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The Old Canadian Coach

I can make no stay at Niagara for the present; but, after resting awhile at Howard's Inn, which is the most respectable one in the town, proceed in his coach to Queenston.

The old Canadian coach has not yet quite vanished before modern improvement. It is a mighty heavy, clumsy convenience, hung on leather springs, and looking for all the world as if elephants alone could move it along; and, if it should upset, like Falstaff, it may ask for levers to lift it up again.

We had on board the coach an American, of the species Yankee, a thorough bluff, rosy, herculean, Yorkshire-farmer, and several highly respectable females.

I will not say Jonathan did not spit before them, for he is to the manner born; but, although of inferior grade, if there can be such a thing mentioned respecting a citizen of the United States, and particularly of "the Empire State," of which he was, to his credit be it said, he treated the females with that courtesy, rough as it is, which seems innate with all Americans.

A stormy discussion arose on the part of John Bull, who hated slavery, disliked spitting, got angry about Brock's monument, and, in short, looked down with no small share of contempt upon the man of yesterday, whose ideas of right and wrong were so diametrically opposed to his own, and who very sententiously expressed them.

John told him that the only thing he had never heard in his travels through the Northern and Western States—where he had been to look at the land with a view to purchase, either there or in Canada, as might be most advisable—the only thing he had never heard was that all the citizens of the United States were all "gentlemen."

"I guess you didn't hear with both ears, then, for you always must have remarked that whenever one citizen spoke of another, he said 'that gentleman.'"

John laughed outright. "No, friend, I never did hear your white gentlemen call a nigger 'that gentleman;' so, you see, all your folks ain't equal, and all ain't gentlemen. Here, in Canada, I have heard a blacky called 'that gentleman;' and, by George, if many more of your runaway slaves cross the border, they will soon be the only gentlemen in Canada, for they are getting very impudent and very numerous."

This is, in a measure, true; such troops of escaped negroes are annually forwarded to Canada by the abolitionists that the Western frontier is overrun already, and the impudence of these newly free knows no bounds. But they cordially hate both the Southern slaveholders and the abolitionists.

Talking of slavery, pray read an account of it from an American of the Northern States.

"New Orleans, January 26, 1846.

"A man may be no abolitionist—I am not one; he may think but little on the subject of slavery—it has never troubled me one way or the other: but let him mark the records of the glorious battles of the Revolution; let him notice the Eagle of Liberty, and all the emblems of Independence, Freedom, and the rights of man; let him muse on the thoughts they awaken, and then behold the actualities of life around him. Suddenly the sharp rap of an auctioneer's hammer startles him, and the loud striking of the hour of twelve will divert his attention to the throng of men around him, and the appearance of three or four men on raised stands in different parts of the Rotunda, who are calling the attention of those around him, at the same time unrolling a hand-bill that the stranger has noticed in the most conspicuous places in the city, printed in French and English, announcing the sale of a lot of fine, likely slaves; at the same time, he observes maps of real estates spread out—everything in fact around him denoting a 'busy mart where men do congregate,' as it really is.

"The auctioneer, making the most noise, attracts his attention first; joining the crowd in front of the stand, he observes twelve or fifteen negroes of all ages and both sexes standing in a line to the left of the auctioneer; they are comfortably, and some of them neatly dressed, particularly the women, with their yellow Madras handkerchiefs tied around their heads, and their bright, showy dresses; but they have a look that irresistibly causes him to think back for a comparison to the objects before him, and it seems strange that it should bring to mind some market or field where he has sometimes seen cattle offered for sale, whose saddened look seemed to forebode some evil to them; but the animal look is somewhat redeemed by the smiles and plays of the little piccaninies, who seem to wonder why they are there, with so many men looking at them.—Now for business.

"'Maria, step up here. There, gentlemen, is a fine, likely wench, aged twenty-five; she is warranted healthy and sound, with the exception of a slight lameness in the left leg, which does not damage her at all. Step down, Maria, and walk.' The woman gets down, and steps off eight or ten paces, and returns with a slight limp, evidently with some pain, but doing her best to conceal her defect of gait. The auctioneer is a Frenchman, and announces everything alternately in French and English. 'Now, gentlemen, what is bid? she is warranted, elle est gurantie, and sold by a very respectable citizen. 250 dollars, deux cent et cinquante dollars: why, gentlemen, what do you mean! Get down, Maria, and walk a little more. 275, deux cent soixante et quinze, 300, trois cents!—go on, gentlemen—325, trois cents et vingt cinq! once, twice, ah! 350, trois cents et cinquante: une fois! deux fois! going, gone, for 350 dollars. A great bargain, gentlemen.'

"My attention is called to the opposite side of the room: 'Here, gentlemen, is a likely little orphan yellow girl, six years old—what is bid? combien? thirty-five dollars, trente cinq, fifty dollars, cinquante dollars, thank you.' Finally, she is knocked down at seventy-five dollars.

"Why, there is a whole family on that other stand; let us see them. 'There, gentlemen, is a fine lot: Willy, aged thirty-five, an expert boy, a good carpenter, brickmaker, driver, in fact, can do anything, il sait faire tout. His wife, Betty, is thirty-three, can wash, cook, wait on the table, and make herself generally useful; also their boy George, five years old; you will observe, gentlemen, that Betty est enceinte. Now what is bid for this valuable family?' After a lively competition, they are bid off at 1,550 dollars, the whole family.

"As I have before remarked, everything is done in French and English; even the negroes speak both languages. I saw one poor old negro, about sixty, put up, but withdrawn, as only 270 dollars were bid for him. While waiting to be sold, they are examined and questioned by the purchasers. One young girl, about sixteen or eighteen, was being inspected by an elderly, stern, sharp-eyed, horse-jockey looking man, who sported his gold chains, diamond pin, ruffles, and cane: 'How old are you?' 'I don't know, sir.' 'Do you know how to eat?' 'Everybody does that,' she said sullenly.

"Passing up the Esplanade next morning, (Sunday) I saw some forty or fifty very fine-looking negroes and negresses, all neatly dressed, standing on a bench directly in front of a building, which I took to be a meeting or school house: walking by, a genteel-looking man stepped up and asked me if I wished to buy a likely boy or girl. Telling him I was a stranger, and asking for information, he told me it was one of the slave-markets; that they stood there for examination, and that he had sold 500,000 dollars worth and sent them off that morning.

"The above facts are some of the singular features (to a Northerner) of this remarkable place, and I assure you that I 'nothing extenuate, or set down aught in malice;' but may the time come when even a black man may say, 'I am a man!'

"Northrop."

I once relieved a poor black wretch who was starving in the streets of Kingston, and told him where to go to get proper advice and protection: all the thanks I received were that he was sorry he ran away, for he had been a waiter somewhere in the South, and got a good many dollars by his situation; whereas, he said, Canada was a poor country, and he had no hope of thriving in it.

The lower class of negroes in Canada, for there are several classes among even runaways, are very frequently dissolute, idle, impudent, and assuming—so difficult is it for poor uneducated human nature to bear a little freedom.

The colored people, if they get at all up in the world, assume vast airs, but there are very many well-conducted people among them. As yet neither colored people nor negroes have made much advance in Canada.

John Bull had visited almost every portion of the Northern and Western States, was a shrewd, observing character, and had come to the conclusion, which he very plainly expressed, that the state of society in the Union was not to his taste, that he could procure lands as cheap and as good for his gold in Canada, and that to Canada he would bring his old woman and his children.

"For," said he, "in the London or Western districts of Upper Canada, the land is equal to any in the United States, the climate better, and by and by it will supply all Europe with grain. Settling there, an Englishman will not always be put in mind of the inferiority of the British to the Americans, will not always be told that kings and queens are childish humbugs, and will not have his work hindered and his mind poisoned by constant elections and everlasting grasping for office.

"While," says John to Jonathan, "I am in Canada, just as free as you are; I pay no taxes, or only such as I control myself, and which are laid out in roads, or for my benefit. I can worship after the manner of my fathers, without being robbed or burnt out, and I meet no man who thinks himself a bit better than myself; but, as I shall take care to settle a good way from republican sympathizers for the sake of my poor property, I shall always find my neighbors as proud of Queen Victoria as I be myself."

Jonathan replied that he had no manner of doubt that Miss Victoria was a real lady, for every female is a lady in the States; the word being understood only as an equivalent for womankind, and that John might like petticoat government, but, for his part, he calculated it was better to be a king one's-self, which every citizen of the enlightened republic was, and no mistake.

And kings they are, for all power resides there, in the body of which he was a favorable specimen, but which does not always show its members in so fair a light.

I do not know any coach ride in British America more pleasing than that from Niagara to Queenston. You cross a broad green common, with the expanse of Lake Ontario on one side, the forest and orchard on the other; and, after passing through a little coppice, suddenly come upon the St. Lawrence, rolling a tranquil flood towards the great lake below.

High above its waters, on the edge of the sharp precipitous bank, covered with trees—oak, birch, beech, chestnut, and maple—runs the sandy road, bordered by corn-fields, by orchards, and occasionally by little patches of woodland, looking for all the world like Old England, excepting that that unpicturesque snake fence spoils the illusion.

Now, bright and deep, rolls the giant flood onward; now it is hidden by a turn of the bank; now, glittering, it again appears between the trees. Thus you travel until within a couple of miles or so of Queenston, when, the road leaving the bank, and the river forming a large bay-like bend, a splendid view breaks out.

You catch a distant glimpse of that narrow pass, where a wall of rock, two hundred feet high on each side, and somewhat higher on the American shore, vomits forth the pent-up angry Niagara. Above this wall, to the right and left, towers the mountain ridge, covered with forest to the south, and with the greenest of grass to the north, where, stately and sad, stands the pillar under whose base molder the bones of the gallant Brock, and of Mac Donell, his aide-de-camp.

Rent from summit to base, tottering to its fall, is Brock's monument, and yet the villain who did the deed that destroyed it lives, and dares to show his face on the neighboring shore.

I cannot conceive in beautiful scenery any thing more picturesque than the gorge of the Niagara river: it combines rapid water, a placid bay, a tremendous wall of rock, forest, glade, village, column, active and passive life.

Queenston is a poor place; it has never gained an inch since the war of 1812; but, as a railroad has been established, and a wharf is building in connection with it, it will go ahead. Opposite to it is Lewiston, in the United States, less ancient and time-worn, full of gaudily-painted wooden houses, and with much more pretension. Queenston looks like an old English hamlet in decay; melancholy and miserable; Lewiston is the type of newness, all white and green, all unfinished and all uncomfortable.

The odious bar-room system of the Northern States is fast sweeping away all vestiges of English comfort. The practice of lounging, cigar in mouth, sipping juleps and alcoholic decoctions in common with smugglers and small folk, is fast unhinging society. The plan of social economy in the mercantile cities is rapidly spreading over the whole Union, and the fashion of ladies' drawing-rooms being absorbed into the parlor of an hotel or boarding-house has brought about a change which the next generation will lament.

It is the restless rage for politics, the ever present desire for dollars, which has brought about this state of things; the young husband seeks the bar-room as a merchant does the Change; and thus, except in the wealthy class, or among the contemplative and retired, there is no such thing as private life in the northern cities and towns. Huge taverns, real wooden gin palaces, tower over the tops of all other buildings, in every border village, town, and city; and a good bar is a better business than any other. Thus in Lewiston, in Buffalo, in short, in every American border town, the best building is the tavern, and the next best the meeting-house; both are fashionable, and both are anything but what they should be; for he who keeps the best liquors, and he who preaches most pointedly to the prevailing taste, makes the most of his trade. The voluntary system is a capital speculation to the publican as well as to the parson; but, unfortunately, it is more general with the former than with the latter.

The Niagara frontier is a rich and a fertile portion of Canada, surrounded almost by water, and intersected by rivers, and the Welland Canal, with an undulating surface in the interior. It grows wheat, Indian corn, and all the cereal gramina to perfection, whilst Pomona lavishes favors on it; nor are its woods less prolific and luxuriant. Here the chestnut, with its deep green foliage and its white flowers, forms a pleasing variety to the sylvan scenery of Canada.

It would be, from its healthiness alone, the pleasantest part of Canada to live in, but it is too near the borders where sympathizers, more keen and infinitely more barbarous than those on the ancient Tweed, render property and life rather precarious; and, therefore, in war or in rebellion, the Niagara frontier is not an enviable abode for the peaceable farmer or the timid female.

The ascent to the plateau above Queenston is grand, and the view from the summit very extensive and magnificent; embracing such a stretch of cultivated land, of forest, of the habitations of men, and of the apparently boundless Ontario, the Beautiful Lake, that it can scarcely be rivaled.

The railroad has, however, spoiled a good deal of this; it runs from the summit of the mountain, along its side or flank, inland to Chippewa, beyond the Falls; and you are whirled along, not by steam, but by three trotting horses, at a rapid rate, through a wood road, until you reach the Falls, where you obtain just a glimpse and no more of the Cataract.

On the top of the mountain, as a hill four or five hundred feet above the river is called, is a place which was the scene of an awful accident. The precipice wall of the gorge of the Niagara is very close to the road, but hidden from it by stunted firs and bushes. Colonel Nichols, an officer well known and distinguished in the last American war, was returning one winter's night, when the fresh snow rendered all tracks on the road imperceptible, in his sleigh with a gallant horse. Merrily on they went; the night was dark, and the road makes a sudden turn just at the brink, to descend by a circuitous sweep the face of the hill into Queenston. Either the driver or the horse mistook the path, and, instead of turning to the left, went on edging to the right.

The next day search was made: the marks of struggling were observed on the snow; the horse had evidently observed his danger; he had floundered and dashed wildly about; but horse, sleigh, and driver, went down, down, down, at least two hundred feet into the abyss below; and sufficient only remained to bear witness to the terrific result.

The railroad (three horse power) takes you to the Falls or to Chippewa. If you intend visiting the former, and desire to go to the Clifton House, the best hotel there, you are dropped at Mr. Lanty Mac Gilly's, where the four roads meet, one going to the Ferry, one to Drummondville, a village at Lundy's Lane, now cut off from the main road; the other you came by, and the continuation of which goes to Chippewa, where a steamer, called the Emerald, is ready to take you to the city of Buffalo in the United States. As I shall return by way of Buffalo from the extreme west of Canada, we will say not a word about any thing further on this route at present than the Falls, and perhaps the reader may think the less that is said about them the better.

But, gentle reader, although it be a well-worn tale, I had not seen the Falls for five years, and I wish to tell you whether they are altered or improved; and most likely you will take some little interest in so old a friend as the Falls of Niagara; for you must have read about those before you read Robinson Crusoe, and have had them thrust under your notice by every tourist, from Trollope to Dickens. They say, on dit, I mean, which is not translatable into English, that this is the age of Materialism and Utilitarianism. By George, you would think so indeed, if you had the chance of seeing the Falls of Niagara twice in ten years. They are materially injured by the Utilitarian mania. The Yankees put an ugly shot tower on the brink of the Horseshoe at the beginning of that era, and they are about to consummate the barbarism, by throwing a wire bridge, if the British government is consenting, over the river, just below the American Fall. But Niagara is a splendid "Water Privilege," and so thought the Company of the City of the Falls—a most enlightened body of British subjects, who first disfigured the Table Rock, by putting a water-mill on it, and now are adding the horror of gin-palaces, with sundry ornamental booths for the sale of juleps and sling, all along the venerable edge of the precipice, so that trees of unequalled beauty on the bank above, trees which grow no where else in Canada, are daily falling before the monster of gain.

What they will do next in their freaks it is difficult to surmise; but it requires very little more to show that patriotism, taste, and self-esteem, are not the leading features in the character of the inhabitants of this part of the world.

If the Colossus of Rhodes could be remodeled and brought to the Falls, one leg standing in Canada, and the other in the United States, there would be a company immediately formed for hydraulic purposes, to convey a waste pipe from the tips of the fingers as far as Buffalo; and another to light the paltry village of Manchester, all mills and mint-juleps, with the natural gas which would be made to feed the lamp. A grogshop would be set up in his head; telescopes would be poked out of his eyes, and philosophers would seat themselves on his toes, to calculate whether the waters of the British Fall could not be dammed out, so as to turn a few cotton mills more in Manchester, as it is called, which scheme some Canadian worthy would upset, by resorting to Mr. Lyell's proof that the whole river might once have flowed, and may again be made to flow, down to St. David's—thus, by expending a few millions, cutting off Jonathan's chance.

But it is of no use to joke on this subject; Niagara is, both to the United States and to England, but especially to Canada, a public property. It is the greatest wonder of the visible world here below, and should be protected from the rapacity of private speculations, and not made a Greenwich fair of; where peddlers and thimble-riggers, niggers and barkers, the lowest trulls and the vilest scum of society, congregate to disgust and annoy the visitors from all parts of the world, plundering and pestering them without control.

The only really pretty thing on the British side is the Museum, the result of the indefatigable labors of Mr. Barnett, a person who, by his own unassisted industry, has gathered together a most interesting collection of animals, shells, coins, &c., and has added a garden, in which all the choicest plants and flowers of North America and of Britain grow, watered by the incessant spray of the Great Fall. In this garden I saw, for the first time in Canada, the English holly, the box, the heath, and the ivy; and there is a willow from the St. Helena stock.

It requires unremitting watchfulness, however, to keep all this together, for loafers are rife in these parts. He had gathered a very choice collection of coins, which was placed in a glass case in the Museum. A loafer cast his eye upon them, visited the Museum frequently, until he fully comprehended the whereabouts, and then, by the help of a comrade or two, broke a window-pane, passed through a glazed division of stuffed snakes, &c., and bore off his prize in the dead of the night. By advertising in time, and by dint of much exertion, the greater part was recovered, but the proprietor has not dared publicly to exhibit them since.

He is now forming a menagerie, and also has a collection of fossils and minerals from the neighborhood, with a camera obscura. He is, in short, a specimen of what untiring industry can accomplish, even when unassisted.

There are some tulip-trees near the Falls, but this plant does not grow to any size so far north; and, although native to the soil, it is, perhaps, the extreme limit of its range. The snake-wood, a sort of slender bush, is found here, with very many other rare Canadian plants, which are no doubt fostered by the continual humidity of the place; and, if you wish to sup full of horrors1, Mr. Barnett has plenty of live rattlesnakes.

To wind up all, the Americans are going to put up another immense gin-palace on the opposite shore; and, as a climax to the excellent taste of the vicinage, they are about to place a huge steamboat to cross the rapids at the foot of the Manchester Falls. The next speculation, as I hinted above, must be to turn the Niagara into the Erie, or into the Welland Canal, and make it carry flour, grind wheat, and do the duty which the political economists of this thriving place consider all rivers as alone created for.

One traveler of the Utilitarian school has recorded, in the traveler's album at the Falls, the number of gallons of water running over to waste per minute; and another writes, "What an almighty splash!"

I went once more to see the Burning Spring, and have no doubt whatever that the City of the Falls, that great pre-eminent humbug, if it had been built, might have easily been lit by natural gas, as it abounds every where in the neighborhood, the rock under the superior Silurian limestone being a shale containing it, as may be evidenced by those visitors, who are persuaded to go under "the Sheet of Water," as the place is called where the Table Rock projects, and part of the cataract slides over it; for, on reaching the angle next to the spiral stair, a strong smell is plainly perceptible, something between rotten eggs and sulphur; and there you find a little trickling spring oozing out of the precipice tasting of those delectable compounds.

A Yankee, with the soaring imagination of that imaginative race, proposes to set fire to the Horseshoe Fall, and thus get up a grand nocturnal exhibition, to which the Surrey Zoological pyrotechny would bear the same ratio as a sky-rocket to Vesuvius.

There is no great impossibility in this fact, if it was "not a fact" that the rush of the Fall disturbs the superincumbent gases too much to permit it; for there can be but little doubt that there is plenty of materiel at hand, and, some day or other, a lighthouse will be lit with it to guide sleepy loons and other negligent water-fowl over the Falls. I wonder they do not get up a Carburetted Hydrogen Gas Company there, with a suitable engineer and railway, so that visitors might cross over to Goat Island on an atmospheric line. There are plenty of railway stags on both shores, if you will only buy their stock to establish it; and, at all events, it would improve the City of the Falls, which now exhibits the deplorable aspect of three stuccoed cottages turned seedy, and a bare common, in place of a magnificent grove of chestnut trees, which formerly almost rivaled Greenwich Park.

But the crowning glory of "the City" is the Reflecting Pagoda, a thing perched over Table Rock bank; very like a huge pile engine, with a ten-shilling mirror, where the monkey should be. Blessings on Time! though he is a very thoughtless rogue, he has touched this grand effort of human genius in the wooden line slightly, and it will soon follow the horrid water-mill which stood on that most singular and indescribable freak of Nature, the Table Rock. I would have forgiven Lett, the sympathizer, if, instead of assassination and the blowing-up of Brock's Monument, he had confined his attentions to a little serious Guy Fauxing at the Mill and the Reflecting Pagoda.

Niagara—Ne-aw-gaw-rah, thou thundering water! thy glories are departing; the abominable Railway Times has driven along thy borders; and, if I should live to see thee again ten years hence, verily I should not be astounded to find thee locked-up, and a station-house staring me in the visage, from that emerald bower, in thy most mysterious recess, where the vapor is rose-colored, and the bright rainbow alone now forms the bridge from the Iris Rock!

I was so disgusted to see the spirit of pelf, that concentration of self, hovering over one of the last of the wonders of the world, that I rushed to the Three Horse Railway, and soon forgot all my misery in scrambling for a place; for there was no alternative. There were only three carriages and one open cart on the rail; the three aristocratic conveniences were full; and the coal-box—for it looked very like one—was full also, of loafers and luggage; so I despaired of quitting the Falls almost as much, by way of balance, as I rejoiced when they once again met my ken.

But women are women all the world over; a black lady nursed Mungo Park, when he was abandoned by the world; and a charitable she-Samaritan crowded to make room for a disconsolate wayfarer.

I felt very much as the nigger's parrot at New York did.

Blacky was selling a parrot, and a gentleman asked him what the bird could do. Could he speak well? "No, massa; no peaky at all." "Can he sing?"—"No, massa; no peaky, no singy." "Why, what can he do, then, that you ask twenty dollars for him?" "Oh! massa, golly, he thinky dreadful much." So, when the daughter of Eve made way for me in the rail-car, why I thinky very much, that, wherever a stranger meets unexpected kindness, it is sure to be a woman that offers it.

There were the usual host of American travelers in the cars; and as one generally gets a fund of anecdote and amusement on these occasions, from their habits of communicativeness, I shall put the English reader in possession of the meaning of words he often sees in the perusal of American newspapers and novels which I gathered.


1 This puts me in mind of the vulgar received opinion that my godfather Fuseli supped on pork-steaks, to have horrid dreams. Originally said in joke, this absurd story has been repeated even by persons affecting respectability as writers. His Greek learning alone should have saved his memory from this.

2 One of the speakers against time, in a late debate on the Oregon question, quoted those fine lines, about "The flag that braved a thousand years the battle and the breeze," and said its glory was departing before the Stars and Stripes, which were to occupy its place in the event of war, from this time forth and for ever.


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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