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Paddy the Driver

He will keep you au courant, at the same time, tell the name of every settler and settlement, and some good stories to boot. He is a capital fellow, is "Paddy the driver," generally a small farmer, and always has a contract with the commissariat.

The first place of any note we came to, as day broke out of the blue fog which rose from the swampy forest, was Holland River Bridge, an extraordinary structure, half bridge, half road, over a swamp created by that river in times long gone by; a level tract of marsh and wild rice as far as the eye can reach, full of ducks and deer, with the Holland River in the midst, winding about like a serpentine canal, and looking as if it had been fast asleep since its last shake of the ague.

Crossing this bridge-road, now in good order, but in 1837 requiring great dexterity and agility to pass, you come to a slight elevation of the land, and a little village in West Gwillimbury, which, I should think, is a capital place to catch lake-fever in.

The road to it is good, but, after passing it and turning northwards, is but little improved, being very primitive through the township of Innisfil. However, we jogged along in mist and rain, on the 29th of June, and saw the smoke, ay, and smelt it too, of numerous clearings or forest burnings, indicating settlement, till we reached Wilson's Tavern, where, every body having the ague, it was somewhat difficult to get breakfast. This is thirteen miles from St. Alban's.

Having refreshed, however, with such as it was, we visited Mr. Wilson's stable, and saw a splendid stud horse which he was rearing, and as handsome a thorough-bred black as you could wish to see in the backwoods.

Proceeding in rain, we drove, by what in England would be called an execrable road, through the townships of Innisfil and Vespra to Barrie, the capital hamlet of the district of Simcoe.

On emerging from the woods three or four miles from Barrie, Kempenfeldt Bay suddenly appears before you, and if the road was better, a more beautiful ride there is not in all broad Canada. Fancy, however, that, without any Hibernicism, the best road is in the water of the lake. This is owing to the swampy nature of the land, and to the circumstance that a belt of hard sand lines the edge of the bay; so Paddy drove smack into the water of Kempenfeldt, and, as he said, sure we were traveling by water every way, for we had a deluge of rain above, and Lake Simcoe under us.

But nonetheless we arrived at Barrie by mid-day, a very fair journey of twenty-eight miles in eight hours, over roads, as the French say, inconcevable; and alighted like river gods at the Queen's Arms, J. Bingham, Barrie.

Barrie, named after the late commodore, Sir Robert Barrie, is no common village, nor is the Queen's Arms a common hostel. It is a good, substantial, stone edifice, fitted up and kept in a style which neither Toronto nor Kingston, nay, nor Montreal can rival, as far as its extent goes. I do assure you, it is a perfect paradise after the road from St. Alban's; and, as the culinary department is unexceptionable, and the beds free from bugs, and all neatness and no noise, I will award Mrs. Bingham a place in these pages, which must of course immortalize her. They are English people; and, when I last visited their house, in 1837, had only a log-hut: now they are well to do, and have built themselves a neat country-house.

When I first saw Barrie, or rather before Barrie was, as I passed over its present site, in 1831, there was but one building and a little clearance. In 1846, it is fast approaching to be a town, and will be a city, as it is admirably placed at the bottom of an immense inlet of Lake Simcoe, with every capability of opening a communication with the new settlements of Owen Sound and St. Vincent, and the south shore of Lake Huron.

It has been objected, to this opinion respecting Barrie, that the Narrows of Lake Simcoe is the proper site for "The City of the North," as the communication by land, instead of being thirty-six miles to Penetanguishene, the best harbor on Lake Huron, is only fourteen, or at most nineteen miles, the former taking to Cold Water Creek, and the latter to Sturgeon Bay; but then there is a long and somewhat dangerous transit in the shallowest part of the Georgian Bay of Lake Huron to Penetanguishene.

If a railroad was established between Barrie and the naval station, this would be not only the shortest but the safest route to Lake Huron; for, if Sturgeon Bay is chosen, in war-time the transit trade and the dispatch of stores for the government would be subjected to continual hindrance and depredation from the multitude of islands and hiding-places between Sturgeon Bay and Penetanguishene; whilst, on the other hand, no sagacious enemy would penetrate the country from Sturgeon Bay and leave such a stronghold as Penetanguishene in his rear, whereby all his vessels and supplies might be suddenly cut off, and his return rendered impracticable.

Barrie is, therefore, well chosen, both as a transit town and as the site of naval operations on Lake Simcoe, whenever they may be necessary.

For this reason, government commenced the military road between Barrie and Penetanguishene, and settled it with pensioned soldiers, and also settled naval and military retired or half-pay officers all round Lake Simcoe. But, as we shall have to talk a good deal about this part of the country, and I must return by the road, let us hasten on to our night's lodging at the Ordnance Arms, kept by the ancient widow of J. Bruce, an old artilleryman.

Since 1837, the road, then impassable for anything but horses or very small light wagons, has been much improved, and Paddy drove us on, after dinner at Bingham's, through the heavy rain à merveille!

When I passed this road before, what a road it was! or, in the words of the eulogist of the great Highland road-maker, General Wade,

                                                    "Had you seen this road, before it was made,
                                                    You would have lift up your eyes and blessed"
                                                                General somebody.

It was necessary, as late as 1837, to take a horse; and, placing your valise on another, mount the second with a guide. My guide was always a French Canadian named François; and many an adventure in the interminable forest have we experienced together; for if François had lost his way, we should have perhaps reached the Copper-mine River, or the Northern Frozen Ocean, and have solved the question of the passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or else we should have had a certain convocation of politic wolves or bears, busy in rendering us and our horses invisible; for, after all, they have the true receipt of fern seed, and you can walk about, after having suffered transmigration into their substance, without its ever being suspected that you were either an officer of engineers or a Franco-Canadian guide.

An old and respected officer, once traveling this bridle road with François and myself, and mounted on a better horse than either of ours, which was lent to him by the Assistant Commissary-General stationed at Penetanguishene, got ahead of us considerably, and, by some accident, wandered into the gloomy pine forest. Missing him for a quarter of an hour, I rode as fast as my horse, which was not encumbered with baggage, would go ahead, and, observing fresh tracks of a horse's shoes in the mud, followed them until I heard in the depths of the endless and solemn woods faint shouts, which, as I came nearer to them, resolved themselves into the syllables of my name. I found my chief, and begged him never again, as he had never been there before, to think of leaving us. Had he gone out of sound, his fate would have been sealed, unless the horse, used as it was to the path, had wandered into it again; but horses and cattle are frequently lost in these solitudes, and, perhaps being frightened by the smell of the wild beasts, or, as man always does when lost, they wander in a circle, and thus frequently come near the place from which they started, but not sufficiently so to hit the almost invisible path.

But although the road, excepting in the middle of summer, is still indifferent, it is perfectly safe, and a lady may now go to Penetanguishene comparatively comfortably.

Bruce's tavern is a respectable log-house, twelve miles from Barrie; and here you can get the usual fare of ham, eggs, and chickens, with occasionally fresh meat from Barrie, and perhaps as good a bed as can be had in Canada. We started from Barrie at half-past two, and arrived at half-past five.

Whiskey, be it known, with very atrocious brandy, is the only beverage, excepting water, along the country roads of Canada.

From Bruce's we drove to Dawson's, also kept by the widow of an old soldier, where every thing is equally clean, respectable, and comfortable. It is seven miles distant.

Beyond this is Nicoll's, near a corduroy swamp road; and three miles further (which place eschew), seven years ago, I heard the landlady's voice chiding a little girl, who had been sent a quarter of a mile for a jug of water. I heard the same voice again in action, and for the same cause, and a very dirty urchin again brought some very dirty water. In fact, whiskey was too plentiful and water too scarce.

From Nicoll's to Jeff's Corner is ten long and weary miles, five or six of which are through the forest. Jeff's is not a tavern, so that you must go to bait the horses to Des Hommes, about two miles further, where there is no inducement to stay, it being kept by an old French Canadian, who has a large family of half-breeds. Therefore, on to the village of Penetanguishene, which is twenty miles from Bruce's, or some say twenty-four. We started from Bruce's at half-past three in the morning, and reached "The Village," as it is always called, at half-past twelve, on the 30th of June, and the rain still continuing ever since we left Toronto. Thus, with great expedition, it took the best portion of three days for a transit of only 108 miles. This has been done in twenty-four hours by another route, as I shall explain on my return.

Penetanguishene is a small village, which has not progressed in the same ratio as the military road to it has done. It is peopled by French Canadians, Indians, and half-breeds, and is very prettily situated at the bottom of the harbor. Lieutenant-Colonel Phillpotts, of the Royal Engineers, selected this site after the peace of 1815, when Drummond's Island on Lake Huron was resigned to the Americans, for an asylum for such of the Canadian French settled there as would not transfer their allegiance. They migrated in a body.

This is the nearest point of Western Canada at which the traveler from Europe can observe the unmixed Indian, the real wild man of the woods, with medals hanging in his ears, as large as the bottom of a silver saucepan, rings in his nose, the single tuft of hair on the scalp, eagle's plumes, a row of human scalps about his neck, and the other amiable etceteras of a painted and greased sauvage.

Here also you first see the half-breed, the offspring of the white and red, who has all the bad qualities of both with very few of the good of either, except in rare instances.

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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