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Poetry and Mural Story Telling in Pembroke, Ontario

First Settlers in Pembroke Honoured

It's always observed that 'the murals came first, and then other arts followed'. One of the most common is sculpture followed by theatre. At Pembroke Ontario they are using mural and poetry in unison as also increasingly occurs in Scotland at Prestonpans.

This mural, Pembroke's 31st whose full story is given below, has been painted by Canadian artist Karole Marois from Ottawa. The map detail is from 1836.

click to enlarge all pictures

Gary Howard penned the poem First Settlers to coincide with the new mural that celebrates the period 1820-1850 when the town was established.

They journeyed from Canada’s upper and lower domains
to carve a settlement out of the wild
Amidst the magnificent virgin pines
whittling a homestead for each man, woman and child

The pioneers heeded the challenge of the Crown
testing the might of Mother Nature’s force and power
Lured by seductive grants from upon high
to a land not so gentle to those who cower

The Irish, the Scottish and English settlers
labored side by side with those of French descent
From early dawn to evening’s fading light
returning to their homes, often tired and over spent

Toiling on the allotted acreage
they brought in crops though shackled by their chains
Forever fighting the hardness of the land
they labored through a life that quickly drains

Through the wicked winter winds
they sought shelter in the sanctity of hearth and home
Struggling through the four seasons of despair
growing old, no longer any desire to roam

Fueled by a passion and a love for the land
they chopped and cropped for their daily bread
Their legacy is eternally etched on Champlain’s walls
forever remembered for the courageous life they led.


The Pioneers of Pembroke Township 1820-1850
Pamela Dempsey, Chair @ Pembroke Heritage Murals

Website linked here:

2008 marks the 180th Anniversary of the City of Pembroke and surrounding region that was originally titled Pembroke Township. We celebrate the felling of the first pine and the building of the first homestead by Europeans and their subsequent success of building a new life.

It is more than four years since Pembroke Heritage Murals began to work in earnest to develop a mural that would illustrate the lives of these first settlers 180 years ago. Also, a mural had to fit with the archives and grounds of the Champlain Trail Museum and Pioneer Village, the mural site. The Volunteer Committee of Heritage Murals sifted through numerous records and over time, distilled the information to the point where we had the subject matter for a new mural. The Heritage Murals Committee is very pleased that original records at the Land Registry Office of Renfrew County were available to us for this time period of thirty years.

The goal of “The Pioneers of Pembroke Township 1820-1850” was to develop a mural that would portray the strength and courage it took to clear, build and grow a new life in the wilderness of Pembroke Township.

It was very hard times for the original Pioneers. The Crown needed to open up this region for the tall red and white pine trees for export to Britain and beyond. So the Crown went to Upper and Lower Canada seeking people who were willing to re-locate. The majority of early settlers to Pembroke Township were originally from Britain, Ireland and Scotland and some were from the French settlement of Miramichi, New Brunswick. The earliest record of Pembroke Township was to Abel A. Ward, a Militia grant, January 19, 1820, Lot 29, Concession Two. Many, not all, came with land grants: military, free grants and grants for the Daughters or Sons of the United Empire Loyalists.

Before receiving Title, people had to clear at least five acres, build a homestead of 15 by 25 feet, grow crops and contribute towards the building of the access road next to their property. This would take five years to gain Title, and in some cases ten to fifteen years. Most Lots were 10 chains wide, or 660 feet. A chain was an acceptable method of measurement.

Surveyor John McNaughton was charged by the Crown to survey the land and draft a map of the region: we have a copy of that map which is reproduced in the mural. The scale of the map is 40 chains to one inch and was signed by McNaughton on January 4th, 1836. All lots fronted on Allumette Lake, part of the upper Ottawa River.

“The Pioneers of Pembroke Township 1820-1850” was painted by a talented mural artist, Karole Marois of Ottawa. Work began on the mural in February 2008 and was completed the end of April. The mural is 12 feet high and 88 feet long. It was painted on 33 exterior signboard panels inside an Ottawa warehouse. The panels were transported to Pembroke and delivered to the Champlain Trail Museum on May 5th by Cassidy’s Transfer & Storage Ltd. as a donation. Installation took place May 7th by Walsh Bros. Construction, also a donation. Ms. Marois traveled to Pembroke May 13th: She finalized details and applied a clear coat to the mural over a two-day period. Travelodge Pembroke accommodated her and CRS Contractor’s Rental Supply provided the sky jack, both donations.
Viewing the mural left to right: an early homestead, numerous stumps were common. Teams of oxen were used to pull small stumps large ones were burned. A man notching timber for his homestead. Two men on a cross cut saw: woman and child planting potatoes. A more established homestead, stumps have been removed and crops planted. On the right, Surveyor McNaughton standing next to his transit, a tool of the trade, and a replica of the original Township map. The primary figures are oversized and easily recognized from a block away. The visual impact on the public has been very positive.

Pembroke Heritage Murals is extremely appreciative for the business community’s generous support for this new mural and for all the murals that have received support from contractors and local business for eighteen years. As with several other murals where individuals are able to make a donation, “The Pioneers” mural provides an opportunity for people to become an intrinsic part of our 31st Heritage Mural. Names of all Sponsors will be mounted underneath the mural along with names of those provided In Loving Memory by family members. A storyboard will be mounted next to the mural so the mural can be described in context with the time period.

The official unveiling and recognition of Pembroke’s 31st mural to its renowned Outdoor Art Gallery was held on May 31st at the Champlain Trail Museum. The Museum held a Grand Opening with new exhibits at this time. The Town Crier for Pembroke’s 180th Anniversary year participated with enthusiasm. Gary Howard, a local writer and poet has written poems about Pembroke’s murals in the past. His most recent is attached for your enjoyment.

Published Date: July 3rd 2008

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