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.
Last revised 2005-02-28