EMPLOYMENTS OF A MAN OF EDUCATION IN THE COLONY. -- YANKEE WEDDING. -- MY COMMISSION. -- WINTER IN CANADA. -- HEALTHINESS OF THE CANADIAN CLIMATE. -- SERACH FOR LAND. -- PURCHASE WILD LAND AT DOURO. -- MY FLITTING. -- PUT UP A SHANTY. -- INEXPERIENCE IN CLEARING. -- PLAN-HEAPS.
THE employments of a respectable Canadian settler are certainly of a very multifarious character, and he may be said to combine, in his own person, several professions, if not trades. A man of education will always possess an influence, even in bush society: he may be poor, but his value will not be tested by the low standard of money, and notwithstanding his want of the current coin of the realm, he will be appealed to for his judgment in many matters, and will be inducted into several offices, infinitely more honourable than lucrative. My friend and father-in-law, being mild in manners, good-natured, and very sensible, was speedily promoted to the bench, and was given the colonelcy of the second battalion of the Durham Militia.
At this time there was no place of worship nearer than Port Hope, where the marriage ceremony could be legally performed. According to the Colonial law, if a magistrate resides more than eighteen miles from a church, he is empowered to marry parties applying to him for that purpose, after three written notices have been put up in the most public places in the township, with the names and residences of the parties for at least a fortnight previous to the marriage. I witnessed several of these marriages during my stay in Darlington, some of which were highly amusing.
One morning a near neighbour presented himself and a very pretty young woman, as candidates for matrimony. He was an American by birth, and a shrewd, clever, sensible person. After the ceremony, the bridegroom invited me to partake of the wedding-dinner, and I went.
The dinner was very good, though not served exactly in the English fashion. We, however, managed to enjoy ourselves very much. After tea, dancing commenced, to the music of two fiddles, when country-dances, reels, and French fours were all performed with much spirit. The music was very good, the dancing but indifferent. I could not help thinking
"How ill the motion with the music suits,
So Orpheus fiddled, and so danced the brutes."
During the pauses between the dances; some lady or gentleman would favour the company with a song. Then plays--as they are called--were introduced; such as hunt the slipper, cross questions and crooked answers, ladies' toilette, and several others of the same kind, in which forfeits had to be redeemed by the parties making mistakes in the game--a procedure of course productive of much noise, kissing, and laughter. Refreshments were handed round in great profusion, and the entertainment wound up with a dance, which, I believe, is of purely American origin. A chair is placed in the middle of the room, on which a young lady is seated; the company then join hands, and dance round her, singing these elegant lines:--
"There was a young woman sat down to sleep,
Sat down to sleep, sat down to sleep;
There was a young woman sat down to sleep,
"There was a young man to keep her awake,
To keep her awake, to keep her awake;
There was a young man to keep her awake,
"John R----- his name shall be,
His name shall be, his name shall be;
John R----- his name shall be,
The gentleman named walks up to the lady, salutes her, raises her from the chair, and seats himself in her stead, the rest dancing round, and singing as before, only substituting the gentleman, and naming the lady who is to release the gentleman in the same way, till all the ladies and gentlemen have been seated in their turn.
As soon as this queer species of Mazurka was concluded, the company broke up, seemingly well pleased with their entertainment. The introduction of English manners and customs during the last quarter of a century has tended greatly to improve society. It is now only amongst the lower orders that parties of this kind would be tolerated.
On my return home, I found an official letter from the Adjutant-general of the Upper Canada Militia, in which I was informed I was appointed by his Excellency Sir P. Maitland to an Ensigncy in the first regiment of Durham Militia. The effective militia of this province is, I believe, about 150,000 men. All persons, from sixteen to sixty, must enrol their names once a year, and all from sixteen to forty, must muster for general training on the 28th of June in each year. The officers, in time of war, receive the same pay and allowances as those in the line.
The winters of 1825 and 1826 were considered cold, even for Canada. The sleighing was good from the middle of December to the middle of March, with the exception of the January thaw, which continued for upwards of a week, and took away nearly all the snow. This thaw, though periodical, is not every year of the same duration, nor does it always take away the snow. Sometimes it is attended by strong gales of wind, from the southward, and with heavy thunder and lightning, which was particularly the case last January. The month of February is generally considered the coldest of the winter months. I have frequently known the thermometer range from 16 degrees to 20 degrees below zero, for a week together. On one day of the winter of which I am speaking, it was as low as 35 degrees. This, however, is unusual.
The coldest day I ever remember was in the winter of 1833. It was called the "Cold Sunday." The quicksilver in Fahrenheit's thermometer was frozen in the ball, which marks 39 degrees below zero. It was, however, stated in the papers, both in Canada and the State of New York, that the real cold was 40 degrees below zero, or 72 degrees below freezing point. I dined at a friend's that day, who resided three miles from my farm in Douro. The day was clear, not a cloud being above the horizon. The sun was of a dull copper-colour, and the horizon towards the north-west tinged with the same hue. Not a breath of wind was stirring. The smoke from the chimneys rose straight up into the air, and appeared unable to disperse through the atmosphere. My horses were as white as snow from the steam of their bodies freezing upon them; the reins were frozen as stiff as rods; the air seemed to cut like a knife. I was only a quarter of an hour upon the road, but even in that time I felt the cold severely, and was very glad when I got into the house to a large wood fire. The cold obliged the whole party at dinner to take their plates upon their knees and sit round the fire. But, as I said before, this is only an extreme case, and might not happen again for twenty years.
The excessive cold seldom lasts more than three days at a time, when it generally moderates, though not sufficiently to soften the snow. The dryness of the atmosphere and snow makes you feel the cold much less in proportion than in England. You do not experience that clinging, chilly, damp sort of cold in Canada that you do in the British Isles. For my part, I much prefer a Canadian winter, where the roads are good, the sleighing good, and your health good. Sickness is scarcely known here in the winter months.
If I could have purchased land on the lakeshore, I should have liked to settle in Darlington; but I found the farms I fancied much too high-priced for my pocket. So at last I made up my mind to go back to the new settlement of Peterborough, and see what sort of a place it was, and what it was likely to become.
Accordingly, I started on my journey, and travelled east, along the Kingston road, parallel with the shore of lake Ontario for about twenty-four or five miles to the boundary line, between the townships of Hope and Hamilton. After this I walked for twenty-seven miles through Cavan and Monaghan, to the town of Peterborough, which, at that time contained one log-house and a very poor saw-mill, erected some five or six years before by one Adam Scott to supply the new settlement of Smith with lumber.
I found several hundreds of Mr. Robinson's Irish emigrants camped on the plains. Many had built themselves huts of pine and spruce boughs; some with slabs and others with logs of trees. Three or four Government store-houses and a house for the Superintendent, the Hon. Peter Robinson, were in course of erection. I had letters of introduction to that gentleman, and also to the Hon. T. A. Stewart, and Robert Reid, Esq. The two latter gentlemen resided in the township of Douro, and were at that time the only settlers in that part of Canada.
As I did not much like the appearance of the lodgings I was likely to obtain in the new town, I went on to Mr. Stewart's house, and presented my credentials. Nothing could have been more cordial than the welcome I received from him. This gentleman and his brother-in-law, Robert Reid, Esq., obtained a grant of land from the Colonial Government, on condition that they would become actual settlers on the land, and perform certain settlement duties, which consisted in chopping out and clearing the concession lines.* Before the Crown patent could issue, the party contracting to perform the settlement duties was obliged to appear before a magistrate, and make an affidavit that he or they had chopped and cleared certain concession lines opposite the lots of land mentioned in the certificate.
[* Every township is laid out by the surveyor in parallel lines, sixty-six chains apart. These lines are sixty-six feet in width, and are given by government as road allowances, for the use of the public, and are called concession lines. Cross lines run at right angles with the former every thirty chains, and are called lot-lines: they subdivide the township into two hundred acre lots: every fifth cross line is a road allowance.]
This was a bad law, because many of these lines crossing high hills, swamps or lakes, were impracticable for road-purposes: many thousand pounds consequently were entirely and uselessly thrown away: besides, it opened a door for perjury.
Land-speculators would employ a third party to perform their settlement duties; all they required to obtain the deed, or "lift" as it is called in Canadian parlance, was the sworn certificate for cutting the road, allowances, and the payment of certain fees to Government. The consequence of this was, that many false certificates were sworn to, as few persons or magistrates would be at the trouble and expense of travelling thirty or forty miles back into an uninhabited part of the country, to ascertain if the parties had sworn truly or not.
A magistrate in my neighbourhood told me that a Yankee chopper came to him one day and demanded to be sworn on a settlement duty certificate, which he did to the following effect, "that he had cut a chain between two posts opposite lots so and so, in the concession of ----- township. The road allowances are a chain in width, and posts are planted and marked on each side of the concession, at the corners of each lot.
"I had some suspicions," he said, "in my own mind that the fellow had sworn falsely, so I determined to ascertain the truth. I knew a person residing within a mile or two of the place, to whom I wrote for information, when I found, as I expected, that not a tree bad been cut on the line. I therefore summoned the Yankee, on the information of the farmer, to appear before a brother magistrate and myself to answer for his delinquency.
"So, sir," I said, "you came before me and swore to a false certificate. Do not you know you have committed perjury, which is a very serious offence. What have you to say for yourself?"
"Wal, I guess, Mister, I han't committed no perjury. I swore I cut a chain between two posts opposite them lots, and I can prove it by Ina Buck, for he was with me the hul time I was doing on't."
"Now, Mr. Buck, what can you prove?"
"Wal, gentlemen, I was along with Jonathan Stubbs when he went to chop the settlement duties, and when we got to the posts opposite the lots, he said, 'Wal, this looks plaguy ugly any how! I calculate I must fix these duties the short way,' so he pulled out of his pocket a short piece of trace-chain which he laid on a stone in a line between the two posts, and with a stroke or two of his axe severed it in two. 'Now,' said he, 'Ina Buck, I guess you are a witness that I cut a chain between two posts, so they can't fix me nohow?'"
"He was, however, a little out of his calculation, for we did fix him, and sent him to jail, where I dare say he had ample time to plan some new device for performing settlement duties."
My new friend advised me to purchase land adjoining his grant, which was very prettily situated on the banks of the Otonabee, in the township of the same name, within a mile of Peterborough. The price asked was fifteen shillings per acre, which was high for wild land at that time, but the prospect of a town so near had improved the market considerably.
I took his advice, closed the bargain, and became a landed proprietor in Canada West. On the 16th of May, 1826, I moved up with all my goods and chattels, which were then easily packed into a single horse waggon, and consisted of a plough iron, six pails, a sugar kettle, two iron pots, a frying pan with a long handle, a tea kettle, a chest of carpenters' tools, a Canadian axe, and a cross-cut saw. My stock of provisions comprised a parcel of groceries, half a barrel of pork and a barrel of flour.
The roads were so bad that it took me three days to perform a journey of little more than fifty miles. We (that is to say myself and my two labourers) had numerous upsets; but at last reached the promised land without any further trouble. My friend in Douro turned out the next day and assisted me to put up the walls of my shanty and roof it with bass-wood troughs, which was completed before dark.
I was kept busy for more than a week chinking between the logs and plastering up all the crevices, cutting out a doorway and place for a window, casing them; making a door and hanging it on wooden hinges, &c. I also made a rough table and some stools, which answered better than they looked. Four thick slabs of lime-stone, placed upright in one corner of the shanty with clay well packed behind them to keep the fire off the logs, answered very well for a chimney with a hole cut through the roof directly above, to vent the smoke.
I made a tolerably good bedstead out of some iron-wood poles, by stretching strips of elm-bark across, which I plaited strongly together to support my bed, which was a very good one, and the only article of luxury I possessed.
I had very foolishly hired two Irish emigrants, who had not been longer in Canada than myself, and of course knew nothing either of chopping, logging, fencing, or, indeed, any work belonging to the country. The consequence of this imprudence was, that the first ten acres I cleared cost me nearly 5 pounds an acre*--at least 2 pounds more than it should have done. Experience is often dearly bought, and in this instance the proverb was fully verified.
[* The usual price for clearing land, and fencing it fit for sowing, is, for hard wood, from eleven to twelve dollars per acre; for evergreen, such as pine, hemlock, cedar, or where that kind of timber predominates, from twelve to fourteen dollars per acre. There is no fixed price for swamp.]
I found chopping, in the summer months, very laborious. I should have underbrushed my fallow in the fall, before the leaves fell, and chopped the large timber during the winter months, when I should have had the warm weather for logging and burning, which should be completed by the first day of September. So, for want of experience, it was all up-hill work with me.
This was the season for musquitoes and black flies. The latter are ten times the worse of the two. This happened to be a bad fly year, and I, being a new comer, was nearly devoured by them. Luckily, they do not last more than a month, and it is only before rain that they are so very annoying. I have seen children whose necks were one mass of sores, from the poisonous nature of their bite: sheep, calves, and foals, are sometimes killed by them. Nor is this, indeed, an unfrequent occurrence. It must be, however, borne in mind that, as the country is cleared up, and the woods recede, the flies disappear. In the clearings along the front townships, the flies are not more troublesome than they are in England.
The farm on which I now reside used to swarm terribly with flies, lying, as it does, near the water; but, for the last three years, it has been entirely free from them, especially from the black flies.*
[* These insects are always much worse, and more numerous, when the spring is backward, and the floods are higher than usual. From close observation, I believe the larvae are deposited during high water on the rocks, when, as soon as the water falls, the heat of the sun hatches the insects. I have remarked large stones, which had been under water during the flood, covered over with small brown coloured cells, exactly the shape, and very little bigger than a seed of buckwheat. From out of these cells, on a sunny day, the flies rise in clouds, for they bite through the envelope, and emancipate themselves. Being provided with a sharp appetite, they will attack you the minute they are at liberty. These pests begin to appear between the 10th of May and 1st of June, according to the earliness or lateness of the season. Towards the end of June, numbers of small dragon-flies make their appearance, which soon eat up all the black-flies, to which repast, you may be sure, they are heartily welcome.]
A person who understands chopping, can save himself a good deal of trouble and hard work by making what is called a plan-heap. Three or four of these may be made on an acre, but not more. The largest and most difficult trees are felled, the limbs only being cut off and piled. Then all the trees that will fall in the same direction, should be thrown along, on the top of the others, the more the better chance of burning well. If you succeed in getting a good burn for your fallow, the chances are, if your plan-heaps are well made, that they will be mostly consumed, which will save a great many blows of the axe, and some heavy logging.
Last revised 2005-03-04