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History Page 10

Great Canadian Portraits

Ultra Rare Canadian Heritage Discoveries

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Robert Farries Sr. (1802 - 1885)
Orig. painted photograph - Size oa 18 x 20", image 7 x 9
Found - Milton, ON
Original glass & Eastlake frame
Without doubt the most fabulously preserved - and the largest - Eastlake frames we have ever seen, have protected these family heirlooms in mint condition, proof that the family treasured these portraits for decades after the Patriarch, and his wife, had passed on.

Robert Farries Sr. (1802-1885)

Discovered! - Two absolutely fabulous original portraits, of two of the founding pioneers of Ontario, in the attic of a small farm house, near Rockwood, carefully wrapped up in a trunk, where they had lain, undisturbed for many decades...

Janet Farries Sr. (1814-1883)

The auctioneer triumphed, "Look at those Eastlake frames, the best I've ever see!" And they were, in mint condition. But no mention of the people. And no one asked.

To us, the portraits were stunning, but sadly, had no names. Neither the auctioneer, nor the audience, expressed the slightest curiosity about the people in the pictures, which were obviously one-of originals, done by a skilled artist, in colour, well over a century ago...

What happens in these circumstances, very often, is that someone buys the frames then throws away the pictures, and puts in new ones, of flowers, or cats, or kids; everybody seems to hate anonymous people.

But we don't. We believe the names of people who were once beloved enough to be celebrated in fine portraits are worth searching out, to reconnect the face to a personality that was once honoured and respected within the family and the community.

The Hunt Begins: We sought out the consignor and learned that an elderly farmer, living alone, had found the portraits in a trunk, years ago, when he had bought a farm near Acton, Ontario, where the last members of the family had died out, leaving him their personal possessions.

A week later he reported that the pictures might be from a family called Ferris. Sadly, because the descendants had long passed on, no one could now be more specific.

It seemed a disappointing and unsatisfying end to a search we had begun with much hope.

Word of mouth provenance is not great and had left us little to celebrate. But the farmer did mention that the Wellington County Atlas of a hundred years ago, mentioned the farm...

We kept a lookout for one...

Great Canadian Heritage Treasure
Janet (nee Patterson) Farries Sr. (1814 - 1883)
Orig. painted photograph - Size oa 18 x 20" , image 7 x 9
Found - Milton, ON
Original glass & Eastlake frame
The pictures appear to be photographs that were hand painted, a portrait technique that was popular among urban elites in the middle of the nineteenth century. These were probably done around 1860.
Two months later, at a rural antique show, we found a copy of The Wellington County Atlas of 1906, all tatty and held together with electrical tape.

Breathlessly, we leafed through its loose pages.

Dejectedly, we discovered that the index listed no one called Ferris... and unlike other similar atlases for other counties, published in the nineteenth century, there were no pictures of farms we had hoped to find. Only photographs of people.

Hmmhh... But there was a listing for someone called Farries... on page 35...

And there it was, the photo left below, obviously copied, a century ago, from our original, top. A fabulous reward for our perseverance to restore the names to the faces of a couple of Canada's original pioneers.

Attached was the bio which gives the complete life history of Robert and Janet Farries, and makes the portraits much more valuable, representing two pioneers that built Canada, and spawned an enormously successful family, from a small dirt farm in rural Ontario.

The Portraits: It is likely that the three US doctor sons collaborated to have the eldest, Robert, take the family photos with him to New York, and have a skilled society artist repaint them, bringing them back as a Christmas present on one of their trips home.

Repainting photos was all the rage in the 1840s and 50s among the professional classes in the urban centres of the US and Canada East and West.

The portraits probably represent Robert and Janet as they looked in the 1860s. Eastlake frames started to appear about 1870, and Robert, Adam, and Francis, were no doubt, determined to get the very best to honour their parents.

And in over 130 years, these two portraits had never left the farm house in which they had been lovingly presented, and hung with pride.

An enormous testament to the high quality of the Old Country stock that bravely left home and hearth in Scotland and gambled all on the Canadian wilderness.

Robert and Janet produced no fewer than three doctors, and three ministers - including two that married into the family - as well as a merchant, and three successful farmers.

It is a success rate of offspring, that, a century later, must remain unparalleled among Canadian farmers, and the envy of many an urban parent across the country.

It is nothing short of astonishing that Robert and Janet could grow such a talented and educated group of children with nothing but their own two hands from a dirt farm in this remote part of southern Ontario.

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Above all of it, the Robert Ferries farm today.

Left is a map showing his farm among the lots of the original settlers in this corner of Nassagawewa Township in Halton County, north west of Toronto, Ontario.

The busy place is Rockwood. The location is a few kms west of Acton on the way to Guelph.

You can see Robert Farries has two lots near the south end. Even today the house is hidden from the road by a bush lot.

Though newer buildings have been set up, the old house is still on the same location shown on the map. The family photos were found in a trunk in the attic of the old house.

It's hard to imagine the years of back breaking toil that Robert and his family went through to chop down, cut up, and burn every tree, to make open fields. And then dig out the stumps, the hardest job of all.

How many hundred - no thousands - of miles, following ox, and horse, did Robert Farries chris cross these fields to earn a living for his family?

It is countless anonymous hardy settlers, like Robert and Janet, who built Canada, not the slik guys in suits who raked off the riches from the sweat of real folks who toiled from sunup to sundown, year after year, on thousands of homesteads like this.

Below is the wider view of the left side of the map above, across to the 6th Line running up past the Farries farm. This gives you an idea of the area and the neighbouring farms. The railway track cuts off the top right corner.

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