The Life of John Allin Linfield

I’ve always said that Dad was born in the wrong century. He would have been a great Courier de Bois, back in the early seventeen hundreds. He lived for hunting and shooting. He loved the outdoors, canoeing, tenting, opening new hunting frontiers in Northern Ontario and telling “windies” with his hunting partners. But all this came about after a hard existence on a small farm in Southern Ontario.

Dad was born on July 2nd, 1910, on a small farm outside of a small hamlet called “The Nile” (notice it’s “The” Nile, not Nile. I’ve never heard it called anything but The Nile. You never hear of The Goderich or The London or The Stratford (45 miles east of Goderich). However, the sign at the town limits says “Nile”, but maybe the sign makers don’t know any better). The Nile is located 6 miles north east of the Port of Goderich. (Dad’s sister, Ann, was also born there in September, 1913.) Dad’s father, JOHN PETTON LINFIELD (August 3, 1872 – June 5, 1945), along with his father SAMUEL LINFIELD (September 12, 1839 – February 19, 1913), and the rest of his family, moved from Twillingate, Newfoundland around 1878 to settle on the farm site. Samuel was the second child of George Edward Linfield (February22, 1817 – ? 1898) who was the third child of Robert Linfield #2219 (? 1774 – January 18, 1860) who migrated to Newfoundland from Marnhull, England in 1793 (see Longshot Vol 4 No 2 December, 1995). Samuel farmed the land as did John. During his lifetime on the farm, John held the position of assessor for the township for many years, and for fifteen years, was secretary and treasurer of school section No. 1, Colborne. Dad’s mother was ANNIE SARAH ALLIN, daughter of WILLIAM ALLIN and DIANA ASHTON. Annie’s brother WESLEY ALLIN was well known in Huron county for his awesome strength. I remember a story Dad told me about a barn raising. Three men were struggling with a major structural beam and Wesley brushed them aside and lifted the beam by himself! Dad inherited some of the Allin strength as I’ve seen him take some stupendous lifts.

The red brick school house where the farm kids from the Nile, Carlow, and Dunlop area of Colborne Township went to school, was about five miles from the Linfield farm; a long walk, especially in winter. This is snow-belt country and I remember driving these back concession roads with snow banks six to eight feet high. If you met an oncoming vehicle, someone had to back to the nearest farm laneway as the snowplough could keep only one lane open. One of Dad’s chores upon entering the school in winter was to fill the wood burning stove at the rear of the school with dry wood and make it thump. By the time the rest of the kids arrived, the one room school house was acceptably warm.

Unfortunately, Dad’s mother died when he was only seven or eight. His father’s sister, GRACE HARRIETT LINFIELD (May 16, 1880 – June, 1966) came to live with her brother and his two children, young John and Ann, to take care of them. She remained for approximately three years, leaving when John remarried as he needed some one more permanent to help raise his two children. The stepmother, MARY RAYMOND, despised children! This was soon obvious from the way she treated Dad and Ann, particularly Dad. Dad would never say too much about her, but I learned from talking to neighbouring farmers that she would beat Dad about the legs with a broom handle on any pretence.

While growing up on the farm, Dad eventually acquired a .22 calibre rifle and a double barrel 12 gauge shotgun. At every opportunity, he would be out shooting groundhogs (which he sold to a local mink rancher for a few pennies each) and wild game birds to supplement the food larder on the farm.

When the time was right, Dad left the farm as a young man and moved into Goderich. He tried various jobs before his professional career began. He dug graves in the Colborne Cemetery, assisted in harvesting farmers’ crops at a dollar a day and had a milk route utilizing a horse drawn wagon. During these start-up days, he never stopped hunting. He became well known in the hunting community as a leader of hunting groups. By now, he was known as “Al” Linfield. His two hunting buddies from local farms were Harvey Baxter and Joe Freeman. I have a photograph of the three of them standing in hunting regalia holding shotguns and bagged Canada Geese. Eventually, Dad and Harvey obtained a lessee’s license to operate a Shell Canada gasoline service station on Kingston Road, in Goderich. They specialized in vehicle lubrication, replacement autoparts and tire repairs. Dad always found time to hunt and would organize jack rabbit hunts, deer hunts and the local farmers would notify Dad whenever a flock of ducks or geese flew into their cornfield or wheat stubble in the evening. Dad would be out there at the crack of dawn and come back with his daily quota before opening for business.

Around 1937, Dad met my future mother. VELMA MARY BROWNLEE was a beauty and a real catch for a handsome young man like Al Linfield. Dad taught “Vel” how to shoot his .22 rifle, but at targets only. On June 30, 1939, Al married Vel in Goderich in a double ceremony (Velma’s sister Mabel married Tom Gray) and honeymooned in Niagara Falls. Over the years, they raised four sons; WILLIAM JOHN (known as Bill), born August 12, 1940; yours truly (known as Jerry) born February 10, 1943, BRIAN BROWNLEE, born July 15, 1949 and BRENT MICHAEL, born April 30, 1952.

Over time, Dad became a crack rifle shot. He could take three flat rocks, throw them up in the air and pulverize them with three shots from his .22 rifle which he called “Betsey Ann”. As a youth, I watched Dad throw a pebble the size of his thumb nail up in the air and send it flying with one shot. I possess a large one cent coin (pre 1921 vintage) that has a hole in it made from Betsey Ann after Dad sent it spinning through the air. Dad continued his hunting and became exceedingly well known in Huron County for his hunting exploits.

Besides hunting upland game, Dad also hunted pigeons for food. He and friends would drive to a farm where pigeons were sitting on the barn roof, get permission from the farmer to shoot some, throw stones at the birds to make them fly off the roof and commence to shoot them in flight. He always offered the farmer a share of the downed pigeons. One story Dad told repeatedly was the day a farmer’s son gave Dad’s hunting party permission to shoot the pigeons providing he could join in the shoot. Dad immediately agreed. The young man went into the farm house to get his double barrel shotgun, came out, loaded it and immediately shot at the pigeons while they were still sitting on the barn roof. When he turned around to receive Dad’s praise, all he saw was the dust of Dad and his party! The son answered solely to his Father for the dozen or so holes in the corrugated tin of the barn roof!

In those early days before urban sprawl and excessive land clearing, Dad would often go out at night to locate deer herds for the next day’s deer hunt. He told me some apple orchards would have as many as 50 deer in munching away on apples. Today, those orchards are long gone, replaced by subdivisions or ploughed fields.

By the early 1950s, Dad met and became a life long friend of Rollie Day of London, Ontario. Rollie was a salesperson for storm windows and siding and had dropped into Dad’s Service Station looking for business. Naturally, the talk turned to guns and hunting and the two found out they had something besides business in common. Dad and Rollie would head north every fall for either a deer or moose hunt. They literally trail blazed parts of Northern Ontario in their search for new hunting grounds. At one time, Dad shot the largest deer ever bagged in the Kapaskasing area. The local police chief gave Dad and Rollie a hero’s welcome and paraded them through the town along with the trophy deer.

At one point, Dad and Rollie actually constructed a cabin-cruiser like boat to take moose hunting into parts of Ontario’s undisturbed north. They named the boat the “Ottawasian” and I have a picture of the boat with a large bull moose head mounted on the bow. When they bagged that animal and drove through the small rural Ontario towns coming home, people actually thought the complete moose was standing in the boat. Dad and Rollie would live in the boat during their hunt. They had their propane coleman stove for cooking, a small wood stove for heat and bunks built for sleeping quarters. I remember having a ride in the Ottawasian with my brother Bill from our cottage beach property north of Goderich at Shepardton to Goderich harbour. Bill turned a few shades of green by the time we reached Goderich.

When I was in Secondary School, I would skip school, much to my teachers’ annoyance, for two weeks every fall and operate Dad’s Service Station/Tire Shop (more of this later on) so Dad and Rollie could head north once again. Usually, they were successful in bagging a moose and came back with some vivid and embellished stories of their hunt.

Unfortunately, Rollie eventually succumbed to cancer and went to the “Happy Hunting” ground. Since Rollie was from London, 60 miles south of Goderich, Dad and Rollie’s hunting excursions were infrequent, other than their annual fall hunt. Over the years, Dad had made friends with the Taylors who resided in The Nile. Anyway, Stewart Taylor was a blacksmith, metal/wood worker and could make literally anything with his hands. He was also a hunter of local fame. Dad and Stewart would arrange deer hunts every fall. Following Rollie’s death, they would go moose hunting together, complementing each other as two experienced hunters. They also did a lot of hand reloading. Dad was always trading in old guns, primarily those of the 1880’s vintage. They bought original hand reloading tools, melted lead and made the bullets and experimented with the guns. Dad could quote ballistics better than anyone around.

When I was sixteen, Dad and Stewart invited me to join their deer hunting party for a local hunt. It was “shotgun” season only for which you used slugs. On day three, I was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time and bagged two deer. When the party gathered together to do the eviscerating, Dad’s eyes caught me and they spoke volumes. I remember someone saying “he’s a chip off the old block!”. That was one of the proudest days of my life! Needless to say, Dad was also extremely proud.

I also recall getting up early Sunday mornings with my brother Bill and Dad and heading out to a local trout stream or creek. We’d quietly approach the murmuring waters, bait the hook and lightly cast the worm into a overhang. The redwing blackbirds would be trilling and we’d stand perfectly still. We would take the occasional trout, but usually ended up with just a chubb.

Other times Dad would take Bill and me bass fishing on the Maitland river in a canoe. We had much better success on those expeditions. Most memorable were the spring smelt runs at Port Albert. Dad, Bill and I would leave Goderich about dark and when we arrived in Port Albert, there would be tires burning along the shore of the river and scores of people of all ages fishing with long handled scoop nets. We’d find our spot and scoop up the fast running smelt and empty the net into a potato sack. On a good night, we would get greedy and almost fill the sack. The next day, Bill and I would clean smelt until neither of us could look at another one. Then we’d take the remaining ones and try to find people to take them off our hands. We would never just throw them away. We always found willing takers. Then we would eat smelt for the next two or three weeks and say “never again!” Next spring, away we’d go again to Port Albert.

I especially remember the licorice we’d buy at the local general store. We’d call them plugs, named after chewing tobacco plugs. Bill and I would eat this licorice as we filled our potato sack. Two cents for a plug or one cent for a licorice pipe.

I should mention sucker fishing. Suckers are ugly and bony and are the darnest fish to scale. After a successful sucker fish, I ended up scaling and cleaning the suckers. For obvious reasons, Bill never assisted me. I’d get a short board, nail the suckers’ tail to the board, and start scaling. Scales would fly in every direction and I’d have more on me then the fish ever did! Then came the eviscerating. When I look back, I can see how much smarter my brother was than me. Boy, was I a sucker!

Al Linfield in about 1983

Enough of hunting and fishing for now. Going back to about 1952, Dad purchased property just across from his Shell Service Station and had his first “Shop” built for him. He was his “own man” now. No more being a lessee for Shell Canada. He learned the vulcanizing business which is almost a lost art today. He hired Hughy Davidson from the Benmiller area (a hamlet just south east of Goderich) and taught Hughy to vulcanize. Dad would drive all around Huron County to various service stations picking up tires (both car and truck) that needed vulcanizing and bring them back to his Shop. Then, he and Hughy would literally remake the tire through the vulcanizing process. The method involves cutting out the damaged part of the tire, rebuilding the cut out section using nylon or rayon reinforced rubber squares and gluing each square together, applying air pressure to the inside of the tire while being heated in the vulcanizing machine and having the added reinforced rubber repair melted under pressure to form part of the original tire. Thus, you have a permanent repair. Dad also repaired car batteries, sold sports equipment, and replaced muffler and exhaust parts of vehicles. From that shop, he moved into his own Tire Shop in the village of Saltford, just north of Goderich. There, he sold tires, vulcanized tires and tubes, pumped shell gasoline again and sold confectioneries. During our high school day, my brother Bill and I worked at the Tire Shop each night after school, weekends from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm, and every day through out the summer holidays. We became very proficient at changing car, truck, tractor and grader tires and we both learned to vulcanize tubes. We left the tire vulcanizing to Dad.

From Saltford, Dad bought larger premises in Goderich and brothers Brian and Brent followed Bill’s and my footsteps in working at the Shop. Following a double hernia operation (from lifting all those tires for years) Dad retired in 1973. None of his sons wanted to continue in the tire/service station business preferring to do our “own thing”. Bill was a school teacher and retired in 1994 from a Principal’s position. I had joined the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in 1962 and today I manage the Bank’s Insurance Department in Head Office, Toronto. Brian is a computer programmer and Brent works part-time in a law office in London.

In 1977, my wife Marie and I had the opportunity to buy a cottage on six acres on Georgian Bay. Over the years, Dad and I built a 16 ft by 20 ft shed (with the help of brother Bill), replaced the roof of the cottage (with the help of brother Brian), built a wrap-around front deck, and a privy, even though we had hot and cold running water. Dad always said every cottage must have an outhouse. Dad even supplied an old walnut toilet seat. To this day, the privy, built in 1984, has yet to be christened. Dad had gained a great deal of carpentry experience through out his life and the cottage improvements reflect his abilities. Dad and Mom had purchased a 16 ft travel trailer shortly after retirement and they stayed in this when helping me at the cottage. Every summer, Dad eagerly anticipated a new cottage project. I took Dad fishing, along with my son, at every opportunity.

In 1983, I was able to reciprocate in the hunting department by taking Dad moose hunting to a fly-in hunting camp. We had a successful hunt bagging a bull moose. Dad and I went duck and grouse hunting after the moose was shot and I have some very prized pictures of the two of us in the northern bush. Then in 1984, I invited Dad along with my son Kevin to go deer hunting near our cottage. K
vin was 16 and shot his first deer on that hunt. I have a picture of Dad, myself and Kevin with the trophy. Three generations of deer hunters! That hunt sure brought back memories to my first deer hunt. I told my son that he was a “chip off the old block”. I was so very proud of him!

On August 24, 1985, Dad died after an eighteen month bout with cancer. He loved the life he pursued. He will always be remembered as a great hunter. I’m sure he and Rollie share the same camp site and tell the same stories in the “Happy Hunting Ground”!

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