I REMEMBER on my first visit to the mouth of the river Maitland, now the site of Goodrich, a bridle-path for seventy miles through the trackless forest was the only available communication between the settlements and Lake Huron. This was only twenty-four years ago. This vast and fertile tract of more than one million acres, at that time did not contain a population of three hundred souls; no teeming fields of golden grain, no manufactories, no mills, no roads; the rivers were unbridged, and one vast solitude reigned around, unbroken, save by the whoop of the red-man, or the distant shot of the trapper.

Reverse the picture, and behold what the energies and good management of the Canada Company have effected. Stage-coaches travel with safety and dispatch along the same tract where formerly I had the utmost difficulty to make my way on horseback without the chance of being swept from the saddle by the limbs of trees and tangled brushwood. A continuous settlement of the finest farms now skirts both sides of this road, from the southern boundary-line of this district to Goderich.

Another road equally good, traverses the block from the western boundary. Thriving villages, saw and grist-mills, manufactories, together with an abundance of horses, cattle, sheep, grain, and every necessary of life enjoyed by a population of 26,000 souls, fully prove the success caused by the persevering industry of the emigrants who were so fortunate as to select this fruitful and healthy locality for their future homes.

Much of this prosperity is due to the liberality and excellent arrangements of the Canada Company, who have afforded every facility to their settlers in regard to the payments for their land: I particularly refer to their system of leasing, which affords the best chance possible to the poor emigrant.

"This spirited and enterprising" Company's principal tract of land lies nearly in a triangular form, commencing in latitude 43 degrees, and extending about sixty-miles along the coast. In 1824, this incorporated company contracted with Government for this line of country and some others, as well as for a portion of the clergy reserves, comprehending in all about two million acres, payable in fifteen years.* [* M'Gregor's "British America."]

In the spring of 1827, a memorable year for Canada, the Company commenced their operations at Guelph, under the superintendence of John Galt, Esq.

I had heard a great deal about the fertility of their lands, especially of those in the Huron tract, containing a million of acres in one block, of which I shall hereafter speak more particularly.* As I was enterprising, and fond of an active life, I resolved to go and judge for myself; and as I heard the superintendent was then at Toronto, I determined to call upon him there and collect all the information in my power.

[* The territory from which the Huron tract has been selected, was explored previously to the selection being made, and the reports which were received from the parties employed on that mission were of the most satisfactory nature. This tract is bounded on the west by Lake Huron, along which it runs for nearly sixty miles, having within its limits one considerable river, at the mouth of which is a good harbour; another river, which may probably be rendered navigable, and numerous creeks and streamlets, many of which are large enough, and have fall sufficient to drive mills or machinery of any description.--Mac Taggart's "Three Years in Canada."]

My first interview with Mr. Galt, the celebrated author of "Laurie Todd," took place at the Old Steam-boat Hotel, in February, 1828. He received me with great kindness, and asked me many particulars of Bush-life, connected with a first settlement.

I suppose my answers were satisfactory, for he turned towards me abruptly, and asked me, "If I would like to enter the Canada Company's Service; for," said he, "I want a practical person to take charge of the out-door department in the absence of Mr. Prior, whom I am about to send to the Huron tract with a party of men to clear up and lay off the New-town plot of Goderich. You will have charge of the Company's stores, keep the labour-rolls, and superintend the road-making and bridge-building, and indeed everything connected with the practical part of the settlement."

This was just the sort of life I wished; so I closed at once with his offer. No salary was to be named, till I had been three months in the Company's employ. Indeed, I left everything to Mr. Galt, who, I felt certain, would remunerate me according to my deserts.

In person, Mr. Galt was, I should think, considerably above six feet in height, and rather of a heavy build; his aspect grave and dignified, and his appearance prepossessing. His disposition was kind and considerate; but at the same time he commanded respect; and I can say with sincerity, I always found him an upright and honourable gentleman.

Of Mr. Galt's fitness for the office of superintendent of the Canada Company, it would, perhaps, be considered presumptuous in me to give an opinion. His position was an unfortunate one, and from his first residence in the country till his resignation, there appears to have been a serious misunderstanding between him, the Governor, and the Executive-council, in consequence of which, Galt's character was misrepresented at home as that of a meddling politician and troublesome person. Other charges regarding the wasteful expenditure of money in forming the new settlements were laid before the Directors, and these repeated complaints against him left him no other alternative than to resign his situation.

My own opinion is, that Galt was ill-used by the Canadian Government. He says in his "Autobiography," that his whole and sole offence consisted of having accepted a file of the "Colonial Advocate," and shaken hands with the editor, the notorious William Lyon Mackenzie. In those days of ultra-toryism, such an instance of liberality and freedom from party-prejudice was sufficient to excite the displeasure of the Governor and his council. There is no doubt that Galt acted imprudently in this matter, though I fully believe without any intention of opposing the Government.

In regard to the Company's affairs, more might be said to his prejudice--not in respect of his integrity, for, I believe him to have been a most honourable man, and incapable of any meanness--but in regard to his management. Although, as the original projector of the Canada Company, he evinced much cleverness, and afterwards displayed considerable judgment in the choice of the best situations for building towns and villages, yet he committed some grievous mistakes. His ideas were generally good; but often not well carried out in detail.

His first error was in the selection of persons to fill the various offices belonging to the Company. For, instead of appointing men who had long experience in the country, and who were, therefore, practically qualified to superintend the workmen by their experience of all the requirements of a new settlement, he filled these situations, for the most part, with inexperienced young men, recently arrived from the old country, who, of course, could know nothing of road-making and bridge-building, and were, therefore, incapable of directing a number of workmen. Then, again, most of the hands employed on the Company's works were new settlers, and, of course, knew nothing of chopping, house-building, or clearing land; and yet these men were paid just as much as if they had served a long apprenticeship in the country. If Mr. Galt's appointments had been judicious, there is no doubt, in my mind, that half the outlay would have produced greater results.

It was arranged that I should meet Mr. Galt at Toronto, in April, at the commencement of the spring operations. At the appointed time, I again waited upon him, when he ordered me to Guelph, to take charge of the department, as formerly agreed upon between us. He then introduced me to Dr. Dunlop and Mr. Prior, who kindly invited me to take a seat in their waggon, which would leave for Guelph in a few hours. The former gentleman is well known in the literary world, as the author of the "Backwoodsman."

During our journey, I found that he deserved his celebrity for good companionship, which was fully borne out on this occasion. He could, indeed, speak well on any subject. He was full of sound information, and overflowed with anecdote--in fact, his way of telling a story was inimitable. He had a fund of wit, which seemed almost inexhaustible.

My fellow-travellers left me at Mr. Galt's house, near Burlington Heights, where, after taking some refreshment, I again proceeded on my journey, and ultimately reached Guelph on the afternoon of the second day.

The situation of the town I found exceedingly pleasant, and well watered. It was built in an angle, formed by the confluence of the rivers Speed and Eramosa. The town-plot also abounds with copious never-failing springs, of the purest water.

I found some twenty or thirty log-houses, about as many shanties, a large frame-tavern building, a store, two blacksmiths' shops, and the walls of two stone-buildings, one of which was intended, when finished, for the company's office. Besides these edifices, Dr. Dunlop and Mr. Prior had each a good house, and there was the Priory, a large log-building, afterwards occupied by the superintendent. This was pretty well, considering that a year only had elapsed since the first tree was felled.

Mr. Galt, in his "Autobiography," has given an account of the founding of the town of Guelph,* and how Mr. Prior, Dr. Dunlop, and himself, cut down the first tree--a large sugar-maple, whereupon the Dr. produced a flask of whiskey, and they named and drank success to the new town. This was on St. George's day, April 23rd, 1827. Eighteen months after this, by Mr. Galt's orders, I had the stump of that tree inclosed by a fence, though, I make no doubt, it has long since decayed. The name of the founder will, however, remain,--a better and more enduring memorial.

[* "This name was chosen in compliment to the royal family, both because I thought it auspicious in itself, and because I could not recollect that it had ever been before used in all the king's dominions."--Galt's Autobioography.]

On my arrival, I drove up to the only tavern in the place, a small log-house, kept by one Philip Jones, an Englishman--or, rather, by his wife--a buxom, bustling body, who was, undoubtedly, the head of the establishment. In answer to my inquiry for lodgings, she courteously informed me that she had neither bed nor blanket, but what was doubly occupied, and, moreover, that she was sure I could not obtain one in town, as every house was full of emigrants; but as the most of her lodgers would leave for the Huron tract on the morrow, she should be able and happy to accommodate me after their departure. With this promise I was obliged to be satisfied.

I might, perhaps, have succeeded in obtaining a share of a bed, but as I did not know what population I might gain, or, indeed, what might be the unpleasant results of such an arrangement, I preferred a hay-loft, in which I slept soundly till the break of day.

The superintendent and his staff arrived the next morning, when I was duly installed in my office. Mr. Galt's coach-house being unoccupied, I took immediate possession, and converted it into a very respectable store-house and office, till a building was completed for that purpose. I was thus fairly established as an employe in the service of the Canada Company.

The township of Guelph contains upwards of forty thousand acres of land, of a fair average quality, well timbered, and well watered. I believe the Company have disposed of all their saleable lots in this township. I was fully employed the whole summer in constructing two bridges, one over the Speed, and the other over the Eramosa branch, and also in opening a good road to each. These bridges were built of cedar logs, and on a plan of my own, which Mr. Galt highly approved. I should, however, have preferred square timber, framed in bents, which, I think, would have been more durable, and better adapted for the stream they were intended to cross.

Amongst the men under my charge, I had two Mohawk Indians, both of whom were excellent choppers, and behaved themselves remarkably well. One of them was called Henhawk, and the other William Fish. The Mohawks are more civilized, and make better farmers than the Chippewas, and I think are a finer-looking race of men.*

[* Benjamin West, the celebrated American painter, on being shown the Apollo Belvidere, astonished a number of Italian cognoscenti by comparing that chef d'oeuvre of ancient Greek art to a young Mohawk warrior. But the fine proportions of these savage warriors, and their free and graceful action, rendered the remark of this great artist a just and beautiful critique, and of a complimentary not a depreciating character.]

My time passed pleasantly enough at Guelph, for I had plenty of work to do, and in all labour there is profit. And what could be better for a healthy, active young man than the employment of assisting in settling a new country?

The only drawback to my comfort was the temporary loss of the society of my wife; a pretty, sensible young woman, whose mental and personal charms had, since my union with her, formed the happiness of my life. We cannot, however, have every blessing at once, and I worked on cheerfully in the hope of getting things comfortably round me for my dear girl against the moment when she would join me.

Besides the services rendered to the Company, I performed con amore some gratuitous ones for the benefit of the township of Guelph, which will, doubtless, both surprise and astonish my readers. We had no medical man in Guelph for some months after my arrival, so, for want of a better, I was obliged to turn physician and surgeon, and soon became very skilful in bleeding and tooth-drawing, and, as I charged nothing, you may be sure I had plenty of customers. And so well pleased was Dr. Dunlop with my proficiency, that he invariably sent all his patients to me.

I remember one time in particular, he came over to my office and inquired for me, when, on the store-porter telling him I had just gone out, he said,

"Tell him when he comes back, to take the calomel and jalap down to my house, and treat those Paisley bodies with a dose apiece."

"What! all of them, sir?"

"Yes, to be sure; they are but just arrived, and have got as fat as pigs on the voyage. Some of their bacon must be taken off, or with this heat we shall have them all sick on our hands. And tell him not to spare the jalap."

When I returned and heard the message, I literally obeyed his order by administering forty-two doses of various strengths to the men, women and children, designated by the Doctor as the "Paisley bodies."

This wholesale way of medical treatment was in this instance attended with a good effect; for there did not occur a single case of sickness amongst them during the summer.

Shortly after this, a medical man, a Mr. W-----, applied for a town-lot and commenced practice. This gentleman was certainly a great oddity. He never had but two patients that I ever heard of, and they both died. The settlers used to call him the "mad doctor," and I believe not without good reason. He built a log-house without any door, his mode of entrance being through a square hole he had cut out of the end of the house about six feet from the ground.

I walked over to his place one day to speak to him on some business, and found him very busy in his garden, driving into the ground a great quantity of short sticks.

I asked him "what all those sticks were for."

"Why you see, sir, I have planted part of my garden with Indian corn, and I am putting sticks down to mark the places where I have planted them."

A day or two afterwards I met him wearing his coat turned inside out, the rough seams and red-edging of which had a very curious effect. I inquired "what might be his reason for going about in such a costume?"

"Well, you see I call this my morning attire; in the evening I have nothing to do but turn my coat, and, lo! I am dressed; a very capital arrangement, and quite good enough for the Bush. Do not you think so?"

"As far as regards economy," I replied, "it may do well enough, and as you do not appear to care about being laughed at, your plan will answer: and who knows but that you may have the pleasure of introducing a new fashion into the colonies?"

Amongst other odd characters I had to deal with, was a Mr. W-----, I believe a portrait and miniature painter by profession, who had travelled a good deal in Russia, and understood that language well. He purchased a lot of land from the company on the Waterloo-road, about a mile from the village. Under the ground-plot chosen by him to build on, he found there existed a good quarry of limestone; so he made up his mind to build a stone-house, although he had spent his last dollar, and his profession in a new and poor settlement would avail him very little.

However, he went to work, excavating the stone which he had found when digging his cellar, for building the walls of his house: his only assistant in the undertaking was a delicate ladylike young woman, whom he had married in the United States, and brought here as a bride. He treated his unfortunate partner like a slave. She had to mix and carry all the mortar, and help him to raise the stone.

I often, on an evening, walked down to see how they were getting on with their job, and was quite astonished to find how well they progressed. But, at the same time, I pitied the poor wife exceedingly, whom the neighbours said he treated very harshly, notwithstanding her conjugal devotion to him.

At the end of three months his creditors began to threaten him. His land was still unpaid for, and the walls of his house unfinished. When too late, he counted the cost of completion, and found his best plan was to take a Yankee leave, and clear out, leaving his unfinished home as a legacy to his creditors.

How to beat a retreat, and take his goods and chattels with him, without discovery, was a difficult matter. He, however, set his wits to work, and adopted the following plan, which, in theory, looked feasible enough, but, when put in practice, was found not quite so easy as he had anticipated.

He knew that the river Speed, which ran at the rear of his lot, after a course of fourteen or fifteen miles, debouched into the Grand River, and was, from thence, navigable for boats to Lake Erie, a distance of some seventy or eighty miles further. He, therefore, conceived the plan of building a small scow,* large enough to hold his wife, himself, and his effects, and silently dropping down with the current, bade adieu to their sylvan retreat, and the great city of Guelph, which, however, he was destined to see again, much sooner than he expected.

[* A long-shaped flat-bottomed boat of the same width the entire length, rising gently at each end, built of two-inch plank, and much used on shallow rivers and creeks.]

He built his boat close to the river's edge, having, with the assistance of his wife, carried the planks down for that purpose. I suppose he took a lesson from Robinson Crusoe, not to build his scow too far from the water.

Everything being ready, the boat was launched and freighted, our hero in the stern, with steering paddle in hand, and his patient compagnon de voyage acting, as bowman.

The Speed is a shallow, swift, running stream, seldom exceeding three feet in depth during the dry season. For the first mile they got on pretty well, till they came to a jam of drift wood; over this with great difficulty they hauled their scow; every few yards fresh obstructions occurred in the shape of snags, fallen trees, and drift wood, which caused them to upset twice before they had accomplished the second mile, till at last an extensive jam across the river many yards in length, put a complete barrier to their further advance.

Wet and weary, half the day gone, and no chance of proceeding down the stream, they determined to retrace their course. This was not easy to accomplish, for the current was too swift to paddle against; so, tying a short piece of rope to the stem of the scow, he ordered his unfortunate wife to take the water and tow the boat, whilst he sat in state in the stern assisting with his paddle.

In the evening, I was walking out with my wife; and as we were passing I thought we would look in and see how their work progressed, when to my astonishment I saw Mrs. W----- sitting on a stone, weeping bitterly. I perceived at once that something extraordinary had occurred, for her dress was sadly torn and saturated with wet. Upon making an inquiry respecting her appearance, and the causes of her grief, she told me the sad story I have just related, adding, that they had only just got back from their expedition, and that all her clothes, bed, and blankets were wringing wet.

My wife, who had lately joined me, and was of a most kind disposition, always ready to help those in distress, offered her an asylum for a few days, and a change of apparel, which she thankfully accepted. Her brutal husband cleared out the next day, and she joined him the week following.

Some time afterwards, I was told that Mrs. W----- had committed suicide, goaded, doubtless, to desperation by the ill usage of her partner, and the hardships she had to endure. As this, however, is only hearsay, I will not vouch for its truth; though from my knowledge of the parties I am afraid it was only too true.

Last revised 2005-03-04

Prev Page Index Top of Page Next Page