September the 20th, 1834.
I PROMISED when I parted from you before I left England to write as soon as I could give you any satisfactory account of our settlement in this country. I shall do my best to redeem that promise, and forward you a slight sketch of our proceedings, with such remarks on the natural features of the place in which we have fixed our abode, as I think likely to afford you interest or amusement. Prepare your patience, then, my dear friend, for a long and rambling epistle, in which I may possibly prove somewhat of a Will-o'-the-wisp, and having made you follow me in my desultory wanderings,--
Over hill, over dale, Through bush, through briar, Over park, over pale, Through flood, through fire,--
Possibly leave you in the midst of a big cedar swamp, or among the pathless mazes of our wild woods, without a clue to guide you, or even a blaze to light you on your way.
You will have heard, through my letters to my dear mother, of our safe arrival at Quebec, of my illness at Montreal, of all our adventures and misadventures during our journey up the country, till after much weary wandering we finally found a home and resting-place with a kind relative, whom it was our happiness to meet after a separation of many years.
As my husband was anxious to settle in the neighbourhood of one so nearly connected with me, thinking it would rob the woods of some of the loneliness that most women complain so bitterly of, he purchased a lot of land on the shores of a beautiful lake, one of a chain of small lakes belonging to the Otanabee river.
Here, then, we are established, having now some five-and-twenty acres cleared, and a nice house built. Our situation is very agreeable, and each day increases its value. When we first came up to live in the bush, with the exception of S------, here were but two or three settlers near us, and no roads cut out. The only road that was available for bringing up goods from the nearest town was on the opposite side of the water, which was obliged to be crossed on a log, or birch-bark canoe; the former nothing better than a large pine-log hollowed with the axe, so as to contain three or four persons; it is flat-bottomed, and very narrow, on which account it is much used on these shallow waters. The birch canoe is made of sheets of birch bark, ingeniously fashioned and sewn together by the Indians with the tough roots of the cedar, young pine, or larch (tamarack, as it is termed by the Indians); it is exceedingly light, so that it can be carried by two persons easily, or even by one. These, then, were our ferry-boats, and very frail they are, and require great nicety in their management; they are worked in the water with paddles, either kneeling or standing. The squaws are very expert in the management of the canoes, and preserve their balance with admirable skill, standing up while they impel the little bark with great velocity through the water.
Very great is the change that a few years have effected in our situation. A number of highly respectable settlers have purchased land along the shores of these lakes, so that we no longer want society. The roads are now cut several miles above us, and though far from good can be travelled by waggons and sleighs, and are, at all events, better than none.
A village has started up where formerly a thick pine-wood covered the ground; we have now within a short distance of us an excellent saw-mill, a grist-mill, and store, with a large tavern and many good dwellings. A fine timber bridge, on stone piers, was erected last year to connect the opposite townships and lessen the distance to and from Peterborough; and though it was unfortunately swept away early last spring by the unusual rising of the Otanabee lakes, a new and more substantial one has risen upon the ruins of the former, through the activity of an enterprising young Scotchman, the founder of the village.
But the grand work that is, sooner or later, to raise this portion of the district from its present obscurity, is the opening a line of navigation from Lake Huron through Lake Simcoe, and so through our chain of small lakes to Rice Lake, and finally through the Trent to the Bay of Quinte. This noble work would prove of incalculable advantage, by opening a direct communication between Lake Huron and the inland townships at the back of the Ontario with the St. Laurence. This project has already been under the consideration of the Governor, and is at present exciting great interest in the country: sooner or later there is little doubt but that it will be carried into effect. It presents some difficulties and expense, but it would be greatly to the advantage and prosperity of the country, and be the means of settling many of the back townships bordering upon these lakes.
I must leave it to abler persons than myself to discuss at large the policy and expediency of the measure; but as I suppose you have no intention of emigrating to our backwoods, you will be contented with my cursory view of the matter, and believe, as in friendship you are bound to do, that it is a desirable thing to open a market for inland produce.
Canada is the land of hope; here every thing is new; every thing going forward; it is scarcely possible for arts, sciences, agriculture, manufactures, to retrograde; they must keep advancing; though in some situations the progress may seem slow, in others they are proportionably rapid.
There is a constant excitement on the minds of emigrants, particularly in the partially settled townships, that greatly assists in keeping them from desponding. The arrival of some enterprising person gives a stimulus to those about him: a profitable speculation is started, and lo, the value of the land in the vicinity rises to double and treble what it was thought worth before; so that, without any design of befriending his neighbours, the schemes of one settler being carried into effect shall benefit a great number. We have already felt the beneficial effect of the access of respectable emigrants locating themselves in this township, as it has already increased the value of our own land in a three-fold degree.
All this, my dear friend, you will say is very well, and might afford subject for a wise discussion between grave men, but will hardly amuse us women; so pray turn to some other theme, and just tell me how you contrive to pass your time among the bears and wolves of Canada.
One lovely day last June I went by water to visit the bride of a young naval officer, who had purchased a very pretty lot of land some two miles higher up the lake; our party consisted of my husband, baby, and myself; we met a few pleasant friends, and enjoyed our excursion much. Dinner was laid out in the stoup, which, as you may not know what is meant by the word, I must tell you that it means a sort of wide verandah, supported on pillars, often of unbarked logs; the floor is either of earth beaten hard, or plank; the roof covered with sheets of bark or else shingled. These stoups are of Dutch origin, and were introduced, I have been told, by the first Dutch settlers in the states, since which they have found their way all over the colonies.
Wreathed with the scarlet creeper, a native plant of our woods and wilds, the wild vine, and also with the hop, which here grows luxuriantly, with no labour or attention to its culture, these stoups have a very rural appearance; in summer serving the purpose of an open ante-room, in which you can take your meals and enjoy the fanning breeze without being inconvenienced by the extreme heat of the noon-day sun.
The situation of the house was remarkably well chosen, just on the summit of a little elevated plain, the ground sloping with a steep descent to a little valley, at the bottom of which a bright rill of water divided the garden from the opposite corn-fields, which clothed a corresponding bank. In front of the stoup, where we dined, the garden was laid out with a smooth plot of grass, surrounded with borders of flowers, and separated from a ripening field of wheat by a light railed fence, over which the luxuriant hop-vine flung its tendrils and graceful blossoms. Now I must tell you the hop is cultivated for the purpose of making a barm for raising bread. As you take great interest in housewifery concerns, I shall send you a recipe for what we call hop-rising*. [* See Appendix.]
The Yankees use a fermentation of salt, flour, and warm water or milk; but though the salt-rising makes beautiful bread to look at, being far whiter and firmer than the hop-yeast bread, there is a peculiar flavour imparted to the flour that does not please every one's taste, and it is very difficult to get your salt-rising to work in very cold weather.
And now, having digressed while I gave you my recipes, I shall step back to my party within the stoup, which, I can assure you, was very pleasant, and most cordially disposed to enjoy the meeting. We had books and drawings, and good store of pretty Indian toys, the collection of many long voyages to distant shores, to look at and admire. Soon after sun-set we walked down through the woods to the landing at the lake shore, where we found our bark canoe ready to convey us home.
During our voyage, just at the head of the rapids, our attention was drawn to some small object in the water, moving very swiftly along; there were various opinions as to the swimmer, some thinking it to be a water-snake, others a squirrel, or a musk-rat; a few swift strokes of the paddles brought us up so as to intercept the passage of the little voyager; it proved to be a fine red squirrel, bound on a voyage of discovery from a neighbouring island. The little animal, with a courage and address that astonished his pursuers, instead of seeking safety in a different direction, sprung lightly on the point of the uplifted paddle, and from thence with a bound to the head of my astonished baby, and having gained my shoulder, leaped again into the water, and made direct for the shore, never having deviated a single point from the line he was swimming in when he first came in sight of our canoe. I was surprised and amused by the agility and courage displayed by this innocent creature; I could hardly have given credence to the circumstance, had I not been an eye-witness of its conduct, and moreover been wetted plentifully on my shoulder by the sprinkling of water from his coat.
Perhaps you may think my squirrel anecdote incredible; but I can vouch for the truth of it on my own personal experience, as I not only saw but also felt it: the black squirrels are most lovely and elegant animals, considerably larger than the red, the grey, and the striped: the latter are called by the Indians "chit-munks."
We were robbed greatly by these little depredators last summer; the red squirrels used to carry off great quantities of our Indian corn not only from the stalks, while the crop was ripening, but they even came into the house through some chinks in the log-walls, and carried off vast quantities of the grain, stripping it very adroitly from the cob, and conveying the grain away to their storehouses in some hollow 1og or subterranean granary.
These little animals are very fond of the seeds of the pumpkins, and you will see the soft creatures whisking about among the cattle, carrying away the seeds as they are scattered by the beasts in breaking the pumpkins: they also delight in the seeds of the sunflowers, which grow to a gigantic height in our gardens and clearings. The fowls are remarkably fond of the sunflower-seeds, and I saved the plants with the intention of laying up a good store of winter food for my poor chicks. One day I went to cut the ripe heads, the largest of which was the size of a large dessert-plate, but found two wicked red squirrels busily employed gathering in the seeds, not for me, be sure, but themselves. Not contented with picking out the seeds, these little thieves dexterously sawed through the stalks, and conveyed away whole heads at once: so bold were they that they would not desist when I approached till they had secured their object, and, encumbered with a load twice the weight of their own agile bodies, ran with a swiftness along the rails, and over root, stump, and log, till they eluded my pursuit.
Great was the indignation expressed by this thrifty little pair on returning again for another load to find the plant divested of the heads. I had cut what remained and put them in a basket in the sun, on a small block in the garden, close to the open glass-door, on the steps of which I was sitting shelling some seed-beans, when the squirrels drew my attention to them by their sharp scolding notes, elevating their fine feathery tails and expressing the most lively indignation at the invasion: they were not long before they discovered the Indian basket with the ravished treasure; a few rapid movements brought the little pair to the rails within a few paces of me and the sunflower-heads; here, then, they paused, and sitting up looked in my face with the most imploring gestures. I was too much amused by their perplexity to help them, but turning away my head to speak to the child, they darted forward, and in another minute had taken possession of one of the largest of the heads, which they conveyed away, first one carrying it a few yards, then the other, it being too bulky for one alone to carry it far at a time. In short, I was so well amused by watching their manoeuvres that I suffered them to rob me of all my store. I saw a little family of tiny squirrels at play in the spring on the top of a hollow log, and really I think they were, without exception, the liveliest, most graceful creatures I ever looked upon.
The flying squirrel is a native of our woods, and exceeds in beauty, to my mind, any of the tribe. Its colour is the softest, most delicate tint of grey; the fur thick and short, and as silken as velvet; the eyes like all the squirrel kind, are large, full, and soft the whiskers and long hair about the nose black; the membrane that assists this little animal in its flight is white and delicately soft in texture, like the fur of the chinchilla; it forms a ridge of fur between the fore and hind legs; the tail is like an elegant broad grey feather. I was agreeably surprised by the appearance of this exquisite little creature; the pictures I had seen giving it a most inelegant and batlike look, almost disgusting. The young ones are easily tamed, and are very playful and affectionate when under confinement.
[Illustration: Flying Squirrel]
How my little friend Emily would delight in such a pet! Tell her if ever I should return to dear old England, I will try to procure one for her; but at present she must be contented with the stuffed specimens of the black, red, and striped squirrels which I enclose in my parcel. I wish I could offer you any present more valuable, but our arts and manufactures being entirely British, with the exception of the Indians' toys, I should find it a difficult matter to send you any thing worth your attention; therefore I am obliged to have recourse to the natural productions of our woods as tokens of remembrance to our friends at home, for it is ever thus we speak of the land of our birth.
You wish to know if I am happy and contented in my situation, or if my heart pines after my native land. I will answer you candidly, and say that, as far as regards matters of taste, early association, and all those holy ties of kindred, and old affections that make "home" in all countries, and among all nations in the world, a hallowed spot, I must ever give the preference to Britain.
On the other hand, a sense of the duties I have chosen, and a feeling of conformity to one's situation, lessen the regret I might be inclined to indulge in. Besides, there are new and delightful ties that bind me to Canada: I have enjoyed much domestic happiness since I came hither; -- and is it not the birthplace of my dear child? Have I not here first tasted the rapturous delight arising from maternal feelings? When my eye rests on my smiling darling, or I feel his warm breath upon my cheek, I would not exchange the joy that fills my breast for any pleasure the world could offer me. "But this feeling is not confined to the solitude of your Canadian forests, my dear friend," you will say. I know it; but here there is nothing to interfere with your little nursling. You are not tempted by the pleasures of a gay world to forget your duties as a mother; there is nothing to supplant him in your heart; his presence endears every place; and you learn to love the spot that gave him birth, and to think with complacency upon the country, because it is his country; and in looking forward to his future welfare you naturally become doubly interested in the place that is one day to be his.
Perhaps I rather estimate the country by my own feelings; and when I find, by impartial survey of my present life, that I am to the full as happy, if not really happier, than I was in the old country, I cannot but value it.
Possibly, if I were to enter into a detail of the advantages I possess, they would appear of a very negative character in the eyes of persons revelling in all the splendour and luxury that wealth could procure, in a country in which nature and art are so eminently favourable towards what is usually termed the pleasures of life; but I never was a votary at the shrine of luxury or fashion. A round of company, a routine of pleasure, were to me sources of weariness, if not of disgust. "There's nothing in all this to satisfy the heart," says Schiller; and I admit the force of the sentiment.
I was too much inclined to spurn with impatience the fetters that etiquette and fashion are wont to impose on society, till they rob its followers of all freedom and independence of will; and they soon are obliged to live for a world that in secret they despise and loathe, for a world, too, that usually regards them with contempt, because they dare not act with an independence, which would be crushed directly it was displayed.
And I must freely confess to you that I do prize and enjoy my present liberty in this country exceedingly: in this we possess an advantage over you, and over those that inhabit the towns and villages in this country, where I see a ridiculous attempt to keep up an appearance that is quite foreign to the situation of those that practise it. Few, very few, are the emigrants that come to the colonies, unless it is with the view of realising an independence for themselves or their children. Those that could afford to live in ease at home, believe me, would never expose themselves to the privations and disagreeable consequences of a settler's life in Canada: therefore, this is the natural inference we draw, that the emigrant has come hither under the desire and natural hope of bettering his condition, and benefiting a family that he has not the means of settling in life in the home country. It is foolish, then, to launch out in a style of life that every one knows cannot be maintained; rather ought such persons to rejoice in the consciousness that they can, if they please, live according to their circumstances, without being the less regarded for the practice of prudence, economy, and industry.
Now, we bush-settlers are more independent: we do what we like; we dress as we find most suitable and most convenient; we are totally without the fear of any Mr. or Mrs. Grundy; and having shaken off the trammels of Grundyism, we laugh at the absurdity of those who voluntarily forge afresh and hug their chains.
If our friends come to visit us unexpectedly we make them welcome to our humble homes, and give them the best we have; but if our fare be indifferent, we offer it with good will, and no apologies are made or expected: they would be out of place; as every one is aware of the disadvantages of a new settlement; and any excuses for want of variety, or the delicacies of the table, would be considered rather in the light of a tacit reproof to your guest for having unseasonably put your hospitality to the test.
Our society is mostly military or naval; so that we meet on equal grounds, and are, of course, well acquainted with the rules of good breeding and polite life; too much so to allow any deviation from those laws that good taste, good sense, and good feeling have established among persons of our class.
Yet here it is considered by no means derogatory to the wife of an officer or gentleman to assist in the work of the house, or to perform its entire duties if occasion requires it; to understand the mystery of soap, candle, and sugar-making; to make bread, butter, and cheese, or even to milk her own cows; to knit and spin, and prepare the wool for the loom. In these matters we bush-ladies have a wholesome disregard of what Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so thinks or says. We pride ourselves on conforming to circumstances; and as a British officer must needs be a gentleman and his wife a lady, perhaps we repose quietly on that incontestable proof of our gentility, and can afford to be useful without injuring it.
Our husbands adopt a similar line of conduct: the officer turns his sword into a ploughshare, and his lance into a sickle; and if he be seen ploughing among the stumps in his own field, or chopping trees on his own land, no one thinks less of his dignity, or considers him less of a gentleman, than when he appeared upon parade in all the pride of military etiquette, with sash, sword and epaulette. Surely this is as it should be in a country where independence is inseparable from industry; and for this I prize it.
Among many advantages we in this township possess, it is certainly no inconsiderable one that the lower or working class of settlers are well disposed, and quite free from the annoying Yankee manners that distinguish many of the earlier-settled townships. Our servants are as respectful, or nearly so, as those at home; nor are they admitted to our tables, or placed on an equality with us, excepting at "bees," and such kinds of public meetings; when they usually conduct themselves with a propriety that would afford an example to some that call themselves gentlemen, viz., young men who voluntarily throw aside those restraints that society expects from persons filling a respectable situation.
Intemperance is too prevailing a vice among all ranks of people in this country; but I blush to say it belongs most decidedly to those that consider themselves among the better class of emigrants. Let none such complain of the airs of equality displayed towards them by the labouring class, seeing that they degrade themselves below the honest, sober settler, however poor. If the sons of gentlemen lower themselves, no wonder if the sons of poor men endeavour to exalt themselves about him in a country where they all meet on equal ground; and good conduct is the distinguishing mark between the classes.
Some months ago, when visiting a friend in a distant part of the country, I accompanied her to stay a few days in the house of a resident clergyman, curate of a flourishing village in the township of ------. I was struck by the primitive simplicity of the mansion and its inhabitants. We were introduced into the little family sitting-room, the floor of which was painted after the Yankee fashion; instead of being carpeted, the walls were of unornamented deal, and the furniture of the room of corresponding plainness. A large spinning-wheel, as big as a cart-wheel, nearly occupied the centre of the room, at which a neatly-dressed matron, of mild and lady-like appearance, was engaged spinning yarn; her little daughters were knitting beside the fire, while their father was engaged in the instruction of two of his sons; a third was seated affectionately in a little straw chair between his feet, while a fourth was plying his axe with nervous strokes in the court-yard, casting from time to time wistful glances through the parlour-window at the party within.
The dresses of the children were of a coarse sort of stuff, a mixture of woollen and thread, the produce of the farm and their mother's praiseworthy industry. The stockings, socks, muffatees, and warm comforters were all of home manufacture. Both girls and boys wore mocassins, of their own making: good sense, industry, and order presided among the members of this little household.
Both girls and boys seemed to act upon the principle, that nothing is disgraceful but that which is immoral and improper.
Hospitality without extravagance, kindness without insincerity of speech, marked the manners of our worthy friends. Every thing in the house was conducted with attention to prudence and comfort. The living was but small (the income arising from it, I should have said), but there was glebe land, and a small dwelling attached to it, and, by dint of active exertion without-doors, and economy and good management within, the family were maintained with respectability: in short, we enjoyed during our sojourn many of the comforts of a cleared farm; poultry of every kind, beef of their own killing, excellent mutton and pork: we had a variety of preserves at our tea-table, with honey in the comb, delicious butter, and good cheese, with divers sorts of cakes; a kind of little pancake, made from the flour of buck-wheat, which are made in a batter, and raised with barm, afterwards dropped into boiling lard, and fried; also a preparation made of Indian corn-flour, called supporne-cake, which is fried in slices, and eaten with maple-syrup, were among the novelties of our breakfast-fare.
I was admiring a breed of very fine fowls in the poultry-yard one morning, when my friend smiled and said, "I do not know if you will think I came honestly by them."
"I am sure you did not acquire them by dishonest means," I replied, laughing; "I will vouch for your principles in that respect."
"Well," replied my hostess, "they were neither given me, nor sold to me, and I did not steal them. I found the original stock in the following manner. An old black hen most unexpectedly made her appearance one spring morning at our door; we hailed the stranger with surprise and delight; for we could not muster a single domestic fowl among our little colony at that time. We never rightly knew by what means the hen came into our possession, but suppose some emigrant's family going up the country must have lost or left her; she laid ten eggs, and hatched chickens from them; from this little brood we raised a stock, and soon supplied all our neighbours with fowls. We prize the breed, not only on account of its fine size, but from the singular, and, as we thought, providential, manner in which we obtained it."
I was much interested in the slight sketch given by the pastor one evening, as we all assembled round the blazing log-fire, that was piled half-way up the chimney, which reared its stone fabric so as to form deep recesses at either side of its abutments.
Alluding to his first settlement, he observed, "it was a desolate wilderness of gloomy and unbroken forest-trees when we first pitched our tent here: at that time an axe had not been laid to the root of a tree, nor a fire, save by the wandering Indians, kindled in these woods.
"I can now point out the identical spot where my wife and little ones ate their first meal, and raised their feeble voices in thankfulness to that Almighty and merciful Being who had preserved them through the perils of the deep, and brought them in safety to this vast solitude.
"We were a little flock wandering in a great wilderness, under the special protection of our mighty Shepherd.
"I have heard you, my dear young lady," he said, addressing the companion of my visit, "talk of the hardships of the bush; but, let me tell you, you know but little of its privations compared with those that came hither some years ago.
"Ask these, my elder children and my wife, what were the hardships of a bush-settler's life ten years ago, and they will tell you it was to endure cold, hunger, and all its accompanying evils; to know at times the want of every necessary article of food. As to the luxuries and delicacies of life, we saw them not; -- how could we? we were far removed from the opportunity of obtaining these things: potatoes, pork, and flour were our only stores, and often we failed of the two latter before a fresh supply could be procured. We had not mills nearer than thirteen miles, through roads marked only by blazed lines; nor were there at that time any settlers near us. Now you see us in a cleared country, surrounded with flourishing farms and rising villages; but at the time I speak of it was not so: there were no stores of groceries or goods, no butchers' shops, no cleared farms, dairies, nor orchards; for these things we had to wait with patience till industry should raise them.
"Our fare knew no other variety than salt pork, potatoes, and sometimes bread, for breakfast; pork and potatoes for dinner; pork and potatoes for supper; with a porridge of Indian corn-flour for the children. Sometimes we had the change of pork without potatoes, and potatoes without pork; this was the first year's fare: by degrees we got a supply of flour of our own growing, but bruised into a coarse meal with a hand-mill; for we had no water or windmills within many miles of our colony, and good bread was indeed a luxury we did not often have.
"We brought a cow with us, who gave us milk during the spring and summer; but owing to the wild garlic (a wild herb, common to our woods), on which she fed, her milk was scarcely palatable, and for want of shelter and food, she died the following winter, greatly to our sorrow: we learned experience in this and in many other matters at a hard cost; but now we can profit by it."
"Did not the difficulties of your first settlement incline you to despond, and regret that you had ever embarked on a life so different to that you had been used to?" I asked.
"They might have had that effect had not a higher motive than mere worldly advancement actuated me in leaving my native country to come hither. Look you, it was thus: I had for many years been the pastor of a small village in the mining districts of Cumberland. I was dear to the hearts of my people, and they were my joy and crown in the Lord. A number of my parishioners, pressed by poverty and the badness of the times, resolved on emigrating to Canada.
"Urged by a natural and not unlawful desire of bettering their condition, they determined on crossing the Atlantic, encouraged by the offer of considerable grants of wild land, which at that period were freely awarded by Government to persons desirous of becoming colonists.
"But previous to this undertaking, several of the most respectable came to me, and stated their views and reasons for the momentous step they were about to take; and at the same time besought me in the most moving terms, in the name of the rest of their emigrant friends, to accompany them into the Wilderness of the West, lest they should forget their Lord and Saviour when abandoned to their own spiritual guidance.
"At first I was startled at the proposition; it seemed a wild and visionary scheme: but by degrees I began to dwell with pleasure on the subject. I had few ties beyond my native village; the income arising from my curacy was too small to make it any great obstacle: like Goldsmith's curate, I was
'Passing rich with forty pounds a year.'
My heart yearned after my people; ten years I had been their guide and adviser. I was the friend of the old, and the teacher of the young. My Mary was chosen from among them; she had no foreign ties to make her look back with regret upon the dwellers of the land in distant places; her youth and maturity had been spent among these very people; so that when I named to her the desire of my parishioners, and she also perceived that my own wishes went with them, she stifled any regretful feeling that might have arisen in her breast, and replied to me in the words of Ruth:--
"'Thy country shall be my country; thy people shall be my people; where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.'
"A tender and affectionate partner hast thou been to me, Mary," he added, turning his eyes affectionately on the mild and dignified matron, whose expressive countenance bespoke with more eloquence than words the feelings passing in her mind. She replied not by words, but I saw the big bright tears fall on the work she held in her hand. They sprang from emotions too sacred to be profaned by intrusive eyes, and I hastily averted my glance from her face; while the pastor proceeded to narrate the particulars of their leaving England, their voyage, and finally, their arrival in the land that had been granted to the little colony in the then unbroken part of the township of ------.
"We had obtained a great deal of useful advice and assistance from the Government agents previous to our coming up hither, and also hired some choppers at high wages to initiate us in the art of felling, logging, burning, and clearing the ground; as it was our main object to get in crops of some kind, we turned to without any delay further than what was necessary for providing a temporary shelter for our wives and children, and prepared the ground for spring crops, helping each other as we could with the loan of oxen and labour. And here I must observe, that I experienced every attention and consideration from my friends. My means were small, and my family all too young to render me any service; however, I lacked not help, and had the satisfaction of seeing a little spot cleared for the growth of potatoes and corn, which I could not have effected by my single exertions.
"My biggest boy John was but nine years old, Willie seven, and the others still more helpless; the two little ones you see there," pointing to two young children, "have been born since we came hither. That yellow-haired lassie knitting beside you was a babe at the breast; -- a helpless, wailing infant, so weak and sickly before we came here that she was scarcely ever out of her mother's arms; but she grew and throve rapidly under the rough treatment of a bush-settler's family.
"We had no house built, or dwelling of any kind to receive us when we arrived at our destination; and the first two nights were passed on the banks of the creek that flows at the foot of the hill, in a hut of cedar and hemlock boughs that I cut with my axe, and, with the help of some of my companions, raised to shelter my wife and the little ones.
"Though it was the middle of May the nights were chilly, and we were glad to burn a pile of wood in front of our hut to secure us from the effects of the cold and the stings of the mosquitoes, that came up in myriads from the stream, and which finally drove us higher up the bank.
"As soon as possible we raised a shanty, which now serves as a shed for my young cattle; I would not pull it down, though often urged to do so, as it stands in the way of a pleasant prospect from the window; but I like to look on it, and recall to mind the first years I passed beneath its lowly roof. We need such mementos to remind us of our former state; but we grow proud, and cease to appreciate our present comforts.
"Our first Sabbath was celebrated in the open air: my pulpit was a pile of rude logs; my church the deep shade of the forest, beneath which we assembled ourselves; but sincerer or more fervent devotion I never witnessed than that day. I well remember the text I chose, for my address to them was from the viiith chapter of Deuteronomy, the 6th, 7th, and 9th verses, which appeared to me applicable to our circumstances.
"The following year we raised a small blockhouse, which served as a school-house and church. At first our progress in clearing the land was slow, for we had to buy experience, and many and great were the disappointments and privations that befel us during the first few years. One time we were all ill with ague, and not one able to help the other; this was a sad time; but better things were in store for us. The tide of emigration increased, and the little settlement we had formed began to be well spoken of. One man came and built a saw mill; a grist-mill followed soon after; and then one store and then another, till we beheld a flourishing village spring up around us. Then the land began to increase in value, and many of the first settlers sold their lots to advantage, and retreated further up the woods. As the village increased, so, of course, did my professional duties, which had for the first few years been paid for in acts of kindness and voluntary labour by my little flock; now I have the satisfaction of reaping a reward without proving burdensome to my parishioners. My farm is increasing, and besides the salary arising from my curacy I have something additional for the school, which is paid by Government. We may now say it is good for us to be here, seeing that God has been pleased to send down a blessing upon us."
I have forgotten many very interesting particulars relating to the trials and shifts this family were put to in the first few years; but the pastor told us enough to make me quite contented with my lot, and I returned home, after some days' pleasant sojourn with this delightful family, with an additional stock of contentment, and some useful and practical knowledge, that I trust I shall be the better for all my life.
I am rather interested in a young lad that has come out from England to learn Canadian farming.
The poor boy had conceived the most romantic notions of a settler's life, partly from the favourable accounts he had read, and partly through the medium of a lively imagination, which had aided in the deception, and led him to suppose that his time would be chiefly spent in the fascinating amusements and adventures arising from hunting the forest in search of deer and other game, pigeon and duck-shooting, spearing fish by torchlight, and voyaging on the lakes in a birch-bark canoe in summer, skating in winter, or gliding over the frozen snow like a Laplander in his sledge, wrapped up to the eyes in furs, and travelling at the rate of twelve miles an hour to the sound of an harmonious peal of bells. What a felicitous life to captivate the mind of a boy of fourteen, just let loose from the irksome restraint of boarding-school!
How little did he dream of the drudgery inseparable from the duties of a lad of his age, in a country where the old and young, the master and the servant, are alike obliged to labour for a livelihood, without respect to former situation or rank!
Here the son of the gentleman becomes a hewer of wood and drawer of water; he learns to chop down trees, to pile brush-heaps, split rails for fences, attend the fires during the burning season, dressed in a coarse over-garment of hempen cloth, called a logging-shirt, with trousers to correspond, and a Yankee straw hat flapped over his eyes, and a handspike to assist him in rolling over the burning brands. To tend and drive oxen, plough, sow, plant Indian corn and pumpkins, and raise potatoe-hills, are among some of the young emigrant's accomplishments. His relaxations are but comparatively few, but they are seized with a relish and avidity that give them the greater charm.
You may imagine the disappointment felt by the poor lad on seeing his fair visions of amusement fade before the dull realities and distasteful details of a young settler's occupation in the backwoods.
Youth, however, is the best season for coming to this country; the mind soon bends itself to its situation, and becomes not only reconciled, but in time pleased with the change of life. There is a consolation, too, in seeing that he does no more than others of equal pretensions as to rank and education are obliged to submit to, if they would prosper; and perhaps he lives to bless the country which has robbed him of a portion of that absurd pride that made him look with contempt on those whose occupations were of a humble nature. It were a thousand pities wilfully to deceive persons desirous of emigrating with false and flattering pictures of the advantages to be met with in this country. Let the pro and con be fairly stated, and let the reader use his best judgment, unbiassed by prejudice or interest in a matter of such vital importance not only as regards himself, but the happiness and welfare of those over whose destinies Nature has made him the guardian. It is, however, far more difficult to write on the subject of emigration than most persons think: it embraces so wide a field that what would be perfectly correct as regards one part of the province would by no means prove so as regarded another. One district differs from another, and one township from another, according to its natural advantages; whether it be long settled or unsettled, possessing water privileges or not; the soil and even the climate will be different, according to situation and circumstances.
Much depends on the tempers, habits, and dispositions of the emigrants themselves. What suits one will not another; one family will flourish, and accumulate every comfort about their homesteads, while others languish in poverty and discontent. It would take volumes to discuss every argument for and against, and to point out exactly who are and who are not fit subjects for emigration.
Have you read Dr. Dunlop's spirited and witty "Backwoodsman?" If you have not, get it as soon as you can; it will amuse you. I think a Backwoods-woman might be written in the same spirit, setting forth a few pages, in the history of bush-ladies, as examples for our sex. Indeed, we need some wholesome admonitions on our duties and the folly of repining at following and sharing the fortunes of our spouses, whom we have vowed in happier hours to love "in riches and in poverty, in sickness and in health." Too many pronounce these words without heeding their importance, and without calculating the chances that may put their faithfulness to the severe test of quitting home, kindred, and country, to share the hard lot of a settler's life; for even this sacrifice renders it hard to be borne; but the truly attached wife will do this, and more also, if required by the husband of her choice.
But now it is time I say farewell: my dull letter, grown to a formidable packet, will tire you, and make you wish it at the bottom of the Atlantic.