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The Emigrant and his Prospects

Those who really wish Canada well desire it to become a second Britain, and not a mere second Texas. Those who wish it evil, and these comprise the restless, unprovided race of politicians under whose incessant agitation Canada has so long groaned, desire its Texian annexation to the already overgrown States in its vicinity.

That it may become a second Britain and hold the balance of power on the continent of America is my prayer, and the prayer too of one who entertains no enmity towards the people of the United States, but who admires their unceasing exertions in behalf of their country, who would admire their institutions, based as they are upon those of England, if the grand design of Washington had been carried out, and perfect freedom of thought and of action had been secured to the people, instead of a slavish awe of the mob, an absolute dread of the uneducated masses, a sovereign contempt of the opinion of the world in accomplishing any design for the aggrandizement of the Union, the most despotic and degrading oppression of all who presume to hold religious opinions at variance with those of the masses, and the chained bondsman in a land of liberty!

To guard the respectable settler, who has a character at stake, and a family with some little capital to lay out to better advantage than he can at home, against the grievous and often fatal errors which have been propagated for sinister motives by needy adventurers who have written about Canada, or who are or have been agents for the sake only of the remuneration which it brings, caring but little for the misery they have entailed, I have undertaken to continue an account of this fine province, where nothing is provided by Nature except fertile soil and a healthy climate; the rest she leaves to unremitting labor and to the exercise of judgment by the settler.

As I have already inferred, this work will contain nothing vituperative of the United States, of that people who are the grandchildren of Britannia, and whose well-being is so essential to the peace and security of Christendom.

I shall endeavor to render it as plain and unpretending as possible, and shall not confine myself to studied rules or endeavors to make a book, taking up my subject as suits my own leisure, which is not very ample, and resuming or interrupting it at pleasure or convenience.

It will be necessary to enter more at large than in my preceding volumes into the resources of Canada, and, for this end, Geology and other scientific subjects must be introduced; but, as I dislike exceedingly that heavy and gaudy veil of learning, that embroidered science, with which modern taste conceals those secrets of Nature which have been so partially unfolded, I shall not have frequent recourse to absurd Greek derivations, which are very commonly borrowed for the occasion from technical dictionaries, or lent by a classical friend; but, whenever they must occur, the dictionary shall explain them, for I really think it beneath the dignity of the lights of modern Geology to talk as they do about the Placoids and the Ganoids, as the first created fishlike beings, and of the Ctenoids and the Cycloids as the more recent finners. It always puts me in mind of Shakespeare's magniloquence concerning "the Anthropophagi and men whose heads do grow beneath their shoulders, of antres vast and deserts idle," when he exhibited his learning in language which no one, however, can imitate, and which he makes the lady seriously incline and listen to, simply because she did not understand a word that was said. So it is with the overdone and continual changing of terms that now constantly occurs; insomuch that the terms of plain science, instead of being simplified and brought within the reach of ordinary capacities, is made as uncouth and as unintelligible as possible, and totally beyond the reach of those who have no collegiate education to boast of, and no good technical dictionary at hand to refer to.

The present age is most prone to this false estimate of learning and to public scientific display. If science, true science, yields to it, learning will very soon vanish from the face of the earth again, and nothing but monkish lore and the dark ages return.

There is a vast field open for research in Canada: it is yet a virgin soil, both as respects its moral and its physical cultivation. Therefore, plain facts are the best, and those made as level to the eye as possible; for the amusing mistakes which a would-be learned man makes, after a cursory perusal of anything scientific, only subject him to silent derision.

A very old casual acquaintance of mine, a sort of man holding a rather elevated rank, but originally from the great unwashed, who had risen by mere chance, aided by a little borough influence, was talking to me one day about some property of his in Western Canada, which he fancied had rich minerals upon it. Accordingly, he had taken a preliminary Treatise on Mineralogy in hand, and puzzled his brains in order to converse learnedly. "My land," quoth he, "is Silesia, and has a great bed of sulphuret of pyrites." The poor gentleman, who had a vast opinion of himself and always contradicted everybody about everything, meant that his soil contained a deal of silica, and that iron pyrites was abundant in it.

The importance of the annual migration from Britain is best evidenced by the representation of the chief emigrant agent at Quebec, subjoined.

In all the great sea-ports of England, Ireland, and Scotland, there are emigrant agents appointed by the government, to whom application should always be made for information, by every emigrant who has not the advantage of friends in Canada to receive and guide him; and these gentlemen prevent the trouble, expense, loss of time, and fraud, to which the poor settlers are subjected by the crimps and agents, with whom every sea-port abounds.

On their arrival in Canada, if ignorant of their way, they should apply at Quebec to the government principal agent, who is stationed there for the lower or eastern part of Canada, and he will give them either advice or passage, according to the nature of the case.

It is a pity that a rage exists for going as far west as possible at first, for this rage causes distress, and ends frequently by their being kidnapped into settling in the United States.

If, however, they are determined to go on to Western Canada, their course is either to pay their own way, or to obtain assistance from the government to send them on to Kingston, where another government agent for Western Canada is stationed; and, as this gentleman has now acted in that capacity for many years, he possesses a perfect knowledge of the country and its resources, and of the wants and objects of the settlers.

There is excellent land, and plenty of it to be obtained from the British American Land Company in Lower Canada, in that portion called "The Townships," which adjoin the states of Vermont and New York; and, excepting that the winters are longer, the climate more severe, it is as desirable as any other part of the province, and, in point of health, perhaps more so, as it is sufficiently far from the great river and lakes to make it less subject to ague; which, however, more or less, all new countries in the temperate zone, well forested and watered, are invariably the seat of, and which is increased in power and frequency in proportion to the neighborhood of fresh water in large bodies, and the use of whiskey as a preventive.

From a statement of the number of emigrants to this colony for the last sixteen years, compiled by A.C. Buchanan, Esq., chief emigrant agent, it appears that, in the five years subsequently to 1829, the emigration from the British Isles was 165,793. From other sources, in the three years, from 1829 to 1832, the emigration exceeded that of the previous ten years—the numbers being respectively, 125,063 and 121,170. In 1832, the emigrants arrived reached the high number of 51,746; but the cholera of that year was of so fatal a character on the St. Lawrence, that the numbers in 1833 fell 22,062. This epidemic, coupled with the rebellions of '37 and '38, materially checked the increased emigration commenced in 1836. In 1838, the number was only 3,266, and in 1839, 7,500. But, since 1840, emigration has again recovered, and, during the period of navigation of 1845, it amounted to 27,354, of whom 2,612 arrived via the United States.

The United States, however, received by far the largest proportion of the emigration from Britain. At the port of New York alone, from 1st November, 1844, to 31st October, 1845, there arrived—

From England and Scotland 10,653

From Ireland

                       Total at New York 48,953

The number of emigrants landed at the port of Quebec, in 1845, was 25,375.

Number of Emigrants Since 1829.

  '29 to '33 '34 to '38 '39 to '43 '44 to '45 Total.
England. 43,386 28,624 30,318 16,531 119,354
Ireland. 102,264 54,898 74,981 24,201 256,344
Scotland. 20,143 10,998 16,289 4,408 51,838
British American Prov. &c. 1,904 1,831 1,777 377 5,589
Totals 167,697 96,351 123,860 45,517 433,425

Upper Canada would seem to have received the largest share of the influx of population. The increase in the number of its inhabitants, between 1827 and 1843, is stated at 230,000.

The local government has for some few years past encouraged, although rather scantily, as Mr. Logan can, I dare say, testify, an exploration of the natural resources of the Canada's, as far as geology and mineralogy are concerned. Its medical statistics, its botany and zoology, will follow; and agriculture, that primary and most noble of all applications of the mind to matter, is making rapid strides, by the formation of district and local societies, which will do infinitely more good than any system of government patronage for the advancement of the welfare of the people could devise.

The public works have also, for the first time, been placed under the control of the executive and legislative bodies by the formation of a board, which is itself also subject to the supervision of the government.

But much remains to be done on this important head. A melancholy error was committed in making the President, and consequently all the officers and employés, of the Board of Works, partisans of the ministry of the day; thus paralyzing the efforts of a zealous man, on the one hand, by the fear of dismissal upon any change of the popular will, and neutralizing his efforts whilst in office, by rendering his measures mere jobs.

This has been amended under Lord Metcalfe's administration; and it is to be hoped that the office of President of the Board of Works will hereafter be one subjected to severe but not to vexatious scrutiny, and at the same time carefully guarded against political influence, and only rendered tenable with honor by the capacity of the person selected to fill it and of his subordinates. Canada is, as I have written two former volumes to prove, a magnificent country. I doubt very much if Nature has created a finer country on the whole earth.

The soil is generally good, as that made by the decay of forests for thousands of years upon substrata, chiefly formed of alluvion or diluvion, the deposit from waters, must be. It is, moreover, from Quebec to the Falls of St. Mary, almost a flat surface, intersected and interlaced by numberless streams, and studded with small lakes, whilst its littorale is a river unparalleled in the world, expanding into enormous fresh water seas, abounding with fish.

If the tropical luxuries are absent, if its winters are long and excessively severe, yet it yields all the European fruits abundantly, and even some of the tropical ones, owing to the richness of its soil and the great heat of the summer. Maize, or Indian corn, flourishes, and is more wholesome and better than that produced in the warm South. The crops of potato, that apple of the earth, as the French so justly term it, are equal, if not superior, to those of any other climate; whilst all the vegetables of the temperate regions of the old world grow with greater luxuriance than in their original fields. I have successively and successfully cultivated the tomato, the melon, and the capsicum, in the open air, for several seasons, at Kingston and Toronto, which are not the richest or the best parts of Western Canada, as far as vegetation is concerned. Tobacco grows well in the western district, and where is finer wheat harvested than in Western Canada?—whilst hay, and that beauty of a landscape, the rich green sod, the velvet carpet of the earth, are abundant and luxuriant.

If the majesty of vegetation is called in question, and intertropical plants brought forward in contrast, even the woods and trackless forests of Guiana, where the rankest of luxuriance prevails, will not do more than compete with the glory of the primeval woods of Canada. I know of nothing in this world capable of exciting emotions of wonder and adoration more directly, than to travel alone through its forests. Pines, lifting their hoary tops beyond man's vision, unless he inclines his head so far backwards as to be painful to his organization, with trunks which require fathoms of line to span them; oaks, of the most gigantic form; the immense and graceful weeping elm; enormous poplars, whose magnitude must be seen to be conceived; lindens, equally vast; walnut trees of immense size; the beautiful birch, and the wild cherry, large enough to make tables and furniture of.

Oh, the gloom and the glory of these forests, and the deep reflection that, since they were first created by the Divine fiat, civilized man has never desecrated them with his unsparing devastations; that a peculiar race, born for these solitudes, once dwelt amidst their shades, living as Nature's woodland children, until a more subtle being than the serpent of Eden crept amongst them, and, with his glittering novelties and dangerous beauty, caused their total annihilation! I see, in spirit, the red hunter, lofty, fearless, and stern, stalking in his painted nudity, and displaying a form which Apollo might have envied, amidst the everlasting and silent woods; I see, in spirit, the bearded stranger from the rising sun, with his deadly arms and his more deadly fire-water, conversing with his savage fellow, and displaying the envied wealth of gorgeous beads and of gaudy clothing.

The scene changes, the proud Indian is at the feet of his ensnarer; disease has relaxed his iron sinews; drunkenness has debased his mind; and the myriad crimes and vices of civilized Europe have combined to sweep the aborigines of the soil from the face of the forest earth. The forest groans beneath the axe; but, after a few years, the scene again changes; fertile fields, orchards and gardens, delight the eye; the city, and the town, and the village spires rise, and where two solitary wigwams of the red hunter were once alone occasionally observed, twenty thousand white Canadians now worship the same Great Author of the existence of all mankind.

And to increase these fields, these orchards, these gardens, these villages, these towns, and these cities, year after year, thirty thousand of the children of Britain cross the broad Atlantic: and what seeks this mass of human beings, braving the perils of the ocean and the perils of the land? Competence and wealth! The former, by prudence, is soon attainable; the acquisition of the latter uncertain and fickle.

No free grants of land are now given, but the settler may obtain them upon easy terms from the government, or the Canada and British American companies.

The settler with a small capital cannot do better than purchase out and out. Installments are a bad mode of purchasing; for, if all should not turn out right, installments are sometimes difficult to meet; and the very best land, in the best locations, as we shall hereafter see, is to be had from 7s. 6d., if in the deep Bush, as the forest is called; to 10s., if nearer a market; or 15s. and 20s., if very eligibly situated. Thus for two hundred pounds a settler can buy two hundred acres of good land, can build an excellent house for two hundred and fifty more, and stock his farm with another fifty, as a beginning; or, in other words, he can commence Canadian life for five hundred pounds sterling, with every prospect before him, if he has a family, of leaving them prosperous and happy. But he and they must work, work, work. He and all his sons must avoid whiskey, that bane of the backwoods, as they would avoid the rattlesnake, which sometimes comes across their path. Whiskey and wet feet destroy more promising young men in Canada than ague and fever, that scourge of all well watered woody countries; for the ague and fever seldom kill but with the assistance of the dram and of exposure.

Men nurtured in luxury or competence at home, as soon as the unfailing ennui arising from want of society in the backwoods begins to succeed the excitement of settling, too frequently drink, and in many cases drink from their waking hour until they sink at night into sottish sleep. This is peculiarly the case where there is no village nor town within a day's journey; and thus many otherwise estimable young men become habitual drunkards, and sink from the caste of gentlemen gradually into the dregs of society, whilst their wives and families suffer proportionally.

In Lower Canada, this vice does not prevail to the same extent as in the upper portion of the province. The French Canadians are not addicted to the vice of drinking ardent spirits as a people, although the lumberers and voyageurs shorten their lives very considerably by the use of whiskey. The lumberers, who are the cutters and conveyers of timber, pass a short and excited existence.

In the winter, buried in the eternal forest, far, far away from the haunts of man, they chop and hew; in the summer, they form the timber, boards, staves, &c., into rafts, which are conveyed down the great lakes and the rivers St. Lawrence and Ottawa to Quebec—on these rafts they live and have their summer being. Hard fare in plenty, such as salt pork and dough cakes; fat and unleavened bread, with whiskey, is their diet. Tea and sugar form an occasional luxury. Up to their waists in snow in winter, and up to their waists in summer and autumn in water, with all the moving accidents by flood and field; the occasional breaking-up of the raft in a rapid, the difficulty of the winter and spring transport of the heavy logs of squared timber out of the deep and trackless woods, combine to form a portion of the hard and reckless life of a lumberer, whose morale is not much better than his physicale.

Picture to yourself, child of luxury, sitting on a cushioned sofa, in a room where the velvet carpet renders a footfall noiseless, where art is exhausted to afford comfort, and where even the hurricane cannot disturb your perusal of this work, a wood reaching without limit, excepting the oceans either of salt or fresh water which surround Canada, and where to lose the track is hopeless starvation and death; figure the giant pines towering to the clouds, gloomy and Titan-like, throwing their vast arms to the Skyey influences, and making a twilight of mid-day, at whose enormous feet a thicket of bushes, almost as high as your head, prevents your progress without the pioneer axe; or a deep and black swamp for miles together renders it necessary to crawl from one fallen monarch of the wood onwards to the decaying and prostrate bole of another, with an occasional plunge into the mud and water, which they bridge; eternal silence reigning, disturbed only by your feeble efforts to advance; and you may form some idea of a red pine land, rocky and uneven, or a cedar swamp, black as night, dark, dismal, and dangerous.

Here, after you have hewed or crept your toiling way, you see, some yards or some hundred yards, as the forest is close or open, before you, a light blue curling smoke amongst the dank and lugubrious scene; you hear a dull, distant, heavy, sudden blow, frequent and deadened, followed at long intervals by a tremendous rending, crashing, overwhelming rush; then all is silent, till the voice of the guardian of man is heard growling, snarling, or barking outright, as you advance towards the blue smoke, which has now, by an eddy of the wind, filled a large space between the trees.

You stand before the fire, made under three or four sticks set up ten wise, to which a large cauldron is hung, bubbling and seething, with a very strong odor of fat pork; a boy, dirty and ill-favored, with a sharp glittering axe, looks very suspiciously at you, but calls off his wolfish dog, who sneaks away.

A moment shows you a long hut, formed of logs of wood, with a roof of branches, covered by birch-bark, and by its side, or near the fire, several nondescript sties or pens, apparently for keeping pigs in, formed of branches close to the ground, either like a boat turned upside down, or literally as a pigsty is formed, as to shape.

In the large hut, which is occasionally more luxurious and made of slabs of wood or of rough boards, if a saw-mill is within reasonable distance, and there is a passable wood road, or creek, or rivulet, navigable by canoes, you see some barrel or two of pork, and of flour, or biscuit, or whiskey, some tools, and some old blankets or skins. Here you are in the lumberer's winter home—I cannot call him woodman, it would disgrace the ancient and ballad-sung craft; for the lumberer is not a gentle woodman, and you need not sing sweetly to him to "spare that tree."

The larger dwelling is the hall, the common hall, and the pig-sties the sleeping-places. I presume that such a circumstance as pulling off habiliments or ablution seldom occurs; they roll themselves in a blanket or skin, if they have one, and, as to water, they are so frequently in it during the summer, that I suppose they wash half the year unintentionally. Fat pork, the fattest of the fat, is the lumberer's luxury; and, as he has the universal rifle or fowling-piece, he kills a partridge, a bear, or a deer, now and then.

I was exploring last year some woods in a newly settled township, the township of Seymour West, in the Newcastle district of Upper Canada, with a view to see the nakedness of the land, which had been represented to me as flowing with milk and honey, as all new settlements of course are said to do. I wandered into the lonely but beautiful forest, with a companion who owned the soil, and who had told me that the lumberers were robbing him and every settler around of their best pine timber. After some toiling and tracing the sound of the axes, few and far between, felling in the distance, we came upon the unvarying boy at cookery, the axe, and the dog.

My conductor at once saw the extent of the mischief going on, and, finding that the gang, although distant from the camp-fire, was numerous, advised that we should retrace our steps. We however interrogated the boy, who would scarcely answer, and pretended to know nothing. The dog began to be inquisitive too, and one of the dogs we had with us venturing a little too near a savory piece of pork, the nature of the young half-bred ruffian suddenly blazed out, and the axe was uplifted to kill poor Dash. I happened to have a good stick, and interfered to prevent dog-murder, upon which the wood-demon ejaculated that he would as soon let out my guts as the dog's, and therefore my companion had to show his gun; for showing his teeth would have been of little avail with the young savage.

The settlers are afraid of the lumberers; and thus all the finest land, near rivers, creeks, or transport of any kind, is swept of the timber to such an extent that you must go now far, far back from the Lakes, the St. Lawrence, or the Ottawa, before you can see the forest in its primeval grandeur.

This robbery has been carried on in so barefaced and extensive a manner, that the chief adventurer, usually a merchant or trader, who supplies the axe and canoe men with pay in his shop goods, cent. per cent. above their value, becomes enriched.

The lumberer's life is truly an unhappy one, for, when he reaches the end of the raft's voyage, whatever money he may have made goes to the fiddle, the female, or the fire-water; and he starts again as poor as at first, living perhaps by a rare chance to the advanced age, for a lumberer, of forty years.

And a curious sight is a raft, joined together not with ropes but with the limbs and thews of the swamp or blue beech, which is the natural cordage of Canada and is used for scaffolding and packing.

A raft a quarter of a mile long—I hope I do not exaggerate, for it may be half a mile, never having measured one but by the eye—with its little huts of boards, its apologies for flags and streamers, its numerous little masts and sails, its cooking caboose, and its contrivances for anchoring and catching the wind by slanting boards, with the men who appear on its surface as if they were walking on the lake, is curious enough; but to see it in drams, or detached portions, sent down foaming and darting along the timber slides of the Ottawa or the restless and rapid Trent, is still more so; and fearful it is to observe its conductor, who looks in the rapid by no means so much at his ease as the functionary of that name to whom the Paris diligence is entrusted.

Numberless accidents happen; the drams are torn to pieces by the violence of the stream; the rafts are broken by storm and tempest; the men get drunk and fall over; and altogether it appears extraordinary that a raft put together at the Trent village for its final voyage to Quebec should ever reach its destination, the transport being at least four hundred and fifty miles, and many go much farther, through an open and ever agitated fresh water sea, and amongst the intricate channels of The Thousand Islands, and down the tremendous rapids of the Longue Sault, the Gallope, the Cedars, the Cascades, &c.

But a new trade, has lately commenced on Lake Ontario, which will break up some of the hardships of the rafting. Old steamboats of very large size, when no longer serviceable in their vocation, are now cut down, and perhaps lengthened, masted, and rigged as barques or ships, and treated in every respect like the Atlantic timber-vessels. Into these three-masters, these Leviathans of Lake Ontario, the timber, boards, staves, handspikes, &c., from the interior are now shipped, and the timber carried to the head of the St. Lawrence navigation.

This site includes some historical materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in any way endorse the stereotypes implied.

Source: Canada and the Canadians, Volume I, 1849


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