WOOD-DUCK SHOOTING. -- ADVENTURE ON RICE LAKE. -- IRISH HOWL. -- ARRIVAL AT GORE'S LANDING. -- GENERAL HOWLING FOR THE DEFUNCT. -- DANGERS OF OUR JOURNEY. -- SAFE ARRIVAL AT COBOURG. -- SALMON-FISHING. -- CANOE-BUILDING AFTER A BAD FASHION. -- SALMON SPEARING. -- CANADIAN FISH AND FISHERIES. -- INDIAN SUMMER. -- SLEIGHS AND SLEIGHING. -- DOMESTIC LOVE.
AFTER committing the care of my horse to our landlord, I ordered dinner to be got ready immediately, as we had thirteen miles to row, and I wished to reach Mr. W-----'s before dark. Our hostess exerted herself, and we soon sat down to a sumptuous feast, consisting of a brace of fine fat wood-ducks and fried black bass, two dishes I am particularly fond of, and which at this time of the year can always be obtained from the lake.
The wood-duck is a delicious bird. It makes its appearance early in the spring, as soon as the ice breaks up. Its plumage is very fine--I should say the most beautiful of any of its species. Its head and upper part of the neck are dark green; from the top of the head a long crest depends, richly variegated with green, white, and dark purple feathers. The lower part of the throat and breast is cinnamon speckled with white, but under the wings and sides towards the tail, grey, speckled and fringed with black; the back of the wings dark blue and black feathers. The wood-duck frequents close-wooded streams, little bays, and nooks, sitting upon old logs or the limbs of trees which have fallen into the water. It feeds on the wild rice, and is very fat from the middle of August to November, when it migrates to a warmer climate. This kind of duck is more easily approached than any other. The sportsman should be seated near the centre of a small canoe, his gun lying before him ready cocked, when he should paddle very cautiously through the rice, keeping his head as low as possible. A person who understands the management of a canoe can generally get within twenty-five or thirty yards before he is seen, which gives him ample opportunity to put down his paddle and take his gun, in time to fire both barrels. In this manner I have often killed from fifteen to twenty brace in a few hours.
After dinner we hired a skiff and proceeded on our voyage. The lake was calm, so we made good progress, passing the Indian village belonging to the Mississauga tribe of Indians, a branch of the Chippewas, which I shall have occasion to speak of hereafter, Pantaush's point, Designs Bay, and the embouchure of the Indian river; and just at dusk landed opposite my friend's house, pretty well tired, though much delighted with our day's journey. We were received with a welcome such as only a backwoodsman knows how to give. In half an hour I felt as much at home as if I had belonged to the family.
During my stay here, which was upwards of a week, I amused myself with fishing and shooting. The fall and winter duck were beginning to come in from the north, a sure sign that hard weather was close at hand.
We had had an early spring and a long warm summer. Generally speaking, the ground does not close till about the middle of November; but this year the frost set in much earlier. It did not, however, continue, for the ground again opened, and we had nearly two weeks of beautiful Indian summer in the early part of November.
On the 17th the ice was sufficiently strong to skate upon. On the 27th day of October the first hard weather commenced, and as there was some fear of the lake freezing, we determined to start for Cobourg the following morning. I accordingly made the necessary preparations, and hired an old man-of-war's-man, one Robert Redpath, to row us up the lake to Tidy's.
It froze hard during the night. The ice was fully half an inch thick on the bays, and along the margin of the lake we were obliged to break a passage for the skiff for upwards of fifty yards before we got into clear water. It was cold, and blew fresh from the north-west, and the wind being directly down the lake, caused a heavy swell, which increased every minute. As the gale freshened, our skiff shipped so much water that we thought it prudent to put across to the Alnwick shore, which was more under the lee, being sheltered by islands. While passing near one of these, I observed some person walking to and fro, apparently making signals of distress. I called Redpath's attention to this, and bade him "row to the shore that we might ascertain what he wanted." This our boatman positively refused to do, saying that "he had hired himself to ferry us to Tidy's, and he was not bound to go half a mile out of his way to hunt after every infernal Ingine (Indian) we might see on our road."
I, however, insisted on his immediately complying with my request. It was fortunate I did so, for on landing we found a man walking backwards and forwards, trying to keep himself warm. Indeed, the poor fellow looked nearly frozen. He seemed to have lost all power over his limbs, and was quite unable to articulate. I made Redpath light a fire, and in the meantime I gave the man a dram from our whiskey-bottle, which greatly revived him. We soon had a blazing fire, which had the desired effect of unloosing the tongue of our new acquaintance, and he informed us, "he was one of the Irish emigrants sent off by Government under the superintendence of the Honourable Peter Robinson; that several hundreds of them had been forwarded from Cobourg to Rice Lake, a few days before, on their way to the new settlements up the Otonabee River, and were now camped at Tidy's. He and his friend, a man of the name of Daly, a tailor by trade, wished to settle in the township of Asphodel, on the River Trent. They had accordingly taken a boat and had rowed down the lake in the hope of reaching Crook's Rapids on the Trent before nightfall. Irishman-like, their only stores for the voyage consisted of a bottle of whiskey, to which it appears they applied themselves more diligently than to the navigation of their boat, which they let drift at the mercy of the winds and waves while they slept.
They did not wake up from their drunken slumbers till dark, when they found themselves stuck in a rice bed, and unable to extricate themselves from the dilemma in which they were placed; whereupon they again had recourse to the bottle, which this time proved fatal to Daly who, being very drunk, fell overboard. His companion, however, managed to catch hold of him and succeeded in getting him into the boat only to suffer a more lingering death, for he was frozen stiff before morning dawned. The survivor had covered his unfortunate companion with a blanket, the only one they had with them, in the hope it would keep him from perishing with cold during the night, which care, however, proved unavailing. He managed at dawn to extricate the boat from the rice bed, but not being able to row so large a boat, especially in his present condition, she drifted upon the point of the island on which we found him.
As soon as he was well warmed and refreshed, we proceeded to the place pointed out by him, where we found the boat thumping in the surf, on a ledge of rocks. After hauling it up, we proceeded to lift the blanket, when a shocking sight presented itself. The dead man was sitting upright on the seat, with his mouth and eyes half-open. We lifted him out, laid him under a tree, and spread the blanket over him. We found our skiff too small to accommodate another passenger, so we determined to leave it behind and take the large boat, which we accordingly did; and we put our new-comer to the oar with Redpath, whilst I took the helm.
We had a long, tedious row against the headwind, which now blew a gale. Our new acquaintance, every now-and-then, would throw down his oar, and howl and clap his hands to show his grief for the loss of his departed friend. These pathetic lamentations elicited no sympathy from Redpath, who abused him for "a lazy lubber," and ordered him "to pull and not make such an infernal howling, worse than a wild Ingin's yell."
We made the landing at Tidy's, just before dark, and found several hundred emigrants in the tavern, and camped round about it.
As soon as we came within hearing, our passenger commenced the loudest howl he had yet perpetrated, which had the immediate effect of bringing down to the landing the whole of his countrymen, who, as soon as they learned the loss of their friend, gave us a genuine Irish howl, in which the women took the most prominent part.
On our way up to the house, we were met by the landlord, who, with a most woful look, informed us that our horse had strayed away from the pasture, and that he had searched the plains in every direction, and could hear no tidings of him, but as soon as he turned up he would send him home. "I am sorry, sir." he added, "this misfortune has happened, and particularly as I am unable to accommodate you and the young lady, for my house is full of drunken Irish, as you see. Indeed, the only chance you have of getting to Cobourg to-night is by an ox-cart, which will start about nine o'clock this evening."
I was very angry with the landlord for his carelessness, and told him I should look to him for payment unless my horse was forthcoming. I found the owner of the ox-cart, and made a bargain with him to set us down at my friend's house in Cobourg.
Our equipage was very unique of its kind, it having been constructed for the sole purpose of carrying barrels of flour and pork. The box was a kind of open rack, with two rows of upright stakes instead of sides: two long boards, laid on cross-bars, formed the bottom: we spread our buffaloes on these, and fastened a strong piece of rope across the cart, from stake to stake on either side, to hold on by.
Thus equipped, we commenced our journey. It was pitch-dark, so our driver let the cattle go as they liked, for guiding them was perfectly out of the question. I shall never forget the way our oxen galloped down those steep hills. Miss W. was dreadfully frightened. All we could do was to hold on and trust in Providence. Luckily, the oxen kept the track; for had they deviated in the least, going down some of the steep pitches, the cart would have been upset to a certainty, and very likely we should have been seriously injured, or killed on the spot.
It was past one in the morning before we reached Cobourg, thoroughly fatigued with our expedition.
I heard no tidings of my horse for upwards of four months, and had given up all thoughts of beholding him again, when one morning I was surprised to see him, waggon, harness and all, drive into the yard. Upon inquiry, I found that the hard weather and snow had made him seek the clearings for food, when he was easily secured; but one of his fetlocks was cut almost to the bone by the piece of rope he had been tethered with, and which was still upon him when he was found.
One of the most exciting amusements at this season of the year, is salmon-fishing. In order to enjoy this sport, I made a canoe sixteen feet in length, and two feet nine inches at its greatest breadth. It was my first attempt, and, certainly the thing looked more like a hog-trough than a boat. It, however, answered the purpose for which it was intended, and I can assure the reader I felt not a little proud of this, my first attempt at canoe-making.
Salmon-fishing commences in October, when the fish run up the rivers and creeks in great numbers. The usual way of catching them is by spearing, which is done as follows.--An iron grate--or jack, as it is called by the Canadians--is made in the shape of a small cradle, composed of iron bars three or four inches apart. This cradle is made to swing in a frame, so that it may be always on the level, or the swell would cause the pine-knots to fall out. Fat pine and light-wood are used to burn in the jack, which give a very brilliant light for several yards round the bow of the canoe. The fish can be easily seen at the depth of from four to five feet. One person sits in the stern and steers with a paddle, propelling the canoe at the same time. The bowman either kneels or stands up with the spear poised ready for striking. An expert hand will scarcely miss a stroke. I have known two fishermen in this manner kill upwards of two hundred salmon in one night. I believe, however, the fishing is not nearly so productive as formerly.
Mr. Stephens showed me a small stream running through his farm, which I could easily jump over. He told me that one afternoon he was watering his horses, when he perceived a shoal of salmon swimming up the creek. He had no spear at home, having lent it to a neighbour. He, however, succeeded with a pitchfork in capturing fifty-six fine fish.
Thirty years ago, all the small streams and rivers, from the head of the lake downwards to the Bay of Quinte, used to abound with salmon. The erection of saw-mills on the creeks, and other causes, have tended materially to injure the fisheries. White fish and salmon-trout are, however, taken in vast quantities, particularly the former, which has become quite an article of commerce. The most extensive fisheries are on the Manitoulin island, in Lake Huron, and along the Canadian shore of Ontario, opposite the township of Haldimand, Crambe, and Murray, in the county of Northumberland, and part of the district of Prince Edward. Very large seine nets being used, many barrels of fish are often taken at a haul, which are cured and packed on the spot: the usual price of a barrel varies from five to six dollars.
Lake Ontario abounds with herring, of much the same flavour as the sea species, but not so strong and oily, nor so large. Sturgeon, pike, pickerel, black bass, sheep-heads, mullets, suckers, eels, and a variety of other fish, are plentiful in these waters: the spring-creeks and mill-ponds yield plenty of spotted trout, from four ounces to a pound weight: they are easily caught either with the worm or fly.
The best creek I ever fished in was the Speed, a branch of the Grand River, or Ouse, which runs through the township of Guelph. In winter you can catch them by fishing through a hole in the ice. The best way is to dig and store by in a box filled with earth, a quantity of worms, which must be kept in the cellar for use. A small piece of fat pork is commonly employed as bait, but is not nearly so good as the other.
A friend of mine, living near Colborne, told me rather an amusing story of a Yankee, who was fishing through the ice with the usual bait, a piece of pork. He had been very unsuccessful, and tired of the sport, he walked over to where my friend was throwing out the trout as fast as possible, when the following colloquy took place:
"Wal, how, under Heaven, did you get all them 'ere fish?"
"Wal, I s'pose you did; but what kinder bait do you use?"
"Varms! Why, under Heaven, where do you get varms at this time of the year?"
"I got these out of my cellar."
"Get out! how you do talk!"
"You may believe me or not, as you like; but I can assure you I did."
"Wal, do tell. I guess I never thought of diggin' in the cellar; I will go to hum and try."
My friend met him a few days afterwards, when the Yankee said--"I calculate, Mister, you told me a tarnation lie, the other day, about them 'ere varms. I went and dug up every bit of my cellar, and, I do declare, I never got a single varm."
My friend laughed very heartily at this "Yankee diggin," but at the same time kindly informed his neighbour of the method he pursued, to provide worms for winter-fishing.
Before the winter fairly sets in, we generally have ten days or a fortnight of the Indian summer; indeed, it is the sure harbinger of winter. The air is mild and temperate; a haze, resembling smoke, pervades the atmosphere, that at times obscures the sun, which, when visible, is of a blood-red colour. Various causes have been assigned for this appearance, but none very satisfactory.
Towards the end of November this year, the ice was strong enough to bear the weight of a man, and the ground was soon whitened with snow, but not in sufficient depth to make good sleighing. Just a week before Christmas, we had a fall of eight or ten inches, which made pretty good going: the sleighs were, of course, in immediate requisition.
A family sleigh is made to carry from six to ten persons; the more stylish ones from four to six; a cutter, or single sleigh, two. These are all for pleasure, but every farmer is obliged to have a lumber-sleigh for general use. A much larger load can be drawn on runners in winter than on wheels in summer. Sleighing is, without doubt, the most delightful mode of travelling you can possibly conceive, but it takes several falls of snow to make the sleighing good. All the inequalities must be filled up and levelled, but the snow soon packs solid by the constant friction of the sleigh-runner. The horses are each provided with a ring of bells, the sound of which is not unmusical; and I am assured is delightful indeed to the ears of the anxious wife, watching for the return of her husband from a winter journey. Some years ago, when the country was unsettled, the females of the family had some cause for fear, since the absence of the father, son, or husband, was not always followed by his safe return; and the snow-storm, or the wolves, were thought of with alarm, till the music of the sleigh-bells announced the safety of the beloved absentee.
In no country on the face of the earth does the torch of wedded love beam brighter than in Canada, where the husband always finds "the wife dearer than the bride." I have seen many an accomplished and beautiful English girl, "forgetting with her father's house," the amusements of a fashionable life, to realize with a half-pay officer or "younger brother," the purer, holier pleasures of domestic love in this country, where a numerous issue, the fruits of their union, are considered a blessing and a source of wealth, instead of bringing with them, as in the old country, an increase of care.
Last revised 2005-03-04