THE HURON TRACT. -- JOURNAL OF DR. DUNLOP. -- HIS HARDSHIPS. -- I LEAVE GUELPH FOR GODERICH. -- WANT OF ACCOMODATION. -- CURIOUS SUPPER. -- REMARKABLE TREES. -- THE BEVERLY OAK. -- NOBLE BUTTER-WOOD TREES. -- GODERICH. -- FINE WHEAT CROP. -- PURCHASE A LOG-HOUSE. -- CONSTRUCTION OF A RAFT.
I HAD always wished to go to the Huron tract, whose fine lake, noble forests, and productive soil, have made it a source of wealth to many a settler. The climate too, was mild, and I had heard a great deal about it from my gifted and facetious friend Dr. Dunlop, whose services in exploring that part of their possessions were not only useful but inestimable to the Company, and, in fact, to emigration in general.
"Dr. Dunlop, the Warden of the Company's Woods and Forests, surveyed the great Huron tract in the summer of 1827, assisted by the Chief of the Mohawk nation, and Messrs. Sproat and MacDonald. They penetrated the huge untravelled wilderness in all directions, until they came out on the shores of the Huron, having experienced and withstood every privation that wanderers can possibly be subject to in such places."* [* Mac Taggart's "Three Years in Canada."]
The Doctor himself has given a very accurate account of the valuable resources of the Huron tract. He says in his journal--"I have already adverted to its nature and fertility, and think I may be justified in adding, such is the general excellence of the land, that if ordinary care can be taken to give each lot no more than its own share of any small swamp in its vicinity, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find two hundred acres together in the whole territory, that would make a bad farm. Although the land may be capable of raising any kind of produce usual in that country, yet some spots are more particularly advantageous for particular crops. The black ash-swales (a kind of swamp) make the best ground for hemp; as by the scourging effect of two or three crops, the ground will be made more fit for the raising of wheat, for which, in the original state, it is too strong. The rich meadows by the side of the rivers, (more especially such as are annually overflowed,) are ready without farther preparation, for tobacco, hemp, and flax. The lower meadows, and meadows adjoining Beaver dams, which are abundant, produce at this moment enormous quantities of natural hay and pasture; and the rest of the land, for the production of potatoes, Indian corn, wheat, and other grain, is at least equal, if not superior, to any other land in the Canadas. Independent of the swamps, the timber on the land is very soon described.
"The sugar-maple is the principal growth, and the size and height which it, as well as other trees, attains, sufficiently evince the strength and power of the soil. Next to this come the beech, elm, and bass-wood, in various proportions. In some instances, the beech and elm predominate over the maple, but this is rare. Near the streams the hemlock is found; and interspersed through the whole is the cherry, butter-nut, the different species of oak, and the birch."* [* Mac Taggart's "Journal of Dr. Dunlop."]
In exploring this, then unknown, wilderness, Dr. Dunlop encountered many difficulties, and was more than once in danger of starvation--though an Indian Mohawk Chief shared his risks and perils.* [* Mac Taggart's "Journal of Dr. Dunlop."] As he told a story admirably well, I was delighted to hear him discuss his peregrinations over a glass of brandy-punch, of which he was very fond. Whatever might have been his feelings at the time, he only made a joke of his trials at the period in which he related them to me.
I should have experienced some regret in quitting Guelph, if the society had been more to my taste. The only persons of education in that town were, in fact, the Company's officers, many of whom I might reasonably expect to meet again at Goderich. Of course, I found some exceptions, but the average was not in favour of Guelph. Besides, the water was an attraction to me, as my Suffolk home was within a short distance of the German Ocean. Brought up so near a sea-port, my natural inclinations made me dislike an inland situation; and if I were not going to have a sea-side residence, at least the shores of the mighty Huron Lake came the nearest to it in my estimation.
I left Guelph early in June with Mr. Prior, the Company's agent at Goderich. Our road after leaving Springer's in Blenheim lay through the township of Wilmot to the southern boundary of the Huron tract, and from thence nearly in a straight line to the town of Goderich at the mouth of the river Maitland, on Lake Huron, on our route for a distance of nearly seventy miles, being bounded on the east by the townships of North Easthope, Ellice, Logan, McKillop, Hullett, and the east part of Goderich to the west, by South Easthope, Downie, Fullarton, Hibbert, Tucker Smith, and the west part of Goderich.
This road was a mere sleigh-track through the woods, newly cut out, and rarely exceeding twelve feet in width. At this time we saw only three log-cabins during the whole way, these being about twenty miles apart from each other. These three were kept by Dutch or German emigrants, who supplied travellers with whiskey and provisions--when they had any--which was not always the case. Indeed, I can testify, to my sorrow, to the uncertainty of finding a decent table provided for guests by these foreigners; for I once had to stop at old Sebach's, the centre house, for the night, and being tired by a long day's march through the snow, I had calculated on making a capital supper. Not that I expected anything better than tea, fried pork and bread and butter, to which, hungry as I was, I should no doubt have done ample justice. Judge, then, of my astonishment and disappointment, when mine hostess placed before me a piece of dirty-looking Indian meal-bread, and a large cake of beef-tallow, and, to wash down this elegant repast, a dish of crust coffee without either milk or sugar, assuring me at the same time in her broken English, "That she had nothing better in the house till the return of her husband, who had gone fifty miles to the mill and store for a supply of flour, groceries, and other fixings."
Not being a Russian, I rejected the tallow with disgust, and made but a sorry meal of the other delicacies.
On our route, we crossed several pretty streams, the principal of which are the Avon, then called the Little Thames, the Big Thames, and the Black Water. The Bayfield does not cross the road, though it makes a bend close to it, and within sight. I believe I am correct in saying, that we did not cross a single cedar-swamp from the time we entered the Huron tract* till we reached Goderich, a distance of sixty-seven miles. I consider this block the finest tract of land I ever travelled over in Canada West.
[* "This interesting portion of the Company's possessions contains a million of acres in one block, within the compass of which a bad farm could scarcely be found. The soil is a rich black loam, on clay or limestone; and as it is entirely timbered with the best kind of hard wood, no land in the Province is so well adapted for the manufacture of potash, an object of considerable importance to the industrious settler. It is bounded, for an extent of sixty miles, by Lake Huron; is a separate district; and Goderich, its principal town, where the district courts are held, is situated at the confluence of the river Maitland with Lake Huron, where it forms an admirable harbour. The population of the town is seven hundred, and there are several good stores and shops in it; mechanics carrying on some useful trades. There are also an episcopal church and other houses of religious worship, and a good school, where the higher branches of the classics are taught, as well as the more ordinary routine of education."--Statistics published by the Canada Company.]
The land is well timbered with the best description of hard wood, amongst which is to be found in considerable abundance, the black cherry. This tree grows often to a large size, and is used extensively for furniture, particularly for dining-tables: if well made and polished, it is little inferior to mahogany, either in appearance or durability.
I remember, on this very journey, that Mr. Prior and myself were much struck by the size and magnificent appearance of one of these cherry-trees, which grew close to the road side, not far from the Big Thames. Two years afterwards, passing the same tree, I got out of my sleigh and measured the circumference as high as I could reach, which I found to be ten feet seven inches, and, I should think, it was not less than fifty feet in height from the ground to the first branch: it is a great pity to see such noble trees as these either burned or split up into fencing rails.
I think the largest tree of the hard wood species I ever saw in this country, was near Bliss's Tavern, in the township of Beverly, and it was called the Beverly-oak.* I was induced to visit this giant of the woods from the many accounts I had heard of its vast dimensions, and was, certainly, astonished at its size and symmetry. I measured it as accurately as I could about six feet from the ground, and found the diameter to be as nearly eleven feet as possible, the trunk rising like a majestic column towering upwards for sixty or seventy feet before branching off its mighty head. Mr. Galt, who was induced to visit this tree from my description has, in his "Autobiography," mentioned the height of the trunk from the ground to the branches, as eighty feet; but I think he has overrated it. I was accompanied to the tree by the landlord, who remarked, "that he calculated that he should cut that 'ere tree down some day, for he guessed it would make enough rails to fence the side of a ten acre field"
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[* "On the road to Guelph, a short distance from Galt, there is an uncleared portion of the primeval forest, on the edge of the township of Beverly, where, in those days, a small tavern, convenient to rest the horses of travellers, was situated. One day, when I stopped at this house, while my horse was taking his corn, I strayed into the woods, not many hundred yards, and came to a tree, the most stupendous I had ever seen.
"At the first glance, the trunk reminded me of the London Monument, an effect of the amaze which the greatness of its dimensions produced. I measured its girth, however, at the height of a man from the ground, and it was thirty-three feet, above which the trunk rose without a branch to the height of at least eighty feet, crowned with vast branches.
"This was an oak, probably the greatest known, and it lifted its head far above the rest of the forest. The trees around, myrmidons of inferior growth, were large, massy, and vigorous, but possessed none of the patriarchal antiquity with which that magnificent 'monarch of the woods' was invested. I think, therefore, that I was not wrong in imagining it the scion of a forest that had passed away, the ancestral predecessor of the present woods.
"Had I been convinced it was perfectly sound, I would have taken measures for cutting it down and sending home planks of it to Windsor Castle. The fate that awaited it would have justified the profanation. The doubt of its soundness, however, and the difficulty of finding tools large enough to do it justice, procrastinated the period of its doom. I recommended the landlord of the tavern to direct his guests, from time to time, to inspect this Goliath of oaks."--Galt's "Autobiography."]
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I replied, "Surely, you would not be such a Goth as to cut down such a splendid oak merely for fence-wood, when you have plenty of rail-timber which will answer that purpose equally well; and, besides, it may be the means of drawing customers to your tavern."
"I do not know what you mean by a Goth; but I do know, if I could get a crosscut saw long enough to cut that tree, I would not let it stand there long; for you see it is mighty straight in the grain, and would split like a ribbon."
Thus was this gigantic specimen of the primeval forest preserved for a time, because there was not a saw long enough to cut it through in Canada. I dare say there are many old oaks in England that exceed this in diameter; but I do not believe one is to be found whose length of trunk can be at all compared to it.
On the flats about a mile from the mouth of the Maitland, are some very large button-wood trees. There is one, in particular, growing near a fine spring of water, the circumference of which appeared very vast, though I did not measure it; but the tree was a complete shell, and had a sort of natural arched doorway, just high enough to admit a full-sized man. I was once inside this tree with Dr. Dunlop and eleven other persons, at the same time. The trunk of this tree forked at twelve or fourteen feet from the ground. There are several others of this species near to the one I have described, of very large growth, which apparently are sound, but not equalling it in size.
I left a noble oak-tree standing in the middle of one of my fields in the township of Douro, which I hoped I should have been able to preserve, as it was such a remarkably fine tree. It, however, was doomed to destruction; for in the summer of 1838, it was twice struck with lightning in the space of a week. The first time, the bark only was furrowed by the electric fluid, but at the second stroke it was split from the top to the bottom, and thrown down by the violence of the shock. I measured this tree correctly, and found the diameter, twenty-four feet from the ground, to be five feet three inches. The length of the trunk was forty-eight feet up to the first branch, and it was perfectly sound to within three or four feet of the soil.
Generally speaking, the white or American pine, from its vast length of trunk, contains a larger number of cubic feet than any other tree in the Canadian forest. I have seen several of these pines sold for masts, the trunks of which were upwards of one hundred feet in length, and full three feet in diameter, a third of the way up from the butt-end. There is very little pine-timber on the Huron tract, which, though a disadvantage in regard to building, is all the better in respect to the land, hard wood being the best indication of a good soil.
I did not--as I have said--regret my transfer to Goderich, though that flourishing town was then in its infancy, the most unpleasant aspect in which any Canadian settlement can be viewed. Still, I am pleased that I have had the opportunity of tracing some of these important places from their dawn to their present prosperous condition.
I found the general aspect of the country level. There is scarcely a rise of land sufficient to justify the appellation of hill from Wilmot to Goderich; but as you approach the lake, the land becomes more rolling, and better watered by fine spring streams.
I was quite delighted with the situation of Goderich, though the town-plot was only just surveyed. Three frame-houses were in process of building. A log-house, beautifully situated on a bold hill, overlooking the harbour, called by Dr. Dunlop, the Castle,* and a dozen or so of log-cabins, comprised the whole town of Goderich, most of the latter being inhabited by French Canadians and half-breeds. The upper town is situated on a fine cliff fronting the lake and harbour, and upwards of one hundred feet above the level of the water.
[* "In the afternoon of the following day, we saw afar off, by our telescope, a small clearing in the forest, and on the brow of a rising ground a cottage delightfully situated. The appearance of such a sight in such a place was unexpected, and we had some debate, if it could be the location of Dr. Dunlop, who had guided the land-exploring party already alluded to. Nor were we left long in doubt; for on approaching the place we met a canoe, having on board a strange combination of Indians, velveteens and whiskers, and discovered within the roots of the red hair, the living features of the Doctor. About an hour after, having crossed the river's bar of eight feet, we came to a beautiful anchorage of fourteen feet water, in an uncommonly pleasant small basin. The place had been selected by the Doctor, and is now the site of the flourishing town of Goderich."--Galt's "Autobiography."]
The lower town comprises a few acres of alluvial flat, only a few feet elevated above the river. This piece of land was destitute of trees or stumps, and had evidently been cleared many years ago by the Indians, who had cultivated it with Indian corn. I ploughed up this flat of land for the benefit of the Company, and sowed it with oats in the spring of '29; and, therefore, I can justly claim the honour--for the sake of which I did it--of putting the first plough into the ground of the Huron tract. I also put in four acres of wheat on the top of the hill near the castle, in the fall of the same year, the yield of which was upwards of forty bushels to the acre--a good yield for any country, especially when it is considered that at least one-twelfth of the ground may be fairly deducted for stumps of trees, stones, and other obstructions, usually found in all new clearings. I believe, however, I may say without exaggeration, that the Company's tract may safely challenge any other block of land of the same dimensions either in Canada East or West, for fertility of soil, average yield per acre, or healthiness of the climate.*
[* "The Canada Company's Huron tract is known to be one of the most healthy and fertile settlements in Canada. The tract in the year 1842 contained 7101 souls. In June last year (1849) the Huron district numbered 20,450 souls, according to official reports, exclusive of the townships of Bosanquet and Williams. The Canada Company's tract now contains a population of 26,000 souls, showing an increase of 18,900, and that the population has nearly quadrupled itself in seven years--a progress of settlement of a tract of country scarcely exceeded in any part of the North America."--Information to Emigrants by Frederick Widder, Esq.]
I bought a small log-house and town-lot, or rather the good-will of them, from a French Canadian, putting myself in his place with the Company, with whom I completed the purchase. The situation was very pretty, commanding a fine view of the Lake. I immediately prepared to build a suitable house, to receive my wife and family, whom I had been under the necessity of leaving behind me in Guelph, till I could make suitable preparations to receive them here.
At this time, there was only one saw-mill* in the whole Company's tract, and that was ten miles up the river, situated near the mouth of a large creek, which flowed into the Maitland. This mill was built close to one of the finest pine-groves in the block.
[* "In no situation can settlers be distant from a mill, as there are at convenient places distributed throughout the tract twelve grist-mills and twenty saw-mills, and the facilities for communication are very great; for seventeen of the townships are bounded on the one side by the great roads traversing the tract in two directions for one hundred miles in extent, and six of them are bounded by the Lake on the other side."--Statistics published by the Canada Company.]
I hired a man, who had been a raftsman on the Delaware, to go with me by land up to the mill, for a few thousand feet of boards, that I required for my new house. It was only seven miles to the mill by a new cut-out sleigh-track, through the township of Goderich as far as the Falls, which we crossed by wading the river just above them, which at that time we were able to do, though not without some caution; for, although the spring-floods were considerably abated, the water ran with great rapidity, and in some places was up to our middles; but with the help of a strong setting-pole, we got over with safety.
We made our little raft in three cribs, of a thousand feet of boards in each crib, which we connected together by short pieces of scantling, which are bored near each end with a two-inch auger and strung on the corner-pickets of each crib, thus uniting them in one length. At each end of the raft, a long oar is securely fixed, in temporary rowlocks for that purpose.
The whole course of the river, from the mill to the harbour at Goderich, is a strong rapid: two perpendicular falls occur in its course to the lake. The Upper, or Big Fall, is about six feet, and the Little Fall three. We made a capital run down, though in plunging over the first Fall we were up to our arm-pits in water. But our little raft rose gallantly to the surface; and we encountered no further difficulty.
I enjoyed my trip down the river amazingly. I do not know anything more delightful, when all goes well than being borne over the foaming rapids at the rate of eight or ten miles an hour. The channel of the Maitland is wide, and the banks picturesque. Our voyage did not exceed an hour, though the distance was above nine miles.
Last revised 2005-03-04