The Higginson clan is hosting a massive celebration in 2017 to mark the bicentennial anniversary of their family’s arrival in Canada.
Two centuries ago, George and Rose Higginson left their home in Carncastle, Ireland and set sail for a new life. They were intending to arrive in Baltimore, but for reasons lost to history, they stepped off of a ship in Quebec City and worked their way inland. George and Rose set up their home in Vankleek Hill, where they raised their children. George died in 1865 and his wife in 1882. Their remains were buried in the Greenwood Cemetery, not far from where they lived on Greenlane Road, in Vankleek Hill.
The Higginson family helped to shape Prescott-Russell. They were instrumental in the early development of Hawkesbury and Vankleek Hill, and various members of the family were responsible for the construction of some of the region’s most prominent landmarks.
The Higginson Round barn, which is located on Highway 34, in Hawkesbury was designed and built by Thomas Tweed Higginson between 1893 and 1894. The round barn, which was considered a technological innovation of its time, was designed to facilitate the feeding of animals from above. It is one of only a handful of round barns remaining in the country.
The Higginson Tower is located in Vankleek Hill next to Saint-John’s Anglican Church. Both the church and the tower were designed and constructed by Thomas Higginson. The original tower was constructed as a windmill, which turned a stone that would crush grains. The winds proved to be inconsistent and the gristmill fell into disuse. In 1865, the Irish Republicans in the United States began raiding British-held Canada. During this period, the fans were removed from the stone tower, which found new purpose as a watch tower. Sentries were posted to warn of approaching Fenian raiders. The tower is now open to the public as a local attraction.
James Gordon Higginson was born in 1840. From a young age he aspired to be a leader and innovator. As a young man, James Gordon opened a general store on Main Street, in Hawkesbury. The mercantile was a one-stop-shop for locals, who could purchase all of their necessities and even trade on the stock exchange located in the store, which also had a post office.
James Gordon Higginson established his home on McGill Street, in an octagonal home that was designed by his brother, John Wellesley Higginson. The octagonal house was one of the first homes in Hawkesbury to have a telephone and electricity. Higginson’s descendants joke that he had a phone during a time when the technology was so new that he wouldn’t have had anyone to call.
Higginson descendants will travel from across Canada and the United States next year to participate in a family reunion that is expected to attract between 300 and 500 people. The reunion will be held from August 11 to 13 at the Vankleek Hill Community Centre.
The reunion is being organized by George and Rose Higginson’s descendants, William (Bill) Byers, Percy Higginson, Eleanor Sides, Noami Mahon and Alice Higginson MacLaurin. They told The Review that various family members had voiced interest in hosting a reunion and the bicentennial seemed like an opportunity not to be missed. The celebration will also coincide with Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations.
“We have received confirmations from one side of the country to the other,” said Byers. An American branch of the family will also be visiting from Utah, Arizona and Washington.
The Higginson family history is a long and well documented one. Byers said that family historians have traced their records as far back as the early-1400s when a member of the Higginson clan was beheaded at the Tower of London for the crime of supporting a pretender to the Crown.
During the early 1600s, Francis Higginson helped to settle Salem, Massachusetts with a group of his clergy. He served as the first Minister of the First Church of Salem between 1629 and 1630. His son, John Higginson served as Minister of the First Church from 1660 to 1708. John served as the leading investigator in the Salem Witch Trials, which ran from 1683 to 1692. During the trials, John witnessed the prosecution of his own daughter, Ann Higginson Dolliver, who was accused of practicing witchcraft, but who was never convicted. John later denounced the trials and testified on behalf of a woman who had been accused of witchcraft.
In Canada, the Higginsons were active in politics, as well as religion. Many of the Higginson descendents have served as ministers in the Anglican Church, including Bill Byers, who is a retired Anglican Reverend.
Thomas Higginson, who was born in Ireland in 1810, came to Upper Canada with his parents, John Higginson and Eliza Sheriff. They settled in Hawkesbury in 1819 and became active in the business and political spheres. For a number of years, Thomas worked as a bookkeeper for the Hamilton Brothers Lumber Company. He also served on Hawkesbury’s municipal council and worked as both a post master and an agent for the Canada Life Assurance Company. He represented Prescott County in the Legislative Assemble of the Province of Canada from 1863 to 1867. After Confederation, Thomas lost his seat to Albert Hagar, who won both the 1867 and 1872 elections, representing Prescott in the House of Commons.
The full anecdotal history of the Higginson family will be on display at the reunion. Family members are encouraged to bring photos, memorabilia and family trees to be displayed. There will also be guest speakers and a self-guided tour. A map detailing local points of interest and Higginson landmarks will also be provided to participants.
Regular event updates will be provided online at www.facebook.com/higginson200reunion