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.
MY new house at Goderich was constructed with cherry-logs neatly counter-hewed both inside and out, the interstices between the logs being nicely pointed with mortar. I had no upstair-rooms, excepting for stowage. The ground-story I divided into a parlour, kitchen, and three bedrooms. After office-hours I used to work a good deal at the carpenter's bench--for I was always fond of it when a boy. I had made some useful observations, as well as tormenting our workmen on repairs at home, with the usual amount of mischief, and I now reaped the benefit of my juvenile experience. I was able to make the doors, and do nearly all the insidework of my house myself. Indeed, it is really essential for the well-doing of the emigrant, that he, or some members of his family, should have some knowledge of carpentry--in fact, be a jack-of-all-trades; and, in that excellent profession, educated persons, healthy in mind and body, excel the most.
There is a very true saying, that necessity is the mother of invention, and in no country is it better exemplified than in Canada. The emigrant has there, especially when distant from a town or settlement, to make a hundred shifts, substituting wood for iron, in the construction of various articles, such as hinges for barn-door gates, stable and barn-shovels, and a variety of other contrivances whereby both money and time are saved.
I have often heard young men say, they "could not" do this or do that. "Did you ever try?" is a fair question to such people. I believe that many persons, with average capacities, can effect much more than they give themselves credit for. I had no more been bred a carpenter than a civil engineer, in which last capacity I was holding office satisfactorily. My education had consisted of Latin, Greek, and French, and the mathematics. My time had been spent in my own country; riding, shooting, boating, filled up with a little amateur gardening.
Want of energy is not the fault of the Americans; they will dash at everything, and generally succeed. I had known them contract to do difficult jobs that required the skill of the engineer or regular architect, and accomplish them cleverly too, although they had never attempted anything of the kind before; and they generally completed their task to the satisfaction of the parties furnishing the contract. "I cannot do it" is a phrase not to be found in the Yankee vocabulary, I guess.
It is astonishing how a few years' residence in Canada or the United States brightens the intellects of the labouring classes. The reason is quite obvious. The agricultural population of England are born and die in their own parishes, seldom or never looking out into a world of which they know nothing. Thus, they become too local in their ideas, are awake to nought but the one business they have been brought up to follow; they have indeed no motive to improve their general knowledge.
But place the honest and industrious peasant in Canada, and, no matter how ignorant he may be, when he sees that by his perseverance and industry he will in a short time better his situation in life, and most likely become the possessor of a freehold, this motive for exertion will call forth the best energies of his mind, which had hitherto, for want of a proper stimulus, lain dormant. Having to act and think for himself, and being better acquainted with the world, he soon becomes a theoretical as well as a practical man, and consequently a cleverer and more enlightened person, than he was before in his hopeless servitude in the mother-country.
When I left Guelph, I had arranged with my wife that as soon as I could get the new house ready, I would send for her. I did not think that this could possibly be done before sleighing-time, as the newly-cut road was almost impassable for waggons. Judge, then, of my surprise when, on returning home from the store-house one day, I noticed the door of my log-cabin open, and saw a lovely curly-headed child sitting in the doorway. I could hardly believe my eyes--it was my own little Maria. My dear little boy had remained at Douro with my wife's sister Eliza, of whom he was so fond that my wife did not like to separate such friends from each other. On my entrance I found my wife surrounded by a pile of luggage, laughing heartily at my astonishment.
She told me, she felt so lonely that she determined to brave all the dangers of the road in order to join me. Accordingly, she hired a settler who was the owner of a waggon and a yoke of oxen, which she loaded with the most useful articles we required--bedding and bed-clothes, &c.,--reserving room in the waggon for herself, the child, and nursemaid.
During the whole of the first day's journey and part of the next, all went on smoothly enough, their route lying through settlements; but as soon as they entered the newly-cut road their difficulties commenced, and before they had traversed five miles, the waggon was twice upset. This so alarmed my poor wife, on account of the baby; that she durst not ride another step of the way, although the travellers had still upwards of sixty miles to go. Moreover, she was obliged to carry the child the entire distance; for their teamster had enough to do to look after and guide his cattle, and the servant girl was too young and too tired to render much assistance.
Fifteen miles a day was the outside distance they could persuade the oxen to travel, consequently, they were compelled to camp out two nights out of the six in which they were on the road. Luckily, the weather was dry and warm. At night the musquitoes were dreadfully annoying, as my poor little Maria's neck and arms too plainly showed.
During the afternoon of the second day, when within six miles of Trifogle's tavern, their intended resting-place for the night, they were overtaken by a man who was going in the same direction, who very politely--as my wife thought--offered to carry her baby part of the way. She was, of course, very glad to avail herself of his kind offer; nor did she perceive, till after he had got possession of the bairn, that he was intoxicated. She immediately demanded back her little treasure, but no inducement could persuade him to relinquish it, and he set off with the infant as fast as he could. In vain the poor mother besought him to stop--in vain she sobbed and cried. On he went, followed by my Mary, who found great difficulty in keeping up with him, which she did at first, till, at length, exhausted by the unusual fatigue, maternal anxiety, and the roughness of the road, she lost sight of him when about a mile from the tavern. He had walked off with his little burden.
She was now dreadfully alarmed, for night was fast coming on, and she did not know whether she was on the right track or not. Fortunately, a light through the trees extricated her from this dilemma: her only uneasiness was now for her child. She was soon, however, relieved from this uncertainty; for, on entering the house, there sat the man with the baby on his knee. The child appeared to be on very friendly terms with him, and had, no doubt, enjoyed herself amazingly while her bearer was running away with her.
He at once restored the child to her mother's arms, observing, "that he hoped she would give him the price of a quart of whiskey for his trouble, for the child was main heavy, God bless her."
My wife, of course, did not dispute the payment. She was only too glad to recover her little pet, whom she took good care not again to trust to masculine keeping, however tired she might be. So Maria remained safely in her mother's arms, for the remainder of the journey.
At length, when down-hearted and weary, the bright waters of the Huron gladdened their eyes, on the morning of the sixth day, and a few minutes afterwards they took possession of my log-cabin, and gave me the happy surprise already recorded.
"I wonder you were not afraid of encountering such hardships, and even danger, in travelling so many miles through the wild woods and on foot, and with that heavy child to carry in your arms," was my remark to my enterprising wife. She replied, "that there had certainly been more difficulties than she had anticipated; but had they been double, it would not have prevented her from joining me." So much for woman's love and devotion.
During the summer months, we were plentifully supplied with fish. On some days the harbour appeared to swarm with them. When the sun shone brightly, you could see hundreds lying near the surface. There was no difficulty in catching them, for the moment you threw in your bait, you had a fish on your hook.
In the early part of the season, I used to make an imitation mouse of a piece of musk-rat fur. This is a killing bait for trolling either for black bass or maskilonge--as the season advances, a red and white rag, or a small green-frog. But the best bait for the larger fish, such as salmon-trout and maskilonge, is a piece of brass, or copper, about the shape and size of the bowl of a tablespoon, with a large hook soldered upon the narrow end. If properly made, and drawn fast through the water, it will spin round and glitter, and thus is sure to attract the fish. I have caught hundreds by this method, and can therefore recommend it as the most certain. Your trolling line, which is attached to your left arm, should not be less than eighty or a hundred feet in length, and sufficiently leaded to sink the bait three or four feet beneath the surface, this line following the canoe as you paddle it swiftly through the water.
The scenery up the Maitland, from the harbour's mouth to the flats, or natural meadows, two miles from the lake, is very pretty and interesting. I think it would be difficult to find for a summer residence a more charming situation than the town of Goderich, and I might say with equal confidence, a more healthy one. The water is excellent, and the town-plot abounds with copious springs.
About a mile from the town, there is one of the largest and purest springs of the coldest and best water I ever drank. It gushes out of the side of a hill, and rushes down the declivity with great swiftness over its pebbly bed, till it is joined in its course, a few yards below the hill, by another spring of nearly equal size, within half a mile of its source, turning a grist-mill on its way to swell the waters of the Maitland.
Nine miles up the lake-shore, east of Goderich, a fine little stream empties its bright waters into the mighty Huron. A party of us had often expressed a wish to explore the outlet of this stream, and at length a day was fixed for the expedition. As we intended merely to pass one night at the river, and return the next day, we only supplied ourselves with as much provisions and grog as would last for that time--a great mistake, as it afterwards proved. However, I will not anticipate.
A large piece-log canoe was furnished by Mr. W. F. Gooding, our Goderich store-keeper, who was one of the party, which consisted of nine persons, including myself. All things being in readiness, Mr. Fullarton was dubbed Captain for the occasion. At an early hour one fine sunny morning in June, we stood out of the harbour with a light breeze, having rigged up two blankets as sprit-sails. They answered very well, as long as we had any wind, which, however, unfortunately soon died entirely away.
"Come, boys," said the Captain, "this won't do. We must raise a white-ash-breeze (meaning that we must have recourse to our paddles) or we shall not see the Nine-Mile Creek this day, I can tell you." The impetus given to our canoe by the vigorous application of eight paddles, independent of our steersman, made the De Witt Clinton (the name of our canoe) fly through the water, which was now as calm as a mirror. After the wind fell, the heat was intense; and, towards noon huge double-headed thunder-clouds showed themselves, slowly emerging out of the still waters of the Huron, far away to the north-west--a certain indication of a thunder-storm and change of wind.
About noon, we entered the creek by a very narrow channel, not ten feet in width. Indeed, the lake has choked up the entrance of the little harbour with sand and gravel, which, the water, descending the creek in summer-time, is not sufficient to disperse. I think, however, by clearing out, and piling the channel, and erecting two piers a short distance from each other, carried out upon the lake, and curving towards each other, until only sufficient space is left between them for the entrance of steam-boats and schooners, it might yet be made navigable. The harbour at Cobourg has been built something on this plan, which answers tolerably well; but if it had had a creek only the size of this I am describing, it would have been much better, as the current is a great help in clearing out the sand and gravel.
On crossing the bar, we found ourselves in a snug little basin, sufficiently deep for a vessel drawing six or seven feet water. We landed on a little peninsula, between the lake and the harbour, and commenced operations for cooking.
After dinner, we paddled through the harbour, and up the river, as far as we could go, which was only a very short distance, the navigation being interrupted by a pretty fall of water, which tumbled from ledge to ledge, like a succession of stone stairs, stretching from bank to bank across the stream, and forming, as the Americans would say, an elegant mill-privilege.
Since I left Goderich, a township, called Ashfield, has been laid out north of the Company's township of Colborne; the principal place of which is the village of Port Albert--the very spot we went to explore.
What a difference a few years make in a new country like Canada! With the aid of a compass, or by following the course of some unknown stream, with much toil and difficulty we make our way back for miles, through dense forests, swamps, and creeks; scale the rocky precipice, or launch the light bark-canoe on some far distant lake. We travel the same route twenty-five years afterwards, and the forests have bowed their lofty heads--the swamps are drained--the rivers bridged, and the steamer ploughs the inland wave, where shortly before glided the canoe of the hunter. Such is no over-coloured picture. I have seen it in my day realized many a time. The Huron tract, and the county of Peterborough, are the proofs of my assertion; and various other settlements I could name, would equally bear me out.
But to return to our expedition--or as I might with greater truth say--our pic-nic, for we did little else than paddle up and down the creek, ramble about the falls, and eat and drink whenever we felt inclined. In this manner we spent the first day; till the coming night, and the distant growl of the thunder, warned us to prepare for our night-bivouac.
One of our party, Mr. Brewster--the professor, as we generally called him--from the circumstance of his being a near relation of Sir David Brewster, the talented author of "Natural Magic," had a small tent-cloth with him, but not sufficiently large for the whole party. It was, therefore, determined that four of us should sleep under the canoe, and the remaining five under the tent. Quite a contention now arose between us, as to who should be the favoured possessors of the tent.
Not liking the appearance of the weather, I resigned any pretensions I might have had to the canvas, knowing the canoe was, from its length and size, capable of effectually sheltering four persons. We, accordingly, turned the canoe bottom upwards, and raised one side of it sufficiently high to allow us to creep under. To keep it in that position, we supported the raised edge on some forked sticks; and a quantity of hemlock brush and fern, spread evenly under it, made as good a bed as I would care to sleep on in hot weather. Our companions pitched their tent close beside us, so that we might be more sociable. After supper, we amused ourselves by singing songs, telling stories, and--if the truth must be told--drinking whiskey-punch.
The lightning was now incessant, illuminating the harbour and lake, and revealing dark masses of clouds, piled upon one another in endless succession. Few spectacles are more grand than the coming storm, or more awful when it bursts in its wildest fury. Such was its appalling character on this night. For the last hour I had been watching its progress, and admiring the brilliant forked lightning, and listening to the deep-toned thunder, which woke the lone echoes of the wood-crowned heights.
A few large drops of rain warned us to seek the friendly shelter of our respective camps. I had just settled myself snugly, when our skipper came to me with a jug of lemon-punch fresh mixed. I declined taking any more. He was too old a stager, however, to be put off that way, and was proceeding to show me the necessity of taking a night-cap, when he was saved all the trouble of any farther solicitation, and me of refusal, by a blinding flash of lightning, followed by a succession of deafening reports. At the same instant, the wind burst upon us like a whirlwind, prostrating in its irresistible fury our unfortunate skipper, punch, and all. As for the tent, it was whisked half across the harbour, in one blast, and the unfortunate inmates were left exposed to all the pelting of the pitiless storm, which raged with unmitigated violence till the dawn of day. We made room under the canoe for the professor and our skipper, the utmost we could accommodate. The three remaining unfortunate fellows were left to brave the tempest as they best might.
The next morning, the lake was white with breakers. The storm of the preceding night had brought a strong north-wester in its train, so that we found it impossible to launch our canoe--and, indeed, if we had, it would have been unsafe to have attempted the passage therein; there was nothing else for us but patience. But the worst part of the business was, that we had barely sufficient provisions for breakfast, and what the professor said--"Was worse than all--there was not a single horn of whiskey left in the jar."
The merchant and three of our party now determined to take the woods, and endeavour to reach Goderich by that route, leaving us to follow with the canoe if the wind should fall, of which, however, there appeared but little chance.
It now became expedient that we should look out for food of some description, as there was no doubt we should have to pass another night. On examining the state of our larder, we found that our whole stock consisted of half a loaf of bread, and a few ounces of sugar--rather short commons for four hungry men, even for a single meal.
We had no gun with us, or any fishing-lines. I had, it is true, a spear, but there was too much wind to fish in the harbour. Luckily, I bethought myself of the falls up the creek, where there was a pool sheltered by the woods. Thither we went with the canoe, and succeeded in spearing a number of suckers, which are, without exception, the softest and worst of all Canadian fish, especially in the hot months; but even bad suckers are better than nothing. Our first starvation-dinner consisted of a dish of boiled fish, a little bread, and a cup of hemlock-tea; our supper, boiled fish without bread, and hemlock-tea without sugar.
To amuse ourselves, we built a nice camp on a wooded point overlooking the harbour, and arranged everything comfortably to pass the night; and, although we had such bad commons, we were merry enough, considering we had nothing stronger to drink than hemlock-tea.
In the morning, as appearances were no better in respect to the weather, and as we were heartily sick of boiled suckers, we determined to do--as some of our party had done previously--take the bush-route for Goderich.
Accordingly, we crossed the harbour in the canoe, which we hid amongst the bushes, and commenced our journey along the lake-shore. In some places we found tolerably good walking, while in others we were compelled to mount the cliffs to avoid the break of the surges, where headlands jutted out into the lake. For the most part, however, we were enabled to travel upon natural terraces about half way up the bank, which I should think averages nearly one hundred feet in height.
To our great delight, we discovered an abundance of fine wild strawberries, the largest and most delicious I had ever seen. We found this a very seasonable refreshment. The day was fine, and we enjoyed the prospect, which, viewed from some of the highest points of land, was truly magnificent.
About four o'clock in the afternoon we reached Goderich, weary and half-starved. Thus ended our memorable pic-nic to the Nine-Mile Creek.
Last revised 2005-03-04