Ruthven Park, Cayuga

The lie Ruthven Park tells, through omission, is one with both a long nose and short legs. David Thompson 1 [not the map-maker] was not a law-abiding person nor an honourable businessman. A fascinating character, he was nonetheless a schemer and a fraudster. The historic site’s failure to mention David Thompson’s unlawful activities cheats today’s Canadians, who deserve to know the accurate story of Ruthven Park’s founder, and thereby learn of facts behind Indigenous-settler relations. The site’s sweep-the-dirt-under-the-carpet will not outrun the lie. 

Anyone who investigates the Grand River Navigation Company knows very well David Thompson l is a master of financial manipulation and common skullduggery. In glossing over Thompson’s story with its nothing-to-see-here brochures and bland website information and chummy references to ‘David,’ Ruthven Park tells a long-nosed lie. In sugar-coating David Thompson, and peddling settler propaganda instead of recounting the actual facts of settler-Indigenous history, the ‘heritage’ website and Ruthven Park make themselves risible, if not complicit in the lie. ‘Lies are harmful mostly to the teller of lies’. The historical background of the Mohawk Trilogy – Sky Walker Tehawennihárhos books – involves two main events: the “clearance of coloureds” from Brantford; and the destitution on the Six Nations Reserve because of the Grand River Navigation Company, which gobbles up the entirety of the wealthy Haudenosaunee’s money. History lays the latter event at the feet of David Thompson and William Hamilton Merritt whereas the entire village of Brantford must lay claim to the nefarious “clearance of coloureds.”


Lies come in all shapes and sizes and may serve the liar for both good and ill but Clancy Martin in The New Yorker (6 February 2015) writes about Pinocchio and only two kinds of lies. “One quick, delightful example of [Carlo] Collodi’s trickery: Pinocchio asks the fairy how she knew that he was lying. The fairy replies: ‘Lies, my dear boy, are found out immediately, because they are of two sorts. There are lies that have short legs, and lies that have long noses. Your lie, as it happens, is one of those that have a long nose.’



“This is an interesting distinction [between lies with long noses and short legs], one worth remembering. Lies that have short legs are those that carry you a little distance but cannot outrun the truth. The truthful consequences always catch up with someone who tells a lie with short legs.

“Lies that have long noses are those that are obvious to everyone except the person who told the lie, lies that make the liar look ridiculous. In either case, according to our often-deceitful fairy, lies are bad because they result in bad consequences for the liar.

“And this conclusion of the fairy is noteworthy, because the vast majority of arguments against lying are made because lies are, so this line goes, unfair or harmful to the people who believe the liar. But it can also be—as another Italian, Machiavelli, advises—that lies should be avoided because they produce negative consequences for the liar. This is Aesop’s argument as well, and much of what Aristotle says against lying also comes down to the idea that lies are harmful mostly to the teller of lies.”


As Clancy Martin’s “deceitful fairy” tells us lies with short legs carry one a little distance but not far enough to outrun the truth. In every transaction–banking, timber sales, liquor sales, canal-building, lock/house-construction and tolls – David Thompson’s decisions are sharp. As a Grand River Navigation Company director, and later a waterway’s user, Thompson does not display a jot of fiduciary duty either to the major shareholder, the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations Confederacy), or, in fact, to the Navigation company itself. By 1845 everyone who does business with Thompson knows the truth: David Thompson deals from the bottom of the deck. He can’t seem to help himself.

Here is the point. Ruthven Park’s cloaking Thompson’s larcenous character under advertising blandishments is a lie – as plain as a pikestaff. 

Evidence of Thompson’s malfeasance is simply not that hard to find. There are irregularities enough to question Thompson’s every move. But some intriguing proofs have disappeared. Ledgers should be in Ruthven’s attic and they are not. Where are they? Who (really) takes them? Are they hidden away in some cobwebby nook of the big house? Are they in an ash pile?

Without the ledgers there is no restraining our imaginings about the extent of Thompson’s theft, fraud and conspiracy. 

One surmises Irish canallers/navvies build Thompson’s villa, Ruthven Hall, to work off their impossible level of debt to Thompson’s stores. A common practise. Underpaying workers and overcharging them for supplies at the company store is how plantation owners in post-Civil War America keep former slaves indentured. 

In Canada West (Upper Canada, and later Ontario) a confused Indian Department pays Six Nations funds (see Hill below) into Thompson’s personal bank account. Does Thompson return the money? If so, to whom? Construction materials are forever on order. Illegal timber is always for sale. When you’re burying evidence in a remote (from Toronto and Montréal) location, muddling accounts is easy. Too easy.

Here’s a story. Thompson’s manager, Richard Brown, is a surrogate for Thompson. Thompson buys Gore Bank shares in Brown’s name and gets Brown on the bank’s board and Brown votes on policies to favour Thompson. Snap. The boss has things his own way. Probate of Brown’s will brings the bank matter to light. Or this. Indian Superintendent Samuel Peters Jarvis is caustic about the ways Thompson cheats the canal company. Ironically Jarvis gets fired for misappropriation of Indian monies. Is Jarvis guilty? Or is Thompson? Presumably to cover-up Thompson’s fraud a friendly  “Pinocchio” scoops the 1844-1850 estate ledgers but the short-legged lie cannot outrun the fact of Thompson’s fraud. 


‘Lies are harmful mostly to the teller of lies’.


~~~Without prejudice, Laura Quirk observes, “One potential problem with the current known population of Indiana is the troubling absence in the historical record at Ruthven of documents related to the years between 1844 and 1850 [the troubling absence of records extends to 1851, year of Lieutenant-Colonel David Thompson’s death]. Although there were journals and business documents connected to most years under study in the Thompson Papers at Ruthven, material for the late 1840s is scant. There were numerous references, in a variety of Ruthven sources that pointed to Indiana Ledger A; although Indiana Ledger B, covering the years 1860-1881, is in the archives, Ledger A is missing. Additionally, Petty Ledger 6, which covered the years 1842 to 1844, had numerous entries noting that some of its accounts had been transferred to Petty Ledger 7, also missing from Ruthven. It is puzzling that the Thompson Papers contain a correspondingly small number of other historic documents associated with the same period: it was during those years that Ruthven was built, and I expected to find any number of documents about the complicated building of such a large house. The construction of Ruthven required the hiring of a great many labourers and tradesmen, not to mention the purchase of large quantities of materials, over an estimated span of twelve to eighteen months. Because the remaining documents make reference to others, as described, that they once existed is evident, that later similar documents are present is also evident, suggesting that those documents were removed from Ruthven at some point, although reasons for this removal and its timing remain unknown [sic].” Quirk, L. K.  The Thompsons’ Town: Family, Industry, and Material Culture in Indiana, Ontario 1830–1900 (2010). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). Paper 1086, p110.

~~~Bruce Hill writes, “It is impossible to state exactly when each of the nineteen instalments was paid by Dunn’s office out of Six Nations’ funds. (30) (See Appendix A) When payment of instalments began, the Six Nations possessed 1,760 shares. As more stock was acquired by the Six Nations, the Receiver-General’s office had to compensate private individuals for sums paid in the past, as well as the Navigation Company for present instalments for the original and newly acquired shares. One example will indicate the confusion that resulted. In November 1839, and January 11, 1840, Turquand paid £1,000 and £773 respectively to David Thompson for Grand River Navigation stock. He [Turquand] credited the sum as having been paid by the Six Nations to the Navigation. Later it was disclosed that the sum had been paid to the private account of David Thompson for Grand River Navigation stock purchased for the Six Nations. Other instances of confusion in bookkeeping on behalf of the Receiver-General’s department are not uncommon” (The Grand River Navigation Company. Brantford: Brant Historical Society, 1994. p22).

Feature Image, Callum Mcgreevy, DeviantArt



~~~Ruthven Park–national historic site, taken from website, 19th Feb 2017. In this promotional material, you will see no mention of the Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) despite the confederacy’s being the major investor in the Grand Navigation Company, and despite the location of 1840s Indiana within the Haldimand Tract, deeded to the confederacy after the Revolutionary War. It’s as if the First Nations don’t exist, let alone have a legitimate claim to the park.

Visit Ruthven Park, a unique historic estate overlooking the Grand River, and experience the mansion and the lifestyle of five generations of the Thompson family.
Ruthven Park is the former home of five generations of the Thompson family. Not the newspaper magnet or explorer, but an important family [sic] in their own right. With members of the military, actors, businessmen and politicians, the family contributed to the formative years of country and to the building of our nation up until the 1990’s. They were also active members of the Haldimand community.
David Thompson moved to the area from Wainfleet in the 1830’s. His interest in moving here was two-fold. First, he wanted to invest in the Grand River Navigation Company with funds he earned while being a contractor on the building of the first Welland Canal in the 1820’s. Secondly, he was interested in business. As a result of his move, David was instrumental in the laying out of the former 1200 acre town of Indiana. He eventually owned two sawmills, as well as a gristmill, carding mill, cooperage and several stores. Overall, Indiana supported over 30 industries and was the largest industrial town in Haldimand County in the mid nineteenth century.
David was elected to the legislative assembly after the union of Upper and Lower Canada in 1841, and served as a reformer until his death in 1851.
The Greek revival mansion that David had built between 1845 and 1847 is filled with furnishings and possessions owned by five generations of the family and passed to The Lower Grand River Land Trust Inc. largely intact. This collection of archival records, military artifacts, furnishings, paintings and decorative arts, tools and implements, books, clothing, gate columns, and lawn sculpture dating from David Thompson I, relate the history of the Thompson family residence and contribute to the understanding of the site.
The estate was built in the English model and largely survived intact to the present day. The 1500 acres is now made up of Carolinian forests, active farm fields, wetlands, meadows, two cemeteries, nineteenth century buildings and an island.



SAM_0786 SAM_0772Ruthven dining room

Ruthven Hall and the entrance diorama, which complements the overall Classic revival form. Immediately above: the nautilus staircase, a parlour, marble fireplace, and dining room, three-storey nautilus staircase, courtesy Juniper photos.

Embedded image of Pinocchio: Attilio Mussino (Turin, 1878-Cuneo, 1954).

Feature image, Callum Mcgreevy, DeviantArt 

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