The, to which the subject of this sketch belongs, is of Scandinavian origin, and traces its ancestry back as far as Heiti, father of Suadi, and the brother of Gore-Nor, from whom Norway had its name, in A.D. 690. The progenitor of the clan was Gunn, the second son of Olav, of Gairsey, a descendant of the Earls of Orkney, and the Norse Kings, afterwards Olav the Black, King of Man, and the Isles, and brother of Swein, the last and greatest of the Norse Vikings. Gunn was born about A.D. 1090. The country of the Gunns, after they attained to numbers and strength, was in the heights of the counties of Caithness and Sutherland, in the north of Scotland, and the seat of the chiefs of the clan, was at Braemore.
William Gunn was born at Thrush Grove, Glasgow, Scotland, May 30, 1816. His father was John Gunn, a native of Kildonan, and his mother, Janet Murray, a native of Rogart, both in Sutherlandshire. William, the eldest son, received a fair English education, thorough and substantial, so far as it went, at the public school of Melvich, a small village in the extreme north of Sutherlandshire, seventeen miles west of Thurso, to which the family had removed in 1826, and where William acquired a knowledge of the Gaelic language. He worked on the small farm, or croft, until he was eighteen years of age, when he taught school for a year in Strath Melness, in the parish of Tongue, in the same county. He came to Canada in 1836, and was employed for two years, at Prescott, as shipping clerk in the old forwarding house of Hooker, Henderson and Co., of which firm his uncle, Donald Murray, was a partner; and while there, he shouldered his musket in. defense of king and country, during the rebellion of 1837-38, as a volunteer in the company raised at Prescott at that time, and commanded by his uncle Captain Murray.
He removed to Kingston in 1838, where he acted as managing agent of the new forwarding house of Murray and Sanderson, until 1846, when the firm gave up business. During the excitement along the frontier, which followed on the suppression of the rebellion, he joined a Scottish volunteer company, raised at Kingston, and commanded by Captain Alexander McNabb, the present popular crown land agent of the county of Bruce, under whose wise and judicious management that county has been so successfully and so satisfactorily settled. In 1846 Mr. Gunn removed to Lachine, near Montreal, as freight agent for the Upper Canada Royal Mail Line of Steamers, that being the first year they ran below Coteau du Lac. In 1848 he removed to Napanee, where he was engaged in general mercantile business until 1852, when he removed to the new county of Bruce, the population being, at the time, about three thousand, and located on the government town plot of Inverhuron, close to which a large colony of Highlanders had settled, in the townships of Bruce and Kincardine. Mr. Gunn continued to be engaged in mercantile pursuits there for thirteen years, during eleven of which he was postmaster; he was appointed local superintendent of schools for the county in 1853, assisted the local school and municipal bodies in laying out nearly all the school sections in the county, and held the office, after the division of the county into school districts, until 1850, when he was elected reeve of the township of Bruce, in which capacity he served several years, taking an active part in the public business of the county, and in promoting every means for developing its public improvements, its material interests and resources.
In consequence of a serious failure in the crops of the county in 1858, and the almost total destruction of the remaining small quantity of grain housed and stacked, by an extraordinary invasion of the county by an army of red squirrels and chipmunks, which overran the greater portion of the county, especially the lake shore townships, moving in immense numbers from south to north, devouring everything in their way, a very serious destitution took place, extending over the whole county in 1859.
The provisional council of the county had to borrow a large sum of money, $34,000, from the government, repayable in ten years, with interest, for the purchase of seed grain, and bread stuffs for the maintenance of the settlers, then struggling under the privations incident to all new settlements, and Mr. Gunn was appointed chairman of the county committee on destitution, in which capacity, as well as in that of reeve of the township of Bruce, and member of the provisional council, he performed substantial service during that trying year. Under a most judicious scheme, devised by Mr. Gunn, for the distribution of relief in his own township, warmly supported by an enterprising and harmonious council, consisting of Messrs. N. Burwash senior, Alexander McKinnon, Capt. A. M. McGregor and Duncan McFarlane, no less than seventy-eight miles of roads were opened in the township of Bruce, alone, during the summer of 1859, on forty miles of which, not a tree had been previously cut, and on the remaining thirty-eight miles, except in front of the clearings, little more than an ox sleigh track had been opened. The whole seventy-eight miles were chopped out the full width, four rods; two rods were cleared in the middle, the timber thrown to each side, and one rod grubbed in the centre, the entire length of mileage. The amount of work thus performed in the township of Bruce exceeded all that was done with the Relief Fund, in all the other townships of the county, together a great public work of general utility accomplished under very severe and trying circumstances, when about two hundred families in the township were dependent on the council for bread, and highly creditable, alike to the pioneer settlers, and the then council of the township of Bruce. The allotment to the township of Bruce, of the $34,000, was $4,600, to which was added $800, borrowed from the St. Andrew’s Societies of Toronto and Montreal, through the instrumentality of Mr. Gunn, repaid with interest, in two years, being in all the sum of $5,400, less freight charges and other incidental expenses, invested in seed grain and breadstuffs, out of which, on the orders of the overseers, as the work progressed, those performing the work, were paid.
The crop of 1859 was an abundant one, no doubt due in a great measure to the general introduction of new seed, of the very best descriptions.
Mr. Gunn was appointed census commissioner for the county of Bruce, in the census of 1831, when the population numbered 27,494; and again, for the North Riding of the county, in the census of 1871, when the population of the county numbered 48,51.5. He was appointed a commissioner for taking affidavits in the Queen’s Bench in 1853, and made himself very useful in taking affidavits in the land disputes, in cases in which the Highlanders were concerned, as principals or witnesses, many of whom could not speak English, and when Mr. Gunn’s Gaelic did good service.
In 1867, on the separation of the new county of Bruce from the senior county of Huron, Mr. Gunn was appointed clerk of the County Court of the county of Bruce, deputy clerk of the Common Pleas, and registrar of the Surrogate Court, for the county, which offices he is still filling.
In 1842 Mr. Gunn married Susan, fourth daughter of the late Capt. George Douglas, in his lifetime a merchant of Kingston, and they have had four children, all sons, only two of whom are now living; William A., the second, who is a druggist and chemist, in Kingston, and John F. H., the youngest, who is assistant with his father, in the office.
In politics Mr. Gunn has always been a Conservative, strong and firm in his convictions but mild and moderate in his assertion of them, and ever since he has taken any part in public affairs, school or municipal, he has enjoyed, in a remarkable degree, the respect, friendship, and confidence of those opposed to his political views. This was notably manifested in the council of the united counties of Huron and Bruce, which, in Mr. Gunn’s time as reeve, numbered some fifty-five members, in whose deliberations, in committee and chamber discussion, he always took a leading part, and where he secured the esteem and respect of the leading Reformers in the council, which he has ever since retained; and afterwards, on the separation of Bruce from Huron, when the leading Reformers of the county of Bruce joined in recommending him to the Coalition Government of 1866, for his present office. Mr. Gunn, on several occasions, was appointed returning officer for the North Riding of the county, in Parliamentary elections, and always discharged his duties as such, with strict impartiality, and to the entire satisfaction of all parties concerned. As well in deference to the neutrality which should characterize his official position, as from his religious convictions, he refrains from all participation in political affairs.
Mr. Gunn belongs to the religious body called Christadelphians, which he joined in 1859, when he withdrew from the Presbyterian faith, in which he had been carefully trained from infancy; and, also, from the order of Freemasonry, which he joined in 1843, and of which, in Blue and Royal Arch Masonry, he had been a very active member and officer.
Mr. Gunn has rigidly abstained from all use, even medicinally, of alcohol, in any shape or form, except in wine, sacramentally, since June, 1856, a period of over twenty-three years.