« PreviousContinue »
To see the Canadian winter in all its majesty, and to feel it in all its rigour, it is necessary to take a journey into the different parts of the country. This I have done. I have made a tour as high up as Montreal, and gone into the province of Vermont, in the United States. Lake Champlain, 120 miles in length, was frozen over: we crossed it on the ice.
Having provided myself with a good horse and cariole, and laid in a stock of provisions and liquors, and, moreover, having taken the necessary precautions to guard against the severity of the climate, I left Quebec in one of the coldest mornings I had ever experienced. The wind blew fresh from the north-west; the sun shone bright, and glistened on the dry pellucid snow, which the wind raised into the air,
whirling it about, and dashing or darting on my face the minute crystals, like a shower of needle points, occasioning a smarting sensation, which made me feel more keenly the severity of the cold. Whoever has travelled in Canada in the winter season, will be at no loss to recognize the kind of morning I describe.
What a strange figure a Canadian winter traveller is, wrapped up in his various vestments! In addition to the usual number of coats and waistcoats, I had a very large double cloak, a large fur cap, and fur tippet; and, what added greatly to my comfort and defence against the cold wind, I had a very large muff, in which was often obliged to bury my face when the wind blew keen; for you will recollect, that as the cariole is an open carriage, it affords no defence from the cold. With all the clothing and coverings you can put on, still you can with difficulty keep yourself
When a journey of any extent is to be made, a cariole must be used; but if you wish to deviate from the public beaten track, or to go into the woods, or cross
fields, either from necessity or for amusement, you must use what are called snow shoes. They are made of a kind of network, fixed on a frame, shaped like a boy's paper kite; they are about two feet long, and 18 inches broad, and therefore take in so much of the surface of the snow, that you sink but a very few inches. The military, in Canada, are all provided with snow shoes, and are marched out on them, that it may be no novelty in case of their taking the field in winter. For the same reason they are sometimes encamped amongst the snow.
You can take a great deal of exercise in winter, without being fatigued, and can walk with ease and agility under a load of waistcoats and coats, under which you would sink in summer. When a person proceeds to take off all his coverings, it puts one in mind of the grave-digger in Hamlet, to whom modern actors have given many more waistcoats than even a Canadian gravedigger in winter would require.
The winter travelling in Canada is sometimes very expeditious. It is surprising with what speed a good Canadian horse
will travel, drawing a cariole over the ice. There have been instances of a single horse having drawn a cariole, with two people in it, no less than 90 miles in twelve hours; which is more than mail-coach rate, with all their changes. When this happens, the roads must be very smooth and hard, which is generally the case when a severe frost has succeeded a thaw.
The Canadian horse is a remarkably hardy animal: his best pace is a trot. He is accustomed to a great deal of bad usage and hard work, and he is the most willing creature in the world (as the jockeys term it), for he never refuses the draught. You will see them brought from the country into Quebec in the coldest weather, and left standing in the open air without covering, for hours together, while their owners are transacting their business, or drinking in a public house; and they seem not to be the worse for it.
In the winter time the Canadian horse, like all the other quadrupeds of the country, acquires an increased quantity of fur to protect him from the cold; and the Canadians never use the currying comb.
When the horses have been heated by fast driving, in a cold day, they appear to have a sort of icicle at every hair, and really make a very grotesque appearance; and you frequently see icicles two or three inches in length, hanging at their noses.
Previous to my commencing my tour, there had been a heavy fall of snow for some days, so that the roads were in bad order for expeditious travelling. I seldom went more than from thirty to forty miles a day. I had not proceeded far, ere I found the great difference, in point of beauty, between the winter and summer scenery.Instead of the fine variety, which, in summer, presented itself, in tracing the course of the river,—the gaiety, the liveliness of ́ the moving waters, and passing vesselsthe fine tints of the forest, and of the corn-field-the labourer employed in the business of the farm-every surrounding object reflected from the surface of the river; nothing now was to be seen but one continued solid plain-one indiscriminate field of snow;-no rivers-no waters-no ships-not an animal in view, man nor beast, except now and then a muf