1816 – The Year with no Summer

At a recent meeting of the Mennonite Historical Society of Ontario’s board, Laureen Harder-Gissing, the archivist at the Mennonite Archives of Ontario, reminded us that 2016 was the 200th anniversary of the “Year with no Summer.” It was a good reminder.

Mount Tambora

Aerial view of the caldera of Mt Tambora at the island of Sumbawa, Indonesia, formed during the colossal 1815 eruption. Photo by Jialiang Gao (peace-on-earth.org) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Wikipedia tells us that the unusual weather patterns in 1816 resulted from “severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F). This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.” The article goes on to say that “evidence suggests that the anomaly was predominantly a volcanic winter event caused by the massive 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia.”

The Mennonite settlement in what became the Region of Waterloo was still very small.  “Block 2,” which had been purchased by Lancaster Country, Pennsylvania, Mennonites from land developer Richard Beasley, became identified as Waterloo Township in 1816, in honor of the British victory over Napoleon in the Battle of Waterloo in June, 1815. By some estimates there were less than 60 people living in the township at the time.

Ezra E. Eby

Ezra E. Eby (1850-1901). Source: Waterloo Region Generations

On the bottom of page 45 of Ezra Eby’s Biographical History of Waterloo Township there begins a detailed account of the township in 1816:

The summer of 1816 was what is called the “Cold Summer.” There was frost every month and in June and July there were seven heavy frosts. On the 1st of June it was frozen so hard that men and wagons could cross the mud-puddles on the newly formed ice without breaking through. On the 21st of June quite a lot of snow fell. All kinds of provisions were exceedingly scarce. Wheat was from two to three dollars per bushel. The only hay that the farmers could secure was made from the wild coarse grass which they cut on the banks of the river, in marshes or beaver meadows. Food for both man and beast was at starvation prices. The hardships these early settlers had to endure during this cold and inclement year, are almost indescribable.

In this year Joseph Bowman and family of twelve children, Dilman Ziegler and family, Samuel Eby and family, Joseph Clemmer and wife, who settled to the west of J.Y. Shantz’s sawmill dam, John Brubacher and his mother, and Henry Weber came from Pennsylvania to Canada. The Bowmans had 2 four-horse teams and 1 two-horse team. The Zieglers had 1 four-horse team. Joseph Shantz and his mother, old Barbara Shantz, returned to Canada with this company. They were to Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, on a visit. In all there were thirty-three individuals in the company, and the number of horses brought with them was twenty-eight.

1816 was also the year that Abraham Erb, founder of the city of Waterloo, built a grist mill to accompany his saw mill.

The corduroy  road that has been discovered under King Street in Waterloo during the construction of the Light Rail Transit system in Kitchener-Waterloo, likely was built prior to this time. But it reminds us we’re not that far removed from the settlers who transformed this land purchased from the Crown supposedly on behalf of the Six Nations.

To learn more about early life in Waterloo Region, read In Search of Promised Lands.

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