Squire Foster and the Naming of Leamington
By Earl Robson, in Memories of Lake Erie Shores
September 6, 1951 .. The visiting mayor of our Leamington namesake will set foot in a far different place than did the first Englishmen to arrive in this Spa. The first Foster (Ralph Foster and wife Ann Wilthew) either came from the vicinity of the Royal Spa, or was familiar with the country. Among the persons dear to my memory is my Grandmother Foster, Canadian born, to whom I listened when a boy as she told fascinating tales of people and incidents in the pioneer days, when scattered log houses were set in clearings along Talbot Road East. If in her descendant’s dribble, something of a taste for aesthetics shows up, then it belongs to her lineage. Books she held sacred, from the simple fairy tale to the profound and sonorous Milton; flowers symbolized the culture that was yet to come into a crude, handmade settlement. I heard her tell of the joy expressed over the first picture to come into the drab little home. It was the frontispiece of a stray old country periodical, the first to find its way far into the gloom of the New World. A visitor in those times was met by ox-cart.
Our grandfather, John Foster, a Steadfast and purposeful farmer of pioneer times, was the Canadian born son of Ralph (and Ann), the original transplanted stock. Ralph had broken away from the established life in England, attracted by the adventure of a new world. He, like the rest of the hardy home-seekers, braved the terrors and tortures of long months aboard a wooden windjammer then the hazardous overland trail to reach the Leamington Spa, not yet born of a forest. There was no grand reception awaiting his arrival. Only brutal challenge to his strength and courage faced him.
Ralph took up a section of wooded land a mile down Talbot Road and began the titanic work of hewing out a kingdom from the wilderness. In time he became the central figure in a rugged settlement, modelled as far as he could mould it after the social strata of his native land. He became known as Squire Foster and for hears held the office of magistrate. Tradition hands down the claim, that it was he who renamed the Village of Gainesville to Leamington. The naming, I have heard from my elders, took place in the old council chambers, a a small cabin sized building located on the farm of Leonard Wigle, grandfather to Leonard and Ernest. the historical old lodge still stands on the original homestead of the first settle, Leonard Wigle, now the property of Hattie Wigle, wife of the late Forest and mother of Whitney.
Out of a dim, frowning forest of yesterdays is handed down by our grandmother a little incident of life as it once was: Once when Squire Foster was burning logs back on his bush farm, two men approached him. the brawniest of the two explained he was bringing the little fellow to justice for pilfering. The plaintiff insisted the magistrate go into the village council chamber and open court. The old squire was reluctant to leave his fire, so set the culprit on a stump – the dock, and opened the case. He himself acted as counsel for the accused man, against the evidence of the plaintiff, found the stumped one guilty, and after a severe lecture and a solemn promise on the part of the wrong doer to mend his way, let him off on a suspended sentence.
Thus a thin beam of light back into the dim past! It would be enlightening to the people of England, as well as to the younger generation of Canadians, if a glimpse of raw pioneer life could be thrown on a screen. the more we pride ourselves on advancement, the more we lose sight of the fact that the grandest victory recorded in English history was the one won over monster wilderness by the brave, stout-hearted pioneers.
And for them, we honour their memories with neither holiday nor tablet!
(Ed. note: Ralph Foster and Ann Wilthew Foster were the great grandparents of Madeline Wallace, and thus, the great great great grandparents of me. VF).