its literary moments including its description of the Caledon hills, the difference being so striking from “the level, monotonous country” south of it, that a person “on first ascending those hills feels as if he is suddenly transported into some distant country.”

Lynch made observations not just on the land and the physical geography around it but also the people utilizing it. In a time honoured way, he lamented the plight of the younger generation. Having waxed nostalgically about evenings spent in the pioneer’s cabin--the men and boys pressing the flax grown of their own labour; the women and girls spinning it into good linen before converting it into articles of clothing--he decries an almost abandoned industry. The boys, he said, found the shirts made with the home spun linen too coarse and the girls lost their taste for spinning. The result was that the girls of Peel became “sadly deficient in this useful accomplishment.”

The Directory

Lynch’s Directory of the County of Peel for 1873-1874 was of an entirely different nature. A keen observer of his surroundings, Lynch’s articles on pioneer life and agriculture could presumably have been written on a solitary basis over a number of lamp-lit evenings or early morning dawns. The directory, on the other hand, would have been a laborious exercise, produced with the aid of a number of assistants and contributions from hundreds.

In 1973, on the anniversary of Brampton becoming a town, the Brampton library reproduced portions of the directory pertaining to Brampton. This part of this article is based on that reproduction.

The directory has four parts— one of which demonstrates Lynch’s flare for writing. In a little over two pages he summarizes the history of Brampton during the period of 1820 to the date of publication. In those words, he sketches a picture that comes to life in the balance of the directory. Having described the very early years, he then wrote:

All these primeval things have passed away. The fishes are all gone. The poor
partridges, the deer, bears and wolves are destroyed or driven away, and in their
place may be seen our streets, wagons bringing in the produce of the country,
men and women on business or pleasure, and lots of children going to or returning
from school.

The remainder of the directory is comprised of three parts, similar in nature (if not style) to the yellow, blue and white pages of yesterday’s telephone books: a part that describes matters of civic and community life; advertisements for businesses; and the listing of local residents and businesses.


I love looking at advertisements of different time periods—those of 1907 (as commented on in the December 2021 newsletter here) differed very much from those of today and those of 1873 differed even more. The advertisement section of the directory is comprised of 17 pages—14 containing full page ads and three containing smaller ads. The mode of advertising at the time seemed to be to list as many products or categories of products as possible and to do so in an equal number of different font types.

Very few of the ads had slogans, unique sales propositions or testimonials. There were no logos or trade-marks; no colour. Only four ads had pictures—small drawings—and in two cases the drawings were identical, indicating that they were provided by the publisher. Fortunately, the ads for two different cabinet makers were not displayed next to each other!

My favourite ad was the one of J. E. Wood’s Brampton British Confederation Hair-Dressing and Shaving Saloon, etc. Though this business appeared to be directed at men, it was not called a barbershop. Nor was it called a salon. The business was open “at all times during business hours” namely: 7 AM to 8 PM each weekday; Saturday 8 AM until 10:30 PM. It was closed on Sundays. In an unusually great number of sentences for an advertisement within the directory, the ad states that:

When I say open at all hours, I mean my assistant or myself will be on hand to wait on customers even at meal hours, as we relieve each other so that we may accommodate all that come. On Saturday evening we do not go to tea, in order to carry out the foregoing principle, namely: to do all we can to accommodate all who kindly give us a call.

PS Haircutting should be done in the fore part of the week, as Saturday and night time is not the most convenient time for the work.

From this ad we learn a couple of things about the time. The meal at the end of the day is called tea. Men were shaved in the latter part of the day, presumably to give them a smooth face (or at least the portion of their face not covered by moustaches, beards, mutton chops, etc.) for the remainder of the evening and especially on Saturdays, to last them through Sunday.


The second largest part of the directory at 13 pages is the alphabetical listing of the 500 or so heads of households and businesses in the town. At two columns per page, each entry for an individual sets out the person’s name, occupation, if one, and the street on which the person resides or works. (It isn’t clear which.) No street number was included. For businesses listings, which are by far the minority and which are intermingled with those of individuals, the directory sets out the name and nature of the business and the street on which it is located.

Men without occupations were sometimes described as gentlemen or as a “gent”. Where women were listed, they were often described as widows (Mrs. Elliott). One woman (Miss Stinson), was described as a dress maker but very few women were listed with occupations.

The Picture Painted

From all of this a picture of life in 1873-1874 emerges. Brampton is on the cusp of transformation from a village to a town. The Directory lists the members of the village’s last council which served in 1873 and the town’s first council to serve in 1874. All council members are male.

The population was comprised of 2,317 souls, approximately a quarter of whom were registered in Brampton’s free public and additional private schools. Brampton had two telegraph companies within its confines, one operating railway station and another under construction.

In the listing of churches and clergy members we can see the town had a number of congregations: one Church of England, two Presbyterian, three Methodist, one Baptist and one Roman Catholic, the latter of which did not have a resident clergyman. Mormons, who had no church in Brampton, were occasionally visited by clergymen.

The town had within it all of the manufacturing concerns necessary to support their way of life including those of a clearly by-gone nature (e.g. coopers, waggon-makers, carriage makers, tinsmiths, blacksmiths, tanners and saddlers), as well as those that were more enduring (e.g. watch makers, shoemakers and pump makers).

There were numerous stores at which one could purchase food, medicine and household goods. It was not always necessary to pay cash for your purchases. The advertisement of J. & G. M. Scott made it clear that goods could be purchased with fresh vegetables. However other services, including those of the local physician, were only available if paid for with cash.

As the county seat, people travelled to Brampton to conduct business. The directory lists a number of residents who were innkeepers, hostlers or ostlers. (The latter two words used interchangeably denoted those employed to look after the horses of people staying at an inn).

The earlier efforts of John Elliott and William Lawson and the later efforts of the temperance supporters, were without affect at this time. The directory lists a number of bartenders as well as one or more brewers, liquor dealers and tavern inspectors.

We tend to picture people of the time as somewhat severe and dour looking, but from the ads we can see that they had their share of fun. The advertisement of my great grandfather James Golding, refers to the baked goods provided to balls and parties. Balls! Two advertisements were for pianos.

It was a growing town requiring a great deal of construction of residential, commercial and civic buildings. The efforts were supported by a plethora of listed bricklayers, laborers, carpenters, finishers and painters, including Jesse Perry, builder.

Rural life was not so far from the bustle of the towns’ four corners epicentre. Two or more men residing on Wellington Street described themselves as farmers and others described themselves as teamsters (those who drove teams of animals).

Brampton being the seat of the county jail and court house, it was not surprising to see in the listing a bailiff, a jailer (Michael Crawford, spelled “gaolor”), a turnkey, a constable, a night watchman, a judge and a justice of the peace. There were a number of barristers and law students

Medical needs could be met in town with a dentist and a number of druggists. For pets and livestock, there was a veterinary surgeon.

Resources were on hand for financial matters. The populace included book keepers, bank clerks, bank tellers and at least one tax collector.

Among the most unique of the occupations I identified were the following: a machinist, an engineer, a livery, and –this is my favourite—a bird stuffer. Without more I cannot say what Thomas Bulleyment did in the latter role. Was he a taxidermist who limited his subjects to fowl? Or was he a specialist butcher?

I will leave it to you to speculate as you consider the town and the times in which these people lived.


John Lynch, Dictionary of Canadian Biographies by Douglas A. Lawr at Article includes a complete listing of Lynch’s works.

A history of Peel County, To Mark its Centenary, 1967, Charters Publishing and in particular Chapter Two, Agriculture From Humble Beginnings to International Fame written by J. A. Carroll and which reproduces in part Lynch’s 1853 essay on farming in Peel.

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