Archive Awareness: The Devil’s Elbow and its people

South of Port Elgin (Saugeen Shores) on Highway 21 is a small community, North Bruce.  To locals however, it is known as ‘the Devil’s Elbow’.

                                                            Devil’s Elbow

Many of the early settlers came from the British Isles and, in particular Scotland, in the hopes of owning land and most were of Presbyterian faith.

The highway, that was known as Goderich Road, originally ran east and then swungsouth along the Bruce/Saugeen Townline, crossed Black Creek and then reconnected the line.

Donald MacGillivray, whose family had a farm on Concession 13, said of a trip to Port Elgin, “The road to town first ran due west till it reached the Goderich Road … the first striking object was a swamp with dark water that was said to be the home of snakes.  The road then took a turn like an elbow that became the Devil’s Elbow … probably because of a tavern there that was the cause of much misery.” (Bruce Township: Tales and Trails).

MacGillivray’s father was a leader in the Presbyterian Church but eventually the family moved to Goderich when his father became a preacher for the Gaelic speaking fishermen there.  MacGillivray eventually attended the University of Toronto, graduated in 1882 and, then in 1885, entered Knox College to become a minister.  For many years from 1899 -1930, he served in China and while in England on a leave, he died on May 31, 1931 and is buried in London.

By the late 1800s, North Bruce was a thriving community with a blacksmith shop, store, shoemaker, auctioneer, sawmill operator, hotel keeper, grocer, stagecoach stop, the home of prize fighter Dan McTavish and a Post Office.

In 1931, the post office was moved to Underwood, further south on Highway 21 and, then in 1936, it was moved back again to North Bruce.  There were several postmasters/mistresses and Florence Walker was the last from 1966 until the post office’s final closing in 1968.

Another thriving business on a nearby farm was that of cooper, Joseph Sieffert, who made barrels for apple shipping and fish barrels.  The fish barrels were sent to the Fishing Islands in Oliphant where they were filled with salted fish for shipment to the United States.  Sieffert also made wooden pipes and pumps making it easier to draw water from wells instead of lifting it with buckets.

 Wesley United Church 1876 – For          larger view, Click on Image

As with most people of the 1800s, faith and religion played a key role in their lives.  Most of the people who settled in North Bruce were primarily of Presbyterian ancestry, who originally met first in homes and then in the school building, where the first minister began services in 1856 after travelling on foot from Paisley.

In the spring of 1869, the congregation of 86 families  had outgrown the school and constructed St. Andrew’s church where services were conducted in Gaelic.   In 1877, St. Andrew’s joined with North Bruce and Wesley Methodist church to become one charge served by ministers from Southampton and Port Elgin.  Then, in 1925, North Bruce voted to remain a Presbyterian congregation while St. Andrew’s voted to join with the Methodists and become the United Church of Canada.  In 1959, North Bruce was destroyed by fire and, in 1962, St. Andrew’s was closed.

Despite being a small congregation, more than 16 ministers came out of the North Bruce Presbyterian Church, including familiar names such as Revs. Matheson, Eadie, Tolmie, McLeod and McNabb and Dr. Margaret McKellar M.D.

Dr. McKellar’s father was a Great Lakes Captain and, when her mother died, the children were left with a housekeeper in Port Elgin but Margaret often sailed with her father.  While she became a dressmaker and milliner in Paris, Ontario, she decided to qualify as a missionary but, because she did not have a high school level education and found grade nine difficult, she went back to elementary school at the age of 22.  A very persistent young lady, she completed her education and enrolled in medicine at Queen’s University and graduated as Valedictorian.  For the 40 years, she lived in and worked in india and was the founder of the Women’s Christian Medical College where world-renowned Canadian women doctors were on its teaching staff.  Queen’s University also conferred upon her an honourary Doctor of Laws degree.  MacKellar died in 1931 and is buried in Port Elgin cemetery.

In the 1930s, Highway 21 was widened and paved and once past the Elbow, the road today is particularly treacherous in winter when whiteouts are renowned.


An abridged history of North Bruce by Sandy Lindsay
from (Bruce Township: Tales and Trails).