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.
THE 6th of November was my birthday, so I determined to give myself a holiday, and go out still-hunting. I had been told by some of the workmen that deer were very plentiful in the Clergy-block, so I started early in the morning without waiting for my regular breakfast, merely taking a biscuit, as I was too eager for the sport to have much appetite; besides, I intended to be home to an early dinner. The sky was overcast, and a few flakes of snow were falling, but I did not dislike these signs; for I prefer a little dampness on the leaves, which causes less noise from the tread--an important point to the hunter; for when the leaves are crisp and dry, it is useless to attempt approaching the deer, who are sure to hear you long before you get within range.
I considered myself a tolerably good woodsman, and was, therefore, not much afraid of being lost; but I reckoned without my host in this instance. After crossing the river, I proceeded for some distance along a hard-wood ridge, till I came to a thicket of brush-wood, out of which sprang three fine deer, a buck and two does. I fired at the buck as he scampered off, and had the satisfaction of finding blood on the track, which I followed for more than two miles. But I lost him at last in the middle of a cedar-swamp, owing to the quantity of soft snow, which was by this time falling heavily. I, therefore, thought it best to return home, and put off my hunt to a more propitious day.
On emerging from the swamp, which I did on the wrong side--for I had no sun to guide me--I saw a fine doe within fifty yards of me, feeding on the side of a hill. I thought I was sure of this one at any rate; but, in this also, I was woefully disappointed; for the powder in the pan of the lock had got damp by the wet snow, and only flashed in the pan. My gun had the old flint-lock, percussion-caps being then hardly known in the colonies.
My second disappointment decided me to return home. This, however, was sooner said than done; for, after walking for more than two hours, I found I had lost my way, a conclusion as to which there could be no mistake. At first, I thought it would be best to take my back-track, but I found this would not answer; for the snow was melting as fast as it fell. I could not even avail myself of the common indications for finding my way, because the under-brush was still loaded with snow, so that it was quite impossible to see fifty yards in any direction.
Whilst I was debating what I had best do to extricate myself from this dilemma, I came upon a tolerably fresh blazed line, which I suspected was the boundary between the townships of Guelph and the Clergy-reserve-block of Puslinch. In this idea I was perfectly right; but the question now with me was, in which direction I should follow the line. After considering for some time, as ill-luck would have it, I took the wrong route, and, having walked at least three miles, came to the end of the blaze, where I found a surveyor's post, on which was legibly written, in red chalk, on each side, the names of the four townships, of which it was the corner-post; viz. Guelph, Puslinch, Nasagiweya, and Eramosa; and lower down on the post, "seven miles and a half to Guelph." I had, therefore, nothing for it, but to turn back on the line and retrace my steps. This I did in a smart run, for I saw the shades of night fast gathering around me.
In less than an hour I had passed the place where I first found the blaze, but soon after came to a windfall,* where I found it impossible to follow the line through. I was, therefore, compelled to leave the blaze--my only sure guide--which, however, I still hoped to re-find, by keeping round the edge of the windfall, till I again struck the line. Just before dark, I saw a partridge sitting on a log, I believe. I fresh primed, and snapped half a dozen times at him, without effect, but the gun had got so wet, that at last I gave it up as a bad job; though I should have liked him very much for my supper, for which I had a ravenous appetite.
[* A heap of great trees blown down by the wind.]
Presently, I came to a nice little spring creek running under some fine shady cedars. The ground looked dry and mossy; and as it was nearly dark, I thought the best thing I could do was to camp for the night, for I knew it was impossible to find my way after dark. I immediately collected a large quantity of dry balsam-fir, which lay about in great profusion, and chose a cluster of spreading cedars for my camp. After this, I piled a large heap of wood against one of the trees; and rubbing some dry cedar-bark quite fine, put it under my wood. In order to light my fire, I tore up a piece of a cotton handkerchief, which I laid over the pan of my gun, newly primed. Having fired the cotton in this manner, I enclosed it in the cedar-bark, keeping up the flame--not by using that primitive bellows, my mouth--but, by waving the bark to and fro, after the method used by the Indians. Thus, I soon had a large cheerful fire, which I much needed, for I was thoroughly wet.
My first care was to dry my gun and reload it, in case of wolves. Whilst I was busy doing this, I heard a shot, and then another; but the gunners were a long way off, as I knew by the sound--certainly not less than three miles; and as I was quite aware it was useless for me to attempt to make my way out, I contented myself with firing my gun in answer to their shots, which, not being repeated, I also ceased firing, though I had no doubt my neighbours were searching for me, but not near enough to find me out. However, I discovered the direction in which Guelph lay, by the sound of their volleys, so I did not despair, as I felt sure of being able to regain my home in the morning.
The snow soon ceased to fall, and the night came out fine and clear, though rather sharp. I had a famous fire, and slept tolerably well, though awaking occasionally with the cold; when I would replenish the fire and turn my chilled side to the blaze, by which means I managed to pass the night as well as I could expect under the circumstances, considering, too, that I had eaten nothing from six o'clock the previous morning.
By day-break, I was on my march in the direction in which I supposed Guelph to lie. The sun rose clear and bright, which enabled me to make a true course in half an hour; for I began to recognize ridges I had before traversed in former hunting excursions; and was soon confirmed in this opinion, by the firing of guns and blowing of horns in the direction I was going. In a few minutes, I heard two men in conversation, one of whom was a native of Somersetshire, living close to me. I stepped behind a large tree, directly in their path, when I heard my neighbour say to his companion--"This is the way he generally takes; I will warrant we shall find he." At that instant, I fired my gun close to them, which made them start with surprise. They then informed me that Mr. Galt had sent out all the workmen in search of me. This I was well-aware of, from the continual volleys which rang in all directions. We were soon out on the main-road leading to the bridge, where I found more than fifty of the inhabitants looking for me.
This birthday hunting excursion turned out anything but a frolic; for the result was, twenty-six hours' starvation and the loss of a fine buck; besides my being hungry, weary, and stiff, from sleeping all night in the woods. Moreover, in common gratitude, I was bound to treat my neighbours and the workmen sent to look for me, and the treat cost me five gallons of whiskey. To add to this chapter of accidents, two of the party who turned out to hunt for me in the woods, lost themselves, and spent the night in as disagreeable a manner as I had myself done.
I would advise all new settlers to provide themselves with a pocket-compass, which can be procured for a few shillings. This should be suspended round the neck by a ribbon, in the same manner as a watch--and I need not add that in the Bush it is of infinitely more use.
My employments in the Company's service often obliged me to leave home and take long journeys--fatiguing enough, indeed, they often were. But youth is the season of enterprise, and always have accustomed myself to look upon the bright side of everything, leaving to the grumblers the reverse of the picture, upon which I fear they are only too fond of dwelling. But I am sure a cheerful spirit is the best assistant in carrying a settler through every difficultly.
Early in the spring of 1829, I made a tour of the Newcastle district, selling land and receiving payments for the Company. Whilst so employed, I received a letter from the superintendent, informing me of his resignation, and appointing me to meet him in Toronto with what money I had collected.
I was very sorry to hear of Mr. Galt's retirement. He had always acted in a kind and liberal manner towards me; and, indeed, when he left the Company, I considered that I had lost a true and affectionate friend. I could not help, therefore, noticing with regret that, although most of the clerks belonging to the office were at that time in Toronto, only Dr. Dunlop, Mr. Reid* [* Mr. Galt's friend and ornate secretary.] and myself accompanied Mr. Galt to the landing-place to see him depart and cry "God speed!" But this is the way of the world. Those who should be most grateful when the hour of adversity dawns on their benefactor, are often the first to desert him.
On the same day the Doctor introduced me to one of our new Commissioners, Thomas Mercer Jones, Esq., a fine gentlemanly-looking person. The other Commissioner was the Hon. William Allen. These gentlemen were appointed by the directors to supersede Mr. Galt in the direction of the Company's affairs in Canada. On my return to Guelph, I received an intimation that I must prepare to take up my residence in Goderich, as my services in future would be required in the Huron tract.
A few days before my departure, I witnessed the most appalling land tornado (if so I may term it), I ever saw in my life. As this is a phenomenon seldom if ever witnessed in England, I think a particular description may possibly interest those readers who are unaccustomed to such eccentricities of Nature.
In my hunting excursions and rambles through the Upper Canadian forests, I had frequently met with extensive windfalls; and observed with some surprise that the fallen trees appeared to have been twisted off at the stumps, for they lay strewn in a succession of circles. I also remarked, that these windfalls were generally narrow, and had the appearance of a wide road slashed through the forest.
From observations made at the time, and since confirmed, I have no doubt Colonel Reid's theory of storms is a correct one, viz.:--"That all windstorms move in a circular direction, and the nearer the centre, the more violent the wind." Having seen the effects of several similar hurricanes since my residence in Canada West, I shall describe one which happened in the township of Guelph, during the early part of the summer of 1829.
The weather, for the season of the year (May) had been hot and sultry, with scarcely a breath of wind stirring. I had heard distant thunder from an early hour of the morning, which from the eastward is rather an unusual occurrence. About ten A.M. the sky had a most singular, I may say, a most awful appearance; presenting to the view a vast arch of rolling blackness, which seemed to gather strength and density as it approached the zenith. All at once the clouds began to work round in circles, as if chasing one another through the air. Suddenly, the dark arch of clouds appeared to break up into detached masses, whirling and eddying through each other in dreadful commotion. The forked lightning was incessant, accompanied by heavy thunder. In a short space the clouds seemed to converge to a point, which approached very near the earth, still whirling with great rapidity directly under this point; and apparently from the midst of the woods arose a black column in the shape of a cone, which instantly joined itself to the depending cloud: the sight was now grand and awful in the extreme.
Let any one picture to the imagination a vast column of smoke of inky blackness reaching from earth to heaven, gyrating with fearful velocity; bright lightnings issuing from the vortex--the roar of the thunder--the rushing of the blast--the crashing of timber--the limbs of trees, leaves and rubbish, mingled with clouds of dust, whirling through the air--a faint idea is then given of the scene.
"Through all the sky arise outrageous storms,
And death stands threatening in a thousand forms;
Clouds charged with loud destruction drown the day,
And airy demons in wild whirlwinds play;
Thick thunder-claps, and lightnings' vivid glare
Disturb the sky, and trouble all the air."
I had ample time for observation as the hurricane commenced its desolating course about two miles from the town, through the centre of which it took its way, passing within fifty yards of the spot where a number of persons and myself were standing watching its fearful progress. As the tornado approached, the trees seemed to fall like a pack of cards before its irresistible current. After passing through the clearing made around the town, the force of the wind gradually abated, and in a few minutes died away entirely.
As soon as the storm was over, I went to see what damage it had done. From the point where I first observed the black column to rise from the woods and join the cloud, the trees were twisted in every direction. A belt of timber had been levelled to the ground about two miles in length, and about one hundred yards in breadth: at the entrance of the town it crossed the river Speed, and up-rooted about six acres of wood which had been thinned out and left by Mr. Galt as an ornament to his house.
The Eremosa road was completely blocked up for nearly half a mile, in the wildest confusion possible. In its progress through the town, it unroofed several houses, levelled the fences to the ground, and entirely demolished a frame-barn: windows were dashed in, and in one instance the floor of a log-house was carried up through the roof. Some hair-breadth escapes occurred, but, luckily, no lives were lost.
About twelve years since, a storm of this kind occurred in the north part of the township of Douro, though of less magnitude. I heard an intelligent settler who resided some years in the township of Madoc state that, during his residence there, a similar hurricane to the one I have described, but of a more awful character, passed through a part of Marmora and Madoc, which had been traced in a north-easterly direction upwards of forty miles into the unsurveyed lands, the uniform width of which appeared to be upwards of three quarters of a mile.
It appears very evident that storms of this description have not been unfrequent in the wooded regions of Canada; and it becomes a matter of interesting consideration, whether the clearing of our immense forests will not, in a great measure, remove the cause of these phenomena.
Dark, heavy clouds were gathering in the west,
Wrapping the forest in funereal gloom;
Onward they roll'd and rear'd each livid crest,
Like death's murk shadows frowning o'er earth's tomb:
From out the inky womb of that deep night
Burst livid flashes of electric flame:
Whirling and circling with terrific might,
In wild confusion on the tempest came.
Nature, awakening from her still repose,
Shudders responsive to the whirlwind's shock
Feels at her mighty heart convulsive throes;
Her groaning forests to earth's bosom rock.
But, hark! what means that hollow rushing sound,
That breaks the sudden stillness of the morn?
Red forked lightnings fiercely glare around:
What crashing thunders on the winds are borne!
And see yon spiral column, black as night,
Rearing triumphantly its wreathing form;
Ruin's abroad, and through the murky light,
Drear desolation marks the spirit of the storm.
* * * * * *
How changed the scene; the awful tempest's o'er;
From dread array and elemental war
The lightning's flash hath ceased, the thunder's roar--
The glorious sun resumes his golden car.*
[* My description of this whirlwind, and the accompanying lines, have already appeared in the "Victoria Magazine," published in Canada West, under the signature of "Pioneer."]
Last revised 2005-03-04