Squire Foster and the Naming of Leamington

Ralph Foster

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.

Ann Wilthew Foster, wife of Ralph Foster

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).


Posted on April 8, 2012, in early settlement 1790-1830, Memories of Lake Erie Shores and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Fabulous, as always, Victoria. One day I will post the information I have on my ancestors in the Maidstone area, the Greaves family. My great great grandfather was a councillor in the Sandwich East area, I believe (off the top of my head) and it would not surprise me one little bit if these men were familiar with one another. They were also pioneers to Canada coming from England. 🙂

    • Thanks Victoria … did any of your Greaves relatives go to Dr. Millen School in Woodslee? There were some Greaves kids there when I was in Grade One and Two in 1962/63 … love to hear about any info you have about your family and your ancestors. My Grandma Fenner’s family, The Tottens were from Maidstone …

  2. Squire Ralph Foster is my great great great grandfather. I was happy to come across your article because I am having trouble finding out more about our family history.

    • Hi Ilene … I’m glad you found my blog. My grandmother has an extensive history of the Foster family … if you send me what you know about your family (names related to the Fosters etc), I can have a look at her book and see what she has written down. I am descended from James White Foster, the youngest son. They had about 8 kids. Fortunatly, my grandmother wrote down who all her cousins were, and even some of their kids right up until the 1960s.

  3. I have a partial copy of a family tree on that side I’ll look up. But for starters. my grandparents were Everett and Elsie Cummings. Elsie was a Foster. But I forgot her parents name at the moment, but I will get that onfo to you as soon as I find it. Thanks for your help.

  4. From what I can tell (there are lots of branches of the family tree and it gets confusing: you are descended from Thomas, Ralph and Ann’s third son. Thomas married Sarah Scott. Their son Wilthew (Ann’s name before she got married), married twice. His first wife was Mary Isabelle Neville. The second (from whom you are descended) was Lillie Mae Wilson. There were two children from the second marriage … Miriam and Elsie. Elise had four children — Ralph, Wilthew, Mary and Olive Adele.

  5. Yes. Mary was my mother and Olive and Ralph and Wilthew are my aunt and uncles. Miriam married Everett Saunders.

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