The oldest settler in Guelph, still living here, is Robert Thompson. He first saw the site of the place in 1827, the year it was started; and has been a constant resident here since 1828; has witnessed the rise of log shanties, the laying of the foundation stone of the first two stone buildings, the first celebration of the King’s birthday, the roasting of the first and only ox, and the first May Fair, when three cows and one yoke of oxen constituted the whole “show.” Most of these scenes were witnessed in 1828, when our subject was twelve years old, and he is a “walking Cyclopedia” of the annals of Guelph from that date.
Mr. Thompson was born in Belfast, Ireland, March 6, 1816; his parents were James and Mary (McKibbins) Thompson, both of Scotch descent. In 1823, when he was in his seventh year, the family came to Upper Canada, and located on land near where Paris now stands, the only person there then being “Squire Holmes.” In 1825 the family removed to Galt, where Mrs. Thompson taught a school, with her son Robert for one of her pupils. His first teacher was Miss Gadd, now the widow Squires, still living in Paris.
In 1827 the father of our subject came to Guelph, and aided in starting the town, removing his family here in May of the next year, and opening a farm, which he had of the Canada Company; he and his wife both dying in the summer of 1834.
Our subject was engaged in farming until 1835; then learned the carpenter trade, and was engaged in building for himself and others for something like twenty years; afterwards had a book and stationery store for two years, and latterly has been a conveyancer and land, loan and general agent, doing a thrifty business.
Mr. Thompson was in the town council three years; was town collector in 1854; has been magistrate for nearly twenty years, and is a commissioner for taking affidavits, &c. &c.
He is a member of the Congregational church; has been a deacon of the same for a quarter of a century, and was for equally as long a period superintendent of the Sunday school.
On his retiring from the last named office, in the autumn of 1870, he was presented with a beautifully embellished album, containing photographs of the teachers and pupils, the inscription on the album reading as follows
“Presented to Robert Thompson, by the teachers and scholars of the Sabbath school in connection with the Guelph Congregational church, in recognition and in memorial of his nearly 26 years faithful service as superintendent, with their best wishes and fervent prayers for his future prosperity, happiness and usefulness.”
The Rev. W. F. Clarke, pastor of the church, made the presentation, and paid a high and well merited compliment to Mr. Thompson’s zeal on behalf of the church, and the great good he had accomplished during the long period of his service at the head of the school. Mr. Thompson made the following reply:
“Most thankfully, sir, do I accept this handsome gift at your hands. Not so much on account of its intrinsic value, nor because I am ready to admit the merit to which it points, but because it brings with it unfeigned and unmistakable tokens of the good will and kind regards of those who present it. Although unmerited, as unsought and unexpected on my part, I cannot but reciprocate the spirit that prompts it, nor will it fail to lay me under lasting obligation to those who must ever hold a high place in my esteem, and for the advancement of whose well being for time and eternity I shall ever feel the deepest solicitude.”
Mr. Thompson was first married in April 1847, to Miss Eleonor Matilda McCrea, of Guelph. She died in 1862, leaving two children: Mary, now the wife of W. H. Masters, of Melbourne, Australia, and Charles, who is married and an engineer on the New York and Erie railroad. His present wife was Mrs. Elizabeth Henry, nee McIntyre, of Woodstock, Ontario, then a widow with one daughter, Jennie.
In 1877 Mr. Thompson published, in pamphlet form, “A brief Sketch of the Early History of Guelph,” which contains much valuable information, and some amusing reminiscences of incidents which took place here forty-five and fifty years ago.