A 1978 Interview with Oscar Sisson

An Interview with Mr. Oscar Sisson

July 25, 1978.

Mr. Sisson was born in 1886 on the farm where the printing shop for the Highlands Express is now located. His mother was English and his father was Scottish. They moved to Stanhope from Cavan (in the county of Durham) during the 1870's. At that time, all property was free grant land.

The purpose of this project was to encourage the settlement of the Stanhope-Haliburton area. The government however reserved all pine and mineral rights. A building was to have been erected on the property within one year, or the government would reclaim the land. The timber was shipped to Montreal for processing. There it was made into pine furniture. If minerals were found on the beach, the owner of the property must report his findings to the government. Only a small percentage of its worth was reimbursed to the land holder.

Most settlers came to the area to work on the road construction.There were only two roads. The Peterson Road ran east and west, and the Bobcaygeon Road ran north and south. The Civil War in the United States during the 70's, worried the Canadians, who believed that the Americans would eventually involve our country. Most travelers on the Bobcaygeon Road were anticipative military troopers, preparing for war.

Oscar's parents “had about 70 or 80 acres of land cleared up and raised cattle and sheep and stuff.” They also had four teams of horses to aid in cultivating their farm land.

Oscar went to school in Carnarvon. There were approximately forty students in his class. He remembers one incident when he scared his young instructress. She "was up on a big high stool, two or three steps up, so she could look over the whole school. I was sitting in one corner, and when she was looking off to the other side, I could get o£f this here desk. I wanted to see what time it was - there was no clock around - so I got out of the desk and crept over on the floor and then I jumped up in front of the desk to see her watch. I scared her and she hit her head against the wall. I got an awful talkin1 to. I was awful sorry; there was almost tears in my eyes." Oscar felt so guilty, he never again allowed himself to yearn for departure at 4 p.m. Mr. Sisson completed his fourth book, but could not continue his education because it was imperative that he work.

In his early days, he was employed at Haliburton Michel & Diamond (Mickle & Dyment) Lumber Company. "There was no eight hour days then; it was from sunrise to sunset. We had our dinner in the bush in the winter." They spent their nights at the camp. "We'd have to do our own washing. I can remember the first wash I done took all the skin off my knuckles because the water was too hot. That's because experience is a hard teacher." Oscar also commented on the working atmosphere, saying, "You'd work to help each other. Today, you gotta think of the money you're gonna get, or the money you gotta pay. They're all after that little green dollar. In them days, if you had a fire, they'd help you build a house and you went back and helped them and the debt was paid."

The first post office was across Beech Lake. Another office was put in at Carnarvon. Postage stamps were sold for three cents apiece. The mailman would start his route at Maple Lake then he would move on to Carnarvon, and finally down to Minden, where the journey was completed. He rode a horse and buggy and seldom missed a day because of bad weather. "In the winter he'd go as far as he could go and then he'd go on snowshoes. He was the best mailman that ever was."

Tourism began in 1921 at Boshkung Lake. According to Oscar, the Matabanick Inn, managed by Tom Archer, was the first hotel.

In the winter he got $2.00 for shoveling roofs, and during the summer he received $1.10 per day for turning grain. We earned every¬thing we made in them days. We had us a lot of good times though. The tourists always wanted to learn to dance. Uncle Clarence was a fair violinist, and we'd get him down and we'd have a dance down there in the hall (past Beech View Cottages towards the lake). It was the council hall then. Council chambers used to be in our house (corner of Highway 35 and North Shore Road) until 1910. My mother used to have a dirty time wash¬ing up. There was six meetings a year, and the men would spit tobacco juice on the floor. Anyway, we learned the tourists to dance. (Oh hell! it was a scream). Later, they built a double cottage (at Matabanick Inn) and by gosh, they'd have a dance on a Friday night. Harold Archer would get us someone with a violin, and we wouldn't have to pay him anything, but we'd give him $5.00 anyway for 2 or 3 hours.

In reply to a question regarding the principles of alcohol consumption by women, Oscar said, "Well, I'll tell you. There was one night there was four or five girls and they had a bottle of something, and some of them got pretty tight. One fellow went head-over-heels drunk, and another, he was pretty tight too. He was singing 'cause he had lots of moonshine. As a rule there was no drunks allowed. They brought some one night, and I pretty near got into a racket. I just said, 'Now lookit boys, you're not in here as long as you're tight. It's outside for you.' I opened the door, and then after the dance was over, six or seven got me when I was closing up. They was there in a car and they started yelling at me. I figured there was something like this gonna happen. I had a pail in my hand, and there was a chunk of ice in it, so I just left it there. I said, 'What do you want?' I knew there was six of them in the car, and one of the guys, the one driving the car, said, “You were giving some of these guys a bit of a hard time. Can you back up what you said?” and I said, “I can back up anything I said.” I gave my nephew a piece of an old shaft out of a car, and I told him to take that, and if they came too many on me, not to see me hurt. So I said, “If you'd like to straighten it up, I said that you were free to come in, but you come sober, and not to fetch a drink. None of them got out of the car, and they never came back drunk.” "I weighed about 180 then (1920's) and I wasn't scared of any¬thing that walked on two legs. I knew they were only young lads with hot air. I could have cracked their heads together two at a time."

Oscar was certainly a brave young man, but not audacious enough to handle a young lady. He explained his long life as a bachelor by saying, MI didn't have time to marry, I always had to help the old people. There was lots of fires then, and I always helped rebuild everyone's houses and barns. That's why I never married. “The heck with the women,” I said, “I'll just leave them alone. I knew a lot of nice girls, but I told them the game is off. So, they didn't wait for me. I don't think I lost anything, I've had a real busy life."

Mr. Sisson was too busy for the women, and too proud to be intimidated by anything else on two legs. The enemy he ever had was an axe blade. His hand was almost completely severed below the knuckles in his early wood-chopping days, "the closest doctor was in Minden, - Dr. Godwin. There was no anesthetic in them days. He just gave me a shot of whiskey to ease the pain. The doctor was where the police station is now. It was winter and it was a long, hard drive by horse and buggy through the snow. My family put sugar on my hand to stop the bleeding." It took an hour for the doctor to sew his hand back together and to thoroughly cleanse it. He had to stay at the clergy-house in Minden until his hand healed because, "they felt a hotel wasn't the place for a young man to be." He stayed there for two months, but did not regain the use of his hand until a year later.

Oscar's life has certainly been lively. Hard times always gave way to happier days. Mr. Sisson, at the age of 92, is still a spry and sparkling young man at heart, even today.

Excerpted from “A Compiled History of Stanhope Township” a 1978 student project by Karen Wedmann, Kim Gorveatt and Godfrey Tyler.

Stanhope Museum Accession #998.17.01