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The Goliath at Toronto

One step more, and they will, as soon as the canals are widened, proceed from Lake Superior to London without a raft being ever made.

That this will soon occur is very evident; for a large vessel of this kind, as big as a frigate, and named the Goliath, is at the moment that I am writing preparing at Toronto, near the head of Lake Ontario, a thousand miles from the open sea, for a voyage direct to the West Indies and back again. Success to her! What with the railroad from Halifax to Lake Huron, from the Atlantic Ocean to the great fresh ocean of the West—what with the electric telegraph now in operation on the banks of the Niagara by the Americans—what with the lighting of villages on the shores of Lake Erie with natural gas, as Fredonia is lit, and as the city of the Falls of Niagara, if ever it is built, will also be, there is no telling what will happen: at all events, the poor lumberer must benefit in the next generation, for the worst portion of his toils will be done away with for ever.

Settler, never become a lumberer, if you can avoid it.

But, as we have in this favorite hobbyhorse style of ours, which causes description to start up as recollections occur, accompanied the lumberer on his voyage to that lumberer's Paradise, Quebec, whither he has conducted his charge to The Coves, for the culler to cull, the marker to mark, the skipper to ship, and the lumber-merchant to get the best market he can for it, so we shall return for a short time to Lower Canada, to talk a little about settlement there.

As I hinted before, Lower Canada is too much decried as a country to re-commence the world in; but the Anglo-Saxon and Milesian populace are nevertheless beginning to discover its value, and are very rapidly increasing both in numbers and importance. The French Canadian yeoman, or small farmer, has an alacrity at standing still; it is only le notaire and le medécin that advance; so that, if emigration goes on at the rate it has done since the rebellion, the old country folks will, before fifty more years pass over, outnumber and outvote, by ten times, Jean Baptiste, which is a pity, for a better soul than that merry mixture of bonhomie and phlegm, the French Canadian is, the wide world's surface does not produce. Visionary notions of la gloire de la nation Canadienne, instilled into him by restless men, who panted for distinction and cared not for distraction, misled the bonnet rouge awhile: but he has superadded the thinking cap since; and, although he may not readily forget the sad lesson he received, yet he has no more idea of being annexed to the United States than I have of being Grand Lama. In fact, I really believe that the merciful policy which has been shown, and the wise measure of making Montreal the seat of government, and thus practically demonstrating the advantage of the institutions of England by daily lessons in the heart of their dear country, has done more to recall the Canadians to a sense of the real value of the connection with Great Britain than all the protocols of diplomatists, or all the powder that ever saltpetre generated, could have achieved.

Pursue a perfectly impartial course, as you ought and must do, towards the Canadians, and show them that they are as much British citizens as the people of Toronto are, and you may count upon their loyalty and devotion without fear. They know they never can be an independent nation; that folly has been dreamed out, and the fumes of the vision are evaporating.

They now know and feel that annexation to the great Republic in their neighborhood will swamp their nationality more effectively than the red or the blue coats of England can ever do, will desecrate their altars, will portion out their lands, will nullify their present importance, and render them an isolated race, forgotten and unsought for, as the Iroquois of the last century, who, from being the children and owners of the land, the true enfans du sol, are now—where? The soil, had it voice, could alone reply, for on its surface they are not.

We must never in England form a false estimate of the French Canadian, because a few briefless lawyers or saddle-bag medical men urged them into rebellion. Their feelings and spirit are not of the same genre as the feelings and spirit which animated the hideous soul of the poissardes and canaille of Paris in 1792. There is very little or no poverty in Lower Canada; every man who will work there, can work; and it is a nation rather of small farmers than of classes, with the ideas of independence which property, however small, invariably generates in the human breast; but with that other idea also which urges it to preserve ancient landmarks.

It is chiefly in the large towns and in their neighborhood that the desire for exclusive nationality still exists, fostered by a rabid appetite for distinction in some ardent and reckless adventurers from the British ranks, who care little what is undermost so long as they are uppermost.

The hostility of the British settlers to the French is by no means so great as is so carefully and constantly described, and would altogether cease, if not kept continually alive by Upper Canadian demonstration, and that desire to rule exclusively which has so long been the bane of this fine colony.

It reminds one always of the morbid hatred of France, which existed thirty years ago in England, when Napoleon was believed, by the lower classes—ay, and by some of the higher too—to be Apollyon in earnest.

I remember an old lord of the old school, whose family honors were not of a hundred years, and whose ancestors had been respectable traders, saying to me, a short time before he died, that Republican notions had spread so much from our peace with infidel France, that he should yet live to see those who possessed talent or energy enough among the middle class, take those honors which he was so proud of, and with the titles also, the estates.

Look, said he, at the absurd decoration showered on the savans of France, Baron Cuvier, for instance; and he fell into a passion, and, being a French scholar, sang forth, in a paroxysm of gout, this refrain:—

"Travaillez, travaillez, bon tonnelier,
Racommodez, racommodez, ton Cuvier."

And yet he was by no means an ignorant man—was at heart a true John Bull, and had traveled and seen the world. He was blinded by an unquenchable hatred of France, a hatred which has now ceased in England in consequence of the facility of intercourse, but which is revived in France against England by those who think la gloire preferable to peace and honor.

The miserable feudal system in Lower Canada has kept the French population in abeyance; that population is literally dormant, and the resources of the country unused; a Seigneur, now often anything but a Frenchman, holds an immense tract, parceled out into little slips amongst a peasantry, whose ideas are as limited as their lands. Generation after generation has tilled these patches, until they are exhausted; and thus the few proprietors who have been able to emancipate themselves from the Seignoral thraldom sell as fast as they can obtain purchasers; and the Seignories lapse, by failure of descent or by cutting off the entail, as it may be termed, under the dominion of foreigners, to the people.

It is surprising that British capitalists do not turn their attention more to Lower Canada, where land is thus to be bought very cheap, and which only requires manuring, a treatment that it rarely receives from a Canadian, to bring it into heart again, and where the vast extent of the British townships, held in free and common soccage, opens such a field for the agriculturist.

These townships are rapidly opening up and improving, and the sales of the British American Land Company may in round numbers be said to average £20,000 a year, or more than 40,000 acres, averaging ten shillings an acre.

The day's wages for a laborer on a farm in Lower Canada may be stated at two shillings currency, about one shilling and eightpence sterling, with food and lodging; but, excepting in the towns and in the eastern townships, the laborers are Canadians, elsewhere chiefly Irish. In the large towns also they are Irish, and two shillings and sixpence is the usual price of a day's work at Montreal.

There is a great demand for English or Scotch laborers in the townships where provisions are reasonable, and the materials for building, either lime, stone, brick, or wood, also very moderate in price from their abundance.

Cultivated, or rather cleared, farms may be purchased now near the settlements for about six pounds per acre, with very often dwelling and farms on them, and a clear title may be readily obtained, after inquiry at the registry office of the county, to see whether any mortgage or other encumbrance exist—a course always to be adopted, both in Upper and Lower Canada. A settler must take the precaution of tracing the original grant, and that the land, if he buys from an individual, is neither Crown nor Clergy reserve, nor set apart for school or any other public purposes. Never buy, moreover, of a squatter, or land on which a squatter is located, for the law is very favorable to these gentry.

A squatter is a man who, axe in hand, with his gun, dog, and baggage, sets himself down in the deep forest, to clear and improve; and this he very frequently does, both upon public and private property; and the Government is lenient, so that, if he makes well of it, he generally has a right of pre-emption, or perhaps pays up only installments, and then sells and goes deeper into the bush. Every way there is difficulty about squatted land, and very often the squatter will significantly enough hint that there is such a thing as a rifle in his log castle. Squatters are usually Americans, of the very lowest grade, or the most ignorant of the Irish, who really believe they have a right to the soil they occupy.

I do not profess to give an account of the Eastern Townships; the prospectus of the British American Land Company will do that; and, as I have never been through them entirely, so I could only advance assertion; but I believe that they are admirably adapted for English and Scotch settlers, and that, bounded as they are by the French Canadians on one side, and by the United States on the other, with every facility for roads, canals, and railways, they must become one of the richest, most and important portions of Canada before half a century has passed over; but it will take that time, notwithstanding railways and locomotives, to make Jean Baptiste a useful agriculturist; and the fly must be eradicated from the wheat before Lower Canada can ever come within a great distance of competition in the flour market with the upper province.

Take a steamboat voyage from Quebec to Montreal, and you pass through French Canada; for, although there are very extensive settlements of the race below Quebec till they are lost in the rugged mountains of Gaspesia, yet the main body of habitants rest upon the low and tranquil shores of the St. Lawrence, for one hundred and eighty miles between the Castle of St. Lewis and the Cathedral of Montreal. The farm-houses, neat, and invariably whitewashed, line the river, particularly on the left bank, like a cantonment, and go back to the north for, at the utmost, ten or twelve miles into the then boundless wilderness.

The cultivated ground is in narrow slips, fenced by the customary snake fence, which is nothing more than slabs of trees split coarsely into rails, and set up lengthways in a zig-zag form to give them stability, with struts, or riders, at the angles, to bind them. These farms are about nine hundred feet in width, and four or five miles in depth, being the concessions or allotments made originally by the seigneurs to the censitaires, or tillers of the soil. Every here and there, a long road is left, with cross ones, to obtain access to the farms, much in the same way, but not near so conveniently, or well done, as the concession lines in Upper Canada, which embrace large spaces of a hundred acre or two hundred acre lots, including many of these lots, and giving a sixty-six feet or a forty foot road, as the case may be, and thus dividing the country into a series of large parallelograms, and making every farm accessible.

Each Lower French Canadian farmer is an independent yeoman, excepting as bound to the soil, and to certain seignorial dues and privileges, which are, however, trifling, and far from burthensome. Taxes are unknown, and they cheerfully support their priesthood.

It is not generally known in England that the feudal tenure—although very laughable and absurd at this time of day, and from which some seigneurs, but never those of unmixed French blood, are disposed to claim titles equivalent to the baronage of England, with incomes of about a thousand a year, or at most two, and manorial houses, resembling very much a substantial Buckinghamshire grazier's chateau—was originally established by the French monarchs for wise, highly useful, and benevolent purposes.

These seigneuries were parceled out in very large tracts of forest along the banks of the St. Lawrence, or the rivers and bays of Lower Canada, on the condition that they should be again parceled out among those who would engage to cultivate them in the strips above-mentioned. Thus re-granted, the seigneur could not eject the habitant, but was allowed to receive a nominal or feudal rent from the vassal, and the usual droits. These droits are, first, the barbarous "lods et ventes," or one thirteenth of the money upon every transfer which the habitant makes by sale only; but the original rent can never be raised, whatever value the land may have attained. The rights of the mill, that old European appendage of the lord of the soil, were also reserved to the seigneur, who alone can build mills within his domain, or use the waters within his boundaries for mechanical purposes; but he must erect them at convenient distances, and must make and repair roads. The miller, therefore, takes toll of the grist, which is another source of seignorial revenue, although not a very great one, for the toll is, excepting the miller's thumb rights, not very large.

The crown of England is the lord paramount or suzerain, and demands a tax of one fifth of the purchase-money of each seignory sold or transferred by the lord of the manor.

By law, the lands cannot be subdivided, and if a seigneurie is sold it cannot be sold in parts, nor can any compromise with the habitants for rent, or any other claim or encumbrance, be made.

An institution like this paralyzes the resident, paralyzes the settler, and destroys that aristocracy for whose benefit it was created; for it prevents the lord of the manor from ever becoming rich, or taking much interest in the improvement of his domain; and thus every thing continues as it was a hundred years ago. The British emigrant pauses ere he buys land thus enthralled; and almost all the old French families, who dated from Charlemagne, Clovis, or Pepin, from the Merovingian or Carlovingian monarchies, have disappeared and dwindled away, and their places have been supplied by the more enterprising, or the nouveau riche men of the old world, or by restless, acute lawyers, and metaphysical body-curers.

It was no wonder, therefore, that, upon the removal of the seat of government from Toronto, and the appointment of a governor-general untrammeled by the lieutenant governorship of Western Canada, over which he had had before no control, that it should be considered desirable by degrees to introduce the English land system throughout Canada, and that parliamentary inquiry should be made into the necessity of abolishing all feudal taxation. In Montreal this has been done, and, as the seigniorial rights of succession lapse, it will soon be done every where, for the recent enactments have emancipated many already.

But no sensible or feeling mind will desire to see the French Canadian driven to break up all at once habits formed by ages of contentment; and, as it does not press upon them beyond their ready endurance, why should we, to please a few rich capitalists or merchants, suddenly force a British population into the heart of French Canada?

Jean Baptiste is too good a fellow to desire this. On our part, we should not forget his truly amiable character; we should not forget the services he rendered to us, when our children fought to drive us from our last hold on the North American continent; we should not forget his worthy and excellent priesthood; nor should we ever lose sight of the fact, that he is contented under the old system. Above all, we should never forget that he fought our battles when his Gallic sires joined our revolted children.

I feel persuaded that, if an unhappy war must take place between the United States and England, the French Canadians will prove, as they did before on a similar occasion, loyal to a man.

All animosity, all heart-burning, will be forgotten, and the old French glory will shine again, as it did under De Salaberry.

Ma foi, nous ne sommes pas perdus, encore; and some hero of the war has only to rouse himself and cry, as Roland did,

                                                                                                     Suivez, mon panage éclatant,
                                                                                                     Français ainsi que ma bannière;
                                                                                                     Qu'il soit point du ralliement,
                                                                                                     Vous savez tous quel prix attend
                                                                                                     Le brave, qui dans la carrière,
                                                                                                     Marche sur le pas de Roland.
                                                                                                     Mourons pour notre patrie
                                                                                                     C'est le sort le plus beau et le plus digne d'envie.


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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