LETTER VI.

Peterborough. -- Manners and Language of the Americans. -- Scotch Engineman. -- Description of Peterborough and its Environs. -- Canadian Flowers. -- Shanties. -- Hardships suffered by first Settlers. -- Process of establishing a Farm.

Peterborough, Sept. 11, 1832.

IT is now settled that we abide here till after the government sale has taken place. We are, then, to remain with S------ and his family till we have got a few acres chopped, and a log-house put up on our own land. Having determined to go at once into the bush, on account of our military grant, which we have been so fortunate as to draw in the neighbourhood of S------, we have fully made up our minds to enter at once, and cheerfully, on the privations and inconveniences attending such a situation; as there is no choice between relinquishing that great advantage and doing our settlement duties. We shall not be worse off than others who have gone before us to the unsettled townships, many of whom, naval and military officers, with their families, have had to struggle with considerable difficulties, but who are now beginning to feel the advantages arising from their exertions.

In addition to the land he is entitled to as an officer in the British service, my husband is in treaty for the purchase of an eligible lot by small lakes. This will give us a water frontage, and a further inducement to bring us within a little distance of S------; so that we shall not be quite so lonely as if we had gone on to our government lot at once.

We have experienced some attention and hospitality from several of the residents of Peterborough. There is a very genteel society, chiefly composed of officers and their families, besides the professional men and storekeepers. Many of the latter are persons of respectable family and good education. Though a store is, in fact, nothing better than what we should call in the country towns at home a "general shop," yet the storekeeper in Canada holds a very different rank from the shopkeeper of the English village. The storekeepers are the merchants and bankers of the places in which they reside. Almost all money matters are transacted by them, and they are often men of landed property and consequence, not unfrequently filling the situations of magistrates, commissioners, and even members of the provincial parliament.

As they maintain a rank in society which entitles them to equality with the aristocracy of the country, you must not be surprised when I tell you that it is no uncommon circumstance to see the sons of naval and military officers and clergymen standing behind a counter, or wielding an axe in the woods with their fathers' choppers; nor do they lose their grade in society by such employment. After all, it is education and manners that must distinguish the gentleman in this country, seeing that the labouring man, if he is diligent and industrious, may soon become his equal in point of worldly possessions. The ignorant man, let him be ever so wealthy, can never be equal to the man of education. It is the mind that forms the distinction between the classes in this country -- "Knowledge is power!"

We had heard so much of the odious manners of the Yankees in this country that I was rather agreeably surprised by the few specimens of native Americans that I have seen. They were for the most part, polite, well-behaved people. The only peculiarities I observed in them were a certain nasal twang in speaking, and some few odd phrases; but these were only used by the lower class, who "guess" and "calculate" a little more than we do. One of their most remarkable terms is to "Fix." Whatever work requires to be done it must be fixed. "Fix the room" is, set it in order. "Fix the table" -- "Fix the fire," says the mistress to her servants, and the things are fixed accordingly.

I was amused one day by hearing a woman tell her husband the chimney wanted fixing. I thought it seemed secure enough, and was a little surprised when the man got a rope and a few cedar boughs, with which he dislodged an accumulation of soot that caused the fire to smoke. The chimney being fixed, all went right again. This odd term is not confined to the lower orders alone, and, from hearing it so often, it becomes a standard word even among the later emigrants from our own country.

With the exception of some few remarkable expressions, and an attempt at introducing fine words in their every-day conversation, the lower order of Yankees have a decided advantage over our English peasantry in the use of grammatical language: they speak better English than you will hear from persons of the same class in any part of England, Ireland, or Scotland; a fact that we should be unwilling, I suppose, to allow at home.

If I were asked what appeared to me the most striking feature in the manners of the Americans that I had met with, I should say it was coldness approaching to apathy. I do not at all imagine them to be deficient in feeling or real sensibility, but they do not suffer their emotion to be seen. They are less profuse in their expressions of welcome and kindness than we are, though probably quite as sincere. No one doubts their hospitality; but, after all, one likes to see the hearty shake of the hand, and hear the cordial word that makes one feel oneself welcome.

Persons who come to this country are very apt to confound the old settlers from Britain with the native Americans; and when they meet with people of rude, offensive manners, using certain Yankee words in their conversation, and making a display of independence not exactly suitable to their own aristocratical notions, they immediately suppose they must be genuine Yankees, while they are, in fact, only imitators; and you well know the fact that a bad imitation is always worse than the original.

You would be surprised to see how soon the new comers fall into this disagreeable manner and affectation of equality, especially the inferior class of Irish and Scotch; the English less so. We were rather entertained by the behaviour of a young Scotchman, the engineer of the steamer, on my husband addressing him with reference to the management of the engine. His manners were surly, and almost insolent. He scrupulously avoided the least approach to courtesy or outward respect; nay, he even went so far as to seat himself on the bench close beside me, and observed that "among the many advantages this country offered to settlers like him, he did not reckon it the least of them that he was not obliged to take off his hat when he spoke to people (meaning persons of our degree), or address them by any other title than their name; besides, he could go and take his seat beside any gentleman or lady either, and think himself to the full as good as them.

"Very likely," I replied, hardly able to refrain from laughing at this sally; "but I doubt you greatly overrate the advantage of such privileges, for you cannot oblige the lady or gentleman to entertain the same opinion of your qualifications, or to remain seated beside you unless it pleases them to do so." With these words I rose up and left the independent gentleman evidently a little confounded at the manoeuvre: however, he soon recovered his self-possession, and continued swinging the axe he held in his hand, and said, "It is no crime, I guess, being born a poor man."

"None in the world," replied my husband; "a man's birth is not of his own choosing. A man can no more help being born poor than rich; neither is it the fault of a gentleman being born of parents who occupy a higher station in society than his neighbour. I hope you will allow this?"

The Scotchman was obliged to yield a reluctant affirmative to the latter position; but concluded with again repeating his satisfaction at not being obliged in this country to take off his hat, or speak with respect to gentlemen, as they styled themselves.

"No one, my friend, could have obliged you to be well mannered at home any more than in Canada. Surely you could have kept your hat on your head if you had been so disposed; no gentleman would have knocked it off, I am sure.

"As to the boasted advantage of rude manners in Canada, I should think something of it if it benefited you the least, or put one extra dollar in your pocket; but I have my doubts if it has that profitable effect."

"There is a comfort, I guess, in considering oneself equal to a gentleman."

"Particularly if you could induce the gentleman to think the same." This was a point that seemed rather to disconcert our candidate for equality, who commenced whistling and kicking his heels with redoubled energy.

"Now," said his tormentor, "you have explained your notions of Canadian independence; be so good as to explain the machinery of your engine, with which you seem very well acquainted."

The man eyed my husband for a minute, half sulking, half pleased at the implied compliment on his skill, and, walking off to the engine, discussed the management of it with considerable fluency, and from that time treated us with perfect respect. He was evidently struck with my husband's reply to his question, put in a most discourteous tone, "Pray, what makes a gentleman: I'll thank you to answer me that?" "Good manners and good education," was the reply. "A rich man or a high-born man, if he is rude, ill-mannered, and ignorant, is no more a gentleman than yourself."

This put the matter on a different footing, and the engineer had the good sense to perceive that rude familiarity did not constitute a gentleman.

But it is now time I should give you some account of Peterborough, which, in point of situation, is superior to any place I have yet seen in the Upper Province. It occupies a central point between the townships of Monaghan, Smith, Cavan, Otanabee, and Douro, and may with propriety be considered as the capital of the Newcastle district.

It is situated on a fine elevated plain, just above the small lake, where the river is divided by two low wooded islets. The original or government part of the town is laid out in half-acre lots; the streets, which are now fast filling up, are nearly at right angles with the river, and extend towards the plains to the northeast. These plains form a beautiful natural park, finely diversified with hill and dale, covered with a lovely green sward, enamelled with a variety of the most exquisite flowers, and planted, as if by Nature's own hand, with groups of feathery pines, oaks, balsam, poplar, and silver birch. The views from these plains are delightful; whichever way you turn your eyes they are gratified by a diversity of hill and dale, wood and water, with the town spreading over a considerable tract of ground.

The plains descend with a steep declivity towards the river, which rushes with considerable impetuosity between its banks. Fancy a long, narrow valley, and separating the east and west portions of the town into two distinct villages.

[Illustration: Spruce]

The Otanabee bank rises to a loftier elevation than the Monaghan side, and commands an extensive view over the intervening valley, the opposite town, and the boundary forest and hills behind it: this is called Peterborough East, and is in the hands of two or three individuals of large capital, from whom the town lots are purchased.

Peterborough thus divided covers a great extent of ground, more than sufficient for the formation of a large city. The number of inhabitants are now reckoned at seven hundred and upwards, and if it continues to increase as rapidly in the next few years as it has done lately, it will soon be a very populous town*.

[*Since this account of Peterborough was written, the town has increased at least a third in buildings and population.]

There is great water-power, both as regards the river and the fine broad creek which winds its way through the town and falls into the small lake below. There are several saw and grist-mills, a distillery, fulling-mill, two principal inns, beside smaller ones, a number of good stores, a government school-house, which also serves for a church, till one more suitable should be built. The plains are sold off in park lots, and some pretty little dwellings are being built, but I much fear the natural beauties of this lovely spot will be soon spoiled.

I am never weary with strolling about, climbing the hills in every direction, to catch some new prospect, or gather some new flowers, which, though getting late in the summer, are still abundant.

Among the plants with whose names I am acquainted are a variety of shrubby asters, of every tint of blue, purple, and pearly white; a lilac monarda, most delightfully aromatic, even to the dry stalks and seed-vessels; the white gnaphalium or everlasting flower; roses of several kinds, a few late buds of which I found in a valley, near the church. I also noticed among the shrubs a very pretty little plant, resembling our box; it trails along the ground, sending up branches and shoots; the leaves turn of a deep copper red*; yet, in spite of this contradiction, it is an evergreen. I also noticed some beautiful lichens, with coral caps surmounting the grey hollow footstalks, which grow in irregular tufts among the dry mosses, or more frequently I found them covering the roots of the trees or half-decayed timbers. Among a variety of fungi I gathered a hollow cup of the most splendid scarlet within, and a pale fawn colour without; another very beautiful fungi consisted of small branches like clusters of white coral, but of so delicate a texture that the slightest touch caused them to break.

[* Probably a Gaultkeria. -- Ed.]

The ground in many places was covered with a thick carpet of strawberries of many varieties, which afford a constant dessert during the season to those who choose to pick them, a privilege of which I am sure I should gladly avail myself were I near them in the summer. Beside the plants I have myself observed in blossom, I am told the spring and summer produce many others;--the orange lily; the phlox, or purple lichnidea; the mocassin flower, or ladies' slipper; lilies of the valley in abundance; and, towards the banks of the creek and the Otanabee, the splendid cardinal flower (lobelia cardinalis) waves its scarlet spikes of blossoms.

I am half inclined to be angry when I admire the beauty of the Canadian flowers, to be constantly reminded that they are scentless, and therefore scarcely worthy of attention; as if the eye could not be charmed by beauty of form and harmony of colours, independent of the sense of smelling being gratified.

To redeem this country from the censure cast on it by a very clever gentleman I once met in London, who said, "the flowers were without perfume, and the birds without song," I have already discovered several highly aromatic plants and flowers. The milkweed must not be omitted among these; a beautiful shrubby plant with purple flowers, which are alike remarkable for beauty of colour and richness of scent.

I shall very soon begin to collect a hortas siccus for Eliza, with a description of the plants, growth, and qualities. Any striking particulars respecting them I shall make notes of; and tell her she may depend on my sending my specimens, with seeds of such as I can collect, at some fitting opportunity.

I consider this country opens a wide and fruitful field to the inquiries of the botanist. I now deeply regret I did not benefit by the frequent offers Eliza made me of prosecuting a study which I once thought dry, but now regard as highly interesting, and the fertile source of mental enjoyment, especially to those who, living in the bush, must necessarily be shut out from the pleasures of a large circle of friends, and the varieties that a town or village offer.

On Sunday I went to church; the first opportunity I had had of attending public worship since I was in the Highlands of Scotland; and surely I had reason to bow my knees in thankfulness to that merciful God who had brought us through the perils of the great deep and the horrors of the pestilence.

Never did our beautiful Liturgy seem so touching and impressive as it did that day, -- offered up in our lowly log-built church in the wilderness.

This simple edifice is situated at the foot of a gentle slope on the plains, surrounded by groups of oak and feathery pines, which, though inferior in point of size to the huge pines and oaks of the forest, are far more agreeable to the eye, branching out in a variety of fantastic forms. The turf here is of an emerald greenness: in short, it is a sweet spot, retired from the noise and bustle of the town, a fitting place in which to worship God in spirit and in truth.

There are many beautiful walks towards the Smith town hills, and along the banks that overlook the river. The summit of this ridge is sterile, and is thickly set with loose blocks of red and grey granite, interspersed with large masses of limestone scattered in every direction; they are mostly smooth and rounded, as if by the action of water. As they are detached, and merely occupy the surface of the ground, it seemed strange to me how they came at that elevation. A geologist would doubtless be able to solve the mystery in a few minutes. The oaks that grow on this high bank are rather larger and more flourishing than those in the valleys and more fertile portions of the soil.

Behind the town, in the direction of the Cavan and Emily roads, is a wide space which I call the "squatter's ground," it being entirely covered with shanties, in which the poor emigrants, commuted pensioners, and the like, have located themselves and families. Some remain here under the ostensible reason of providing a shelter for their wives and children till they have prepared a home for their reception on their respective grants; but not unfrequently it happens that they are too indolent, or really unable to work on their lots, often situated many miles in the backwoods, and in distant and unsettled townships, presenting great obstacles to the poor emigrant, which it requires more energy and courage to encounter than is possessed by a vast number of them. Others, of idle and profligate habits, spend the money they received, and sell the land, for which they gave away their pensions, after which they remain miserable squatters on the shanty ground.

The shanty is a sort of primitive hut in Canadian architecture, and is nothing more than a shed built of logs, the chinks between the round edges of the timbers being filled with mud, moss, and bits of wood; the roof is frequently composed of logs split and hollowed with the axe, and placed side by side, so that the edges rest on each other; the concave and convex surfaces being alternate1y uppermost, every other log forms a channel to carry off the rain and melting snow. The eaves of this building resemble the scolloped edges of a clamp shell; but rude as this covering is, it effectually answers the purpose of keeping the interior dry; far more so than the roofs formed of bark or boards, through which the rain will find entrance. Sometimes the shanty has a window, sometimes only an open doorway, which admits the light and lets out the smoke*. A rude chimney, which is often nothing better than an opening cut in one of the top logs above the hearth, a few boards fastened in a square form, serves as the vent for the smoke; the only precaution against the fire catching the log walls behind the hearth being a few large stones placed in a half circular form, or more commonly a bank of dry earth raised against the wall.

[* I was greatly amused by the remark made by a little Irish boy, that we hired to be our hewer of wood and drawer of water, who had been an inhabitant of one of these shanties. "Ma'am" said he, "when the weather was stinging cold, we did not know how to keep ourselves warm; for while we roasted our eyes out before the fire our backs were just freezing; so first we turned one side and then the other, just as you would roast a guse on a spit. Mother spent half the money father earned at his straw work (he was a straw chair maker,) in whiskey to keep us warm; but I do think a larger mess of good hot praters (potatoes,) would have kept us warmer than the whiskey did."]

Nothing can be more comfortless than some of these shanties, reeking with smoke and dirt, the common receptacle for children, pigs, and fowls. But I have given you the dark side of the picture; I am happy to say all the shanties on the squatters' ground were not like these: on the contrary, by far the larger proportion were inhabited by tidy folks, and had one, or even two small windows, and a clay chimney regularly built up through the roof; some were even roughly floored, and possessed similar comforts with the small log-houses.

[Illustration: Log house]

You will, perhaps, think it strange when I assure you that many respectable settlers, with their wives and families, persons delicately nurtured, and accustomed to every comfort before they came hither, have been contented to inhabit a hut of this kind during the first or second year of their settlement in the woods.

I have listened with feelings of great interest to the history of the hardships endured by some of the first settlers in the neighbourhood, when Peterborough contained but two dwelling houses. Then there were neither roads cut nor boats built for communicating with the distant and settled parts of the district; consequently the difficulties of procuring supplies of provisions was very great, beyond what any one that has lately come hither can form any notion of.

When I heard of a whole family having had no better supply of flour than what could be daily ground by a small hand-mill, and for weeks being destitute of every necessary, not even excepting bread, I could not help expressing some surprise, never having met with any account in the works I had read concerning emigration that at all prepared one for such evils.

"These particular trials," observed my intelligent friend, "are confined principally to the first breakers of the soil in the unsettled parts of the country, as was our case. If you diligently question some of the families of the lower class that are located far from the towns, and who had little or no means to support them during the first twelve months, till they could take a crop off the land, you will hear many sad tales of distress."

Writers on emigration do not take the trouble of searching out these things, nor does it answer their purpose to state disagreeable facts. Few have written exclusively on the "Bush." Travellers generally make a hasty journey through the long settled and prosperous portions of the country; they see a tract of fertile, well-cultivated land, the result of many years of labour; they see comfortable dwellings, abounding with all the substantial necessaries of life; the farmer's wife makes her own soap, candles, and sugar; the family are clothed in cloth of their own spinning, and hose of their own knitting. The bread, the beer, butter, cheese, meat, poultry, &c. are all the produce of the farm. He concludes, therefore, that Canada is a land of Canaan, and writes a book setting forth these advantages, with the addition of obtaining land for a mere song; and advises all persons who would be independent and secure from want to emigrate.

He forgets that these advantages are the result of long years of unremitting and patient labour; that these things are the crown, not the first-fruits of the settler's toil; and that during the interval many and great privations must be submitted to by almost every class of emigrants.

Many persons, on first coming out, especially if they go back into any of the unsettled townships, are dispirited by the unpromising appearance of things about them. They find none of the advantages and comforts of which they had heard and read, and they are unprepared for the present difficulties; some give way to despondency, and others quit the place in disgust.

[Illustration: Log-Village -- Arrival of a Stage-coach]

A little reflection would have shown them that every rood of land must be cleared of the thick forest of timber that encumbers it before an ear of wheat can be grown; that, after the trees have been chopped, cut into lengths, drawn together, or logged, as we call it, and burned, the field must be fenced, the seed sown, harvested, and thrashed before any returns can be obtained; that this requires time and much labour, and, if hired labour, considerable outlay of ready money; and in the mean time a family must eat. If at a distance from a store, every article must be brought through bad roads either by hand or with a team, the hire of which is generally costly in proportion to the distance and difficulty to be encountered in the conveyance. Now these things are better known beforehand, and then people are aware what they have to encounter.

Even a labouring man, though he have land of his own, is often, I may say generally, obliged to hire out to work for the first year or two, to earn sufficient for the maintenance of his family; and even so many of them suffer much privation before they reap the benefit of their independence. Were it not for the hope and the certain prospect of bettering their condition ultimately, they would sink under what they have to endure; but this thought buoys them up. They do not fear an old age of want and pauperism; the present evils must yield to industry and perseverance; they think also for their children; and the trials of the present time are lost in pleasing anticipations for the future.

"Surely," said I, "cows and pigs and poultry might be kept; and you know where there is plenty of milk, butter, cheese, and eggs, with pork and fowls, persons cannot be very badly off for food."

"Very true," replied my friend; "but I must tell you it is easier to talk of these things at first than to keep them, unless on cleared or partially cleared farms; but we are speaking of a first settlement in the backwoods. Cows, pigs, and fowls must eat, and if you have nothing to give them unless you purchase it, and perhaps have to bring it from some distance, you had better not be troubled with them, as the trouble is certain and the profit doubtful. A cow, it is true, will get her living during the open months of the year in the bush, but sometimes she will ramble away for days together, and then you lose the use of her, and possibly much time in seeking her; then in the winter she requires some additional food to the browse* that she gets during the chopping season, or ten to one but she dies before spring; and as cows generally lose their milk during the cold weather, if not very well kept, it is best to part with them in the fall and buy again in the spring, unless you have plenty of food for them, which is not often the case the first winter. As to pigs they are great plagues on a newly cleared farm if you cannot fat them off-hand; and that you cannot do without you buy food for them, which does not answer to do at first. If they run loose they are a terrible annoyance both to your own crops and your neighbours if you happen to be within half a mile of one; for though you may fence out cattle you cannot pigs: even poultry require something more than they pick up about the dwelling to be of any service to you, and are often taken off by hawks, eagles, foxes, and pole-cats, till you have proper securities for them."

[* The cattle are supported in a great measure during the fall and winter by eating the tender shoots of the maple, beech and bass, which they seek in the newly-chopped fallow; but they should likewise be allowed straw or other food, or they will die in the very hard weather.]

"Then how are we to spin our own wool and make our own soap and candles?" said I. "When you are able to kill your own sheep, and hogs, and oxen, unless you buy wool and tallow" -- then, seeing me begin to look somewhat disappointed, he said, "Be not cast down, you will have all these things in time, and more than these, never fear, if you have patience, and use the means of obtaining them. In the mean while prepare your mind for many privations to which at present you are a stranger; and if you would desire to see your husband happy and prosperous, be content to use economy, and above all, be cheerful. In a few years the farm will supply you with all the necessaries of life, and by and by you may even enjoy many of the luxuries. Then it is that a settler begins to taste the real and solid advantages of his emigration; then he feels the blessings of a country where there are no taxes, tithes, nor poor-rates; then he truly feels the benefit of independence. It is looking forward to this happy fulfillment of his desires that makes the rough paths smooth, and lightens the burden of present ills. He looks round upon a numerous family without those anxious fears that beset a father in moderate circumstances at home; for he knows he does not leave them destitute of an honest means of support."

In spite of all the trials he had encountered, I found this gentleman was so much attached to a settler's life, that he declared he would not go back to his own country to reside for a permanence on any account; nor is he the only one that I have heard express the same opinion; and it likewise seems a universal one among the lower class of emigrants. They are encouraged by the example of others whom they see enjoying comforts that they could never have obtained had they laboured ever so hard at home; and they wisely reflect they must have had hardships to endure had they remained in their native land (many indeed had been driven out by want), without the most remote chance of bettering themselves or becoming the possessors of land free from all restrictions. "What to us are the sufferings of one, two, three, or even four years, compared with a whole life of labour and poverty," was the remark of a poor labourer, who was recounting to us the other day some of the hardships he had met with in this country. He said he "knew they were only for a short time, and that by industry he should soon get over them."

I have already seen two of our poor neighbours that left the parish a twelvemonth ago; they are settled in Canada Company lots, and are getting on well. They have some few acres cleared and cropped, but are obliged to "hire out", to enable their families to live, working on their own land when they can. The men are in good spirits, and say "they shall in a few years have many comforts about them that they never could have got at home, had they worked late and early; but they complain that their wives are always pining for home, and lamenting that ever they crossed the seas." This seems to be the general complaint with all classes; the women are discontented and unhappy. Few enter with their whole heart into a settler's life. They miss the little domestic comforts they had been used to enjoy; they regret the friends and relations they left in the old country; and they cannot endure the loneliness of the backwoods.

This prospect does not discourage me: I know I shall find plenty of occupation within-doors, and I have sources of enjoyment when I walk abroad that will keep me from being dull. Besides, have I not a right to be cheerful and contented for the sake of my beloved partner? The change is not greater for me than him; and if for his sake I have voluntarily left home, and friends, and country, shall I therefore sadden him by useless regrets? I am always inclined to subscribe to that sentiment of my favourite poet, Goldsmith, --

"Still to ourselves in every place consign'd,
Our own felicity we make or find."

But I shall very soon be put to the test, as we leave this town to-morrow by ten o'clock. The purchase of the Lake lot is concluded. There are three acres chopped and a shanty up; but the shanty is not a habitable dwelling, being merely an open shed that was put up by the choppers as a temporary shelter; so we shall have to build a house. Late enough we are; too late to get in a full crop, as the land is merely chopped, not cleared, and it is too late now to log and burn the fallow, and get the seed-wheat in: but it will be ready for spring crops. We paid five dollars and a half per acre for the lot; this was rather high for wild land, so far from a town, and in a scantily-settled part of the township; but the situation is good, and has a water frontage, for which my husband was willing to pay something more than if the lot had been further inland.

In all probability it will be some time before I find leisure again to take up my pen. We shall remain guests with ----- till our house is in a habitable condition, which I suppose will be about Christmas.

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