Nelson Hotel, Montreal, August 21.
Once more on terra ferma, dearest mother: what a strange sensation it is to tread the land once again, free from the motion of the heaving waters, to which I was now, in truth, glad to bid farewell.
By daybreak every creature on board was up and busily preparing for going on shore. The captain himself obligingly escorted us, and walked as far with us as the hotel, where we are at present lodged.
We found some difficulty in getting on shore, owing to the badness of the landing. The river was full of floating timbers, between which it required some skill to guide the boat. A wharf is now being built -- not before it was needed*.
We were struck by the dirty, narrow, ill-paved or unpaved streets of the suburbs, and overpowered by the noisome vapour arising from a deep open fosse that ran along the street behind the wharf. This ditch seemed the receptacle for every abomination, and sufficient in itself to infect a whole town with malignant fevers*.
I was greatly disappointed in my first acquaintance with the interior of Montreal; a place of which travellers had said so much. I could compare it only to the fruits of the Dead sea, which are said to be fair and tempting to look upon, but yield only ashes and bitterness when tasted by the thirsty traveller**.
"There are no wharfs at Montreal, and the ships and steamers lie quietly in pretty deep water, close to the clayey and generally filthy bank of the city. The whole of the lower town is covered with gloomy-looking houses, having dark iron shutters; and although it may be a little cleaner than Quebec, it is still very dirty; and the streets are not only narrow and ill-paved, but the footpaths are interrupted by slanting cellar doors and other projections."
"It is impossible (says Mr. Talbot, in his Five Years' Residence) to walk the streets of Montreal on a Sunday or holiday, when the shops are closed, without receiving the most gloomy impressions; the whole city seems one vast prison;" -- alluding to the window-shutters and outer doors of iron, that have been adopted to counteract the effects of fire.]
I noticed one peculiar feature in the buildings along the suburb facing the river -- that they were mostly furnished with broad wooden balconies from the lower to the upper story; in some instances they surrounded the houses on three sides, and seemed to form a sort of outer chamber. Some of these balconies were ascended by flights of broad stairs from the outside.
I remember when a child dreaming of houses so constructed, and fancying them very delightful; and so I think they might be rendered, if shaded by climbing shrubs, and adorned with flowers, to represent a hanging-garden or sweet-scented bowery walk. But nothing of this kind gladdened our eyes as we toiled along the hot streets. Every house of public resort was crowded from the top to the bottom with emigrants of all ages, English, Irish, and Scotch. The sounds of riotous merriment that burst from them seemed but ill-assorted with the haggard, careworn faces of many of the thoughtless revellers.
The contrast was only too apparent and too painful a subject to those that looked upon this show of outward gaiety and inward misery.
The cholera had made awful ravages, and its devastating effects were to be seen in the darkened dwellings and the mourning habiliments of all classes. An expression of dejection and anxiety appeared in the faces of the few persons we encountered in our walk to the hotel, which plainly indicated the state of their minds.
In some situations whole streets had been nearly depopulated; those that were able fled panic-stricken to the country villages, while others remained to die in the bosom of their families.
To no class, I am told, has the disease proved so fatal as to the poorer sort of emigrants. Many of these, debilitated by the privations and fatigue of a long voyage, on reaching Quebec or Montreal indulged in every sort of excess, especially the dangerous one of intoxication; and, as if purposely paving the way to certain destruction, they fell immediate victims to the complaint.
In one house eleven persons died, in another seventeen; a little child of seven years old was the only creature left to tell the woful tale. This poor desolate orphan was taken by the nuns to their benevolent institution, where every attention was paid that humanity could suggest.
The number both of Catholic and Protestant benevolent societies is very great, and these are maintained with a liberality of principle that does honour to both parties, who seem indeed actuated by a fervent spirit of Christian charity.
I how of no place, not even excepting London itself, where the exercise of benevolent feelings is more called for than in these two cities, Quebec and Montreal. Here meet together the unfortunate, the improvident, the helpless orphan, the sick, the aged, the poor virtuous man, driven by the stern hand of necessity from his country and his home, perhaps to be overtaken by sickness or want in a land of strangers.
It is melancholy to reflect that a great number of the poorest class of emigrants that perished in the reign of the cholera have left no trace by which their sorrowing anxious friends in the old country may learn their fate. The disease is so sudden and so violent that it leaves no time for arranging worldly matters; the sentinel comes, not as it did to Hezekiah, "Set thine house in order, for thou shalt die, and not live."
The weather is sultry hot, accompanied by frequent thunder-showers, which have not the effect one would expect, that of cooling the heated atmosphere. I experience a degree of languor and oppression that is very distressing, and worse than actual pain.
Instead of leaving this place by the first conveyance for the upper province, as we fully purposed doing, we find ourselves obliged to remain two days longer, owing to the dilatoriness of the custom-house officers in overlooking our packages. The fact is that everything and everybody are out of sorts.
The heat has been too oppressive to allow of my walking much abroad. I have seen but little of the town beyond the streets adjacent to the hotel: with the exception of the Catholic Cathedral, I have seen few of the public buildings. With the former I was much pleased: it is a fine building, though still in an unfinished state, the towers not having been carried to the height originally intended. The eastern window, behind the altar, is seventy feet in height by thirty-three in width. The effect of this magnificent window from the entrance, the altar with its adornments and paintings, the several smaller altars and shrines, all decorated with scriptural designs, the light tiers of galleries that surround the central part of the church, the double range of columns supporting the vaulted ceiling, and the arched windows, all combine to form one beautiful whole. What most pleased me was the extreme lightness of the architecture though I thought the imitation of marble, with which the pillars were painted, coarse and glaring. We missed the time-hallowing mellowness that age has bestowed on our ancient churches and cathedrals. The grim corbels and winged angels that are carved on the grey stone, whose very uncouthness tells of time gone by when our ancestors worshipped within their walls, give an additional interest to the temples of our forefathers. But, though the new church at Montreal cannot compare with our York Minster, Westminster Abbey, and others of our sacred buildings, it is well worthy the attention of travellers, who will meet with nothing equal to it in the Canadas.
There are several colleges and nunneries, a hospital for the sick, several Catholic and Protestant churches, meeting-houses, a guard-house, with many other public edifices.
The river-side portion of the town is entirely mercantile. Its narrow, dirty streets and dark houses, with heavy iron shutters, have a disagreeable appearance, which cannot but make an unfavourable impression on the mind of a British traveller. The other portion of the town, however, is of a different character, and the houses are interspersed with gardens and pleasant walks, which looked very agreeable from the windows of the ball-room of the Nelson Hotel. This room, which is painted from top to bottom, the walls and ceiling, with a coarse imitation of groves and Canadian scenery, commands a superb view of the city, the river, and all surrounding country, taking in the distant mountains of Chamblay, the shores of St. Laurence, towards La Prairie, and the rapids above and below the island of St. Anne's. The royal mountain (Mont Real), with its wooded sides, its rich scenery, and its city with its streets and public buildings, lie at your feet: with such objects before you the eye may well be charmed with the scenery of Montreal.
We receive the greatest attention from the master of the hotel, who is an Italian. The servants of the house are very civil, and the company that we meet at the ordinary very respectable, chiefly emigrants like ourselves, with some lively French men and women. The table is well supplied, and the charges for board and lodging one dollar per day each*.
I am amused with the variety of characters of which our table is composed. Some of the emigrants appear to entertain the most sanguine hopes of success, appearing to foresee no difficulties in carrying their schemes into effect. As a contrast to these there is one of my countrymen, just returned from the western district on his way back to England, who entreats us by no means to go further up this horrid country, as he emphatically styles the Upper Province, assuring us he would not live in it for all the land it contained.
He had been induced, by reading Cattermole's pamphlet on the subject of Emigration, to quit a good farm, and gathering together what property he possessed, to embark for Canada. Encouraged by the advice of a friend in this country, he purchased a lot of wild land in the western district; "but sir," said he, addressing my husband with much vehemence, "I found I had been vilely deceived. Such land, such a country -- I would not live in it for all I could see. Why, there is not a drop of wholesome water to be got, or a potato that is fit to eat. I lived for two months in a miserable shed they call a shanty, eaten up alive with mosquitoes. I could get nothing to eat but salted pork, and, in short, the discomforts are unbearable. And then all my farming knowledge was quite useless -- people know nothing about farming in this country. Why, it would have broken my heart to work among the stumps, and never see such a thing as a well-ploughed field. And then," he added, in a softer tone, "I thought of my poor wife and the little one. I might, for the sake of bettering my condition, have roughed out a year or so myself, but, poor thing, I could not have had the heart to have brought her out from the comforts of England to such a place, not so good as one of our cow-houses or stables, and so I shall just go home; and if I don't tell all my neighbours what sort of a country this is they are all crazing to throw up their farms and come to, never trust a word of mine again."
It was to no purpose that some persons present argued with him on the folly of returning until he had tried what could be done: he only told them they were fools if they staid an hour in a country like this; and ended by execrating those persons who deceived the people at home by their false statements, who sum up in a few pages all the advantages, without filling a volume with the disadvantages, as they might well do.
"Persons are apt to deceive themselves as well as to be deceived," said my husband; "and having once fixed their minds on any one subject, will only read and believe those things that accord with their wishes."
This young man was evidently disappointed in not finding all things as fair and pleasant as at home. He had never reflected on the subject, or he could not have been so foolish as to suppose he would encounter no difficulties in his first outset, in a settlement in the woods. We are prepared to meet with many obstacles, and endure considerable privations, although I dare say we may meet with many unforeseen ones, forewarned as we have been by our Canadian friend's letters.
Our places are taken in the stage for Lachine, and if all is well, we leave Montreal to-morrow morning. Our trunks, boxes, &c. are to be sent on by the forwarders to Cobourg. -- August 22.
Cobourg, August 29. -- When I closed my last letter I told you, my dear mother, that we should leave Montreal by sunrise the following day; but in this we were doomed to be disappointed, and to experience the truth of these words: "Boast not thyself of to-morrow, for thou knowest not what an hour may bring forth." Early that very morning, just an hour before sunrise, I was seized with the symptoms of the fatal malady that had made so many homes desolate. I was too ill to commence my journey, and, with a heavy heart, heard the lumbering wheels rattle over the stones from the door of the hotel.
I hourly grew worse, till the sister of the landlady, an excellent young woman, who had previously shown me great attention, persuaded me to send for a physician; and my husband, distracted at seeing me in such agony, ran off to seek for the best medical aid. After some little delay a physician was found. I was then in extreme torture; but was relieved by bleeding, and by the violent fits of sickness that ensued. I will not dwell minutely on my sufferings, suffice to say, they were intense; but God, in his mercy, though he chastened and afflicted me, yet gave me not over unto death. From the females of the house I received the greatest kindness. Instead of fleeing affrighted from the chamber of sickness, the two Irish girls almost quarrelled which should be my attendant; while Jane Taylor, the good young woman I before mentioned, never left me from the time I grew so alarmingly ill till a change for the better had come over me, but, at the peril of her own life, supported me in her arms, and held me on her bosom, when I was struggling with mortal agony, alternately speaking peace to me, and striving to soothe the anguish of my poor afflicted partner.
The remedies applied were bleeding, a portion of opium, blue pill, and some sort of salts -- not the common Epsom. The remedies proved effectual, though I suffered much from sickness and headache for many hours. The debility and low fever that took place of the cholera obliged me to keep my bed some days. During the two first my doctor visited me four times a day; he was very kind, and, on hearing that I was the wife of a British officer emigrating to the Upper Province, he seemed more than ever interested in my recovery, evincing a sympathy for us that was very grateful to our feelings. After a weary confinement of several days, I was at last pronounced in a sufficiently convalescent state to begin my journey, though still so weak that I was scarcely able to support myself.
The sun had not yet risen when the stage that was to take us to Lachine, the first nine miles of our route, drove up to the door, and we gladly bade farewell to a place in which our hours of anxiety had been many, and those of pleasure few. We had, however, experienced a great deal of kindness from those around us, and, though perfect strangers, had tasted some of the hospitality for which this city has often been celebrated. I omitted, in my former letter, telling you how we formed an acquaintance with a highly respectable merchant in this place, who afforded us a great deal of useful information, and introduced us to his wife, a very elegant and accomplished young woman. During our short acquaintance, we passed some pleasant hours at their house, much to our satisfaction.
I enjoyed the fresh breeze from the river along the banks of which our road lay. It was a fine sight to see the unclouded sun rising from behind the distant chain of mountains. Below us lay the rapids in their perturbed state, and there was the island of St. Anne's, bringing to our minds Moore's Canadian boat song: "We'll sing at Saint Anne's our parting hymn."
The bank of the St. Laurence, along which our road lay, is higher here than at Montreal, and clothed with brushwood on the summit, occasionally broken with narrow gulleys. The soil, as near as I could see, was sandy or light loam. I noticed the wild vine for the first time twining among the saplings. There were raspberry bushes, too, and a profusion of that tall yellow flower we call Aaron's golden rod, a solidago, and the white love-everlasting, the same that the chaplets are made of by the French and Swiss girls to adorn the tombs of their friends, and which they call immortelle; the Americans call it life-everlasting; also a tall purple-spiked valerian, that I observed growing in the fields among the corn, as plentiful as the bugloss is in our light sandy fields in England.
At Lachine we quitted the stage and went on board a steamer, a fine vessel elegantly fitted up with every accommodation. I enjoyed the passage up the river exceedingly, and should have been delighted with the journey by land had not my recent illness weakened me so much that I found the rough roads very unpleasant. As to the vehicle, a Canadian stage, it deserves a much higher character than travellers have had the candour to give it, and is so well adapted for the roads over which it passes that I doubt if it could be changed for a more suitable one. This vehicle is calculated to hold nine persons, three back, front, and middle; the middle seat, which swings on broad straps of leather; is by far the easiest, only you are liable to be disturbed when any of the passengers choose to get out.
Certainly the travelling is arranged with as little trouble to the traveller as possible. Having paid your fare to Prescott you have no thought or care. When you quit the steam-boat you find a stage ready to receive you and your luggage, which is limited to a certain proportion. When the portage is passed (the land carriage), you find a steam-vessel ready, where you have every accommodation. The charges are not immoderate, considering the comforts you enjoy.
In addition to their own freight, the steamers generally tow up several other vessels. We had three Durham boats at one time, beside some other small craft attached to us, which certainly afforded some variety, if not amusement.
With the exception of Quebec and Montreal, I must give the preference to the Upper Province. If not on so grand a scale, the scenery is more calculated to please, from the appearance of industry and fertility it displays. I am delighted, in travelling along the road, with the neatness, cleanliness, and comfort of the cottages and farms. The log-house and shanty rarely occur, having been supplanted by pretty frame houses, built in a superior style, and often painted white-lead colour or a pale pea-green. Around these habitations were orchards, bending down with a rich harvest of apples, plums, and the American crab, those beautiful little scarlet apples so often met with as a wet preserve among our sweetmeats at home.
You see none of the signs of poverty or its attendant miseries. No ragged, dirty, squalid children, dabbling in mud or dust; but many a tidy, smart-looking lass was spinning at the cottage-doors, with bright eyes and braided locks, while the younger girls were seated on the green turf or on the threshold, knitting and singing as blithe as birds.
There is something very picturesque in the great spinning-wheels that are used in this country for spinning the wool, and if attitude were to be studied among our Canadian lasses, there cannot be one more becoming, or calculated to show off the natural advantages of a fine figure, than spinning at the big wheel. The spinster does not sit, but walks to and fro, guiding the yarn with one hand while with the other she turns the wheel.
I often noticed, as we passed by the cottage farms, hanks of yarn of different colours hanging on the garden or orchard fence to dry; there were all manner of colours, green, blue, purple, brown, red, and white. A civil landlady, at whose tavern we stopped to change horses, told me these hanks of yarn were first spun and then dyed by the good wives, preparatory to being sent to the loom. She showed me some of this home-spun cloth, which really looked very well. It was a dullish dark brown, the wool being the produce of a breed of black sheep. This cloth is made up in different ways for family use.
"Every little dwelling you see," said she, "has its lot of land, and, consequently, its flock of sheep; and, as the children are early taught to spin, and knit, and help dye the yarn, their parents can afford to see them well and comfortably clothed.
"Many of these very farms you now see in so thriving a condition were wild land thirty years ago, nothing but Indian hunting-grounds. The industry of men, and many of them poor men, that had not a rood of land of their own in their own country, has effected this change."
I was much gratified by the reflection to which this good woman's information gave rise. "We also are going to purchase wild land, and why may not we see our farm, in process of time," thought I, "equal these fertile spots. Surely this is a blessed country to which we have emigrated," said I, pursuing the pleasing idea, "where every cottage abounds with the comforts and necessaries of life."
I perhaps overlooked at that time the labour, the difficulties, the privations to which these settlers had been exposed when they first came to this country. I saw it only at a distance of many years, under a high state of cultivation, perhaps in the hands of their children or their children's children, while the toil-worn parent's head was low in the dust.
Among other objects my attention was attracted by the appearance of open burying-grounds by the roadside. Pretty green mounds, surrounded by groups of walnut and other handsome timber trees, contained the graves of a family, or may be, some favoured friends slept quietly below the turf beside them. If the ground was not consecrated, it was hallowed by the tears and prayers of parents and children.
These household graves became the more interesting to me on learning that when a farm is disposed of to a stranger, the right of burying their dead is generally stipulated for by the former possessor.
You must bear with me if I occasionally weary you with dwelling on trifles. To me nothing that bears the stamp of novelty is devoid of interest. Even the clay-built ovens stuck upon four legs at a little distance from the houses were not unnoticed in passing. When there is not the convenience of one of these ovens outside the dwellings, the bread is baked in large iron pots -- "bake-kettles" they are termed. I have already seen a loaf as big as a peck measure baking on the hearth in one of these kettles, and tasted of it, too; but I think the confined steam rather imparts a peculiar taste to the bread, which you do not perceive in the loaves baked in brick or clay ovens. At first I could not make out what these funny little round buildings, perched upon four posts, could be; and I took them for bee-hives till I spied a good woman drawing some nice hot loaves out of one that stood on a bit of waste land on the roadside, some fifty yards from the cottage.
Besides the ovens every house had a draw-well near it, which differed in the contrivance for raising the water from those I had seen in the old country. The plan is very simple: -- a long pole, supported by a post, acts as a lever to raise the bucket, and the water can be raised by a child with very trifling exertion. This method is by many persons preferred to either rope or chain, and from its simplicity can be constructed by any person at the mere trouble of fixing the poles. I mention this merely to show the ingenuity of people in this country, and how well adapted all their ways are to their means*.
We were exceedingly gratified by the magnificent appearance of the rapids of the St. Laurence, at the cascades of which the road commanded a fine view from the elevation of the banks. I should fail in my attempt to describe this grand sheet of turbulent water to you. Howison has pictured them very minutely in his work on Upper Canada, which I know you are well acquainted with. I regretted that we could not linger to feast our eyes with a scene so wild and grand as the river here appears; but a Canadian stage waits for no one, so we were obliged to content ourselves with a passing sight of these celebrated rapids.
We embarked at Couteau du Lac and reached Cornwall late the same evening. Some of the stages travel all night, but I was too much fatigued to commence a journey of forty-nine miles over Canadian roads that night. Our example was followed by a widow lady and her little family.
We had some difficulty obtaining a lodging, the inns being full of travellers; here, for the first time we experienced something of that odious manner ascribed, though doubtless too generally, to the American. Our host seemed perfectly indifferent to the comfort of his guests, leaving them to wait on themselves or go without what they wanted. The absence of females in these establishments is a great drawback where ladies are travelling. The women keep entirely out of sight, or treat you with that offensive coldness and indifference that you derive little satisfaction from their attendance.
After some difficulty in obtaining sight of the landlady of the inn at Cornwall, and asking her to show me a chamber where we might pass the night, with a most ungracious air she pointed to a door which opened into a mere closet, in which was a bed divested of curtains, one chair, and an apology for a wash-stand. Seeing me in some dismay at the sight of this uninviting domicile, she laconically observed there was that or none, unless I chose to sleep in a four-bedded room, which had three tenants in it, -- and those gentlemen. This alternative I somewhat indignantly declined, and in no very good humour retired to my cabin, where vile familiars to the dormitory kept us from closing our weary eye-lids till the break of day.
We took an early and hasty breakfast, and again commenced our journey. Here our party consisted of myself, my husband, a lady and gentleman with three small children, besides an infant of a month old, all of whom, from the eldest to the youngest, were suffering from hooping-cough; two great Cumberland miners, and a French pilot and his companion, this was a huge amphibious-looking monster, who bounced in and squeezed himself into a corner seat, giving a knowing nod and comical grin to the driver, who was in the secret, and in utter defiance of all remonstrance at this unlooked-for intrusion, cracked his whip with a flourish, that appeared to be reckoned pretty considerably smart by two American travellers that stood on either side of the door at the inn, with their hats not in their hands nor yet on their heads, but slung by a black ribbon to one of their waistcoat buttons, so as to fall nearly under one arm. This practice I have seen adopted since, and think if Johnny Gilpin had but taken this wise precaution he might have saved both hat and wig.
I was dreadfully fatigued with this day's travelling, being literally bruised black and blue. We suffered much inconvenience from the excessive heat of the day, and could well have dispensed with the company of two out of the four of our bulky companions.
We reached Prescott about five the same afternoon, where we met with good treatment at the inn; the female servants were all English, and seemed to vie with each other in attention to us.
We saw little in the town of Prescott to interest or please. After an excellent breakfast we embarked on board the Great Britain, the finest steamer we had yet seen, and here we were joined by our new friends, to our great satisfaction.
At Brockville we arrived just in time to enjoy what was to me quite a novel sight, -- a ship-launch. A gay and exciting scene it was. The sun shone brilliantly on a concourse of people that thronged the shore in their holiday attire; the church bells rang merrily out, mingling with the music from the deck of the gaily painted vessel that, with flags and streamers, and a well-dressed company on board, was preparing for the launch.
To give additional effect, a salute was fired from a temporary fort erected for the occasion on a little rocky island in front of the town. The schooner took the water in fine style, as if eager to embrace the element which was henceforth to be subject to her. It was a moment of intense interest. The newly launched was greeted with three cheers from the company on board the Great Britain, with a salute from the little fort, and a merry peal from the bells, which were also rung in honour of a pretty bride that came on board with her bridegroom on their way to visit the falls of Niagara.
Brockville is situated just at the entrance of the lake of the Thousand Islands, and presents a pretty appearance from the water. The town has improved rapidly, I am told, within the last few years, and is becoming a place of some importance.
The shores of the St. Laurence assume a more rocky and picturesque aspect as you advance among its thousand islands, which present every variety of wood and rock. The steamer put in for a supply of fire-wood at a little village on the American side the river, where also we took on board five-and-twenty beautiful horses, which are to be exhibited at Cobourg and York for sale.
There was nothing at all worthy of observation in the American village, unless I except a novelty that rather amused me. Almost every house had a tiny wooden model of itself, about the bigness of a doll's house, (or baby-house, I think they are called,) stuck up in front of the roof or at the gable end. I was informed by a gentleman on board, these baby-houses, as I was pleased to call them, were for the swallows to build in.
It was midnight when we passed Kingston, so of course I saw nothing of that "key to the lakes," as I have heard it styled. When I awoke in the morning the steamer was dashing gallantly along through the waters of the Ontario, and I experienced a slight sensation of sickness.
When the waters of the lake are at all agitated, as they sometimes are, by high winds, you might imagine yourself upon a tempest-tossed sea.
The shores of the Ontario are very fine, rising in waving lines of hill and dale, clothed with magnificent woods, or enlivened by patches of cultivated land and pretty dwellings. At ten o'clock we reached Cobourg.
Cobourg, at which place we are at present, is a neatly built and flourishing village, containing many good stores, mills, a banking-house, and printing-office, where a newspaper is published once a week. There is a very pretty church and a select society, many families of respectability having fixed their residences in or near the town.
To-morrow we leave Cobourg, and shall proceed to Peterborough, from which place I shall again write and inform you of our future destination, which will probably be on one of the small lakes of the Otanabee.