« PreviousContinue »
NARRATIVE OF A SETTLER IN CANADA.
If it be a curious and interesting speculation to watch the introduction of an untutored savage into our cities and manners, to observe his gradual adoption of our wants, and his investment with our resources, so much the more important it must be, as coming more home to our own situations, to notice the civilized man, stripped of the aids of that state, thrown into the forest, almost as a mere animal, deprived of that intricate system of division of labour which has arrived at so high a point in this country, and attempting to avail himself of the theory he may previously have acquired of the mechanical and necessary arts. This position is by no means an uncommon one: it is one which has fallen to my own share, and it is one which must fall, more or less, to that of all who leave this country for the agricultural colonies, and whether their lot be in the forests of America, on the grass plains of Australasia, or on the swells of the Cape, they will all find themselves thrown more on their energies as creative men than their previous education can allow them even to imagine; and he who has been used to snuff his candle and resume his book, to wash his hands and sit down to dinner, can with difficulty be brought to conceive a case where soap, candles, snuffers, &c. must be provided by his individual resources and labour. Belonging myself to the middle class of society, I was suddenly and unexpectedly thrown into this very state. How I fared, the few following pages may in part show; and should they throw the least new light on a subject many will soon practically experience, my Canadian life will not have been quite in vain.
In the spring of 1830, I left England for Quebec. A passage over the Atlantic now is a matter of course, not so terrible an event as a progress to Plymouth might be some hundred years back. After a confinement of seven or eight weeks, we arrived at Quebec, the capital of the Lower Province. Few cities can boast so commanding a situation; perched on almost a perpendicular cliff, on one side the St. Lawrence rolls beneath it, and on another the shallow but broad St. Charles. The citadel, towering above all, looks what it really is, almost impregnable, while on the south shore of the river, the lesser altitude of Point Levi, covered with wood, and interspersed with capital houses, the literally suburban residences of the wealthy of Quebec, not only adds to the actual beauty of the prospect, but points out that the fortress is not merely a thing of show, by demonstrating the present wealth and prosperity of the province it protects. But the most striking feature to the newly arrived in the harbour of Quebec is the splendid scale and superior size of the steam-boats. Accustomed to consider the vessels at home as unexcelled, he is surprised to find in a nook of the world he had perhaps considered almost as semi-civilized, steam-ships rivalling, if not surpassing, those of his native waters. But America is the land of communication, intersected by noble rivers, poured north and south, east and west, by the hand of Nature. The enterprise and diligence of man has taken advantage of these favours to their fullest extent. Does a rapid or a cataract impede his progress? he turns the obstacle by a canal. Does the river run in a calmer stream? he places on it numberless steam-boats. By these advantages, which every American is heir to, 1000 miles is a slight journey here. Men and women are all migratory, and the most delicate lady talks of a trip from Philadelphia to Quebec with the utmost coolness.
This extreme facility of communication seems to deprive the American of that feeling of home which attaches an Englishman to his native village. The inhabitant of the Union seems to consider the whole continent as his own, and whether it be Alabama or Vermont, is equally at home, and as ready to start on any scheme 2000 or 3000 miles. By alternate steam-boats and coaches the emigrant bound to York pursues the course of the St. Lawrence until he enters Lake Ontario: this he crosses in some steam-vessel. He has consumed about two days and a half, or three days, in his passage from Quebec, and he now stands in York, the capital of Upper Canada, about 700 or 800 miles from the sea. During the whole of this time, he has lived in a state of the greatest comfort. The steam-boats superb, the dinners excellent, coaches well horsed,
York itself well built, several capital houses, taverns expensive as it becomes all civilized hotels to be; and, as he looks about, he begins to doubt the tales he has been told of Canadian privations, and to build, with renewed confidence, the cottage ornée, to introduce the drill system, &c. However, he takes up his land, and prepares, as I did, to locate thereon. The lands to which I was proceeding had been previously engaged; therefore my only affair was to arrive at them as speedily as possible. I engaged a waggon at four, A. M. and started due north, along Yonge-street-this is one of the best farmed districts in Upper Canada we passed several good houses, surrounded by out-houses, that would not discredit the Old Country. As I receded from the capital, the country rapidly became wilder; brick and plaster houses sank to frame-buildings; stumps began to be thicker sprinkled; here and there acres of girdled pines, standing in a state of ghastly decay, lined the roads; fences, which were neat posts, with morticed bars, were converted to the common snake-fence of the country. On approaching the Oak Ridges, masses of forest appeared yet untouched by the axe; a log-house or two reared their novel forms, though as yet shingled, and with good clearings. This state of things brought me to Phelp's tavern. Here is as yet the outskirts of clearing: here the veil drops. Two miles beyond lies the swampy Holland river, leading into Lake Simcoe: it is here where the Indians assemble to receive their presents; and on the banks of the beautiful lake they yet hover, unwilling to abandon a ground so abounding in attractions to an Indian hunter. As yet European clearing has done little on its banks, and it is, as it were, the debateable ground between the wild and the civilized man; and the habits of the two have undergone that blending which the necessities of life have compelled. Here I fortunately found two voyageurs going down the Lake, and I engaged them to land me on my possessions. After a dreary pull of eight miles down a river, or swamp of wild rice, we entered the Lake. The contrast was delightful: a cool, fresh breeze, rippled over its surface, and the appearance of some high land, crested with trees, and partially cleared, gave animation and hope. The wind drawing more a-head, and night advancing, we determined to down sail, and land at a point on which was a house for shelter. As the two Canadians pulled the boat, and I sat wrapped in my great-coat in the stern sheets, it was impossible to avoid unpleasant melancholy feelings. The solemn gloom of the evening over the waters and trees, the motion of the oars, might, perhaps, have aided them; but few can, I think, take the decisive step, and throw themselves into the forest without " casting a long and lingering look behind." The old familiar faces I was quitting, as I feared for ever, hovered in my sight, and seemed dearer and more valued as I lost them; the warm rooms, where I had so long been sheltered and happy, contrasted much in their favour, in my imagination, with the chill night wind, and tall dismal trees near which we were floating. The boat's keel running up the beach put an end to my reveries, and in less than an hour we were all coiled up before the fire, and asleep. At daybreak we prepared to resume our voyage, and I finished my first slumbers in a log hut., Refreshed by my night's rest, and revived by the clear glitter of a Canadian sunrise, I inspected my host's house with a determination to find it excellent. Rude, but capacious enough for the wants of any farmer, it was situated on a point of land formed by a wind in the Lake; a line of trees, of handsome growth, formed a shelter between it and the water, which swelled and bubbled on a clean pebbly beach, on which lay a light boat, hauled up and surrounded with fishing spears and gear. Farther back were the barn and outhouses, while the space between was occupied by a flourishing orchard. Two or three hours' smart pulling. brought me into sight of my own Patmos, placed in the very bottom of a regularly formed and woody bay, on both whose points grow tall towering trees, The little hole that had been made in the wood by a previous settler, looked sheltered and comfortable. A French voyageur had, on the foregoing autumв, squatted himself on this lot, (squatting, in Canada, means seating yourself on a lot of land, no leave or licence had or obtained); he had erected a low log-hut, roofed it with bark, and chopped down about four acres of trees, but which,
however, still remained cumbering the ground. After rowing along the shore some way in search of a landing, (for the trees which grew immediately on the beach, he had felled into the Lake, forming a complete barrier,) we found an entrance, and I scrambled ashore, and jumping on a log, surveyed the scene with, I must confess, some dismay. At a little distance, perhaps two hundred yards, stood my antagonist, the dark and gloomy wood, looking to my inexperienced eye impenetrable. The clearing, as it was called, seemed to me the most chaotic confusion and disorder that could possibly arise. Bodies of trees lay heaped in all directions, while tall weeds, higher than my head, waved from amongst them most luxuriantly. I picked and climbed my way, as I best could, to my future habitation, and a most rough-looking affair it was. Composed of cedar-logs, in puris naturalibus, a floor of slab-boards, a roof of bark, it seemed to be a bastard between an English pig-sty and an Indian wigwam. Novelty, however, overpowered every other feeling, and excited by that and a fine sky, I repeated "I am monarch of all I survey," much to my own satisfaction, as I effected an entrance into my habitation: it was pierced for two windows, though any contrivances for closing the ports were not: that I supplied with some broken board. One box of baggage was all my furniture; that I hung to a beam, and sallied out to discover my nearest neighbour. The difficulties I had to find him, and my misfortunes in the woods, would occupy too much space to relate. I found him, fortunately, an intelligent and communicative French Canadian, married to an Indian female. Under his direction, I drew up a list of what I most wanted, and, after taking a compass, and the fullest directions, determined to cross the woods to York, to fetch up my baggage, &c. The track lay for some time on the lake shore, and in some of the bays, where the road was good, with a single line of trees fringing the Lake, the view resembled, in general effect, some parts of the road on the banks of Winandermere. The high lands and craggy mountains were certainly not here; but the same softness of scenery, clearness of water, and wavering lights, were repeated on the almost, till recently, unheard-of Lake Simcoe. With great regret I quitted the Lake shore, and turning abruptly to the south, entered at once the thick wood. The road was difficult to distinguish, leaves having already begun to fall. Walking in the American forest is, perhaps, the gloomiest position that a person can be placed in. Few living animals enliven the path; perchance a squirrel pops his head from his hole, now and then to gaze with his quick bright eye at the unwonted passer by; little else is heard or seen but the continual sawing of the branches in the wind, and the dull, heavy fall of some old standard of the wood, which, after many years of gradual decay, drops to enrich that ground which has so long supported it. After a walk of four or five hours under the shade of the wood, I fell into a good road, well studded with capital clearings. On this road is the settlement of the Davidites, one of the numerous and grotesque sects into which unassisted reason in religious affairs often leads her votaries.
Having made my purchases, and collected my baggage, I again turned my face to the wilderness, and once more I stood at home and alone. My house, however, now looked more comfortable, lumbered up with boxes and tools, and I felt a positive pleasure in lying once more under my own roof tree. I had by this time acquired some knowledge of handling an axe, and was able to cut my fire-wood with ease. Accordingly, as I felt it an accession of power, I became quite delighted with my new talent: the clearing of the axe in the wood was music to my ears, and a clean chip the utmost of my ambition. The American axe differs in shape from any tool I have ever seen in England; it is shorter from the pole to the edge than the English felling axe, and is thicker at the shoulder, acting as a smooth wedge to throw out the chip, or split up a log; the handle, made of hickory or elm, is cut with a curve, and a knot at the end to hinder it slipping from the hand. One stroke is made straight from the shoulder, and the other by whirling the axe round the head: the momentum it acquires by this motion, without much exertion of strength, drives it into the wood. The difficulty is to make the cuts all at the same place, and at the proper slope: but all this is speedily acquired by practice. Three or four days April.-VOL. XXXIV. NO. CXXXVI. 2 A
after my return, as I was sauntering along the beach, I found the wreck of an old wooden canoe. This appeared to me to be repairable; I therefore employed that afternoon in getting her hauled ashore. I first filled up her chinks with slips of wood as nearly as possible, and then caulked her with an old pair of trowsers, and moss. I had found, in one of my wanderings, a little knot of pines, (a scarce tree in our neighbourhood,) and by tapping them I obtained a little turpentine, with which I smeared her. I launched her-she floated, something lob-sided, to be sure-but that was a trifle. I cut a paddle, and took a cruise in her directly. I provided a safe place for her, sheltered from the northerly swells. I soon found a use for her; I went to a neighbour's, and brought down in her some boards: with these I formed a loft to my little house, over the seams of which I laid long strips of cedar bark, which I peeled off the trees. This, I expected, would prevent currents of cold air from rushing from above in the winter. Into this loft I removed most of my boxes. I split a slab from a beech log, and made a tolerable chair. I was going to the luxury of stuffing it, but I did not get so far. Two or three boards made me an excellent table and a shelf. I cut two hooks out of wood, and hung up my gun, and, as the evenings drew on, by a blazing fire I looked round me with increased content. I usually rose at half past four, and rolled the fire together, got my breakfast at once, as I have always thought it a great preservative against the ague, eating before going out. The mornings now, the middle and latter end of September, were very sharp-strong white frosts-though the middle of the day was yet very hot. I found it comfortable to keep fires all night, and began to find it tedious to carry my fire-wood home on my shoulder; I therefore one day felled twelve or fourteen fine beech, or maple, and chopping them into twelve feet lengths, borrowed a yoke of oxen, and dragged them to my door. This was my first essay in driving a team, and terrible work I had with them. Among the logs, and in one or two clear parts, the French squatter had planted some few potatoes and pumpkins; these I prepared to house. My potatoes I stowed in a small cellar I had dug under my house for the winter. The tall ugly weeds having all died away, had left my ground glowing, like the garden of the Hesperides, with golden-hued pumpkins: these I piled into a large heap, and two or three tedious days I had collecting them, two being as many as I could carry by the rough and prickly stalk. I about this time increased my family by a young puppy, which a neighbour spared me, a pig I previously held, and a cat. As frequently a fortnight would elapse without a person entering my secluded clearing, we became inseparable companions. If I went out to chop, my whole family would follow, the pig rooting about for pig-nuts, while the dog and cat would play among the wood; and I, sometimes laying down my axe, would call one or the other of my subjects to a more particular conference, to which call the pig was never the least obedient. My neighbour's Indian corn-field about this time suffered very much from the nightly ravages of a large bear: we watched for him some time without success; but one unfortunate night for him we put a limit to his farther proceedings, by three or four balls being lodged in his carcase. The weather, now the latter end of October and November, became most beautiful. It was that season called here the Indian summer. A haziness prevails throughout the air, which is tempered by a gentle and equable heat. Rain falls but seldom in the day-time; refreshing showers frequently occur during the night, and with the rising sun the very autumnal hues of the fast-falling leaves seem imbued with a springy freshness. The American forests, in the fall season, are, perhaps, in the height of their glory; the golden hue of one tree is relieved against the still dark green of another; the brown crisp leaf of the beech shows in relief by the side of a grove of cedars, while the whole is positively enlightened by the glowing red of a species of maple. The transitions from the dreary decay of a patch of deciduous trees to the pineries, or other evergreens, render a walk through the woods, at this time, more impressive and varied than at any other.
. My potatoes and pumpkins being all housed; the seams of my house caulked against the weather by some strong clay, which I worked up and forced into the
interstices of the logs; a good stock of firewood round the door, I awaited the approach of winter without much fear of its rigour. I had several excellent books with me, and after eight hours' work, in what I was at present very busy, trenching up and fencing-in a piece of ground for a garden in the spring, I sate myself down by my snug fire, and by the light of a lamp of my own construction could soon transport myself into other and different climes, or feel, with some astonishment, how soon I had become, in great measure, reconciled to the change of manners and situation. Living in so lonely a manner as I did, it was impossible always to escape the infection (perhaps native to the woods) of feeling sometimes a little melancholy; but setting about some contrivance, either for absolute use, or to give an air of elegance to my retreat, invariably banished the blues. One evening, as I was sitting ruminating on the different prospects I had before me to those my youth had anticipated, and, to confess the truth, sighing over the upset of certain visions which had engaged my attention in Britain, while an indulgence, (only allowed on Saturday night,)-a musical snuff-box, was playing "Portrait Charmant," I heard a tap at the door; "Entrez!" cried I; the door opened, but none entered. I rose, and perceived two figures, wrapped in blankets, standing at the door. "Ontaske niche;""Come in, Indians," said I, when one of them, bursting into a fit of laughter, showed me the Indian wife of my neighbour, while she introduced the other as a sister of a friend of hers. Such a visit upset the economy of my house altogether. The younger, who had since her entrance been listening attentively to the snuff-box, crept cautiously closer and closer, until she suddenly laid her hand on it, as if catching a fly. It happened, at that moment, to stop; she immediately imagined she had killed it, and uttering a deep-drawn "Eh!" looked greatly alarmed at me. Seeing, however, I only laughed, she assumed courage, and smiled too. After some conversation, chattering and smiling, they rose to depart. I happened to have a brooch, very splendid in appearance, of trifling value, which, with all the gallantry I could muster, I fixed on my younger visitor's bosom: she was quite delighted, and bade me good night with much cordiality. During her stay, I had time to remark her personal appearance and dress; and it may be understood to be the manner in which the Indian women generally dress. A gathered blue petticoat fell a little below her knees, while bright-red leggings covered loosely her legs from the ancles; feet bare; she wore a sort of black jacket, like a lady's habit, while a silk handkerchief crossed her bosom, à la Portsmouth Pointer; round her neck hung several rows of glass beads, and imitation pearl rings adorned her ears. Her head was perfectly uncovered, and long black hair hung over her face and shoulders, while a white blanket twined round, which served in-doors as a shawl. Her complexion was a clear brown, lightened by brilliant eyes and white teeth, and when she smiled, or was excited, her features expressed great good-humour; but when in a state of repose, they sank, though not unhandsome in themselves, into a sullenness of expression habitual to an Indian. The hands and feet of the Indian tribes are invariably small and well proportioned. On the 12th of December the first snow fell, and before the 25th the Lake was a solid sheet of ice;—“ the whole imprisoned water growled below." The noise made by the air when the ice first fixes, is, when heard in the watches of the night, awful, and is heard at a distance of five or six miles from the shore: a deep rending and crackling runs along the ice, and though it is a sign of solidity and firmness, yet a stranger walking over it, when he feels the trembling noise shoot under his feet, can hardly persuade himself of the truth of the supposition. Winter now reigned predominant; every water was fixed in solid ice, and everywhere snow covered the ground. Few birds but the little snow-birds enlivened the scene; the days were generally sunshiny and bright; the evening sometimes superb, the sun setting brilliantly, while a teuder red, or violetish hue, over the eastern sky, would portend a keen frost. When the moon arose, her pale brilliance shining on the white plains, can never be described, and amongst the stars to the north played almost incessantly the aurora borealis. The moon and stars of America shine with a lustre far surpassing the same