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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chapter Three: Secret Moves

A CULTURE OF DEFIANCE: History of the Reform-Conservative Party of Canada

The hamlet of Egmondville, in the Township of Tucker-Smith, Huron County; was just finding it's feet when the Heffler family arrived in 1851. Leaving a country embroiled in rebellion they may not have realized that Tucker-Smith also had a rebellious history, or at least one of their most famous settlers did.

Anthony Van Egmond had been in his grave for 13 years by then, but his name would be seen often by the family on a fingerboard nailed to a post, that directed the way to Egmondville. There's no escaping a legend.

But little did they know that the real legend had escaped everyone.

Madam Marie Susanne Elizabeth Dietz Van Egmond

Quite a title for a women living in Tucker-Smith, Huron County in the mid nineteenth century. And reading her name you just know that there is a long and interesting story of affluence and gentility, who should be receiving only the finest members of society.

So what was she doing in Tucker-Smith?

Hiding I suspect.

Because Madam Marie Susanne Elizabeth Dietz Van Egmond, was actually Susanne Gijbena (nee: Dietz?) from Mainz Germany, and the man she married was not Anthony Van Egmond, but was born Antonij Jacobi Willem Gijbena (aka Gysbert) from Groesbeek, Netherlands. And he was not a descendant of the Dutch royal family as he claimed, but the son of the local sheriff, Johannes Arnoldus Gijbena and his wife Maria Bloem. He was born on March 10, 1775 and baptized two days later in the Reform Church.

His father was murdered when he was 12 and Antonij chose a life of crime. It caught up with him when he was about 20, and he was forced to flee to Germany.

The story that the 'Colonel' liked to tell was that he was a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars. He claimed to have been among the soldiers in Napoleon’s march to Moscow and that he was wounded at Waterloo. However, official records make no mention of him as an officer or a soldier, but rather as part of the army service, " ... probably involved in merchandising, supplies, and transportation." He was never wounded unless it was a paper cut.

Meanwhile, on January 8, 1802; an extradition order had been drawn up, that cited the record of the Gijben murder case in Groesbeek, and the authorities complained that they were having a lot of trouble tracking Antonij down. This meant that the crime he was running from had to have been pretty serious for them to go to so much trouble to find him.

What may have tipped them off was the fact that about six months prior, someone identified as a “prominent businessman” had requested a copy of Gijben’s baptismal certificate from the Groesbeek registers. This document was then used to fabricate a lineage to Van Egmond, despite the fact that the last count of that family had died childless in 1707.

From there the records stopped, until he turned up in Mainz where he would meet Susanne. Their first child, Constant, was born there on April 9, 1808; and the family would spend the next few years on the run, before turning up in Pennsylvania. By then they had five boys and three girls, and had bought some land; but in 1826 their property was seized and sold at auction for back taxes.

This was when Antonij, now calling himself Colonel Anthony Van Egmond, would try his luck in Upper Canada. Because he could speak German, and seemed to have a knack for organization, John Galt hired him to build a road through Huron county, to aid further settlement. He was to be paid one third in cash and the remainder in land. Apparently he never received the money, or at least not all of it, though he did manage to acquire 13,000 acres.

He and his sons would clear 100 of them and he built a home with a tavern attached, which became the local watering hole.

Soon his regulars began telling him tales of corruption involving the Canada Company, that had the contract for settlement, and told stories of how settlers were being driven off their lands if someone was willing to pay a higher price for it.

Antonij joined the Reform Party and even ran for office twice. During the 1835 campaign his lineage was questioned, with rumours that he came from the slums of New York. They were right to question his lineage, but had his roots all wrong.

Realizing that a political career was not in the cards, he began to write to William Lyon MacKenzie, the editor of the Colonial Advocate. MacKenzie had published a lot of stories exposing the corruption of both the the Tory government and the Canada Company, so they soon became allies.

On December 7, 1837, he made his way to Montgomery Tavern in Toronto to join the Rebellion. It failed and the fraudster hid out in a farmhouse until discovered and put in the Toronto Jail. There he became quite ill and was transferred to the Toronto General Hospital, where he died of a stroke on January 5, 1838. Just before his death he gave one of his descendants a piece of paper. It was his original baptismal certificate, and for many years it remained in the family, with future generations unsure of what it was.

Susanne and her sons would bring her husband's body back in a wagon. He would be waked at the house that he built and buried in the backyard. But his secrets would not be buried with him.

Chapter Three Continued: Family Burdens


Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online, 1836-1850 (Volume VII), By: W. J. Van Veen

The Canada Company and The Huron Tract, 1826-1853
, By: Robert C. Lee, Natural Heritage Books, 2004, ISBN: 1-896219-94-2

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