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A Journey to the Westward

We must leave Roncesvalles and La Gloire awhile, and, instead of riding a war horse, canter along upon the hobby, or a good serviceable Canadian pony, the best of all hobbies for seeing the Canadian world, and on which mettlesome charger we can much better instruct the emigrant than by long prosings about political economy and systematic colonization.

So, en avant! I am going to relate the incidents of a journey last summer to the Westward, and to give all the substance of my observations on men and things made therein.

I left Kingston on the 26th of June, in the Princess Royal mail steamer, at 8 p.m., the usual hour of starting being seven, for Toronto; the weather unusually cold.

This fine boat constitutes, with two others, the City of Toronto and the Sovereign, the royal mail line between Kingston and Toronto. All are built nearly alike, are first class sea boats, and low pressure; they combine, with the Highlander, the Canada, and the Gildersleave, also splendid vessels, to form a mail route to Montreal—the latter boats taking the mail as far as Coteau du Lac, forty-five miles from Montreal, on which route a smaller vessel, the Chieftain, plies, wherein you sleep, at anchor, or rather moored, till daylight, if going down, or going upwards, on board the mail boat.

Passengers go from Montreal to Kingston by the mail route in twenty-four hours, a distance of 180 miles; a small portion, between the Cascades Rapids and the Coteau being traversed in a coach, on a planked road as smooth as a billiard-table.

From Kingston to Toronto, or nearly the whole length of Lake Ontario, takes sixteen hours, the boat leaving at seven, and arriving about or before noon next day; performing the passage at the rate of eleven miles an hour, exclusively of stoppages.

The transit between Montreal and Kingston is at the rate, including stoppage for daylight, the river being dangerous, of eight miles an hour; thus, in forty hours, the passenger passes from the seat of government to the largest city of Western Canada most comfortably, a journey which twenty years ago it always took a fortnight, and often a month, to accomplish, in the most precarious and uncomfortable manner—on board small, roasting steamers, crowded like a cattle-pen—in lumbering leathern conveniences, miscalled coaches, over roads which enter not into the dreams of Britons—by canoes—by bateaux, (a sort of coal barges,)—by schooners, where the cabin could never permit you to display either your length, your breadth, or your thickness, and thus reducing you to a point in creation, according to Euclid and his commentators.

Your compagnons de voyage, on board a bateau or Durham boat, which was a monstre bateau, were French Canadian voyageurs, always drunk and always gay, who poled you along up the rapids, or rushed down them with what will be will be.

These happy people had a knack of examining your goods and chattels, which they were conveying in the most admirable manner, and with the utmost sang-froid; but still they were above stealing—they only tapped the rum cask or the whiskey barrel, and appropriated any cordage wherewith you bound your chests and packages. I never had a chest, box, or bale sent up by bateau or Durham boat that escaped this rope mail.

By the by, the Durham boat, a long decked barge, square ahead, and square astern, has vanished; Ericson's screw-propellers have crushed it. It was neither invented by nor named after Lord Durham, but was as ancient as Lambton House itself.

The way the conductors of these boats found out vinous liquors was, as brother Jonathan so playfully observes, a caution.

I have known an instance of a cask of wine, which, for security from climate, had an outer case or cask strongly secured over it, with an interior space for neutralizing frost or heat, bored so carefully that you could never discover how it had been effected, and a very considerable quantum of beverage extracted.

I once had a small barrel, perhaps twenty gallons of commissariat West India ration rum, the best of all rum for liqueurs, sucked dry. Of course, it had leaked, but I never could discover the leak, and it held any liquid very well afterwards.

I know the reader likes a story, and as this is not by any means an historical or scientific work, excepting always the geological portion thereof, I will tell him or her, as the case may be, a story about ration rum.

There was a funny fellow, an Irish auctioneer at Kingston, some years ago, called Paddy Moran, whom all the world, priest and parson, minister and Methodist, soldier and sailor, tinker and tailor, went to hear when he mounted his rostrum.

He was selling the goods of a quarter-master-general who was leaving the place. At last he came to the cellar and the rum. "Now, gentlemen," says Moran, "I advise you to buy this rum, 7s. 6d. a gallon! going, going! Gentlemen, I was once a soldier—don't laugh, you officers there, for I was—and a sergeant into the bargain. It wasn't in the Irish militia—bad luck to you, lieutenant, for laughing that way, it will spoil the rum! I was the tip-top of the sergeants of the regiment—long life to it! Yes, I was quarter-master-sergeant, and hadn't I the serving out of the rations; and didn't I know what good ration rum was; and didn't I help myself to the prime of it! Well, then, gentlemen and ladies—I mane, Lord save yees, ladies and gentlemen—if a quarter-master-sergeant in the army had good rum, what the devil do you think a quarter-master-general gets?"

The rum rose to fifteen shillings per gallon at the next bid.

You can have every convenience on board a Lake Ontario mail-packet, which is about as large as a small frigate, and has the usual sea equipment of masts, sails, and iron rigging. The fare is five dollars in the cabin, or about £1 sterling; and two dollars in the steerage. In the former you have tea and breakfast, in the latter nothing but what is bought at the bar. By paying a dollar extra you may have a state-room on deck, or rather on the half-deck, where you find a good bed, a large looking-glass, washing-stand and towels, and a night-lamp, if required. The captains are generally part owners, and are kind, obliging, and communicative, sitting at the head of their table, where places for females and families are always reserved. The stewards and waiters are colored people, clean, neat, and active; and you may give seven pence-halfpenny or a quarter-dollar to the man who cleans your boots, or an attentive waiter, if you like; if not, you can keep it, as they are well paid.

The ladies' cabin has generally a large cheval glass and a piano, with a white lady to wait, who is always decked out in flounces and furbelows, and usually good-looking. All you have got to do on embarking or on disembarking is to see personally to your luggage; for leaving it to a servant unacquainted with the country will not do. At Kingston, matters are pretty well arranged, and the carters are not so very impudent, and so ready to push you over the wharf; but at Toronto they are very so so, and want regulating by the police; and in the States, at Buffalo particularly, the porters and carters are the most presuming and insolent serviles I ever met with; they rush in a body on board the boat, and respect neither persons nor things.

I knew an American family composed chiefly of females, traveling to the Falls; and these ladies had their baggage taken to a train going inland, whilst they were embarking on board the British boat which was to convey them to Chippewa in Canada.

The comfort of some of these boats, as they call them, but which ought to be called ships, is very great. There is a regular drawing room on board one called the Chief Justice where I saw, just after the horticultural show at Toronto, pots of the most rare and beautiful flowers, arranged very tastefully, with a piano, highly-colored nautical paintings and portraits, and a tout ensemble, which, when the lamps were lit, and conversation going on between the ladies and gentlemen then and there assembled, made one quite forget we were at sea on Lake Ontario, the "Beautiful Lake," which, like other beautiful creations, can be very angry if vexed.

The Americans have very fine steam vessels on their side of the lake, but they are flimsily constructed, painted glaringly, white, and green, and yellow, without comfort or good attendance, and with a devil-may-care sort of captain, who seems really scarcely to know or to care whether he has passengers or has not, a scrambling hurried meal, and divers other unmentionables.

The American gentry always prefer the British boats, for two good reasons; they see Queen Victoria's people, and they meet with the utmost civility, attention, and comfort. They sit down to dinner, or breakfast, or tea, like Christian men and women, where there is no railway eating and drinking; where due time is spent in refreshing the body and spirits; and where people help each other, or the waiters help them, at table, without a scramble, like hogs, for the best and the most—a custom which all traveled Americans detest and abominate as much as the most fastidious Englishman.

It is not unusual at hotel dinners, or on board steamers, to see a man, I cannot call him a gentleman, sitting next a female, totally neglect her, and heap his plate with fish, with flesh, with pie, with pudding, with potato, with cranberry jam, with pickles, with salad, with all and every thing then within his reach, swallow in a trice all this jumble of edibles, jump up and vanish.

Can such a being have a stomach, or a digestion, and must he not necessarily, about thirty-five years of age, be yellow, spare, and parchment-skinned, with angular projections, and a prodigious tendency to tobacco?

An American gentleman—mind, I lay a stress upon the second word—never bolts his victuals, never picks his teeth at table, never spits upon the carpet, or guesses; he knows not gin-sling, and he eschews mint-julep; but he does, I am ashamed to say, admire a sherry cobbler, particularly if he does not get a second-hand piece of vermicelli to suck it through. Reader, do you know what a sherry cobbler is? I will enlighten you. Let the sun shine at about 80° Fahrenheit. Then take a lump of ice; fix it at the edge of a board; rasp it with a tool made like a drawing knife or carpenter's plane, set face upwards. Collect the raspings, the fine raspings, mind, in a capacious tumbler; pour thereon two glasses of good sherry, and a good spoonful of powdered white sugar, with a few small bits, not slices, but bits of lemon, about as big as a gooseberry. Stir with a wooden macerator. Drink through a tube of macaroni or vermicelli. C'est l'eau benite, as the English lord said to the garçon at the Milles Colonnes, when he first tasted real parfait amour.—C'est beaucoup mieux, Milor, answered the waiter with a profound reverence.

Gin-sling, cock-tail, mint-julep, are about as vulgar as blue ruin and old tom at home; but sherry cobbler is an affair of consideration—only never pound your ice, always rasp it.

It is a custom on board the Canadian steamers for gentlemen to call for a pint of wine at dinner, or for a bottle, according to the strength of the party; but it is a custom more honored in the breach than the observance; for sherry and port are the usual stock, both fiery as brandy, and costing the moderate price of seven shillings and sixpence a bottle, the steward having laid the same in at about one shilling and eight pence, or at most two shillings. Why this imposition, the only one you meet with in traveling in Canada at hotels or steamboats, is perpetrated and perpetuated, I could never learn.

Many American gentlemen, however, encourage it, and have told me that they do so because they get no good port in the States. Ale and porter are charged two shillings and sixpence a bottle, which is double their worth. Be careful also not to drink freely of the iced water, which is always supplied ad libitum. Few Europeans escape the effects of water-drinking when they land at Quebec, Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, &c. There is something peculiar, which has never yet been satisfactorily explained by medical men, in the sudden attack upon the system produced by the waters of Canada: this is sometimes slight, but more often lasts several days, and reduces the strength a good deal. Iced water is worse, and produces country cholera. The Americans use ice profusely, and drink such draughts of iced water, that I have been astonished at the impunity with which they did so.

Perhaps the change from a moist sea atmosphere to the dry and desiccating air of Canada, where iron does not rust, may be one cause of the malady alluded to, and another, in addition to the water, the difference of cookery; for here, at public tables and on board the boats generally, where black cooks prevail, all is butter and grease.

But the change of climate is undoubtedly great. I had been long an inhabitant of Upper Canada, and fancied myself seasoned; but, having returned to England, and spending afterwards two or three years in the excessively humid air of the sea-coast of Newfoundland at St. Johns, where I became somewhat stout, on my return to Upper Canada, for want of a little preparatory caution in medicine, although naturally of a spare habit, I was seized with a violent bleeding at the nose, which baffled all remedies for several months, until artificial mineral water and a copious use of solutions of iron stopped it. No doubt this prevented the fever of the lakes, and was owing to the dryness of the air. I mention this to caution all new-comers, young and old, to take timely advice and medicine.

There is another complaint in Upper Canada, which attacks the settler very soon after his arrival, especially if young, and that is worms; a disorder very prevalent at all times in Canada, particularly among the poorer classes, and probably owing to food.

These, with ague and colic, or country cholera, are the chief evils of the clime; few are, however, fatal, excepting the lake fever, and that principally among children.

The sportsman should recollect, in so marshy and woody a country, subject as it is to the most surprising alternations of temperature, that instead of minding that celebrated rule, "Keep your powder dry," he should read, "Keep your feet dry." Dry feet and the avoidance of sitting in wet or damp clothes, or drinking iced water when hot, or of cooling yourself in a delicious draught of air when in a perspiration, are the best precautions against ague, fever, colic, or cholera—in a country where the thermometer reaches 90° in the shade, and sometimes 110°, as it did last summer, and 27° below zero in the winter, with rapid alternations embracing such a range of the scale as is unknown elsewhere.

In the country places, in traveling, you will invariably find that windows are very little attended to, and that the head of your bed, or the side of it, is placed against a loosely-fitting broken sash. The night-fogs and damps are highly dangerous to new-comers; so act accordingly.

Fleas and bugs, and "such small deer," you must expect in every inn you stop at, even in the cities; for it appears—and indeed I did not know the fact until this year—that bugs are indigenous, native to the soil, and breed in the bark of old trees; so that if you build a new house, you bring the enemy into your camp. Nothing but cleanliness and frequent whitewash, coloring, paint, and soft soap, will get rid of them. If it were not for the strong smell of red cedar and its extreme brittleness, I would have my bedstead of that material; for even the iron bedsteads, in the soldiers' barracks, become infested with them if not painted often. Red cedar they happily eschew.

Travelers may talk as they please of mosquitoes being the scourge of new countries; the bugs in Canada are worse, and the black fly and sand-fly superlatively superior in annoyance. The black fly exists in the neighborhood of rivers or swamps, and attacks you behind the ear, drawing a pretty copious supply of blood at each bite. The sand-fly, as its name imports, exists in sandy soil, and is so small that it cannot be seen without close inspection; its bite is sharp and fiery.

Then the farmer has the wheat-fly and the turnip-fly to contend against; the former has actually devoured Lower Canada, and the latter has obliged me in a garden to sow several successive crops. The melon-bug is another nuisance; it is a small winged animal, of a bright yellow color, striped with black bars, and takes up its abode in the flower of the melon and pumpkin, breeding fast, and destroying wherever it settles, for young plants are literally eaten up by it.

The grub, living under ground in the daytime, and sallying forth at night, is a ferocious enemy to cabbage-plants, lettuce, and most of the young, tender vegetables; but, by taking a lantern and a pan after dark, the gentlemen can be collected whilst on their tour, and poultry are very fond of them. Last year, the potato crop failed throughout Canada. What a singular dispensation!—for it alike suffered in Europe, and no doubt the malady was atmospheric. The hay crop, too, suffered severely; but still, by a merciful Providence, the wheat and corn harvest was ample, and gathered in a month before the customary time.

By the word corn I mean oats, rye, and barley; but in the Canadas and in the United States that word means maize or Indian-corn only, which in Canada, last summer, was not, I should think, even an average crop. It is extensively used here for food, as well as buckwheat, and for feeding poultry.

But to our journey westward. I arrived at Toronto on the 27th of June, and found the weather had changed to variable and fine.

On steaming up the harbor, I was greatly surprised and very much pleased to see such an alteration as Toronto has undergone for the better since 1837. Then, although a flourishing village, be-citied, to be sure, it was not one third of its present size. Now it is a city in earnest, with upwards of twenty thousand inhabitants—gas-lit, with good plank side-walks and macadamized streets, and with vast sewers, and fine houses, of brick or stone. The main street, King Street, is two miles and more in length, and would not do shame to any town, and has a much more English look than most Canadian places have.

Toronto is still the seat of the Courts of Law for Western Canada, of the University of King's College, of the Bishopric of Toronto, and of the Indian Office. Kingston has retained the militia head-quarter office, and the Principal Emigrant Agency, with the Naval and Military grand depôts; so that the removal of the seat of Government to Montreal has done no injury to Toronto, and will do very little to Kingston: in fact, I believe firmly that, instead of being injurious, it will be very beneficial. The presence of Government at Kingston gave an unnatural stimulus to speculation among a population very far from wealthy; and buildings of the most frail construction were run up in hundreds, for the sake of the rent which they yielded temporarily.

The plan upon which these houses were erected was that of mortgage; thus almost all are now in possession of one person who became suddenly possessed of the requisite means by the sale of a large tract required for military purposes. But this species of property seldom does the owner good in his lifetime; and, if he does reclaim it, there is no tenant to be had now; so that the building decays, and in a very short time becomes an encumbrance. Mortgages only thrive where the demand is superior and certain to the investment; and then, if all goes smoothly, mortgager and mortgagee may benefit; but where a mechanic or a storekeeper, with little or no capital, undertakes to run up an extensive range of houses to meet an equivocal demand, the result is obvious. If the houses he builds are of stone or brick, and well finished, the man who loans the money is the gainer; if they are of wood, indifferently constructed and of green materials, both must suffer. So it is a speculation, and, like all speculations, a good deal of repudiation mixes up with it.

There are two good houses of entertainment for the gentleman traveler in Toronto; the Club House in Chewett's Buildings and Macdonald's Hotel. In the former, a bachelor will find himself quite at home; in the latter, a family man will have no reason to regret his stay.

But servants at Toronto—by which I mean attendants—are about on a par with the same race all over Canada. The colored people are the best, but never make yourself dependent on either; for, if you are to start by the stage or the steamer, depend on your watch, instead of upon your boots being cleaned or your shaving-water being ready. In the latter case, shave with cold water by the light of your candle, lit by your own lucifer match. They are civil, however, and attentive, as far as the very free and easy style of their acquirements will permit them; for a cook will leave at a moment's notice, if she can better herself; and any trivial occurrence will call off the waiter and the boots. The only punctual people are the porters; and, as they wear glazed hats, with the name of the hotel emblazoned thereon, frigate-fashion, you can always find them.

An excellent arrangement is the omnibus attached to the hotels in Canada West, which conveys you cost-free to and from the steamboat, and a very comfortable wooden convenience it is, resembling very much the vans which, in days of yore, plied near London.

My first start from Toronto was to Ultima Thule, Penetanguishene, a locality scarcely to be found in the maps, and yet one of much importance, situate and being north-north-west of the city some hundred and eight miles, on Lake Huron.

The route is per coach to St. Alban's, thirty and three miles, along Yonge Street, of which about one-third is macadamized from granite boulders; the rest mud and etceteras, too numerous to mention. Yonge Street is a continuous settlement, with an occasional sprinkling of the original forest. The land on each side is fertile, and supplies Toronto market.

It rises gradually by those singular steps, or ridges, formerly banks or shores o£ antediluvian oceans, till it reaches the vicinity of the Holland river, a tortuous, sluggish, marshy, natural canal, flowing or lazily creeping into Lake Simcoe, at an elevation of upwards of seven-hundred and fifty feet above Lake Ontario, and emptying itself into Lake Huron by a series of rapids, called the Matchedash or Severn River.

The first quarter of the route to St. Alban's is a series of country-houses, gentlemen's seats, half-pay officers' farms, prettily fenced, and pleasant to the sight: the next third embraces Thornhill, a nice village in a hollow; Richmond Hill, with a beautiful prospect and detached settlements: the ultimate third is a rich, undulating country, inhabited by well-to-do Quakers, with Newmarket on their right, and looking for all the world very like "dear home," with orchards, and as rich corn-fields and pastures as may be seen any where, backed, however, by the eternal forest. It is peculiarly and particularly beautiful.

A short distance before reaching St. Alban's, which is quite a new village, the road descends rapidly, and the ground is broken into hummocks.

But I must not forget Bond's Lake, a most singular feature of this part of the road, which, perhaps, I shall treat of in returning from Penetanguishene, as I am now in a hurry to get to St. Alban's.

Here, where all was scrub forest in 1837, are a little street, a house of some pretension occupied by Mr. Laughton, the enterprising owner of the Beaver steamboat, plying on Lake Simcoe, and two inns.

I stopped for the night, for Yonge Street is still a tiresome journey, although only a stage of thirty three miles, at Winch's Tavern. This is a very good road-side house, and the landlord and landlady are civil and attentive. Before you go to roost, for stopping by the way-side is pretty much like roosting, as you must be up with Chanticleer, you can just look over Mr. Laughton's paling, and you will see as pretty a florist's display as may be imagined. The owner is fond of flowers, and he has lots of them, and, when you make his acquaintance afterwards in the Beaver, you will find that he has lots of information also. But I did not go in the Beaver, which ship "wharfs" some two or three miles further ahead, at Holland River Landing, commonly called "the Landing," par excellence. Here flies, mosquitoes, ague, and other plagues, are so rife, that all attempts at settlement are vanity and vexation of spirit.

So, being willing to see what had happened in Gwillimbury since 1837, I took a wagon and the land road, and went off as day broke, or rather before it broke, about four a.m., in a deep gray mist. The wagon should be described, as it is the best voiture in Western Canada.

Four wheels, of a narrow tire, are attached without any springs to a long body, formed of straight boards, like a piano-case, only more clumsy; in which, resting on inside rims or battens, are two seats, with or without backs, generally without, on which, perhaps, a hay-cushion, or a buffalo-skin, or both, are placed. Two horses, good, bad, or indifferent, as the case may be, the positive and comparative degrees being the commonest, drag you along with a clever driver, who can turn his hand to chopping, carpentering, wheelwright's work, playing the fiddle, drinking, or any other sort of thing, and is usually an Irishman or an Irishman's son. For two dollars and a half a day he will drive you to Melville Island, or Parry's Sound, if you will only stick by him; and he jogs along, smoking his dudeen, over corduroy roads, through mud holes that would astonish a cockney, and over sand and swamp, rocks and rough places enough to dislocate every joint in your body, all his own being anchylosed or used to it, which is the same thing, in the dictionary.


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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