BEARE, JOHN, farmer and mill-owner; b. 14 Nov. 1820 in Bideford, England, son of Joseph Beare and Anne —; m. first 29 July 1850 Harriet Abbott in Markham, Upper Canada, and they had five sons and six daughters; m. secondly 31 July 1901 Mary Ann Coates [Wilson*] in Oshawa, Ont.; they had no issue; d. 5 April 1914 in Port Perry, Ont.
John Beare’s people were poor and he undertook to remit funds for his mother’s support as long as she survived. He seems to have had a basic education and belonged to a non-conformist congregation. At age 19 he came to Upper Canada committed to making money, at first to help his mother and provide the passage for his fiancée, and then as a lifelong habit. He went directly to Hagerman’s Corners, south of Markham, joining a cousin who was a tailor. He worked there until about 1843 when, having saved enough for his immediate needs, he went northeast to the newly opened township of Reach and squatted on 100 acres near Marsh Hill. This location, he said, assured him water to drink, fish and venison to eat, and wood to keep him warm. By 1850 he had 45 acres cleared and a log barn and a frame-house in which to start life with Harriet, whom he summoned from England. The day after their wedding in Markham they trekked the 35 miles to the farm. She immediately began 16 years of almost uninterrupted pregnancy. He began 30 odd years of steady acquisition.
Beare expanded his farm, which was intended for his first-born, by 200 acres; in 1859 he acquired a grist and flour mill south of the new village of Greenbank. By 1868 he had money to enlarge the mill. It would provide a steady income right up to the 1890s, when railways and high-speed roller grinding brought small-scale flour milling to an end. In 1869, leaving his brother William in charge of the mill, he moved to a neighbouring 125 acres with a commodious stone house for his numerous family. Beare continued his vigorous accumulation of land; eventually he owned 689 acres, including establishments for his five sons, and a second mill. At the same time he borrowed and invested with a success that earned him a local reputation as a wealthy man.
An enterprising and market-minded farmer, he had the most acres in production in the township. He had the labour (11 children) to work them and the cash to become one of the first and biggest users of farm machinery in Ontario County. His reapers, rakes, seed-drills, threshing machine, and gang-ploughs, along with his dutiful family, made his the highest-producing farms in the township. Agriculture shared his energies with finance, but there is little detail of his apparently multifarious forays into money making. Estimates based on census returns and farm prices suggest he had a disposable income many times that of his neighbours; his assessment was always three or four times that of comparable landowners. His constant use of short-term mortgages supports his reported comment “I made the most money when greatest in debt.” Beare’s continuous and acrimonious squabbles with the local council and neighbours over boundaries and rights of way is further evidence of his aggressiveness. He once warned a council meeting not to trifle with him, adding, somewhat unnecessarily, “No one will trample me underfoot.” The demands of farming and investing, and probably his character, prevented him from ever holding any office.
By the time of Harriet’s death in 1896, Beare had successfully weathered almost 20 years of poor crops, low agricultural prices, and commercial depression. He owned all his land clear of obligation, prosperity was returning, most of his daughters were married, and his sons were living and working on land he had provided. By the time they were in their forties they seemed to him sufficiently mature to take over. Accordingly the family patriarch sold them their farms at prices that indicated his recognition of their investment of labour, a rare consideration at the time. He took back mortgages on generous terms. For a few years he continued to live with his third son, John, in the big stone house, supervising all his sons’ operations.
In 1901 Beare suddenly remarried and bought a handsome house in Port Perry, where he set up his new wife, an old acquaintance who had recently been widowed. This marriage was effectively terminated five years later by her return to her own house in Prince Albert. Beare lived out his remaining years mysteriously in near-poverty, attended by his erratic, unmarried daughter Rebecca and by a married daughter who lived in the neighbourhood and brought them food. At his death in 1914 his estate consisted only of the house and lot in Port Perry and a pony and cart. There is no record of what became of the cash he had received for his farms or of the sums he must have set aside for his retirement.
John Beare embodied the ideals of his place and time. In a country where agriculture was paramount, his was the key occupation, farming. Not only did he farm well, but his production always conformed to the market. His holdings of livestock and choice of crops almost invariably reflected the movement of prices. With money scarce, his astuteness resulted in an accumulation of cash and credit which he apparently employed with enthusiasm, as capitalism took root in what had been a subsistence economy. Whatever talent he had he turned to good account. In a new country he had brought land under cultivation, produced a large family, settled his sons on farms of his choosing, seen five of his daughters marry, and kept the sixth at home to comfort his old age. At a time when the Bible was the fundamental guide to life, Beare, a Primitive Methodist, met the requirements God had set down for Abraham: “Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee,” and “I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.”
Durham Land Registry Office (Oshawa, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, Reach [Scugog] Township. North Ontario Observer (Prince Albert, Ont.), 9 April 1914. Standard (Port Perry), 1885–90. W. H. Graham, Greenbank: country matters in 19th century Ontario (Peterborough, Ont., 1988).