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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
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
"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
"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!'
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Canada and the Canadians |