THE EXPERIENCE OF AN EARLY SETTLER.
BY MAJOR STRICKLAND, C.M.
EDITED BY AGNES STRICKLAND, Author of "The Queens of England,", etc.
And when those toils rewarding, Broad lands at length they'll claim, They'll call the new possession, By some familiar name.
Agnes Strickland. — Historic Scenes.
IN TWO VOLUMES.
LONDON: RICHARD BENTLEY, NEW BURLINGTON STREET. Publisher in Ordinary to Her Majesty. 1853. ================= LONDON: Printed by Samuel Bentley & Co. Bangor House, Shoe Lane. =================
No one can give an adequate view of the general life of a colonist, unless he has been one himself. Unless he has experienced all the various gradations of colonial existence, from that of the pioneer in the backwoods and the inhabitant of a shanty, up to the epoch of his career, when he becomes the owner, by his own exertions, of a comfortable house and well-cleared farm, affording him the comforts and many of the luxuries of civilization, he is hardly competent to write on such a subject. I have myself passed through all these grades. I have had the honour of filling many colonial appointments, such as Commissioner of the Court of Requests, and Justice of the Peace. My commission in her Majesty's Militia, and my connection with the Canada Company, have also afforded me some opportunities of acquiring additional information. I was in the Company's service during the early settlement of Guelph and also of Goderich, in the Huron tract. I am, therefore, as intimately acquainted with those flourishing settlements as with the townships in my own county of Peterborough.
Upon my return to my native country in August, on a visit to my venerable mother, I was advised by my family to give my colonial experience to the world in a plain, practical manner. I followed the flattering suggestions of relatives so distinguished for literary attainments, and so dear to my affections, and "Twenty-seven Years in Canada West; or, The Experience of an Early Settler," is the result of my compliance with their wishes.
The subject of colonization is, indeed, one of vital importance, and demands much consideration, for it is the wholesome channel through which the superfluous population of England and Ireland passes, from a state of poverty to one of comfort. It is true that the independence of the Canadian settler must be the fruit of his own labour, for none but the industrious can hope to obtain that reward. In fact, idle and indolent persons will not change their natures by going out to Canada. Poverty and discontent will be the lot of the sluggard in the Bush, as it was in his native land—nay, deeper poverty, for "he cannot work, to beg he is ashamed," and if he be surrounded by a family, those nearest and dearest to him will share in his disappointment and regret.
But let the steady, the industrious, the cheerful man go forth in hope, and turn his talents to account in a new country, whose resources are not confined to tillage alone—where the engineer, the land-surveyor, the navigator, the accountant, the lawyer, the medical practitioner, the manufacturer, will each find a suitable field for the exercise of his talents; where, too, the services of the clergyman are much required, and the pastoral character is valued and appreciated as it ought to be.
To the artizan, the hand-loom weaver, and the peasant, Canada is indeed a true land of Goshen. In fact, the stream of migration cannot flow too freely in that direction. However numerous the emigrants may be, employment can be obtained for all.
That the industrial classes do become the richest men cannot be denied, because their artificial wants are fewer, and their labours greater than those of the higher ranks. However, the man of education and refinement will always keep the balance steady, and will hold offices in the Colony and responsible situations which his richer but less learned neighbour can never fill with ease or propriety.
The Canadian settler possesses vast social advantages over other colonists. He has no convict neighbours—no cruel savages, now, to contend with—no war—no arid soil wherewith to contend. The land is, generally speaking, of a rich quality, and the colonist has fire-wood for the labour of cutting, fish for the catching, game for the pleasant exercise of hunting and shooting in Nature's own preserves, without the expense of a licence, or the annoyance of being warned off by a surly gamekeeper.
The climate of Canada West is healthier and really pleasanter than that of England or Ireland. The cold is bracing, and easily mitigated by good fires and warm clothing; but it is not so really chilling as the damp atmosphere of the mother-country. Those who have not visited the Canadas are apt to endow the Upper Province with the severe climate of the Lower one, whereas that of Western Canada is neither so extremely hot nor so cold as many districts of the United States.
Emigration to Canada is no longer attended with the difficulties and disadvantages experienced by the early settlers, of which such lamentable, and perhaps exaggerated accounts have frequently issued from the press. The civilizing efforts of the Canada Company have covered much of the wild forest-land with smiling corn-fields and populous villages. Indeed, the liberal manner in which the Company have offered their lands on sale or lease, have greatly conduced to the prosperity of the Western Province.
If the facts and suggestions contained in the following pages should prove useful and beneficial to the emigrant, by smoothing his rough path to comfort and independence, my object will be attained, and my first literary effort will not have been made in vain.
CONTENTS OF THE FIRST VOLUME.
CHAPTER I. Embarkation for Canada. — Voyage out. — Sea-life. — Icebergs. — Passage up the St. Lawrence. — Quebec. — Memorials of General Wolfe. — Cathedral. — Hospitality. — Earthquakes. — Nuns. — Montreal. — Progress up the Country. — My Roman Catholic Fellow-traveller. — Attempt at Conversion. — The Township of Whitby.
CHAPTER II. Arrival at Darlington. — Kind Reception. — My Friend's Location. — His Inexperience. — Damage to his Land by Fire. — Great Conflagration at Miramichi. — Forest Fires. — Mighty Conflagration of the 6th of October. — Affecting Story of a Lumber-foreman. — His Presence of Mind, and wonderful Preservation. — The sad Fate of his Companions.
CHAPTER III. Inexperience of my Friend. — Bad State of his Land — Fall Wheat. — Fencing. — Grasses. — Invitation to a "Bee." — United Labour. — Canadian Sports. — Degeneracy of Bees.
CHAPTER IV. My Marriage. — I become a Settler on my own Account — I purchase Land in Otonabee. — Return to Darlington. — My first Attempt at driving a Span. — Active Measures to remedy a Disaster. — Patience of my Father-in-law. — My first Bear-hunt. — Beaver-meadows. — Canadian Thunder-storms. — Fright of a Settler's Family
CHAPTER V. Canadian Harvest. — Preparing Timber for Frame-buildings. — Raising "Bee." — Beauty of the Canadian Autumn. — Visit to Otonabee. — Rough Conveyance. — Disaccommodation. — Learned Landlord. — Cobourg. — Otonabee River. — Church of Gore's Landing. — Effects of persevering industry
CHAPTER VI. Wood-duck Shooting. — Adventure on Rice Lake. — Irish Howl. — Arrival at Gore's Landing. — General Howling for the Defunct. — Dangers of our Journey. — Safe Arrival at Cobourg. — Salmon-fishing. — Canoe-building after a bad Fashion. — Salmon-spearing. — Canadian Fish and Fisheries. — Indian Summer. — Sleighs and Sleighing. — Domestic Love
CHAPTER VII. Employments of a Man of Education in the Colony. — Yankee Wedding. — My Commission. — Winter in Canada. — Healthiness of the Canadian Climate. — Search for Land. — Purchase Wild Land at Douro. — My Flitting. — Put up a Shanty. — Inexperience in Clearing. — Plan- heaps
CHAPTER VIII. A Logging-Bee. — Lime-burning. — Shingling. — Arrival of my Brother- in-law. — Birth of my Son. — Sad Journey to Darlington. — Lose my Way. — Am refused a Lift. — My boyish Anger. — My Wife's Death. — The Funeral. — I leave Darlington
CHAPTER IX. Return to Otonabee. — Benevolence of my Neighbour. — Serious Accident to a Settler. — His singular Misfortunes. — Particulars of his Life
CHAPTER X. Preparations for my second Marriage. — Dangerous Adventure. — My Wife's nocturnal Visitor. — We prepare for the Reception of our uninvited Guest. — Bruin's unwelcome Visit to an Irish Shanty. — Our Bear-hunt. — Major Elliott's Duel with Bruin. — His Wounds and Victory
CHAPTER XI. Canada the Poor Man's Country. — Disadvantages of Inexperience. — Township of Harvey Settlement. — Pauper Emigration. — Superior Advantages of the Labourer Colonist. — Temperance and Temperance Societies. — A dry Answer to watery Arguments. — British and Foreign Temperance Society
CHAPTER XII. Want of Home-pasturage in Canada. — Danger of being lost in the Woods. — Plain Directions to the Traveller in the Bush. — Story of a Settler from Emily. — An old Woman's Ramble in the Woods. — Adventure of a Trapper. — Fortunate Meeting with his Partner
CHAPTER XIII. Directions for ascertaining the Quality of Land in the Bush. — Site of Log-shanty. — Chopping. — Preparation for Spring-crops. — Method of planting Indian Corn. — Pumpkins and Potatoes. — Making Pot-ash
CHAPTER XIV. My first Shot at a Buck. — Hunting and Shooting Parties. — Destructiveness of Wolves. — Loss of my Flocks. — Cowardice of the Wolf. — The Lady and her Pet. — Colonel Crawford's Adventure. — Ingenious Trick of an American Trapper. — A disagreeable Adventure. — How to poison Wolves. — A stern Chase
CHAPTER XV. Formation of the Canada Company. — Interview with Mr. Galt. — His personal Description and Character. — Guelph. — Dr. Dunlop. — My Medical Services at Guelph. — Dr. Dunlop and the Paisley Bodies. — An eccentric Character. — An unfortunate wife
CHAPTER XVI. Porcupine-catching. — Handsome Behaviour of Mr. Galt. — Owlingale. — Introduction to the Son of the celebrated Indian Chief, Brandt. — Expedition to Wilmot. — Sham Wolves. — Night in a Barn with Dr. Dunlop. — The Doctor and his Snuffbox. — His Bath in the Nith. — Louis XVIII. and his Tabatiere. — Camp in the Woods. — Return to Guelph
CHAPTER XVII. A new Way of keeping a Birthday. — Lost in the Woods. — Kindness of Mr. Galt. — Advice to new Settlers. — Unexpected Retirement of Mr. Galt. — I accompany him to the Landing-place. — Receive orders to leave Guelph for Goderich. — Whirlwinds at Guelph and Douro
CHAPTER XVIII. The Huron tract. — Journal of Dr. Dunlop. — His Hardships. — I leave Guelph for Goderich. — Want of Accommodation. — Curious Supper. — Remarkable Trees. — The Beverly Oak. — Noble Butter-wood Trees. — Goderich. — Fine Wheat Crop. — Purchase a Log-house. — Construction of a Raft
CHAPTER XIX. My new House at Goderich. — Carpentry an essential Art. — American Energy. — Agreeable Visitors. — My Wife's Disasters. — Hints for Anglers. — The Nine-mile Creek Frolic. — The Tempest. — Our Skipper and his Lemon-punch. — Short Commons. — Camp in the Woods. — Return on Foot. — Ludicrous termination to our Frolic
CHAPTER XX. Choice of a Location. — The Company's Lands. — Crown Lands. — Tables published by the Canada Company. — Progressive Improvement of the Huron Tract
CHAPTER XXI. The King proclaimed in the Bush. — Fete and Ball in the Evening. — My Yankee Fellow-traveller. — Awful Storm. — My lonely Journey. — Magical Effect of a Name
CHAPTER XXII. Visit of the Passenger-pigeon to the Canadas. — Canadian Blackbirds. - - Breeding-places of the Passenger-pigeons. — Squirrels
CHAPTER XXIII. The Rebel, Von Egmond, the first agricultural Settler on the Huron. — Cutting the first Sheaf
TWENTY-SEVEN YEARS IN CANADA WEST.
EMBARKATION FOR CANADA. — VOYAGE OUT. — SEA-LIFE. — ICEBERGS. — PASSAGE UP THE ST. LAWRENCE. — QUEBEC. — MEMORIALS OF GENERAL WOLFE. — CATHEDRAL. — HOSPITALITY. — EARTHQUAKES. — NUNS. — MONTREAL. — PROGRESS UP THE COUNTRY. — MY ROMAN CATHOLIC FELLOW-TRAVELLER. — ATTEMPT AT CONVERSION. — THE TOWNSHIP OF WHITBY.
A PREFERENCE for an active, rather than a professional life, induced me to accept the offer made by an old friend, of joining him at Darlington, in Upper Canada, in the year 1825. I therefore took leave of my family and pleasant home, in Suffolk, and engaged a passage in the brig "William M'Gilevray," commanded by William Stoddart, an experienced American seaman.
On the 28th of March we left the London Docks, and dropped down the river to Gravesend, and on the following day put our pilot ashore off Deal, and reached down as far as the coast of Sussex, where we were becalmed for two days. Here one of our cabin-boys, a German, met with a very serious accident by falling down the after hatchway, and fracturing several of his ribs. On this occasion I officiated as a surgeon, and bled him twice, with excellent effect, for he quickly recovered from the severe injury he had received. Before quitting Suffolk I had learned the art of blood-letting from our own medical attendant. Every person intending to settle in a distant colony ought to acquire this simple branch of surgery: I have often exercised it myself for the benefit of my fellow-creatures when no medical assistance could be procured.
It blew so fresh for two or three days, that we made up for our lost time, and were soon out of sight of Scilly: then I bade a long farewell to old England. I had often been on the sea before, but this was my first long voyage; every object, therefore, was new to me. I caught some birds in the rigging they were of a species unknown to me, but very beautiful. Being in want, too, of something to do, I amused myself with cleaning the captain's guns, which I hoped to use for our joint benefit before the end of the voyage.
The 18th and 19th of April were very stormy: the sea ran mountains high; we had a foot of water in the cabin, and all hands were at the pumps to lessen the growing evil. The gale lasted till the following morning. In the night the aurora borealis was particularly brilliant; but though the storm lulled, the wind was against us. On the 26th of April, I saw a whale, and, boy-like, fired at the huge creature: the shot must have hit him, for he made the water fly in all directions.
To vary the monotony of a sea-life, I sometimes played draughts with the mate, whom I always beat; but he took his defeats in good part, being a very easy-tempered fellow.
I awoke on the 21st of April literally wet to my skin by the deluge of water pouring down the cabin. I dressed myself in great haste and hurried upon deck to learn the cause of this disaster, which I found originated in the coming on of a terrible hurricane, which would not permit us to show a stitch of canvas, and found us continual employment at the pumps; my chest in the cabin shipped a sea which did not improve the appearance of my wardrobe. The following day we had calmer weather, and pursued our course steadily, no longer exposed to the fury of the elements.
On the following day I killed several birds, and saw two whales and many porpoises. The weather was foggy, but the wind favourable for us. As we were near the bank of Newfoundland, we got our fishing tackle ready, with the hope of mending our fare with cod; but the water was not calm enough for the purpose, and the fish would not bite. We passed over the Great Bank without any danger, though the wind was high and the sea rough.
On the 29th of April we fell in with some icebergs. A more magnificent and imposing spectacle cannot be conceived; but it is very fearful and sufficiently appalling. Suddenly, we found ourselves close to an immense body of ice, whose vicinity bad been concealed from us by the denseness of the fog. Our dangerous neighbour towered in majestic grandeur in the form of a triple cone rising from a square base, and surpassed the tallest cathedral in altitude. The centre cone being cleft in the middle by the force of the waves, displayed the phenomenon of a waterfall, the water rushing into the sea from the height of thirty feet. If the sun had pierced the vapoury veil which concealed it from our view, the refraction of his rays would have given to the ice the many-coloured tints of the rainbow. We took care to keep a good look out; but the fog was thick. We fell in with many other icebergs; but none so beautiful as this.
We doubled Cape Ray, and entered, on the 5th of May, the Gulf of St. Lawrence. The thermometer fell many degrees a change caused by the vicinity of the ice. On the 5th of May we passed the Bird Rocks, three in number, to windward, so called from the immense number of geese and aquatic birds which resort thither to rear their broods. These rocks rise to the height of four hundred feet, perpendicularly from the sea. The fishermen, nevertheless, contrive to climb them for the sake of the eggs they find there.
The 6th of May found us in the river St. Lawrence, between the westernmost point of Anticosti to the north, and Cape Gaspe to the south, in the middle of the channel, surrounded by ships tacking up the stream, bound for Quebec and Montreal. We had plenty of sea-room, as the river was more than ninety miles in breadth, and it is supposed to be full a hundred at its embouchure.
The land was partially covered with snow, which fell throughout the day. On the 8th of May we sailed as far as the Seven Islands. The day was glorious, and the prospect most beautiful. Our vicinity to "the cold and pitiless Labrador," rendered the air chilly, and we could hear the howling of the wolves at night, to me a new and dismal sound. The aurora borealis was particularly splendid, for the air was clear and frosty.
On the 10th of May we stood for the Island of Bic, and took on board a pilot. He was a handsome young man, a French-Canadian, under whose guidance we made the place, but we were becalmed before it for the whole forenoon.
The beauty of the scenery atoned, however, for the delay. Nothing, indeed, could surpass it in my eyes, which had then only been accustomed to the highly-cultivated and richly-wooded tracts in Suffolk and Norfolk, and therefore dwelt with wonder and delight upon the picturesque shores and lofty heights that crowned the noble St. Lawrence.
The wind changing in our favour, carried us swiftly up the stream, which was still thirty-six miles in breadth, though distant 280 miles from the Gulf. We passed Green Island and the Kamouraska Island, and Goose and Crane Islands. These beautiful islets, which stud the broad bosom of the St. Lawrence, are evidently of volcanic origin. That of Kamouraska displays vast masses of granite, which rise in the form of conical hills, one of which attains the height of five hundred feet. The same features are discernible in the Penguins, and even the strata about Quebec still indicate the same mysterious agency.* [* "Encyclopaedia of Geography," p. 1304.]
Our progress through the river continually presented the new continent in an attractive point of view. The shores were dotted with farmhouses and adorned with fine gardens and orchards, while lovely islands, covered with lofty trees, rose from the river and delighted the eye. I thought Canada then and I have never changed my opinion since the most beautiful country in the world.
On the 13th of May we passed the Island of Orleans, which we no sooner rounded than the Falls of Montmorenci burst upon my sight. I was unprepared for the scene, which I contemplated in silent astonishment. No words written down by the man, at this distance of time, can describe the vivid feelings of the boy. I have since beheld the mighty cataracts of Niagara, so finely described by its Indian name, "The Thunder of Waters;" but I concur in the general opinion, that if those of Niagara are more stupendous, the Falls of Montmorenci are more beautiful and picturesque.
Quebec soon came in view, with its strong fortress crowning the imposing height of Cape Diamond. No one can look upon the old capital of Canada without remembering that the most gallant British soldier of the age fell in the battle that added the colony to the other dependencies of the English crown.
I remembered, too, with some pleasure, that the paternal dining-room contained a looking-glass one of the fine old Venetian plates, framed with ebony, which had once formed a part of the General's personal property. It had been for two centuries in his family, but had since become a valued heirloom in mine. His manly features must often have been reflected on its brilliant surface, and that circumstance, which had formerly endeared it to his aged mother, had made it prized by mine.
We have also a bureau, very complete, but evidently constructed more for use than ornament, which might have once contained the papers of this distinguished soldier, while the book-case, to which it was annexed, had probably held his little library. His cruet-stand, which looks as if it had been made in the patriarchal times, is still in use at Reydon Hall.
The reader must pardon this digression, since distinguished worth and valour give an interest even to trivial objects.
Quebec consists of two towns, the Upper and Lower, and is adorned with a cathedral, whose metallic roof glitters in the sun like a vast diamond. Indeed, the tin-roofs of the churches and public buildings give this city a splendid look on a bright sunshiny day, testifying, moreover, to the dryness of the air. Captain Stoddart took me all over this curious city, and kindly introduced me to one of the partners of a great mercantile house, who invited us both to dinner. We regaled ourselves on smelts, fillet of veal, and old English roast beef, to which hospitable meal we did ample justice, not forgetting to pledge our absent friends in bumpers of excellent wine.
The inhabitants of Quebec are very kind to strangers, and are a fine race of people. French is spoken here not, however, very purely, being a patois as old as the time of Henry IV. of France, when this part of Canada was first colonized; but English is generally understood by the mercantile classes.
This city is visited, at intervals, with slight shocks of earthquake.* [* Lyell's "Elements of Geology."] Nothing serious has yet followed this periodical phenomenon. But will this visitation be only confined to the mountain range north of Quebec, where the great earthquake that convulsed a portion of the globe in 1663 has left visible marks of its influence, by overturning the sand-stone rocks of a tract extending over three hundred miles?* [* "Encyclopaedia of Geography."] Quebec contains several nunneries, for the French inhabitants are mostly Roman catholics. The nuns are very useful to emigrants, who have often been bountifully relieved by these charitable vestals, who employ themselves in nursing the sick and feeding the hungry.
The inhabitants—or habitans, as the French Canadians are usually termed—are an amiable, hospitable, simple people, kind in manner, and generous in disposition. The women are lively and agreeable, and as fond of dress in Quebec as in other civilized places. They are pretty in early youth in the Lower Province, but lose their complexions sooner than the English ladies, owing, perhaps, to the rigour of the climate.* However, they possess charms superior to beauty, and seem to retain the affections of their husbands to the last hour of their lives. [* Mac Taggart's "Three Years' Residence in Canada."]
Short as was my stay in Quebec, I could not leave without regret the hospitable city where I had received from strangers such a warm welcome. I have never visited the Lower Province since; but my remembrance of its old capital is still as agreeable as it is distinct. The next day our brig was taken in tow by the fine steam-boat, the "Richelieu de Chambly," and with a leading wind and tide in our favour we proceeded at a rapid rate up the river.
I shall not attempt to describe the charming scenery of this most beautiful of all rivers, which has already been so amply described by abler writers. I was delighted with everything I saw; but nothing occurred worthy of narration.
The next day saw us safely moored in the port of Montreal, just forty- five days from our departure from the London Docks. Montreal is a handsome town, well situated, and must eventually become the most important city in British North America. The river here is very broad. The Lachine rapids commence immediately above the town, which are an impediment to the navigation, now obviated by a canal terminating at the village of Lachine, I believe nine miles distant from Montreal.
I took my passage in a Durham boat, bound for Kingston, which started the next day. We had hard work poling up the rapids. I found I had fallen in with a rough set of customers, and determined in my own mind to leave them as soon as possible, which I happily effected the next evening when we landed at Les Cedres. Here the great Otawa pours its mighty stream into the St. Lawrence, tinging its green waters with a darker hue, which can be traced for miles, till it is ultimately lost in the rapids below.
I now determined to walk to Prescot, where I knew I should be able to take the steam-boat for Kingston, on Lake Ontario. At the Coteau du Lac I fell in with a Roman Catholic Irishman, named Mooney. We travelled in company for three days, and as I had nothing else to do, I thought I might as well make an effort to convert him. However, I signally failed; and only endangered my own head by my zeal.
In the heat of argument and the indiscretion of youth, I used expressions which the Papist considered insulting to his religion. He was not one to put up patiently with this, so he would fire up, twirl his blackthorn round his head, and say, "By St. Patrick, you had better not say that again!" In everything else we agreed well enough; but I found, on parting, that all my eloquence had been entirely thrown away. Mr. Mooney remained just as firm a Roman Catholic as ever. Indeed, it was the height of presumption in me, a boy in my twentieth year, to attempt the conversion of such a strict Romanist as this Irishman.
The weather was excessively fine. The trees were just bursting into leaf. The islands in the St. Lawrence, which are here numerous, wore the brightest hues, and presented a charming contrast to the foaming rapids.
I remained two or three days at Prescot, waiting the arrival of my baggage, which I had left on board the Durham boat. I amused myself during the interval by taking walks in the neighbourhood. The land appeared very sandy, the timber being chiefly hemlock: the situation of the town is good. Steam-navigation commenced at this place, and now that the Welland Canal is completed, it affords an uninterrupted navigation be borne in mind that at the time of which I am to the head of Lakes Huron and Michigan. It must speaking (1825), the great St. Lawrence Canal and the Rideau were not commenced, but since their completion the Durham boats and small steamers have given place to a set of superb boats affording the best accommodation, whereby the passage from Montreal to Toronto can be performed at half the expense, and in one-third of the time.
My baggage having arrived, I left Prescot by boat in the evening for Kingston, at that time the second town both in size and importance in Canada West. It must, on account of its situation as a military and naval post, always be a place of consequence. I fell in there with an old sea-dog, who had commanded a vessel, for many years trading between London and Quebec. He had had the misfortune to lose his vessel, which was wrecked on the rocks at Gaspe, near the mouth of the St. Lawrence. I was glad to find the friends I was going to reside with had come out passengers in his ship, and that the schooner he then commanded was bound for the Big-bay (now called Windsor), in the township of Whitby, within six or seven miles of my friends' residence, and that they would sail in two days at farthest.
On our passage from Prescot to Kingston we passed Brockville, which looked very pretty from the river, and soon afterwards we were threading our way through the intricacies of the Thousand Islands.* Who has not heard of the far-famed Thousand Islands—the Archipelago of the St. Lawrence? Nothing can exceed the beauty of this spot. The river is here several miles in width, studded with innumerable islands, of every variety of form. The moon shone brightly on this lovely scene: not a ripple stirred the mirror-like bosom of the stream—"There was not a breath the blue wave to curl."
[* "The Lake of the Thousand Isles. The expression was thought to be a vague exaggeration, till the Isles were officially surveyed, and found to amount to 1692. A sail through them presents one of the most singular and romantic succession of scenes that can be imagined—the Isles are of every size, form, height and aspect; woody, verdant, rocky; naked, smiling, barren; and they present as numerous a succession of bays, inlets, and channels as occur in all the rest of the continent put together." "Encyclopaedia of Geography," iv. 1321.]
The reflection of the trees in the water enhanced the natural beauties I have endeavoured to describe.
The next morning, June the 3rd, I embarked on board the schooner "Shamrock," on my way to Darlington. We passed the Duck islands towards evening, and found ourselves fairly launched on the bosom of the Great Ontario. We anchored next day opposite the town of Cobourg, then a small village, without a harbour, now a fine, handsome, well-built town, containing a population of nearly 4,000 inhabitants. A large sum of money has been laid out in the construction of a harbour, which appears to answer very well.
Cobourg is the county-town for the counties of Northumberland and Durham, which comprehend the following townships: Darlington, Clarke, Hope, Hamilton, Haldimand, Cramache, Murray, Seymour, Percy, Alnwick, South Monaghan, Cavan, Manvers, and Cartwright. The soil of most of these townships is of excellent quality, particularly the fronts of Hamilton, Haldimand, and all Cavan, being generally composed of a deep rich loam.
These townships are well watered by numerous spring creeks, bounded to the north and east by the river Trent, Skugog and Rice Lakes; and to the south, for about sixty miles, by Lake Ontario. The chief towns are Cobourg, Port Hope, and Bournauville. As I shall have occasion in another place to speak more fully respecting these counties, I shall take my readers again on board the "Shamrock."
Our captain having to land some goods at Cobourg, we were detained there all night. He invited a few friends to pass the evening. A jolly set of fellows they were, and they initiated me into the mysteries of brewing whiskey-punch, a beverage I had never before tasted, and which I found very palatable. The song and the joke went round till the small hours warned us to retire.
On Sunday morning, June the 5th, I landed at the Big-bay (Windsor), in Whitby, and after bidding adieu to my fellow-voyagers commenced my journey to my friends in Darlington on foot. Whitby, at the time of which I am speaking, was only partially settled, and chiefly by Americans. This township is justly considered one of the best between Toronto and Kingston. At present the township is well settled and well- cultivated. Nearly all the old settlers are gone, and their farms have, for the most part, been purchased by old country farmers and gentlemen, the log-buildings having given place to substantial stone, brick, or frame houses. The village of Oshawa, in this township, now contains upwards of one thousand inhabitants, more than double the number the whole township could boast of when I first set foot on its soil.
ARRIVAL AT DARLINGTON. — KIND RECEPTION. — MY FRIEND'S LOCATION. — HIS INEXPERIENCE. — DAMAGE TO HIS LAND BY FIRE. — GREAT CONFLAGRATION AT MIRAMACHI. — FOREST FIRES. — MIGHTY CONFLAGRATION OF THE 6TH OF OCTOBER. — AFFECTING STORY OF A LUMBER-FOREMAN. — HIS PRESENCE OF MIND, AND WONDERFUL PRESERVATION. — THE SAD FATE OF HIS COMPANIONS.
I WAS now very near to my ark of refuge, and the buoyant spirit of early youth, with its joyous anticipations of a radiant future, bore me exultingly forward. It might have been said of me in the beautiful lines of the poet:
"He left his home with a bounding heart, For the world was all before him; And he scarcely felt it a pain to part, Such sun-bright hopes came o'er him."
Alarie A. Watts.
Two hours' brisk walking brought me to the long-looked-for end of my journey. I was received with the greatest kindness and hospitality; and, in a few days, felt quite at home and comfortable in my new quarters.
After some days' rest, I commenced operations by assisting my friend on the farm and in the store. From my practical knowledge of farming, acquired upon my mother's estate, I was soon installed as manager in that department.
Our farm contained upwards of two hundred acres of cleared land, the largest proportion of which consisted of meadows and pastures, but the soil was light and sandy, and altogether very indifferent. My friend, Colonel B——- had been imposed upon by the Yankee, of whom he had bought it, and no wonder, when I tell you that my friend had formerly held a situation under Government, and had lived in London all his life.
Only the first three concessions of this township were settled at this time, the remainder of the land being generally in the hands of absentee proprietors. I am happy to say, the absentee tax has had the effect of throwing vast quantities of these lands into the market.
This township, like Whitby, is now well settled, and though not generally equal in regard to soil, is still considered a good township. Bowmanville is the principal town, containing about twelve hundred inhabitants. In 1825 it only boasted a grist-mill, saw-mill, a store, and half-a-dozen houses. I mention this, merely to show how much the country has improved in a few years. This is not an isolated fact it applies to nearly all Canada West.
My intention was, to stay with my friends till the ensuing spring, and to get a little insight into Canadian farming, clearing land, &c., that I might have some experience before commencing operations on my own account.
The situation of my friend's house was close to the Toronto road, partly built of logs and framework: it had been designed by the former Yankee proprietor, and could certainly boast of no architectural beauties. We lived about a mile and a half from the lake shore, and I took advantage of my vicinity to the water to bathe daily. I found great refreshment in this, for the weather was very hot and dry. The drought lasted for some time, and among its consequences, I may mention the prevalence of extensive fires.* Several broke out in our neighbourhood, and, at last, the mischief reached our own farm. It destroyed several thousand rails, and spread over forty or fifty acres of meadow land. We ultimately stopped its further progress in the clearing, by ploughing furrows round the fire and a thunder-shower in the evening completed its extinction. Fire seldom runs in the woods on good land, and where the timber is chiefly deciduous, but on sandy, pine, or hemlock lands, or where evergreens chiefly prevail.
[* Fires in Canada are of frequent occurrence, and are generally caused by the burning of brush-wood or log-heaps by the settlers. In dry weather, with a brisk wind, the fire is apt to run on the surface of the ground in the bush, where the dry leaves are thickest. In clearing the land a good deal of brush-wood and tops of trees are thrown into the edge of the woods. It follows, as a matter of course, that the greatest danger to be apprehended is the burning the boundary-fences of farms. I have heard it asserted that these fires are sometimes caused by spontaneous combustion, which I consider altogether a fallacy.]
I have seldom known very serious damage by these fires done in Canada West, although occasionally a barn or house falls a sacrifice to the devouring element. Not so, however, in some parts of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, where extensive conflagrations often devastate the country for miles round. Of such a character was the great fire at Miramichi, which nearly destroyed Fredericton, and was attended not only with an immense loss of property but with the sad loss of many valuable lives. I will presently give in his own forcible and feeling language the history of a lumberer who escaped from destruction after being for some time in imminent peril of his life. He was one of the few persons who had the good fortune of escaping the great conflagration in Miramichi, which broke out in the October after my arrival, and excited so much general sympathy. Fifteen of his comrades perished in the flames.
The narrative which I introduce here, anticipating by a few months the proper order of narration, was related to me by the man himself with that native eloquence which often surprises, and always interests us in the uneducated. The class to which he belongs is one peculiar to America. Rough in manners, and often only half-civilized, the lumberer, as an individual, resembles little the woodsman of other lands. He is generally a Canadian Frenchman, or a breed between the Irish and the native of the Lower Province. However, some Yankees may be found among these denizens of the woods and wilds of Canada. The fearful conflagration to which our poor lumberer nearly fell a victim, has been thus ably described in M'Gregor's "British America." "In October, 1825, about a hundred and forty miles in extent, and a vast breadth of the country on the north, and from sixty to seventy miles on the south side of Miramachi river, became a scene of perhaps the most dreadful conflagration that has occurred in the history of the world.
"In Europe we can scarcely form a conception of the fury and rapidity with which fires rage through the forests of America during a dry hot season, at which period the broken underwood, decayed vegetable substances, fallen branches, bark, and withered trees, are as inflammable as the absence of moisture can make them. To such irresistible food for combustion we must add the auxiliary afforded by the boundless fir forests, every tree of which in its trunk, bark, branches, and leaves contains vast quantities of inflammable resin.
"When one of these fires is once in motion, or at least when the flames extent over a few miles of the forest, the surrounding air becomes highly rarefied, and the wind consequently increases till it blows a perfect hurricane. It appears, that the woods had been on both sides of the north-west partially on fire for some days, but not to an alarming extent until the 7th of October, when it came on to blow furiously from the westward, and the inhabitants along the river were suddenly surprised by an extraordinary roaring in the woods, resembling the crashing and detonation of loud and incessant thunder, while at the same instant the atmosphere became thick darkened with smoke.
"They had scarcely time to ascertain the cause of this awful phenomenon before all the surrounding woods appeared in one vast blaze, the flames ascending from one to two hundred feet above the tops of the loftiest trees; and the fire rolling forward with inconceivable celerity, presented the terribly sublime appearance of an impetuous flaming ocean. In less than an hour, Douglas Town and Newcastle were in a blaze: many of the wretched inhabitants perished in the flames. More than a hundred miles of the Miramichi were laid waste, independent of the north-west branch, the Baltibag, and the Nappen settlements. From one to two hundred persons perished within immediate observation, while thrice that number were miserably burned or wounded, and at least two thousand were left destitute of the means of subsistence, and were thrown for a time on the humanity of the Province of New Brunswick. The number of lives that were lost in the woods could not at the time be ascertained, but it was thought few were left to tell the tale.
"Newcastle presented a fearful scene of ruin and devastation, only fourteen out of two hundred and fifty houses and stores remained standing.
"The court-house, jail, church, and barracks, Messrs. Gilmour, Rankin, and Co.'s, and Messrs. Abrams and Co.'s establishment, with two ships on the stocks, were reduced to ashes.
"The loss of property is incalculable, for the fire, borne upon the wings of a hurricane, rushed on the wretched inhabitants with such inconceivable rapidity that the preservation of their lives could be their only care.
"Several ships were burned on shore, while others were saved from the flames by the exertions of their owners, after being actually on fire.
"At Douglas Town scarcely any kind of property escaped the ravages of the fire, which swept off the surface everything coming in contact with it, leaving but time for the unfortunate inhabitants to fly to the shore; and there, by means of boats, canoes, rafts of timber, logs, or any article, however ill calculated for the purpose, they endeavoured to escape from the dreadful scene and reach the town of Chatham, numbers of men, women, and children perishing in the attempt.
"In some parts of the country all the cattle were either destroyed or suffering greatly, for the very soil was parched and burnt up, while scarcely any article of provision was rescued from the flames.
"The hurricane raged with such dreadful violence, that large bodies of timber on fire, as well as trees from the forest and parts of the flaming houses and stores, were carried to the rivers with amazing velocity, to such an extent and affecting the water in such a manner, as to occasion large quantities of salmon and other fish to resort to land, hundreds of which were scattered on the shores of the south and west branches.
"Chatham was filled with three hundred miserable sufferers: every hour brought to it the wounded and burned in the most abject state of distress. Great fires raged about the same time in the forests of the River St. John, which destroyed much property and timber, with the governor's house, and about eighty private houses at Fredericton. Fires raged also at the same time in the northern parts of the Province, as far as the Bay de Chaleur.
"It is impossible to tell how many lives were lost, as many of those who were in the woods among the lumbering parties, had no friends nor connections in the country to remark on their non-appearance. Five hundred have been computed as the least number that actually perished in the flames.
"The destruction of bears, foxes, tiger-cats, martens, hares, squirrels, and other wild animals, was very great. These, when surprised by such fires, are said to lose their usual sense of preservation, and becoming, as it were, either giddy or fascinated, often rush into the face of inevitable destruction: even the birds, except these of very strong wing, seldom escape. Some, particularly the partridge, become stupified; and the density of the smoke, the rapid velocity of the flames, and the violence of the winds, effectually prevent the flight of others."
It was from this mighty destruction that the forecast and admirable presence of mind displayed by the lumberer, whose pathetic story I am about to relate, saved him. I could not fail, while rejoicing in his escape, to impute his self-possession to the compassion of the all-wise Being who had made him such an instance of His mercy.
"The weather," said he, "had been unusually dry for the season, and there had been no rain for upwards of three weeks before this calamity took place. We had only just completed our shanty, and had commenced felling timber ready for squaring, when it occurred. We had heard from our teamsters, who had brought us out pork and flour, the day previous, that fires were raging in the woods some miles to the eastward of us. However, we paid but little attention to what appeared to us a common occurrence.
"After supper, one of our men went out of the shanty, but immediately returned to tell us 'that a dreadful conflagration was raging within a mile or so of our dwelling.' We immediately rushed out to ascertain the truth of his assertion. I shall never forget," he continued, "the sight presented to our view: as far as the eye could reach we saw a wall of fire higher than the tree-tops, and we heard the mighty sound of the rushing flames mingled with the crashing fall of the timber.
"A single glance convinced us that not a minute was to be lost; we did not stop even to try and secure our clothing, but made our way as quickly as possible to a small river about two hundred yards from our shanty, and which we knew was our only chance of preservation.
"We reached the stream in safety, where I determined to take my stand. My comrades, however, were of a different opinion: they contended that the fire would not cross the river, which was upwards of thirty yards in width. Unfortunately, no argument of mine could induce them to stay, though I was well aware, and represented to them that such a body of flame would not be stayed a minute by such a barrier.
"My comrades, hoping to reach an old clearance of some acres, about half a mile in advance, in spite of all entreaties crossed the stream, and were soon lost to my view never more to be seen alive by me.
"I waded down the stream, till I found a place where the water was up to my arm-pits, and the bank of the river rose about six feet over my head. There I took my stand, and awaited the event in breathless anxiety. I had no time to look around me. The few minutes which had elapsed, had greatly added to the terrors of the scene.
"As the wall of fire advanced, fresh trees in succession were enveloped by the flames. A bright glare crimsoned the clouds with a lurid glow, while the air was filled with a terrible noise. The heat now became intense. I looked up once more; the trees above me caught fire at that instant, the next, I was holding my breath a foot beneath the surface of the running stream. Every few seconds I was compelled to raise my head to breathe, which I accomplished with great difficulty. In a few minutes, which seemed ages to me, I was enabled to stand upright, and look around me. What desolation a short half hour had effected! In front, the conflagration was still raging with unabated fury, while in the rear the fire had consumed all the under-brush and limbs of the trees, leaving a forest of blackened poles still blazing fiercely, though not with the intense heat caused by the balsam and pine- brushwood.
"It was several hours before I durst quit my sanctuary to search for my companions, the blackened remains of whom I found not a quarter of a mile from the river.
"Our shanty,* and all that it contained, was utterly consumed. I, however, succeeded in finding in the cellar beneath its ruins, as much provisions uninjured as served to carry me through to the settlements, which I ultimately reached, though not without great difficulty."
[* A shanty is a building made with logs, higher in the front than the back, making a fall to the roof, which is generally covered with troughs made of pine or bass-wood logs; the logs are first split fair in the middle, and hollowed out with the axe and adze. A row of these troughs is then laid from the front or upper wall-plate, sloping down to the back plate, the hollowed side uppermost. The covering-troughs is then placed with the hollow reversed, either edge resting in the centre of the under trough. A door in the front and one window complete the building. Such is commonly the first dwelling of the settler. The lumber-shanty differs both in shape and size, being much larger, and the roof sloping both ways, with a raised hearth in the centre of the floor, with an aperture directly above for the escape of the smoke. It has no window. One door at the end, and two tier of bed berths, one above the other, complete the tout ensemble. These shanties are generally constructed to accommodate from two to three gangs of lumber men, with shed-room for twelve or fourteen span of oxen or horses span being the Canadian term for pair.]
INEXPERIENCE OF MY FRIEND. — BAD STATE OF HIS LAND. — FALL WHEAT. — FENCING. — GRASSES. — INVITATION TO A "BEE." — UNITED LABOUR. — CANADIAN SPORTS. — DEGENERACY OF BEES.
COLONEL B——- was an old and valued friend of my family, who had held a lucrative situation under Government for many years. His retirement from public life, on some disgust, had eventually led to his settlement in Canada.
Now, his literary tastes and sedentary habits had ill-fitted him for the rough customs of the colony. Besides having scarcely seen a grain of corn in its progressive state from the blade to its earing and harvest, he knew nothing of agricultural operations. Of stock he was equally ignorant, and of the comparative goodness or badness of soil he was, of course, no judge. Such a man, in the choice of a farm, was sure to be shaved by the shrewd Yankee proprietor, and my poor friend was shaved accordingly.
I found my friend's farm had been much neglected. His out-door labourers were all from the south of Ireland, and had never before followed farming operations. In consequence of their inexperience, half the clearing was quite overrun with raspberries and Canadian thistles. (The latter weed is far more troublesome to eradicate than any other I know. It is the same as the common corn-thistle, or Serratula arvensis, so well known to English agriculturists).
As we intended to prepare a large piece of ground for summer-fallow, it was necessary to get rid of those stumps of the trees, which, according to the practice of chopping them two or three feet from the ground, present a continual obstacle to the advance of the plough. We, however, succeeded in getting clear of them by hitching a logging-chain round the stump near the top, when a sudden jerk from the oxen was generally sufficient to pull it up. For the larger, and those more firmly fixed in the ground, we made use of a lever about twenty feet long, and about eight or nine inches in diameter, one end of which was securely chained to the stump, the oxen being fastened to the other and made to go in a circular direction, a manoeuvre which rarely fails of the desired effect. This plan will not answer unless the roots are sufficiently decayed. During dry weather the application of fire produces more effectual results. A few embers shaken from a cedar-torch on the crown of the stump are sufficient for the purpose: some hundreds of these blazing merrily at night have a very pretty effect.
In ten or twelve years the hard woods, such as oak, ash, beech and maple disappear; but the stumps of the evergreens, such as pine, hemlock and cedar, are much more difficult to eradicate.
The land being of a sandy nature, we had but few stones to contend with. When such is the case, we raise them above the surface, by the help of levers. By these means, stones of half a ton weight can be easily lifted from their beds. The larger ones are generally drawn off the fields to make the foundations of fences, and those of a smaller size are used in the construction of French drains.
To succeed well with your summer fallow, it is necessary to have the sod all turned over with the plough by the end of May, or sooner if possible. Shortly afterwards the fallow should be well harrowed; in July it should be crossed, ploughed and harrowed, and rolled at least twice before the final ploughing or ridging up, which should be completed by the last week in August.
Fall-wheat should be sown between the first and fifteenth day of September.* The sooner the better, in my opinion, because the plant is stronger and better able to withstand the frost, and is decidedly less liable to rust. Our fallow having been prepared in this manner, and sown broad-cast with fall-wheat, the next object was to fence in the field securely, which is done in the following way. Trees of a straight growth and straight also in the grain are selected and cut into twelve feet lengths, and are then, by the means of a beetle and wedges, split into rails as nearly four inches square as possible. The rails are then laid in a zigzag direction, crossing each other about a foot from the end, making an angle of about six feet. Seven rails in height, crowned by a stake and rider, complete the fence. The best timbers for making rails, are pine, cedar, oak and black and white ash: these kinds of timbers will last about thirty years. Bass-wood is more commonly used for the first fences, because it is to be procured in greater abundance, and splits more easily; but as it will not last more than ten years, I would not recommend settlers to use it, if the other sorts can readily be obtained.
[* "Fall" is the term usually applied to wheat sown in the autumn by the Canadian farmer, and will be used in this sense throughout a work especially written for the service of the inexperienced settler.]
In this country, hay-cutting commences about the first or second week in July. Timothy-grass and clover mixed or timothy alone are the best for hay, and the most productive. The quantity of seed required for new land is six quarts of grass-seed and two pounds of clover to the acre; on old cleared farms nearly double this seed is required. Timothy is a solid grass with a bulbous root. If the weather is hot and dry, the hay should be carted the second day after cutting, for there is no danger in carting it at once into your barn, the climate being so dry that it never heats enough to cause spontaneous combustion. We have other sorts of grasses, such as red-top, blue-joint, &c.: these grasses, however, are inferior, and therefore never grown from choice.
Soon after my arrival at Darlington, one of my neighbours residing on the lake-shore invited me to a mowing and cradling "Bee."* As I had never seen anything of the kind, I accepted the invitation. On my arrival at the farm on the appointed day, I found assembled about forty men and boys. A man with a pail of spring water with a wooden cup floating on the surface in one hand, and a bottle of whiskey and glass in the other, now approached the swarm, every one helping himself as he pleased. This man is the most important personage at the "Bee," and is known by the appellation of the "Grog-bos." On this occasion his office was anything but a sinecure. The heat of the weather, I suppose, had made our party very thirsty. There were thirty-five bees cutting hay, among whom I was a rather awkward volunteer, and ten cradlers** employed in cutting rye.
[* What the Canadian settlers call a "Bee" is a neighbourly gathering for any industrious purpose a friendly clubbing of labour, assisted by an abundance of good cheer. ** The cradle is a scythe of larger dimensions than the common hay- scythe, and is both wider in the blade and longer. A straight piece of wood, called a standard, thirty inches long, is fixed upright; near the end of the snaith, or handle, are four fingers made of wood, the same bend as the scythe, and from six to seven inches apart, directly above the scythe, and fixed firmly into the standard, from which wire braces with nuts and screws to adjust the fingers. These braces are secured to the fingers about eight inches from the standard. The other end of the wire is then passed through the snaith and drawn tight by means of a screw-nut. These machines are very effective, and in the hands of a person who understands their use will cut from two to three acres a-day of either wheat, oats, barley, or rye.]
At eleven o'clock, cakes and pailfuls of tea were served round. At one, we were summoned by the sound of a tin bugle to dinner, which we found laid out in the barn. Some long pine-boards resting on tressels served for a table, which almost groaned with the good things of this earth, in the shape of roast lamb and green peas, roast sucking-pig, shoulder of mutton, apple-sauce, and pies, puddings, and preserves in abundance, with plenty of beer and Canadian whiskey. Our bees proved so industrious, that before six o'clock all Mr. Burke's hay and rye were finished cutting. Supper was then served on the same scale of profusion, with the addition of tea. After supper a variety of games and gymnastics were introduced, various trials of strength, wrestling, running, jumping, putting the stone, throwing the hammer, &c.
About nine o'clock our party broke up, and returned to their respective homes, well pleased with their day's entertainment, leaving their host perfectly satisfied with their voluntary labour. One word about bees and their attendant frolic. I confess I do not like the system. I acknowledge, that in raising a log-house or barn it is absolutely necessary, especially in the Bush, but the general practice is bad. Some people can do nothing without a bee, and as the work has to be returned in the same manner, it causes a continual round of dissipation if not of something worse. I have known several cases of manslaughter arising out of quarrels produced by intoxication at these every-day gatherings. As population increases, and labour becomes cheaper, of course there will be less occasion for them.
MY MARRIAGE. — I BECOME A SETTLER ON MY OWN ACCOUNT. — I PURCHASE LAND IN OTONABEE. — RETURN TO DARLINGTON. — MY FIRST ATTEMPT AT DRIVING A SPAN. — ACTIVE MEASURES TO REMEDY A DISASTER. — PATIENCE OF MY FATHER-IN-LAW. — MY FIRST BEAR-HUNT. — BEAVER-MEADOWS. — CANADIAN THUNDERSTORMS. — FRIGHT OF A SETTLER'S FAMILY.
I MUST now say something of myself. During my domestication under my friend's roof, I became attached to one of his daughters. The affection was mutual; and our happiness was completed by the approbation of our friends. We were married; and it seemed that there was a goodly prospect of many years of wedded happiness before us.
But it was necessary that I, who was now a husband, and might become a father, should become a settler on my own account, and look about for lands of my own. I examined, therefore, several locations in the neighbourhood; but one objection or another presented itself, and I declined fixing my settlement at Darlington. Ultimately, I bought two hundred acres of land in the township of Otonabee, within a mile of the newly laid out town of Peterborough. It was arranged that I should stop at Darlington, and assist my father-in-law, until it was time to commence operations in the spring. This arrangement proved very beneficial to me, as I was able to learn many useful things, and make myself acquainted with the manners and customs of the people with whom I was going to live.
We kept two pair of horses and a yoke of oxen to work the farm. One pair of our horses were French Canadian. Generally speaking, they are rough-looking beasts, with shaggy manes and tails, but strong, active, and stout for their size, which, however, is much less than that of the Upper Canadian horse. I have seen, nevertheless, some very handsome carriage-horses of this breed. Of late years, both the Upper and Lower Canadian breed of horses have been much improved by the importation of stallions.
The working oxen of this country are very docile and easily managed. They are extremely useful in the new settlement; indeed, I do not know what could be done without them. It is next to an impossibility to plough among the green stumps and roots with horses the plough being continually checked by roots and stones therefore, till these obstacles are removed, which cannot be effectually done for seven or eight years, oxen are indispensably necessary, particularly for logging up new fallows. Yet notwithstanding their usefulness, I do not know a worse treated set of animals than Canadian oxen. Their weight, when fat, varies from seven to eight hundred weight. A yoke and bows, made of birch or soft maple, is the only harness needed; and, in my opinion, for double draught, better, and certainly less troublesome than the collar and traces used in England.
The ox-yoke is made of a piece of wood, four feet in length, and nine inches deep in the centre, to which a staple is fitted, and from which an iron ring depends, about a foot from the middle of the yoke each way, which is hollowed out, so as to fit on the top of the oxen's necks. A hole is bored, two inches in diameter, on each side of the hollow, through which the bow is passed, and fastened on the upper side of the yoke by a wooden pin. The bow is bent in the shape of a horse- shoe, the upper, or narrow ends being passed through the yoke. If the yoke and bows are properly made and fit the cattle, there is no fear of galling the beast. The bows are made of hickory, white or rock elm, in this way. Cut a piece of elm, five feet and a half long, large enough to split into quarters, each of which will dress to two inches in diameter; put them in a steam-box for an hour at least; take them out hot, and bend on a mould made on purpose; tie the two bent-up ends together until dry. Every settler should know how to do these things, and to make his own axe-handles, and many other articles which are constantly required in the bush.
My first attempt at driving oxen was accompanied by an unfortunate accident, which gave me some trouble and mortification. My father-in- law had lent a neighbour a plough, of which we were much in want. I thought it would be a good opportunity for me to try my hand with the oxen, to fetch it home. Now, it happened the cattle were young, and not very well broken, so that I found some difficulty in yoking and attaching them to the cart. However, I succeeded at last, and drove up to the door of Mr. Stephens' house in great style. I found the family just going to dinner, which they courteously invited me to partake with them. I accepted their hospitality, and left the oxen standing before the door.
I discussed my neighbour's good cheer with an excellent appetite, and was in the very act of pledging mine host, when I heard the cattle start off. We left the table with precipitation, but-were, alas! too late to stop the refractory oxen, which galloping down a steep hill, on the summit of which the house was built, stumbled in their descent, and fell to the bottom, where we found them struggling, apparently, in the agonies of death. We cut the bows from their necks as soon as possible, but not in time to save the life of poor Spot, the near ox, who was quite dead; and it was for some minutes doubtful if Dandy the off "critter," as the Yankees would style him would survive his companion. I killed the dead one over again to make its flesh fit for consumption, and bled the other, which happily saved its life. But, notwithstanding my careful endeavour to make the best of a foolish matter, I felt myself in an awkward predicament. To my worthy father-in-law the loss of an animal worth thirty dollars was, at that time, particularly inconvenient; but his moral justice was high and his temper mild; so he listened meekly to my account of the misfortune, quietly remarking, that it could not be helped, and that no blame attached to me. It is in these worrying affairs of every-day life that we discern the real beauty of the Christian character. My mother-in-law behaved as well, on this trying occasion, as any lady could do who found her larder suddenly stocked with a quantity of lean tough beef a prospect, indeed, by no means cheering to any member of the household.
On my return home from my first essay in ox-driving, or rather ox- killing, I found Dennis, our Irish servant, waiting for me with the greatest impatience.
"Och, sir," he exclaimed; "if you had but been with me you might have shot a bear. I was out in the bush searching for the cows, and just as I was crossing the Big creek, near the beaver meadow, I heard a noise from a thicket of cedar bushes close by me, and thinking it might be one of the lost cows I ran forward to see, when to my astonishment and dismay I came suddenly upon a large bear."
"Well," said I, "what did you do?"
"Faith, then, sir, to tell you the truth, I did not do much only took to my heels, and ran home as fast as I could to tell you; as I thought yer honour might perhaps get a shot at the baste, and, troth! he warn't in the laste bit of a hurry to get out my way, sure."
"Well, Dennis, only show me the brute, and it shall be a hard case if I do not make the addition of fat bear to eat with the lean beef, with which I have already stocked the larder."
I loaded my gun with ball, and in company with Dennis and his father started for the place where Master Bruin had been seen. I took Neptune with me a remarkably fine Irish greyhound one of the most powerfully built dogs of that breed I had ever seen, and well he proved his strength and courage this day, as you shall hear.
After proceeding nearly two miles in an easterly direction close to the edge of the beaver meadow,* Neptune suddenly raised his head and looked round. In the next instant he was dashing along in full chase of Mr. Bruin, who was making the best of his way up a hill on the opposite side of the meadow.
[* These meadows are to be found within two or three miles of each other on almost every creek or small stream in Canada West. Those industrious animals, the beavers, build their dams across the creeks in a very ingenious manner, with clay and brush-wood. It is very astonishing what ingenuity they display, and what sagacity, almost amounting to reason, they show in the choice of situation for the erection of these dams. It has been asserted that some years ago, when the French were masters of the country, the Indians cut away the dams, and killed all the beavers they could possibly find, as they did not wish the reservoirs where the beavers bred to fall into the hands of their white brethren. The size of these meadows varies from two or three acres to two or three hundred, and in some few cases is much larger.]
We joined in the chase with the greatest alacrity, but not in time to witness the first set-to between these savage opponents; for while we were gaining the brow of the hill a desperate fight was going on only a few yards from us. Neptune sometimes having the best of it sometimes Bruin. I found it quite impossible to fire for fear of killing the dog. We then tried to pull him off so as to enable me to shoot the bear. This we found equally difficult, the dog had such fast hold of his throat. He was, indeed, perfectly furious.
Dennis, by my direction, cut a strong pole twelve or fourteen feet long, which we laid across the brute's back, and pressed him down as tightly as we could, which, with the able assistance of Nep. kept my gentleman tolerably quiet till the old man cut and twisted a couple of withes, which he passed under the bear, near the hind and forelegs, and secured him firmly to the pole, which my companions lifted on their shoulders, from which the beast now hung suspended, and commenced our march homewards.
I had great difficulty in keeping the dog off. He would rush in, every minute, in spite of all I could do, and seize poor Bruin by the side and shake him most unmercifully. I had enough to do with the help of a stout stick to keep him and the bear in order. The latter was equally violent striking with his fore-paws at the men who were luckily for them just out of his reach, and particularly so for Dennis, who marched in front, whose unmentionables not being in the best possible repair, appeared to excite Master Bruin's particular attention.
I very much wished to preserve this creature alive, that I might try and tame him. In this, however, I was destined to be disappointed; for what with the beating I was obliged to give him to keep him quiet, and the savage attack of the dog, he died just as we came within sight of the clearing. When we skinned him, we found his side much lacerated where the dog had bitten him. From the exaggerated description Dennis had given me of his size, I fully expected to find him as big as a bullock. He, however, only weighed a hundred and fifty-seven pounds, which, for a bear of two years old, which appeared to be his age, is, I believe, the average weight.
The summer of 1825 was warm, even for Canada, where this season is always hot. The thermometer often ranged above 90 degrees in the shade. Such weather would be quite unbearable, were it not for a fine breeze which almost invariably springs up from the westward between ten and eleven o'clock in the forenoon, and continues till sunset.
The nights are cooler in proportion to the heat of the day, than in England.
This climate is subject to violent thunder-storms, accompanied by vivid forked lightning and heavy rain, which greatly tend to cool the air and make the country more healthy. Fatal accidents, however, sometimes occur, and houses and barns are burnt down by the electric fluid, and I have no doubt that, were it not for the proximity of the woods, a great deal more damage would be done.
The lofty trees serve as conductors, particularly the pine and hemlock, the former, from its great height above all the other trees of the forest, being much more likely to be struck by the lightning than any other. It is a curious fact that the electric fluid invariably follows the grain the wood. I have often noticed in pines which had been struck, that the fluid had followed the grain in a spiral form, encircling the tree three or four times in its descent to the earth. I have myself witnessed some extraordinary effects produced by lightning. I remember that, not more than two years since, I had occasion to go out into the township of Douro to attend the sitting of the Council of which I was then a member, and I had, on my way, to pass through a small clearing occupied by an Irish settler, one James Lynch.
This man, to save trouble, had left several large hemlock trees near his house. These trees had been dead for some years, consequently the wood was tolerably dry.* The day before, there had been a terrific thunder-storm which struck the largest, which was fully four feet in diameter, shivering it from top to bottom, and throwing the pieces around for upwards of sixty yards in every direction. If a barrel of gunpowder had been placed under the tree, greater devastation could not have been made. Lynch told me that the storm had been very severe in that neighbourhood.
[* It is well knows that dry timber offers a greater resistance to the electric fluid than the green.]
"We were at dinner," he said, "when the dreadful flash came which shattered that tree. We were all knocked down by the shock, and narrowly escaped being killed, not only by the lightning, but by the pieces of timber which were, as you may observe, scattered in all directions."
After a thunder-storm, attended by heavy rain, a substance very much resembling sulphur is left floating on all the pools, which many people believe to be sulphur. This, however, is quite a mistake, for it is, in reality, nothing more than the farina from the cone of the pine trees. I have observed this substance equally abundant on the Huron tract, many miles from any pine grove. It must, therefore, from its lightness, have been carried up into the air, from whence it has been beaten down by the rain.
CANADIAN HARVEST. — PREPARING TIMBER FOR FRAME-BUILDINGS. — RAISING "BEE." — BEAUTY OF THE CANADIAN AUTUMN. — VISIT TO OTONABEE. — ROUGH CONVEYANCE. — DISACCOMMODATION. — LEARNED LANDLORD. — COBOURG. — OTONABEE RIVER. — CHURCH OF GORE'S LANDING. — EFFECTS OF PERSERVING INDUSTRY.
OUR harvest, with the exception of some late oats, was all carefully housed by the 18th of August. Very little grain is stacked out in this country: even the hay is put up in barns. As timber can be had for the cutting, log or frame-barns can be built very cheaply. I would certainly recommend frame in preference to log-buildings.
Square timber, fit for framing, can be purchased from four to five dollars per hundred feet, running measure. Twelve hundred feet are sufficient, varying in size from four inches to a foot square. This quantity will frame a barn fifty feet long by thirty feet wide, and sixteen in height, from the sill to the plate which supports the roof. Twelve thousand feet of boards and plank, at five dollars per thousand, superficial measure, will be enough to enclose the frame, and lay the threshing-floor, and board the roof ready for shingling.
The best and cheapest method of barn-building is as follows: In the winter season cut and square with the broad axe all the frame timber you require, and draw it home to the place you have fixed on for the building, and from the saw-mill all the lumber you require. As soon as the weather is warm enough hire a framer, whose business is to mark out all the tenons and mortices, and to make or superintend the making of them. When ready, the building is put together in what is called bents, each bent consisting of two posts, one on each side of the building, connected together by a strong beam running across the building. The foundation is composed of twelve cedar blocks, three feet long, sunk two-thirds of their depth into the ground, one under each corner of the barn, and under the foot of each post. These blocks support the sills, which are firmly united at the corner to the cross sills. The bents, four in number, are then laid on this foundation, and are ready for raising, which is done by calling a "bee." Thirty-five men are ample for this service—more are only in the way. Every two persons should be provided with a light balsam or cedar pole, fifteen feet in length, shod at the end with a ring and strong spike. These pike-poles are laid in order in front of the bent to be raised, one between each person. All being ready, the framer-gives the word "attention," when each man lays hold of the bent, one man being stationed at the foot of each post with a hand-spike, which he presses against it to prevent its slipping. "Yeo heave!" is then shouted by the framer, at which every man lifts, waiting always for the word, and lifting together. As soon as the bent is lifted as high as they can reach, the pike-poles are driven into the beam, and the bent is soon in a perpendicular position. Several pikes are then stuck into the opposite side to keep the bent from being swayed over, until the tenons on the foot of the post is entered into the mortice on the sill: it is then secured by stays, until the next bent is raised, when the girts connect them together. In this manner all the bents are raised: the wall-plates are then lifted upon the building which connect all the bents. The tenon on the top of each post goes through the plate, and is firmly pinned; the putting up the rafters completes the frame. The raising of a building of this size should not occupy more than three quarters of a-day. No liquor should be served out to the swarm of working bees till the raising is over, as many serious accidents having occurred for want of this precaution.
I am particular in giving these descriptions, because I flatter myself they may prove useful to the future colonist.
The first week in September we commenced sowing our fall-wheat, and finished on the tenth, which is considered in good season. I would by all means recommend early sowing, especially on old cleared farms. Late sown wheat is more liable to winter-kill and rust. In fact, you can hardly sow too early to ensure a good crop.
September is the most beautiful month in the Canadian year. The weather is neither too hot nor too cold. Nothing can be more delightfully pleasant; for, in this month, the foliage of the trees begins to put on that gorgeous livery for which the North American continent is so justly celebrated. Every variety of tint, from the brightest scarlet and deepest orange, yellow and green, with all the intermediate shades blended together, form one of the most beautiful natural pictures you can possibly conceive.
I received a very pressing invitation from my wife's brother-in-law, who resided near the foot of Rice Lake, in the township of Otonabee, to come and spend a few days with him. As an additional inducement, he promised to show me some capital duck-shooting. I was too fond of fowling to decline such an invitation as this. Besides, I wished to see that new settlement. The township lies north of Rice Lake, which forms its southern boundary: it is the largest in the county of Peterborough, with the exception of Harvey. Otonabee contains above eighty thousand acres, and is now the most populous as well as one of the most fertile townships in the county, which, at the time of which I am writing, had been just opened by the Government for location.
The only practicable road then to this settlement was from Cobourg, distant twelve miles from the southern shore of Rice Lake, leading over a chain of hills, the highest of which is, I believe, about seven hundred feet above the level of Lake Ontario, and from whence, on a very clear day, the opposite shore may be seen, though the distance is nearly sixty-five miles. I have heard this statement disputed, but I am perfectly convinced of the truth from having myself seen, on several occasions, the United States' shore of the lake from White's Hill, which is several hundred feet lower.
It was arranged that I should drive my wife as far as Cobourg, and leave her with some friends till my return. I was to take out with me from Cobourg the gentleman's sister, Miss Jane W——-, who was to return with me.
We left Darlington in a one-horse pleasure-waggon so called, or rather mis-called, by the natives. For my part, I never could find in what the pleasure consisted, unless in being jerked every minute two or three feet from your seat by the unevenness of the road and want of springs in your vehicle, or the next moment being soused to the axletree in a mud-hole, from which, perhaps, you were obliged to extricate your carriage by the help of a lever in the shape of a rail taken from some farmer's fence by the roadside. You are no sooner freed from this Charybdis, than you fall into Scylla, formed by half a mile of corduroy-bridge, made of round logs, varying from nine to fifteen inches in diameter, which, as you may suppose, does not make the most even surface imaginable, and over which you are jolted in the roughest style possible, at the expense of your breath and injury of your person. I am happy to say that better roads and a better description of pleasure-carriages have superseded these inconvenient conveyances.
Since the institution of county councils, and the formation of towns and townships into municipalities, great attention has been bestowed, and large sums of money voted, for the improvement of roads and bridges; and several Joint-stock companies, chartered by the Provincial Parliament, have completed sundry lines of plank and macadamized roads, on which toll-gates have been erected. What has already been done in this way has added greatly to the wealth and settlement of the province. No one can understand, indeed, except the early settler, what a blessing a good road is, especially to those who are too far back for the benefit of water communication.
The day was fine and clear when we started, and we congratulated ourselves on the prospect of a pleasant journey, which, I am sorry to say, was not to be verified. Distant thunder soon warned us that we might expect a storm. We hurried on as fast as possible, in hope we might be able to get through the nine-mile woods, in the township of Clarke, before the bursting of the storm. In this, however, we were disappointed; for, before we were half through the woods, the rain fell in torrents, accompanied by the loudest thunder and most vivid lightning I had ever seen. After above an hour's most pitiless pelting, we found ourselves suddenly before a small log-house, in front of which, swinging between two upright posts, a cross-bar connecting them at the top, depended a sign, on which was described, in large characters, for the information of all way-worn or thirsty-travellers, "that good liquor, good beds, and good accommodations, both for man and horse, could be had from the proprietor, Thomas Turner Orton."
Although from the outward appearance of the premises we did not expect the best accommodation, we thought anything better than being exposed longer to the fury of the storm, so giving our horse and waggon to the charge of the ostler, we entered Mr. Orton's tavern, and demanded to be shown into a private room, which request we found it was out of the power of mine host to comply with, seeing he had only one apartment, which answered the treble purpose of parlour, kitchen, and bar-room. Besides this general apartment there were two small bedrooms on the ground-floor. Luckily for us, a good fire blazed on the ample hearth, its only occupant, in the shape of a guest, being a gentleman from Port Hope, who, like ourselves, had just taken refuge from the storm.
While our clothes were being dried, our hostess prepared dinner, which consisted of a boiled chicken, eggs, and fried ham, which we found excellent, and, as a preventive against catching cold, after the soaking we had got, I ordered some whiskey-punch, which I have always found very efficacious on such occasions. Some people recommend tea made from the boughs of the hemlock-pine, which, I dare say, is excellent for some constitutions; but it never agreed half so well with mine as the former antidote, which I can conscientiously recommend but, like all other medicines, an over-dose may do more harm than good.
Our host, who appeared to make himself quite at home in his own house, joined in the conversation, and being very communicative about his own affairs, wanted us to be equally so about ours. His eccentricity greatly amused us. He informed me that he was by birth a Yorkshireman, and that he had been in business in London, where he had built some fine "place" or "terrace," which still bore his name. He spouted Latin occasionally, and showed me a Greek lexicon, which he told me was his constant companion. His real stock of Latin and Greek consisted only of a few words and sentences he had picked up, and which he quoted ostentatiously before the ignorant, who of course thought him a prodigy of learning.
As it continued to rain all the evening, I was obliged to give orders to have my horse put up for the night, and also to see what accommodation could be had for ourselves. I found on examination that this was bad enough at least I thought so then, though many a time since I should have been happy to obtain any half as good.
We started early next morning, and reached Cobourg, without any farther adventure, about noon on the same day. We halted there three days. I left my wife with our friends, and took charge of Miss W——- to escort her to her brother's house.
We left Cobourg for Rice Lake which was distant about twelve or thirteen miles from thence. It was a delightful morning in October; and our road, though very bad, and in some places positively dangerous, where it descended into the deep ravines, was at the same time so picturesque that we were quite delighted with our drive, and particularly so when, emerging from the woods, we entered Hamilton- plains, and beheld in the distance the glittering waters of Rice Lake, and the gem-like islands which adorn its unruffled surface.
Rice Lake, or the Lake of the Burning Plains, as it is called in the Indian language, is a fine sheet of water, twenty-seven miles in length from east to west, varying from two to three and a half miles in width. About six miles from its head on the northern shore it receives the waters of the Otonabee river, which, rising near the head-waters of the Madawaska, flows in nearly a westerly direction, into Balsam Lake, where it takes a more southerly direction, forming in its course a succession of beautiful lakes for upwards of sixty miles. Ten miles above Peterborough, and directly opposite my own farm in the township of Douro, it suddenly contracts its channel and becomes a rapid and impetuous stream. According to a survey ordered by the-government, it was ascertained that from a point on my farm, at the foot of Kawchewahnoonk Lake, and distant from Peterborough nearly ten miles, there is a fall of one hundred and forty-seven feet, affording an unlimited water-power, which has already been extensively applied not only in the town of Peterborough, where several fine flour and saw- mills have been erected, but also in the townships through which it flows.
At Peterborough the rapids cease, from whence the river becomes navigable for steam-boats to the Rice Lake, at the distance of twenty- one miles, which it enters after a course of fully two hundred and fifty miles.
The Indian river takes its rise close to Stony Lake, from which it is only divided by a narrow ridge of granite: this ridge has been cut across at the sole expense of the Hon. Zacheus Burnham and Dr. John Gilchrist, for the purpose of obtaining a larger supply of water for the use of their mills at Warsaw, in Dummer and Keane, in Otonabee, thus connecting the two rivers by this canal. This river flows through the townships of Dummer, Douro, and Otonabee, its whole course not exceeding thirty-five or forty miles, with the exception of a few small streams. No other river of consequence flows into Rice Lake.
Our drive over the plains was truly delightful. New beauties presented themselves at every step. It can hardly be imagined what a relief it is to the eye, after travelling for miles through a dense forest, to see such a beautiful landscape suddenly burst on your sight.
For nearly three miles our road lay through natural park-like scenery, flowery knolls, deep ravines, and oak-crowned hills, with every now and then the blue waters of the lake glittering through the trees. Our path now entered a deep and finely-wooded ravine, which wound round the base of steep hills on either hand, rising to a considerable height, their summits crowned here and there with beautiful clumps of oak.
For nearly a mile we followed the sharp descent and windings of the beautiful valley, till a sudden turning of the road revealed to our sight the whole expanse of this fine sheet of water. Not a ripple dimpled the surface; but, mirror-like, it lay with all its lovely islands thickly wooded to their summits with the sugar-maple, which rose, tree above tree, up the steep ascent of these conical islets, which, reflected in the clear lake, added new beauties to the scene.
A few minutes more brought us to the tavern, a small log-house, kept by one David Tidy, a very respectable Scotchman. The situation of this man's farm is one of the best on the lake shore. It is now the property of Mr. Alfred Hayward, whose good taste has added greatly to its natural beauties. Mrs. Hayward, who is an accomplished artist, has taken a view of the lake from her garden, and also one of Port Hope, both of which have been lithographed, and are much admired.
Tidy's tavern, and two other log-houses, were at this time the only settlements on the Rice Lake plains, which extend for nearly twenty miles along the south shore, forming the rear of the townships of Hamilton and Alnwick, but which are now dotted over with fine productive farms, substantial stone, brick, or frame-houses, full- bearing orchards, and possessing in fact almost every comfort and convenience a farmer could wish.
The pretty village of Gore's Landing is built partly on the lot formerly possessed by Tidy, and partly on the adjoining lot at present occupied by Captain Gore, from whom the village takes its name. The gentlemen in this neighbourhood have, nearly at their own expense, built a very neat church, which is romantically situated on the top of a high hill overlooking the lake. In summer time nothing can exceed the beauty of this spot, or be more suitable for the erection of a fane dedicated to Him