top of page

Early Settler Transportation

Learn From Home Activity

Background Information

When discussing the early settler experience in Upper Canada, it is important to highlight the challenges that many of these individuals faced. Oftentimes when interpreting this history, we begin by discussing the experiences of the settler when they arrive in the place that would soon become their new home. However, as we have learned from the stories of early settler families like the Willsons, Doans, Grahams, Hughes and more, the journey to Upper Canada had its own set of difficulties. 


It is well documented that David Willson, together with his wife Phebe Titus and their two oldest sons arrived in East Gwillimbury in 1801. Having come from Dutchess County, New York, the Willson family's journey was recorded by Emily McArthur and Ethel Willson Trewhella and detailed their crossing of Lake Ontario. During their voyage, their boat was wrecked and they escaped with nothing more than their lives, the clothes they were wearing and a spinning wheel. All other bags and belongings had been lost. Upon arriving in Upper Canada they then proceeded up Yonge Street, a route that presented its own set of difficulties. Under Governor Simcoe this route, extending about 30 miles from Toronto's lakefront to Lake Simcoe, saw a number of improvements, but was still difficult to navigate. They took this path towards York County to take up their land - obtained by a Crown grant - on Concession 2, Lot 10. This area would quickly become the centre of the Village of Hope (now Sharon). 

Later, in 1808, Ebenezer Doan and his family undertook a 6 week journey from Bucks County, Pennsylvania that was recorded years later in the obituary of his son Elias. The following details were included: "Elias came with his family, the subject of our sketch being at that time but three years old, to Niagara in 1808. Before him stretched the boundless expanse of blue Ontario, a barrier of heaving waters between him and the land to which he was bound. All his goods were contained in the wagons which conveyed the party to the shore, and before them lay a tedious and fatiguing journey around the western end of the lake. In order to spare the women and children the weary journey by wagon [Ebenezer] hired a flat boat and they were taken across the lake, while the men started with their ox teams around the shore."

Certainly, the journey through these pioneer routes was no easy feat. Families would have to ensure they had packed enough food and supplies for their journey and some extra for their arrival. They would have to care for each other - groups could include multiple generations of grandparents, adults, pregnant women and children. They would also have to tend to their animals, after all, they were doing a considerable amount of the hard work on these trips. 

With their wagons stocked with essentials, early settlers would follow trails previously used by Indigenous persons for trade and travel. They would also rely on "blazes", or marks on trees, which had been placed there by earlier travellers. 

As routes became popular and more frequently used, individuals were appointed to slash trees and ensure they would be safe to use for travellers.


With their hard journeys completed, early settlers recalled and shared their experiences through journals, diaries and letters and through storytelling with future generations. 

Curriculum Connections

Social Studies - Grade 2: Stand A. Heritage and Identity: Changing Family and Community Traditions (A2.3), Strand B. People and Environments: Global Communities (B3.3, B3.6)

Social Studies - Grade 3: Strand A. Heritage and Identity: Communities in Canada, 1780-1850 (A1.2, A2.1, A2.6, A3.2, A3.3, A3.4)

Social Studies - Grade 6: Strand A. Heritage and Identity: Communities in Canada, Past and Present (A3.3, A3.4)

Science and Technology - Grade 2: Understanding Life Systems: Growth and Changes in Animals (3.3)

Science and Technology - Grade 3: Understanding Structures and Mechanisms: Strong and Stable Structures (1.1, 2.3, 3.5, 3.9), Understanding Matter and Energy: Forces Causing Movement (2.2, 3.4)

The Arts - Grade 1, 2, and 3: Visual Arts (D1.1, D1.4)


We have learned that many early settlers faced hardship upon settling in Upper Canada, but the journey was just as difficult. Imagine you were in their situation - what would you bring with you? What would be important to have on the journey? What would you need when you finally arrived in your new home?

Using the supplies and instructions below, create your own version of a wagon that would have been used by early settlers on their long journey! Once it's done, test it out to see how it works. 

Covered Wagon Activity


Popsicle sticks (4 - 6, depending on thickness)

Skewers (1, cut in half)

Toilet paper roll (1)

Paper or construction paper (1 sheet, cut)

Cardboard, thin (from a cereal box, tissue box, etc.)

White glue or glue gun


Decorating Materials - Crayons, markers, etc. 


1. Use scissors to cut a toilet paper roll in half, long ways. Stretch the cardboard to create an open U-shape.

2. With the help of an adult, use a glue gun to attach popsicle sticks to the outside of your "U". This will become the base of your wagon.


3. Using a Toonie, trace 4 circles onto a piece of thin cardboard. These will become your wheels. 

4. Poke holes through the middle of each cardboard circle.

5. Create two sets of wheels by placing one wheel on each end of two skewers. 

6. Using a glue gun or tape, attach one set of wheels to the bottom of the wagon at the front, and the other at the back.

7. Measure a piece of paper that will cover the entire toilet paper roll and glue it to the inside of the top edges of the wagon base. 

8. Decorate your wagon! Use markers, crayons, pencil crayons or stickers to make it unique!

9. Test out your wagon and imagine an early settler journey! Share your creation by tagging us on social media with @SharonTempleNHS and using the hashtag #STLearnFromHome. 

bottom of page