THE KING PROCLAIMED IN THE BUSH. -- FETE AND BALL IN THE EVENING. -- MY YANKEE FELLOW-TRAVELLER. -- AWFUL STORM. -- MY LONELY JOURNEY. -- MAGICAL EFFECT OF A NAME.
I WAS busy in the storehouse one afternoon, when Mr. Prior entered with a newspaper in his hand, which he had just received from the old country.
"I see by this paper, Strickland, that George IV. is dead; and that his Majesty King William IV. has been proclaimed. Now, I think, we must give the workmen a holiday on this memorable occasion."
"In what manner do you intend to celebrate the day?" was my rejoinder.
"I have been thinking," he replied, "of making a little fete, and inviting all the settlers within reach to assemble on the Button-wood Flats. We will have some refreshments served round; and if the day is fine, I have no doubt we shall enjoy ourselves much."
Due notice having been given, upon the appointed day every-one within ten miles assembled on the Flats, dressed in their best attire; and ready to show their loyalty in any way Mr. Prior might think proper to recommend.
As soon as the squire made his appearance, he ascended a large stump; and, in a patriotic and loyal speech, informed us "that he had called this meeting to hear him proclaim his most gracious Majesty King William IV."
He then read the proclamation, which was received with nine rounds of British cheers. Our party then formed a large circle by joining hands; and sang the national anthem, accompanied by the Goderich band, which was composed of two fiddles and a tambourine. "Rule Britannia" for our sailor-king was also played and sung--I was going to say in good style, but at all events with great loyalty and enthusiasm.
As soon as this ceremony was over, a pail of whiskey, with a tea-cup floating on the surface, was handed round, followed by another pail containing spring-water. Every person present drank his Majesty's health; even the fair sex, on this propitious occasion, did not disdain to moisten their pretty lips with the beverage.
The eating and drinking part of the festival now commenced in earnest. We had seated ourselves on the grass, under the shade of four or five immense button-wood trees, which effectually sheltered us from the scorching rays of the sun. In the centre of the group, the union-jack of Old-England waved gracefully above our heads--
"The flag that braved a thousand years
The battle and the breeze."
As soon as we had eaten and drunk to our satisfaction, a dance was proposed and acceded to by the party. The band struck up "The Wind Shakes the Barley:" country dances, Scotch reels, and "French fours," were kept up with great spirit on the level turf--"All under the greenwood tree."
"For all that day to the rebeck gay
They danced with frolicsome swains."
Those of our party who did not patronize the dance, amused themselves with ball-playing and a variety of old English games.
The day was lovely; and the spot chosen for our sports is one of the most beautiful natural meadows I ever beheld. We kept our fete in honour of King William on a smooth green semi-circular meadow, of large extent, ornamented here-and-there with clumps of magnificent button-wood trees.* Towards the north, skirting the meadow, a steep bank rises in the form of an amphitheatre, thickly-wooded--tree above tree, from the base to the crown of the ridge. The rapid waters of the Maitland form the southern and western boundary of this charming spot,--then not a little enhanced by the merry groups which dotted the surface of the meadow, and woke its lone echoes with music and song.
[* Both the wood and the growth of this tree greatly resemble the sycamore.]
I was much amused by a Yankee mill-wright, who had contracted to build a large grist-mill for the Company, both in Guelph and Goderich. He appeared enchanted with the whole day's proceedings.
"I do declare," he said, "if this don't almost put me in mind of the 4th of July. Why, you Britishers make as much fuss proclaiming your king as we do celebrating our anniversary of Independence. Well, it does me good to look at you. I vow if I don't feel quite loyal. Come, let us drink the old gentleman's health agin. I guess, I feel as dry as a sand-bank after so much hollering."
The setting sun warned us to discontinue our pastime and prepare for a move. Before doing so, however, the squire again came forward, and after thanking us for our attendance, loyalty, &c., he proposed "we should give three cheers more for the King, and three for Queen Adelaide," which were given with all the power of our lungs, not a little aided by sundry potations imbibed by the loyal in drinking their Majesties' healths during the day's proceeding.
Three cheers were then given for the Canada Company, three for the Commissioners, and three for the old Doctor. Thus terminated the proclamation of our sovereign in the Bush.
Mr. Prior had kindly issued invitations to the elite to a ball and supper at Reid's Hotel, which was well attended. The refreshments were excellent, the supper capital; and the dancing was kept up with great spirit till day-light warned us to depart.
The next day, I started for Guelph with the Yankee mill-wright, whom I found a clever, shrewd man. He told me he had travelled over a great part of the Western States and Canada; but in all his wanderings he had never seen a section of country, of the same size, that pleased him equal to the Huron tract.
"I guess, when this country of your'n is once cleared up, and good roads made, and the creeks bridged, there won't be such another place in all creation."
"What makes you think so?" I enquired.
"Wal, just look what a fine frontage you have on that 'ere big pond (he meant Lake Huron) and good harbours and land that can't be beat not no how. All you want is 'to go a-head,' and you may take my word for it that this will be the garden of Canada yet."
We had only one horse between us, which belonged to the Doctor, so that we were obliged to ride turn about. In this manner we got on pretty well, so that by four o'clock we were within two miles of old Sebach's. The day had been excessively hot, and for the last hour we had heard distant thunder. We, therefore, pushed on with redoubled energy, in hopes of escaping the storm.
Ever since I had witnessed the devastating effects of the whirlwind which passed through Guelph, and which I have described in a previous chapter, I had a dread of being exposed in the woods to the fury of such a tempest. In this instance, however, we had the good fortune to reach the shanty just as the rain commenced; and well for us it proved that we had gained a shelter for ourselves and steed; for I seldom witnessed a more terrific storm. The lightning was awful, accompanied by the loudest thunder I ever heard. The volleys of heavy hail-stones on the shingled roof, together with the rushing sound of the wind, and the crash of falling trees, made it impossible for us to hear a word that was said. Indeed, I did not feel much inclined for conversation; for I could not help meditating on the peril we had escaped. Had the storm commenced an hour or two earlier or later, we should have bean exposed to its utmost fury, as there was no place of refuge nearer than twenty miles either way.
To show the terrible danger we had avoided, I counted a hundred and seventy-six large trees that had fallen across the road between Sebach's and Trifogle's--a distance not exceeding twenty miles.
What a contrast this road now presents to what it was when I used to be in the habit of travelling over it! I remember, once having been sent on some important business to the settlement, which admitted of no delay. It was late in November; the snow had fallen unusually early, and there was no horse then to be procured at Goderich; so that I was obliged to walk without even a companion to cheer the solitary way. I found the walking exceedingly laborious: the snow was fully a foot deep and unbroken, save by the foot-marks of some lonely traveller.
I was very curious to learn who the person could be who had been necessitated to take such a long journey through the wilderness alone. The second day of my journey, my curiosity was gratified by seeing the name of the person written in large characters in the snow. I stopped and read it with much interest: it was that of a Scotchman I knew,--one James Haliday. After reading that name, it appeared as if half the loneliness of the road was gone; for I knew from the freshness of the track, that a human being was travelling on the same path, and that he was, perhaps, not far ahead.
Not many minutes after this occurrence, whilst descending a slight hill, I saw nine fine deer cross the road, within a short gun-shot of the spot where I stood. I had no gun with me; for I thought, if I did kill a deer, I should be obliged to leave it in the woods. Nothing further occurred till within a short distance of Trifogle's, when a large wolf bounded close past me: he seemed, however, the more frightened of the two, which I was not at all sorry to perceive.
When I arrived at the tavern, I told Trifogle what I had seen. He said, it was very lucky I had not fallen in with the pack; for only the night before he had gone to a beaver-meadow, about two miles distant, to look for his working oxen which had strayed, when he was surrounded by the whole pack of wolves, and was obliged "to tree," to save his bacon. He was, it seems, kept for more than three hours in that uncomfortable fix before he durst venture down--"when he made tracks," as the Yankees say, "for hum pretty considerably smart, I guess."
My solitary journey was performed in the fall of 1830: at the present time (1853) you may travel at your ease in a stage-coach and four horses, with taverns every few miles, and more villages on the road than formerly there were houses. Such are the changes that a few short years have produced in this fast-rising country!
Last revised 2005-03-04